In his book The Reformation Experience, Eric Ives, Emeritus Professor of English History, University of Birmingham, England, writes that whether you agree with the Reformation or not, The most remarkable thing about the Reformation is that it still matters.
While observing that many students of the Reformation explore the political, economic and social issues of the time, he insists that the Reformation was essentially a religious event. Writing from ‘a bottom up’ approach to the history of the 16th century, he explores the reason for the huge transformational change in England.
He highlights the importance of the reawakened understanding of the Scriptures and the recovery of key biblical themes: we are saved by faith alone through God’s grace alone, in Christ alone. He also notes the significance of the translation of the Bible into English. All churches in England were required to have a copy. This was to be read at all services and available for people to read at other times. Sermons were also regularly preached.
Yet in the concluding pages of his book, Professor Ives points out with respect to preaching that ‘it is notorious that only 10 per cent of any address remains in the mind by the time the listener gets to the church door. ‘So what did reach the people?’ he asks. ‘The answer is the Prayer Book itself. The twenty-first century decries rote learning, but the majority of Elizabeth I’s subjects were not bookish: they were listeners. They repeated the liturgy aloud and they repeated it regularly… And the words they heard and repeated… taught them the faith and two things in particular: rely on God and live a moral life’.
Assuming this conclusion is correct, it brings home to us the importance of memory – something we can easily lose in today’s fast-paced, digitized world.
The words of 2 Peter 1:12f come to mind: Therefore I intend to keep on reminding you of these things, though you know them already and are established in the truth that has come to you. I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to refresh your memory, since I know that my death will come soon, as indeed our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things.
Remind, refresh, and recall are key words here. Peter wanted to keep fresh in the memories of his readers the things they had been taught about God; he knew how important it was they remain firm in God’s truth.
Christianity is a faith grounded in received truth. There is a body of information that can be known and recalled. The process of revelation had begun in what is now our Old Testament. It was confirmed, developed and fulfilled in Jesus Christ who passed it on to the apostles.
Peter’s concern is that Christianity could be cut loose from its historical moorings and become nothing more than a spiritual experience. His desire is that God’s people know and remember the gospel and the essential teaching of the Scriptures.
The leaders of the Reformation were committed to reading and preaching the Bible. They looked for ways to teach and build up God’s people in their faith and living. So with the English Prayer Book, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer designed a pattern of daily Bible reading that took everyone through the Old Testament once a year and the New Testament three times.
The Prayer Book includes a Catechism to be taught at church and which every household was expected to use in raising children. The Catechism includes the Apostles Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and our duty to God and our duty to our neighbors (which includes the State).
In Cranmer’s second prayer book (1552/1662), there is a clear, consistent Bible-based theology. People hear the Scriptures read, sung and preached. As well as a prayer of confession, prayers for matters of common concern are prescribed (hence ‘common prayer’).
Furthermore, in the 1552/1662 service of The Lord’s Supper, the substance of God’s gospel is clear. And with repetition, key words become etched in the memory – for example, words that remind us of the significance of Jesus’ death where he made: a full perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world…
The challenge for us today is to determine how we can teach and build up God’s people in the non-negotiable truth of God in a way that it is remembered.
Indeed this is one of the key subjects we plan to explore at the Anglican Connection conference in June where we are asking, ‘Can we be more effective in gospel ministry?’ We are encouraging ministers and/or church leaders and members from across the country to come.
Here is a link where you can find out more and register: Conference Registration
Prayer. Almighty God, you show to those who are in error the light of your truth so that they may return into the way of righteousness: grant to all who are admitted into the fellowship of Christ’s service that we may renounce those things that are contrary to our profession and follow all such things as are agreeable to it; through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. (BCP Easter 3)
– – –
© John G. Mason – www.anglicanconnection.com