It is sometimes said that anyone who insists on a right understanding of God’s Word can prevent the Holy Spirit from bringing about renewal and church unity.
Yet the irony is that a right understanding of God’s Word is essential for an effective gospel ministry and the unity of God’s people. Jesus himself said it: “Those who worship him (God) must worship in Spirit and in truth” (John 4:24).
It’s important we consider Jesus’ words here for they are often misunderstood. ‘Spirit and truth’ are not synonyms for sincerity of heart. Heartfelt worship as opposed to just outward form was always required of God’s people. In Psalm 51:17 David says, The sacrifices of God are a broken and contrite heart…
Jesus’ words are far-reaching and profound: “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him…” (John 4:23).
‘Spirit’ and ‘truth’ are key words. Indeed, when we read John’s Gospel carefully, we see that these two words are bound up with the very person and work of Jesus.
So, in speaking of ‘spirit’ here, Jesus is not referring to God’s non-material nature, but rather to the new age that is dawning when the inner life of God will become available to men and women through him (Jesus).
Further, when Jesus speaks of ‘truth’ he is not speaking about sincerity. Rather, he speaking of the inner reality of God which, hidden in the past, is now revealed in Jesus.
Jesus is saying it is only when we receive the spiritual life and the spiritual reality of God that are bound up in his (Jesus’) unique Person and work, that we can truly worship God. He calls for a heart response, not to some vague, mystical view of God, but rather to himself. “I am the way, the truth and the life,” he says, “No-one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, the architect of the 16th century English Reformation, understood this. It is why he was committed to the systematic reading of the Scriptures in Church, together with the faithful preaching of God’s Word.
He also wanted to ensure that the truth of God was clearly stated in the Prayer Book he crafted. As his first Prayer Book (1549) did not set out clearly and unambiguously the significance of Jesus’ Person and Work – especially in the service of The Lord’s Supper – he produced a second Book in 1552. There he removed sections that were ambiguous and confusing in their theology.
So, in in the service of The Lord’s Supper, he removed any reference to the Spirit and the Word coming on the bread and wine (called an epiclesis – ‘a calling down’ of the Spirit). In 1549 he had left open the idea that we partake of Christ because he is physically or mystically present in the elements. Christ is physically in heaven.
Thus Cranmer’s calling down of the Spirit (epiclesis) is at the beginning of the service where we pray: Almighty God… cleanse the thoughts of our hearts through the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, so that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy name, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Further, Cranmer also took out any sense that we contribute to our salvation through our very participation in the Communion, or because we are in some way offering a good or meritorious work. Our salvation is through Christ alone.
In the prayer immediately before the Communion, Cranmer’s language is clear and unequivocal: Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who of thy tender mercy didst give thine only Son Jesus Christ to suffer death on the Cross for our redemption; who made there (by his one oblation of himself once offered) a full perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world…
How can we more effectively reach people who long to find the truth? How can we effectively hold out a gospel ministry that enables more and more people to worship God ‘in spirit and in truth’? Surely we will want to read, study, preach, and sing God’s Word. We will also want to ensure that God’s truth is consistently found in the Prayer Book of the church.
Clearly I am only just touching on some very big questions. Yet so important are these matters that we are addressing them at the June Anglican Connection conference.
Here is a link you may want to check out: http://anglicanconnection.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Effective_GospelCentered_Chuches_Invite.pdf
Prayer. Almighty God, you alone can order the unruly wills and passions of sinful men and women. Help us so to love what you command and desire what you promise, that among the many and varied changes of this world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys may be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP Easter 4 – adapted)
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