Reflections on My Expectations of Ministry Fifty Years Ago

Reflections on My Expectations of Ministry Fifty Years Ago

John G. Mason – July 28, 2020

The following article was first published in the Australian Church Record Winter 2020 Journal, which can be freely accessed at:  https://www.australianchurchrecord.net/winter-2020-journal/ It is republished with permission of the ACR.

I have been asked to reflect on my expectations of ministry around the time of my ordination in the Diocese of Sydney some fifty years ago.

  1. Background

1.1 A Changing World. I became a student at Moore College in 1966, in the decade of significant cultural upheaval. In 1962 the pill had been released, and the Beatles sang, All you need is love. It was an age of drugs and sex and of protest against the Vietnam War.

Some forty-five years later, in August 2011, The Wall Street Journal carried an article by Dr. Jonathan Sacks, then chief rabbi in Britain, commenting on the 60s: In ‘Reversing the Decay of London Undone’ he wrote: ‘In virtually every Western society in the 1960s there was a moral revolution, an abandonment of its entire traditional ethic of self-restraint… The Judeo-Christian moral code was jettisoned. In its place came: whatever works for you…’

1.2 The Unchanging God. Yet, in the goodness of God, the sixties in Sydney was the decade following the 1959 Sydney Billy Graham Crusade when thousands of lives had been changed through the ministry of God’s gospel. In his mercy, at the end of the fifties God had brought many to himself, preparing potential ministers for gospel ministry in the age of change. We see God’s faithfulness to Jesus words: “I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it…” (Matthew 16:18).  

For my part, having been taught the Scriptures from an early age, I had increasingly come to commit my life to the Lord whom I had known from an early age. That said, it was during my study at Sydney University in the early 60s that I was confronted with the new lifestyle patterns my contemporaries were adopting. Identifying two key questions that were foundational to my faith – the authenticity of the New Testament and the resurrection of Jesus – I worked at addressing them. Ancient History was one of my subjects. Impressed with the weight of evidence that pointed to the historical reliability of the New Testament and the physical resurrection of Jesus, and personally drawn by God’s love in Christ, I committed my life to serve him in the ministry of his Word.

Following a year of teaching secondary school English and History, I entered Moore College in 1966 (aged 21). Ordained in Sydney (Deacon, 1969, Presbyter, 1970), I was Assistant Minister at Yagoona, St Michael’s Wollongong, and Eastwood, before undertaking a New Testament research degree at Durham University, UK. Returning to Australia in 1976, I was invited to start a new church in Wanniassa as well as teach New Testament at the Canberra College of Divinity. By God’s grace, St Matthew’s Wanniassa commenced under my ministry leadership. I was also the founding chairman of Trinity Christian School, Wanniassa,

My earnest prayer and deepest longing was, and still is, to see people of all ages everywhere to come to a vital, personal and growing relationship with Jesus Christ as Lord. I am keen to help people understand that Jesus is the one person who provides meaning and hope for us in our confused and anxious world.

At the same time, through my own reading of the Scriptures and my first-hand knowledge of the hours my father put into preparing for his Bible-based preaching ministry, along with my own reading, I had come to understand that the ministry of God’s Word is key to the life and growth of God’s people. My reading had included J.I. Packer’s, Fundamentalism and the Word of God and Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God as well as John Stott’s, Basic Christianity. I was also aware of John Stott’s significant expositional preaching ministry at All Souls Langham Place, London.

I understood that ministry would require hard work and was not for the faint-hearted. Prayer and growth in God’s love through an ever-increasing understanding of the Scriptures would be essential.

  1. Ministry in a Fallen World: Texts that have carried me through

Given that my ministry is primarily the ministry of God’s Word, let me identify four texts that have been foundational and inspirational.

  • The Task of Ministry – Matthew 28:18-20

Jesus said…, All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Jesus’ commission of his closest followers to make disciples, one of his enduring mandates to his people in every age. We are not just called to make converts and amass statistics! Rather going we are to make disciples, baptizing and teaching. Baptism in the name (singular) of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, signifies a changed understanding of God and a vital relationship with him through the Lord Jesus. Furthermore, those who were baptized are to be taught more about Jesus and the new life-style he commands.

And because the Lord Jesus has all authority, his commission to his people guarantees his power and the outcomes he desires. Indeed, we find in these words the authority of Jesus already in operation. They are the anticipation of the consummation of his kingdom at the end of the age. Jesus’ concluding promise is so encouraging.   Our English translation always masks a Greek expression we only find here: it means the whole of every day. Jesus promises to be with us as we make disciples of others, the whole of every day to the very end of the age.

For the present two kingdoms exist side by side. There is the kingdom of this world with its chaos and noise, good times and bad times, love and laughter, but ultimately its darkness and despair. Alongside this, there is a very different kingdom, as different as night is from day. It is Jesus’ kingdom holding out meaning and hope, joy and laughter for eternity. But it is here we feel the pinch: we’re not there yet.

  • The Hard Work of Ministry – Colossians 1:28-29

It is he (Christ) whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil and struggle with all the energy that he powerfully inspires within me.

I think it was Peter Johnston, Rector of Islington, London, who gave a talk at Moore College on the work of ministry with special reference to these verses. Ministry involves hard work.   

In this section Paul provides a job specification for effective ministries that build good churches. In good churches the members are making spiritual progress, and for that to happen lives need to be grounded and formed in the truth. No church is going to grow which goes soft on truth. Paul was committed to putting in the hard work to ensure that people heard and were built up in the truth of God’s Word.

The word struggle is the word from which we get our word, agony. It described the ancient wrestler in the athletics arena, struggling with his opponent and involving intense physical exertion. This is how Paul saw his ministry of teaching and preaching. School teachers will understand. Getting new ideas across to unresponsive minds can be gruelling. And that’s exactly what Paul experienced in all the churches.

We see something of Paul’s methods as he proclaimed God’s Word and warned God’s people against error. It is also helpful to notice that Paul didn’t see himself working alone. Consistent with Jesus’ promise, Paul tells us in verse 29 that as he worked, God was also at work with him. Paul appropriated and experienced God’s power at work, not by experiencing some mystical sense of power running through his body, but through seeing the results of God’s work – people growing into maturity in Christ.

  • Don’t Lose Heart – 2 Corinthians 4:1-6

1Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engage in this ministry, we do not lose heart. 2We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God’s Word; but by open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God. 3And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God… 

In the midst of the vicissitudes of ministry two challenges constantly stand out: ‘Why don’t people believe?’ and ‘How do people come to believe?’

Paul’s words, the god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers are helpful.

Many interpret these words as a reference to the power of evil. But while, in the Parable of the Sower, Jesus speaks of the devil taking the seed of God’s word from people’s hearts before it has had time to take root and grow, he also speaks in the parable of other reasons people fail to respond to the gospel (Luke 8:11-15).

However, I find another reading of the phrase makes better sense of Paul’s meaning. The god of this age is an appositional genitive meaning, ‘the god who consists of this age’. People make this age their god. And that is what blinds them.

Another example of this kind of phrase is in verse 6: the light of the knowledge of the glory of God meaning, ‘light which consists of the knowledge of the glory of God’.

So, reading the phrase the god of this age in this possessive sense, Paul is saying that it is the idolatrous preoccupation with the material things of this world that blind people to the spiritual realities of the next.

This is consistent with the overall teaching of the Bible that it is because people have chosen to worship what is less than God that God has given them over to a darkened mind. And yes, the devil finds it easy to steal the Word of God from their hearts.

To bring a Reformed Anglican perspective to my reflections, Dr Ashley Null has recently summarized Thomas Cranmer’s understanding of human nature: ‘What the heart loves, the will chooses, and the mind justifies.’ Cranmer understood that ‘the trouble with human nature is that we are born with a heart that loves ourselves over and above everything else in this world, including God. We are born slaves to the lust for self-gratification,….’ In other words, men and women choose not to believe.

So, to a second question, how does anyone come to believe? Paul’s answer is found in verses 5-6: For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. 6For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

People come to believe through the proclamation of God’s good news in Jesus Christ. But there is something else: God chooses to accompany our speaking with an element we can’t provide – his miracle of illumination. With reference to Genesis 1:3-4, Paul is saying that turning from unbelief to belief involves an act of divine initiative as awesome and powerful as the act of creation. God says to our hearts, ‘Let there be light’ and there is light. And this light is the knowledge of the glory of God that is found in Jesus Christ. And what we see in the face of Jesus is not some spiritual insight. It is the vision of deity.

To return to Paul’s opening words of the chapter, he is saying that his ministry is not about himself, but Jesus Christ as Lord. It is not his gifts of preaching and oratory, his charisma and charm, that wins men and women to faith. Rather, it is their encounter with Jesus.

Paul is telling us that in his ministry he focuses on Jesus – that Jesus is not just a great teacher or miracle worker, but God walking in our shoes. Paul wants his hearers to know that Jesus is the prophet who fully and finally reveals God because he is God in the flesh.’  

And given that men and women worship the world and not God, Paul’s words here indicate that he spoke of God’s mercy being far greater than we ever dreamed. And as he preached, God through his Spirit was taking the veil from people’s hearts, enabling them to see the glory of God shining in the face of Jesus Christ.

We see why Paul did not lose heart. God chooses to work through our verbal ministry which announces God’s mercy. Given the flow of Paul’s thought from the end of 2 Corinthians 3 into chapter 4, we see that it is God’s Word and the power of God’s Spirit that opens our eyes to Christ. God’s Spirit turns on the light so that we see Jesus.

One of the great truths about ministry is that the outcome of faithful preaching where God is at work is changing hearts and lives. Ashley Null says this about Thomas Cranmer’s theology. ‘It is a religion of the heart. If our hearts change, then so will our actions and attitudes’. It is God’s glory to have rescued us and turned our hearts to him. Clearly prayer that God will honour his name is tantamount. But will he? 

  • Pray for the Honouring of God’s Name – Luke 11:5-13

In Luke 11: 9 and 10, Jesus says: “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”

In verses 5-8 Jesus tells a parable which tells us that because of his very nature, God will answer our prayers for the honour of his name[1] – something that Jesus said we need to pray for (Luke 11:2).

And in Luke 11:13 Jesus says: “How much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.” He was speaking of the day when God would send his Spirit into the world opening our minds to hear God’s voice through his Word, and opening our hearts enabling us to call him, Father. Jesus’ words, “Ask… seek… and knock…” became etched in my memory.

  1. Some Observations:

3.1 The ministry of God’s Word is one of service. Serving God and his people as the senior minister of a congregation is a very special privilege.

3.2 Because the ministry of the gospel is hard work, it is so important to pray for the right marriage partner – someone who understands the privilege and challenges of this ministry and who is willing to partner with you in the Lord’s work.

3.3 From New Testament times local churches have been key in the formation of God’s people and the promotion of God’s gospel.

3.4 Because the ministry of God’s Word has both public and private aspects, I have found the pattern of Bible reading, prayer and preparation in the morning, with pastoral and midweek meetings from lunch through the afternoon, a useful pattern. In the age of the computer and cyber connectivity it is too easy to remain bound to the screen and neglect the importance of face-to-face personal, pastoral ministry.

3.5 With the cultural changes today, and now the challenges of Covid-19, church life and ministry structures may need to be reviewed. For example, senior ministers of a cluster of churches could explore ways ministry effectiveness and efficiency can be improved by working out of one centre with certain specialised ministries across the several churches – children’s and young peoples’, ministry training, counselling and care, communication and administration. Distinctive larger churches are needed. But with their large ministry teams they often draw people away from smaller churches, leading to ministry inefficiency and loss of vitality in both the larger churches and what could become, more effective neighbourhood churches that can address specific local needs.

John G. Mason is an honorary canon of St Andrew’s Cathedral, Sydney, and commissary to the Archbishop of Sydney in the USA. Following ministries in two Anglican Churches in Australia (Canberra, ACT and Sydney, NSW), he was invited by Timothy Keller to establish a new (Anglican) church in New York City in 2001. He was the founding minister of Christ Church NYC and what is now Emmanuel Anglican Church, NYC. He is the President of the Anglican Connection.

[1] See further, John G. Mason, Luke: An Unexpected God, 2nd Edition, Aquila: 2019, pp.165ff

Reflections on My Expectations of Ministry Fifty Years Ago

Liturgy in the reign of Edward VI in 16th century England

Anglican Connection Conference

Dallas, Texas, USA – June 13-15, 2017

Stephen Tong (PhD, Cambridge)



There is no doubt that the sixteenth-century Reformation changed the world. From politics and social attitudes to things like work and family life. To the art of Michelangelo, the music of J.S. Bach and the literature of Shakespeare. To those on board the Mayflower and to the establishment of the Thirteen Colonies.

The face of Western culture and society over the past 500 years would have been very different without the likes of Martin Luther, John Calvin and many others.

This is certainly true of the Church of England and the way it has developed into the modern Anglican Communion. And yet today, there is great ambiguity about what constitutes true Anglican identity. Where can we turn to in order to start answering such a vexed question?

Let me suggest that we can begin our answer by turning to reconsider one of the foundational Anglican texts: The Book of Common Prayer, originally composed by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer.

But since the Anglican Church has a five-hundred-year history, which edition of the Prayer Book captures the true essence of Cranmer’s vision for the Church? Is it the 1549, 1552, 1559, 1604, 1662, 1928, or 1979 Prayer Book?

What I’d like to do over the next few minutes is to take us back to the historical roots of the Anglican movement. Right to the heart of the Reformation as it unfolded in England under Edward VI from 1547-1553. And with a particular focus on liturgical reform. 

In doing so, I hope to offer an insight into the question of Anglican identity. And to do that, we need to meet a man who is, I’m sure, already familiar to many of us.

Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556)

Thomas Cranmer was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury by Henry VIII in 1533. He continued in the post through the reigns of the next two English monarchs. First, Henry’s firstborn son: the boy-king, Edward VI. And then after Edward’s premature death at age 15: Henry’s first-born daughter, Mary. While Edward was a convinced Protestant, Mary was staunchly Roman Catholic.

So, the changing of the guard spelt danger and ultimately doom for Cranmer, the first Protestant Archbishop of Canterbury. He was soon imprisoned, tried and condemned as a heretic. And was burnt at the stake as a Protestant martyr in Oxford in 1556. Until his death, though, Thomas Cranmer was the leading English reformer.

Some of the key doctrinal issues that Cranmer sought to correct and overturn included papal infallibility; the cult of the saints; devotion to Mary; use of relics, idols and pilgrimages in worship; purgatory; praying for the dead; transubstantiation; sacramental penance and sacramental grace; and, of course, the role of faith and works in salvation.[i]

The first step in combatting these Roman Catholic heresies came just six months into the reign of Edward VI. A set of twelve sermons, or homilies, known as the Book of Homilies was issued and enforced on the population by a Royal Decree. Every parish was to purchase a copy of these sermons with the intention that they would be used each Sunday.

This volume of sermons replaced the steady diet of saints’ lives and morality tales that medieval congregations had been fed. And instead provided those ministers who were incapable of preparing sermons for themselves with a readymade text of approved doctrine.

So, the first piece of liturgical reform under Edward was to make expository preaching an essential feature of public worship on a regular Sunday service. In doing so, English congregations were now being taught that salvation was granted by grace alone, through faith in Christ alone, as revealed by scripture alone.

The Book of Homilies was soon accompanied by three other documents that consolidated the reformed Protestant identity of the Edwardian Church. These were the Book of Common Prayer, the Ordinal, and the 42 Articles (which were later revised as the 39 Articles by Matthew Parker. We can see Parker’s red crayon at work here on a draft copy of the Articles).

It’s worth pointing out at this introductory stage, that all historians in the secular universities now accept that the most accurate and appropriate term to use when referring to reformers of the mid-sixteenth century is ‘evangelical’.[ii]  It was a contemporary sixteenth-century term used to describe those reformers who were neither Lutheran nor radical Anabaptists. From a strictly historical perspective, then, academics agree that Cranmer’s liturgical reforms were intended to shape the Church of England into an evangelical mould.

Therefore, we must acknowledge that the foundational documents, which have defined orthodox Anglican worship and doctrine for the past 500 years (the Homilies, the 39 Articles, the Ordinal, and the Prayer Book), are all products of evangelical industry. As a result, these formularies helped give birth to a reformed, Protestant Church of England. Which can rightly be thought of as an evangelical institution.

There are two further ways in which we should see the Book of Common Prayer, in particular, as evangelical.

First, it is mission-focused. Cranmer knew that the only way men and women meet the risen Lord is by meeting Him in the scriptures. Therefore, the new lectionary that Cranmer devised for the Prayer Book ‘mapped out a plan for daily churchgoers to hear the New Testament read out three times each year, the Old Testament once and the Psalms monthly’.[iii]

In addition to this routine of Bible reading, Cranmer composed mission-minded prayers.

For example, the Collect for Good Friday asks God to ‘have mercy upon all Jews, Turks, Infidels, and Heretics, and take from them all ignorance, hardness of heart, and contempt of thy Word’. On the day that Christians come together to celebrate our salvation in Christ’s death on the cross, Cranmer encourages us to look to the salvation of others as well.

The second way we can think of the Prayer Book as evangelical is in its doctrinal content.

This will be made clear as we look at the Communion service in detail in just a moment.

But let me just say from the outset, that each service contained in the Prayer Book is characterised by the Reformation principles of sola gratia, sola fides, solus Christus, sola scriptura, and soli Dei Gloria.

Those living through the English Reformation were in no doubt about the direction Cranmer was taking the Church of England. Hence why Mary’s Roman Catholic reprisals were so vehement. The blood of 300 martyrs testifies to this. Cranmer included. His was a prize scalp for the Roman Catholic regime. Because he was recognised as the master architect of a Protestant, reformed, evangelical Church of England.

Note on Liturgy

Before going further, it is worth pausing to make a note on what liturgy is, and hence why liturgical reform was necessary in the sixteenth-century English Church. The purpose and nature of Cranmer’s liturgical reforms emphasise the obvious (but often overlooked) truism:

Liturgical practice reflects our doctrinal convictions. As such, we need to be very careful in the way we construct and conduct our services because public worship says so much about what we believe. Liturgy matters. Let me define my terms.

What I mean by ‘liturgy’ is simply the routine, or ordered framework within which any public meeting is conducted. Every church gathering follows a liturgy.

It can be as simple as having a few short readings from scripture, some prayers, another bible passage, and a concluding prayer. As bare boned as that service might be. That is still a liturgy. In fact, I’ve just described the burial service from the 1552 Prayer Book. The same service from which these famous phrases come: ‘In the midst of life we be in death’. And, ‘earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust’.

Liturgy doesn’t need to be overly formal or ostentatious. Congregations don’t necessarily need to follow a set text in a published book.

But, the essential feature is that our liturgies need to be grounded in scripture with the double purpose of edifying our congregations so that they can glorify God. Of course, this is so wonderfully modelled for us in Cranmer’s original liturgical reforms. But in order for us to better understand what Cranmer was trying to achieve in his liturgical projects, we need to grasp something of his historical context.[iv]


The first Book of Common Prayer arrived in 1549. It was accompanied by the first Act of Uniformity that enforced its use in every parish throughout the realm. This legislation effectively replaced a myriad of liturgical forms that had been used in various English dioceses throughout the medieval period.

Before the Reformation, the shape of public worship would vary depending on which diocese you might be in.[v] For instance, the well known ‘Sarum’ rite was widely used throughout the southern dioceses since it emanated from Salisbury. But in the north, where the Archbishop of York dominated the ecclesiastical landscape, the more common form of liturgy was that established by York.

But now, under Edward VI, the Church of England was unified by a single form of public worship. Every congregation in every parish in every diocese was to use the newly reformed English liturgy.

This was significant. Legally and institutionally speaking, Henry VIII’s Royal Supremacy had severed the pope’s ecclesiastical jurisdiction in England via an Act of the English Parliament in 1534. In practical terms, however, it was the changes to public worship ushered in by the Prayer Book that effectively cleaved English congregations from their medieval Roman Catholic past at the level of the local parish.

Previous to this, in late medieval Europe and England, ecclesiastical institutions were subject to papal authority. Public piety in late medieval England was centred on the Mass. And private devotion was dominated by an anxiety about being good enough to earn salvation, coupled with constant efforts to reduce the amount of time you or a family member would spend in purgatory.[vi]

Luther’s rediscovery of salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone, as revealed through scripture, effectively broke these three pillars of society. In mid-sixteenth century England, Cranmer’s liturgical reform was intended to help consolidate the primacy of the Gospel over these manmade constructions.

A prime example of this came in the Order for the Burial of the Dead. From 1549 onwards, there were no longer any prayers for the deceased. Although the priest did address the corpse at the point of burial, saying, ‘I commend thy soul to God’. This was later corrected in the 1552 Prayer Book. Where the minister comforts the living with a reminder that ‘it has pleased God of His great mercy to take unto Himself the soul of our dear brother [or sister] here departed: we therefore commit his body to the ground…’

But perhaps the most obvious change ushered in by the new liturgy was to replace Latin as the official language used in church services with the English vernacular. The same English vernacular that a young William Shakespeare would later hear each Sunday, and then transpose into some of the richest English vernacular in history.

Changing the language of public worship was a natural outworking of Cranmer’s reformation principles. Indeed, all Reformers shared this ideal of making the Gospel accessible and comprehensible. Think, for instance, of Luther’s German Bible, or Tyndale’s English Bible.

Cranmer made this clear in the ‘Preface’ to the Prayer Book. He explained that this change in language followed Paul’s dictum to the Corinthians about ensuring that the language used in church services edified the congregations: ‘So that they have [not] heard with their ears only; [but also with] … their hearts, spirit, and mind’.[vii]

In this sense, Cranmer’s Prayer Book gives us an early example of church planting and evangelism.

I can only speak from my own limited experience. But there are many parishes in the Sydney Diocese, Australia, that have language-specific congregations meeting on their premises. For example, in one parish church where there are 10 services each Sunday; 5 are in English, 2 in Farsi for the Persian community, and 3 in Chinese (1 in Cantonese, and 2 in Mandarin).

This is one of the great principles of Reformation Anglicanism at work today. Making the Gospel accessible and comprehensible. Without blunting the double-edged sword of God’s good message of salvation.

As good an achievement as unifying the English Church with a common liturgy in a common tongue was. The 1549 edition of the Prayer Book was not highly regarded by many reformers as being a finished product.

Cranmer himself realised that this was only the first step toward providing the national institution with a fully reformed liturgy. And so almost immediately after the 1549 Prayer Book was implemented, the Archbishop began planning its revision.[viii]

He enlisted the help of Peter Marytr Vermigli, an Italian reformer and Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford, and Martin Bucer, a German reformer and Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge, to review the 1549 edition and offer any critical feedback.[ix]

One of the criticisms of the 1549 Prayer Book was that the Order for the Lord’s Supper left the door open to a Roman Catholic interpretation of the sacrament. In fact, a number of non-Protestant clergy even went as far as claiming that the new English liturgy promoted transubstantiation!

Such claims were based on the rubrics of institution that included an epiclesis in the text directing the priest to physically handle the bread and wine at this point. As well as instructing him to face the altar (and not the congregation). For those who wanted to see it (on both sides of the Reformation divide), this liturgical action could be interpreted as though the priest was offering a form of sacrifice to God.

In the end, the consensus was that the 1549 Communion Service was too theologically ambiguous. For the Reformers, this meant that it was too similar to the Roman Catholic Mass.

However, in defence of Cranmer, who cannot rightly be accused of holding suspect views about the Real Presence by this stage in his life, there was a significant difference between the 1549 Prayer Book and the Roman Catholic Mass.

Again we need to pay close attention to the rubrics.

Immediately following the words of institution, the minister is prohibited to do anything with the elements that might evoke idolatry or adoration of the bread and wine. The rubric reads:

‘These words before rehearsed are to be said, turning still to the Altar, without any elevation, of showing the Sacrament to the people’.

The inclusion of this rubric was a direct response to the Roman Catholic Mass, which emphasised the priest’s sacrificial role as mediator between sinner and God.

In 1562, the Council of Trent confirmed the Roman Catholic dogma that a ‘divine sacrifice is performed in the mass’.[x] And according to the doctrine of transubstantiation, the bread (or the ‘host’ as it is known) becomes the physical body of Christ.

Now, the English term ‘host’ comes from the Latin term hostia. Which literally translates as ‘sacrificial victim’. As such, during the Mass when the priest lifts up the ‘host’, after the prayers of consecration, the congregation believes they are seeing Christ crucified.

God’s sacrificial lamb in the form of a wafer.

Cranmer wanted to move people away from misconceiving the Lord’s Supper as re-enacting Christ’s sacrifice. The 1549 Prayer Book was Cranmer’s first attempt to gently bring the population along the road to a fully reformed, evangelical Church of England.

He was a patient reformer playing the long game. And hoped to win the entire Tudor kingdom for the Gospel. Having said that, he did realise that the 1549 liturgy needed further work.

The result was a second, and much more conspicuously reformed edition of the Book of Common Prayer that arrived in 1552. This was the defining liturgy for the English Reformation. And there are good historical reasons to suppose this.

After Edward died in 1553, his successor, Mary, outlawed use of the Prayer Book in the English Church as soon as she acceded the throne. The Prayer Book may have been buried. But it wasn’t dead.

It was taken into exile by those fleeing Mary’s persecution. Congregations of English refugees sprang up all over Germany and Switzerland and they continued to use the 1552 Prayer Book for public worship. When Mary died in 1558, these exiled English evangelicals returned to England.

The new queen, Elizabeth I, reacting to the previous decades of religious unrest, sought to impose a peaceful religious settlement that favoured Protestantism as the official religion of the Tudor kingdom.

Part of this was to restore the Prayer Book. The returning exiles as well as many of Elizabeth’s advisors who had stayed in England (including her chief politician, William Cecil), all urged the new queen to reinstate the 1552 without revision.

Instead, the 1559 version that Elizabeth authorised, and Parliament endorsed with another Act of Uniformity, contained some alterations that blended the 1549 and 1552 versions.

As a result, the primary theological thrust and impulse of Cranmer’s liturgical reforms under Edward were blunted. None of the subsequent revisions to the Anglican liturgy have ever quite recovered that original character.

Therefore, I believe, we have good historical reasons to hold up the 1552 Book of Common Prayer as the benchmark for Gospel-centred public worship.

The Purpose of Liturgy

Exercise in Formation

It is time now to consider the theological dimensions of that liturgy. As we do, I want to frame our discussion by thinking about the purpose of liturgy. We often forget that liturgy is an exercise in formation.[xi] That is to say, the doctrinal thinking and spiritual desires of individuals and congregations are shaped by the way they participate in public worship.

Shaping human desires and affections were at the heart of Cranmer’s liturgical reform.

Let me quote Ashley Null, the world’s foremost expert on Cranmer. ‘Here’s the heart of Cranmer’s liturgical vision: Divine gracious love, constantly communicated by the Holy Spirit in the regular repetition of Scripture’s promises through Word and sacrament, inspires grateful human love, drawing believers toward God, their fellow human beings, and the lifelong pursuit of godliness.’[xii] 

If we want to develop spiritual maturity in our congregations. If we want to encourage our congregations in their personal witness. If we want to ultimately transform society. Then we must let God’s Word shape our deepest desires. And, as Cranmer realised, the routines and rituals of public worship, as dictated and framed by an evangelical liturgy, carries the potential to do just this.

Formed by Word and Sacrament

While this principle of shaping Christian hearts by God’s love characterises every service in the Prayer Book. It is best captured in the Communion Service of 1552. Where congregations are formed by God’s Word and through receiving the sacrament.

It begins with the Collect for Purity: ‘Almighty God, unto whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid; cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy holy spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy name: through Christ our Lord. Amen’.

This prayer sets the agenda from the very outset. Our hearts must be prepared by the Holy Spirit so that as we meet Jesus in scripture, we will be renewed by the love of the Father to magnify His holy Name.

In effect, we’re asking God to form our hearts and to stoke our desires with His love. As the service continues, one cannot avoid the centrality of God’s Word.

The Ten Commandments are read out. Prayers are offered. Scripture is read. The Creed rehearsed. A sermon is delivered. More scripture read. An offertory taken. And then more prayers.

At this point, those willing to receive communion stay in the church, while the others depart. The break in the service at this point is important. It provides an opportunity for us to weigh up what God has said to us from His Word. To allow the Spirit to convict us of our sin, and so to draw us to Himself in the Lord’s Supper.

Just before the intermission, if I can call it that, the minister warns all those present that if we presume to eat the bread and drink the cup without true repentance and faith in Christ, then ‘we be guilty of the body and blood of Christ our Saviour. We eat and drink to our damnation … [and] kindle God’s wrath against us.’

Article 26 of the 39 Articles echoes this warning: ‘they that receive the sacraments unworthily, purchase to themselves damnation, as Saint Paul saith’. Cranmer was paraphrasing 1 Corinthians 11.

This is an important component of the Lord’s Supper. For it emphasises the real spiritual dimension of the sacraments. We do not administer the sacraments because they are nice ecclesiastical traditions. We do so because they have been instituted by the Lord. And because they carry real spiritual benefits.

Again, as Article 26 states: Sacraments are ‘…badges and tokens of Christian men’s profession, … and certain sure witnesses, and effectual signs of grace, and God’s good will toward us, by the which He doth work invisibly in us; and doth not only quicken, but also strengthen, and confirm our faith in Him’.

The 1552 Communion service continues with only those who wish to receive the sacrament. And the minister repeats an exhortation to repentance:

‘You that do truly and earnestly repent you of your sins, and be in love and charity with your neighbours, and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, and walking henceforth in His holy ways. Draw near and take this holy sacrament to your comfort…’

A general confession comes next. Followed by an absolution. Or more precisely, a pronouncement of forgiveness in the Name of Jesus as confirmed to us in scripture.

This is not the minister acting as a modern-day Levitical priest, mediating between sinners and a holy God. He is simply, but confidently, declaring God’s forgiveness through the blood of Jesus Christ as revealed to us in scripture. Which is why Cranmer placed the comfortable words of Christ at this specific point in the liturgy.[xiii]

Having been reminded of our condition as totally depraved sinners. We can only be lifted up by our gracious God, whose nature is always to have mercy:

What a great comfort Matthew 11:28-30, John 3:16, 1 Timothy 1:15, and 1 John 2:1-2 are to us. For: ‘If anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, and He is the propitiation for our sins.’

It is only fitting that we then respond with the sursum corda – ‘Lift up your hearts!’

‘We lift them to the Lord!’

The rhythm of sin, grace, forgiveness continues with the Prayer of Humble Access.

Alluding to the Syro-phoenician woman in Mark 7, we pray ‘We do not presume to come to this thy table (O merciful Lord) trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies: we be not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table: but thou are the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy…’

Here is another reminder of our sin. And that, like Moses before the burning bush, the only approach to our holy God is in humility and contrition.

The words of institution come next. After which the participants are told to ‘Take and eat this, in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on Him in thy heart by faith, with thanksgiving’.

Thus, at the moment of eating and drinking the physical bread and wine, we are reminded that true sacramental reception is a spiritual reality enjoyed as a heartfelt response of gratitude to God’s grace.

That is why the Book of Common Prayer includes a service for Communion with the Sick. Not only was this an example of Cranmer’s pastoral accommodation during an age where the plague and the ‘sweating sickness’ took many lives. But it also underlines the biblical understanding of the Lord’s Supper as a spiritual exercise done in faith. Those who cannot ingest the physical elements should not be denied their spiritual food.

The introductory rubrics for this special Order for Communion explains that those who ‘by reason of extremity of sickness … or by any other just impediment, doe not receive the sacrament [physically]’ could still ‘eat and drink spiritually … profitably to his soul’s health, although he doe not receive the sacrament with his mouth’.[xiv]

This service presents the Lord’s Supper stripped to its core. Only a truly repentant heart, a steadfast belief in Christ, and hearty thanks are required to receive God’s spiritual blessings offered in His sacraments.[xv]

The 1552 Lord’s Supper can be further contrasted with 1549 and the Roman Catholic Mass at this point by noticing what is not being done. Again, we must take careful note of the rubrics.

There is no ringing of the sacring bell. No epiclesis. No elevation of the elements. No reservation of the bread. No altar – in fact a Royal Decree of 1550 ordered all altars to be destroyed and replaced by wooden tables (or the ‘Lord’s Board’).

This change in church architecture further emphasised that the Lord’s Supper is not a sacrifice. But a family meal enjoyed by God’s children.[xvi]

Cranmer combined these stage directions with a specific order of prayers. And this ‘liturgical order is essential, [because it] reflect[s] the pattern of the gospel’.[xvii]

Just as the writer of Hebrews spends 13 chapters explaining that Christ is our true priest before he encourages us to offer ourselves as living sacrifices (Heb 13:15)/Rom 12:1-2). Cranmer concluded that any mention of offering or sacrifice is only appropriate after we receive the sacrament.

Therefore, the Prayer of Self-Oblation must follow and not precede, the eating and drinking of the Lord’s Supper.

‘O Lord and heavenly Father, we thy humble servants entirely desire thy fatherly goodness, mercifully to accept this our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving … and here [that is, after sacramental reception] we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy and lively sacrifice unto thee…’ 

To conclude the service, the minister has a choice of prayers to pray. One of which sends the congregation out to serve the world by loving God:

‘We most humbly beseech thee, O heavenly Father, so to assist us with thy grace, that we may continue in that holy fellowship, and do all such good works, as thou hast prepared for us to walk in, through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with thee and the holy Ghost, be all honour and glory, world without end. Amen’.

Amen indeed! This final prayer sums up what I want to say about liturgy as a formative exercise. Having been formed by Word and sacrament, Cranmer sent his congregations out into the world with the Gospel, in order to change the world through the Gospel.


Communal Aspects

We have just a few moments to consider one last point of significance by way of conclusion.

That is, the communal aspect of the Lord’s Supper.

While we can read the Bible and pray to God in the quiet of our own houses. And while we can download and listen to sermons anywhere and at any time. And while we can sing praises to God by ourselves, in the car or in the shower. We cannot receive the sacraments without the Church.

Not only does the Lord’s Supper proclaim Christ’s victory over sin. But, as Article 29 (‘Of the Lord’s Supper’) says: ‘The supper of the Lord is [also] a sign of the love that Christians ought to have among themselves, one to another…’

Right at the start of the Communion service we are exhorted to be ‘in love and charity with our neighbours’. And as Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:17, ‘Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf’.

That is why it is such a powerful symbol when we refuse to take communion with someone else. Considering the spiritual weight involved in the Lord’s Supper; is there a more potent form of ecclesiastical discipline than to deny communion?

Therefore, we must recognise that the current rupture in the ‘Communion of the Anglican Church’ speaks to a deeper reality. The full spiritual magnitude of which is known only to God.

The challenge for us modern Gospel-centred Anglicans, then, is to ensure that we continue to develop and use liturgies that communicate and embody biblical doctrines. So that our congregations will be formed by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, through the love of God the Father, and in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.


[i] See Cranmer’s speech to the House of Bishops in 1536, Miscellaneous Writings, 79.

[ii] Dairmaid MacCulloch, Reformation: Europe’s House Divided, xx.

[iii] Tim Patrick, ‘Thomas Cranmer: the Reformation in Liturgy’, in Colin Bale, Ed Loane, Mark Thompson (eds.) Celebrating the Reformation (IVP, 2017), 153.

[iv] For more detail on the history of the Prayer Book itself, see Brian Cummings, The Book of Common Prayer: The Texts of 1549, 1559, and 1662 (Oxford, 2011).

[v] See Richard Pfaff, The Liturgy in Medieval England: A History (Cambridge, 2009).

[vi] Eamon Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars (New Haven-London, 1992); Diarmaid MacCulloch, Reformation: Europe’s House Divided. Also Heiko Oberman, Luther: Man Between Devil and God.

[vii] BCP49, 18; BCP52, 194. All quotations from BCP are taken from The Two Liturgies in the reign of King Edward VI (Parker Society: Cambridge, 1844), ed. J. Ketley.

[viii] Ashley Null, Thomas Cranmer’s Doctrine of Repentance: Renewing the Power to Love (Oxford, 2002).

[ix] For details see MacCulloch, Thomas Cranmer: A Life (New Haven-London, 1996).

[x] Council of Trent: Session 22 (17 September 1562), in Norma P. Tanner (ed.), Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils (London, 1990), 773. Cf. Atherstone, ‘The Lord’s Supper’, 74.

[xi] See James K. A. Smith, Imagining the Kingdom (Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, 2013), introduction and passim.

[xii] https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/five-reasons-reformation-anglicanism-relevant

[xiii] See Ashley Null, ‘Divine Allurement’.

[xiv] BCP49, 268; BCP52, 423.

[xv] ‘…yf he doe truely repent hym of his sinnes, and stedfastly beleue that Jesus Christ hath suffered death upon the crosse for hym, and shed his bloud for his redempcion, earnestly remembring the benefits he hath therby, and geuing hym hertie thankes therfore; he doeth eat and drynke spiritually the bodye and bloud of our sauioure Christe…’, BCP49, 268; BCP52, 423.

[xvi] On the theme of family meals, see Tim Chester, Truth We Can Touch: How Baptism and Communion Shape Our Lives (Crossway: Wheaton, Illinois, 2020).

[xvii] Andrew Atherstone, ‘The Lord’s Supper and the Gospel of Salvation’, in Lee Gatiss (ed.), Feed My Sheep: The Anglican Ministry in Word and Sacrament (Church Society, 2016), 84.

Reflections on My Expectations of Ministry Fifty Years Ago

God’s Word Written: An Anglican Understanding of the Bible

Mark Earngey, D.Phil (Oxford), Lecturer in Christian Thought, Head of Church History Department, Moore Theological College, Sydney

The following article was first published in the Australian Church Record Journal, number 1922, which can be freely accessed through www.australianchurchrecord.net.au.  It is republished with permission of the ACR.

“Lord, open the King of England’s eyes!” In a loud voice and fervent prayer, mere moments before his death at the stake in 1536, William Tyndale uttered these words.  Regarded by John Foxe as “the apostle of England”, the great Gloucestershire translator heartily desired that all people should have unfettered access to God’s written Word, the Bible.  He hoped that the ploughboy would grasp as much of the Scriptures as would the priest.  He knew that the Word of God spoke to the many misguided traditions and misunderstood decisions of his day, and believed that that Holy Scripture was the touchstone which tries all doctrine.[1]

We can – and should! – give thanks to God that Tyndale’s dying prayer for Scriptural supremacy was answered in abundance.  King Henry VIII authorised the Great Bible, which was first published in 1539.  The significance of this development should not be lost on us.  Every parish in the realm was ordered not only to purchase the new Bible, but to chain it to some convenient place within the church such as the lectern.  It was so popular that a royal injunction was soon required to prevent people reading from it out loud during sermons! Evidently, this Bible was “Great” not only by virtue of its size, and its accessibility, but most of all, it’s authority.  This point was made plain through the woodcut image printed upon its title page.  On the frontispiece, the Lord Jesus sits at the top of the picture and declares “… so shall my word be that which goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me void” (Is. 55:11).  Underneath Christ sits King Henry himself, who hands the “Verbum Dei” to Archbishop Cranmer and Vicegerent Cromwell, who then distribute it to others, and in response to all this, the people cry out “Vivat Rex!”  So important were the Scriptures, that Thomas Cranmer would write in the Preface to this Great Bible that, “this book … is the Word of God, the most precious jewel, the most holy relic that remain on earth.”[2]

Since those early days of the English Reformation, Anglicans throughout the world remain convinced that the Bible is “the most precious jewel” on the earth.  This is the reason why Cranmer coupled the liturgy for morning and evening prayer in the Book of Common Prayer with a lectionary which entailed the reading of most of the Old Testament once a year, most of the New Testament three times per year, and the Psalter once a month!  This is the reason why the King James Version of the Bible has gripped Christian men and women throughout the centuries.  And this is the reason why millions of Anglicans around the world today respond on a weekly basis to the hearing of the Bible with, “Thanks be to God”.  What drives this central feature of Anglicanism is the important fact that the Bible, according to our Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, is “God’s Word written.”

The classic Anglican appreciation of the Scriptures as “the most precious jewel” is a fair distance away from Bishop Peter Stuart of Newcastle’s recent description of the Bible as “an authoritative text for Anglicans.”[3]  We may dismiss much of Bishop Stuart’s article as a mixture of historical and theological error.  But the ambiguity within the phrase “an authoritative text for Anglicans” does raise an important question for us: how is the Bible authoritative for Anglicans?

An admirable attempt to engage with this question was recently penned by Bishop Murray Harvey of Grafton.[4]  Most commendably, he writes that the “ultimate purpose” of carefully interpreting the ancient Scriptures in our modern day “is that we might meet and know Jesus.” Practical advice for reading Scripture is provided, and devotional reading of the Bible is enthusiastically encouraged.  Furthermore, the article displays some awareness of our Anglican foundations with reference to the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, the Book of Homilies, the Book of Common Prayer, but most importantly of all Bishop Harvey engages with Scripture itself.  Nevertheless, within his well-intended piece, there are some infelicitous remarks related to the nature, the authority, and the interpretation of the Holy Scripture.  Since these matters carry significant consequences, the present article aims to clear away some confusion and provide some clarity concerning “the most precious jewel” of our Anglican heritage, the Bible.  This clarity is vitally important in light of current debates within the Anglican Church of Australia.

How do Anglicans understand the Nature of the Bible?

Let us start with the nature of Holy Scripture.  Bishop Harvey helpfully grounds the doctrine of Scripture in our doctrine of God: we have a God who communicates with human beings.  Moreover, the church is the creature of the Word (and not vice-versa) and is thus a witness to the Word, not its judge. Therefore, he rightly states that “Anglicanism has always cherished scripture and given it a central place in its life and worship.”  In fact, with reference to Article VI of the Thirty-nine Articles, Bishop Harvey explains that the reason for this ecclesiastical importance is that the Bible is sufficient for our salvation.  The importance of these commitments cannot be overstated: Anglicans believe in the God who is there, the God who is not silent, and the God who saves.  When we next consider our well-loved and well-read Bibles, we should pause and rejoice in wonder!  For the God of this universe has deigned to lisp precious words to us, his beloved children.

So far, so good.  However, it is where Bishop Harvey attempts to explain the relationship between the Word of God and the words of Holy Scripture, that we encounter some problems.  Apparently, it is difficult to determine what the English reformers believed about the inspiration of the Bible.  Harvey asserts that whatever they believed was in stark contrast to the continental reformers who used phrases like “God breathed”.  This is untenable, not simply because the continental reformers did not write (nor often speak) in English, but because it is a false dichotomy.  The key verse in question is 2 Timothy 3:16, which uses the Greek θεόπνευστος and is rendered “scriptura divinitus” in the Latin Vulgate.  This is translated by various editions of the Bible as “inspired by God” (e.g., the Tyndale’s NT, the Geneva Bible, KJV, ASV, RSV, etc) or “God-breathed” (e.g., NIV, ESV).  Either translation is legitimate, since it reflects Paul’s use of the Greek word in this verse – a use which Bishop Harvey has not understood rightly.  He writes that “Anglicans do believe that the Scripture writers were inspired by the Holy Spirit in their work”. But this verse does not speak of the writers being inspired (though they certainly were, as 2 Pet. 1:21 indicates).  Rather it says that the writings were inspired, viz. “All Scripture is θεόπνευστος”.  The emphasis is on the writings, not the writers.  Therefore, he incorrectly concludes, “so we should take seriously their original context.”  Because of the inspiration of the Scriptures, the Apostle Paul teaches that we should take seriously the original text and not merely the original context.  

The early English reformers understood this vitally important point.  The Preface to the first Book of Homilies in 1547 (contra 1542 as per Bishop Harvey) speaks of the “very Word of God … according to the mind of the Holy Ghost, expressed in the scriptures”.  Archbishop Cranmer, in his first homily (A Fruitful Exhortation to the Reading of Holy Scripture) attributes “the most infallible certainty, truth, and perpetual assurance” of the Scriptures which are given By God who is “the only author of these heavenly meditations.”[5]  An illustrious group of Marian prisoners, including martyr and theologian, John Bradford, declared the Scriptures “to be the very true Word of God, and to be written by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost”.[6]  The Church of England’s great defender, Bishop John Jewel, wrote, “All that is written in the Word of God is not written for angels and archangels or heavenly spirits, but for the sons of men and for us … It is the Word of God: God opens His mouth and speaks to us, to guide us into all truth”.[7]  Thomas Lever spoke concisely of “Gods Word written in the Holy Scriptures by inspiration of God”.[8]  Bishop James Pilkington of Durham writes that “Scripture comes not first from man, but from God, and therefore God is to be taken for the author of it and not man.”[9]  And the Elizabethan Archbishop of York, Edwin Sandys, set forth the same opinion: “The foundation of our religion is the written Word, the Scriptures of God, the undoubted records of the Holy Ghost.”[10] 

Furthermore, the inspired nature of the text of Scripture was enshrined into the Anglican formularies authored by our Reformers.  Archbishop Cranmer’s famous collect for the second Sunday of Advent captures the close connection between the words of Scripture and the Word of God: “Blessed Lord, who has caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning … that by patience, and comfort of your holy Word…” This God-breathed nature of the Scriptures is implicit in the Ordinal’s form of service for the ordering of priests, wherein immediately after the ordinand is charged to be a “faithful dispenser of the word of God” he is given a Bible by the bishop.  But the most succinct account of the God-breathed nature of the Scriptures is found is Article XX of the Thirty-nine Articles, which simply speaks of “God’s Word written”. 

Therefore, while our Anglican forebears did not claim to exhaustively know the precise details of how the original authors came to write the inspired Scriptures, they knew enough to say that these authors were inspired by God, and this resulted in the inspired Scriptures. Moreover, despite attempts to marginalise the doctrine of inspiration, this foundational position of the English reformers has remained in place for subsequent Anglican theologians. “The Holy Ghost,” wrote nineteenth century Bishop J.C. Ryle of Liverpool, “put into their minds thoughts and ideas, and then guided their pens in writing them.”[11]  And more recently, Anglican theologian John Webster, wrote that “Inspiration is the Spirit’s work of illuminating the prophetic and apostolic writers, and providing both the impulse to write the matter and verbal form of their writings.”[12]

How do Anglicans understand the Authority of the Bible?

The English reformers’ understanding of inspiration has necessary implications for the authority of the Bible.  But an important warning needs to be sounded at this juncture.  Anglicans ought to be wary of conflating God’s inspiration of the Bible into God’s inspiration of believers.  Bishop Harvey veers dangerously close to such a problem when he writes that our decision to live and serve in response to God’s call “is part of God’s ongoing revelation and inspiration”.  It is true that God inspires Christians by his Holy Spirit insofar as we are transformed more into the image of Christ (“cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit”).  But the inspiration of God in our lives does not produce perfect and infallible persons.  However, in the case of the prophets and apostles, the inspiration of God produced perfect and infallible Scripture – they spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Pet. 1:21).  Due to this perfection, Article XX states that one place of Scripture cannot be repugnant to another.  On this basis – that Scripture cannot err – the same Article XX declares that the teaching of the Church cannot be contrary to Scripture.  Indeed, Article XXI states that even General Councils of the Church “may err, and sometimes have erred.” And therefore, Article XXII declares that erroneous doctrines (like purgatory) and practices (like the adoration of the host) are “repugnant to Word of God.”  The Edwardian Reformatio Legum Ecclesiasticarum rightly and summarily states that “The authority of divine Scripture is to be believed to be so great, that no excellence of any creature may be set above or equated to it.”[13]  Thus, our human decisions and theological opinions must submit to the authority of Scripture, and they may even be granted ecclesiastical authority, but they cannot ever claim the same authority of “God’s Word written”.    

This is germane to the discussion of the canonicity of the Scriptures.  Bishop Harvey rightly states that Anglicans “have always been conscious and respectful of the historical process of compiling what we now know as the Bible (forming the Canon).”  But it is difficult to know what his subsequent citation from Dean Martyn Percy contributes to the conversation.  Of course, the Bible has not “come from heaven to earth like a fax.”  Is there any Christian who would make such a claim?  The compiling of the Canon was not a matter of investing a certain set of extant books with divinely inspired status, but a matter of recognising those books which were divinely inspired and preserved by God.  If the caricature from the controversial Dean is intended to refute the possibility of perfectly and infallibly inspired Scripture, then the English reformers would simply and sharply disagree.  Anglicans have long recognised (not “authorised”!) the perfect quality of the writings of the prophets and apostles, and the separation of the canonical writings from the apocryphal writings in Article VI of the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion bears out this truth.

All this has a bearing upon what Bishop Harvey calls the “distinctive Anglican Tripartite of Scripture, Tradition and Reason”. But what is precisely distinctive about this?  When compared to the rest of the magisterial reformers of the Protestant reformation, there is nothing especially distinctive about how the English reformers co-ordinate Scripture, tradition, and reason together in their theological method.  The soteriological sufficiency of the Scriptures implies the insufficiency of tradition and reason, and thus we have the doctrine of Sola Scriptura.  Actually, the view that Anglicans have a novel stance on the interplay between Scripture, reason, and tradition, is itself distinctive.  Indeed, it is a distinctive of a certain historiographical mythology which not only misunderstands that the English reformers were in fact Protestants (indeed as continental as the continental reformers – contra the peculiar “Englishness” stressed by Victorian historians!), but also habitually distorts the doctrine of the Anglican theologian Richard Hooker. 

It was once fashionable to set forth the judicious Mr Hooker as the father of the three-legged stool approach to Christian authority: Scripture, reason, and tradition, and all in equal measure.  This anachronistic appeal to Hooker’s Laws of Ecclesiastical History was then regularly used as a wax nose to support all manner of things which the English reformers, and Hooker himself (!), would have vigorously disagreed with.  Traditional Anglo-Catholic authors have positioned him as a champion of the via media between Rome and the Reformed, and more liberal Anglicans have used the reasonable and traditional legs of their imagined three-legged stool to relativise Hooker’s biblical bottom-line.  Fortunately, recent scholarship has put a bomb under these hagiographical distortions of Hooker.  Certainly, Richard Hooker was opposed to the extreme end of non-conforming Puritanism (just as Archbishops Cranmer and Parker were opposed to mavericks in their own day).  But modern scholars have unpicked John Keble’s selective publication of Hooker’s Laws, and through careful re-examination are now unanimous in their view that Richard Hooker’s ideas were consistent with Reformed theological thought.  For Hooker, episcopacy is not conceived to be of the essence of the church, predestination stands in continuity with Calvinian orthodoxy, and Scripture is the supreme authority which rules over reason and tradition.[14]  To be sure, Hooker’s Laws remains an important piece of Anglican theology and is distinctive in its own right, but it is a piece of conforming Reformed theology nonetheless.

How should Anglicans therefore read the Bible? 

Bishop Harvey rightly commends “dialoguing with Scripture in the light of reason.” An Anglican approach to the Scriptures does not preclude, but rather requires a reasoned reading in communion with the saints throughout the ages.  Hooker is a fine example of this.  Yet another good example of this can be found in Archbishop Cranmer’s theology of Holy Communion.  Cranmer’s great eucharistic project involved years of research into the theological opinions and traditions found in patristic and medieval theology.  He sifted through swathes of his summaries of these opinions to see which Church fathers best agreed with Scripture.  And Cranmer used reason devastatingly in his debates with Bishop Stephen Gardiner to demonstrate the absurdity of holding to a substantial presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper.  The reason for the Anglican insistence on “these your creatures of bread and wine” was Cranmer’s dogged determination to exclude a substantial presence of Christ at the Lord’s Table because, on the one hand, it was unreasonable to posit a substance without its proper accidents, and on the other hand, it was biblical to believe that Christ was physically present in heaven and would only physically return in order to judge the living and the dead.  Anyone familiar with Cranmer’s writings on the Lord’s Supper may easily perceive that his arguments from tradition and reason are regulated by his arguments based upon Scripture.  The same could be said about the method for the rest of the English reformers.  Therefore, we might say that Anglicans are not “no Creed but the Bible” people who shun the use of reason and tradition.  Though we believe in Sola Scriptura we do not believe in Nuda Scriptura.

Bishop Harvey also provides us with the wonderful example of how William Wilberforce interpreted the Scriptures to abolish the slave-trade.  This points us to another vital hermeneutical point concerning the Bible.  Harvey writes that “interpretive wisdom is required when using it to contribute to contemporary debates.  Because the Bible is a lengthy document composed over a long period in diverse contexts, it does not always present a single position on any given issue.”  Australian Anglicans have some wisdom to offer here through our own answer to this interpretive challenge.  The contribution to the discipline of Biblical Theology by Archbishop Donald Robinson (1922-2018) and theologian Graeme Goldsworthy (1934-) has enabled generations of Anglican clergy to understand the relationship between the diversity and unity of the Bible.  Through an understanding of the unfolding story of salvation in the Bible which centres upon Jesus Christ, we may quite easily understand why some moral commandments in the Old Covenant have been abrogated (e.g., eating shellfish), whereas others remain in force (e.g., stealing), and others have been transformed (e.g., Sabbath observance) under the New Covenant.  We are only scratching the surface of the brilliance of this ecumenical contribution, but further reading of Robinson’s Faith’s Framework and Goldworthy’s According to Plan is strongly suggested.

Therefore, how do we mind the hermeneutical gap between the ancient authors then and modern readership now?  This is Bishop Harvey’s central concern, and we are well placed to make an answer.  Part of the answer lies in properly co-ordinating the authority of Scripture, with the other authorities of reason and tradition.  Part of the answer lies in properly understanding the unity and diversity of the Bible in order to read Scripture sensitivity.  But the most vital part of the answer lies in the nature of Scripture itself.  That is, the answer to the hermeneutical question (how do I read the Bible?) relies upon the answer to the ontological question (what is the Bible?).  After all, if we do not believe that the Bible really is God’s Word written to us, then it may be a mere tool in our ministerial kit, but it will never be “living and active” to us.  If we do not believe that the Bible is the very Word of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, then it may never be “sharper than a double-edged sword” to us.  We may miss – to our great shame – the spiritual fact that Holy Scripture “penetrates even to dividing joints and marrow” as it “judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Heb. 4:12).  John Webster puts it well:

“What, then, is it to interpret Scripture? An answer to that which envisages interpretation as negotiating the distance between a text from the past and an interpreter in a self-contained present is too thin an account of the hermeneutical situation, and fails to grasp what is metaphysically fundamental in biblical hermeneutics: Christ is God, and he is speaking.”[15]

This does not make the interpretation of Scripture easy for all people.  Archbishop Cranmer knew this and provided pastoral advice in Bible reading in his Homily on Scripture.  Some parts of Scripture are easier to understand than others.  The Scriptures are full of low valleys and plain ways which are easy for all to enjoy, but also high hills and mountains which few can ascend into.  So, those who are not able to “brook strong meat” should “suck the sweet and tender milk, and differ the rest until he waxes stronger, and comes to more knowledge.”  But all who delight in the Scripture should know that the Lord will provide help to understand what is necessary for us to know.  In one of his most beautiful turns of phrase, Cranmer encourages us in our reading of the Bible: “Let us night and day muse, and have meditation, and contemplation in them.  Let us ruminate, and (as it were) chew the cud, that we may have the sweet juice, spiritual effect, marrow, honey, kernel, taste, comfort, and consolation of them.”[16]

Nor does a proper Anglican understanding of the Bible make the interpretation of Scripture comfortable at all times.  Let us consider the pastorally important matter of welcoming LGBTI+ persons into our churches.  Does this require the affirmation of same-sex sexual practice?  The Scriptures clearly condemn “those who practice homosexuality” in the same list as the sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, and swindlers (1 Cor. 6:9-10).  Some have unsuccessfully attempted to interpret this passage such that sex within the context of faithful land loving homosexual relationships is permissible, but most scholars agree that the Bible is abundantly clear on the matter.  Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch rightly comments: “This is an issue of biblical authority.  Despite much well-intentioned theological fancy footwork to the contrary, it is difficult to see the Bible as expressing anything else but disapproval of homosexual activity.”[17]  Therefore, the basic interpretive challenge to many modern Anglican readers of Scripture is that of biblical authority.  Are we willing to allow the vivifying voice of God’s Word written to shape our thoughts and attitudes – even with unpopular matters?  Are we willing to submit our reason and traditions under the majestic authority of Scripture?  Are we willing to hear the Word of God and respond – however awkwardly – with ‘Thanks be to God’? Contemporary Anglican ethicist, Oliver O’Donovan, helpfully writes:

“Faith in Scripture is a readiness to risk living by it and placing our hope in it.  It is not a posture of knowing everything or of having the answer to every question.  It is a willingness to accept Scripture on its own terms, without presuppositions or conditions that we have imposed upon it.”[18]

Our English reformers wisely enshrined the supremacy of the Holy Scriptures into our Anglican formularies, and our Australian forebears did likewise with the Fundamental Declarations and Ruling Principles set out in the Constitution of the Anglican Church of Australia.  But modern Australian Anglicans need fresh courage to stand upon the Scriptures.  We are often at odds with our world over subjects like the creation ex nihilo, the Virgin birth, human sexuality, and sacraments.  Therefore, we need courage to believe God’s Word written.  We are often at odds with our own flesh, as we are slowly but surely transformed into the full measure of the stature of Christ (Eph. 4:13).  Therefore, we need courage to regularly read Holy Scripture and risk our own spiritual lives on it.  And we are always at odds with the devil, who prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (1. Pet. 5:8).  Therefore, we need courage to stand firm in the faith deposited in the Scriptures, knowing that one little word from God’s Word can fell our greatest spiritual foe.  We can live with forgiven hearts and clear consciences because our Lord Jesus Christ made that “full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the world.”  But our hearts and consciences must remain captive to the Word of God.  This is why Tyndale prayed for the King of England’s eyes to be opened, and this is why faithful Anglicans have always clung to Holy Scripture as the “most precious jewel” on earth.  Therefore, let us pray, as in the Great Litany in the Book of Common Prayer: “From all the deceits of the world, the flesh, and the devil: God Lord deliver us.”


[1] William Tyndale, “The Exposition of the first epistle of S. Iohnin John Foxe (ed.), The VVhole works of W. Tyndall, Iohn Frith, Doct. Barnes … (London: John Day, 1573), RSTC 24436, p. 414.

[2] Thomas Cranmer, “The Prologue to the reader” in The Byble in Engylshe that is to saye the content of al the holy scrypture …  (London: Grafton, 1540), RSTC 2071, *.iiv.  This, and subsequent early modern quotations have been modernised.

[3] https://www.newcastleherald.com.au/story/6473441/why-the-archbishop-should-reconsider/  accessed 14 November 2019.

[4] https://www.graftondiocese.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/North-Coast-Anglican-October-November-2019.pdf accessed 14 November 2019.

[5] Thomas Cranmer (ed.), “A Fruitefull exhortation, to the readyng of holye scriptrure” in Certayne sermons, or homelies appoynted by the kynges Maiestie, to be declared and redde, by all persones, vicars, or curates, euery Sondaye in their churches, where they haue cure (London: Grafton, 1547), RSTC 13640, A.iir (Preface), B.ivv.

[6] John Bradford et al., “A copie of a certayne declaration drawne and sent out of prison by Mayster Bradford, Mayster Sanders, and dyvers other godly Preachers” in John Foxe, Acts and Monuments … (London: John Day, 1583), RSTC 11225, p. 1470.

[7] John Jewel, A view of a sedicious bul sent into Englande … (London: Newberie & Bynneman, 1582), RSTC 14614, p. 133.

[8] Thomas Lever, A treatise of the right way … (London: Bynneman, 1575), RSTC 15552, A.iiir.

[9] James Pilkington, A godlie exposition vpon certeine chapters of Nehemiah … (Cambridge: Thomas, 1585), RSTC 19929, A.iiv.

[10] Edwin Sandys, Sermons made by the most reuerend Father in God, Edwin, Archbishop of Yorke (London: Midleton, 1585), RSTC 21713, p. 6.

[11] J.C. Ryle, Old Paths: Being Plain Statements on Some of the Weightier Matters of Christianity (London: James Clark & Co, 1972), 18.

[12] ὑπὸ πνεύματος ἁγίου φερόμενοι ἐλάλησαν ἀπὸ θεοῦ ἄνθρωποι: On the Inspiration of Holy Scripture, in J. Gordon McConville & Lloyd K. Pieterson (eds.), Conception, Reception, and the Spirit: Essays in Honour of Andrew T. Lincoln (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2015) p. 238.

[13] Gerald Bray (ed.), Tudor Church Reform: The Henrician Canons of 1535 and the Reformatio Legum Ecclesiasticarum (Woodbridge Suffolk: Boydell Press, 2005), 179.

[14] W.J. Torrance Kirby, Richard Hooker: Reformer and Platonist (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005); Diarmaid MacCulloch, “Richard Hooker’s Reputation” in All Things Made New: Writings on the Reformation (London: Allen Lane, 2016); Nigel Voak, Richard Hooker and Reformed Theology: A Study of Reason, Will, and Grace (Oxford: OUP, 2003); W. Bradford Littlejohn and Scott N. Kindred-Barnes (eds.), Richard Hooker and Reformed Orthodoxy (Göttingen, V&R, 2017); W. Bradford Littlejohn, Richard Hooker: A Companion to His Life and Work (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2015); Nigel Atkinson, Richard Hooker and the Authority of Scripture, Tradition and Reason: Reformed Theologian of the Church of England? (Carlisle, Paternoster, 1997).

[15] John B. Webster, The Domain of the Word: Scripture and Theological Reason (London: T&T Clark, 2012), 49.

[16] Cranmer, “A Fruitefull exhortation”, B.iiir, B.ivv.

[17] Diarmaid MacCulloch, Reformation: Europe’s House Divided, 1490-1700 (London: Allen Lane, 2003), 705.

[18] Oliver O’Donovan, “Scripture and Christian Ethics”, Anvil 24/1 (2007): 24.

Australian Church Record Report on the Anglican Connection Conference, 13-15 June 2017, Dallas TX, USA

Australian Church Record Report on the Anglican Connection Conference, 13-15 June 2017, Dallas TX, USA

Written by Steve Tong

‘A dog’s breakfast’. During a recent conversation in the UK, a casual observer used that phrase to describe to me the Anglican Church in the United States of America. The fracture in the global Anglican Communion is most acute in the States, where the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA) has been set up as a parallel Anglican province, bringing together the various Anglican groups that have been forming over the last twenty years or so – such as the Nigerian based, Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA). However, the gospel clarity of the 16th century English Reformers – expressed in the Thirty-Nine Articles and the 1552 Prayer Book – is not yet found in North American Anglican structures. This is why the formation of the Anglican Connection is important.

Initiated by John Mason[1] among others, the Anglican Connection works outside the formal structures of the Anglican Church. It is an affiliation of like-minded gospel-focused ministers and church leaders who are committed to making disciples of Christ and whose ministry is grounded in the Scriptures and framed by the riches of the English Reformation. (See: www.anglicanconnection.com) With this in mind, it was a privilege and honour to be invited to present a paper at the Anglican Connection Conference in June.

The conference was held in Dallas, Texas, and was well attended by ministers and lay folk from across the States and further afield (including Colombia and Cairo, Egypt!). The theme of the conference was how to be more effective as Gospel-centred ministers in light of the truths of the Reformation. As such, the five solas provided a framework for the various Bible studies and keynote addresses delivered across the two days.[2] Many of these were given by Australians, which served to strengthen our ties of fellowship with our American brothers and sisters.

Paul Barnett addressed the subject of Solus Christus under the title: ‘Good News that is also True News’.[3] Paul’s defence of the scriptures as historically reliable underlined the centrality of Christ in our faith and ministry. John Yates III (Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Raleigh, North Carolina) spoke on Sola Scriptura. He confronted us with ‘The Challenge of Biblical Illiteracy’, which is just as prevalent in secular society as it is in the Western Church for ordained and lay folk alike. Dr. Felix Orji (Bishop of CANA West) combined Sola Fide and Sola Gratia in his paper. The Nigerian explained that faith alone does not save, but only faith in Christ alone saves. Dr. Orji also provided us with possibly the most memorable quote from the conference: ‘Original sin is like a beard within us; we are clean shaven today but tomorrow it grows out again’.

John Mason rounded off the solas by speaking on Soli Deo Gloria. He spoke about God’s revealed glory culminating in Christ. John also touched on how Thomas Cranmer weaved this into the liturgy for Communion in the 1552 edition of the Book of Common Prayer. One of the gems of John’s presentation was to learn that the Collect for Purity that introduces the Communion service should be considered as Cranmer’s renovation of the epiclesis[4]; a conclusion he came to after discussing the question with Donald Robinson many years ago. This means that it is the believer’s heart that is spiritually renewed and transformed during the Lord’s Supper, not the physical bread and wine.

It was my job to explain the historical significance of Cranmer’s liturgical reforms under Edward VI. My paper held up the 1552 Prayer Book as Cranmer’s liturgical masterpiece, and defended it as the model par excellence for public worship in modern Anglican Churches. There is much to learn from Cranmer’s liturgical principles: public worship that is soaked in scripture (i.e. more than one Bible reading), set prayers that use biblical language for praise and petition, and an intentional order to public worship that shapes hearts and moves the affections through an acknowledgement of sin followed by a pronouncement of God’s love for sinners.

Peter Mayrick gave an excellent presentation and workshop on how to be more effective in ministry. Peter drew on a huge amount of research and statistics gathered through his role with Effective Ministries through the Centre of Ministry Development at Moore College.[5] One of the most sobering was the lack of time ministers spend in personal daily devotions. Neglecting to read God’s Word and pray beyond sermon/small group preparation is the number one factor in minster burnout, Peter told us.

To cap things off, the Getty Music team, led by Keith and Kristyn Getty (composers of ‘In Christ Alone’ and other modern hymns), led the conference in music and song. Their high-quality, biblical and gospel-focused lyrics and exemplary music was a fitting complement to the conference theme of ‘Gospel-centred ministry’. Keith also gave two excellent workshops on church and music, with Kristyn speaking about the importance of teaching our children hymns. The Getty’s likened this practice to buying shoes half a size too big so that your children will grow into them; we should teach our children deep theological truths through song, so that they will grow into them.

All in all, there is much to thank God for. The significance of this conference was expressed in the tears of one local minister who thanked John Mason for his leadership, continued pastoral support and biblical encouragement. As the unity of the global Anglican Communion becomes increasingly untenable, the need for the fellowship of the Holy Spirit within our denomination becomes more real. The Anglican Connection is one such manifestation of this fellowship. Please keep praying for God’s Church in America.

[1]John is the former rector of St Clement’s Mosman in Sydney and the founding minster of two Anglican Churches in Manhattan, NY.
[2] Audio recordings of all sermons and papers delivered at the conference are available at: https://anglicanconnection.com/anglican-connection-conference-recordings/
[3] The text of this talk can be accessed here: http://paulbarnett.info/2017/06/god-news-that-is-also-true-news/
[4] The epiclesis is the part of the Roman Catholic Eucharist service in which the presence of the Holy Spirit is invoked to bless the elements or the communicants. The draft Anglican Church of North America liturgies continue the wording of the 1549 service where the Spirit is called upon to ‘bless and sanctify’ the elements of bread and wine, that they ‘might be unto us the body and blood’ of Christ. Cranmer removed this in his 1552 Service of The Lord’s Supper’
[5] https://cmd.moore.edu.au

Since 2014 Steve Tong has been undertaking research for a PhD at Cambridge University on ‘Evangelical Ecclesiology and the English Liturgy during the Edwardian Reformation, 1545-1555’. Steve writes: My wife, Bettina, and three children, Sophie, Benjamin, and Edward, have come along for the ride, and we’re all enjoying our time in this great little town.