The Pastoral Captivity of the Church    ​​ (by Jon Shuler​​)

If it is true that Thomas Cranmer set the English Church a godly standard, a righteous plumb line, in the 16th Century – that is that the “doctrine, sacraments, and discipline of Christ” are what a faithful church and people must maintain and live, as I believe it is right to assert, then the question that must be asked is this: Have Anglicans maintained and propagated the essential truths of the gospel as they were first preached in the apostolic era, and as they first came to Britain?

The early Church expanded spontaneously for centuries when those truths were preached and lived, and the same reality accompanied its arrival in Romano-Britain. For centuries there was apostolic and evangelical faithfulness, until nearly every corner of Britain was churched. The truth of the gospel became the heart of the culture for several centuries. Seasons of faithfulness produced stunning achievements, in arts, architecture, and literature. Monastic communities blanketed the land. The age of the cathedrals left a mark that remains breathtakingly inspirational. Yet gradually England became more and more nominally Christian, with periods of grace and light interspersed with darkness. External religion, for many, supplanted the heart reality. By the time of the Reformation the clear preaching of the gospel was rare indeed. When the Reformation prevailed in England the leaders were determined to change that. A Reformed Catholic Church was bequeathed to us.

For nearly five hundred years faithful Christians in the Anglican Family have believed they were maintaining the truths we are discussing. Good and holy men and women died rather than deny them. Yet little by little the effect of that reform has diminished into inconsequence, so far as the great majority of the English People are concerned. The proportion of that nation that is actively involved in the life of the Church of England has been in decline for centuries. Today it is less than 3% of the total. But the patterns of the 16th Century continue unabated. The clergy struggle to care for those in their parishes following ministry patterns that have long since ceased to be effective for the spread of the kingdom of God. Pastoral care defines “the ministry,” rather than obedience to the great Final Command.

The pastoral captivity of the Church did not occur suddenly. The source is written in the DNA of 16th Century Anglicanism, and has continued to express itself in every age since. When men have risen up to challenge it, the institutional forces of the established order have generally done one of two things. The most noticeable is to domesticate them. An old joke runs: “How does the Church of England deal with prophets? She makes them bishops.” The second pattern, and the most common one, is she excludes them. Formally or informally, canonically or culturally, those who do not conform to the received patterns are separated out from the family.

The pastoral care of the converted is a dominical command. But so is the mission of taking the gospel to all people.


Next Week: The Marks of Faithfulness?

The Church and Her Missing Mission   ​​ (by Jon Shuler​​)

We left last week asserting that the 16th Century Reformation in England was focused on the ministry task of bringing the Church in England into a more perfect alignment with the teaching of Jesus Christ, and his command to his followers to be a disciple-making people. We believe it to be irrefutable that the leaders of the Church in that era longed for the community of the faithful to be guided by the Lord of the Church under the authority of the Holy Scriptures. And further, that they believed that much that had  been added to the church through the centuries was not in accord with that godly aim. They, rightly, saw the most critical need of their ministry to be the reform of the clergy and churches of England. But their vision stopped there. The Risen Lord Jesus had left a Final Command to the church to “go and make disciples of all nations.” Faithful followers had brought it to Britains shores, for which the reformers gave thanks, but few saw anything beyond those shores to be their concern.

Using language familiar to us today, we can say that they were almost entirely focused on only a portion of the full ministerial calling said, by the Apostle Paul, to be necessary for the well being of the church and the equipping of her people. They were focused on the pastoral task of caring for and teaching the already baptized. They assumed the conversion of the English People to be something accomplished in the past, and that they now, like Timothy and Titus of old, were to put things in order. All the energy and focus of the clergy was to be on bringing the already Christian to a right understanding and submission to the Word of God. The apostolic task, the prophetic task, and the evangelistic task, so far as they were offices, or ministry assignments, gifted by the Holy Spirit and needed in the Church, all these were a thing of the past.

Historical and documentary evidence of this is available to anyone who has ever spent time with the writings from the 16th Century, with one signal exception. The Ordinal of Thomas Cranmer published in AD 1550. In that Ordinal every priest ordained is said by the bishop (after the solemn invocation of the Holy Spirit) to be called “to the same Office and Ministry” that the Risen Lord Jesus “sent abroad into the world,” that is “his Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Doctors, and Pastors.” Cranmer understood the presbyteral, or priestly, ministry – in a local congregation – to be in direct succession to that of the apostolic era. All the ministerial functions bequeathed to the apostolic church of the First Century were bequeathed to those ordained to care for and strengthen the local congregation.

The theological weight of this fact has largely been lost to Anglican history. We will return to its potential significance in later blogs, but for now we simply focus on one question. What of the mission to the lost beyond the boundaries of the parish?  Overwhelmingly, those ordained to lead in the Church of England, and in all her daughters, have seen their ministry to be to those already gathered. Yet the Lord came to “seek and to save that which was lost.” What about those not baptized? Those not believers? What of those beyond the boundaries? Where is that mission?


Next Week:  The Pastoral Captivity of the Church

Cranmer’s Standard Examined (III)   ​​ (by Jon Shuler​​)

The final phrase in Cranmer’s tri-fold vow, still required of all the clergy, was that which pledged loyalty to “the discipline of Christ.” Again, as we have been arguing, that vow was enunciated and promulgated in the context of the only faith which was received by the Church in Britain from the beginning. That faith was the Apostolic Faith, and to pass it on required discipline. But it was not the discipline of men, adding on to that of Christ, but that discipline which came directly from the Master through his appointed messengers. It was about the things required so that the faith would be truly lived by one generation and also passed on to new generations. “The promise,” said Peter on the day of Pentecost, “is to you and to your children, and to your children’s children. To all who call on the name of the Lord.” Without the “discipline of Christ” this will never happen.

To twenty-first century ears, the word “discipline” conjures up images associated with the correction of error. Sometimes images and memories that are extremely unpleasant. But this is not what Cranmer meant. The word in the 16th century still retained its ancient meaning of “training.” Discipline was the path of learning that which a “master” could teach. When anyone became a Christian they had to submit to the discipline of learning to follow the Master.The only way to be a true disciple of Jesus was to walk in the discipline of Jesus. What Jesus taught was not optional.

It was this discipline that was to be maintained in the church, and upheld by her leaders. This discipline had been corrupted, the reformers believed, and had to be reestablished.

What was that discipline?

It was the discipline that taught a believer to follow Christ Jesus with their whole life, and to be ever ready to help another follow as well. It was to learn to be a true disciple, abiding in the word of the Lord, and one who then proved to be a disciple-making disciple. The discipline was that needed to become dependent on none other than the Lord Jesus, and the discipline that enabled the believer to follow him to their life’s end. This discipline taught how to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd, and to be guided aright by his teaching. Every believer was to become a fruitful believer for the kingdom of God. This meant not simply having a personal faith, not only taking their place in the community of believers gathered for worship, but becoming a multiplying faithful follower. This was the purpose of all discipline.

In Cranmer’s day, the outward and visible life and practice of the church was refocused on this outcome. The truth of the gospel was to be preached and lived in the local church, and all the members thereof were to be formed into Christ. “The doctrine, sacraments, and discipline of Christ” were believed to be transformative. Every part of the church’s life and teaching, all her externals, were designed to bring the nations into the kingdom of God. Beginning with England.


Next Week: The Church and Her Missing Mission

Cranmer’s Standard Examined (II)   ​​ (by Jon Shuler​​)

Thomas Cranmer called the leaders of the church in his day to faithfulness to the “sacraments of Christ…as this Church has received the same.” The Anglican clergy of the subsequent centuries have all promised fidelity to this statement. What did the archbishop martyr mean?

The first and certain answer is that he meant the sacraments of the gospel, Holy Baptism and Holy Communion.” All other “so called sacraments” were not to be accorded the same place in the life of the church as these two dominical ones. They were the sacraments that gave voice to “the truth of the gospel” in an “outward and visible” way. They did not add to the gospel, they reinforced it. One of them, Holy Baptism, enshrined the necessary understanding and faith required to begin the Christian Journey. The other, Holy Communion, enshrined the necessary understanding and faith required to be sustained on that journey. These sacraments gave liturgical clarity to the “doctrine of Christ” which was at the heart of the churches life and witness.

It is an ancient teaching that what is essential to the Christian Faith is that which is required of an adult at baptism. What then did Cranmer understand to be essential? Clearly he meant to understand the gospel of Jesus Christ sufficiently to repent of one’s sins and turn to Christ. This meant to understand the atoning death of the Lord Jesus on the cross, and to yield one’s life to him. There must be clear evidence that this faith has been wrought by the Spirit of God, and is not just a formal action. There must be evidence that he understands the rule of faith as contained in the creed, the commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer. This is the school of preparation. Only then was a man to be baptized. It was a step to be taken by faith.

Having been baptized, the new believer was bidden to come to the Table of the Lord, to receive the “bread of angels” given for all who would follow and serve the Lord Jesus. The communion in the body and blood, the bread and the wine, received by faith, was the only once offered, but to be continually received, spiritual sustenance for true believers. It was not magic, but a holy mystery of the first order, that rightly received united the believer to his Risen Lord, and strengthened him for service. Without feeding upon the Lord it was impossible to grow up into maturity. This sacrament was not to be neglected or despised, since the Lord had commanded it to be at the center of the church’s life on the night before he died. To be “his disciple” and abstain from the Holy Table was to risk proving oneself to be outside the covenant of grace. But no one was to come lightly or unadvisedly to that table, for to do so put one’s eternal salvation in jeopardy. It was a step to be taken by faith.

These two sacraments were the only two received by the Church of England in the beginning. The “doctrine of Christ” was contained in them, and the liturgy of the church sought to make that doctrine unmistakably clear.


Next Week: Cranmer’s Standard Examined (III)

Cranmer’s Standard Examined (I)  ​​ (by Jon Shuler​​)

How then can we decide what is the “doctrine of Christ” that first came to ancient Britain, and that is the foundation for the faith of all those who call themselves Christians  and have received that faith because it first came there? Two answers, and two only, have been given to that question historically.

The first says we must “listen to the church.” The Church of Rome has codified this answer with a rigidity that excludes nearly all other churches from the name “church”, no matter how ancient, or theologically coherent, their claim. The Bishop of Rome, speaking through “the magisterium” of bishops in communion with him has uttered it. To not be in communion with the Bishop of Rome is to not be a true part of the catholic (universal) church. It is the Roman Catholic Church alone that can tell us what is the “doctrine of Christ.”

This answer was rejected by the Church of England in the16th century, and it must still be rejected today. No specifically Anglican version of this answer may be tolerated either. The church does have authority in matters of faith, but it does not invent that faith.

The second answer, anciently agreed, is that the New Testament is the only sure ground upon which the “doctrine of Christ” can be found. From the earliest surviving records we see all the godly leadership of the church appealing to what Jesus taught and the apostles explicated, as that is contained in the scripture. No holy leader dared to undermine what the apostles taught. There were disputes about details, to be sure, but gradually the whole church agreed that God himself had bequeathed the New Testament writings to the church as the revelation binding all believers in Christ. Rightly expounded these writings delineated the boundaries of true faith. This is what Cranmer meant by “the doctrine of Christ.”

This answer was that of the Church of England in the 16th century, and remains her stated claim, once all the manifold accretions to her faith and practice are stripped away. Every attempt to remove this central truth (and there have been and are many) has been resisted by a faithful remnant. Without this answer articulated, believed, and promulgated, the heritage of the Church of England becomes little more than a “mess of pottage.” The doctrine of the church is the apostolic teaching of Jesus found in the New Testament. Faithful leaders are to expound it and live it.

What then can give us detailed clarity for the new day we are facing? What will we say is the “doctrine” in our own time of trial and challenge? The answer is not simple, for the New Testament is a revelation containing manifold perspectives on the one central truth that the Son of God has come among us, and given his life for the sins of the world. Yet, our fathers dared to suggest what was essential by enunciating it in the baptismal liturgy, and the Eucharistic liturgy, of the church. There is found the “doctrine of Christ.”


Next Week: Cranmer’s Standard Examined (II)

Can Cranmer’s Standard Stand?  ​​ (by Jon Shuler​​)

I have been suggesting that the words Thomas Cranmer wrote, and the churches of the Anglican Communion required every man ordained to pledge for nearly five hundred years, are a necessary secondary foundation upon which a new Anglican Reformation must stand. The first foundation being the preaching of “Jesus Christ and him crucified.” The second being “the doctrine and sacraments, and discipline of Christ…as this Church and Realm have received the same….”

I am further arguing that the Anglican Family of churches, a community much wider than the formal communion, must explicitly identify themselves as a Christian community of Jesus Followers, before requiring anything else of her members or leaders. Without this expectation being required there is little hope for Anglicans to play their God given role in the New Reformation that is already spreading throughout the world.

Now, let us look again at Cranmer’s glorious and stirring standard: “the doctrine and sacraments, and discipline of Christ…as this Church and Realm has received the same.” Which “Church” and which “Realm”?

The “Church” Cranmer referred to was that planted in ancient Britain, when direct knowledge of the apostolic era was still alive. Historical scholarship has shown that is is not unreasonable to believe the ancient legend that the faith first came in the first century. Archeological evidence has been found in modern England dating to AD 125, which clearly buttresses the ancient tradition.

The “Realm” which Cranmer referred to was that which succeeded the most ancient kingdoms of the Britains, and which was subsequently consolidated into the kingdom which the Magna Carta claimed (along with the Church of the English) was “free.”

These facts point us to the Church which bequeathed to us “the faith once delivered to the saints” by the Lord Jesus and his appointed apostles. This is the Church that received the apostolic faith, “the apostles teaching and fellowship.” This is not simply the Realm of the 16th century, when Cranmer lived, nor of the 6th, when Augustine came from Rome, but the realm whose roots go back into the mists of time in Britain.

There was a Church in Britain, holding fast to the truth as it is in Christ Jesus, before there was a General Council in Nicea in AD 325. There was a Church in Britain before there was a Council of Constantinople in AD 381. There was a Church in Britain before there was Council of Chalcedon in AD 451. It was a Church that had received “the doctrine and sacraments, and discipline of Christ,” and (as Cranmer went on) “as the Lord had commanded…according to the commandments of God….”

What then are the consequences of these facts for Anglicans? They are monumental. Cranmer’s standard must stand. Reform to this standard will last. Here we must stand.


Next Week: Cranmer’s Standard Examined (I).

Rival Opinions.  ​​ (by Jon Shuler​​)

Recently the Roman Catholic Church declared a former Anglican clergyman, John Henry Newman, to be a “Saint.” He is considered one of the founders of a nineteenth century movement in the English Church, sometimes called the Anglo Catholic Revival, which gradually altered much of the global community of churches which descended out of the one from which he departed. Another movement, broadly called Evangelical, emerged from the eighteenth century Great Awakening in England and has exerted a strong influence on the Church of England and many of her daughter churches. Similarly, twentieth century changes stemming from the charismatic movement, and the subsequent influence of the teaching of John Wimber and the Vineyard movement, have marked many corners of the Anglican world with a pentecostal stamp. Yet all the while, official statements have continued to be made in many quarters which suggest the doctrines of the sixteenth century English Reformation are still foundational. These rival theological opinions, and others not mentioned, now coexist in a global community so diverse as to be considered, by some, as pathologically dysfunctional.

How then can a new reformation come to any settled resolution without some standard of teaching that is actually embraced by the members of the church? How can an honest appeal be made to the “doctrine, sacraments, and discipline of Christ as this church and realm has received the same?” What did Cranmer mean? The bishops and theologians who enshrined the English Reformation in formal doctrinal teaching after Cranmer’s death certainly thought they knew.

Any honest reading of Cranmer’s Ordinal (1550); the Book of Common Prayer (1549/52), and the Articles of Religion (1571) will clearly illuminate the first two of Cranmer’s dicta. The “doctrine” was that of the Early Church as revealed in the New Testament. The “sacraments” were those two evidenced in the gospels: Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. To illuminate the third,“discipline,” recourse must be made to English usage of the time. In the sixteenth century discipline implied training, or as we might say today mentoring, not the exercise of punishment. It referred to the pattern by which the church made true disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ and maintained due order. It referred to the discipling of the young done by parents, the discipling of new ordained leaders by those already ordained, and the discipling of a new generation of scholarly theologians by those who had gone before.

If it is conceded that a historical enquiry reveals a clear answer to the question of what Cranmer meant by Anglican, it is indisputable that Anglican “doctrine, sacraments, and discipline” aligns the Church of England and its claims with the broad sweep of the sixteenth century Protestant Reformation. It roots everything important in the conviction that Holy Scripture is, as the Lambeth Quadrilateral (1888) would later assert, the “rule and standard of the Faith.” And it centers the gospel life of the church in the local congregation. But does this solve the many problems of division and dispute in the early twenty-first century?


Next Week: Can Cranmer’s Standard Stand?