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