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