J.I. Packer on Prayer Book Principles

In a 1999 event celebrating in the 450th anniversary of the Book of Common Prayer, J.I Packer outlined five principles Thomas Cranmer flowered as he produced the Prayer Book. With the long awaited arrival of ACNA’s 2019 Book of Common Prayer, Packer’s words are worth a fresh look. The words which follow are Packer’s:

Put yourself for a moment in the shoes of Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, in the year 1547. Henry VIII has just been succeeded by the boy-king Edward VI, and at last all systems are “go” for the reformation of the Church of England. The first task has to be the production of a God-honouring, life-enhancing set of services in English that all congregations will use, and that will involve all the worshippers in a way that advances their personal discipleship to Jesus Christ. The project is ambitious and demanding, but Cranmer has resources for it. Over and above his access to like-minded colleagues, he is himself a learned man, familiar with the liturgical and theological legacy of all Christendom since it began; he knows the writings of the Fathers, the Medievals, and the Reformers; he is a brilliant producer of poignant prayers for public use, as he showed in his Litany of 1544; and he is a Bible-man to his fingertips, totally committed to the Reformation ideal of Bible truth irradiating every Christian’s head and heart and shining forth in every Christian’s attitudes and actions. On what principles, now, was he to proceed? The two versions of his Prayer Book, those of 1549 and 1552 respectively, show him implementing the following five.

1. Services must be congregational. Cranmer’s goal was a book of Common (that is, communal) prayer. Before the Reformation the priest had said Mass in Latin, and the congregation, not understanding, spent the time saying private prayers, or else did nothing. Cranmer, however, drafted services in the vernacular, writing into them set parts for the congregation to say (prayers, psalms, responses), and he looked forward to the day when all worshippers would be able to read and would have a copy of each service open before them, so that they could follow with their eyes as well as their ears, and so be completely involved in what was going on. In his preface to the 1544 Litany he had written: “And such among the people as have books and can read may read them quietly and softly to themselves; and such as cannot read, let them quietly and attentively give audience in time of the said prayers, having their minds erect to Almighty God, and devoutly praying in their hearts the same petitions which do enter in at their ears, so that with one sound of the heart and one accord God may be glorified in his church.”1 “One sound of the heart” – that was Cranmer’s ideal of congregational worship, and surely there can be no argument that in this he was right.

2. Services must be simple. Cranmer’s Prayer Books reject the studied ornateness of thought and ritual in older worship forms in favour of studied simplicity and, as we have just seen, “inwardness”, meaning that involvement of heart to which complexity and elaboration are always hostile. Cranmer sought to reduce ceremonial to the minimum consistent with full reverence and decency, and to simplify the flow of his services as drastically as the substance and thrust of the biblical truth being expressed would allow. His sixteenth-century ceremonial language, to which Prayer Book users have always had to adjust, masks for some today the essential simplicity which marks all Cranmer’s services, but it is there, as I shall illustrate in a moment, and Cranmer’s achieving of it has milestone status in Christian liturgical history.

3. Services must edify. As we saw from Colossians, Christians are to be “built up” in Christ; and Cranmer’s 1549 preface “Of Ceremonies” states explicitly that edification is the end “whereunto all things done in the Church (as the Apostle teacheth) ought to be referred.” Recognizing that edification comes through the teaching and applying of biblical truth, Cranmer gave a major place in his drafting to Scripture readings and set exhortations, and prescribed a sermon at each Holy Communion service. Already he had sponsored the writing of the Homilies, a set of sermons to be read from pulpits to guarantee that Christian basics would be properly presented to all congregations. (Thus, the first four were on personal Bible reading, human sinfulness, justification through Christ’s death, and saving faith.) And Cranmer’s Lectionary, used for daily worship, would take you through the Old Testament once and the New Testament twice every year. Thus Cranmer, Bible-man and gospel-man that he was, sought to advance Anglican edification.

Involved here was a long-term educational ideal. Facing a laity deeply ignorant of basic Christianity, it was central to Cranmer’s plan to construct services of proper theological fullness and depth and then teach people to use them. The Prayer Book as we have it today still sets the same high standard. It has never been possible to enter properly into Prayer Book worship without some prior acquaintance with the essentials of the Christian message, plus some concentrated mental effort, requiring some preparation of heart beforehand.2 The payoff, however, if I may so express it, is that the profound simplicities of Cranmer’s liturgical forms have infinite power to feed the soul, as Anglicans for four and a half centuries have been discovering. One grows into the Prayer Book, one never outgrows it.

The principle that services should have a didactic quality, so that they may both instruct and edify, is rarely stressed (you will agree) in modern liturgical discussion. The quest today is for services that will express what people have in their hearts at the moment, rather than put into their hearts what they need to grasp if they are ever to grow in grace and please God – that is one reason why today’s alternative service forms are so shallow and flat. The plea for reducing the theological content of services so that they will never outstrip any participant’s present understanding gets a hearing today that Cranmer would not have given it. Train up the people, he would have said, rather than water down the faith! Surely this is the true wisdom, which we need urgently to recover. It is never right to buy simplicity at the cost of shallowness.

4. Services must unify. One aim of Cranmer and his colleagues was to unite the local congregations of England, some ten thousand of them as it seems there were, in a common faith, a common worship, and hence a common sympathy of a kind that cannot exist where patterns of belief and worship diverge. The 1549 Prayer Book was enacted as an all-England liturgy, just as our 1962 book was intended to function as an all-Canada liturgy. Uniformity historically, whatever its political significance at different times, has always been valued by church leaders as a means of realizing the ideal of unity, and it seems to me that this pastoral argument for uniformity in the essentials of worship is as strong today as it ever was. Agreement in the use of a liturgy that is biblical, evangelical, and worthy of God (which is the only uniformity I argue for, as it is the only uniformity that English and Canadian Anglicans have ever had) has three beneficial effects. First, it keeps the church’s standards of worship at the highest level. Second, it brings all worshippers face to face with the gospel and keeps them there. Third, it maintains a sense of oneness and solidarity within the church as a whole. In today’s discussions of the historic Anglican ideal of uniformity, only two points are usually made: first, that uniformity is not the same as unity, which can exist without it; second, that more flexibility than the Prayer Book prescribes would sometimes be an advantage. True, no doubt, yet the deeper truth lies in the balancing points: first, that godly uniformity is a potent means of expressing and deepening unity in Christ, and second, that in enlarging the area of allowed variation we should hold to the principle that as there is one gospel, and only one, so the actual worship of churches within the same diocesan and provincial networks should be seen and felt as one, and only one. Too much variety makes this impossible.

5. Services must express the gospel. Cranmer saw that a good service is not a set of unconnected bits and pieces, like a club concert – it is an integrated unit, having an overall “shape” and a clear, planned “route” along which worshippers are led. Cranmer “routed” Anglican public worship via the gospel, so that it might have a fully evangelical “feel” and “shape”. How did he do this? By giving his services an inner structure consisting of a sequence of three themes: sin., detected and confessed; grace, proclaimed and celebrated – and faith, focussed and expressed. In the proclaiming of grace Jesus Christ the Mediator must be central, so we may formulate the sequence as, first, facing our utter need of Christ; second, acknowledging God’s merciful provision of Christ; third, expressing our trustful, thankful response to Christ. Thus Cranmer’s services first make us face our present badness; then they tell us of the new life of grace; finally they lead us into the right response, which is multiple – prayer and praise for pardon; joyful trust in God’s promises of mercy; learning of God from his Word; asking for help both for ourselves and for others, professing our own faith, and giving ourselves directly to God out of gratitude for all he has given to us. Since this point about the structure of Cranmer’s services is not always appreciated, I propose now very briefly to illustrate it, first from the “Bible” services of Morning and Evening Prayer and then from the sacramental service of Holy Communion.

 

Discussing the Continuing Relevance of J.C. Ryle

While there are dozens of stellar accounts of the life of J.C. Ryle in print today, Bennett W. Rogers’ A Tender Lion will no doubt take its rightful place as the definitive biography of the 19th century Bishop. Dr. Rogers was kind enough to dialog with me about his important new book:

Messer: How did you first get interested in Ryle?

Rogers: I stumbled into J. C. Ryle almost by accident. I first encountered his writings while preparing for a sermon on the penitent thief of Luke 23 while in seminary. I pulled volume two of Ryle’s Expository Thoughts on the Gospel of St. Luke off the shelf and turned to his commentary on that passage, and I was blown away by what I read. His exposition was theologically robust. His practical applications were pastorally sensitive and yet appropriately direct. And his style was clear, forceful, and memorable. I can still remember one of those memorable comments almost fifteen years later. He said of the two dying men: “One thief was saved — that no sinner might despair. But only one was saved — that no sinner might presume.” I didn’t know it at the time, but that was vintage J. C. Ryle. After making a copy of his commentary, I re-shelved the book wondering why I hadn’t heard about him before.

My appreciation for Ryle grew over the following years, and I decided I wanted to write a dissertation on him. I initially wanted to focus on Ryle as a controversialist – it certainly seemed like a more manageable project than something like an intellectual biography. But as I began to get more familiar with the secondary literature, I realized that Ryle has basically been ignored by the academic community. Much of the work that has been done on Ryle has focused on certain aspects of his ministry or treated the whole more generally. As a result, some aspects of Ryle’s life and work have never been discussed in detail, and others have never been discussed at all. So I have attempted to present J. C. Ryle’s thought, life, and ministry in its fullness and in context.


Messer: Can you give us a brief biographical sketch of Ryle?

Rogers: J. C. Ryle was born and raised in a wealthy but unspiritual home. He distinguished himself academically and athletically at Eton and Oxford. He experienced an evangelical conversion in his final year at university, the account of which has achieved a semi-legendary status among evangelicals – a testimony to the power of the public reading of the Scriptures. Shortly thereafter, his father’s bankruptcy ruined the family, ended his political career before it started, and forced him into the ministry of the Church of England. Although he initially became a clergyman because he felt “shut up to it,” Ryle quickly gained a reputation for being a powerful preacher, diligent pastor, popular author, and effective controversialist. He rose through the evangelical ranks to become the undisputed leader and party spokesman—the first to hold that distinction since Charles Simeon (1759–1836). He became the first Bishop of Liverpool in 1880 at an age (64) when many clergymen contemplate retirement, and served as the chief pastor of the second city of the British Empire until his death in 1900.

Ryle is probably best remembered as a writer of tracts, commentaries, and devotional works, and deservedly so. His tracts continue to be distributed. His commentaries on the gospels – Expository Thoughts on the Gospels – are still read by pastors and laymen alike. His practical writings, such as Old Paths, Practical Religion, and The Upper Room have remained popular with evangelical readers for well over a century. And Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties, and Roots has become a modern spiritual classic.

 
Messer: Describe the British religious and social milieu in which Ryle ministered. How did he affect both?

Rogers: It is difficult to appreciate just how much Ryle’s world changed during his own lifetime. He lived through the passage of three monumental Reform Acts, the full flowering of the Industrial Revolution, the Irish Potato Famine, the pax britannica, multiple armed conflicts, major financial crises, and the publication of The Origin of the Species and The Communist Manifesto. The religious changes of Victorian Britain were equally revolutionary. Relations between Church and chapel reached all new lows midcentury, which culminated in a series of disestablishment crises and the eventual disestablishment of the Church of Ireland. The Oxford Movement and Ritualism divided the Church of England and led to a series of legal prosecutions. New scientific theories shook the faith of many Victorians, and critical views of the Old Testament – some imported from Germany, others homegrown – began to undermine faith in the Bible. Evangelical churchmen, like Ryle, found themselves fighting on multiple fronts, and the party suffered from its own internecine conflicts.

Not all the developments were negative, even from the Evangelical point of view. There were a number of spiritual renewal movements, including the Second Great Awakening and the Keswick Convention. The looming specter of disestablishment became the impetus for many Church reform initiatives. And the Tracts for the Times, which championed the “Catholic truth” of the fathers, sparked a counter movement that promoted the theology of the English Reformers.

Ryle took a leading role in every issue – religious and political – that affected the Evangelical party from the 1850’s to the 1890’s. He was a staunch defender of the establishment, the champion of English Protestantism, and a popular and pastoral – as opposed to academic or scholarly – opponent of higher criticism. He also promoted a series of sweeping Church reforms aimed at making the Church of England more pastorally effective. He repeatedly attempted to unite the “rope of sand” that was the Evangelical party throughout his ministry.

Messer: The book’s title, Tender Lion, points to the paradox that was Ryle. You skillfully show that we was stern yet loving, traditional yet progressive, etc. Describe how he was viewed by his contemporaries and how he’s since been understood by historians. What made him so important in his day, and why does he remain important?

Rogers: Ryle’s contemporaries would have largely viewed him based on their own theological commitments. To Ritualists, he was public enemy number one. To Broad Churchmen, he was an intellectual fossil. Dissenters commended his outspoken evangelical Protestantism, but condemned his churchmanship. Evangelical churchmen recognized him as their champion and leader, but he was no mere “party man,” and he ran afoul of his brethren on more than one occasion. Estimates of his episcopacy tend to follow suit. However, by the end of his episcopacy he seems to have won the respect of most – if not all – of his clergymen.

More sympathetic biographers hold Ryle up as an exemplary evangelical minister, but they tend to ignore his commitment to the Church of England, and thus amputate the ecclesiastical limb of his body of divinity. Others err in the opposite direction. They present Ryle as an ‘icon of unbending traditionalism’ – a theological fossil – a fifteenth century man who is out of place in the modern world. Such estimates often reveal more about the historian than his subject. To be sure, Ryle wasn’t carried away by the spirit of the age [theological drift] that swept through mid to late Victorian Britain. From an ecclesiological and theological perspective, he was definitely a 16th and 17th century man. But his commitment to the theology and spirituality of the Reformers and the Puritans was rooted in a more fundamental commitment to God’s Word. “Here is rock,” Ryle would say, “all else is sand.” His commitment to the scriptures, interpreted by the Reformers and applied by the Puritans, may help explain something of Ryle’s remarkable staying power. After Charles Spurgeon, Ryle’s Baptist counterpart, no Victorian clergyman has remained so widely read and deeply loved.


Messer: What of Ryle’s Anglicanism do you think would be beneficial for the broader evangelical world to consider? 

Rogers:The broader evangelical world has much to learn from Anglicanism, more generally. The Anglican formularies that Ryle loved so dearly – the Thirty-Nine Articles, Homilies, and the Book of Common Prayer (1662) – are filled with rich statements of Protestant and evangelical theology. The Church Calendar and Lectionary Readings can provide needed structure to busy, distracted, or aimless spiritual lives. And the Church’s Liturgy is unrivaled in terms of its beauty, simplicity, and extensive use of Scripture.

Ryle’s own particular brand of Anglicanism has much to commend itself as well. The parish system of the established church – as opposed to the voluntary system of dissent – invariably shapes the pastoral theology of its ministers, and Ryle was no exception. It was his “bounden duty” to provide spiritual oversight and access to the means of grace to everyone in his parish. He is most well-known for doing this through his powerful preaching ministry, which always drew large crowds. He was also a diligent pastor. He was a tireless pastoral visitor, and for the first two decades of his ministry he visited every home in his parish once a month. I find this aspect of his ministry particularly impressive since Ryle admits that he was naturally shy, somewhat introverted, and a bit socially awkward. Even though it grated against the grain of his personality, Ryle the pastor was in his parishioners’ homes, reading and praying with his people, and discussing tracts he lent out. In addition to providing needed pastoral care, these visit helped Ryle get to know his people better, hone his skill of application (in preaching), and ultimately led Ryle into publishing. The genesis of Ryle’s tracts, commentaries on the Gospels, and hymnbooks was not his preaching ministry but his visiting ministry, which I believe was rooted in a philosophy ministry promoted by the parish system.

The broader evangelical world could definitely learn from Ryle the pastor. Sadly, actual contact between shepherds and sheep is becoming more and more rare. Church members no longer have to attend church to hear the Word preached – sermons can be watched, streamed, or downloaded remotely. In fact, the advent of multi-site church has made it possible to sit under the ministry of a man you have never met. All of these new developments, coupled with the same old problem of absenteeism more generally, make diligent, parish-style pastoral work all the more needful.  

Messer: What of Ryle’s evangelicalism would be beneficial for the Anglican Communion to consider?

Rogers: Though my knowledge of the Anglican Communion of 2019 is limited, I think Ryle’s agenda for his beloved diocese as outlined in his farewell address is remarkably relevant today. Ryle charged his clergy:

Let me, then, charge all the clergy whom I am about to leave behind me never to neglect their preaching. Your districts and population may be comparatively small or large. But the minds of your people are thoroughly awake. They will not be content with dull, tame sermons. They want life, and light, and fire, and love in the pulpit as well as in the parish. Let them have plenty of it. Never forget that a lively, Christ-exalting minister will always have a church-going people.

Ryle was a man of short, pointed, and powerful statements, and I believe his word to his ecclesiastical heirs would undoubtedly be ‘never neglect your preaching.’ I think he would remind Anglicans that their Church was never more honoring to God and useful to men than when Christ-exalting gospel sermons were clearly proclaimed from her pulpits. The English reformers, puritans, and leaders of the Great Awakening all emphasized the centrality of the preached Word for the life of God’s people. And, consequently, the Church of England in those ages was filled with life and light. And a renewed emphasis on preaching may, under God’s blessings, breathe new life into the Anglican Church.   

The closing of his farewell address Ryle turns from his clergy to lay churchmen. He charges them to:

Cling to the old Church of England, my lay brethren, cling to its Bible, its Prayer- book, and its Articles. Let no charitable institution suffer. Consider the many poor and needy. Support missionary work at home and abroad. Help the underpaid clergy. Never forget that the principles of the Protestant Reformation made this country what she is, and let nothing ever tempt you to forsake them.

The italicized sentence – ‘never forget the Reformation’ – was Bishop Ryle’s last pastoral exhortation. Within months he would be dead. In many respects, this final charge sums up his life’s theological agenda. He argued that evangelical Protestantism is the doctrine of the Church of England, and, more importantly, the doctrine of the Bible. Therefore, the churches of the Anglican Communion ought to proclaim it and be reformed by it. A renewed emphasis on Ryle’s Protestant principles has the potential to reinvigorate Ryle’s Church and promote greater usefulness to Christ’s cause.

Messer: Thank you for your time, Dr. Rogers!

Rev. Dustin Messer ministers at All Saints Dallas and teaches theology at Legacy Christian Academy in Frisco, TX. Additionally, Dustin serves on the board of directors at both the Evangelical Fellowship in the Anglican Communion (EFAC-USA) and the Center for Christian Civics in Washington, DC. Before starting his doctoral work at La Salle University, Dustin graduated from Boyce College and Covenant Theological Seminary and completed a fellowship at the National Review Institute.

Trad & True: On Evangelical Anglicanism

It’s my great honor to write this inaugural entry for 39+, the blog of the American Branch of the Evangelical Fellowship in the Anglican Communion (EFAC-USA). For the past 58 years, EFAC has provided networking, training, and support to evangelicals serving in the Anglican Communion. This blog will bring that same old mission to a new space. In this first post, I want to say a word about the draw of evangelical Anglicanism. 

Some years before his death, Billy Graham remarked that if he had it to do over again, he’d be “an evangelical Anglican.” The “evangelical” bit, of course, isn’t surprising. Along with Harold Ockenga and Carl F.H. Henry, Graham built the infrastructure of modern-day evangelicalism. That point is clear, even if the definition of “evangelical” remains contested.

The historian David Bebbington famously offers four theological markers of evangelicalism, namely: conversionism, activism, biblicism, and crucicentrism. John Stott, Graham’s close friend and the founder of EFAC, had a helpful illustration when asked about the nature of evangelicalism. He liked to compare fundamentalism to a caged bird which has only the potential for flight. Liberalism, on the other hand, is like a hot air balloon controlled by the whims of the wind. Evangelicalism, he said, is like a kite: It’s tethered to the ground like fundamentalism (i.e. orthodoxy—it believes the faith) but soars in the air like liberalism (i.e. orthopraxy—it lives the faith).

At its best, this is evangelicalism; and again, it’s not surprising that Graham had no doubts about remaining one. What is more surprising, however, is Graham —the most famous Southern Baptist to ever live —letting his eye drift from FBC Dallas toward Canterbury Cathedral.

Anyone familiar with the history of 20th century evangelicalism no doubt understands the relational connection Graham had with Anglicanism, chiefly through the influence of John Stott. Yet, it wasn’t a relational pull alone that captured Graham. Instead, Graham said it was the “spiritual beauty in Anglican order” which drew him to the tradition. 

Too often, the “order” of the Anglican liturgy is contrasted with the theological distinctives of evangelicalism, as if the latter is most fully realized in a simple service in which an expository message is sandwiched between two praise songs. Yet, for those of us in the evangelical Anglican tradition, we understand that the affection Graham had for the liturgy wasn’t in spite of his love for the tenets of evangelicalism, but because of it. “The church depends on the truth for its existence,” said Stott, and “the truth depends on the church for its defense and proclamation.” Said differently, there’s a reciprocity between the ecclesial and the dogmatic, the liturgy and the evangel.

In this vein, I appreciate J.I Packer’s description of Anglican liturgy: “Prayer Book worship is, first to last, justification by faith set forth in liturgy so that it might be reprehended and re-experienced in regular acts of devotion.” Incidentally, that quote is taken from Packer’s foreword to the aptly titled book, Archbishop Cranmer’s Immortal Bequest: The Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England: An Evangelistic Liturgy

I reference that title often when talking about EFAC-USA because of what it illustrates in keeping the words “evangelistic” and “liturgy” next to one another, where they belong. Indeed, I have no doubt that Anglican worship was attractive to Billy Graham for precisely the same reason it was attractive to his evangelistic predecessor, George Whitefield.

The Prayer Book was, according to Whitefield, “one of the most excellent forms of public prayer in the world.” Indeed, Whitefield’s love for the Church of England was pellucid to anyone who asked: “My dear brethren, I am a friend to her Articles, I am a friend to her Homilies, I am a friend to her liturgy. And, if they did not thrust me out of their churches, I would read them every day.”

Today, the Anglican tradition stands at something of an impasse, and it’s anyone’s guess as to which way it will or won’t go. Many evangelical Anglicans have remained inside the communion, praying and working toward renewal. Many others have been “thrust out,” yet, like Whitfield, continue to draw sustenance from the tradition in the way in which Whitfield said he would in such a position. 

39+ seeks to be a helpful resource for everyone who stands in the great Cranmerian tradition of Latimer and Ridley, of Wilberforce and Simeon, of McIlvaine and Ryle, of Stott and Packer. EFAC’s effort to cultivate and nurture that tradition is as vital today as it was prescient in 1961. And so we hope you join us here regularly as we seek to hold together that which attracted Graham to evangelical Anglicanism: the liturgy and the evangel, the sacrament and the word, the tradition and the truth. What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.

Rev. Dustin Messer ministers at All Saints Dallas and teaches theology at Legacy Christian Academy in Frisco, TX. Additionally, Dustin serves on the board of directors at both the Evangelical Fellowship in the Anglican Communion (EFAC-USA) and the Center for Christian Civics in Washington, DC. Before starting his doctoral work at La Salle University, Dustin graduated from Boyce College and Covenant Theological Seminary and completed a fellowship at the National Review Institute.