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Experiencing Grace, Expressing Gratitude

By Michael P. Jensen
Crossway, Wheaton, IL 190pp $35.00
Also available at Amazon for $24.95

Reviewed by David W. Virtue, DD
August 30, 2021

Worship. It is at the heart and soul of our Anglican tradition. Without worship we are hollow, unfulfilled believers. But of much concern in the churches of the Anglican Communion today is the current diversity of forms of worship.

The author of this volume says that without knowledge of the theological principles of Anglican worship, we are simply not able to discriminate between forms of worship that cloud or even dishonor God and forms of worship that proclaim his truth. We do what is right in our own eyes.

"In their ways, the Anglo-Catholic movement, the charismatic movement, and Reformed evangelicals have pursued their own theological convictions about Christian worship above and beyond the words on the pages of the prayer book and into territory highly disputed by the other groups within Anglicanism."

This book evaluates this diversity.

The author boldly states that his conviction is that the theological commitments of Cranmer and the other English Reformers had, and still have, seminal significance for Anglicans and that theology of this period has often been disregarded in a more cavalier fashion. The spirit of the Reformers, and indeed to orthodox Christian faith is that nothing be "repugnant to the Word of God."

That was crucial for Cranmer as a liturgist. He was a genuinely theological liturgist, who sought to enshrine a particular gospel by means of his revision of English worship.

Is there anything distinctive about a Reformation Anglican view of Christian worship? It was Martin Luther who pioneered the idea that Christian worship was not about what people did for God, but about what God did for the people. The characteristic pre-Reformation notion of worship had been precisely the opposite-namely, that the people gathered in order for the priest to offer a sacrifice to God on their behalf. But when the people came together under the influence of the Reformers, it was to hear the proclamation of the gospel through which God would work in people's hearts and minds.

Reformation Anglican worship today is grounded in a specific set of theological convictions about (a) how human beings come to know God in the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and (b) how gatherings of believers ought to be ordered.

First, Cranmer was convinced that the European Reformation was essentially right in declaring that the grace of God in Jesus Christ is the fundamental basis for an authentic Christian form of worship.

Second, the formal principle by which the believer encountered this grace was that of Holy Scripture, the supreme authority for the church and sufficient in itself to describe and effect a person's salvation. It not only conveyed the data for salvation; Scripture was the instrument of God's Holy Spirit to save human beings.

On the sacraments, a central focus of the book, Anglo-Catholics (and Roman Catholics) will disagree. For Anglo Catholics in the ACNA, it is a delicate dance around those of a reform mindset.

The emergence of the Cranmerian view of the sacraments remains a sticking point for high churchmen. Cranmer reduced the number of sacraments from seven to two --namely those instituted by Christ.

Article 26 is clear "...the sacraments are not to be venerated or carried about...the view of the sacraments as having an automatic effect on anyone just by dint of having received them was expressly denied. Without faith, the sacraments are empty. However, Cranmer did see them as "effectual signs of grace".

Cranmer separated himself from Rome and transubstantiation, as well as from Zwingli's "bare recollection" -- a mental exercise on the part of the participant.

Cranmer's basic understanding of the sacrament was that spiritual presence was available by grace to those whom God had elected for salvation. This "spiritual presence" was not an automatic or mechanical thing, but a result of the promise and action of God in choosing to be present. And it was to be apprehended by faith, for the sacraments serve only as a judgement in the case of the unbeliever.

Cranmer scholar, Dr. Ashley Null shows how Cranmer was influenced by the Christology of Cyril of Alexander in his developed theology of Holy Communion. From this newly rediscovered evidence, we can see that Cranmer believed that only the Spirit is present during the Lord's Supper, but the believer truly receives the full Christ, both in his humanity (i.e., body) and in his divinity (i.e., his spirit). This understanding is based on Cyril's Christology that Christ always remains undivided. In fact, in Cranmer's understanding, the Spirit by faith raises believers up to the heavenly place, where Christ's body is indeed present to be given to us.

This view of the sacraments, writes Jensen, is not separate from or opposed to the Reformed theology of the spiritual word, but an integral part of it. The word of God itself contains the promises declared in the sacraments. Believed on by the faithful in the power of the Holy Spirit Christ, and clothed in his word, the sacraments mediate the presence of Jesus Christ. If Christ is spiritually present to those gathered in faith as the word is read and preached, then he must also be present to them as they share in these evangelical signs.

I can do no better than to close with the words of Henry L. Thompson III, Dean, president, Trinity School for Ministry, who writes, "Reformation Anglican Worship is one of the most important books written in the last century and should be a prominent feature on every Anglican bookshelf. It abounds with quotable, concise, and meaningful insights that extend from Cyril of Alexandria to J.C. Ryle, giving the reader confidence to unravel the knotty problems that have intimidate many."


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