You can’t do it better than Cranmer

You can’t do it better than Cranmer March 12, 2021

I’m not an Anglican. I’m not even really much of a high-churchman–we don’t need candles or bells or robes or any of the other made up stuff that has been added to church services over the centuries. John Calvin was right, as far as that goes.

Image: IVP

And yet, every church has a liturgy (in the ‘small-l’ sense of the term). Each church has a way of doing its service that will be regular, orderly, and structured. The lowest of low-church Southern Baptists (my own crowd) is going to have a general pattern they follow on Sunday mornings. This rhythm is important and, as it happens, Biblical. (1 Corinthians 14:40) Though we might mix it up from time to time, Sunday morning services usually do music, prayers, Scripture reading, and the sermon in a set order that the congregation is familiar with. The only real question is whether this order of service (a phrase much more comfortable to most Evangelicals than ‘liturgy’) is thoughtfully and carefully put together, or haphazardly done by firing from the hip every week.

The problem with this is that most Evangelicals, even seminary-trained pastors, have functionally no experience putting together a church service. What Scripture readings go with which sermon texts? Where should the hymns fit in and how might they be coordinated with the topic of the sermon? What Scriptures can be read responsively Etc.

The good news here is, pastors don’t have to do all of this work from scratch. The 1662 Book of Common Prayer, re-released by IVP, is a great place to start with much of this work already done for you. And frankly, done better than you (or I, or most people living today) could do. We are not Thomas Cranmer and shouldn’t expect to do it as well as this Godly man has already done. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel for our Sunday services–and we certainly don’t need to do it every week. Instead, pick up this copy of The Book of Common Prayer and adapt it freely to the needs of your church. And it will need some adapting–those of us who are Baptists will of course want to modify the bits where Anglicans would intentionally baptize unbelievers, for example. Likewise prayers about Bishops may need some tinkering. But then again, ‘tinkering’ is a better and healthier work than reflexively not thinking about our weekly patterns–which is where most of the Evangelical world lives right now.

And none of that is even getting in to the content, which is superb overall (though I’ve a preference for Cranmer’s 1552 Book of Common Prayer, which is a far superior text to the 1662 version). As just one example, the evening prayer for those in civil authority:

Almighty Father, whose kingdom is everlasting: We beseech thee of thy mercy to direct and prosper the counsels of all those who bear authority in this land, that in humility and honesty they may faithfully serve the people committed to their charge. And grant, we pray thee, that religion and piety, peace and unity, truth and justice, may be established among us for all generations, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen. (25)

This is a volume that all pastors should have on their shelves and reference often. Highly recommended.

Dr. Coyle Neal is co-host of the City of Man Podcast and an Associate Professor of Political Science at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, MO


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