A decade ago, after years of asking the question, “What does it mean for the gospel to form and shape Christians in worship?”, I was introduced to the deep work of Thomas Cranmer in answering this question in his time and place. People might mistakenly believe that the first versions of the Book of Common Prayer—products of his architecture—are merely translations of earlier Christian liturgies from Latin to English. They aren’t. They’re a transposition. If you pay close attention, comparing the original texts and practices he was working with, you find subtle and not-so-subtle changes he made. Many of those changes reveal a pattern, a singular agenda.
In the book, taking a cue from the latest scholarship on the New Testament epistles of Paul, we call Cranmer’s agenda, “the grammar of the gospel.” Apparently, Cranmer was so seized by the doctrine of justification by faith alone that he recognized that its “Not I, but Christ” pattern (Gal 2:20) was the one thing the first worship services produced in the English language couldn’t do without. So he went to work.
He changed words. He altered phrases. He substituted whole prayers. He rearranged service orders. He altered architecture. He omitted certain actions of the people, and he replaced those actions with new ones. Again and again, we find his edits standing in service of making the gospel clear, so that the gospel could be unleashed and run wild with formative power.
Worshipers, worship planners, worship leaders, and pastors in the 21st century can learn a lot from Cranmer’s work. Worship By Faith Alone is a book dedicated to meticulously displaying that work so that, in the Conclusion, we might begin some exploration for how we can apply some of Cranmer’s principles today, regardless of our tradition or denomination.
If we care about the gospel in worship, then Cranmer has much to teach us. That’s what this work is all about.