What did Cranmer actually think happens in the Lord’s Supper?
Cranmer rejected the medieval understanding of the priesthood. He did not believe that a priest, by virtue of his ordination, was made a special link between God and his people, so that the Holy Spirit worked through him during a sacrament as the principal means of dispensing divine grace to the people.
In Cranmer’s understanding, the Holy Spirit came directly to God’s people through his Word. As Scripture was proclaimed, the Holy Spirit wrote his promises on the hearts of believers, thereby nurturing in them a living, personal faith which alone united them to God. That is the reason why Cranmer urged the English people to feed on Christ continually, because they could strengthen their union with Christ at any time simply by meditating on God’s Word in their own hearts.
Therefore, in Cranmer’s mature understanding, the sacraments were not the principal means of grace. Nor were they a second, separate channel on par with Scripture, as if the Spirit worked supernaturally through two different, but parallel, means, i.e., the sacramental ministry of an apostolically ordained priesthood and biblical preaching. Cranmer’s final view was far simpler. Since the Holy Spirit came to God’s people through the Scriptures, the sacraments were effectual means of grace precisely because of their unique capacity for proclaiming the promises of God’s Word.
In the sacraments God has accommodated himself to the creatureliness of our nature. We have keen physical senses – sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste. But our spiritual senses are dim at best, so that we can struggle to perceive the Spirit’s working within us.
Consequently, Christ has commanded that the visible elements of water, bread, and wine be joined to the proclamation of his promises to save us and sustain us. As a result, in the sacraments we can encounter him with all our physical senses.
When we see, smell, touch, and taste the bread and wine in Holy Communion, the Spirit witnesses to us that Christ is at that very moment feeding our souls with the benefits of his passion, just as the elements are feeding our bodies.
Naturally, the awareness that Christ is tending to our spiritual needs strengthens our faith in him. And, of course, true faith in God’s goodness towards us always engenders a hearty thankfulness in us which, in turn, goes forth from us as a renewed love for him and others. Indeed, the miracle of Communion isn’t the supernatural changing of bread and wine, it is the supernatural redirecting of our wills, away from a self-centred love of self towards a true love for God and others.
In short, according to Cranmer, the purpose of the Lord’s Supper is both as an expression of a believer’s living faith and as a unique means of strengthening it. In obedience to Christ’s explicit command, the Church celebrates this sacrament until he comes again. During its ministration, those with living faith ascend in heart and mind to Christ’s presence at the right hand of God. Seated with him in heavenly places, they are spiritually nourished with the full power and benefit of Christ’s body and blood by Christ himself. With their faith strengthened, they continue to dwell in him and he in them, thereby enabling believers to love their neighbour as themselves. To read more, click here.
Saturday, August 20, 2011
Dr. Ashley Null on Thomas Cranmer
Posted by Robin G. Jordan at 6:17 AM