Thomas Cranmer was born on July 2, 1489. He died nearly five months after he watched his friends Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley burn to death at the stake for his role as a protestant against the Roman Catholic Church and as the archbishop of the Church of England (Anglican Church). Like his friends, it is believed that Cranmer also attended the White Horse Bible study that shaped his thinking that salvation was by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.
Cranmer received his bachelor and master’s degrees from Cambridge and then went on to complete a Doctor of Divinity degree in 1526. King Henry the VIII wanted to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon because she failed to produce a male heir for the throne. The only heir he did have was Mary, but because he wanted a male heir, sought to annul his marriage to Catherine. When the Pope refused to grant King Henry’s request to divorce his wife, he broke away from the Catholic Church and declared himself the head of the Church of England. After his marriage to his second wife, Henry appointed Thomas Cranmer to be the archbishop of the Church of England. It wasn’t until his marriage to his third wife that Henry fathered Edward VII, who eventually became king when he was only 10 years old and reigned for only six years until he became sick and died.
During Cranmer’s role as the Archbishop of Canterbury, he produced his most important contributions to the Protestant Reformation. Understand, that before the Protestant Reformation, everything was in Latin. There were two things that the Protestant Church did not officially have and desperately needed: 1. A statement of faith to hold every church accountable to the fundamentals of the faith, and 2. A liturgy that structured their worship services. The two important pieces of literature that Cranmer helped create were the Thirty-Nine Articles of faith that were eventually finished in 1571 and The Book of Common Prayer that Cranmer edited and co-authored. The Thirty-Nine Articles served to ground the Church in sound doctrine and the Book of Common Prayer served to put Jesus at the center of worship. This is an oversimplification, but Cranmer’s work on the Thirty-Nine Articles and The Book of Common Prayer served to make the worship of the common people something they could participate in rather then something they would watch.
I believe that what William Tyndale did for the Bible by translating it into a language people could read and understand, Cranmer did for the worship of the Church where people could participate in and contribute to. One example of this is seen in one of the prayers written to be prayed before communion: “Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who of thy tender mercy did give your only Son Jesus Christ to suffer death upon the cross for our redemption; who presented himself as a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, for the sins of the whole world…”
The Catholic Church has, and continues to believe, that that the Pope is placed in authority over Christ’s Church. They believe that like the authority given to the original apostles like Paul, John, James, Mathew, and Peter, the teachings of the Pope can decide what are accepted and formal beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church. This is part of the Roman Catholic Church’s dogma that they believe is supported in passages like Matthew 16:13-20, for they believe that the rock Jesus said he would build his church on was Peter as the first pope. Reformers like Thomas Cranmer believed the rock Jesus was referring to was not Peter himself, but the confession and truth that Jesus is the Christ just as Peter confessed.
In Matthew 16, Jesus asked his disciples who people thought he was. The disciples answered Jesus’ question: “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Jesus then asked the disciples: “But who do you say that I am?” Peter responded by answering: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus responded to Peter: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (v. 18). The reformers like Cranmer believed that it was not the Pope but Jesus as the Christ who is the rock that his Church is built upon. The truth of Jesus being the Christ, is also the reason why following him instead of popes makes the most sense.
Jesus is the Christ (vv. 13-16)
Not long before He would be unjustly condemned to death by crucifixion by Pontus Pilot, Jesus asked his disciples two questions: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” and “Who do you say that I am?” (Matt. 16:13-16). These two questions are two of the most relevant and important questions that could be asked today. After almost three years of preaching, teaching, and living among the people of His day, there were many opinions about who Jesus actually was. Some thought he was a reincarnated John the Baptist, others thought he was the prophet Elijah come back again, or some other former prophet come back again.
Today there are all kinds of Jesus’. John Lennon couldn’t think of anyone more important than Jesus when he said that the Beatles were bigger than Jesus. The Doobie Brothers sang a song about Jesus, “Jesus is just all right,” echoing the sentiment of pop culture. Most see Jesus as the guy who has your back; so all kinds of artists, screenwriters, and musicians feel obligated to thank Jesus as their “lord and savior.” To which the lead singer of the band U2, Bono, said when he came up to the mic after hearing several thank Jesus: “I bet God is looking down and saying, ‘don’t thank me for that.”
Jesus is the Rock
After Jesus asked His disciples who they thought He was, Peter answered: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus responded to Peter’s answer by affirming him: “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter [Petros], and on this rock [Petra] I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18).
The Greek word for “Peter” means stone; the Roman Catholic Church in the days leading up to the reformation and the days since the reformation believed Jesus’ statement to mean that he would build His Church upon Peter as the first Pope, but this cannot be, for Jesus was referring to a much bigger rock than Peter. So, what rock was Jesus talking about? The rock Jesus was talking about was the truth that He is the Christ, the Son of the living God. Upon the confession that Jesus is the promised Messiah is the foundation the Church would be built upon.
The Church did not begin because people wanted to have a religious experience, a building to meet in, or a weird club to belong too. The Church was birthed upon the truth that Jesus is the “Christ,” which means Messiah. When Peter said that he believed Jesus to be the Christ, he was saying that he believed Jesus to be the One God promised to Adam and Eve and every generation after, who would deliver people from their sins and restore what was lost through the curse of sin, just as the Prophets foretold: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Might God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” But peace would not be the only thing Jesus will bring, for the prophets Isaiah continues: “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this” (Isa. 9:6-7).
It is upon the foundation of Jesus as the messiah and only remedy for our sin problem that the Church stands upon. This is the only reason why the “Gates of hell” cannot prevail against the Church.
Jesus is the Lord
So what does it mean for Jesus to be the Christ? It means too that he is both savior and lord. If Jesus is the Christ (Messiah), then what that means is that he is not just a savior who rescues sinners, but also a Lord who demands allegiance from his followers. Notice that in the same conversation he had with the disciples, he announced to them that he would, “suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (v. 21). In other words, part of Jesus’ role as Messiah included the necessity of him rescuing us from our sins and condemnation by dying for our sins. We are all okay with Jesus being our savior, but we sometimes live as though we are not okay with what he then told his disciples next in Matthew 16:24-26, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life?” (Matt. 16:24-26).
To come to Jesus in faith means that he is who we come to for our salvation, and no one else. In coming to him is where we find the life we were made for, but by coming to him, he will demand that we do so with our whole selves. To come to Jesus means that we must take up our cross and follow him; in following Jesus, he will make demands concerning the way you live your life.
A new report was just released on October 6th by the Cultural Research Center (CRC) of Arizona Christian University. The Director of Research, Dr. George Barna, said of the report: “While the survey cannot determine if churches are failing to teach biblical truth or whether congregants are exposed to such teaching but rejecting it, the bottom line is that we are a society that has strayed far from the path of biblical truth, it certainly seems as if the culture is influencing the Church more than the church is influencing the culture.” What Barna finds startling is just how many Evangelicals are a part of this new reformation where their theology, “…is being driven by American culture rather than biblical truth. The worldviews embraced by the adherents of these distinct religious communities reflect contemporary, worldly influence, rather than biblical influence.”
The new reformation is not marked by its dependence upon the Bible as the authority over the Church. Here are some statistics that the research found true of those who identify as being evangelical:
- 52 percent of those who identify as evangelicals do not believe in objective moral truth or that the Bible is fully trustworthy.
- 43 percent believe Jesus sinned during his time on earth.
- 58 percent believe that the Holy Spirit is merely a symbol rather than a person.
- 44 percent believe the Bible’s teachings on abortion are ambiguous.
- 40 percent do not believe human life is sacred.
- 34 percent do not believe marriage is between one man and one woman.
St. Augustine once said, “If you believe what you like in the Gospel, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the Gospel you believe, but yourself.” Jesus never left that option up to his followers; it is all or nothing: Either all of him, or none of him. This is what it means to believe that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in CHRIST ALONE. He alone is the rock of the Church and the foundation, model, and the captain of your life and soul. In following him, you will have to say “no” to many of the things the world and the culture are saying “yes” to.
Thomas Cranmer was a remarkable man, but he was a flawed man. For starters, he had an unflinching loyalty to Henry VIII because he believed him to be the head of the English (Anglican) Church when he should have called out the evil the King was responsible for just like he and his friends Latimer and Ridley did with the Pope and the Catholic Church. Cranmer encouraged and annulled Henry’s first marriage to Catherine of Aragon and branded her daughter, Mary, as an illegitimate child.
Of the three men sentenced to death (Latimer, Ridley, and Cranmer), it was Cranmer that Mary hated the most. After watching his friends Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley die at the stake, Cranmer began to waver in his convictions. While held captive, he felt alone, he was tired, he felt sick; Cranmer was also ridiculed and shamed which eventually gave way to him signing a document recanting his Protestantism not once, but several times with the hope that he would be released and pardoned by Mary. Cranmer was told to publicly confess and recant his belief that salvation was by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone by reading an approved written statement. He began by reciting the Lord’s Prayer and began his approved confession before many who were in attendance, and then he deviated off the script and said the following:
And now I come to the great thing that troubles my conscience more than any other thing that I said or did in my life, and that is the setting abroad of writings contrary to the truth which I thought in my heart, and written for fear of death and to save my life if it might be; and that is all such bills which I have written or signed with my own hand since my degradation: wherein I have written many things untrue. And forasmuch as my hand offended in writing contrary to my heart, therefore my hand shall first be punished, for if I may come to the fire, it shall be first burned. And as for the Pope, I refuse him, as Christ’s enemy and anti-Christ, with all his false doctrine. And as for the Sacrament…
On March 21, 1556, Cranmer who once wavered in fear of the flames was led to the place where he would be burned. As the flames were lit, Cranmer held out his hand just has he promised, to be the first to burn before the fire consumed the rest of his body to death.
Following Jesus as the Christ is not always easy. Sometimes following Jesus is difficult. But, because Jesus is the Christ, the rock, and our Lord, we can know that even though he may faulter or fail, he is always and forever faithful in keeping those who are his. Oh how true the words we sang together this morning:
O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be
Let Thy grace Lord like a fetter
Bind my wand’ring heart to Thee
Prone to wander Lord I feel it
Prone to leave the God I love
Here’s my heart Lord take and seal it
Seal it for Thy courts above
 Jared C. Wilson. Your Jesus is Too Safe (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications; 2009), p. 14.