Reformation Anglican Worship: Experiencing Grace, Expressing Gratitude, by Michael P. Jensen. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2021. Pp. 190. $35.00 (hardcover). ISBN: 978-1433572975. [Reviewed by David J. Engelsma]
To the Reformed believer, the Anglican Church is an anomaly. In relation to the Roman Catholic Church, on the one hand, and to the Reformed Church, on the other hand, it is neither fish nor fowl. I refer not to the contemporary worship of the largely apostate modern Church of England, which has embraced praise bands, which occasionally features a female preacher, and whose sermons comment, utterly mistakenly, on world events (as once I myself painfully witnessed). Rather, I refer to the worship of that Church in the days of its glory, under Thomas Cranmer. On the one hand, it showed the influence of the Reformation. On the other hand, not only had it not shaken off the elements of the worship of the Roman Catholic Church, but it was also quite determined to retain “priests,” choirs, choral music, special garb for the clergy, and more Roman liturgical actions and features of worship. More importantly, it resolved to reject the “regulative principle” of worship, thus giving the liturgy over from the will of God into the hands of the church herself.
The “regulative principle” of worship is the teaching that the church may worship God only in the manner which He Himself has prescribed in His Word. It stands in contradiction to the notion that the church may worship God in any way that God has not forbidden. This notion invariably results in the church’s worshiping God in any way it pleases. What “regulates” worship, where the “regulative principle” does not govern the worship, is the whims of the fickle audience, or the arbitrary will of a worship committee, or the latest fad on the church scene. That is, nothing at all regulates the worship.
Jensen’s crisp, well-researched book describes Anglican worship as shaped by the Reformation, especially under the influence of Cranmer, but also under the influence of two powerful civil rulers, Henry VIII and Elizabeth. To this influence of the heads of state, and to the related reality of the Anglican Church’s being the religion of the state, can be attributed that Church’s weakness with regard to worship down the centuries to the present time. Where the church is a creature of the state and its members, the citizens of the nation, corruption of the church’s worship is a foregone conclusion, as this book proves.
The book begins with a sound accounting of the nature and fundamental elements of Christian worship. With sound Reformation thinking, it declares that worship is not the church’s effort to obtain blessing from God, but her sacrifice of thanksgiving to a gracious God, who has saved the church and her members by the atoning work of Jesus Christ. “Worship is a response to the gracious divine initiative and…is enabled by God” (42). Hence, the sub-title of the book. And God Himself works this worship within the church’s members.
The book continues with the description of the shaping and molding of Anglican worship by the sixteenth-century Reformation.
The bulk of the book is a description and defense of the elements of Reformation worship in the Anglican Church. The main element, rightly, according to the author, was, at the time of the Reformation, if no longer in many congregations, the reading and preaching of Scripture. “The…sermon is a recognition that the center of the church’s worship is the act of listening to the speaking God” (103). Such was the influence of preaching upon the Anglican Church in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries that it shaped the architecture and furniture of the church buildings.
The emphasis of Anglican worship on the reading of the Bible corrects a weakness of which some Reformed preachers are guilty, namely, giving the reading of the Bible in worship a “lick and a promise,” probably, in their thinking, in deference to the preaching. It becomes evident that the officiating minister has not read over his chapter before the service. He stumbles through the reading, without proper emphasis and with a number of mistakes in pronunciation. Reformation Anglican worship regarded the means of grace as preaching and the reading of Scripture. Rightly so!
On the other hand, some notables in the Anglican Church, the prominent Richard Hooker among them, held that the reading of the Bible in worship makes preaching unnecessary, a fundamental error concerning worship that is not shared by Jensen.
Yet another aspect of the book’s treatment of worship in light of the instruction of Cranmer from which the Reformed minister will profit is the analysis of the public, congregational prayer. This prayer must be carefully thought out ahead of time. It must have certain components. There must be a certain order. To demonstrate the elements of proper congregational prayer the author appeals to, and briefly explains, the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, with which the Reformed pastor does well to become acquainted. A benefit of reading the book may well be the reminder that worship importantly also consists of the congregational prayer.
In the end, Anglican worship suffers from a fundamental weakness. The error goes back to Cranmer himself. It is the rejection of the “regulative principle” of worship.
In matters of church order [having to do with worship—DJE], he [Cranmer] proved himself to be quite pragmatic, so long as unity, discipline, and edification were upheld. It was quite feasible, in his mind, for there to be different liturgical forms in different places and times, if properly justified. The church in each nation should have freedom to order its own ceremonies [elements of the liturgy—DJE] according to culture and circumstance. (63)
To this rejection and disregard of the “regulative principle” of worship is due, finally, the chaotic and deplorable condition of the liturgy—the worship!—of much of Anglican worship today. The author himself, determined as he is to validate and approve even the most abominable developments of contemporary Anglican worship, with reference specifically to certain music found in worship services of Anglican churches, calls the worship of some Anglican churches “simply paganism” (167).
The book is an excellent source, not only of the knowledge of the Reformation’s powerful influence on the worship, and thus the formation and struggles, of the Anglican Church, but also of the knowledge of the important subject of Christian worship itself.