Bible in English: William Tyndale

29/03/2012

Footballers usually only remember the last person to touch the ball before it goes into the net.

Wise managers take note not only of the scorer, but of the person who helped them: it’s called an ‘assist’. Great play-makers are not always the highest scorers. But when they are active, the team scorers well because the strikers are well served by their team.

In a similar way, history generally remembers only the people who brought something to a conclusion. Last time we looked at the Book of Common Prayer. What we call the 1662 BCP was written a century earlier by Archbishop Cranmer, in 1549 and 1552. Cranmer is, rightly, a headline figure. He gets the credit for the Book of Common Prayer.

The person we meet this evening is not a headline figure. He is however one of history’s great playmakers. He provided one of the greatest ‘assists’ to the Bible in English. The known landmark is the Authorised Version of the Bible from 1611. And like the 1662 BCP, it had its roots a century earlier, in the New Testament translation by William Tyndale in 1526 and 1534.

I want to spend our time in three sections.

Tyndale’s Times: setting the scene

Tyndale’s story ends just as Cranmer’s begins

Erasmus and More

An outline of William Tyndale’s Life

Three Marks of Tyndale’s achievement

1. He Translated the Scriptures that Everyone Needed

2. He Translated the Scriptures everyone needed into language everyone could read

3. He published his translation in a form everyone could get hold of.

Tyndale’s Translation opened the King’s eyes

Tyndale’s Legacy for us today.

1. Tyndale’s Times: setting the scene

Tyndale’s story ends just as Cranmer’s begins

Last time we set the scene by placing the Reformation within a virtual timeline of English history. Cranmer’s history was all about Henry VIII, and began in 1534 with the break from Rome’s political as well as spiritual power.

I had not realised how strong the pope’s power was over England. Three hundred years before the time we’re thinking of, in the time of Robin Hood and all that, King John was on the throne. And in 1213 he was excommunicated by the Pope. King John surrendered his Kingdom to the Pope and from that time on, English monarchs paid an annual fee of 1000 Marks (£666) to the Pope.

It only stopped in 1534 when Henry broke with the rule of Rome. Cranmer’s story begins in 1534.

Tyndale’s story ends at just about that time – in 1536, so this evening we’re going back half a generation. Tyndale’s work most definitely paved the way for the English Reformation, because the driving force behind change was, and remains, the Scriptures not the Prayer Book.

Erasmus and More

In order to understand Tyndale better, we should meet some of the other key players at the time. Let me introduce Erasmus, and Thomas More.

Erasmus was probably the brainiest person alive at the time. I want us to note two things about Erasmus:

  1. He could see that the Catholic Church was corrupt. He pointed this out in his writings, some of which have a real spitting-image style biting wit about them. But he never dreamed of breaking with the church: he wanted the church to puts its affairs in order.
  2. He published a printed copy of the NT in Greek, which for the first time put the NT in the original language into the hands of many scholars. He wanted people to read the Bible, but he did not want to rock the Roman boat.

In that sense historians speak of Erasmus laying the egg that Luther hatched.

Erasmus put the Greek New Testament into Tyndale’s hands.

Thomas More was also a massive intellect. He became Lord Chancellor of England after Wolsey (he of Hampton Court fame). Some may know of him through the play by Robert Bolt A Man for All Seasons. More wrote a story about a fictional place called Utopia.

Thomas More was also a very loyal Catholic. He served Henry VIII very well. When Henry broke with Rome, More was unable to accept King Henry as the head of the Church in England. And so he died (executed). He said,

“I die the King’s good servant, but God’s first”

More hated everything that Tyndale stood for, but could find nothing in Tyndale’s life that he could attack his personal integrity or holiness.

Thomas More became involved with Tyndale because he wrote a book attacking Tyndale.

An outline of William Tyndale’s Life

These men were significant because William Tyndale grew up in a world where learning was changing the world, and Tyndale was a player. A list of all his dates would be tedious. The key movements are:

  • He studied at Oxford, and then Cambridge. In Cambridge the reform-minded scholars would meet in the White Horse Inn (which is still there today). It here that the seeds were sown in his heart of craving for God’s word. The apostle Peter writes:

Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. (1 Peter 2:2–3)

Steve Timmis and Tim Chester make this assessment of Tyndale’s heart:

William Tyndale so craved the pure spiritual milk of God’s Word that he spent his life on the run, before dying a martyr’s death to bring that milk to the people of England.

  • Tyndale left Cambridge to work in Gloucestershire (Little Sodbury Manor) as a tutor. At the same time, he worked his way through Erasmus’ Greek NT. The seeds sown during his time in Cambridge came to fruit during this period. From there Tyndale determined that his life’s work lay in translation. Tyndale’s host and employer, Sir John Walsh, often had guests coming through and there was conversation at the table on spiritual topics. One Catholic scholar objected to the idea that the Bible should be made available to others. Tyndale answered, in a quote that is the hallmark quote of the man:

If God spare my life, ere [before] many years, I will cause a boy that driveth the plough shall know more of the scriptures than thou dost.

This was where Tyndale determined to bring the scriptures to the people. The problem is that this was illegal, unless he could get a Bishop to sponsor him.

  • Tyndale went to London, but failed to get permission. The only way forward was leave England, and so he fled to the Continent. He stayed in several places, and smuggled his works back into England. He died in 1536 at the stake. His dying prayer was

Lord, open the King of England’s eyes.

How did the Lord answer Tyndale’s Prayer?

2. Three Marks of Tyndale’s achievement

William Tyndale’s achievements can be summarised under four headings.

1. He Translated the Scriptures that Everyone Needed

There is a joke going round about the time when newer translations of the Bible in English, like the Revised Standard Version and now the NIV, were being introduced. A die-hard advocate of the King James version said, ‘If the Authorised version was good enough for St Paul, then it’s good enough for me!’

I hope it’s not a surprise to you that St Paul did not write in English! The New Testament was written in Greek, and the Old Testament was written in Hebrew (mostly).

But for 1000 years the Church in the West had neither Greek manuscripts, nor the ability to read them. They depended on a Latin Translation from the fourth century called the Vulgate or Common Bible. This was a Roman Catholic Translation, and it contained a number of important errors.

I mentioned earlier that Erasmus laid a very important egg by finding and publishing a Greek New Testament. This was happening across the disciplines: scholars were not content to have books second-hand, they wanted to go back to the originals.

The first step was to go back to the Bible itself: amazingly it seems that scholars were content to rely on second-hand quotes from the bible. Two hundred years before Tyndale, a man called Burley was calling for a return to study of the Bible. A little later (1360), John Wycliffe translated the latin Bible into English.

That was a start. But it only brought the Latin Bible into English.

Tyndale went behind the Latin Vulgate to the Greek. He learned Greek and discovered that the Latin Vulgate translation had introduced a number of important errors. By going back to the original Greek, Tyndale was able to correct these. And that made a big difference. When he started work on the OT, he did the same. He learned Hebrew (not simple because the Jews had been expelled from England two centuries before), and looked at the text.

That principle remains a cornerstone of Bible translation. The preface to the King James Bible makes it clear that it was translated from the original tongues. We will see that 90% of the New Testament was by Tyndale. But every new translation since has started from the original Greek and Hebrew. This is the Bible that everyone needs.

2. He Translated the Scriptures everyone needed into language everyone could read

Tyndale translated the original text into English. Written English was still a developing. One book I read commented that even on the same page there are different spellings of a single word! It’s not that he was a poor speller, but that there simply was no standard. Tyndale coined phrases that have remained as part of our English heritage:

Borne the burden and heat of the day.  (Matthew 20:12)

Take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.  (Luke 12:19)

For in him we live, and move, and have our being  (Acts 17:28)

Because Tyndale had the ploughboy in mind, he wrote in an English that everyone could understand:

By universal agreement, Tyndale succeeded in his great aim; his language and style broke free from the stilted medieval scholastic approach. Tyndale’s New Testament was earthy, almost rustic and certainly plain enough for the ploughman.

Indeed

Tyndale’s New Testament was a gem of a translation. Accurate and beautifully written, it was a page-turner.

It is these two revolutionary aspects of Tyndale’s translation that really lit the fire of reformation in England.

  • Because it was in English, anyone could understand it, including the ploughboy.
  • Because it was from the original Greek and Hebrew, everyone could understand what the scripture really says, including the ploughboy.

I mentioned that the Vulgate latin translation had some errors. Tyndale corrected these errors and gave us the original meaning. And that is when the trouble started. Here are some of the key words that he changed:

  • From penance to repent. Penance is something the Priest tells you to do in order for your sin to be forgiven – much as a GP would give you antibiotics to get rid of a cough. Repentance is completely different: it means turning from sin and no longer living without God, and beginning a new life with him. That is what God calls us to do, and it breaks the power of a corrupt church.
  • From priest to senior (later changed to elder). A priest is someone who makes sacrifices, and who acts as a mediator. Because the Catholic priesthood saw itself in this way, you cold not get to God without a priest. But the New Testament never uses the word ‘priest’ to refer to a Christian leader. It uses the word ‘presbyter’, which means elder. The only priest we need is Jesus, the great high priest. That is what God calls us to do, and it breaks the power of a corrupt church. Ministers are ‘elders’, or leaders of the community of God’s people.
  • From church to congregation. The Greek word for church, ekklesia, means a gathering or congregation. It does not mean the Roman Catholic Church. Therefore if you are in a gathering of people united around the message of the Gospel, then even if you are outside the Roman Catholic Church, you are in a Christian church. This is a key truth of the Reformation, which comes to us in Article 19 of the 39 Articles:

XIX Of the Church
The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in the which the pure Word of God is preached, and the sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ’s ordinance in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same.

  • From charity to love. This change did not make it into the AV, which famously tells us:

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.  (1 Corinthians 13:1)

Fine you say, I’ll put something in the collecting tin, and then I will have ‘charity’. No says the Bible: you need love from the heart. Charity lets us get away with thinking we can buy love, and we cannot. Where there is love, then we are but a clashing symbol, however gifted we feel.

Do you see that when Tyndale’s Bible connected the real text of the Bible with real people, the impact was dynamite! Brian Edwards comments:

The [Catholic] Church’s use of these terms did not agree with what the Scriptures meant by them and Tyndale’s replacements set the words free from their traditional interpretation.

3. He published his translation in a form everyone could get hold of.

William Tyndale’s translation was produced while he was on the run and on the Continent. The first NT was ready in 1526 (8 years before Henry’s break with Rome) and revised in 1534 (the year of Henry’s break). His first translation of the first five books of the OT was lost in a shipwreck; he reworked it from scratch and this was ready in nine months in 1529!Other books followed.

As long as William Tyndale’s translation remained on the Continent, it could do the English ploughboy no good. Two factors put Tyndale’s translation into the hands of the English.

  • The first was the invention of the printing press. Before the printing press, books could only be copied by hand (slow and unreliable), or by individual woodcuts of every page (expensive). John Wycliffe’s New Testament was copied in this way. Once moveable-type printing was available, books could be printed reliably, quickly and cheaply. Printers were entrepreneurs, and if there was a market they would find a way to print and sell.
  • The second was trade routes into England. While he was on the Continent, Tyndale was harboured by merchants. They had come across Reformation ideas during their travels in Europe. And they were constantly bringing goods into and out of England. It was ideal for smuggling Bibles into England.

Tyndale’s New Testament could be mass-produced and then smuggled into England hidden in bales of cloth. It passed its way into the cities and people would club together to buy a copy, and gather round the person who could read. The price was relatively cheap, probably not more than half a week’s wages for a labourer.

That’s about the price of a television or an iPad: not completely impossible if you really felt you had to have it. And people were willing to pay that. It has been estimated that some 16,000 copies of Tyndale’s Bible found their way into England.

When you think that the population of England was 2.5 million (most of whom were illiterate), that’s an astonishing one copy per 156 people!

Tyndale’s Translation opened the King’s eyes

Tyndale was betrayed to the authorities while he was living in Antwerp, now in Belgium. He was tried and eventually executed by being first strangled (as a mercy) and then burned, in October 1536.

His life’s work had been to bring about a translation of the Scriptures that could be put into that hands of the ploughboy. Remember his claim at the dinner table in Little Sodbury Manor:

If God spare my life, ere [before] many years, I will cause a boy that driveth the plough shall know more of the scriptures than thou dost.

History records a plough-girl who read the scriptures: John Foxe writing in the following century records the tale of a woman of Suffolk, Alice Driver. She told her judges that she had never been brought up in a university but had ‘driven the plough before my father many a time’. Yet she ran rings round the churchmen in her knowledge of the scripture.

She was able to do this because William Tyndale had translated the scriptures from the original, into an english she could understand, available in a form she could get her hands on.

Tyndale’s last words were the prayer,

“Lord, open the King of England’s eyes”

Tyndale died before he could see that massive change brought about by his translation. Within a few years of his death, the kings and bishops were beginning to awaken to the need for the Scriptures in English. Henry VIII ordered that an English Bible be placed in every church in the land. Officially the translators were Miles Coverdale and John Rogers, but much of the work was in fact taken from Tyndale. Here’s an interesting comment:

It was not that Tyndale’s translation … was accepted because times were changing. On the contrary it as Tyndale’s translation that was changing the times and thus the whole course of English history.

Thus God did indeed answer Tyndale’s prayers: the King of England’s eyes were opened.

3. Tyndale’s Legacy for us today.

I said at the start that Tyndale was not the striker, but the playmaker who scores an ‘assist’. He did not live to see the fruit of his labours. And fruits there were:

As English Bibles multiplied, it became important to have a single, reliable translation. So King James I commissioned a new translation, to become the Authorised Version of 1611. It was to be a new translation from the original languages. Tyndale was hard to improve on, and 90% of the NT is in fact Tyndale’s translation, as are many parts of the OT.

As Tyndale’s reforming light went out, the baton passed to others. In England, it was the turn of Cranmer. In Europe, it was the rise of men like John Calvin. In the year that Tyndale died (1536), Calvin published the first edition of his most famous book: the Institutes of Christian religion. The so-called heresies for which Tyndale was executed have become normal, mainstream biblical Christianity:

    1. That faith alone justifies [Well, so do I, and so do the 39 articles]
    2. That salvation comes to those who believe in the forgiveness of sins and trust in the mercy offered in the Gospel [Well, so do I, and so do the 39 articles]
    3. That human traditions cannot bind the human conscience [Well, so do I, and so do the 39 articles]
    4. The we do not have free will (over God). [Well, so do I, and so do the 39 articles]
    5. That there is no purgatory [Well, so do I, and so do the 39 articles]
    6. That neither the Virgin Mary nor the Saints are to be invoked in prayer [Well, so do I, and so do the 39 articles]
    7. And so on.

We (evangelicals) do not consider any of these to be radical: they represent simple, basic, biblical Christianity. These foundational beliefs all come from the scriptures. Men like William Tyndale worked and even died so that we might know the truth, and the truth set us free. And we thank God for them.

We who gather here today have unparalleled access to the Scriptures.

  • Our access to the original texts is about 1,000 times greater than it was in Tyndale’s day. We have astonishingly accurate and early copies of the original text. And we know so much more about the original languages.
  • We have a multitude of translations into English. And each year the Bible is translated into more local languages.
  • We have easier access than ever before: Bibles are cheap, the text is on the internet.

One thing has not changed: if God’s word is to open our eyes, we need to begin by reading it. If you do one thing as a consequence of this talk, why not pick up a Bible and read it again? Start in the NT as Tyndale did, and as you read, thank the Lord that you have the Scriptures, and ask him to speak to you through them.

William Tyndale English Bible Lent Talk 2012 PDF version (contains footnotes)

Audio mp3 will shortly be available on the sermons page at http://www.sgw.org.uk


Easter Timeline

29/03/2012

As Easter draws near, I am reminded of this helpful graphical timeline of the Easter events:

Easter holy-week-timeline

Enjoy!


On Cranmer’s Anniversary

23/03/2012

Today marks the anniversary of archbishop Cranmer’s execution.

Two blogs about the death of Cranmer:

First from the blog called Archbishop Cranmer: On this day, 456 years ago, Archbishop Cranmer was martyred. This shows how his care to craft words well led to anguish at his interrogation.

And then on Cranmer’s Complicated death from Gospel Coalition (HT Challies.com), urging us not write off this hero of the faith.

And don’t miss my bit on Cranmer’s legacy of Worship in English

Enjoy


Worship in English: Why Cranmer and the Prayer Book are still relevant

08/03/2012

We take for granted our freedom to worship God in our own language. Here we meet one of the architects of the Reformation in England, thanks to whom we can worship in English. This is the text of a talk I gave last night.

Introduction

Which of the following would you expect to see in Church? Hocus-pocus, Quasimodo, hokey-cokey?

If you have not come across these, Hocus Pocus is the phrase uttered by a conjuror when he performs a trick; Quasimodo is the name given to the hunchback of Notre-Dame in the novel by Victor Hugo, and the hokey-cokey is a dance.

They are all thought to be derived from parts of the Mass, the Catholic service in latin: Hocus-pocus and hokey-cokey both might come from the phrase Hoc est corpus, and Quasimodo is taken from words used on the first Sunday after Easter “Quasi modo geniti infantes”. What they illustrate is that many people knew the words of the latin services but had no idea what they meant.

This evening we’re going to meet Thomas Cranmer, perhaps the greatest architect of worship in English. He did this so that people in church would know what they are doing, and therefore would know the God whom they were

worshipping.

Setting the Scene

The Protestant Church was born during the period we call the Reformation. Before this time, there was only one official Church in Western Europe, the Roman Catholic church. There were underground movements as we will see next time, but they were persecuted. The Church of England was one of several churches which emerged during the Reformation, along with Lutheran churches in Northern Europe, Reformed churches in Switzerland and Germany, and a whole variety of others.

Date

The date of the Reformation is the middle of the 1500s, during the time of the Tudor kings.

  • After 1066 (obviously); after the Crusades, Robin Hood, after the Black Death; after the Battle of Agincourt (Once more into the breach …); after Pudding-bowl haircuts; after Columbus discovered America (1492); after the Wars of the Roses (white Rose of York, Red Rose of Lancaster).
  • Before the English Civil War with Cavaliers and Roundheads and Oliver Cromwell (the seeds of the Civil War were sown in the English reformation). It was before 1662 (we will come to that later), and before the great fire of London (1666) and Samuel Pepys; and two centuries before Jane Austen; three centuries before Queen Victoria and Sherlock Holmes; and four centuries (just) before Downton Abbey and Upstairs Downstairs.

Thomas Cranmer and the English Reformation

The Reformation in Europe

The Roman Catholic Church had become corrupt. The Pope had great spiritual and political power, which no doubt contributed to the corruption.

  • His spiritual power came because of the Church’s belief that the Pope was Jesus Christ’s deputy – so-called ‘Christ’s vicar’ – and that therefore the Bible’s teaching could be added to. As a direct consequence, the Church’s teaching had drifted a very long way from the Bible’s teaching. It was unrecognisable.
  • The Pope’s political power followed from his spiritual power over Catholic rulers, which was everyone in Europe at that time.

These things were simmering away. The trigger for Reformation came with Martin Luther. He was a monk who had been appointed to teach the book of Romans. He took the extraordinary (at the time) step of reading the book of Romans. Luther discovered that the Bible’s message and the Church’s message were completely different. The Bible teaches us to trust in Jesus Christ alone. The Church told people to do what the Church said.

And so the Reformation began.

Reformation in England

About fifteen years after Luther kicked things off, the Reformation came to England. It came in 1534 under King Henry VIII. It had two leaders: the King and the Bishops

  • The King needed to break with Rome for political reasons. Henry VIII wanted a divorce, but the Pope refused. It’s a bit like the EU sometimes with us. We want to deport a dangerous person: the EU says we can’t. This was central to Henry VIII, so he had a reason to break with Rome, and declare England a sovereign country.
  • The Bishops, including Thomas Cranmer, believed in the Reformation, and wanted to break with Rome for theological reasons.

The Reformation in England happened through a combination of these two forces. It’s a bit like two people driving a car, where one has their hands on the steering wheel (the bishops), and the other has their feet on the pedals (the King). It lurches a bit – but it moves!

During Henry’s reign, Cranmer saw some progress:

  • A Bible was put into every church (the King’s Bible);
  • The dissolution of the monasteries was for Henry’s benefit, but from Cranmer’s point of view it shut the door to rewinding the clock of reform.

Then Henry died and was succeeded by his young son Edward VI, who was in favour of further reform.

  • A First Book of Common Prayer was published in 1549 which was half way between the Roman services and the Protestant ones. The second prayer book of 1552 was substantially the one we have today, which was finally revised a century later in 1662.

When Edward died, he was succeeded by Mary I. She set about reversing the Reformation in England. She was nicknamed ‘Bloody Mary’. During her reign 300 people were burned for their protestant faith – a large number even in brutal times.

One of them was Thomas Cranmer. He was arrested and interrogated. During this time it appears he wrote a document pulling back from strong Protestant views. It was not enough to save his life, and he was sentenced to be burned. Here is a contemporary account:

Fire being now put to him, he stretched out his right hand, and thrust it into the flame, and held it there a good space, before the fire came to any other part of his body; where his hand was seen of every man sensibly burning, crying with a  loud voice, ‘This hand hath offended.’  As soon as the fire got up, he was very soon dead, never stirring or crying all the while.

 This image is back to front!

We can sum up Cranmer’s legacy of the Prayer book under five headings. The Prayer Book, and Worship in English was:

Accessible

The first thing to note about the Book of Common Prayer is that it was in English.

Before the Reformation, worship had always been in Latin. The congregation, and often also the priests, did not know what the words meant. How can you worship God in a language and using words you do not understand? That is not worship but magic. How can words in a foreign tongue build up the worshippers? That is why the Reformation brought worship back to local languages, and in England that was English. This is a key principle of the Reformation, as we see in Article XXIV the 39 Articles:

Article 24 Speaking in the congregation in a language that people understand
It is plainly repugnant to the Word of God and to the custom of the early church for public prayer or the administration of the sacraments to be conducted in a language not understood by the people. (Quoted from a modern version of the Articles)

It so happened that Cranmer’s prayer book is in beautiful English. As a friend of mine said: ‘devotion can be beautiful and still be … well devoted’. (Gordon Woolard)

The principle of Accessible Worship remains fundamental for us.

  1. For the Prayer Book, it meant that when Anglican churches were planted overseas, usually where colonists went, soon there were translations into local languages: Mohawk, Spanish (1707), Tamil (1818), Japanese (1879), Chinese (1829), Maori (1838), Xhosa (1864), Zulu (1864), Hawaiian (1863).
  2. For us today, we need to admit that we no longer speak the same English that Cranmer spoke. The BCP of 1662 is in ‘a language not understood by the people’. We will see in the next point why we need to keep to the doctrine of the Prayer Book. The need for accessibility means that we must not feel tied to the language of the Prayer Book. That is why the Prayer book needs updating. That too is why we can use newer words and songs, and newer Bible translations. They are more accessible: but they must also be at least as faithful to the Bible.

Which brings us to our next feature: Biblical

Biblical

The Roman Catholic Church hid the Bible from the people: it was an offence to read the Bible. The Reformation put the Bible back into the hands of people. In our next talk we will meet Bible translator William Tyndale,. His driving desire was to put the Bible into the hands of every believer:

If God spare my life, ere [before] many years I will cause a boy that driveth the plough shall know more of the Scriptures than thou dost [speaking to a scholar].

Cranmer brought the Bible back into worship in two ways:

  • The reading of the Bible. There had been lectionaries before, but they were very complicated. With Cranmer’s lectionary, individuals could work through the whole Bible in a year. This would change the church from within because

With Bible in hand, people were wanting to know where the priest got his ideas from.

  • The language of the Bible was brought into the words that were used in the service. In this way it is Scripture which impels us through the movements of the service, more than our feelings or the church’s tradition. For instance, turn with me to Morning Prayer (p. 2)

Dearly beloved brethren, the Scripture moveth us in sundry places to acknowledge and confess our manifold sins and wickedness… (emphasis added)

Cranmer made Scripture the driving force behind worship.

The principle of Biblical Worship remains fundamental for us.

  1. The reading and teaching of God’s word remains the foundation of our services. We work through books more often than through topics so that we let the Bible set the agenda for the church.
  2. The Scriptures guide the words we use in the service. It is good to use the confessions,  prayers and creeds from the Prayer Book: we can also use confessions, prayers and creeds from the Bible.
  3. Our singing must also be about putting Scripture truth to music: both to build up and to worship. They must be accessible, and biblical (and as we shall see, congregational too). We don’t sing songs which don’t make sense: and we don’t sing songs which don’t tell the truth (like Jerusalem). It might be good to return to singing Psalms and canticles (to newer tunes).

The Prayer Book brought the church back to worship that is Accessible, Biblical, and …

Congregational

Before the Reformation, worship was done by the priests for the people.

The significant parts of medieval services happened in the chancel with the congregation as observers rather than participants

And remember that it was done in the Chancel, by other people, in a language you did not understand! No wonder people struggled to know what was going on. Like going to church in a foreign country: (joke follows)

A group of guys took a trip to France and decided to attend Mass in a small town, even though none of them understood French. They managed to stand, kneel and sit when the rest of the congregation did, so it wouldn’t be obvious they were tourists. At one point, the priest spoke and the man sitting next to them stood up, so they got up, too. The entire congregation broke into hearty laughter. 

After the service they approached the priest, who spoke English, and asked him what had been so funny. The priest said he had announced a birth in the parish and asked the father to stand up.

The Reformation brought worship to the whole church. We do not have priests to offer worship for us; the whole church offers worship. This is the sense of the priesthood of all believers. Christian worship must therefore be congregational so that the whole congregation takes part in the worship.

The Prayer Book brings us congregational worship by giving us speaking parts:

  • Set prayers are given for the whole congregation. We may find the repetition irksome, but in an oral culture, they could be learned and familiar. Or they could be said a line at a time.
  • Affirmations like the Creed allow members of the congregation to say what they believe. Of course it is the ministers’ duty to make sure people understand what they are saying – which is something we try to do when we lead (please say with me, if you feel able to).
  • Songs and Psalms allow the people to express their worship.
  • There is far more congregational involvement with Cranmer than before. And, I submit, there is more congregational involvement in a Prayer Book Service than in an ‘informal’ in which only the service leader knows what is going to be said next.

The principle of Congregational Worship remains fundamental for us.

  1. We still do this through using ‘set prayers’ and creeds’. With projectors and copiers we can more easily introduce new words, but the point is that they involve everyone. And there is benefit in familiarity if the words are good.  
  2. On music, it is important that songs are congregational: a good song in church needs to be accessible, biblical, and singable. There may be occasions for a solo, but the bread-and-butter of church music is congregational singing.
  3. We keep working at ways to engage the whole congregation in the whole service. A church service is not a cinema or a theatre-house where we meet to watch something happening ‘on stage’. Church is the meeting together of God’s family. Our meeting continues over coffee. Initiatives like Café Church, and questions after the sermon are simply extending the congregational involvement.

Cranmer’s Prayer Book brought us back to worship that is Accessible, Biblical, Congregational, and …

Doctrinal

It’s clear that I need a D at this point. I toyed with using the word ‘didactic’ which is more accurate but less clear to most of us. Didactic means that it teaches. The point is that every service of worship tells a story. We have seen that the elements of the service – the prayers, creeds, readings – must be accessible, biblical and congregational. The point here is that the arrangement of these service elements proclaim the gospel:

Liturgy tells a story. We tell the gospel by the way we worship.

The genius of the BCP is that the story it tells is the Gospel story.

Morning Prayer

We could look at the service for Morning Prayer and see that it has three main movements:

  • Movement 1 starts with a scriptural call to repentance, and an exhortation, followed by confession of sins, a declaration of forgiveness and a response. We are preparing to listen to God’s word.
  • Movement 2 exhorts us to listen obediently (via Ps 95), and then moves into the first Bible reading, a responsive hymn, the second Bible reading, and a second responsive hymn.
  • Movement 3 focuses on the response of faith, with the recitation of the creed, various prayers and the thanksgiving.

That is still the basic flow of our service of morning worship. It proclaims that we come together and come to God through the Gospel, and not through our efforts.

Holy Communion

I want us to dip into the Communion Service to see this worked out as well. Turn with me to Page 237 of the Prayer Books. I’m going to skip through some representative sections, highlighting some areas where the service shows distinctively Gospel-focused features:

First notice that Communion takes place at a Table. At the foot of p. 236 that the rubric says

The Table at the Communion having a fair white linen cloth upon in …

Holy Communion is a meal with a Table, not a sacrifice with an altar.

Then the prayer of preparation (p. 237) recognises that we need God’s help to draw near:

ALMIGHTY God, unto whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Then we have the Word of God setting the scene for us, through rehearsing the commandments, and then the Bible readings and Creed. Turn to p. 240 rubric. There are some notices (!) (‘Then the Curate [incumbent] shall declare unto the people …’), and

Then shall follow the Sermon, or one of the Homilies already set forth, or hereafter to be set forth, by authority.

Then it is Scripture which encourages us to give, and Scripture which teaches us to make intercessions (p. 241-245).

The confession on page 251 teaches us again how we draw near. There are some long exhortations, and then this short one:

YE that do truly and earnestly repent you of your sins, and are in love and charity with your neighbours, and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, and walking from henceforth in his holy ways: Draw near with faith, and take this holy Sacrament to your comfort; and make your humble confession to Almighty God, meekly kneeling upon your knees.

Then the confession. Notice that it makes clear that sin is an offence chiefly against God:

ALMIGHTY God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Maker of all things, Judge of all men: We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, Which we from time to time most grievously have committed, By thought, word, and deed, Against thy Divine Majesty, Provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us. We do earnestly repent …

Move on a couple of pages to p. 255 and we find something that Cranmer wrote from scratch.

I think it beautifully sums up the basis on which we drawn near to God:

WE do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.

In other words, we’re not here because we deserve to be, but because you have mercy on us. Help us to stand on the cross of Jesus, and on that alone.

The body and blood of Jesus by which we are saved is the body in which he died on the cross outside Jerusalem, and the blood that was shed there. Jesus never intended us to confuse that body with the bread and wine by which we remember his death. The problem with the Roman Catholic Church confused these two. The Reformers like Cranmer wanted to help us keep the distinction clear, and we see this in two places of the service:

First in the prayer of consecration (p. 255-256). Just over the page we read:

Hear us, O merciful Father, we most humbly beseech thee; and grant that we receiving these thy creatures of bread and wine, according to thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ’s holy institution, in remembrance of his death and passion, may be partakers of his most blessed Body and Blood

The prayer is that God would change us rather than the bread and wine. They remain bread and wine, but by God’s Spirit we can be assured us of Jesus death for our sins.

The words of distribution are interesting in this connection because they connect the death of Jesus to be bread and wine without in any way admitting that the elements have changed (p. 257):

The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for thee, preserve they body and soul to everlasting life: [this refers to Jesus body on the cross, and not to the bread] Eat this [ie the bread which is bread] in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in thy heart  [because it’s bread in the stomach] by faith with thanksgiving

Finally, we respond with more praise to God with the Gloria (p. 259). This quick survey of the structure of the communion service shows that the details and the way they are arranged tell one story – the Gospel story.

The structure of Cranmer’s services reflects his biblical theology.

The principle of Doctrinal (or Gospel-shaped) Worship remains fundamental for us:

  1. We care about the individual elements of the service, that they keep us pointed to Jesus Christ and his once-for-all sacrifice.
  2. We care also about the arrangement of the elements. Not only that there is a sense of conceptual flow, but that the flow tells the right story. Mostly this is in the background and we never pay much attention. Often we notice it in the absence: I am always struck when I go elsewhere and there is no confession, even in a communion service!
  3. We keep the Word central to everything. That is why, incidentally, the Reformers would never celebrate a sacrament (Baptism and Communion) without a sermon: otherwise the sacrament becomes a piece of magic!

Cranmer’s Prayer Book brought us back to worship that is Accessible, Biblical, Congregational, Doctrinal, and …

Everywhere

Cranmer’s Prayer Book was the Book of Common Prayer because there was to be one liturgy for the church everywhere in the Kingdom.

From the King’s point of view, centralisation was good for strengthening his power. And that may explain where there were rebellions. For instance in 1549, Devon and Cornwall rebelled against the BCP in English because they did not speak English. But they did not speak Latin either, so this was not about worship in their own language! In later years the Prayer Books had a rough ride in Scotland and Ireland for similar reasons. It was about having the King’s authority imposed on them.

From Cranmer’s point of view, the Prayer Book was a vital part of the project of bringing spiritual reformation to the Church. If the BCP was to help people know God and worship him, then it had to go everywhere. It had to go everywhere because biblical Christianity (nowadays evangelicalism) was needed everywhere. And it still is.

Did it work?

The Prayer Book and the Church of England.

The Prayer Book alone was not sufficient for keep the Church of England reformed.

The Prayer Book was introduced throughout the Kingdom (but not without a rough ride in the regions!). And there was reform so that by the end of the 16th century England was a clearly Protestant Country.

In the 17th century the Civil war showed that the work was not finished. When the monarchy was restored, the Prayer Book was restored too (that is why it’s the 1662 Prayer Book) as the best accommodation between Protestantism and Order.

In the 18th century, everyone used the Prayer Book, but many did not believe its truth. There many ‘Deists’, people who believed in God who exists but takes no part in human affairs. They are the forbears of the liberals we have today. That was the world in which George Whitefield and John Wesley ministered. Change came about when they preached the gospel message.

In the 19th century, everyone used the Prayer Book, but the Oxford Movement led by John Henry Newman along with Keble and Pusey, tried to show that they could believe Catholic doctrine and still use Prayer Book and the Articles. They gave birth to the Anglo-catholic movement we have today.

In the 20th century, the Prayer Book is still in use and loved for its beautiful language. It’s a symbol for the heritage movement. In our unkind moments we call these folk ‘choral atheists’. They believe in the beauty of language rather than in God.

That is why in the 20th century the movement for other prayer books gathered pace. In 1928 there was an attempt at a revision. Parliament refused to authorise it but it was used anyway. In 1980 the ASB was produced which was pedestrian and man-centred. Now we have Common Worship in which as far as I can tell, almost anything goes.

The Prayer Book is not actually the instrument that changes or guides the church’s belief. The Prayer book reflects and captures it well. The church’s teaching and belief and Gospel come through biblical preaching. In each age that I mentioned above, reform and revival came to the church in England through the gospel being proclaimed and preached.

The principle of common worship from Cranmer’s prayer book comes through preaching the Bible, because it is through what we teach that we come to believe what the Prayer book contains. Good liturgy alone will never be enough to keep a church orthodox. But it is a great help!

It is through the Bible’s teaching that we see in each new generation that our worship must be:

  • Accessible
  • Biblical
  • Congregational
  • Doctrinal

Then we discover that it is everywhere, because it’s not simply an Anglican thing: biblical worship across the denominations varies much less that it will across mixed denominations like the Church of England is today

For those … committed to “worship under the Word”, minor differences in terminology and strategy surface here and there, while the fundamental priorities are remarkably similar, as is also the shape of their Sunday morning meetings.

I think Cranmer would have approved.

Our focus for next time is the text of these scriptures: if we are worship under the scriptures, we need to be able to understand them. We can do that only because they are in English!

Let’s finish with the General Thanksgiving from the Prayer Book:

ALMIGHTY God, Father of all mercies, we thine unworthy servants do give thee most humble and hearty thanks for all thy goodness and loving-kindness to us and to all men; We bless thee for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all for thine inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ, for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory. And we beseech thee, give us that due sense of all thy mercies, that our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful, and that we shew forth thy praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives; by giving up ourselves to thy service, and by walking before thee in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom with thee and the Holy Ghost be all honour and glory, world without end. Amen.

For text with footnotes, open this file

Will people with disabilities be seen in Heaven?

06/03/2012

When Jesus healed the sick and helped people with disabilities, he gave a preview of the resurrection life of the Kingdom of God. John the Baptist’s disciples are sent to find out from Jesus

“Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Matthew 11:2–3)

His reply:

“Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. (Matthew 11:4–5)

All these were things that Jesus did. And all there were things that the Prophets looked forward to when the Lord would come to his people. (e.g. Isaiah 35.5-6). Jesus’ healings had much to do with identifying him. And as we saw earlier, they are not saying that people with disabilities are sick. There is also no promise that Christians will be freed from disability in this life. However …

Jesus’ promise of the resurrection is that we will have new bodies. Those new bodies will no longer have the limitations which cause us grief. We will be free from both the pain that comes of being sinners (we will be perfect), and from the pain that comes of having bodies that are subject to the effects of sin (we will be changed). All of us have limitations here, and all of us who are in Christ will be raised glorious.

Will the ‘disabled me’ be wiped out?

We will be different and we will be ourselves. But what does that mean when a disability has been a significant part of of who we are?

For instance:

  • a person who acquired a disability late in life will long to be what they once were, freed from the limitations that reduced mobility, or sight, or hearing brought them. They won’t mind if the last few years of struggle are forgotten. I recently asked a church member on their 90th birthday which had been the best decade of their life. without pause they answers ‘certainly not the last!’. Getting old was no fun for them, and they would be glad to forget it.
  • A person who acquired a disability in mid-life has two halves to their life. Which one will they be in the new creation? Will one half of life be simply wiped away in the new creation?
  • What of someone who grew up with a disability and says:

Some of the strengths I have as a person are due to [my disability’s] influence on me. So it’s part of who I am, it is not something I have … it is integrated into me. (McCloughry and Morris 63)

What does the resurrection hope mean for those who have lived closely with a disability? I think that the answer becomes clearer when we look at Jesus’ own resurrection body.

The disabled Christ

We saw earlier that disability arises in the body and because of the body. When Jesus was born (the incarnation), he took on human flesh, with all its limitations. He became like us.

When he allowed himself to be arrested, stripped, beaten, and crucified, he allowed himself to be disabled by others. He was totally at the mercy. In this sense, he experienced the extreme of disability. The physical scars that bear witness to this are his hands and feet and pierced side.

When he was raised to new lifeand he appeared to his disciples, what happened to the marks of his disability? Jesus appeared to the disciples and invited Thomas to

Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side.’ (John 20:27).

The risen Jesus still bears the marks of his suffering – his disability.

He still bears them in his glory:

Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. (Revelation 5:6)

The risen and ascended Christ still bears the marks of what he experience. He is in this sense the ‘disabled Christ’

If that is right, then there will be people with disabilities in the new creation. And even if they no longer suffer the frustrations and limitations of their disability, they will still bear the marks – both wounds and trophies – that their disability has brought them. In this they will be like their Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Books

Roy McCloughry & Wayne Morris Making a World of Difference: Christian Reflections on Disability (SPCK 2002)

Thomas E Reynolds Vulnerable Communion (Brazos Press, 2008)

Brian H Edwards Horizons of Hope: Reality in Disability (Day One, 2000 reprinted 2004)


Are people with disabilities shut out?

06/03/2012

Ziba and Mephibosheth show that one way that people with disabilities are excluded is by society’s irrational fear. But are there grounds for saying the Bible orders people with disabilities to be excluded from God’s people?

I think it is common when discussing NT healing to say something like: “a person with a disability was not only disadvantaged in society, but would also have been excluded from Temple worship. Thus when Jesus heals them they are enabled to rejoin the worshipping community. And that is a good thing.” (I can’t at the moment find references to this but I have certainly heard it).

But is their exclusion biblically mandated? In other words were first-century Jews right in excluding people in this way? And were they right (by their standards) to do so? I have looked in vain for a clear OT basis for excluding people with disabilities from society. There are however some interesting passages.

Leviticus 21: Priests with disabilities

No descendant of Aaron the priest who has any defect is to come near to present the offerings made to the LORD by fire. He has a defect; he must not come near to offer the food of his God.  (Leviticus 21:21)

The word for ‘defect’ is the same as the word used when Israelites are told that the animals they offer are to be without defect (e.g.Deut. 15:21).  It’s strong language to use of any human made in God’s image.

This is not banning any person with a disability or disfigurement from God’s presence, but is more specific:

  • It applies to Aaronic priests only, not to people in general
  • It bars them from Temple service, but they are allowed to be in the holy precincts of the Temple. The passage goes on:

He may eat the most holy food of his God, as well as the holy food; yet because of his defect, he must not go near the curtain or approach the altar, and so desecrate my sanctuary. I am the LORD, who makes them holy.’”  (Leviticus 21:22–23)

So a son of Aaron who has a disability cannot offer a sacrifice, but can eat of the holy food. He is clean, because an unclean priest would not be allowed there. He is clean but he is not fit for work. Why is that?

One possibility is that Temple work was dangerous and no place for a person with a disability.

A more persuasive suggestion is that the whole point of the Temple system is to enable morally imperfect people to approach a morally perfect God. Because it’s about perfection, both the offerer and the offering must be without blemish. The sacrificial victim must be without blemish; and the priest who offers must in himself embody this ideal too.

We discover in the NT what they must have suspected in the OT, namely that the OT system pointed to perfection but never attained it. nevertheless the role of the system was to model perfection, to show what it might look like. That is where a person with an obvious disability (or would disfigurement be better) cannot act as a priest. His disability would confront people with their weakness, not the ideal of perfection.

The letter to the Hebrews makes clear that none of the priests is without defect before God. Even the apparently able-bodied ones point to the need for a better priest:

Such a high priest meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.  (Hebrews 7:26)

His offering, and his work as priest, fulfils the whole sacrificial system:

Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.  (Hebrews 7:27)

So even in this difficult text, Aaronic priests with a disability point to our need for a great high priest in Jesus.

Christian leaders with disabilities?

What does this mean for Christian leaders today? Does this passage mean they too must be free from disability?

No. Christian leaders are not priests. This passage in Leviticus 21 is about priests, and our priest is Jesus Christ. The exclusion of priests with a disability is not relevant for Christian ministry because Christians leaders are not priests.

Christian leaders such as elders are, however, to model Christian maturity, which is what we find in the NT lists of elders’ qualifications (1 Timothy 3 etc.). Those criteria apply equally to those with disabilities and to those without.

Two more texts

No one who has been emasculated by crushing or cutting may enter the assembly of the LORD. (Deuteronomy 23:1)

Here is a helpful comment:

‘At face value this exclusion of the emasculated from the assembly seems to add insult to injury. It is likely, however, that it is a reference to eunuchs or others involved in self-mutilation associated with Canaanite cults’ (J Gary Millar Now Choose Life: theology and ethics in Deuteronomy (Apollos NSBT 6, 1998) p. 137-8)

2 Samuel 5 tells the curious tale of David’s conquest of Jerusalem against the Jebusites whom he taunts as the blind and the lame’ (He’s returning their insult). Then we read:

On that day, David said, “Anyone who conquers the Jebusites will have to use the water shaft to reach those ‘lame and blind’ who are David’s enemies.’” That is why they say, “The ‘blind and lame’ will not enter the palace.”  (2 Samuel 5:8)

The word for palace might be translated as temple or simply house. Dale Ralph Davis (2 Samuel: out of every adversity (Christian Focus, 1999)) blatantly ducks the issue. Robert P Gordon (I and II Samuel: a commentary Regency Reference Library, 1988; p. 51 and 227) has a fuller treatment that shows how David’s actions point forward to Jesus actions in welcoming the blind and lame into the Temple. He shows that while David may have rejected the blind and the lame, it shows a contrast with his greater son Jesus who does not. Therefore this is not a text that mandates the exclusion of people for their disabilities.

So does the Bible exclude them?

I can’t see grounds in the Bible for excluding people with disabilities from the assembly of God’s people, or from the Church. if that is right, then

  1. People with disabilities do not need to be ‘healed’ before they can come to God. They come to God like everyone else, by forgiveness, and new birth by the Holy Spirit.
  2. Because the church is not the temple, disability and difference can play a much larger role. None of us has to try to model perfection. All of us model God’s gracious acceptance. That is why in the church we must model inclusion, with all the challenges this brings. Christian people with disabilities belong to the body of Christ: like every Christian, they have their part to play in helping the whole church reach maturity.

Next question: Will People with Disabilities be seen in Heaven?


Are people with disabilities sick?

06/03/2012

The New Testament introduces us to many people who are disabled or excluded: blind, deaf, suffering from leprosy, or paralysed. Jesus heals them and their are freed from their disability. So is disability like sickness, and do people with a disability need healing?

Disability is not the same as sickness

Disability is not sickness. The two are related, but they are not the same thing.

  • A great advance in recent years is to bring the care of people with disabilities out from medical care alone and into society’s care. (This breaks the monopoly of the ‘medical model’)
  • Disability may however spring from sickness.

Not sick but embodied

Both sickness and disability happen because we live in a human body. This is at once obvious and, I think, profound. If we did not have bodies there would be no disability. Because we have bodies, and because they are limited, there is disability:

  • if you do not have a body and don’t need eyes to see, then you could not experience impaired vision?
  • If you don’t need legs to walk, then you cannot experience impaired mobility, or need to use a wheelchair.
  • If you don’t have chromosomes, then you can’t have the extra chromosome that causes you to be born with Down’s Syndrome
  • And if you don’t have neurons in your brain, then you can’t suffer from epilepsy caused when the wiring and firing goes wrong

There aren’t any disabled spirits, because they don’t have bodies as we do, and their bodies are therefore not subject to sin as ours are. Disability happens in the body, and it happens because of the body. This is also true of mental disability

Disability is not sickness: but it is an aspect of having a human body. We all experience limitations of the human body: people with disabilities experience them to a much greater and much more visible extent.

Explains irrational fear

I wonder if this explains why a common reaction to people with disabilities is irrational fear. Their disability confronts people with their own limitations. Think of it like a father and son who are very similar. The father has a weakness (maybe he is disorganised) but he has it under control – just. When he sees the same thing in his son, he goes ballistic. Why this irrational response? Because his son’s weakness confronts him with an area of vulnerability.

People with disabilities are not sick: but they can remind us all of our frailty and limitations. The irrational response is to exploit the weakness in order to shore up our own insecurity. God’s word says:

Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God. I am the LORD. (Leviticus 19:14)

The challenge therefore is to relate to the person rather than to the disability.

Three responses to a person with a disability

We see a range of responses with  Mephibosheth (2 Samuel 4 and 9).

  • He is the grandson of Saul first King of Israel, and therefore a potential dynastic threat to King David. Normal wisdom suggests that David must eliminate Mephibosheth in order to secure his throne. That is what Mephibosheth expects when he gets a summons to court (2 Sam 9).
  • He is the son of Jonathan, who was David’s great friend. Despite the dynastic threat, David showed kindness to Mephibosheth for Jonathan’s sake (2 Sam 9.1)
  • But crucially he is disabled in both feet (2 Sam 4.4; 9.3). He couldn’t mount a rebellion without help from others. His steward Ziba resents this and eventually betrays him.

David sees him as a son of Jonathan, and loves him. Ziba sees him as a disabled rebel, and despises him. Mephibosheth’s disability confronted Ziba’s weakness. (All this is from McCloughry & Morris, listed at the end of the last post)

Disability is not sickness – again

Let’s be clear that disability is not sickness. Christians who believe in a sovereign God know that he could heal those we pray for. We also know that he can reveal his glory through weakness and frustration. we’re all jars of clay, whether we realise it or not.

If a person with a disability prays for healing, then usually we pray with them – knowing that God is sovereign and trusting that he will answer that prayer as he sees best. But if a person with a disability is whole in themselves, then they may have other requests beyond physical cure. This is how we include them into our fellowship as partners in the Gospel. They might even lead the way for us towards the maturity that sees needs beyond the physical need for healing.

Joni Earickson had this comment (picked up this week from Justin Taylor)

Often I attend prayer meetings where various requests for healing, finances, safety in travel, or job promotions are divvied out. Naturally, we desire prayer for such things. But a closer look at God’s Word would reveal deeper and more divinely inspired ways to pray for friends and family.

Is there a cancer? Yes, prayer for healing is in order, but so is prayer for the robust blessings of Ps. 119:140: “Your promises have been thoroughly tested, and your servant loves them.” How rich to pray, “Lord, this cancer is testing Your promises in the life of my friend who is ill, but You are faithful to every promise You’ve made to her. May Your servant love Your promises through this time of testing.”

Is there a need for finances? Yes, prayer for needed money is in order, but so is prayer for the rewards of Prov. 15:17: “Better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fattened calf with hatred.” How invigorating to pray, “Lord, financial blessing isn’t the focus; Your Word says that love should be. May we learn to live on little if it means leaning harder on You, as well as each other.”

When I pray for disabled children I know, I intercede with Mt. 19:14 in mind: “Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’ ” In verse 15 we’re given a picture of Jesus tenderly placing His hand on each child. “Lord Jesus,” I’ll say, “Your heart went out to children when You walked on earth. I can picture You tousling their hair, bouncing them on Your knee, and laying Your hands on their heads to bestow a blessing. If Your heart went out this way to the boys and girls who could walk up to You, how much more must Your heart overflow toward little Jeanette with spina bifida or Benjamin who has cerebral palsy? Today, may they feel Your hand of blessing on their heads.”

Often it’s good to quote an entire passage, substituting a person’s name for the pronoun in the passage. Colossians 1:9-12 is a good example of scripture to pray this way: “I ask God to fill Susan with the knowledge of His will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And I pray this in order that Susan may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please Him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work she does, being strengthened with all power, so that she may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully give thanks to the Father.”

Remember, God’s Word is alive, active, and powerful. Prayers laced with the Word of God not only bring about fundamental changes in people and situations, but such prayers keep us in touch with God’s priorities. Weaving God’s Word into our prayers brings His purposes to the forefront of every request.

Next question: Are People with Disabilities Shut out?


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