Thomas Cranmer was the Archbishop of Canterbury and leader of the English Reformation during the reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI. He suffered much persecution for his beliefs during the 14th century (which was a very tumultuous time for the English Church… and the monarchy, for that matter, but that is a different ).
He is an interesting historical figure for a number of reasons, particularly for his series of recantations of belief (due to his persecution), and then recantations of his recantations (which led to his eventual martyrdom). Because of this, I feel like there is a very human element to his legacy. He was not perfect; he was not a rock of unmovable faith (as seen in his recantations and then recantations of his recantations), but in a lot of ways, that’s what makes him a hero. He strikes me as an “Everyman” who buckled out of a desire to save his own life (as we all can sympathize with), but was unable to truly abandon his convictions and, in the end, faithfully faced the fire that would take his life. He was not faithful all the way through, but was faithful until the end.
It is what drives his theology, though, that draws me in to his story. For Cranmer, he believed that guilt, fear, shame, duty, and pride had no power to enable you to “say no to sin”. He rightly understood that what moves people is desire. What our hearts desire, our wills choose and our minds justify. Or, to put it another way: we do what we want.
If the only fuel that our obedience is running on is guilt, fear, shame, duty or pride, than it won’t take long for the deeper desires of our hearts to hijack our piety and lead us to sinful/selfish actions which our minds will then attempt to justify. I’ve seen this in myself time and time again, and I’m sure you have too.
Because he believed Desire to lay at the heart of what we do, the whole thrust and goal of his ministry was to help people desire God; to love Him more than sin. Because if we love God more than the gratification that sin/selfishness/disobedience (in whatever form they take), we will have the strength and desire to choose obedience to His will and His commands.
For Cranmer, loving and desiring God was the key to experiencing the life change that the Bible talks about. It was Cranmer’s desire to help people desire God that led him to write the first two editions of the Book of Common Prayer which the Church of England has used to structure and inform their worship for centuries.
I think the reason that the life and passion of Cranmer has resonated with me so much lately is because this is my desire, not just for the Church, but also for my life. Every time I get up to lead worship my prayer is to help people grow in their love and desire for God. This is why we sing and why we set apart a portion of our gatherings to praise; to engage the heart by seeking the face of God. Knowledge alone cannot motivate one to pursue holiness. It is only when the the heart and mind are unified in the singular desire to love God above all else that the Christian life is truly lived.
May our praise and worship lead us to see Christ more clearly, and may the seeing set our hearts aflame to burn up any desire that doesn’t lead us to Him.
(Thanks to the fine folks at the GodPod for introducing me to the life and theology of Thomas Cranmer… check out their podcast on iTunes, it’s brilliant).