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  • Andy Harker

Gospel Priorities: A review of The Anglican Ordinal

How can I resist an invitation to review a booklet which concludes its final paragraph by quoting Matthew 9:37-38? Two other things that immediately warmed me towards it are the author – a wonderfully gospel-hearted, skilful and pastoral church historian (if you haven’t listened to his pen portrait of Spurgeon from the 2018 EMA you must) – and the subject matter – ‘The Anglican Ordinal’ – words that hardly leap from the page with zest and excitement but, for those who have read something of Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer, signal a rich seam of beautiful, meaty, deep, reverent, Bible-saturated, ecclesiological writing

Particular in these days of Covid-19, I am particularly struck by how the orders of the BCP were written very much in times of crisis, war, disease and dangerous childbirth, days when death was never far away. The 1552 and 1662 Ordinal includes The Litany which has the line: “From lightning and tempest; from earthquake, fire, and flood; from plague, pestilence, and famine; from battle and murder, and from sudden death; Good Lord, deliver us.” Against that backdrop the exhortations to presbyters to preach the gospel of eternal life and prepare the dying for death have particular sharpness.

Another feature of historical background, that Atherstone picks out and which has loud resonance today, is how “the Anglican Reformers mourned over the parlous state of pastoral ministry in the Church of England, and the ordinal was designed to raise the standard in line with biblical imperatives” (p18). John Jewel (1522-1571 – note the lifespan) lamented, “The labourers are few. I say not, there be but few cardinal, few bishops, few priests… for the number of these is almost infinite… but alas! the number of labourers are but few…” (quoted p16, emphasis added).

Atherstone lays out how the Ordinal sought to raise the bar through its three sections: 1) a searing exhortation, 2) a searching examination, and 3) a significant ordination. Under the first section he brilliantly unpacks the Ordinal’s four images of the presbyter – messenger, watchman, steward, shepherd. Great to see emphasis on the “true labourer [as] a pioneer in evangelism. This is one of the presbyter’s central responsibilities.”

Under the second section (Examination) Atherstone works through the eight criteria for fitness for pastoral ministry:

  1. Called by God

  2. Believing the Scriptures

  3. Devoted to prayer and Bible study

  4. Ready to proclaim the gospel and refute error

  5. Passionate for Christian unity

  6. A model of godliness

  7. Submitting to godly authority

  8. Dependent upon the Holy Spirit

It’s a good list. The most controversial perhaps is the first but Atherstone helpful adds in his commentary the wisdom of Charles Simeon (that this is really about answering the question of right motivation) and b) the sensible tests of Griffith Thomas (desire, circumstances, character, recognition, fruit).

Under the final section (Ordination) Atherstone very ably handles the three rather thorny issues of a) what is going on in the ‘receiving of the Spirit’, b) the language of ‘priest’ versus ‘presbyter’ (I’d recommend reading this section (pp45-48) before starting on the booklet if you choke on this kind of thing) and c) the giving of the Bible (surely Common Worship is unhelpful in calling this ‘a sign’ – it is not a sign in the same way as the giving of a wedding ring – it is the substance, the living Word, to be opened, read, digested, lived and preached).

Strengths of this booklet:

  • Wonderful focus on the gospel and the necessity and urgency of calling sinners to flee from the wrath of God.

  • God-centredness. He is the one who sends out workers into his harvest field. Labouring is completely dependent on him.

  • Very strong argument that all three sections of the Ordinal are about commissioning “Bible ministers for a Bible church” (p25). “Presbyteral ministry is a ministry of the word” (p49).

  • Weightiness – especially coming out of the BCP language and driven home by absolutely scorching quotes from Ryle, Latimer, Spurgeon and others which leave your ears ringing.

  • Pastoral sensitivity – e.g. to the those who need to tear themselves away from their books and those who need to get them open.

  • Good church history – as you’d expect from A

  • therstone. A light touch but a sure guide.

A very small criticism: personally, I would prefer not to use ‘ministry’ as shorthand for pastoral ministry or presbyteral ministry (as in the subtitle and at various places). As Atherstone says (p6), and as is clear in Ephesians 4 (one of the 1662 Ordinal readings and picked up in the language of the Common Worship liturgy), ‘ministry’ is something done by the whole people of God. But this is a rather picky point!

I would very warmly commend this booklet to those exploring pastoral ministry and those with some years into pastoral ministry looking for a refreshing, challenging and stirring reminder of what they’re supposed to be and do. And in both cases I think there’s a lot there for non-Anglicans. As the subtitle says, this is really about ‘Gospel Priorities’ and there’s a huge amount that is simply apostolic Word and Prayer ministry for the Church of God (and there’s quite a bit of Spurgeon there too!)


Andy Harker is Director of 9:38 Ministries. Their aim is serve churches by encouraging trainees and encouraging apprenticeship/trainee schemes at the local church level. Andy was a ministry apprentice in London, studying at Cornhill and then at theological college. After three years on a church pastoral team he moved with his family to Kenya to spend almost 7 years working alongside iServe Africa, an indigenous ministry in part inspired by 9:38, helping them to raise up gospel workers through ministry apprenticeships. He is a member of Dundonald Church Raynes Park.

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