May 4, 2017

If I Delay, It Will Go Away

“I pray that God grant I may endure to the end”—Thomas Cranmer, December 1555

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Reflections by Deborah Evans, Ph.D.

Local church ministry as a vocation was a surprise to me. Public education was my destiny, . . .  or so I thought. But, the harder I delayed, the stronger the call. Thomas Cranmer found himself in a similar predicament. Called to be the Archbishop of Canterbury by King Henry VIII, Cranmer recoiled and delayed his return to England for seven weeks. He hoped the King would grow tired of waiting and find another more suitable candidate.

Cranmer’s story is reminiscent of the Prophet Jonah: “Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish” (Jonah 1:3 NIV). I am not sure where Jonah, Cranmer, or I thought we could flee to? Maybe it was not so much fleeing, but delaying what we all knew was the inevitable call on our hearts.

Thomas Cranmer
Thomas Cranmer.


Cranmer was a notably restrained, sometimes indecisive contributor to the Reformation. He did not disagree with Henry’s right to divorce his wife and to become head of the Church. But, he had taken the obligatory oath to be subject to the Pope, since the Church of England had not separated from Rome. At his consecration as Archbishop in 1533, he signed a statement to not “do or attempt anything which will, or may seem to be, contrary to God’s Law, or against his Majesty, the King of England.” Once he accepted the role of Archbishop, he was knee-deep in the mire of Henry’s divorce debate.

Cranmer received criticism for appearing to be a puppet of the king. Once Henry died, Cranmer was transformed. It was as if his true calling was now at hand  - to prepare the Church of England to become a serious Protestant church. The time was now and there was no turning back.

Like Cranmer, I found myself in the same boat with him and the Prophet Jonah! Left to ourselves, we might have chosen a different path that would have made us feel good...for a time. Of course, slowly and consistently, God’s Spirit draws us back. It was not long before Cranmer rectified his journey in serving God. His call was to impact England through his gift of writing and editing, especially through his role in helping to compose the Book of Common Prayer (first published in 1549). For the greater good he propelled England into the heart of Reformation.

Cranmer met a fateful end during Queen Mary’s reign as he was imprisoned and physically and mentally tortured. With courageous confession, this man of God said we are to “care less for this world and more for the next, to obey their sovereigns out of the fear of God, to do good to all people and to be concerned for the poor.” The day of his burning, he turned to 2 Timothy 2:11-13 and said, “This is the faithful saying: for if we die with Him we shall also live with Him. If we endure, we shall also reign with Him. If we deny Him, He will also deny us. If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself.” In a letter dated December 1555, Cranmer wrote, “So that we may say with Paul, ‘when I am weak, then I am strong; and if I must needs glory, I glory in my infirmities, in prisons, in reviling’s, in distresses, in persecutions, in sufferings for Christ,’ I pray that God grant I may endure to the end.”

I may have not been called to a Reformation-size task, but I am struck by Cranmer’s delay, which led to perfect timing for the English Reformation. Thirty-four plus years later, I am grateful for being called to serve the Lord no matter what I first had in mind.

by Deborah E. Evans, Ph.D., adjunct professor of Theology and Ethics at Alvernia University, Reading, PA and former Director of Education in church ministry for thirty years.

(Join us each Thursday for a fresh look at a quote from the Reformation era! Sign up via our e-newsletter (in the box at top right) or through our RSS feed (above), or follow us on Facebook for the next year as we celebrate 500 years of Reformation.)

How can you know what God wants you to work at? The DVD Going on Vocation and Christian History 110, Callings, are good resources for individual or group study, including an eight-lesson curriculum available here.

Tags Thomas Cranmer • Reformation • Church of England

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