John Knox and the Book of Common Prayer

Posted under The Rectory Bulletin | Church History

“Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!” (Psalm 95:6)

On this day in 1572 John Knox, the foremost leader of the Scottish Reformation, died in Edinburgh. Now there is an awful lot which could be said about Knox, but I thought it might be interesting to briefly look at his influence on England where for two years he was the chaplain to the King.

The story begins in St Andrews, where a Roman Catholic Cardinal had been assassinated following the martyrdom of one George Wishart. The assassins had occupied the castle and were joined by some Reformers, amongst them Knox, but in 1547 French galleys laid siege and captured the occupiers. There then followed a gruelling eighteen months as a galley slave, something which would claim the lives of most people, but Knox survived and was released. Unable to return to Scotland, he went to England.

The Church of England hierarchy quickly recognised Knox’s talent, and in 1551 he was appointed as one of the six chaplains to King Edward VI. The following year, he was even offered the position of Bishop of Rochester. Which he turned down.

It is the debates surrounding the printing of the Book of Common Prayer which really demonstrated the Scotsman’s influence in England. In 1552 a new edition of the Book of Common Prayer had been prepared, approved by parliament and sent to the printers. Knox though was not happy that people had to kneel to receive communion, and went to the Privy Council. Kneeling, he argued, might lead people to believe they were worshipping the bread and the wine themselves. He smelt Popery!

The Council ordered the presses be stopped “until certain faults therein be corrected”. Wording was devised to make the point that kneeling was only an act of gratitude, not of worship. This was sent to the printers who pasted them into the books which had already been printed.

It might be said that this was just a petty argument about words, but often our actions inform our beliefs. Knox was allergic to anything which smacked of idolatry - he would only bow before God. Whether it was turning down the role as bishop, or taking on the Privy Council, Knox was a man who stood by his convictions. A man with a spine!


Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our beloved fellow worker and Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (Philemon 1–3) - To be a Christian is not something to do on a Sunday morning, but it is to be part of a new reality: the family of God.

Paul’s Example of Prayer

I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints, and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ. For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you. (Philemon 4–7) - Faith is not static, but is something which grows. Perhaps when you pray for someone, you might also pray for their faith.

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