By Robin G. Jordan
The Thirty-Nine Articles
XIX Of the Church
As the Church of Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch have erred: so also the Church of Rome has erred, not only in their living and manner of ceremonies, but also in matters of faith.
XX. Of the Authority of the Church
The Church has power to decree Rites or Ceremonies and authority in controversies of faith; and yet it is not lawful for the Church to ordain anything contrary to God's word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another….
XXV. Of the Sacraments
The Sacraments were not ordained of Christ to be gazed upon or to be carried about, but that we should duly use them.
XXXIV. Of the Traditions of the Church
It is not necessary that Traditions and Ceremonies be in all places one or utterly alike; for at all times they have been divers, and may be changed according to the diversities of countries, times, and men's manners, so that nothing be ordained against God's Word….
Every particular or national Church hath authority to ordain, change, and abolish ceremonies or rites of the Church ordained only by man's authority, so that all things be done to edifying.
The Book of Common Prayer
Of Ceremonies, Why Some Be Abolished and Some Retained
Of such Ceremonies as be used in the Church, and have had their beginning by the institution of man, some at the first were of godly intent and purpose devised, and yet at length turned to vanity and superstition: some entered into the Church by undiscreet devotion, and such a zeal as was without knowledge; and for because they were winked at in the beginning, they grew daily to more and more abuses, which not only for their unprofitableness, but also because they have much blinded the people, and obscured the glory of God, are worthy to be cut away, and clean rejected: other there be, which although they have been devised by man, yet it is thought good to reserve them still, as well for a decent order in the Church, (for the which they were first devised) as because they pertain to edification, whereunto all things done in the Church (as the Apostle teacheth)ought to be referred.
And although the keeping or omitting of a Ceremony, in itself considered, is but a small thing; yet the wilful and contemptuous transgression and breaking of a common order and discipline is no small offence before God, Let all things be done among you, saith Saint Paul, in a seemly and due order: The appointment of the which order pertaineth not to private men; therefore no man ought to take in hand, nor presume to appoint or alter any public or common Order in Christ's Church, except he be lawfully called and authorized thereunto.
And whereas in this our time, the minds of men are so diverse, that some think it a great matter of conscience to depart from a piece of the least of their Ceremonies, they be so addicted to their old customs; and again on the other side, some be so new-fangled, that they would innovate all things, and so despise the old, that nothing can like them, but that is new: it was thought expedient, not so much to have respect how to please and satisfy either of these parties, as how to please God, and profit them both. And yet lest any man should be offended, whom good reason might satisfy, here be certain causes rendered why some of the accustomed Ceremonies be put away, and some retained and kept still.
Some are put away, because the great excess and multitude of them hath so increased in these latter days, that the burden of them was intolerable; whereof Saint Augustine in his time complained, that they were grown to such a number, that the estate of Christian people was in worse case concerning that matter, than were the Jews. And he counselled that such yoke and burden should be taken away, as time would serve quietly to do it. But what would Saint Augustine have said, if he had seen the Ceremonies of late days used among us; whereunto the multitude used in his time was not to be compared? This our excessive multitude of Ceremonies was so great, and many of them so dark, that they did more confound and darken, than declare and set forth Christ's benefits unto us. And besides this, Christ's Gospel is not a Ceremonial Law, (as much of Moses' Law was,) but it is a Religion to serve God, not in bondage of the figure or shadow, but in the freedom of the Spirit; being content only with those Ceremonies which do serve to a decent Order and godly Discipline, and such as be apt to stir up the dull mind of man to the remembrance of his duty to God, by some notable and special signification, whereby he might be edified. Furthermore, the most weighty cause of the abolishment of certain Ceremonies was, That they were so far abused, partly by the superstitious blindness of the rude and unlearned, and partly by the unsatiable avarice of such as sought more their own lucre, than the glory of God, that the abuses could not well be taken away, the thing remaining still.
But now as concerning those persons, which peradventure will be offended, for that some of the old Ceremonies are retained still: If they consider that without some Ceremonies it is not possible to keep any Order, or quiet Discipline in the Church, they shall easily perceive just cause to reform their judgements. And if they think much, that any of the old do remain, and would rather have it all devised anew: then such men granting some Ceremonies convenient to be had, surely where the old may be well used, there they cannot reasonably reprove the old only for their age, without bewraying of their own folly. For in such a case they ought rather to have reverence unto them for their antiquity, if they will declare themselves to be more studious of unity and concord, than of innovations and new-fangleness, which (as much as may be with the true setting forth of Christ's Religion) is always to be eschewed. Furthermore, such shall have no just cause with the Ceremonies reserved to be offended. For as those be taken away which were most abused, and did burden men's consciences without any cause; so the other that remain, are retained for a discipline and order, which (upon just causes) may be altered and changed, and therefore are not to be esteemed equal with God's Law. And moreover, they be neither dark nor dumb Ceremonies, but are so set forth, that every man may understand what they do mean, and to what use they do serve. So that it is not like that they in time to come should be abused as other have been. And in these our doings we condemn no other Nations, nor prescribe any thing but to our own people only: For we think it convenient that every Country should use such Ceremonies as they shall think best to the setting forth of God's honour and glory, and to the reducing of the people to a most perfect and godly living, without error or superstition; and that they should put away other things, which from time to time they perceive to be most abused, as in men's ordinances it often chanceth diversely in divers countries.
The Thirty-Nine Articles and The Book of Common Prayer of 1662, as may be seen from the foregoing, articulate a number of principles relating to ceremonies. Ceremonies are “the acts or gestures preceding, accompanying, or following the utterance of words; the external acts of worship.” Among the principles laid out in the Articles and the Prayer Book are that ceremonies should be kept to a minimum. They should be agreeable to Scripture. They should serve decent order and godly discipline. They should be edifying. They should stir up the mind to remembrance of duty to God. They should not foster superstition. They should not burden men’s consciences without cause. Their meaning and use should also be readily understandable.
The 1662 Book of Common Prayer and the Ordinal annexed to that Prayer Book are very sparing in their use of ceremonies. Ceremonies that are found in these two forms of service are kneeling at the confession of sin; standing to pronounce the Absolution or Remission of sin, standing for the Creeds; kneeling for the Lord’s Prayer and other prayers; standing at the north end of the Table at the beginning of the Communion Service and keeping that position throughout the service except that immediately before the prayer of consecration the priest stands before the Table to place the chalice and paten nearer to the north end and then resumes his place at the north of the Table; performing the manual acts during the prayer of consecration; kneeling for communion; using for communion such bread as is usually eaten, but the best and purest wheat bread that may be conveniently gotten; making the sign of the cross on the forehead of the newly baptized after baptism; laying on hands at confirmation; giving a ring at weddings, meeting the corpse at the entrance of the church-yard and going before it, into the church or toward the grave; casting earth on the body at funerals; laying on hands at ordination; and giving a New Testament or Bible at ordinations. These ceremonies represent the ceremonies of the Prayer Book and the Ordinal in their entirety.
Americans who are accustomed to the numerous ceremonies found in the worship of the Anglican Church in North America, the Anglican Mission, the Continuing Anglican Churches, and the Episcopal Church may be surprised by the paucity of the ceremonies in this list. However, it is consistent with the principles laid out in the Articles and the Prayer Book.
The Prayer Book makes no provision for such practices as the use of lighted candles on the Communion Table, the ceremonial use of incense and processional lights, the mixing of water with wine during the administration of the Lord’s Supper, the saying of prayers with the back to the people, and the elevating of the paten or cup, much less for the reservation of the Sacrament, kneeling or prostration before the consecrated elements, and the using of crucifies or images ceremonially as a part of the service. None was intended.
In the nineteenth century the Ritualists would introduce these practices in the Church of England in contravention not only to the principles laid out in the Articles and the Prayer Book but also to ecclesiastical law. Ritualism would spread more quickly in the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States. The Protestant Episcopal Church had no legal restrictions upon Ritualistic practices. When the Evangelicals sough to impose such restrictions, they were unsuccessful.
Canon 18 of the Canons of 1604 enjoined the practice of bowing, the inclination of the head as a sign of respect or reverence, “when in time of divine service the name of Jesus is mentioned.” There is, however, no reference to this practice in the rubrics of the Prayer Book.
Philippians 2:10 is sometimes cited in support of this practice. An examination of the general sense of the whole passage in which this verse occurs shows that it is not concerned with the mere bowing of the head or knee when pronouncing or hearing the word “Jesus.” When the canon was drawn up, it was customary to bow when the name of the King, Queen, or any noble personages were mentioned.
Whether a worshipper wishes to observe this practice is a matter of individual conscience and judgment. It should not be done from superstition but as an expression of reverence. The Ritualists introduced the practice of bowing at the Gloria Patri.
In 1640, in the reign of Charles I, a number of additions to the Canons of 1604 were adopted. These additions contained a number of highly controversial provisions. Among these provisions were those that ordered the Communion Table to be placed against the east wall of the chancel and to be “severed” with rails and which sought to revive the practices of referring to the Communion Table as an “altar” and bowing to the Table. These practices had strong associations with the Roman Catholic doctrine of eucharistic sacrifice, which holds that the priest re-presents or reiterates the sacrifice of Christ and which the Articles reject as a blasphemous fable and a dangerous deceit.
VII. A Declaration concerning some Rites and Ceremonies.
…And we declare that this seituation of the holy Table, doth not imply that it is, or ought to be esteemed a true and proper Altar, whereon Christ is again really sacrificed : but it is, and may be called an Altar by us, in that sence in which the Primitive Church called it an Altar, and in no other. And we declare that this seituation of the holy Table, doth not imply that it is, or ought to be esteemed a true and proper Altar, whereon Christ is again really sacrificed: but it is, and may be called an Altar by us, in that sence in which the Primitive Church called it an Altar, and in no other….
And lastly, Whereas the Church is the house of God, dedicated to his holy Worship, and therefore ought to mind us, both of the greatness and goodness of his Divine Majesty, certain it is that the acknowledgment thereof, not only inwardly in our hearts, but also outwardly with our bodies, must needs be pious in itself, profitable unto us, and edifying unto others. We therefore think it very meet and behoveful, and heartily commend it to all good and well-affected people, members of this Church, that they be ready to tender unto the Lord the said acknowledgment, by doing reverence and obeysance, both at their coming in, and going out of the said Churches, Chancels or Chappell according to the most ancient custom of the primitive Church in the purest times, and of this Church also for many years of the Reign of Queen Elizabeth. The reviving therefore of this ancient and laudable Custom, we heartily commend to the serious consideration of all good people, not with any intention to exhibit any Religious Worship to the Communion-Table, the East, or Church, or any thing therein contained in so doing, or to perform the said gesture in the celebration of the holy Eucharist, upon any opinion of a corporal presence of the body of Jesus Christ on the holy Table, or in mystical Elements, but only for the advancement of Gods Majesty, and to give him alone that honor and glory that is due unto him, and no otherwise; and in the practise or omission of this Rite, we desire that the Rule of Charity prescribed by the Apostle, may be observed, which is, That they which use this Rite, despise not them who use it not; and that they who use it not, condemn not those who use it.
This did little to reassure the English people that the Canons of 1640 did not represent a retrograde movement toward “Papal superstition”. The manner of their adoption also raised doubt as to their legality. An episcopal synod had drawn up the canons and Charles I had promulgated them. This was not the normal way of adopting canons in England. In the nineteenth century it was ruled that the canon sanctioning the practice of bowing to the Communion Table had no legal validity.
The Communion Table is, it must be noted, not any holier, in the sense of necessity to bow to it, than the Font, the Pulpit, or the Reading Desk. The use of lighted candles on the Communion Table, the decoration of the Communion Table with a standing cross, the elevation of the Communion Table, and the eastward position are all practices that are associated with the Roman Catholic doctrine of eucharistic sacrifice.
A Protestant Dictionary in its article “Genuflexion” notes the close connection between this practice and the Roman Catholic practice of adoring the consecrated Host or Elements.
This is defined in The Congregation in Church as "a temporary bending of the knee as distinguished from actual kneeling." It is frequent in Roman Catholic worship. Genuflexions are mostly made towards the " altar," for the purpose of adoring Christ supposed to be "present" in the consecrated Host or Elements. "A double genuflexion," i.e. one of both knees " is made on entering or leaving a church where the Blessed Sacrament is exposed." No such genuflexions are directed in the Book of Common Prayer or in Holy Scripture.
At the time of the publication of A Protestant Dictionary in 1904, processions that appeared to form a part of divine service were illegal in the Church of England, and, consequently the use of processional crosses in connection with such processions was illegal too. The Ritualistic practice of bowing at the passing of a processional cross was viewed as superstitious, whatever meaning the Ritualists assigned to this gesture.
The illegality of Ritualistic practices in the Church of England did not deter the Ritualists from employing them. At its annual conference this year the Church Society will be examining how the lawlessness of the nineteenth century Ritualists set a bad example for the doctrinal innovators of the twentieth century and showed them that the English Church was ill-equipped to deal with such lawlessness.
What we see in the American Church today is the legacy of nineteenth century Ritualism. This also includes the doctrinal innovation of the twentieth century.
A major problem is that a serious disconnect exists between many churches’ beliefs and their prayer. This problem is more likely to affect so-called evangelical churches that are supposedly Protestant and even Reformed in their doctrine than it is in Anglo-Catholic ones that are unreformed Catholic in doctrine. One may visit a church and hear a sermon propounding how Christ’s offering of himself on the cross eliminates the need for any further sacrifices. After the sermon, the preacher by his dress, his words, and his actions at the Communion Table contradicts what he propounded in the sermon. The Communion Table itself by its elevation as an altar of sacrifice and the use of candles on the Table also belies the message of the sermon. What we have here in a problem of congruency. It cannot be dismissed as a matter of preference or worship style.
The Scriptures may not specifically enjoin or prohibit a practice yet at the same time due to its particular associations a practice may not be suitable to the worship of an Anglican church that is committed to the essentials of historic Anglicanism—the sufficiency and supremacy of Scripture in matters of faith and practice, the gravity of sin, the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross as an atonement for sin, justification by faith alone in and through Christ alone, and the nature of the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper as seals of the promise of the gospel—“means of grace because they are means to faith.” Appeals to “the beauty of holiness,” the use of creativity and arts in worship, or longstanding custom simply do not provide adequate grounds for the use of such practices. They unfortunately have been used to justify their retention at a great cost to the congruency between what a church believes and how it prays.
While the nineteenth century Ritualist movement is to a large extent responsible for the loss of the restraint in ceremony that marks genuine Prayer Book worship, the three streams movement has contributed to this problem since the late 1970s with its blending of medieval practices with charismatic experience, a development that Gillis Harp suggests may represent mostly the influence of contemporary American culture. Harp stresses that the Anglican Reformers “were unsparing in how they pruned beliefs and practices (including even some ancient ones) if they deemed them harmful to evangelical truth.” The three streams movement, on the other hand, has been indiscriminate in its adoption of practices from traditions that are incompatible with the beliefs of authentic historic Anglicanism.
Another contributing factor is the mistaken notion that the practices that the Ritualist introduced or emphasized are a part of the Anglican heritage that must be preserved in the face of the doctrinal innovations of the past 30 years. They, however, have very little to do with authentic historic Anglicanism. The theological modernists themselves have exploited them to mask their radical liberalism.
What has suffered has been genuine Prayer Book worship. It is dismissed as “Low Church” but the fact of the matter is that it is the worship of the classical Anglican Prayer Book—not the 1928 American Prayer Book with its prayers for the dead, elevation of the chalice and paten, and devotions before the communion, but the 1662 Prayer Book. Those who truly value the Anglican heritage will seek to protect from desuetude and oblivion the precious heirlooms of Anglicanism—the Articles, the Prayer Book, and the Ordinal—and with them genuine Prayer Book worship and not trade them away for cheap baubles, the ecclesiastical equivalent of the gaudy bright-colored beads that the New Orleans Carnival float riders throw to the revelers in the street at Mardi Gras.