By Robin G. Jordan
The Prayer Book that the Prayer Book and Liturgy Task Force and the College of Bishops’ Review Panel are preparing for use in the Anglican Church in North America suffers from a number of defects. Among these defects is that its doctrine and liturgical usages diverge significantly from the principles of doctrine and worship laid out in the Thirty-Nine Articles, the 1661 Ordinal, and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, which together form historic Anglicanism’s longstanding doctrinal and worship standard.
The rites and services that have been produced to date embody unreformed Catholic teaching and practices, which the English Reformers rejected in the sixteenth century on firm Scriptural grounds. They mute the gospel emphasis and “revivalistic theology, which are distinguishing characteristics of the 1552 Prayer Book and its 1559, 1604, and 1662 revisions. These characteristics made the classical Anglican Prayer Book an effective tool for evangelization.
We live in a time in the history of the United States in which American society is becoming increasingly secular. Religion is playing much smaller role in people’s lives if it plays any role at all. Nominal Christians are no longer attending church and even committed Christians are attending church less often. The mainline denominations are experiencing significant decline. The Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches are particularly hard-hit. Only evangelicals are managing to hold their own.
It is a time in which Christians more than ever need to take seriously Christ’s Great Commission to spread the gospel and to make disciples of all people groups. Christ emphasized that we are not to wait until the unreached and unengaged come to use. We are to go to them. It means adopting and putting into practice an entirely different way of being the Church than in the past.
We no longer live in a society that is nominally Christian. We live in a time of rapid cultural change, accelerated in part by the greater mobility of the general population and the digital age and in part by the disintegration of long-established social norms and values. The presuppositions of the post-World War II era are no longer applicable in the post-modern, post-Christian twenty-first century.
Those who look for the return of the 1950s will look in vain. We cannot turn back time, make it flow backwards. I suspect that God does not intend that we should do so. All history moves toward its culmination in Christ’s return. God has placed us in this particular time in history for a purpose, which is to obey the Great Commandment and to fulfill the Great Commission.
One of the realities of the twenty-first century is that North American Christians live on the world’s largest English-speaking mission field. That mission field not only lies outside the doors of our churches, it also lies within their walls. We ourselves, as well as our children and grandchildren and their cousins and friends, need to hear the gospel, to take it to heart, and to turn away from sin to Christ.
Through God’s Word and directly in our hearts the Holy Spirit is at work in us to will and do what is pleasing to God. What begins with our regeneration and our acceptance of Christ as our Savior and Lord continues with our growth in godliness and holiness until we pass from this life into the nearer presence of God.
We cannot love God and our neighbors on our own. We need the help of the Holy Spirit, first to quicken us to spiritual life and then to enable us to turn from sin, to trust in Christ for our salvation, to follow Him as our Lord, and to grow more and more like Him in the way we think, feel, speak, and act.
We also cannot spread the gospel and make disciples on our own. We also need the help of the Holy Spirit to empower us, to guide us, and to manifest Himself in us as the gifts of the Spirit.
It is not our words that affect the human heart. It is the Holy Spirit, working in what we say and in those to whom we are speaking.
The time in history in which we live calls for a far different Prayer Book from the one that the Prayer Book and Liturgy Task Force and the College of Bishops’ Review Panel are preparing. The book that they are preparing reflects the preferences of one group in the Anglican Church in North America. It does not address the needs of clergy and congregations on the twenty-first century North American mission field or take into considerations the conditions on that mission field with which they are dealing. The basic presumptions that underlie the book are disconnected from the realities of that mission field.
What are some of the realities of the North American mission field in the twenty-first century? In large parts of the United States the Anglo-Catholic High Church forms of service that so far comprise the Anglican Church in North America’s Prayer Book will be non-starters. They have strong negative associations with the Roman Catholic Church. Those who formed the traditional constituencies of the Episcopal Church and the Roman Catholic Church have joined the ranks of the “nones” and the “dones.” If the Anglican Church in North America is expecting to benefit from an exodus from these denominations, it is fooling itself.
Most Anglican congregations will be small and will meet in non-traditional settings, including private homes. Their ministry target group will be far more diverse than in the past. They will for most part not have a full-time ordained pastor and on most Sundays and other occasions their service leader will be a lay person—a licensed reader or pastoral assistant. The principal focus of their gatherings will be the reading and exposition of God’s Word.
Congregations that are large enough to afford to purchase land and build a worship center will have to deal with restrictive zoning laws, high real-estate prices and construction costs, and banks that are unwilling to loan them money or which will loan them money but at a high interest rate. Increasingly such congregations will choose to rent facilities and to use for mission and ministry the money that they have saved by doing so.
The Prayer Book in preparation, on the other hand, looks back to the twentieth century, to the heyday of the parish church with its own full-time ordained pastor and buildings. It presupposes that the principal focus of church gatherings will be the celebration of the Eucharist. Those attending Anglican churches will be attracted by their ambiance.
Rather than emphasize the gospel and embody a revivalistic theology like the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, the Prayer Book in preparation emphasizes the sacraments and contains Roman Catholic religious beliefs and thinking. It presupposes that congregations will be organized around the sacramental ministry of a priest who acts as an intermediary for the congregation with God and offers the sacrifice of the Eucharist on the congregation’s behalf as well as dispenses sacramental grace.
The book is not just disconnected from the realities of the twenty-first century North American mission field, it is disconnected from what the Bible teaches about salvation.
For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. Romans 10:13-17, ESVUK
What Anglicans on the twenty-first century North American mission field need are rites and services that emphasize the gospel and whose teaching comes from Scripture or are clearly based on Scripture. The gospel not only needs to be preached from whatever serves a congregation as a pulpit but it also needs to be proclaimed from every page of the Prayer Book! Whenever the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion are administered, their administration should point to Christ’s saving work on the cross. Like the 1662 Prayer Book, the book containing these rites and services should recognize only Christ’s sacrifice for the sins of the world once for all time and our offering of our thanks and praise and our selves in gratitude for all that Christ has done for us.
The Anglican Church in North America could be a tremendous force for the advancement of the gospel if it shed the cultus with which those preparing its Prayer Book are so enamored. It could bring the light of the gospel to many dark places in North America and beyond. It could move into the inner city and out into the small towns and rural areas and dot North America with Anglican congregations gathered every Sunday around God’s Word.
If there was any time for orthodox Anglicans committed to the fulfillment of Great Commission and to the teaching of the Holy Scriptures and the doctrine of the Anglican formularies to take a more proactive stance, it is now. They can shape the future of North American Anglicanism by the simple act of preparing their own Prayer Book. The material for such a Prayer Book is readily at hand. The task is not a difficult one. They can transform their part of the Anglican Church in North America into a tremendous force for the gospel’s advancement and set a positive example for the rest of the Anglican Church in North America.