Saturday, August 08, 2015

Why the Prayer Book We Use Matters

By Robin G. Jordan

A Prayer Book is more than a collection of rites and services. It is an assemblage of doctrinal statements. When a jurisdiction adopts a Prayer Book, it adopts the doctrine of that Prayer Book as the official doctrine of the jurisdiction.

The doctrine of a Prayer Book is reflected in its texts and how they are used in the Prayer Book. It is also reflected in the ceremonies and other practices mandated or permitted by the Prayer Book. Even though a practice may be optional, the theological freight that it carries is a part of the doctrine of the Prayer Book.

The use of texts from Scripture in a Prayer Book does not guarantee that the doctrine of the Prayer Book is consistent with Scripture. The texts may be used in such a way to give them an entirely different meaning from their intended meaning. For example, the text, “Behold the Lamb of God...,” is used in the two forms of Holy Communion in Texts for Common Prayer to draw the congregation’s attention to the real, substantive presence of Christ in the consecrated elements of bread and wine. This text is also used in this way in the Roman Rite and its spinoffs.  

How texts are used may reflect a particular theological school of thought’s interpretation of Scripture, which may ignore the context of a passage and what is written elsewhere in the Bible and which may read into the text a meaning that cannot be read out of it.

Some clergy argue that it does not matter what Prayer Book is used as long as sound doctrine is preached from the pulpit and taught in the classroom. These clergy fail to appreciate how the texts of the Prayer Book will over time influence the thinking of the congregation. They will reinforce what other ministers have preached and taught if they have preached and taught the doctrine of the Prayer Book. 

Clergy who maintain that it does not matter what Prayer Book is used and who preach and teach doctrine which differs from that of the Prayer Book are building on an unstable foundation even though their doctrine may come from Scripture or be clearly based upon Scripture. If they accept pastoral responsibility for another congregation, the minister who replaces them may undo what they preached and taught, using the Prayer Book to do it. 

Members of the congregation do recognize the inconsistencies between what the Prayer Book teaches and what their minister preaches and teaches. If their previous ministers have preached and taught the doctrine of the Prayer Book and they themselves are attached to this doctrine, they may file a complaint with the bishop against their minister for promoting doctrine contrary to the doctrine of the Church. They may find sympathetic ministers who do not share his doctrinal views to join them in making this complaint and who see in a successful presentment an opportunity to rid the jurisdiction of the minister and the doctrine he preaches and teaches. The bishop may agree with them. The minister in question will have no leg to stand on as he has bound himself to abide by the doctrine of the particular jurisdiction at the time he was ordained or licensed.

The late Robert Webber and the Ancient-Future Movement have encouraged modern-day evangelicals to disconnect practice from belief and to accept or tolerate practices that evangelicals historically have rejected on the firm Scriptural grounds. They have promoted a kind of theological laziness that permits the erroneous and superstitious beliefs associated with these practices to go unchallenged and allows such beliefs to ride piggyback into evangelical thinking on these practices.

One of the casualties of this development has been the principle of lex credendi, lex orendi.  It does not figure prominently in the thinking of evangelicals influenced by Webber and the Ancient-Future Movement. Sometimes translated into English as “praying shapes believing,” this principle relates to the relationship between worship and belief. Archbishop Thomas Cranmer made full use of the principle of lex credendi, lex orendi in the 1552 Book of Common Prayer to teach English congregations the Biblical and Reformation doctrines of grace and that absolute essential of the gospel, justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. As Samule Leuenberger points out in his book, “ Samuel Leuenberger's book, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer's Immortal Bequest: The Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England:An Evangelistic Liturgy, the result was “a strongly evangelistic liturgy.”

Contemporary Anglo-Catholics have a far better grasp of this principle than do evangelicals influenced by Webber and the Ancient-Future Movement. For this reason they have tended to gravitate toward commissions undertaking Prayer Book revision. Unlike evangelicals, they also tend to take greater interest in the affairs of a jurisdiction. Evangelicals tend to be more pastoral ministry-focused. The result has been that Anglo-Catholics have exercised influence upon the doctrine and liturgical usages of Anglican service books disproportionate to their actual numbers.

In Being Faithful: The Shape of Historic Anglicanism Today, the GAFCON Theological Resource Group recognizes the importance of this principle.
Anglican orthodoxy agrees with the historic traditions that ‘praying shapes believing’, and that liturgies are of great importance, both in communicating the faith and in sustaining Christian disciples. In particular, it sees the classic Book of Common Prayer (1662), and its authentic translations and modernizations, as expressing the substance of the faith in the context of worship. As with the Articles, it sees the Prayer Book as constituting a lasting contribution to the wider Christian church. (Being Faithful: The Shape of Historic Anglicanism Today, p. 101)
In order for orthodox Anglicans who are committed to the fulfillment of the Great Commission and to the teaching of the Bible and the doctrine of the Anglican formularies to put that commitment into practice, they need a Prayer Book that is evangelistic and in its teaching and practices is consistent with the Bible and the Anglican formularies. They need a Prayer Book that, like the classical Anglican Prayer Book, emphasizes Christ’s saving work on the cross—the sacrifice that he offered there in atonement for the sins of the world once for all time. It must stress the importance of repentance from sin and faith in Jesus Christ and his saving work as does the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. It must use Scripture to convict the sinner, to provide assurance of God’s forgiveness, to invigorate, confirm, and strengthen the faith of the believer, and to comfort the sick and dying, as well as to teach what Scripture itself teaches.

The rites of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper must point to the cross and what Christ accomplished there and to how we may appropriate the benefits of his saving work by repentance and faith. These rites must emphasize that our response to Christ’s saving work is twofold: acceptance of Christ’s offer of salvation and dedication of our lives to him and heartfelt gratitude for what he has done for us, in which we, in the words of the General Thanksgiving from the 1662 Prayer Book, we shew forth His praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives; by giving up ourselves to His service, and by walking before Him in holiness and righteousness all our days. This is the only sacrifice that we can offer God—our praise and thanksgiving and ourselves.

As well as showing the way to salvation, they need a Prayer Book that helps the believer to live a life commensurate with the gospel and provides them with tools for Christian discipleship. Among such tools are tables of lessons for the systematic reading of the Scriptures, forms of prayer, exhortations to repentance and faith and obedience to God, and a catechism, or outline of the faith, embodying the teaching of the Bible and the doctrine of the Anglican formularies. They also need a Prayer Book that contains the Articles of Religion, not as a historical document but as a living formulary—by whose principles of doctrine and worship those of the Prayer Book must be interpreted.

Without such a Prayer Book their commitment will be much harder to put into practice. They will be like the farmer who sows wheat but whose enemy comes by night and sows weeds. Their enemy will be closer at hand. It will be the very Prayer Book that they are using. 

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