This article is a repost of an article that I posted in 2011. It is even more relevant today than it was then. The Anglican Church in North America has issued a catechism that is unreformed Catholic in its doctrine particularly as it relates to the order of salvation, the sacraments, and sanctification. The Prayer Book in preparation is taking a recognizable shape that embodies unreformed Catholic teaching and practices.
By Robin G. Jordan
Anglican worship is liturgical by design. This is not only to guide the church’s approach to God (Being Faithful: The Shape of Anglicanism Today, p. 129) but also to communicate the teaching of Scripture. Hence in the original preface to the Prayer Book, “Concerning the Service of the Church,” Archbishop Thomas Cranmer makes a point of drawing to the reader’s attention that what is unprofitable, that is, untrue, uncertain, empty in nature, showy and valueless, and superstitious has been omitted. “… nothing is ordained to be read, but the very pure Word of God, the holy Scriptures, or that which is agreeable to the same.” (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 6)
While the Prayer Book contains a Catechism for use in instructing children and adults, the forms and services of the Prayer Book are themselves catechetical. They are intended not only instruct but also reinforce what has been learned—to shape the faith and life of the worshiper.
One of the characteristics that set the classical Anglican Orders for Daily Morning and Evening Prayer apart from the pre-Reformation Medieval Catholic Daily Offices is that they are didactic. They are meant to instruct. The two services begin with twelve Sentences of Scripture that show the way to overcome sin through repentance. The Exhortation “points out what attitude of heart should lie behind the confession which is to follow.” (Samuel Leuenberger, Archbishop Cranmer’s Immortal Bequest, p. 152). It “makes clear that forgiveness together with the preceding confession and repentance should be a preparation for the congregation so it will know better how to laud and praise the Lord and listen attentively to His Word.” (Ibid., p. 152) The congregation recites the entire Psalter in a month and hears the Old Testament once and New Testament twice in a year. The congregation says the Te Deum, theBenedictus Dominus Deus, the Magnificat, the Nunc dimittis, Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles’ Creed every day and the Athanasian Creed on certain feast days.
The classical Anglican Order for the Administration of the Lord’s Supper shares this characteristic. The Ten Commandments are rehearsed every Sunday. After each Commandment the congregation prays for grace to keep it. The Collect of the Day often expresses a particular teaching in the form of a prayer. The congregation hears two lessons—one from the Epistles and the other from the Gospels—after which they recite the Nicene Creed. A sermon or homily follows, in which they are instructed about the Christian faith and life. The Offertory Sentences “establish the primacy of the Word of Scripture (Ibid., p. 169), and contain a number of important Scriptural teachings.
The theology reflected in the Prayer for the Church Militant is gathered from the Bible. It lays emphasis on the Divine Word, and stresses the importance of God’s Word to the believer. It draws attention to the transitoriness and misery of this life, and expresses solidarity with the poor and the miserable. It concludes with remembrance of the faithful dead, and articulates what should be the believer’s attitude toward the departed.
The three Exhortations express a number of important Scriptural teachings. The Third Exhortation reinforces the teaching of the first two Exhortations. The Invitation may be understood as a fourth exhortation. It summarizes the prerequisites for the taking of communion found the three preceding exhortations and forms a transition to the confession. It challenges those desiring to receive communion to “draw near with faith.” Only those who truly and earnestly repent, the liturgy stresses, can properly accept this invitation. The communion service seeks to guard against those who want to participate habitually and mechanically in the eucharist. (Ibid., p. 177)
Leuenberger directs to our attention, “any congregation which speaks the confession immediately appreciates didactically the character of the God to Whom it prays.” (Ibid., p.178). The Four Comfortable Words repeat the ideas of the three Exhortations. The Words of Distribution emphasize that the communion is a spiritual feeding upon Christ, occurring in the heart by the means of faith. The first Prayer of Thanksgiving and the second alternative Prayer of Thanksgiving also give expression to important Scriptural teachings. The latter asserts that “the effectiveness of the sacrament is not due to an ex opere operato.” (Ibid., p. 181)
The forms and services of the classical Anglican Prayer Book are designed to set forth God’s honor and glory and to reduce the people “to a most perfect and godly living, without error or superstition….” (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 8) They contain important statements of doctrine. For this reason the Prayer Book is one of the foundational documents of Anglicanism along with the Thirty-Nine Articles and the Homilies.
Anglicans have historically used their worship as an instrument of mission:
In many situations, the regular repetition of the Anglican liturgy has been the principal means of teaching the faith in illiterate communities. This reminds us that worship is not dependent upon an elaborate intellectual grasp of the faith, and that the oral heritage of familiar and memorized prayers and texts, that we carry with us throughout our lives, is of the greatest value. So that it continues to be an instrument of mission, we must ensure that Anglican worship is always accessible to everyone, especially to children….This is why care must be taken in revising the Prayer Book lest its doctrine is changed, lest what is Scripture or agreeable to Scripture is replaced by that which is neither Scripture nor consonant with Scripture. For same reasons close attention must be given to what ceremonies and ornaments are used with the Prayer Book’s forms and services. They must be compatible with what these forms and services teach.
(Being Faithful: The Shape of Anglicanism Today, pp. 134-135)
In the twentieth century and the twenty-first century we have seen the introduction of alternative rites and new service books that are not grounded in Scripture like the classical Anglican Prayer Book. They depart from the doctrine and liturgical usages of the Prayer Book. They countenance the use of ceremonies and ornaments that have not been a part of the worship of the reformed Anglican Church for the most of its history.
We have also seen clergy who identify themselves as "evangelicals" but whose congregations address them by the Anglo-Catholic title "Father," who use these alternative rites and new service books that are far from evangelical in their theology, and who use ceremonies and ornaments that Anglican evangelicals have historically regarded as incompatible with the doctrine of the Book of Common Prayer and the other foundational documents of Anglicanism—the Thirty-Nine Articles and the Homilies. They fail to see the inconsistency between what they profess to believe and what they may teach from the pulpit or in the classroom and the theology given expression in these worship resources and the ceremonies and ornaments authorized by such resources. They are teaching one thing but the worship resources, the ceremonies, and the ornaments they are using teach something else.
In these quarters of the Anglican Church in Canada and the United States the principle lex orendi, lex credendi, how we pray not only expresses but also shapes what we believe, appears to be entirely forgotten. This principle underpins the Anglican commitment to liturgical worship. They are not the only ones who use forms and services that express theology that they themselves do not embrace. Liberal clergy do the same thing. They have no difficulty with the ceremonies and the ornaments. They provide a spiritual experience that is otherwise missing from liberal worship. Liberal clergy also go outside Christianity for spiritual experiences to supplement them.
As a social worker I worked with children and their parents and other caregivers for 20 odd years. I frequently witnessed the effects of parental inconsistency. Parents would say one thing but do another. The message to which children paid attention was not what the parents said but what they did. The inconsistency between what clergy teach, what a particular rite or service book teaches, and what clergy do have similar effects.
As a lay reader I also taught classes on the Prayer Book and liturgical worship over a period of 17 years. People do notice the discrepancies between what the rite or service book teaches, what the clergy teach, and what the clergy do. They ask questions like why does the priest make multiple signs of the cross over the bread and wine and what difference does it make. Such questions lead to the conclusion that any ceremonial that requires a lengthy explanation falls short of Cranmer’s criteria:
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. (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 8)If the liturgy is to fulfill its catechetical function, there must be consistency between what the liturgy teaches, what the clergy teach, and what the clergy do. This means that the clergy must make sure that the liturgy they are using is Scripture or agreeable to Scripture. The truth of its teaching must be tried by the test of Scripture. It is not enough that the liturgy contains readings from the Scriptures or its prayers and other liturgical texts are cobbled together from Scripture fragments. Scripture readings can be cropped so that they do not accurately present God’s revealed truth. Prayers and other liturgical texts must give expression to teaching that is consonant with Scripture. The clergy must also ensure that there own teaching is taken from Scripture or is agreeable to Scripture
What the clergy is apt to fail to do is to make sure that the ceremonies and ornaments used in the worship of their parish are compatible with the teaching of the liturgy and their own teaching. They may give into not so subtle pressures from the congregation who may in the twenty-first century be as “addicted to their old customs” as congregations were in Cranmer’s day. (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 7) The clergy themselves may be addicted to these customs.
Whatever changes are made should be done with pastoral sensitivity. A gradual approach may be best.
Consistency between these three elements is the key to effective catechesis. What the Prayer Book says, what the clergy say, and what they do communicates the same message.
All three elements must be informed by Scripture. This cannot be overstressed. Anglican Church history is full of examples of clergy who misinterpreted the Prayer Book and taught their congregations their misinterpretation of the Prayer Book as the teaching of the Prayer Book. The same clergy also misinterpreted the Thirty-Nine Articles, which establishes a doctrinal standard by which the Prayer Book is to be interpreted. They introduced practices that, while they were compatible with their misinterpretation of the Prayer Book and the Articles, were at odds with the teaching of Scripture, the Prayer Book, and the Articles. This misinterpretation has not been confined to one particular wing of the Anglican Church. While it has been particularly evident in the Anglo-Catholic and liberal wings, it has not been unknown among those who identify themselves as “evangelical.” It is not enough to stress the importance of catechetical instruction apart from the liturgy when those giving the instruction are perpetuating error and false teaching.
The introduction of alternative rites and new service books in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries has compounded and exacerbated the problem. These rites and service books themselves express unscriptural teaching. Rather than serving as a corrective to error and false teaching, they help to foster its spread. The recognition of this problem, its extent, and its severity lies behind the call of the Global Anglican Future Conference for the Anglican Church to return to the classical doctrinal and liturgical formularies—to the Prayer Book, the Thirty-Nine Articles, and the Homilies—and to Historic Anglicanism.
Sizing Up the Worship Practices of Your Church