Tuesday, January 05, 2016

A Reformed Church and a Revised Prayer Book Still Needed in North America

By Robin G. Jordan

“A picture is worth a thousand words” is a saying from the early twentieth century. The photo show what looks like the sanctuary of a traditionalist Episcopal, Canadian Anglican, or Continuing Anglican church in North America—an altar vested in Roman purple, candles on the altar, poinsettias massed around the foot of the altar, a pulpit for the Gospel reading and sermons and a lectern for the Epistle reading, Roman purple paraments on the pulpit and the lectern, a wall cross prominently displayed above the altar, a processional cross in its stand on one side of the altar and a credence table on the other, a rail separating the sanctuary from the people, banners on the walls. Here is the sanctuary of the same church decked out for Easter.

If you are an American Episcopalian, a Canadian Anglican, or a Continuer, you have likely visited more than one church whose sanctuary resembles the sanctuary of this church. From looking at the church’s sanctuary, you would not guess that a church of the same denomination a hundred years ago would have contained none of these furnishings and ornaments. It would have had a pulpit and a communion table, pews, and little else—no candles, no crosses, no crucifixes, no flowers, no paraments, no paintings, and no pictures. What you are looking at in these two photos is the sanctuary of a modern-day Reformed Episcopal church. Both photos show how far the Reformed Episcopal Church has departed from the Protestant and Evangelical principles of its founders. They show how much the Reformed Episcopal Church has succumbed to the influence of “Ritualism and kindred errors” whose growth and spread in the then Protestant Episcopal Church in the nineteenth century led Bishop George David Cummins and the Reformed Episcopal Church’s founders to leave the Protestant Episcopal Church and establish a “Reformed Church.”

Article IX of the original Constitution of the Reformed Episcopal Church adopted by its Second General Council in 1874 prohibited Ritualism:
No church decorations, ornaments, vestments, postures, or ceremonies, calculated to teach—either directly or symbolically –that the Christian ministry possesses a Sacerdotal character, or the Lord’s Supper is a Sacrifice, shall ever be allowed in the worship of this Church nor shall any Communion Table be constructed in the form of an altar.
If its framers were to take a time machine to the twenty-first century, they would be appalled by what they would find in Reformed Episcopal churches today.

The shift of the Reformed Episcopal Church toward “Puseyism, Ritualism, Sacerdotalism, and Sacramentalism” can be traced to five developments—the movement within the Reformed Episcopal Church to merge that denomination with the Episcopal Church; the adoption of a succession of Prayer Books influenced by the Episcopal Church’s Prayers Books, beginning with the 1930 Reformed Episcopal Prayer Book; an influx of Anglo-Catholics and other Ritualists from the Episcopal Church; the emergence of the present leadership of the Reformed Episcopal Church; and the movement within the Reformed Episcopal Church to merge with the Anglican Province of America—an Anglo-Catholic Continuing Anglican Church. These developments were both contributing factors to and symptoms of the Reformed Episcopal Church’s abandonment of its founders’ Protestant and Evangelical principles.

The Reformed Episcopal Church’s involvement in the Anglican Church in North America, which broke away from the Episcopal Church in the wake of the election and consecration of a practicing homosexual as Bishop of New Hampshire in 2003, has hastened its departure from these principles. While the ACNA does not identify itself as Anglo-Catholic, it is officially unreformed Catholic in its doctrine and its practices. When the Reformed Episcopal Church formally adopts the ACNA Catechism and the ACNA proposed Prayer Book, there will be no doubt left about its slide into unreformed Catholicism. What was once a bright light of the Anglican Church’s Reformation heritage in North America will be extinguished and North American Anglicanism will be plunged into darkness.

While North America has an undetermined number of clergy, congregations, and para-church organizations that stand in varying degrees in the Anglican Church’s Reformation heritage, they are not united in one ecclesial body. Very few, if any, of the Prayer Books in use in North America are Scriptural and Protestant. Almost all reflect the influence of Anglo-Catholicism and liberalism, both of which have been identified as major twenty-first century challenges to the authority of the Bible and the historic Anglican formularies in the global Anglican Church (see The Way, the Truth, and the Life: Theological Resources for a Pilgrimage to a Global Anglican Future, pp. 96-97 ) This includes the 1928 American Prayer Book and the 1962 Canadian Prayer Book as well as the 1979 American Prayer Book and the 1985 Canadian Book of Alternative Services. The proposed ACNA Prayer Book is no different from these books.

The situation that exists in North America in the opening decades of the twenty-first century is not too different from that in the closing decades of the nineteenth century. There is a clear need for a Church and a Prayer Book that embodies the Protestant and Evangelical principles of the English Reformers. Such a Church is not to be found in the Episcopal Church, the Anglican Church of Canada, the Reformed Episcopal Church, the Continuing Anglican Churches, the Anglican Mission, or the Anglican Church in North America. Such a Prayer Book is not to be found in the liturgies of these ecclesial bodies.

In 2016 Christians can expect to face all kinds of challenges. Yet it is also a year filled with promise—new souls led to Christ, new churches planted to enfold them, new networks of churches organized to advance the Gospel. One of the principles that is taught at the church with which I am sojourning is that if you see a need, you do what you can to meet that need, including involving others in meeting the need. Here is a need for a Church and a Prayer Book that embodies the Protestant and Evangelical Principles of the English Reformers. What are you going to do to meet this need? How are you going to involve others in meeting it?

Photo credit: Covenant Reformed Episcopal Church, Roanoke VA


Joseph Mahler said...

Leonard Riches' duplicity has come to fruition. The Reformed Episcopal church is dead. A new Anglo-Catholic Church has come into being.

Joseph Mahler said...

A good place to start in a reformed prayerbook is to agree to use the 1662 BCP just omitting the prayers for the royal family.

Robin G. Jordan said...

A Protestant and Evangelical Reformed Episcopal Church might have provided balance in the Anglican Church in North America. But I suspected that the Catholic-minded members of the Common Cause Partnership would not have been comfortable with a Protestant and Evangelical Reformed Episcopal Church. Leonard Riches’ vitiated Reformed Episcopal Church, however, was perfect for their purposes. It would pose no threat to their aspirations—the creation of an alternative province to the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada that was Catholic in doctrine, order, and practice, and the use of that province to export their particular brand of “Anglicanism,” if it can be called that, to the global South. The ultra-Anglo-Catholics may have given up on bringing the Anglican Church into the orbit of the Church of Rome but they have not given up on Catholicizing it.

I would start further back than the 1662 Prayer Book with the reformed 1552 Prayer Book. The 1662 Prayer Book is a high church revision of the 1552 Prayer Book and it incorporates some high church peculiarities such as the petition in the Prayer over the Water in the Font asking God to sanctify the water for the purpose of Baptism what He had already set apart for that purpose through the Baptism of His Son Jesus Christ in the waters of the River Jordan—a needless redundancy that has over time become the basis for lengthier prayers at this point in the Baptismal Service, modeled upon Eucharistic Prayers and inferring that the priest’s words and actions confer the power to regenerate souls upon the water.

As the Preface to the Free Church of England’s1956 revision of the 1662 Prayer Book points out, the problem is not that the 1662 Prayer Book does not contain the true doctrine of Christ but that particular phrases and expressions are found in it, “which afford at least plausible ground for the teaching and practice of the Sacerdotal and Romanizing party.”

An example is the language of the Baptismal Service which appears to infer that children and adults come to Baptism unregenerate and after Baptism are regenerate. J. C. Ryle, Dysson Hague, and the nineteenth Evangelicals argued that the Baptism Service was using the language of charitable presumption and that the rite should be interpreted in the light of what was revealed in the Scriptures, viz, as Richard Hooker put it, “all who receive the sacraments of grace do not receive the grace of the sacraments.”

The Anglo-Catholics argued that the Baptismal Service taught baptismal regeneration, claiming from their selective citation of Biblical texts that the Bible also taught baptismal regeneration. Their argument was sufficiently persuasive as far as the Prayer Book was concerned that nineteenth century Evangelical Episcopalians concluded that the Baptismal Service did indeed teach baptismal regeneration.

The Free Church of England’s1956 revision of the 1662 Prayer Book either removes these phrases and expressions altogether or explains them so as “to render their meaning perfectly clear and Scriptural.” Unfortunately copies of the 1956 Free Church of England Prayer Book are hard to come by. In modernizing its liturgy, present-day Free Church of England is likely to follow in the footsteps of the Reformed Episcopal Church in North America and abandon the Protestant and Evangelical principles of its founder.

I hope that you and your family had a merry Christmas and that you all have a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year. May God bless you and all who seek to remain faithful to the Bible and the historic Anglican formularies.

Joseph Mahler said...


There are problems with all prayer books. 1552 may be better than 1662, but it is not in print. Baptism may be reduced to "I baptize thee in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost." A prayer revision process may be started, but this seems only to open up a can of worms. Every revision in my lifetime has gotten out of hand. New novel and strange ideas are injected in the revisions. I have been told that the liturgy of the Church of Ireland is great. I don't know.

Robin G. Jordan said...

Every Prayer Book does have its shortcomings as you pointed out. The Reformed Episcopal Church’s founders recognized this fact when they adopted the 1785 proposed American Prayer Book as their standard. They realized that it was not perfect.

The 1926 Irish Prayer Book is a conservative revision of the 1662 Prayer Book and has a number of good features. Like the 1956 FCE Prayer Book copies are now hard to come by. A number of the services were retained in the 2004 revision of the Irish Prayer Book and are posted on the Church of Ireland website at http://ireland.anglican.org/worship/12.

As for a contemporary Prayer Book I would recommend An Australian Prayer Book (1978) and the Diocese of Sydney’s Common Prayer: Resources for Gospel-Shaped Services (2012. Both contain modern versions of the 1662 Communion Service. An Australian Prayer Book (1978) was online but epray removed it. The final draft ofCommon Prayer: Resources for Gospel-Shaped Services can be found at http://www.sds.asn.au/assets/Documents/synod/Synod2012/Common%20Prayer%202012.Final%20revised%20for%20Synod.pdf. I can send you a PDF file containing An Australian Prayer Book (1978) if you are interested. Let me know if your email address has changed. You have my Yahoo email address, don’t you?

Peter Toon’s An Anglican Prayer Book (2008) has some good features too. Its main drawback is its inclusion of material from the 1928 American Prayer Book and the 1962 Canadian Prayer Book that affect the doctrine of the book.

Peter also used the English Standard Version’s translation of the Biblical canticles and these texts were not translated with liturgical use in mind. The book is awkward to read in other places due to its retention of phrases that read smoothly in Tudor English but not in contemporary English.

Peter, while he was its principal editor, was working with a panel of clergy from the Anglican Mission, which from what I gather was dominated by Anglo-Catholics. One of the reasons that revisions of the Prayer Book have become even less Protestant since the last century is Catholic-minded clergy tend to gravitate to the liturgical commissions preparing Prayer Book revisions and influence the final results.

If I had a PDF file of the book from which I could copy and paste the rubrics and liturgical texts, I would undertake a revision of it, making it more Scriptural and Protestant or at least genuinely comprehensive.

Joseph Mahler said...

I wouldn't try to make anything comprehensive. Just make it compatible with the teaching os Scriptures. Personally I think that it would not take much to improve the 1662. Most changes wouldn't amount to much more than deletions. It is on line and can be downloaded and altered. I have done my own work with it for Morning and Evening Prayer. I have also done some work with the Spanish edition of the 1662.

Joseph Mahler said...

The present leadership of the REC beginning with Leonard Riches can well be described as snakes in the grass. Maybe wolves in sheep clothing would be an apt description. They feigned to be reformed but began by accepting anglo-catholicism into the church outside of the established dioceses. They worked on trying to make the Declaration of Principles say what they clearly do not. They had of course a good example in John Newman. He was a liar and a deceiver. Leonard metal deceived the REC. They also unfortunately learned a very valuable lesson from the Episcopal Church. The congregations will remain with their building and denomination. There is where their loyalty lay. It should be with Christ.

Robin G. Jordan said...


What the 1662 Prayer Book requires in the way of revision is not so much textual changes—additions, alterations, and omissions, but explanatory rubrics related to those phrases and expressions that “are open to mistake or perversion” as the Preface to the 1956 FCE Prayer Book puts it. As Charles Neil and J. M. Willoughby point out in The tutorial prayer book for the teacher, the student, and the general reader, the Tractarians systematically went through the 1662 Prayer Book and identified every phrase and expression that they could reinterpret in a Catholic sense. They complete ignored the received interpretation, which took into consideration such factors as biblical teaching, historical context, and authorial intent. The nineteenth century Ritualists, however, were not content to reinterpret the 1662 Prayer Book, they added ceremonial and textual material from the Roman Catholic Mass.

I came across an article in which Leonard Riches boasts that he played a major role in the drafting of the Common Cause Theological Statement which as you know equivocates in its acceptance of the authority of the Thirty-Nine Articles and dilutes the authority of the 1662 Prayer Book and Ordinal to the point that it is negligible. The Common Cause Theological Statement also adopts the Anglo-Catholic-Roman Catholic position on bishops and episcopacy and by extension their position on apostolic succession. Riches evidences no commitment to not just the Declaration of Principles but also to the historic Anglican formularies. Yet he boasts that he brought the Reformed Episcopal Church into the mainstream of the Anglican Church.

Joseph Mahler said...


The serpent took God`s words and made alterations and additions in beguiling man in the Garden of Eden. There is no Prayer Book that such evil will not try and twist to their purpose. Satan quoted Scriptures to temp Jesus. No explanation printed will alter this behavior in mankind or evil spirits. The explanations certainly will not hurt. I do know that liars often speak as if what they are saying is authoritative though is is not. I sat in councils with Leonard Riches and saw exactly how he manipulated the Declaration of Principles and twisted them to the point it was hard to recognize their obvious and simple meaning. I have no admiration for that man and his episcopacy. He was the biggest mistake the REC ever made. The REC in fact is no more, only the name remains.