By Robin G. Jordan
This is to announce the upcoming launch of A Prayer Book for North America, an online collection of rites and services for the North American mission field. The project has two purposes.
The first purpose is to offer alternatives to the unreformed Catholic rites and services of the Anglican Church in North America, alternatives that are agreeable to the teaching of the Bible and the doctrinal and worship principles of the Anglican Formularies and which stand in the heritage of the English Reformation and the Elizabethan Settlement. The rites and services that Prayer Book and Common Liturgy Task Force has produced to date and which the College of Bishops has approved reflect the strong influence of Catholic Revivalist thought upon those two bodies.
In basing these rites and services on supposedly ancient models, the Prayer Book and Common Liturgy Task Force is not completing the work of the English Reformers as at least one blogger asserts on the Internet. The liturgical reforms that the English Reformers introduced were intended to bring the rites and services of the English Church into line with biblical teaching and practices. For the English Reformers the Bible was the ultimate standard and rule for faith and practice.
The English Reformers were not so fascinated with the past that that they misinterpreted Scripture in order to justify the revival of unreformed Catholic teaching and practices. This kind of antiquarianism was a characteristic of the seventeenth century Caroline High Churchmen, the eighteenth century Non-Jurors, and the nineteenth century Ritualists, and is a characteristic of modern-day Catholic Revivalists. It is a form of revisionism to attribute this characteristic to the English Reformers who rejected such teaching and practices on firm Scriptural grounds and then use it to rationalize significant departures from what the English Reformers believed and valued.
The second purpose is to offer rites and services that embody the kind of flexibility needed for the North American mission field and which make allowances for the varying circumstances of the congregations and missional communities using them.
Missional communities may be described as “local, flexible expressions of church, not dependent on typical church buildings or church services.” The primary focus of a missional community is making and forming new disciples of Jesus Christ among a particular neighborhood or network of relationships.
Although worshiping communities may assume varied forms of church in response to a changing culture, their primary focus is worship, not outreach and mission. While worship can energize outreach and mission, a worship focus can also result in a group that is not outward-looking and mission-oriented.
The kinds of worship resources that congregations and missional communities need on the mission field are forms of service that will help them to reach and engage the spiritually disconnected and unchurched. This includes forms of service that are uncomplicated and easy-to-understand, are participatory, and may be lay-led.
Most of the rites and services that Prayer Book and Common Liturgy Task Force has produced to date and which the College of Bishops has approved require the sacerdotal and sacramental ministry of an ordained priest. This requirement greatly limits their usefulness. They reflect the unreformed Catholic view of the role of the priest in the life of the parish church in which the priest functions in persona Christi, as “another Christ” for his parishioners, offering the sacrifice of the Eucharist on their behalf and dispensing grace to them through the sacraments.
This view differs significantly from that of the Bible and the Anglican Formularies in which the primary role of the presbyters, or elders, of the local church is to proclaim and expound God’s Word.
What is notable about the ministry of the Word both in the Bible and the Anglican Formularies is that it does not require ordination, only calling and appointment by those exercising public authority in the church. In the Anglican Communion today we see wide use of authorized lay persons as ministers of the Word both intentionally and out of necessity.