One of my former students, Bart Gingerich, who sometimes comments on this blog, has gotten a job writing for the Institute for Religion and Democracy. He covered a recent meeting by the Prayer Book Society, a group of Anglicans who have been calling for the restoration of the 1926 edition of the Book of Common Prayer, the last modernization faithful to Cranmer’s Reformation-era version of the English liturgy (which has also shaped the language and the collects used in Lutheran worship).
Bart comments that “During the split of the Episcopal Church in the 2000s, PBS [the Prayer Book Society] was strangely ostracized during the formation of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). It was a quiet scandal that the supposedly conservative ACNA spurned the stalwart organization from its proceedings.”
Here are some of the points made at the conference:
Executive director Rev. Patterson opened by observing that the Anglican way of being a Christian is governed not by a systematic theology but by a theology of worship. Unfortunately, since the 1960s at least, varied theologies have vied for control over the Book of Common Prayer to influence church stances on issues ranging from Christology to homosexuality. Ever since the Episcopal Church’s adoption of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer with its multiple rites to please everyone, rectors now “begin with an empty 3-ring binder” to choose and create their own liturgy for their parish. Patterson outlined 5 different approaches to focusing congregational worship. He first presented entertainment, where the congregation listens passively to what is on stage; second, education, where the pulpit and sermon dominate the service; third, encounter with God, which emphasizes a personal experience in music; fourth, evangelism, which avoids being too “churchy” and emphasizes the sinner’s prayer; fifth, Eucharist, which Patterson believed to be the traditional and proper heart of the church service. Many modern approaches “worship styles of worship” when in fact “we need to be taught how to worship God rightly.”
Patterson continued: “One grows into the Prayer Book. He never grows out of it.” A proper church service need not focus on “what comes out of the heart in the moment but to put in what needs to be there.” Praising the richness, truth, and beauty of the 1928 prayer book, he claimed, “It is never right to buy simplicity at the cost of shallowness.”
PBS president Rev. Dunbar pointed to the traditional prayer book as the “most effective tool for world evangelism in the English-speaking world.” He then commenced with an in-depth investigation of the 1928 service for Holy Communion. The service both uplifts the souls of congregants and focuses on the person of Christ, Who reconciles heaven and earth in His Incarnation. Dunbar pointed out that modern prayer books make self-conscious attempts to get away from sacrificial language, “but it is the only time…that we begin to speak of the atonement between man and God.” For centuries, Christian liturgy noted how Christ is a propitiating sacrifice for sin while the church offers up a sacrifice of praise. In the Eucharist, the participants are then caught up with Christ for fellowship with the Trinity. “We know we know we are Christians at that moment,” Dunbar stated. It is here that the Christian finds the endless end, where the restless heart finds rest, and the troubled spirit finds peace.
Dunbar outlined the 3-fold triad of the older Anglican services (before Dix’s “shape” theory and Hippolytus of Rome became the authoritative vogue for liturgists). The old services function according to “guilt, grace, and gratitude,” or rather repentance, faith, and good works. In the 1979 edition, much of the penitential elements were thrown out, allowing the service to be more celebratory. Dunbar condemned modern liturgists’ slavery to innovation
Pulling from the prayer book, Dunbar believed that “agreement of the truth in Thy Holy Word [Christ being the Word made flesh]” is the basis for Christian unity. In a communion suffering a crisis in sexual ethics and biblical faith, perhaps it would be best to return to a deeper liturgy in harmony with the past habits of prayer. Maybe it is time for Anglicans to turn to the insights and principles of this beleaguered but faithful fellowship.
I am astonished that the newly-formed conservative Anglican church body is not conservative when it comes to worship, though I assume that the congregations that do use the Book of Common Prayer (1926) are also joining ACNA.
I would venture to say that it is difficult to sustain a theology of worship without a systematic theology.