The Religion of the Prayer Book
A Course of Study Designed to Review the Faith and Practice of the Book of Common Prayer
THE REV. WALDEN PELL, II, M.A.
Formerly Headmaster, St. Andrew’s School,
Middle town, Delaware
THE REV. P. M. DAWLEY, A.M., Ph.D.
Professor of Ecclesiastical History,
The General Theological Seminary, New York
COPYRIGHT 1943, 1950
Scanned/Word Processed 2002
[Note: Short footnotes have been moved into their place of citation; longer footnotes have been moved to the end of their respective paragraphs.]
PART I: GOD AND THE CHURCH
I In the Beginning God
II God and His Children
III God and His Prophets
IV Jesus Christ, the Son of God
V The New Israel: The Church of Christ
VI The Growth of the Church: Part 1 (web page = VI through XI)
VII The Growth of the Church: Part 2
VIII The Institutions of the Church
IX The Worship of the Church
X The Prayer Book of the Church
PART II: GOD AND THE CHRISTIAN
XI The Obligations of the Christian
XVI The Difficulties of the Christian
XIX The Forgiveness of Sins
XX The Cycle of the Christian Year
XXI The Christian’s Rule of Life
PART III: THE CHRISTIAN’S LIFE IN THE CHURCH
XXII Holy Baptism
XXIV Creed and Conviction (web page = XXIV through end)
XXV Holy Confirmation
XXVI Holy Communion: Part 1
XXVII Holy Communion: Part 2
XXVIII Holy Matrimony
XXIX Holy Orders
XXX Pain and Suffering
XXXI The Christian’s Eternal Life
Suggested Questions, Topics, and Projects for Review
Books Recommended for Reference
Some explanation should accompany the appearance of another volume about the Book of Common Prayer. For the most part the books now in print are devoted to the study of its historical development and its devotional or liturgical use. But the Prayer Book is more than a treasury of the Church’s ancient devotions or a vehicle for the Church’s corporate worship. It is a guide to the Christian Faith we profess and the Christian life we are called upon to live. Hence, in these pages we are chiefly concerned with the religion of the Prayer Book.
The authors hope that this book will prove helpful to the layman who seeks a clearer understanding of his religion, as well as to the clergy and those who assist them in Christian instruction.
There is little in this volume that is original. Indebtedness is gratefully acknowledged to all those sources, remembered or forgotten, whence came both the inspiration for the book and the material herein. The hope is that this work may lead some through a better knowledge of the faith and practice of the Church to a deeper experience of God in each day’s life.
W.P. and P.M.D.
September 1, 1943.
PREFACE TO THE SECOND EDITION
The demand for this book during the seven years since its first publication has been so great that the publisher has made possible this Second Edition. The authors are grateful for the opportunity to correct minor errors and to bring certain statistical sections of the book up-to-date. It is hoped that this volume will continue to be of use to the ever-increasing number of people aroused to know more of the faith and practice of the Church.
W.P. and P.M.D.
May 1, 1950
PART I : GOD AND THE CHURCH
I – In the Beginning God
Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy Name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, As we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.
Late one summer afternoon a young man was fishing in a slow moving stream. He was an observant youth, and he noticed and knew something about his surroundings. Watching his line, he was conscious of the reflection of the sky and trees on the water. The mirror-like surface of the lazy stream gave back a harmonious picture of land, water, and sky. Here was a complete small section of the universe. It set him thinking.
He remembered that all these things, clouds, leaves, the slow current, the birds flying overhead, the brilliantly colored dragonflies, and the fish idling in the cool depths, lived and functioned according to definite laws and principles. These laws covered the universe and governed all things in a uniform and ordered way. In the uniformity of this set of laws could be seen an essential unity in the universe, just as a person finding a single law code extending over a whole continent might conclude that the continent was united under one government.
But the existence of law implies a Law-giver. The young man’s mind was led to the thought of a Being wise and powerful enough to form such a unified system of laws. How did this marvelous world originate? Evolution cast some light on the question. But who planned the evolutionary process? Who made it work? You could go back farther and farther to causes and origins, but you never really got to the beginning, even in imagination, unless you assumed that the first Law-giver was also the first Creator, who brought the whole thing into being. He remembered, this young man, how Sir J. Arthur Thomson, one of the foremost scientists of our day, had written [Biology for Everyman, Dutton, vol. I, p. 32.] that you can not go behind the statement, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.”
Was there a purpose behind all this? One could not escape the impression that there must be some point, some reason for it all. Were there not many indications of a purpose and plan running through the universe? If you compared earlier and later products of evolution, you felt that the Creator was slowly but surely working out a wonderful plan. Could man, for instance, have developed by mere chance? Human civilization had not always improved and progressed. It had slipped back badly in some times and places. Nevertheless, the race had come a long way since the beginning. This would have been strange if the Creator had not intended it.
The young man fell to wondering about other questions. How did ideas of “right” and “wrong” come into the world? Their conception must have had something to do with the Creator’s will. The will behind the universe wants right things and it is a righteous power. It is not a neutral force like some great pressure, but a power with intelligence, a power for good.
The sun was shining through the leaves now. You might expect the Creator to be exceedingly careful and orderly when dealing with the stars in their courses. But He was equally systematic and exact in the smallest cell and the most delicate mechanism of a leaf. His mastery of the infinitely small, as well as the infinitely great, showed His complete knowledge and power. It also implied that He might be interested in the insignificant affairs of human beings. He must have a definite plan for them, too. The essential orderliness of the creation revealed the Creator as champion of order against chaos. The young man thought of the delicate division of a living cell, of the fact that certain of its parts always occur in even numbers, and that any disturbance of that perfectly even division of parts results in a malignant, destructive cell. There was flexibility and variety. No two organisms were exactly alike. Each followed its own type, though perhaps varying infinitely within that type....
The supreme Law-giver, whom we call God, all wise and all powerful, has made this universe by His own will to carry out His purpose and plan. He conceived it and created it in an orderly and systematic way. His laws operate those different levels which human beings roughly classify as the physical, the chemical, the biological, the mental, the moral, and the spiritual. God is concerned with all of these. His purpose embraces the most perfect and beautiful development of all His creatures to their highest capabilities. He uses the Creation to express Himself, but even were there no Creation He is still the beginning and the end, the same yesterday, today, and forever.
Of all the creatures by the side of that lazy stream, it was the young man who understood the scene most completely. He alone was capable of reasoning about it, of thinking. Every other living thing played its part in the scene by instinct rather than by choice. But the human being could choose. He could say, “It is right for me to be here,” or “It is wrong for me to be here.” He could appreciate the beauty and order of the scene, and he could also turn that order into destruction and chaos by cutting down the woods or diverting the stream. Because of his mental and moral capacities the man’s position was unique in all nature.
For man was made by God “of the dust of the ground” and “in the image of God,” as the Book of Genesis says. Man is the highest product in the whole evolutionary process, the crowning work of the Creation. Having been made by God, he was made for God. His chief end is to glorify his Almighty Father and to enjoy Him forever. Just as children feel at home in their father’s house, and their lives are restless and incomplete without the security of a home, so man is really at home only when he rests in God. From the lower forms of creation God is content with a blind and unreasoning obedience. The rain falls, the rock is worn away, and neither of them knows it or could alter the situation one whit. Even the higher animals live on the level of instinct and involuntary action. But in man God could go beyond mere instinctive and unreasoning obedience. He made man free to choose, free to accept his own Creator or reject Him, free to do God’s will or to rebel against Him.
Man’s freedom to accept God or deny Him does not change the fact that in Him we live and move and have our being. We live in safety only when we conform to His natural laws, in health only when we conform to His biological laws. But there is a higher level at which we are more closely related to Him and abide in Him, and this is the realm of mental, moral, and spiritual laws. Here, too, we realize our full destiny only by living according to His principles, and in that close association with Him which our son-ship makes possible. We are His children, then, in a natural way through creation by Him. We can do no more about this than we can about our birth into the world. But there is also the other, and higher way, in which we are His children, a closer kind of son-ship to Him. And we can do a great deal about this. In fact, we must do our part to realize this relationship if life is to have any meaning for us, or our existence on this earth any purpose or goal.
This true son-ship to God is not attained haphazardly. It lies at the end of a clear and definite road. On this path we ourselves, and those responsible for our spiritual life, have to take certain steps. God in His Church has given us a pilgrim’s path on which our pilgrimage lasts all through our lives. As the Creation, a great act of Divine order, proceeds from one level to another, so also does the new creation of man’s life in God proceed from one level to another. Many times Jesus told us that man must be born again before he comes to the fullness of the life God intended for him. St. Paul once wrote: “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” [2 Corinthians, 5:17] A new creation within us – that is the goal of human life. The study of our religion, upon which we are embarking, should be the lantern to light the path down which we all must tread to closer companionship with the one God and Father of us all.
II – God and His Children
O LORD, we beseech thee to keep thy Church and household continually in thy true religion; that they who do lean only upon the hope of thy heavenly grace may evermore be defended by thy mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
– Collect for Epiphany V; p. 115.
Human beings have different kinds of relations with one another. Some of these are characterized by a feeling of admiration and respect, some by affection and love, and others by loyalty and responsibility. It is so with man’s relation to our heavenly Father. Man’s natural feeling toward God is a deep sense of dependence. This has often been described as the very basis of true religion. Without God man goes astray, for he is not wise enough to plan and direct his own life. Without God he falls into confusion and chaos, for he is not strong enough to meet life alone. Man’s basic prayers are those which begin: “Almighty God, who seest that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves,” or “because, through the weakness of our mortal nature, we can do no good thing without thee.” [Prayer Book, pp. 127, 188. See also collects on pp. 194, 200, 210, and 215.] Those are the humble acknowledgements of man’s real dependence upon God.
It is with God that man is at home in the universe, secure and confident. God has His plan for the lives of each man and woman, a plan which “makes sense” out of every experience of life, and which gives meaning and purpose to our existence. With God man has access to the source of inexhaustible power to overcome human frailty and strengthen each human weakness. Man depends upon God. This is the first and last fact of life.
It is man alone, the highest product of evolution, who consciously and understandingly worships God and is capable of companionship with Him. Though this companionship was God’s purpose in Creation, it has not come to man automatically or easily. It has come as men have progressed and grown – mentally, morally, and spiritually as individuals; and socially and culturally in their group life. God’s revelation of Himself as Companion to men and women has been given through a long and costly process. The gift is to those individuals who have been pure in heart and unselfish in will, and to those corporate groups, especially His chosen society, the Church, which have followed most closely His intended pattern. God has a two-fold plan for every man:
a plan for him individually, by which he may come to his full destiny of a son of God;
a plan for him socially, by which he may be a living member of a society recognizing and doing God’s will.
To bring people to love and obey Him and follow His will, God had to reveal Himself and His plan to them.
In the beginning he was almost completely hidden from men. We may imagine Him as enthroned behind layers and layers of veils. These veils are the ignorance, prejudice, selfish preoccupation, and spiritual blindness of men. But gradually, one by one, these veils began to be torn away from before God. Historical events, great religious genius, the experience of quite ordinary people, all contributed to this process. As each veil was torn away, the nature of God became clearer to men. This went on in various parts of the world for many centuries. Primitive religions, the classical Greek philosophers, and inspired religious teachers like Buddha Gotama and Confucius all did their share in cooperating with this revelation of Himself by God. But it was one people, the Church-Nation of the Hebrews, who by their unique religious genius played the leading role in God’s design for communicating Himself to the world of His creation.
The origin of the Hebrew people is lost in antiquity, but it appears that they were at first nomadic tribes of Semitic stock who roamed the valleys and deserts from the Tigris and Euphrates to the Nile. Like most tribes of that sort, they had a primitive kind of nature religion, worshiping animals such as bulls and calves. There is evidence that they had contact with the highly developed civilization of Mesopotamia, with its comparatively mature religion. Their worship showed the influence of different cults of the East. Later they came to look upon their god as one of many local deities of limited power and jurisdiction, and to represent him by idols. But this primitive stage of Hebrew religion was passing as the patriarchal period described in Genesis opens our Old Testament.
Then something happened which profoundly affected their religious beliefs and practices. In a moving series of events the Hebrews found many more veils drawn away from before the reality of God. Their experience as slaves in Egypt prepared them for this revelation, of which Mt. Sinai was the central location. The trials and hardships of the Exodus from Egypt, interpreted by the tremendous spiritual genius of Moses, gave the Hebrews a special insight into God’s nature. Perhaps it is right to think of Mt. Sinai as a volcano, before which the refugees hid their faces in awe, believing themselves to be in the presence of the divine.
We know little of what happened there, but it is certain that the Israelites had entered into a special relation with Jehovah, their name for the Lord. Jehovah was thought of as a God of the desert who had adopted the wandering tribes. Through Moses He showed them a new code of morality, and gave them commandments and laws which made them live together, in a huge family, in that frugality and willingness to share demanded by life in the desert. He demanded of them obedience and loyalty to Himself, and taught them to care for one another, especially for the weak and poor. They realized that Jehovah was essentially a moral God, who commanded of His people behavior which was in keeping with His own goodness.
The covenant or agreement which the Hebrews made with God became the basis of their lives from that time on. God on His part had promised them “a land flowing with milk and honey,” descendants more numerous than the sands of the sea, and protection from their enemies. On their part the Hebrews were to obey His laws and commandments and worship no other gods but Him. The outward sign of circumcision was the seal of their loyalty.
God showed the Israelites His plan for His children. Their society was to be built on the most ancient of all patterns, that of the family. At its highest, the characteristics of the family are:
Strong self-sacrificing love of the members, one for another. Such love is not sentimental emotion, but a mutual good will which desires and inspires the best for each person, holding him in security and peace.
The sharing of all resources and necessities such as food, clothing, shelter, and other needs of well-being (as the Hebrews shared God’s gifts in the desert), on the principle that each member contributes to the group as he is able, and receives as he needs.
An unbreakable spiritual unity, outwardly symbolized and inwardly strengthened by such family rituals of the common table and the celebration of anniversaries. These found expression in the Hebrew Passover and other remembrances, and they are the foundation of the Christian sacramental principle.
Such are the characteristics of the family spirit which God desires for the whole world. He wants each person to recognize every other as a brother or sister, to share His gifts with him, and to be willing to join in expressing the unity of the worldwide Family of God in appropriate rituals and celebrations.
In this Family of God He is the Father, and His Fatherhood is the supreme authority. He wants all His children to have a chance to grow in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man. Though man works to build up and improve the Family life, it really depends on God’s power. It is primarily God’s task to bring the family pattern over all the world. Man’s part in this is important, but compared to God’s part it is merely a following along and a cooperating in the details. This present life of ours on earth gives us the chance to work with God, and it is much more than something to be lived for itself alone. It is the training ground for a larger and fuller life beyond this one. There, free from the restraints and limitations of what we call the physical, we can grow continually in the love and service of God. It is in the life to come that we may realize our final destiny, oneness with God and with our fellows in the Communion of Saints, in “those unspeakable joys which thou hast prepared for those who unfeignedly love thee.” [P.B., p 256.]
Thus man’s destiny is to be educated individually and socially, if the two can be thought of as at all distinct, toward full membership in the Divine Family, in Heaven as well as on earth. The educational process comes forth from God, but man is free to learn or not. In the process a large part is played by experience. There are penalties for mistakes, and rewards for lessons well learned. The pupil is sometimes allowed to make the same mistake over and over again. It is a slow and costly process, but it creates the loving children of God who enjoy Him forever.
III – God and His Prophets
Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast, the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
– Collect for Advent II; p. 92.
As related in the books of Joshua and Judges, the Hebrew tribes slowly filtered into Canaan, the Promised Land. Their conquest of the original Canaanite inhabitants was a gradual one. Often the invaders and older settlers lived side by side together. In such circumstances it was inevitable that the more prosperous civilization of the Philistines and other dwellers in Canaan should have had an effect upon the social, religious, and economic life of the sturdy and primitive Israelites. So, indeed, it did.
The nomadic Hebrew tribes exchanged their wandering habits for a settled agricultural life. They borrowed institutions and customs from the urban life of the vanquished Palestinians. Walled cities appeared. Trade and wealth increased, and with them all the vices of settled social and economic life. Slums and fine mansions sprang up side by side. Class exploited class. The people became selfish and self-seeking, forgetting the spirit of sharing and comradeship which had seen them through so many trials together in the desert. They disobeyed the laws which bade them care for the poor, the fatherless, and the stranger. Their society became immoral; even the religion of Jehovah was corrupted by influences which filtered in from the Canaanite heathen worship of Baal and other evil deities.
“There is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land.” So in sorrow spoke one of the first prophets. “By swearing, and lying, and killing, and stealing, and committing adultery, they break out, and blood toucheth blood.” [Hosea, 4:1–2.] The Israelites had departed far from the pattern of love which God had made for His Family.
At this crucial time God raised up an extraordinary succession of men, the Hebrew prophets, who not only brought His judgment to bear upon the evil days in which they lived, but also, in doing so, revealed everlasting truths about God’s nature and purpose.
Under Saul and David the scattered tribes had been united into one kingdom. During the reign of King Solomon the Temple was built at Jerusalem. But when he died the kingdom divided into the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah. Amos, a simple devout shepherd was the most important early prophet. He preached in the Northern Kingdom, denouncing the selfish corruption and vice of the rulers and chief people. He declared God’s wrath at the continued social injustice, dishonesty, and loose living in which the folk persisted. “Thus saith the Lord,” cried Amos; “For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because they sold the righteous for silver, and the poor for a pair of shoes; That pant after the dust of the earth on the head of the poor, and turn aside the way of the meek.” [Amos, 2:6–7.] Jehovah would surely visit His anger upon the people and punish them with destruction. It would do no good to come before Him with the impure worship of vain sacrifices and empty ceremonies. “I hate, I despise your feast days, and . . . your solemn assemblies. Though ye offer me burnt offerings and your meat offerings, I will not accept them. . . . But let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream.” [Amos, 5:21–24.] No substitute could be made for simple righteousness.
Amos emphasized God’s justice and righteousness, that He is just and good, and that He demands these qualities of His people. After him came a prophet who saw the other side of God’s nature, the merciful, forgiving side. Hosea also preached in the Northern Kingdom. His wife had deserted him for other men; but when he found her forsaken and cast aside, he brought her back and restored her with forgiveness. From this bitter personal experience he learned that God might forgive Israel, even when she deserted Him and did homage to the wicked gods of the Canaanites, if only she turned back in sorrow and penitence.
“Come, and let us return unto the Lord: for he hath torn, and he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up.” [Hosea, 6:1.] The forgiveness which the Lord longed to show to His penitent children, He desired that they should give to each other. “I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” [Hosea, 6:6.] Thus Hosea revealed God’s mercy and loving kindness to those who return unto Him. One more veil was lifted from the mystery of the Divine Nature.
The prophecies of Israel’s destruction were fulfilled in 722 B.C. when the armies of the King of Assyria destroyed Samaria, the capital of the Northern Kingdom, and sent most of the inhabitants into exile.
Meanwhile, in the Southern Kingdom the Prophet Isaiah was adviser to the King. In 701 B.C., when the Assyrians threatened Jerusalem, Isaiah declared that God would protect the city if the Jews trusted in Him, and did not rely upon the Egyptians or other human allies. The King was persuaded to lead his subjects to depend upon their God, and the invaders, by disease and reverses elsewhere, were forced to raise the siege. The city was saved. Did not this mean that God, since He could control a powerful nation like Assyria, must be more than a local deity? Surely He must be Lord of the whole earth. Consequently, the Jews began to worship Him, not as their tribal divinity, but as Ruler of all the world. Here was a new step in understanding God. The story of Naaman, the Syrian, is a good illustration of their earlier idea of Jehovah as the god of one locality. [2 Kings, 5.] The Syrian god Dagon had not been able to cure Naaman’s leprosy, and so he sought a cure from Jehovah. He came to Jehovah’s territory to seek His prophet. And when he returned northward, he took back with him some of the earth of Palestine in order that he might stand upon it to worship the Lord who ruled over it. This primitive idea vanished, however, and in its place came the true monotheism of later times. [Isaiah, 40:9–31.]
In the sixth century before Christ the Babylonians invaded Palestine and besieged Jerusalem. The prophet Jeremiah preached the same trust in God which Isaiah had demanded, but he was scorned and humiliated by the worldly Israelites. Under Nebuchadnezzar the army of Babylon took the city and destroyed it. The inhabitants were exiled to Babylon by the thousands. Jeremiah himself was taken into Egypt, where he died. He taught another truth that was new to the Jews, namely, that a man would not be held accountable to God for the sins of his fathers, but that each person would be judged for his own sins. “In those days they shall say no more, The fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children’s teeth are set on edge. But everyone shall die for his own iniquity.” [Jeremiah, 31:29–30.] He also perceived the love and tenderness of God, and proclaimed His desire to make a new covenant with the unfaithful Jews, to write His laws in their hearts, instead of having to enforce them by punishment and destruction. “I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.” [Jeremiah, 31:33.]
For seventy years the Israelites were exiled in Babylon.
By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept, when we remembered thee, O Sion. . . . If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; yea, if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.... [Psalm 137; P.B., p. 513.]
They never forgot Jerusalem; and when the Persian King Cyrus the Great captured Babylon and released them, a great multitude returned to rebuild the city and the Temple. A prophet named Ezekiel had encouraged the unhappy exiles by planning for them the restored Temple and its worship. He prophesied a national resurrection, likening the nation to a valley full of dry bones, which were joined together again, clothed with flesh, and given the breath of life. [Ezekiel, 37.] Ezekiel revealed that God would be found once more by His faithful people in His Church and through their worship. Even more, God would Himself seek them out and restore them.
For thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I, even I, will both search my sheep, and seek them out. As a shepherd seeketh out his flock in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered; so will I seek out my sheep, and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day. . . . I will feed my flock, and I will cause them to lie down, saith the Lord God. [Ezekiel, 34:11–15.]
Another remarkable prophet, whose name we do not know, seems to have been responsible for the last part of the Book of Isaiah, chapters 40–55, and 65–66. He is called the Second Isaiah. The finest passages of these chapters are the Servant Poems. [Isaiah, 42:1–17; 49:1–13; 50:4–9; 52:13–53:12.] These proclaim that Israel’s hardships and sufferings are fitting her for a greater destiny. That destiny is to bring all nations, the Gentiles as well as Israel, to God.
It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth. [Isaiah, 49:6.]
The Suffering Servant was supposed by many to be the “faithful remnant” of the Jews who remained loyal to Jehovah in exile. But the prophecy was strikingly fulfilled by one Jew, our blessed Lord, 500 years later.
He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. . . . Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. . . . He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a Iamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. . . . And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth. . . . [Isaiah, 53.]
In the writings of Second Isaiah we find the loftiest and purest monotheism, that is, belief that there is only one God in all heaven and earth. In this prophet the Jewish conception of God reaches a new peak of truth and majesty, preparing the way for the greatest revelation of all time in Christ Jesus.
When the Jews came back from Babylon they tried to rebuild their life on the “family pattern,” but the great period of inspiration was over. Their religion hardened into a code of rules. For the next 400 years little was revealed to the Israelites that adds to our knowledge of God, though they did preserve their earlier revelations and write them into the Old Testament. There were, however, two religious ideas which came to the fore toward the end of this period, and which are important for an understanding of Christianity. These are the doctrine of Immortality and the expection of the Messiah.
The Jews were aware of two things about themselves: they were more loyal to God than any other nation, and they seemed to suffer more. They put the two together and concluded that since a just and merciful God allowed this on earth, He must intend to give the Jews a new and finer life somewhere else. From this hope that accounts would be squared somewhere beyond this earth, where they very obviously were not squared, the Jews came to believe in a life after death. [Psalms 17, 49, and 73.] Then the wicked would be punished and the good rewarded with the joy of being with God. [Daniel, 12:2 and Job, 19:25–27.] The Day of Judgment was pictured as accompanied by earthquakes, the sound of trumpets from heaven, and other supernatural events.
But most Jews looked for deliverance not in another world, but in this world, under the leadership of a Messiah (Anointed One, or Christ), who had been foretold by the prophets. They expected him to be of the royal lineage of David. Many thought of him as a military leader. Some thought he would act as God’s Judge at the Day of Reckoning, and one prophecy proclaimed that this king would come “lowly, and riding upon an ass.” [Zechariah, 9:9.] We might say, then, that the Messiah was variously thought of as military, miraculous, or meek, but in any case he would bring in the rule of God over an earth completely made new. Closely associated with this Kingdom or Rule of God were the ideas of world unity, peace, plenty for all, and loyalty to the One God.
The great ideas were there, but not the inspiration nor the leadership to make them live and to translate them into action. The people cried to God in the Psalms:
My God, my God, look upon me; why hast thou forsaken me? and art so far from my health, and from the words of my complaint?
O my God, I cry in the day-time, but thou hearest not: and in the night season also I take no rest.
And thou continuest holy, O thou Worship of Israel.
Our fathers hoped in thee; they trusted in thee, and thou didst deliver them.
They called upon thee, and were holpen; they put their trust in thee, and were not confounded.
But as for me, I am a worm, and no man; a very scorn of men, and the outcast of the people. [Psalm 22; P.B., pp. 366–367.]
God was not ready yet to give them the fullness of His own revelation. But all the time He was setting the stage of world events for the next act in the great drama of His relationship to man, and for His climax. His leadership of the Jews had been a shadowing forth of His more complete and glorious rule on earth, when the family pattern would be woven into the very fabric of man’s personal and social life, and all men would love Him as their Father, and their fellowmen as brothers.
IV – Jesus Christ, the Son of God
We beseech thee, O Lord, pour thy grace into our hearts; that, as we have known the incarnation of thy Son Jesus Christ by the message of an angel, so by his cross and passion we may be brought into the glory of his resurrection; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
– Collect for the Annunciation; p. 235.
What had Israel learned thus far from God’s revelation of Himself and His purpose? Five truths:
1 God is just and righteous.
2 God is merciful and forgiving.
3 God is the one Lord of the whole universe.
4 God holds individuals responsible for their own deeds.
5 God had a special part for Israel to play in His plan, a part which would involve suffering and death, but which would eventually bring the Gentiles to Him.
His Kingdom had not yet come; the Messiah was still expected. But in several ways the world was ready for the event which all Creation awaited. First, the Jews’ high standard of morals and their strictly monotheistic religion had been spread over most of the civilized world by various captivities and exiles and by their journeys as merchants and traders. Everywhere they had their synagogues, to which were attracted many Gentile Greeks and Romans who accepted the general principles of Judaism and were called “God-fearers.” Second, the Romans had constructed excellent roads all over the Empire and had made travel safe under the shadow of the eagles of their legions. Third, the Greek language, with its fine shades of expression, was spoken colloquially throughout the Mediterranean world. Finally, there were two people prepared for their tasks, Mary of Nazareth and John the Baptist – one to be the mother and the other the forerunner of Him Who was to come.
As we believe that God intervened in the lifeless world in order to create the first living being, so we believe that He now intervened to create a new level of life. There was born to Mary, in the days of Herod the King, a Son named Jesus. The event, which was to change the whole course of world history, may have seemed humble enough at the time. But Mary remembered that it had been announced to her by an angel, or messenger from God, that her Son would be conceived before she and Joseph consummated their marriage. And the writers of the Gospels surround His birth with traditions of Wise Men from the East, of choirs of angels, of a guiding star, of the shepherds’ adoration, and of prophecies when He is presented at the Temple.
The followers of this Child came to believe that He was God come upon earth, taking to Himself human personality and a human body, and yet remaining God. St. Paul calls Him God’s “dear Son . . . Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature.” [Colossians, 1:13–15.] The Gospels according to St. Matthew and St. Luke record that He was born of Mary through the power of the Holy Spirit, without the agency of a human father. This, of course, is a miracle – the name we give to those events which are controlled by laws which we do not know. The Virgin Birth of our Lord is a miracle which Christians have believed from the very earliest days of the Church.
Jesus was a unique Person. It is natural, then, that He should be born in a unique way. Jesus is the love and power of God embodied in a human being. It is appropriate that He should come to earth through such a direct act of God. Our belief in the Virgin Birth depends not so much on the statements of the Gospels, nor on any scientific considerations, but more on the tradition of the Church, which felt that this was the fitting manner for the birth of the Son of God.
The belief that God became Man in Jesus Christ is known as the Incarnation, and is the center of Christian doctrine.
There is not much written in the Gospels about Jesus’ early life, but we may suppose that He was brought up much as any Jewish boy. As a member of a large family He would have plenty of chance to be part of and to observe the “family pattern.” He would see Joseph working hard to support Mary and the children; Mary waking early and toiling late with the housework; and the members of the family receiving as they needed, and giving as they were able to contribute, each taking his or her part in the household tasks, and sharing love and protection as well as material things, such as food and clothing, which the family provided. Here in the family were joy and peace, forgiveness for mistakes and sins, help and sympathy, and an atmosphere of love and fellowship. When Jesus began to teach, it was this family pattern of life that He taught.
The center of His teaching is the Kingdom of God (or Kingdom of Heaven, which means the same thing). By this He meant the rule, or reign, of God. The Lord’s Prayer gives us the clue to it: “Thy Kingdom come” means “Thy will be done.” The Kingdom of God is present wherever people are doing what God wants, taking their part in His plan.
Jesus’ teaching revolves around and focuses on the idea of the Kingdom. He thinks of it as present already in one sense, growing inconspicuously in the world like a seed, influencing life as yeast causes dough to rise. But it will be fully realized in the future. Then there will be a great Judgment, and those who qualify for the Kingdom will be received, while those who do not will be rejected, as the edible and inedible fish in Jesus’ parable are separated after the net is drawn to land.
To enter the Kingdom you have to be “born again,” not in the flesh but in the spirit, accepting God as your loving Father, trusting Him in all things like a child in a family. Again it is the family pattern extended to the whole universe. And the two great requirements for living in this Family of God are to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself. The Sermon on the Mount, [St. Matthew, 5–7.] and indeed practically all of our Lord’s moral teachings, set forth the sort of life that is normal in the family life of the Kingdom.
The only thing that breaks up that family life is sin, the willful selfishness that comes between us and our Father’s love, or separates us from our fellow members in the Kingdom. If we forsake our sins (and by God’s help we can forsake them), God forgives us and restores us to our place in His Family circle and in the radiance of His love. In His own good time God will bring this pattern of life over all the world and among all people. And He depends on us to help Him bring it.
In very brief form this is the Gospel (it means Good News) proclaimed by Jesus. It was heard gladly by people who were starved of hope and who flocked to Him by the hundreds and thousands.
At Jesus’ Baptism in Jordan it was made clear that He was God’s Son in a special way. In the wilderness He wrestled with the problem of how He should use the power which that unique son-ship gave Him. It is clear that Jesus thought of Himself as the Christ, or Messiah. Through what sort of messiah-ship should He bring about God’s rule on earth?
When He refused to turn stones into bread or to cast Himself from the pinnacle of the Temple, when He refused to adopt Satan’s way of bringing the world to His feet, He rejected the miraculous and military types of messiah-ship and chose the meek. He returned from the wilderness and went about preaching the good news of the Kingdom, and healing sickness of body and soul.
To gather the nucleus of His Kingdom, He called twelve men to follow Him and be trained by Him as “fishers of men.” Their training ground was the dusty roads, the flowered hillsides, the scrubby mountain slopes, and the sunny villages of Palestine. Dining frugally together by open fires, sleeping under the stars, listening to the matchless words of their Master, learning from Him how to pray and meet human need, the Twelve prepared themselves. Then their Master sent them out, two by two, and they became the Apostles, or those sent forth.
We may think of Jesus as the germ cell of the Kingdom, since every living organism starts from a germ cell. As a body grows by additional cells grouping themselves about the germ cell, so first the Apostles and then other disciples grouped themselves around Jesus, all taking the pattern of their life from Him.
This grouping was no haphazard affair, but had a definite arrangement. There were St. Peter, St. James, and St. John, who formed an inner circle around their Master. St. Andrew was sometimes part of this. Then there were the rest of the Twelve. Around them was a number of people, including probably the Seventy who were sent out after the Twelve, and the hundred and twenty disciples who were gathered in Jerusalem after the Ascension. As each of these people won others, the Body grew and developed.
In the life of that Body was found the family pattern of love, faith, and sharing. All had enough, all found security in their faith and fellowship. The new level of life, which appeared in Jesus Christ, entered human society through the fellowship around Him. A new flood of God’s power, love, and health was poured into the world. And with it came a new realization that God is, first and foremost, our Father.
Gradually His disciples came to share Jesus’ belief in His messiah-ship. His favorite way of referring to Himself as Son of Man would mean to a Jew of that day not only a man, a human being, but also, by implication, the Messiah. In the Book of Daniel, for example, “one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven” [Daniel, 7:13.] to bring the Kingdom on earth.
For us the term Son of Man emphasizes Jesus’ complete humanity, the fact that He shared our hardships, poverty, hunger, fatigue, and disappointments – and our temptations as well, though He always resisted them and never sinned.
But He is also the Son of God. Though He does not seem to have performed His miracles for the sake of winning a reputation for Himself, but rather to help suffering people; and though the miracles were of such a kind that many of them were repeated later by His disciples, they are impressive signs of His special power and unique status in the plan of God.
The common people heard Jesus gladly, but their leaders feared and hated Him, for He condemned unsparingly their hypocrisy, greed, and faithlessness. Evil forces began to gather their strength to destroy Him. Our Lord knew this. He shocked His disciples by showing them that the Messiah had to suffer and be killed.
We believe Jesus thought of Himself as the Suffering Servant of Jehovah, whom the Second Isaiah had foretold. So this prophecy, intended to represent the faithful remnant of Israel, was actually fulfilled in remarkable detail by one Israelite, through whose suffering and crucifixion the nations of the world have indeed been brought to God.
On the Mount of Transfiguration our Lord remained after the vision of Moses (representing the Jewish Law) and Elijah (representing the Prophets) had faded away. This showed the disciples that Jesus was supreme over the old religion of Judaism, whose Scriptures were “the Law and the Prophets,” and that henceforth His authority was to be supreme in their lives.
We all know the story of the Passion, of the Last Supper, at which our Lord gave us the Holy Communion; of the evening in the garden of Gethsemane; of His betrayal and denial, of the Trial and Crucifixion. On the Cross Jesus showed us the perfect obedience which laid down not only life but the apparent earthly success of God’s own Kingdom and of His own mission. If we look at Jesus on the Cross, forgiving those who had nailed Him there, we realize how God the Father reacts to our sin, forgiving it yet unutterably hurt by it. The Church has come to believe that in Christ on the Cross, God was bearing the full results of human sin in His own Person, and thereby drawing the sting.
If we accept Christ as God, and are willing to suffer as He did for the Kingdom, and also are sorry for and confess and forsake our sins, we receive the Atonement. This means that because Christ suffered on the Cross, something was accomplished once and for all for us humans. We who have allowed our sin to break our one-ness with God, may, because of the Cross, be again “at one” with our heavenly Father. This is “the eternal victory of love over selfishness at the cost of sacrifice.” It is hard to explain but easy to experience!
The Crucifixion seemed to be an overwhelming defeat for the Kingdom, a denial that love is the supreme force in the universe. But something happened which convinced the disciples that their Lord lived again. The tables were quickly turned, and the scattered and fearful band was transformed into the most confident and invincible group of people the world has ever seen.
The accounts of the Resurrection and the appearances to the disciples indicate that our Lord’s Body actually became alive again. There is the empty tomb, for example, and His physical activities of various sorts. There are also indications that His Body was not an ordinary physical body; for He passed through a closed door, disappeared, was not recognized at first on one occasion, and told Mary not to touch Him. Giving due weight to all the evidence, we may conclude that Christ appeared in a “spiritual body,” as St. Paul calls it in 1 Corinthians 15. We do not know what this is, but we can think of it as a dwelling place as suitable for the heavenly life of the soul as its present body is for its earthly life. Whatever happened, the disciples were absolutely convinced of the reality of these appearances. Furthermore, the Resurrection of Christ was in earliest times taken as the guarantee of our own resurrection.
Let us sum up briefly what the Incarnation has meant for the relation of man to God. Jesus was recognized as the Messiah. He was a complete human being, a perfect man without sin. He also accepted the title of the Son of God. He performed miracles. They do not establish but do confirm His claims. The Transfiguration shows that His authority is supreme. His Passion made it possible for us sinners to become At One again with God, whom we have disobeyed and hurt by our sin. Christ’s Resurrection opens to us the gates of eternal life; His Ascension assures us that He reigns in Heaven as well as dwells and works with us on earth.
As time went on the Church found it possible to give the Person who had been and done all this only one name, and that is God. The Incarnation is God coming to earth; taking upon Himself our humanity, with all its weakness; becoming not only a man, but Man; and at the same time showing us in clear, unmistakable outlines what God is like. “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father.” [St. John, 14:9.]
When He became man, God the Son humbled Himself to manhood. St. Paul expresses this thought in Philippians 2:5–8: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even unto the death of the cross.” As Jesus of Nazareth, God the Son could not be everywhere. He could not have the mind of a human being, with its limitations of factual knowledge, and know everything in heaven and earth as God the Father does. Yet the divine nature was perfect in Christ, as also was the human; and so He could act as a link between God and man, a ladder between heaven and earth, our Saviour and Redeemer.
V – The New Israel: The Church of Christ
O ALMIGHTY God, who hast built thy Church upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the head corner-stone; Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their doctrine, that we may be made an holy temple acceptable unto thee; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
– Collect for SS. Simon and Jude; p. 254.
Part of our Lord’s plan, as we have seen, was the training of a group of Apostles, both to spread this Gospel more widely, and also to perpetuate it after His departure from them.
To this band of Apostles, who became the nucleus of the Church of Christ, Jesus gave authority to bind and release sins, to heal sickness, and to preach the Gospel. He gave them the Sacrament of Baptism as the means of birth into this new Family of God. He promised to them the constant guiding, strengthening, and sanctifying presence of the Holy Spirit. He instituted for them the Sacrament of His own Body and Blood in the Last Supper, to be re-enacted in memory of Him, and to be the Christian sacrifice, replacing the old Jewish sacrifice of animals in the Temple. We now celebrate this Supper in our service of Holy Communion. In it Christ is truly present among us as He was with the disciples.
At His Ascension, Jesus commanded His disciples to wait in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit came upon them. “And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high.” [St. Luke, 24:49.] Then, beginning with the Day of Pentecost, which we commemorate on Whitsunday, our Lord’s earthly presence among them was replaced by the presence of the Spirit, who acted in such abundant measure throughout the Church that within a few short years Christianity had captured the Mediterranean world.
The continuity of the Early Church with Jesus Christ and the original group of His chosen followers was carefully maintained. The disciples “continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” [Acts, 2:42.] A new order of the ministry, the Deacons, arose at the Apostles’ suggestion and by their ordination, with the purpose of assisting the Apostles in the ministrations to the poor. Vital matters were referred to the Council of the Apostles for their judgment and decision. The growth of the Church was organic. “I am the vine; ye are the branches” said Christ. The Church was one Body, and all its members were in touch with its divine Head, Jesus, their Lord, through sacrament and prayer; through the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives; and through the organization and fellowship which centered in the Apostles. Thus it was that the Church became “the extension of the Incarnation,” the continuance of God’s saving work among human beings.
What does our Prayer Book teach about the Church? It is summarized in the Second Office of Instruction: [P.B., pp. 290–291.]
Question. What is the Church?
Answer. The Church is the Body of which Jesus Christ is the Head, and all baptized people are the members.
Question. How is the Church described in the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds?
Answer. The Church is described in the Creeds as One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic.
Question. What do we mean by these words?
Answer. We mean that the Church is One; because it is one Body under one Head; Holy; because the Holy Spirit dwells in it, and sanctifies its members; Catholic; because it is universal, holding earnestly the Faith for all time, in all countries, and for all people; and is sent to preach the Gospel to the whole world; Apostolic; because it continues stedfastly in the Apostles, teaching and fellowship.
Is the Church identical with the Kingdom of God? We could wish that the historic Church had always been the same as the Kingdom in which God’s will is constantly followed. But the Church, though divine in origin and in power, is composed of human members. In it is found redemption, yet no member of it is perfect save Christ the Head. So it is that often within the Church itself the failures and frailties of man are seen. People have sometimes criticized God’s Church for this. But they forget that doctors cannot always cure sick people, though we would not abandon medicine because of some failures. No more would we do away with education and schools because some students fail to pass their examinations. Men and women will still go to doctors when they are ill, and children will still be sent to schools to learn, because these are the agencies of health and education. The Church may be full of imperfections because it is full of imperfect people, but it remains the agency of spiritual health and salvation, the place where year in and year out one best may learn of the nature of God and come to know Him as our Father and our Saviour.
How many times we hear people say that they do not need the Church! They have “their own religion”; they worship God in “their own way.” Perhaps their religion is helpful and their way may be good, but are not His religion and His way what He commands us to follow? In the Church is found salvation. We are made sure of this by the promises of God, and by the experience of countless generations in the long history of the Church. It is enough for us that in the fellowship of God’s Family we find “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost.”
But who is to be saved? And from what? Each man and woman is to be saved. Human society is to be redeemed. Man is to be saved from sin, the sin which lies at the center of each person’s own self. But why redeem people from themselves? We are brought up to be distinct personalities, to assert ourselves, to have our opinions, to claim our rights. Why save us from ourselves? The answer to this question is that it is not the self as a free son and loving servant of God that we want to leave behind, but the self which draws us into selfishness. It is the spirit of self-centeredness and self-will which breaks the fellowship of God’s Family. Anything which draws us away from God to worship our selves and our own desires we call by the ugly name of “sin.” Selfishness is the center of all sin. It is from the enslaving claims of the “I,” or the “ego,” of each one of us that we must be saved.
The Cross of Christ may be pictured as crossing out that “I.” We are to lose our selves and die to sin. The Baptismal Service mentions three times that we die to sin and rise to a new life when we enter the Church. In it we lose our selves in the Body of Christ. That is why St. Paul wrote: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; and yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” [Galatians, 2:20.] Our Lord identified Himself completely with His Church. In becoming a part of the Church we share His own life. Thus He said to those who cared for the needy: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” Jesus did not ask St. Paul on the Damascus road, “Why persecutest thou my followers?” He said, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” Our Lord regarded, as a part of Himself, the Christians whom St. Paul had persecuted. So to lose our selves in the Body of Christ is to rise to a new life. And the effect goes out beyond us as individuals, giving new power to the whole Body, binding it into closer unity. The result for the individual is the training of his character. People today talk a great deal about “character building.” The Church has been engaged in this for nineteen centuries. The character which the Church develops is a Christ-like character. It is character filled with peace and joy, with courage and honor, with humility and self-control. It is character dominated by gentle love and thoughtfulness of others, and anchored to a deep sense of the meaning and purpose of life on our earth.
The result in human society can be clearly seen in nineteen centuries of Christian history. The Church has been in the forefront of social reform and works of mercy and charity. It was chiefly through her influence that slavery was abolished in civilized lands. Free public education sprang from the Church schools of earlier times. She maintained the first hospitals. The terms “social service” and “social justice,” so popular today, have been given much of their meaning by the help and care extended by the Church to the weak, the suffering, and the afflicted. In our day secular agencies have taken over many of these things. Yet it is the Church’s strategy to start some philanthropic work, prove to the community that it is a worthy task, and then, when the community itself takes responsibility for it, to step out and put its energy and resources into the next thing that needs doing and that no one else is doing properly.
But the Church is more than an institution to develop character and promote good works. She is the witness to God in the world, the guiding star of His will in society. She interprets events, movements, and situations in the light of her traditions and according to the Mind of Christ under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. In short, the Church takes the place in the world of Christ’s earthly presence.
The end of the Church has been predicted many times in the last thousand years, and the Church has been through some bitter struggles for its very life. But the Church has always been victorious, not when it protected itself but when it risked everything for the sake of that which God desires among men. Still today the Vine grows, putting out new branches and covering the earth. There is hardly a corner of our world where there is not a mission of the Church, nor a tongue into which the Scriptures have not been translated. A third of the world’s population is numbered in the Church, and in the last fifty years its membership has doubled.
Christianity contains not only its own message, but also the best elements of the other world religions. All religion which is good is completed in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. “I came not to destroy,” said our Lord, “but to fulfill.” And especially was this true of the Hebrew religion of the Old Testament, the religion of Israel. To the early Jewish Christians their Church was the New Israel, the inheritor of the promises of God and the body of the redeemed which the prophets had foretold.
For centuries God had guided his Chosen People of Israel of old, leading them slowly but surely to an understanding of His nature and His purposes. From the beginning they were the Church of God, living under the Law, growing under the gradually unfolding Divine plan until that day in which He should fulfill His promises. This Church of the Old Israel was preparatory, looking forward to the day when God would create it anew by His own power. That great event happened in our Lord Jesus Christ. God visited and redeemed His people, took them from under the Law, and established them anew in the covenant of the New Testament of our Saviour. The promises to Israel were fulfilled in a New Israel: the Church of Christ.
VI – The Growth of the Church
O LORD, we beseech thee, let thy continual pity cleanse and defend thy Church; and, because it cannot continue in safety without thy succour, preserve it evermore by thy help and goodness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
– Collect for Trinity XVI; p. 212.
Nineteen hundred years ago Jesus sent His disciples into the world to do God’s work in the Church which he had founded. All these years the Christian Church has labored to bring the peace of God and the salvation of Jesus Christ to millions of hungry hearts. Today it is still doing the task which God sent His Son to accomplish – and doing it in the same way in which the Apostles and our Lord Himself did it. The world has changed, ways of living have altered, but men and women are much the same. So the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Church, which brings it to men and women, are much the same as they have always been.
If St. John were to step into our Church one Sunday morning there would be a great deal to mystify him. The music, the lights, the stained glass – all the results of the development of fine craftsmanship and modern science – would be strange. Perhaps he would not think all of it beautiful. But as soon as the worship of God began, he would no longer be mystified. He would hear familiar Scriptures read; he would recite Creeds which he helped to formulate. The Gospel preached would be the same Good News he had proclaimed; the Sacraments would be just as he had received them. What does this mean? Simply that in the nineteen hundred years of her history the Church has preserved unbroken the continuity with the past. In all its essentials the Church today is still the Church of the Apostles. No institution or nation or country on earth has preserved such identity with its past as has the Church of God.
Ages of barbarism and savagery have engulfed the world only to be engulfed in turn by new civilizations. Kingdoms have risen and fallen; mighty empires have been born and perished. The known world has increased from a small strip of coastline around the Mediterranean basin until it includes every inch of the globe. Yet through it all the Church has remained constant, triumphing over all the changes and chances of this world.
Because the Church has remained constant in her purpose and mission, and unchanging in her essentials, it is possible to secure a single sweeping view of her history during these nineteen hundred years. That is our object here. For convenience the history of the Christian Church may be divided into five periods:
I The Apostolic Church.
II The Ancient Catholic Church.
III The Medieval Church.
IV The Reformation Church.
V The Modern Church.
It must be remembered, however, that these divisions are simply for convenience of study. There are no breaks in the continuous stream of the Church’s life. One period leads gradually into another.
Again, to make our whole picture clearer, we shall, with one exception, follow certain main threads of the Church’s life through these five periods, trying to see what developed in each one through the centuries. These main threads are:
1 The Missionary Activity of the Church.
2 The Church’s Relation to the World.
3 The Inner Life of the Church; that is, Its Faith, Its Organization, Its Scriptures, and Its Worship.
I The Apostolic Church: A Period of Expansion
Covering roughly the first hundred years of the Church’s history, this period may be called The Age of the Apostles. It begins at the Ascension of our Lord and ends with the death of the last disciple who knew Jesus here on earth.
1 The Missionary Activity of the Church
The chief characteristic of this first period is its intense missionary activity. After the disciples had received the promised gift of the Holy Spirit on the first Whitsunday, they scattered over the Mediterranean world, spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Some remained with St. Peter, St. Philip, and St. James in Palestine. Some went northward to Antioch where “the disciples were called Christians first.” [Acts, 11:26.] Some went into Egypt, Asia Minor, and Greece. Others traveled eastward into Mesopotamia, while still more journeyed westward to North Africa, Italy, and Spain. The New Testament contains a fairly complete picture of how some of these first missionaries preached the Gospel, leaving behind them ever-increasing communities of Christians.
We can follow in detail St. Paul on his travels, watching him establish local churches in Galatia, along the coastline of the Aegean Sea, and in the cities of Greece. At the same time something similar was happening throughout the rest of the Mediterranean basin. By the end of the first century a Christian congregation had been established, and was rapidly growing in strength and numbers, in each of the chief cities of the Roman Empire.
2 The Church’s Relation to the World
In this first period the Church made contact with three peoples: Jews, Greeks, and Romans.
The Church and the Jews: The first Jewish Christians were speedily driven out of the old Jewish Church. Israel would not accept Jesus as its Saviour, and the break between the Old Israel and the New came when the Jews stoned St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Neither our Lord nor the Apostles desired this break, yet the attacks of the Sanhedrin and the Jewish King Herod made it inevitable. It was during one of these persecutions by the Jews that Gamaliel addressed his fellow councilors of the Sanhedrin in words which are a lesson for persecutors of the Christian Church in all ages:
Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought: But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God. [Acts, 5:38–39.]
Having revolted against the Romans, the Jewish state was ultimately overthrown by a Roman army under Titus in 70 A.D. Jerusalem was destroyed and the Jews ceased to persecute the Christians. The center of the new Christian Church, which had been fixed at Jerusalem, now moved into the Gentile world.
The Church and the Greeks: One of the reasons for the sudden success of the first missionaries is that thousands of Hellenistic, or Greek, peoples were searching anew for God. Many of them became interested in the Jewish synagogues in the various cities. Here St. Paul and other disciples found them and met their needs with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Church and the Romans: During this Age of the Apostles the whole Mediterranean world was part of the Roman Empire. In one way this was a great advantage to the missionaries of the new Church. Everywhere they went the strong rule of the imperial government protected voyagers and maintained order. Travel was speedy on excellent roads and waterways. Furthermore, throughout the Empire, from Spain to Persia, there was one common language. Whatever a man spoke in his own province, he also spoke and read an easy colloquial Greek. It was this language in which the New Testament was written. Thus the Gospel of Jesus could travel easily by letter, by word of mouth, and by the teaching of any Apostle from one end of the Empire to the other.
3 The Inner Life of the Church
For a hundred years the inner life of the Church was very simple. Its worship remained patterned along the lines of the synagogue-worship of the Jews. The Old Testament Scriptures were read and expounded, Psalms were sung, and the meaning of our Lord’s life and death and resurrection was preached. At the same time, the early Christians gathered on Sundays for the Breaking of the Bread (Holy Communion). A Symbolic Washing (Baptism) marked the entrance of a new Christian into God’s Family, while the Laying-on-of-Hands (Confirmation) by an Apostle conveyed the strengthening gift of the Holy Spirit. The sick were anointed with oil (Unction) and prayers were offered for their recovery.
The Scriptures of the first Christians were the books of the Old Testament. Gradually the missionary letters of St. Paul and the other Apostles were collected and treasured, and to these were added the four Gospels which told the story of Jesus’ life. By the end of this first period nearly all the books of the New Testament had been written and were recognized as Sacred Scripture.
The organization of the Apostles’ Church was only rudimentary. The local churches were cared for by local ministers (the ministry which became that of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons), while the Apostles themselves traveled about exercising general oversight and ordaining men to these local ministries.
The Faith of the Apostles is the Faith to which we express our allegiance in the Apostles’ Creed. This Creed received the final form in which we have it after the first period of the Church’s history was over, but all of the actions of God to which it bears witness were proclaimed in the Church of the Apostles.
II The Ancient Catholic Church: A Period of Recognition
This period occupies roughly five hundred years, from the middle of the second century to about 600 A.D.
1 The Missionary Activity of the Church
The Gospel of Jesus continued to spread with amazing rapidity throughout all the provinces and colonies of the Roman Empire. Italy, Spain, North Africa, Gaul, Egypt, and Asia Minor became the chief centers of Christianity. Missionaries from Gaul converted the Celtic people of Britain sometime before the year 200 A.D. A century later the Church of England had her first Christian martyr, St. Alban. Two centuries later this Celtic Church suffered intensely at the hands of the heathen Angles and Saxons, who conquered England after the Roman legions were withdrawn. But Christianity remained alive, and when Pope Gregory sent St. Augustine in 597 A.D. to convert the Anglo-Saxon conquerors, the Roman missionaries found the old Celtic Church of England still active.
2 The Church’s Relation to the World
The Roman world treated the new Christian Church first with persecution, then with recognition. The Roman Empire made demands upon its subjects for the kind of totalitarian allegiance which Christians can give only to Jesus Christ. When Christians refused to comply with these demands, the emperors tried to stamp out the new religion. For two hundred and fifty years attacks were launched upon the Church. Bishops and other clergy, men, women, and children alike, were stabbed, tortured, starved, burned, and crucified. Holy Scriptures and Christian writings were seized. Church buildings were destroyed. Yet persecution failed, defeated by the wonderful courage of the martyrs. The bravest men of the time were attracted to the new religion by the witness to Jesus Christ made by the noble army of martyrs. So strong did the Church become through these trials, that in 313 A.D. the Emperor Constantine published his famous Edict of Toleration, recognizing the Christian Faith. Christianity had captured the Empire.
3 The Inner Life of the Church
The organization of the Church continued to develop along the lines laid down in the first period. The unit of organization was the diocese, headed by its Bishop, similar to that which we know today. These dioceses naturally grouped themselves around large and important cities, and the Bishops of those cities gained such great influence that they became known as Archbishops and Patriarchs. Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Jerusalem, and Antioch were the centralizing points, the Archbishops of each being called “Popes.” [From the Latin Papa, father.] As Rome was the first city of the Empire, it was natural that special deference should be paid the Pope or Archbishop of Rome. Yet a real equality existed among all these Bishops, just as it had among the original Apostles.
We might call this period The Age of the Martyrs. We could also describe it as The Age of the Fathers, or the Theologians, for during this time the Bishops and other clergy from all over the Empire met in a succession of great Church Councils. They successfully fought the errors in doctrine which threatened to distort the true Faith of Jesus Christ. They gave official recognition to those Christian writings which compose the New Testament, and they fixed the Creeds in the form in which we have them today.
VII – The Growth of the Church
Lord, we beseech thee to keep thy household the Church in continual godliness; that through thy protection it may be free from all adversities, and devoutly given to serve thee in good works, to the glory of thy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
– Collect for Trinity XXII; p. 220.
Continuing our summary of the history of the Christian Church, we come now to:
III The Medieval Church: A Period of Power
1 The Missionary Activity of the Church
In this period and in the next there is little to say about the missionary activity of the Church beyond the fact that it continued steadily as the bounds of the known world were enlarged by conquest, travel, and exploration. At times the missionary zeal of the Church has been strong and at other times it has been weak, but in every age Christians have been true to their mission to carry the Gospel of Jesus to all peoples.
2 The Church’s Relation to the World
From the day Constantine recognized the Christian Faith, the Church’s influence on rulers, nations, and society steadily increased. During the Middle Ages the Church was the one central force in all Europe. Kings, princes, and barons received their right to rule from the Church; she had a voice in the government of every nation. Trade and business were regulated by the Church. The home life and the social life of men and women were built around her Faith and Worship. Today it is hard for us to imagine a time in which the whole known world was truly “Christendom.”
Something like that is the goal toward which we strive, that is, that every single aspect of this life shall be seen in its relation to God and eternity – that men and women “may so pass through things temporal that they lose not the things eternal.” The Middle Ages tried, but failed to reach this ideal. The world was not ready. The power entrusted to the Church corrupted it.
3 The Inner Life of the Church
The corruption in this Age of the Popes is seen in both matters of organization and in doctrine. The Roman Popes were not content to remain on an equality with other Archbishops. They were ambitious for sole rule in Christendom and gradually they acquired it, exercising temporal power as Italian princes and spiritual governance over the rest of Europe. Thus the Pope became a new officer in the Church, an officer unknown in the earlier periods of Church history. The great Eastern Orthodox Church of Greece and Asia Minor, under the Patriarch of Constantinople, resisted the new Roman Papacy. By the year 1054 a schism had occurred between these Churches of the West and the East. The split still survives today, for the Eastern Church does not acknowledge the supremacy of the Pope.
Power and wealth brought to the Popes temptations to injustice and greed. The Church was turned into a kingdom of this world, existing for its own gain. The Gospel of Jesus began to be obscured. Men in all parts of the Church arose in protest. Councils were called to try to reform the Church, but the evils had gone too deep. Only drastic measures could recover the ancient structure of the Church.
The Faith, too, had been corrupted through the rise of new doctrines unknown to the Apostolic Church, and the growth of abuses and superstitions mainly having to do with the Sacraments. It was necessary that something be done to prevent Christianity from becoming a kind of religious magic, far removed from the faith and practice of the Apostles.
IV The Reformation Church: A Period of Upheaval
In this fourth period, which covers roughly the years 1500-1660, the drastic steps necessary to reform the abuses in the Western Church were taken. The ideal before the reformers was to return to the original faith and practice of the Ancient Catholic Church. Methods differed in various countries. Sometimes men were successful; sometimes in their zeal to reform they went too far and the result was more destruction than reformation. For example, on the continent of Europe, Luther, Calvin, and other reformers were not content with subtracting the Pope from the Church; they subtracted the Bishops as well, and so cut themselves off from the main stream of the historic Church.
Furthermore, they did not stop at reforming the superstitious beliefs which had grown up around the Sacraments; they cast away much of the very meaning of the Sacraments themselves. These men were acting in good faith. They followed the truth as they understood it. But they set themselves against the wisdom of the Church in its early undivided ages. Thus the result in Europe was not a reformed Church, but a group of Protestant societies – Lutherans, Presbyterians, Anabaptists, and others – all at variance with each other.
But in the Church of England, the Mother Church of our own Episcopal Church, a real reformation took place. Here the Pope was subtracted, but the Apostolic Ministry of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons still continued in succession to the Apostles. Here the abuses surrounding the Sacraments and the new doctrines which had grown up in the Middle Ages were cast aside, but no essential of the Ancient Faith was lost or discarded. The result was that the Church of England emerged from the Reformation Protestant in that it vigorously protested against the errors of the Roman Pope; and Catholic in that it remained still a part of the continuous life of the Christian Church, treasuring and guarding the Scriptures, Creeds, Ministry, and Sacraments as the early Christians had known them.
The upheaval of the Reformation was necessary and invaluable. It secured to us again the Faith once for all delivered to the Saints. Yet it left behind one unfortunate legacy, a divided Christendom. Today, instead of the One Visible Church on earth, God’s Family is separated into many “churches.” These must one day be reunited into the One Fold of the One True Shepherd. It is part of our solemn duty as Christians to pray constantly that the Holy Spirit will direct us into the way of unity, that all men and women may be one in the Faith of Jesus Christ.
V The Modern Church: A Period of Recovery
1 The Missionary Activity of the Church
Since the Reformation great strides have been made in carrying the message of Jesus Christ to all mankind, partly due to the opening up of the whole world by travel and exploration. Missionaries of all denominations have gone into every quarter of the globe. The heroism and courage displayed by these zealous men and women have recaptured once more the spirit of the first age of the Apostolic missionary activity.
Our own Anglican Communion has spread from the Mother Church of England into every land. Today it is a vast international body of sister churches and missions, knowing no bounds of race or language or color. Each independent church in our Communion is united with the others in the same Apostolic Christian Faith, and in the preservation of the structure of the Ancient Catholic Church.* The churches of the Anglican Communion are:
The Church of England
The Church of England in Australia and Tasmania
The Church of England in Canada
The Church of India, Burma, Pakistan, and Ceylon
The Church of Ireland
The Church in Wales
The Church of the Province of New Zealand
The Church of the Province of South Africa
The Church in the Province of the West Indies
The Episcopal Church in Scotland
The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America
The Holy Catholic Church in China
The Holy Catholic Church in Japan
In addition our Communion maintains missions in Asia, Africa, South America, the Near East,
the East Indies, Alaska, and the Philippine and other Pacific Islands.
*The Lambeth Conference of 1930 declared the Anglican Communion to be a: “Fellowship within the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, of those duly constituted Dioceses, Provinces, or Regional Churches in communion with the See of Canterbury.” These churches are linked together by their desire to “uphold or propagate the Catholic and Apostolic faith and order as set forth in the Prayer Book.” They are “national churches bound together, not by a central legislative and executive authority, but by the mutual loyalty sustained through the common counsel of the Bishops in conference.” – Higgins, J., The Expansion of the Anglican Communion, Louisville: Cloister Press, p. 31.
2 The Church’s Relation to the World
Once again, as in the first ages of its life, the Christian Church faces a world which is either largely indifferent or actively hostile to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The hostility of the contemporary pagan ideologies throughout the world is not the most serious threat. Persecution has always made Christians stronger, finer, and more appealing. But to conquer the indifference of a large part of the world which still calls itself “Christian” is a task as challenging as the task which faced the Apostles and the Fathers. It is this which is before us today – to bring men and women to take the Faith and standards of our Lord into every aspect of their lives. This means into their politics, their business, and their social and family relations. Only thus will the Church of our time fulfill the Divine Commission given to it by our Lord and Master Jesus Christ.
VIII – The Institutions of the Church
O Gracious Father, we humbly beseech thee for thy holy Catholic Church; that thou wouldest be pleased to fill it with all truth, in all peace. Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in any thing it is amiss, reform it. Where it is right, establish it; where it is in want, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it; for the sake of him who died and rose again, and ever liveth to make intercession for us, Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord. Amen.
– Archbishop Laud’s Prayer; p. 37.
Man is not a solitary animal. He was created to live with and for other people. In every aspect of life he finds himself in community with his fellows. There are wide racial groups. There are peoples united in language and nationality. But perhaps this kinship is most clearly seen in the homely bonds which hold men together. For example, nearly every one belongs to a club. It may be an athletic association, a country club, a scout troop, a dramatic society, a neighborhood gang, a Greek-letter fraternity – there are hundreds of various kinds. Notwithstanding the differences among all these organizations, they have at least three things in common:
First, the club consists of men or women, boys or girls, who are its members. Without them the society has no existence. Dramatic clubs do not exist without actors; football teams do not exist without players.
Second, the club is formed, governed, and continued by like-minded people who associate themselves together for an end which seems good to them. They want to win games, to produce plays, or to have a good time, as the case may be.
Third, membership in a club is purely voluntary. One may join or resign, as he wishes. People are not born into clubs; they need not die in them unless they choose.
Yet everyone belongs to an entirely different organization called a family. Not one of the three things above is characteristic of this society. A family, for instance, includes more persons than those closely related or living together under one roof. It exists outside of its present members, exists in past generations, and will exist in future descendants. There are always those members of any single family who have departed this life. Nearer now to God in a new life of more perfect service, they are united with those here, not by sight, but by fellowship in the Communion of Saints.
Furthermore, the family is organized for a specific and unchanging end. It exists to provide in the setting of a home those intimate relations of love and sacrifice for which men and women were created. It is not so much what people may or may not think good, as what is part of the very stuff of human life. Finally, membership in the family is not voluntary. A man is born into a family. He may choose whether or not to live within its fellowship; he cannot help but die in the membership in which he was born.
There are, then, two completely different organizations in which men find their kinship with others. But there is also a third. All those baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost belong to still another society: the Christian Church. Little that has been said of the club applies in the Church. Yet all that has been said of the family applies in a more profound way, for the Church is not a religious club but another family, the Family of God. Men and women alone do not form the Church. There is always God and His holy Angels. Without us it would still exist; without God it would mean nothing. Like the family, the Church spreads beyond this world. Here on this earth is the Church Militant, spreading the Gospel of God and struggling against sin and evil. Beyond the grave are the faithful departed, the Church Expectant, ever moving to a deeper knowledge of God. Still nearer the throne of God is the Church Triumphant, all those courageous martyrs and humble saints who have been the lights of the world in their several generations and now rest in peace with God. Yet all are knit together into One Holy Catholic Church, for all share in the one fellowship of prayer and the One Body of Jesus Christ.
Furthermore, the Church exists not for ends which its human members may want, but to carry out the Divine Purpose. That is, it exists to set forth the worship of God and to proclaim His Holy Gospel that men and women are saved from their sins by Christ Jesus if they will accept Him and follow Him and live with Him in this Divine Family. This family is not ours but God’s, for the Church was founded by Him in the Person of our Saviour. It is governed by His guiding and strengthening Holy Spirit; it continues under His loving care and protection. Finally, Church membership is not voluntarily resigned. One is born into God’s Family by Baptism. One may choose to fulfill its obligations and receive its privileges, or one may choose paths which are contrary to the wish of God. In either case, we bear our baptismal responsibility to a judgment beyond the grave.
Yet the Church on earth, the Church Militant, seems to bear some earmarks of a club. One can point to its buildings, its schools and hospitals, its laws and customs, all seemingly built and governed by men and women. It is highly organized. It has different kinds of officers and clergy, prayer books, special ceremonies, and services. It speaks its faith in creeds. It ministers God’s gifts through the outward signs of sacraments. But are all these things essential to the Church? This question is important. Because of the different answers given to it, God’s Family has separated into many little “churches,” each holding fast to some essentials but regarding others as of less importance. How shall we know what are the essentials in the Christian Church, and what are matters of less importance?
The answer to this question would be simple if Jesus had constructed the Church with all the organization and activity we see in it today. That would have been one way of building the Family of God, the way of an architect who designs every little detail and then erects the complete structure. This is the way men build, but it is not the way of God. He does not build a lifeless structure; He creates a living and growing organism.
The best metaphor for the Church of God is that of a tree. Jesus planted the live seed in the faithful disciples whom He gathered around Him and taught. He gave them the Divine Commission which started its growth: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” [St. Matthew, 28:19–20.] But, above all, He gave them the supreme gift of His Holy Spirit to lead them into all truth and be with them always in His Church. “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” And on that first Whitsunday, when the Holy Ghost descended upon the Church, the disciples went out bearing the Gospel of salvation to the whole world.
Thus the tree grew. And as it grew, it sent up its strong branches. Near the base of the tree trunk grew the great branch of the Ministry, in continuous succession from those Apostles who received the first Commission. Next the Creed pointed its firm finger aloft, away from men toward God. From the heart of the tree grew the Sacraments, side by side with that strong branch of the Holy Scriptures of the New Testament. These first four branches sent out their own smaller limbs and still more tiny twigs. The Sacraments expanded into services, ceremonies, and forms of prayer. The Scriptures inspired great books of devotion and countless works of mercy. The Ministry developed the form which we know as Bishops, Priests, and Deacons. From the Creed sprang all the theology by which men have come to know God more clearly. For nearly two thousand years this tree has grown. It has leafed out in the beauty of Christian art and music. On it hangs its fruit, the lives of many Christian saints and countless humble men of God.
There is a picture of the life of the Christian Church. The illustration is perhaps imperfect, but it may show how the Family of God is a living, growing organism. We can now see what is essential and what is of less importance. If we strip the tree of its leaves – its art, music, liturgy, ceremonies, observances – we have lost all that is beautiful and lovely. Tear from the tree all its small branches, and God’s Church is left bare and misshapen. Yet as long as the great branches remain intact, the tree struggles again to send out these limbs, to leaf out once more in mystical beauty, to bear again its holy fruit. But if the four first branches of the trunk are cut away, the tree dies. They are essential to its life. These four, then, are the fundamental parts of the Christian Church: the Ministry, the Sacraments, the Scriptures, and the Creeds.
These four institutions are so important that in later chapters they will be considered separately. Now it will be sufficient to conclude with a brief summary of each to see more clearly why they are essential parts of the Church.
1 The Ministry
When Jesus planted the live seed of the Church by His Divine Commission to proclaim God’s Gospel to all nations, He gave that Commission to certain men called Apostles. He had chosen them from among all His followers, trained them, shared His life with them. One of His last acts upon earth, after our Lord had risen from the dead and before His Ascension, was to give them a special gift of the Holy Spirit to carry on His work of bringing men to God. “As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost.” [St. John, 20:21–22.]
They were ordained and sent to do as Jesus had done: to teach, to preach, to administer God’s sacraments, to declare God’s forgiveness of sins, and to guide God’s Family. Thus the Ministry is an original part of the Church. The Apostles were careful to preserve and continue this Ministry through the laying on of hands with prayer, and before the last book of the New Testament had been written, the Holy Spirit had guided the infant Church to that form of the Ministry which has persisted ever since – the Ministry of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons. Today they are still ordained in succession to the Apostles with the words which Jesus used. [The Preface to the Ordinal, P.B., p. 529. See also the ordination sentences for Bishops and Priests.]
Some churches do not have this three-fold episcopal ministry to which the Apostolic Church was divinely guided. But we believe in all charity that to alter God’s design for His Ministry is to maim the tree and to cripple the work which Jesus left His Church to do. The ancient three-fold ministry safeguards our direct heritage from those original Apostles to whom Jesus entrusted the work of saving mankind.
2 The Sacraments
The two great Sacraments of Baptism and the Holy Communion are also original elements of the Church. Baptism as a sign of sorrow for sin and wrong-doing had been practised in the Jewish Church. Our Lord gave to this ceremony a new meaning. Baptism in the Christian Church becomes the sign of birth or adoption into God’s Family. More than that, it carries with it a new gift of the Spirit, bringing forgiveness of sins and making us Children of God.
In the night before He was betrayed, Jesus at the Last Supper gave to His Church the sacred gift of His Blessed Body and Blood. In this Holy Communion with Him the souls of men and women are constantly strengthened and nourished by His Divine Life.
The Holy Communion and Baptism are the two chief Sacraments of the Gospel. To these the ancient Church added five “commonly called Sacraments.” They are:
Confirmation, in which the Christian receives the special gift of the Holy Spirit to strengthen him in the true faith and godly life.
Absolution, commonly called confession, in which the Christian is assured of God’s forgiveness of sins.
Holy Orders, or the ordination of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons, in which men are given the gift of the Spirit to carry on the ministerial work of the Apostles.
Unction of the Sick, by which the sufferer receives God’s blessing in his affliction and the prayers of the Church for his recovery.
Holy Matrimony, in which two members of God’s Family solemnly take God’s Presence into that new human family they are about to create.
3 The Scriptures
The first Holy Scriptures the Church possessed were those books of the Old Testament in which God revealed Himself to the Israelites. These were the Scriptures on which Jesus had been brought up. The Psalms were His hymns; Isaiah was His book of devotion. After the Resurrection the Apostles knew that all the prophecy in the Old Testament was fulfilled by Jesus the Messiah. All that God had shown men of His ways, His purpose, and His love was made complete and final in His Divine Son.
As long as the Apostles, who knew our Lord, were alive the Church needed no more Scriptures than the books of the Old Testament. But as time went on men began to write of their experience with Jesus in order that their successors might be kept in the truth of His Gospel. These writings were the four Gospels. Meanwhile, as the Church spread around the Mediterranean world, letters were written from one place to another telling of the Christian faith and life. These were the epistles of St. Paul and others.
The Church had been at work for nearly twenty years before the first of these New Testament books was written, but soon it was seen that they were the inspired records of Christianity and steps were taken to preserve them. So from all the gospels and epistles which had been written (and there were many which were not included) the Church selected those which form our New Testament. In this selection the Holy Spirit again guided the Church, and for centuries these Scriptures of the New Testament have been the standards of Christian beliefs and the chief witness to Jesus Christ. We have accepted the Scriptures on the authority of the Church. Christ is not important because the New Testament says He is. The New Testament is important because it tells about Christ.
4 The Creeds
“Whom say ye that I am?” asked Jesus of His disciples. “And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” [St. Matthew, 16:15–16.] That was the first creed, the simple acknowledgment that Jesus Christ is the Divine Saviour of men. In the earliest days of the Church the creed was no more than “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” It was not some difficult theology, but just a plain fact. But men and women have a dangerous tendency to get away from facts into their own fancies. So gradually the Creed grew. More facts were added to keep before people the truths which God revealed. Jesus was the Son of our Father and Creator. He was born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered and was crucified for us. He rose from the dead. From the Father and the Son comes the Holy Spirit to be with us in the One Catholic and Apostolic Church. We look ahead to a life in the world to come. Finally, the creed assumed the form of our Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds.
Christians do not believe in the Creed; they believe in God. They believe the Creed to contain those facts about God and Jesus, about the Spirit and the Church, which have been revealed as eternally true. Therefore the Creed is our pledge of allegiance and hope. It points away from men, back to the Heavenly Father who created them, loves them, and seeks to save them from their sins. Some men will always say: “I do not like creeds; I like to put my beliefs in my own words.” The answer of the Church is: “They are not your beliefs. They are the beliefs of God’s whole Family. If you put it into your words, something will be lost because the thoughts and words of no one man are able to contain the Faith of all.” This Faith of all has been entrusted to the Church from her first foundation.
Wherever one sees these four essentials: (1) an episcopal ministry of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons in continuous succession from the Apostles; (2) the Sacraments strengthening people in the true Christian Faith; (3) the Holy Scriptures received and taught; (4) the Apostolic Faith declared in the Creeds – there is God’s Family, the Holy Catholic Church. All these essentials are present in the Episcopal Church and are fundamental to the Faith taught in our Prayer Book. We are part of the great Catholic Church of Christ.
IX – The Worship of the Church
Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid; Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy Holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.
– Collect for Purity; p. 67.
Most people find the center of their religious life in a parish church. Many of them take part there in some active work. They may be members of a men’s club, a servers’ guild, a brotherhood, or a young people’s fellowship. Possibly they are associated with the work of a missionary society like the Woman’s Auxiliary, a sewing guild, or some other service organization. Bible study classes, the Church School, and confirmation classes provide activities in Christian education; altar societies and acolytes’ guilds present opportunities for the service of the sanctuary. Together these activities of the parish appeal to a wide variety of interests. Some exist for the benefit of the parish church itself; some are charitable works for the poor and the afflicted; others help to support the missionary program of the whole Church. All these things are good. Most of them are important. Some are necessary, but not one of these activities is the chief function of the parish church.
The supreme activity of the Church is the worship of God. The first activity of any parish church, therefore, is to set forth for its people the worship of God. The essential work of the parish does not center in its organizations and clubs, but in the administration of the Sacraments, the Sunday services, and the daily worship of God. All other activities of fellowship and service draw their strength from this primary duty of prayer. If worship stopped, then all other works would gradually die out. If, on the other hand, all organizations were disbanded, public worship could still continue, and were it the right kind of whole-hearted offering of ourselves to God, new ways of expressing service and fellowship would quickly grow up again.
Clearly, worship is the chief function of the Church. For that reason the Office of Instruction says that the first duty of a Christian is “to worship God every Sunday in his Church.” [P.B., p. 291.] It is his second duty “to work and pray and give for the spread of his kingdom.” What does this mean? Simply that all the activities of the parish house are the result of the worship which is offered day after day, Sunday after Sunday, before the parish altar. A man who truly worships God will love and serve both God and his fellowmen. A man who never worships God will most likely love and serve himself only. A parish church which is not first a body of worshipers will soon cease to have any Christian activity in service, fellowship, or missionary effort. The worship of God is that which keeps our membership of His Family alive.
But why should the Church’s highest activity be the worship of God? It is because man’s highest activity is the worship of God. The life of men and women starts and finishes with God. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and end of all things. He created us. He guides our destinies with His loving hand. He suffered the Cross that our sins might be forgiven us. He gives us the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ. These are stupendous facts, yet they are the only facts by which we can make sense out of our lives. As soon as a man clearly recognizes the truth of these facts and what they mean to him, he has only one response – to worship God. That means to devote his entire being, body, mind, and soul, to love the God whose love for us passes all human understanding. Our highest pursuit cannot be other than to worship Him through whose Providence we were brought into this world, and under whose protecting arms we shall one day pass from this world to a better one.
The Church’s worship is necessarily public or common worship, that is, worship in which people participate together as one group. Men worship God privately, but that satisfies neither their natural instincts, nor their Christian obligation. The Family of God worships as a Family, just as a human family engages in its activities together as one group. Common worship is frequently called corporate worship, which means simply the worship of a whole body of people.
Since the very earliest days of the Church corporate worship has been the chief means of offering prayer. In the beginning the Disciples met to pray. The important thing to remember is not that they prayed, but that they met to pray together. So today we still meet to pray together in the church. There we express in our outward worship all the inward movement of our souls toward God. We concentrate all our thoughts and prayers upon His goodness and love and great glory; we consecrate ourselves anew to His service among our fellows.
Men and women cannot pray and worship together without some formal order. Without an orderly worship God’s glory would not be much advanced, nor would we derive any of the strength which comes to the united body of worshipers. Imagine what would happen if we met together to worship exactly as we liked. We might come to church on Sunday and find some people singing hymns, and not necessarily the same hymn; some reading Psalms; others in silent prayer; still others celebrating the Holy Communion, and so on. To worship God properly the Church must have orderly ways and methods. Thus we use regular forms of service, and these forms we call the liturgy of the Church. We find them in the Book of Common Prayer. Many people, especially those who belong to Protestant denominations, object to what they call “set forms” of public worship on the grounds that the worship of God should be spontaneous, that one’s devotional aspirations should be allowed to have free play. The Catholic Church, however, from her ages of wisdom, has realized the value of orderly liturgies to guide the common corporate worship. Five important reasons why we use liturgical forms in our public services are these:
A liturgy saves us from disorderliness. When we meet together to worship we are all united in the same prayers, the same reverence, the same adoration, and the same praise of God. It is in this unity that the strength of God’s Family lies.
A liturgy saves us from being dependent upon our own feelings. People are very much dependent upon their feelings. If they are sad or worried or tired, they do not feel much joy or trust or strength. If left alone to worship God their worship would be seriously affected by their feelings at the moment. This should not be, for good prayer does not depend on feeling. Yet as long as men and women allow their feelings to affect them, a liturgy is necessary to provide the power to lift us above our own feelings. Without it we should be unable to rise above thoughts about ourselves to concentrate upon God.
A liturgy saves us from being dependent upon a Minister. Without forms of prayer the congregation of worshipers is dependent upon the prayers and order of service made up by the minister or clergyman. The excellence of the worship will depend upon his training and knowledge, his personality, and the depth of his spirituality. But ministers are, after all, human beings, subject to human imperfections. With a liturgy, however, we depend not upon the abilities of men but upon the prayers of the whole historic Church.
A liturgy saves us from the loss of perspective. Without a liturgy the danger is that we shall concentrate too much upon the problems of our own time, and not upon those fundamental truths of God and man which are timeless. One can imagine that in time of war people’s worship would be seriously affected by their inability to shake off the war-temper which surrounded them. Or, in times of great prosperity and success people would forget their utter dependence upon Almighty God. A liturgy prevents this loss of the due proportion of things because it keeps always before us the basic truths about God and about man and about Christ which are necessary to our salvation.
A liturgy preserves for us all that is best from past ages. In some ages the devotion of men and women is deeper than in others. The prayers and orders of service which grow up in an age of great piety and clear knowledge of God’s ways are preserved by means of fixed forms for all subsequent ages. In our Prayer Book, for example, many of the collects have been in constant use since 600 A.D. Parts of the service of Holy Communion date back to the second century. By using the same forms of worship which have been passed down through the history of the Church we are the inheritors of the rich devotion of the past.
We not only preserve our continuity with the Church of the Apostles, the Fathers, and the Saints; we also maintain our unity in worship with all those who have gone before us to the Church in Paradise. It is only in a great liturgical heritage that we are able to discern the full meaning of “Therefore with Angels and Archangels, and with all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify thy glorious Name; evermore praising thee, and saying, Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of hosts.”
Sometimes one hears the criticism that set forms of prayer and worship are rigid and tend to become meaningless repetitions. This criticism generally comes from persons who have had no experience of liturgical worship. A liturgy is a live and flexible thing. It is not a set of dead or meaningless prayers. Its life comes from the life of the Church, for forms of worship grow along with the growth of devotion in the Church. Its flexibility is seen in its many forms and services suitable to express the worship of all people in all times and places.
The worship of the Church is not only “liturgical,” it is also “sacramental.” This means that our highest forms of worship are expressed in the Sacraments – for example, in Baptism, in the Holy Communion, and others. Sacramental worship differs from other kinds of worship because it is the whole of the whole man, body, mind, and spirit. In non-sacramental worship we bring into play our minds and spirits. In sacramental worship something is done which is bodily or physical, and by means of this outward physical act an inward spiritual truth is perceived, and an inward spiritual benefit is received. This is what is meant by the definition of a sacrament in the Office of Instruction as “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.” [P.B., p. 292.] In other words, the sacramental principle is this: spiritual effects come through material means.
This sounds difficult, but actually it is quite simple. It happens to us all the time. A handclasp or a kiss is a sacrament. First, it is an outward and visible sign that we are friendly or in love with the person who joins in it with us. Second, it is the means whereby we help to strengthen that love or friendship. This is its inward and spiritual effect. We might call the handclasp or kiss the Sacrament of Friendship.
The Sacraments given to us by our Lord work in precisely the same way. God knows that while we live in physical bodies our souls cannot be separated from those bodies. So He has given us certain Sacraments which unite us to Him in perfect love and worship by the effect upon the soul of some outward and material act. The best example of this is, of course, the Holy Communion. Here, in receiving the consecrated Bread and Wine (the outward and visible physical act), we receive also the very life of Jesus whose Body and Blood they have spiritually become (the inward and spiritual strength).
One last word about worship. True worship of God is always associated with right conduct in our everyday life. There are many people who worship God every Sunday in His Church and who then spend the next six days ignoring Him. Even worse are the people who seem to worship God and yet do not try to lead decent, wholesome, and honest lives. The trouble with all these people is not with their lives but with their worship. If they were to worship God truly with all their hearts and minds and strength, they would discover that good Christian living is the result of that worship. In other words, prayer is not important because it helps us to live right. God is all important. Prayer brings us to Him. Right conduct is the result.
X – The Prayer Book of the Church
Almighty God, who hast given us grace at this time with one accord to make our common supplications unto thee; and dost promise that when two or three are gathered together in thy Name thou wilt grant their requests; Fulfill now, O Lord, the desires and petitions of thy servants, as may be most expedient for them; granting us in this world knowledge of thy truth, and in the world to come life everlasting. Amen.
– Prayer of St. Chrysostom; p. 20.
The forms for the liturgical and sacramental worship which are in use in our Church are set out in the volume which we ordinarily call the Prayer Book. Actually, this title is a little misleading for it is not one single book. Just as the Bible consists of a number of different books, bound into one single volume for the sake of convenience, so also the Prayer Book is made up of several different books bound together for convenient use. The single volume has in fact five separate and distinct parts. They are:
The Book of Common Prayer.
The Book for the Holy Communion.
The Book of Other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church.
The Book of the Psalms, or the Psalter.
The Bishop’s Book, or the Ordinal.
Note that at pages 1, 65, 271, 343, and 527, in the Prayer Book each one of these separate books has its own title page.
Furthermore, in addition to these five main parts, some other material is included. In the back of the volume are the old Catechism, some forms for Family Prayer, and The Articles of Religion. In the front may be found tables of lessons for the daily offices of Morning and Evening Prayer, general rules for the conduct of public worship, and a list of feast and fast days to be observed during the Church Year. The Prayer Book, therefore, is a complete directory of the Church’s public worship, according to the use of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America.
The growth of books in which the liturgical worship of the Church was systematized into regular forms of prayer began very early in the history of the Church. It is probable that there were some fixed forms even in the days of the Apostles. The Baptismal Formula [St. Matthew, 28:19.] and the Words of Consecration in the Eucharist [1 Corinthians, 11:23–25.] were fixed very early, and certainly some parts of our Communion Service (notably the Sursum Corda) date from the year 100 A.D. During the period of the Ancient Catholic Church these primitive forms of service became enlarged and enriched. Many of the collects in our Prayer Book originally appeared in the three “sacramentaries” (prayers for the Holy Communion) of St. Leo, St. Gelasius, and St. Gregory, dating respectively from about 550, 700, and 800. They were translated from the Latin by Archbishop Cranmer in 1549, at the time of the publication of the first Prayer Book in English.
By the period of the Middle Ages the books containing the services of the Church had multiplied very greatly, and would seem to us to be in hopeless confusion. Each book had to be written in longhand by monastic scribes. The process was lengthy and expensive. Therefore, the scribes copied in different books only the parts of the service needed by different people. Thus the priest had a book with only his portion of the service, the bishop one with his parts, the choir another, and so on.
By putting these books together the whole service could be read. On any great feast day such as Easter or Christmas perhaps a dozen different books would be used by as many different groups of people participating in the service. It was obviously necessary to remedy this confusion, and happily the invention of printing soon made this possible. From the middle of the fifteenth century on, service books began to be printed in which all the parts were grouped together and the complete service could be set out in a single book. Thus the Church then soon reduced the number of essential books to four:
The Breviary, containing the daily services of prayer.
The Missal, or Book for the Holy Communion.
The Pontifical, or Bishop’s Book.
The Manual, or Handbook of Other Rites and Ceremonies.
There were some other books, notably a Primer (containing simple devotions for lay people) and a Processional (containing a number of Litanies), but these four were the more important ones. We may now begin to see why our Prayer Book actually consists of a number of separate books bound together. When Archbishop Cranmer supervised the translation of these four books into English for use in the reformed Church of England, he made a great many changes toward simplification. One of these was the binding of the essential books together in a single volume.
The first English Prayer Book was published in 1549. In many ways this book was similar to the one which we use today. The major differences between our Book and the Book of 1549 are in greater facility of use, additional enrichment of services, and provision for more types of prayer which nearly four hundred years of careful revision have brought to our Book. Yet structurally our Prayer Book still remains the same as the first English Prayer Book and continuous with it, just as that Book gathered up the unbroken liturgical heritage of a thousand years of the Church’s worship.
Since 1549 the Anglican Prayer Book has been revised many times. The last official revision in the Church of England took place in 1662, and it was that Prayer Book which most of the English colonists brought with them to this country. At the time of the American Revolution when the Episcopal Church in the United States necessarily became independent of the Mother Church of England, an American Prayer Book was issued, differing but slightly from the English Book of 1662. This American Prayer Book of ours was revised in 1892 and again in 1928. It is the 1928 version which we use in our churches today.
As the Church of England spread out through the English-speaking world the same process took place in other lands until today many independent churches in the vast international Anglican Communion have their own Prayer Books. The Books with the most beautiful liturgical services are those of the Scottish and American Episcopal Churches and the Church of South Africa. The Prayer Books of the Church in Ireland, Canada, and Australia differ little from the old English Prayer Book. Notwithstanding the minor differences among all these Books, they are so remarkably similar that Anglicans are perfectly at home in the worship of their Church anywhere in the world.
The Prayer Book has not been confined to English-speaking lands. It has been translated into the language of every country into which our missionaries have carried the Gospel of Jesus Christ and His Church. The chief of these versions are the Chinese Prayer Book of the Chung Hua Sheng Kung Hui (the Holy Catholic Church in China); the Japanese Prayer Book of the Nippon Seikokwai (the Holy Catholic Church in Japan); and the Prayer Book in East Indian dialects, American Indian languages, African native dialects, French, Spanish, and Portuguese, all for use in Anglican missions.
Brief Analysis of the Prayer Book
Book 1: The Book of Common Prayer, pp. 1–64.
The basic parts of this Book are the Daily Offices, that is to say, the services of Morning and Evening Prayer, intended to be used daily as the Church’s minimum offering of worship. These spring from the Breviary of the Middle Ages, its seven daily monastic hours of prayer now simplified to our two offices. Additional prayers and thanksgivings are included in Book One to be used whenever desired in connection with these services of Matins and Evensong. The Litany and Penitential Office for Ash Wednesday are placed in this section of the Prayer Book because they are generally used with Morning or Evening Prayer.
Book 2: The Book for the Holy Communion, pp. 65–270.
This is the successor to the medieval Missal. It contains the service of the Holy Communion, together with the Collects, Epistles, and Gospels ordered to be used at the Eucharist on the various days throughout the Church Year.
Book 3: The Book of Other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church, pp. 271–342.
Here are the special services of the old Manual. It is worth noting that this section of the Prayer Book is arranged to follow the Christian through his entire life, beginning with the Baptism of the child and ending with the Church’s last rites for the departed soul.
First comes the Ministration of Holy Baptism, for both children and grown people, followed by forms for Private Baptism in cases of emergency and Conditional Baptism in cases of doubt as to whether or not a person has been properly baptized. Then follows the Office of Instruction (a revised form of the old Catechism), and the Order of Confirmation. The Solemnization of Matrimony, the Churching of Women, and the Visitation of the Sick are the next three offices. Provision is also made for the Anointing of the Sick (Holy Unction) and the Communion of the Sick. The section concludes with the Burial Offices for adults and children.
Book 4: The Book of the Psalms, or The Psalter, pp. 343–526.
In this section are all the Psalms of the Bible grouped and arranged for use in Morning and Evening Prayer. Originally, in the course of a single month the entire Psalter was intended to be read through.
Book 5: The Bishop’s Book, or The Ordinal, following p. 527.
This is the counterpart of the medieval Pontifical, containing all those rites and ceremonies in which the Bishop is the chief minister. They include not only the services of Consecration of Bishops and Ordination of Priests and Deacons, but also forms for the Consecration of Churches and the Institution of Rectors into parishes.
PART II: GOD AND THE CHRISTIAN
XI – The Obligations of the Christian
Grant to us, Lord, we beseech thee, the spirit to think and do always such things as are right; that we, who cannot do any thing that is good without thee, may by thee be enabled to live according to thy will; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
– Prayer from the Office of Instruction; p. 287.
A Christian has only one obligation, and that is to do God’s will. Sometimes sentimental people dislike to use such stern words as obligation or duty in connection with God. The same people try to steer clear of the word discipline when used of the Christian life. Let us try to see what an obligation really is.
In civil life we have an obligation to pay our debts, and if we do not fulfill that obligation we may be deprived of our employment or property. We have another obligation to observe the laws of the community, and if we break them we may be imprisoned. If we fail to fulfill our obligation to do our part in the community life, we may forfeit our share in that life. These things are obligations in the sense that if we avoid them we lose something valuable or essential to our life, such as our security, or our freedom, or even our membership in the community.
So it is with our religious obligations. If we fail to do our Christian duty, we lose something of value spiritually, something that God has in store for us and really intends us to enjoy. If we break the moral law which God has given to us in His Church, we lose our freedom as sons of God. If we take little or no part in the common life of the Church of God, we cut ourselves off from the family life with God and our fellowmen. We ought to look upon the doing of God’s will as our most sacred obligation, as the most important thing in our lives. We lose tremendous rewards and incur grave penalties by treating God’s will as less than an absolute obligation upon us.
Those who have had deepest insight into spiritual truth have taught that nothing can be more rewarding than a true comradeship with God and with our fellowmen. And chiefly have they taught this truth by their own example. Men like St. Francis of Assisi have had many followers who gave up everything the world calls valuable to fulfill their sonship to God and to enable them to serve mankind more unselfishly. But this is something the ordinary Christian does in another way in the little decisions and choices of everyday life. Whenever we put God’s will above some alternative of our own, we are bearing witness to the fact that His desires are the supreme values.
This is in accordance with the teaching of our Lord. In His parables about the Kingdom in St. Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus likens the Kingdom of Heaven (which is really the state of doing God’s will) to a treasure hidden in a field and to a pearl of great price. To purchase these the men had to sell all they had. So our Lord says in effect, “If you want to enter the Kingdom, if you want to gain eternal life, you must give everything you have.” He seldom commands us merely to do something. He usually calls our attention to the reward for doing it, and the reward is in terms of our comradeship with God, our being admitted to His Kingdom. Again and again we come across this idea in the collects of the Prayer Book. “Pour into our hearts such love toward thee, that we, loving thee above all things, may obtain thy promises, which exceed all that we can desire. . .” [P.B., p. 197.] The Christian’s obligation to do the will of God consists chiefly of three things:
To love and worship God, and to love and serve our fellowmen in a practical, intelligent way.
To fight sin, and to keep our bodies temples of His Holy Spirit.
To live and grow in the life of God’s Household, the Church.
Our love for God starts with gratitude. A little thought of what He has done for us and given us will make that gratitude sincere. “O heavenly Father, who hast filled the world with beauty; Open, we beseech thee, our eyes to behold thy gracious hand in all thy works; that rejoicing in thy whole creation, we may learn to serve thee with gladness. . . . [Collect from Family Prayer.]
We grow in love for Him as we come to feel His strength upholding our weakness, especially in some situation where we realize our own power is not sufficient to sustain us. One experience of this sort is more moving than pages of dissertation on the infinite mercies of God. Or we may be in deep doubt as to what course to pursue, and see no answer to our question. Then God’s Holy Spirit guides our mind sometime when we have relaxed and left it to Him.
As we learn of the work of His hand through human history, of the great leaders He has raised up, and His many revelations of Himself to us, we desire Him more. Of course His greatest self-revelation is in the Incarnation. To know God in Christ is to open our hearts to the Holy Child of Bethlehem, to admire the quiet strength and insight of the Prophet of Galilee, to mourn at the Cross, and to thrill with the joy of the Risen Lord.
Each of us has been taught that it is our duty toward God “To believe in him, to fear him, And to love him with all my heart, with all my mind, with all my soul, and with all my strength.” [P.B., p. 288.] To love Him with all my heart means with the deepest loyalty of which I am capable, and with all the obedience of my will. To love Him with all my mind is equally important, for it includes right thinking and belief about Him. This comes through study and thought, and humble readiness to learn. We must let Him have the full use of our minds, our very best thinking, in all that we do for Him, whether it is thoughtful attention to our worship or hard work in that state of life to which He has seen fit to place us.
To love God with all my soul means to love Him with my innermost being, with my whole personality. It is to be stirred with awe at His tremendous majesty.
To love Him with all my strength requires that I dedicate to Him all my physical powers, say my evening prayers even when I am “dead tired,” and conquer my sleepiness on those cold, dark winter mornings and come to the Eucharist. And since loving God is so closely bound up with loving our neighbor, it means being willing to use our strength always for the benefit of others.
“My duty towards my Neighbor is to love him as myself, and to do to all men as I would they should do unto me.” So reads the Office of Instruction. We are to identify ourselves with our neighbors, put ourselves in their places, rejoice in their happiness, and sympathize with their sorrows. My “neighbor” may be as close as my father or mother; or he may be a soul on the other side of the world whom I shall never meet face to face; or again a people of some race or nation not popular with my own. Whoever and wherever he is, he is my neighbor, and I am to look out for his interests as I would my own. This is not simple in the complex world in which we live. But God knows all our weakness and selfishness, and it is in His help that we can learn truly to fulfill this obligation.
Loving our neighbor will usually start in finding out something about him. To know a person well is almost always to like him. Then we must serve and help him in any way we can that is according to God’s plan for that person. We will respect his property (“Thou shalt not steal”), his life (“Thou shalt not kill”), his person (“Thou shalt not commit adultery”), and his reputation (“Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor”).
Our love of our neighbor will proceed from our own inner attitudes. If we are humble and reverent, it will be easier to care for others and respect them and sacrifice our own interests for them. If we are kind and forgiving we can sympathize with their troubles and mistakes, and be of most aid to them when they most need help. If we try to be pure, self-controlled, and temperate, it will keep selfishness and indulgence from blinding and hardening us against other’s needs. If we stand for honesty and justice, people will trust us. If we are content with what God has given us, we can think of others instead of brooding over the fancied injustices of our lot and concocting selfish schemes to better it.
The great enemy to love of God and our neighbor is sin. It is the destroyer of true and loving fellowship, both with God and man. It is our constant obligation to fight sin in ourselves and in the world. It is a fight that never ends, and it is best fought on our knees. Not even Christ was spared from temptation to sin, though He never succumbed to it. In Baptism the priest signs us with the sign of the Cross in token that we “shall not be ashamed . . . manfully to fight under his banner, against sin, the world, and the devil.” It is no wonder that the devil is often thought of as a real and damnably ingenious person. The forces of evil are always subtle and too frequently effective. St. Paul expressed a universal experience when he wrote in the Epistle to the Romans “For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I . . . O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” [Romans, 7:15–24.]
The Prayer Book is realistic about this tendency of every human being to sin. Nearly every one of its services contains an actual or implied confession of sins. Through every part of our being we have instinctive urges which lead us into sin, if not properly directed and controlled. No one of us is free of the inclination to sin, yet each one of us is charged with the sacred duty of fighting this sin to the death.
Much of the trouble, sorrow, and injustice in this world is caused by human sin. The only thing that prevents the coming of the Kingdom is the sin of individuals. When whole groups of individuals are subject to the same sort of sins, we can see the result more clearly, but the root of sin still lies in individual hearts. It is conquered only as people are enabled to conquer it by God’s help.
There are two ways to fight sin: by ourselves, or as part of Christ’s army, the Church. We can go into battle as individualistic guerrillas, or we can enlist in the army and light side by side with our fellow-soldiers under our Lord and Master. The powers of evil are strongest when we fight by ourselves. Then the devil usually defeats us. To fight sin successfully we must fight it as members of the Church, the Body of Christ which has been waging this particular warfare for nineteen centuries. We will find the Church the natural and most effective place to fulfill all our obligations. In its life are found the systematic steps by which we may do this. They are:
Baptism, by which we enter the Church and become members of it. Through this sacrament we are born into the Family of God, by water and the Holy Spirit.
Instruction, an important means of growing in the Family life. Some of this is moral instruction. You learn how to “keep God’s holy will and commandments, and walk in the same all the days of thy life.” Some of it is devotional and doctrinal. You learn “the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments, and all other things which a Christian ought to know and believe to his soul’s health.” [P.B., p. 277.]
Confirmation. Here we take on ourselves the responsibility for keeping the vows made in our name at Baptism. Here we receive the special grace of God to help us in that task. We receive the Holy Spirit, and with His strength and guidance must learn to make our own decisions and carry on our Christian profession on our own initiative.
Our bounden duty as a member of the Church includes: Following Christ, that is, imitating His spirit and obeying His teachings; Worshiping God every Sunday in His Church, preferably at the Eucharist, in obedience to our Lord’s command: “do this in remembrance of Me”; Working to build the Kingdom and to bring in others; Praying, to keep in close touch with God, telling Him our needs, trying to find His will for us, and gladly devoting special time to Him every day; Giving, of our money as well as our time, energy, and thought. [P.B., p. 291.]
These are the Christian’s obligations. If we do not live up to them we will lose our rightful inheritance as children of God and “joint heirs with Christ,” our everlasting freedom, and our life with God and in Christ. We may sum up these obligations as loving God and our neighbor, serving and worshiping God, and helping, serving, and treating justly all our neighbors; fighting sin with all our might and doing all this in the fellowship and household of the Christian Church.
XII – Prayer
Let thy merciful ears, O Lord, be open to the prayers of thy humble servants; and, that they may obtain their petitions, make them to ask such things as shall please thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
– Collect for Trinity X; p. 203.
The Christian’s obligations begin and end in companion ship with his heavenly Father. As the means to walking with God the Prayer Book states two things as our bounden duty: to worship God every Sunday in His Church, and to pray. [Second Office of Instruction, P.B., p. 291.] Worship and prayer are closely allied activities, of course, but for convenience we shall consider worship in the next chapter as public and corporate prayer, and devote this discussion to private prayer.
To the question “What is prayer?” there are many answers. The most important ones are given below.
Prayer is communion with God. We know God (which means to have communion with Him) through His revelation of Himself in the Bible, and in the life and death of Jesus Christ, and through His coming to us in our sacramental worship. We enjoy this communion as members of His Church but we also need our own personal touch with Him. The children in a family see their father at meals and at other times in a group, but each one needs an occasional talk with him alone. Private prayer is absolutely necessary for our life and growth in the Family of God. No Christian duty is so well rewarded in the practising, and so dangerous in the omission.
As we learn the secret of true prayer we find ourselves achieving closer and closer communion with God, until there is a real flow of thought and love back and forth. We may smile at the intimate and human way in which the Old Testament heroes talked with God, but these stories bring out the fact that prayer at its best is conversation with God.
Our ideal relation to God is that of perfect dependence on Him and obedience to Him. We try to approach that state in our self-dedication to Him. For this, prayer is essential, not only for the effect on us, but for the effect on God. It is not that we change God’s mind by our prayer. We could not do this if we wished. But there are some things God desires to accomplish with our cooperation. Prayer is our way of offering ourselves for that cooperation with Him.
There are several different kinds of prayer, but if faithfully practised the result of all of them is to raise our life to a supernatural level, and to bring us so close to God that we become closer to our fellowmen and better able to serve them.
Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire. Whether uttered or not, our thoughts and desires are prayers. Our attitude toward God, the extent to which we can focus our hearts and wills on Him and His will, these are the test of our unspoken as well as of our spoken prayers. Our Lord had long times especially devoted to prayer, when He retired to a mountain top or other solitary place, but also His whole life was one constant prayer. The power that comes from prayer was instantly available to Him. So our own times of special prayer ought to be particularly concentrated and attentive moments in a continuous life of prayer. Our lives ought to be steadily directed toward God, as the needle of a compass swings ever toward the pole, or as the musician keeps one eye on the conductor of the orchestra even while following his score.
This means that our deepest and inmost desires must be disciplined and dedicated to God. Of each one of them we have to decide whether we love God enough to satisfy it or control it in His way and according to His will. How can we govern and control these deep urges of which we are sometimes hardly conscious? It is chiefly done through conscious and systematic prayer. The subconscious can be reached through the conscious, and the sincere regular prayer of a Christian is able to penetrate so deeply into his being that eventually it affects his deepest desires.
The fact that all our thoughts and desires are prayers of a sort does not mean that we should rely only on this informal kind of prayer. The attitude of continually offering to God the kind of prayer He wants is a state that has to be achieved through hard work. This hard work is prayer of the outward word, the concentrated power of thought expressed in speech. It is through this that we struggle toward the continuous prayer of the heart.
The essence of prayer is “Thy will be done.” The two great prayers of Jesus that come down to us are the Lord’s Prayer and His prayer in the garden of Gethsemane. In both of these we find the central petition “Thy will be done.” Prayer is to bring us into line with God’s will for us, to help us become the kind of people He wants us to be, and to do the things He wants us to do.
If we are expected to do God’s will, God must be able to reveal His will to us. He must in some way be able to speak to us, and He can. It is an awesome thought that God can pray to us as well as we to Him. God speaks to us through many means: through conscience, the advice of friends, the Scriptures, through circumstances, and through direct messages (what the Bible sometimes calls “angels”) which come with a distinctive force and urgency. Prayer opens our hearts and minds to His guidance. This is especially true of a type of prayer called meditation or mental prayer, which we shall consider shortly. The prayer of listening is at least as important as the prayer of speaking.
It is the Christian’s obligation to fight sin. Since anything contrary to the will of God is sin, it is clear that seeking God’s will in prayer is one of the most effective ways of setting ourselves to win that battle. Prayer also helps us fight the disorder and chaos in our lives by giving us the direction of His Spirit.
There are several kinds of prayer. In order to understand these, imagine that you are one of the sons of a great land-owner. He has put each of his sons in charge of an estate or farm. They are to come to him every day to report on their respective charges, to get their orders, and to ask for what they need to carry on the work.
You come to your father’s house in the morning. Ushered into his presence you greet him affectionately. You are grateful for all he has given you, house, fields, a living, work to do for him. His kindness and skill as a farmer remind you of your mistakes of the past day, some lack of diligence, some failure to deal kindly and tactfully with the laborers, some unwise procedure. You confess that you might have done these things differently. Receiving your father’s forgiveness, your gratitude overflows and expresses itself to him. Then your father gives you instruction and advice. To carry out his program for the day you find, after some thought, that you will need so much seed, so much lime, some fence-wire, and other necessary items. You ask his permission to secure these things. You think of your brothers and their needs, and ask him to fill their needs too. Then you take your leave to do the daily tasks.
This simple little illustration reveals in a general way the kinds of prayer to our heavenly Father, which the Prayer Book has made traditional and Christian experience has found to be most effective.
Notice, for example, the order set forth in the longer invitation to the Confession in Morning Prayer: “And although we ought, at all times, humbly to acknowledge our sins before God; yet ought we chiefly so to do, when we assemble and meet together to render thanks for the great benefits that we have received at his hands, to set forth his most worthy praise, to hear his most holy Word, and to ask those things which are requisite and necessary, as well for the body as the soul.” [P.B., p. 6.]
Let us now consider in more detail these chief kinds of prayer:
Confession. This is simply looking calmly and clear-sightedly at our life of the past day and seeing what is wrong with it. It may be that we have lost our temper, neglected our prayers, failed in our duty, or encouraged thoughts and committed deeds displeasing to God. Seen in relation to God’s perfection these things seem worse than when they happened. We are sorry for them. We tell God simply and briefly what went wrong, and ask His forgiveness. Then we resolve not to let these things happen again. We tell God of our resolution and renew our dedication to Him. Part of our resolution will be to restore anything we can to anyone we have wronged.
Our daily examination and confession should take only a few minutes, though we should spend a longer time on a more far-reaching examination before we come to the Holy Communion. In the Prayer Book there are the Ten Commandments, our Duty to God and Neighbor, [P.B., pp. 286–289.] the Litany, and other prayers, by which we may examine ourselves. We can use any of several forms of confession. Nearly every service has one. We may use the prayer for forgiveness in Family Evening Prayer or the Penitential Office, or such a collect as that appointed for the Twenty-First Sunday after Trinity.
It is hard to say “I’m sorry,” and yet what a difference it makes when someone is willing to say it! How many strained friendships have been restored because these words were said! In our relations with God we ought to be very sure to say “I’m sorry” and to mean it with sincere hearts before we proceed farther with our prayers.
Thanksgiving. This is a natural instinct if we think of what God has given us and done for us. A General Thanksgiving in Morning and Evening Prayer, and The Thanksgiving in Family Evening Prayer sum up many of the things for which we are grateful. But each of us will have his special causes of gratitude, too. It may be the recovery from sickness, a new opportunity or achievement, or some wonderful thing that has happened to us or to someone whom we love.
As we practise the prayer of thanksgiving, we may use the forms mentioned above, or the prayers of thanksgiving in the special section of the Prayer Book, [P.B., pp. 50–53.] but it will not be hard to find our own words for this. They will easily lead into a state of silent adoration, when we are speechless with gratitude and praise of God.
We should cultivate the habit of thankfulness. Saying Grace at meals will help this. A form of prayer known as ejaculatory prayer lends itself especially to the prayer of thanksgiving. It consists in some exclamation or ejaculation. It may be that as we awake we shall say: “Thou art my God, and I will thank thee; thou art my God, and I will praise thee. Bless the Lord O my soul, and all that is within me, praise His holy Name!” If our last conscious thought at night is of God, our first waking thought in the morning will also be of Him.
Meditation or Mental Prayer. This is the listening part of our prayer, when God has His greatest chance to speak to us. It takes practice and persistence, but Christian prayer is incomplete without it, and we can learn to do it if we will.
It is best to start with some passage from the New Testament, one we have chosen and looked at the night before. Before reading it we realize we are in the presence of God and hope to learn something of His will for us. We say some verse such as “Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth!” or repeat the Veni Creator from the service for the Ordering of Priests. Then we read the passage carefully. If it is an incident in the life of our Lord, and it is well to start with such a passage, we try to see Him as He appeared in that scene. We visualize His calmness, His perfection, His tremendous ability to do the needed thing for people. We compare with His qualities our own weakness and futility, our uncertainty, and lack of faith. We think of the message that comes to us from this picture. We focus our thought on Him until sometimes He seems to turn to us and tell what to do. Or He may warn us not to do something, or suggest people that need our help, or give us general advice.
From this comes our “resolution,” a definite intention to do certain things that day. We may write down the resolution, just as we would write down a telephone message for someone. As the Chinese say, “The strongest memory is weaker than the weakest ink.” The thoughts that God may give us in our meditations should be carefully preserved until we have acted upon them.
When we have an idea of what God wants us to do, we will ask Him for help in doing it. That is the last type of prayer.
Petition and Intercession. These are what most people think of when you say “prayer.” They are very important, of course, but they should come at the end of our prayers, as they do in most of the Prayer Book services. Petition is asking something for ourselves. Intercession is asking something for others; for people; for institutions, such as our school, our nation, and our Church; and for causes, such as peace, missions, and Church unity.
For what sort of things should we ask God? The many prayers of petition in the Prayer Book suggest that we should ask Him for everything we really need, from daily bread, rain, fruitful seasons, and protection from danger to spiritual help and direction, grace, and protection from sin. Morning and Evening Prayer, the special Prayers after these and after Family Prayer, the Eucharist, and the Litany contain petitions which cover human needs completely.
These same services and prayers include a wide range of intercessions. There are prayers for the President and the prisoner, for the clergy and the children, for missions and the armed forces of the nation, for the sick and for the departed. We may use the Prayer Book for our intercessions, but it will help to have our own list of people and things for which we pray. This can be written in a small loose-leaf book, and additions made from time to time. If our list gets too long, we can pray for a certain part each day.
The prayer of petition or intercession is always qualified by: “if it be thy will.” If we need courage to do something God has asked us to do, we should pray for it and we will get it. The same applies to all the needs of ourselves and others. In intercession we make ourselves available to God to be used for others. God may use us in some way which we do not know. If we join others in intercessory prayer, its power is intensified. Through intercession we link ourselves to other people far and wide, to those unknown or hostile to us as well as to our loved ones. Our prayer is the continuation of the prayer of Christ, and in it we become part of His great redemptive process.
When shall we pray? Chiefly in the morning, as early as we can, and in the evening. It is all to the good if we can remember to pray at noon, as many do for missions. Grace at meals, prayers of recollection during the day, prayers of ejaculation at times of special joy or temptation will help to extend our prayer through the day in a natural way. It is easier to pray at bedtime than when we get up, but both can become habits with a little practice. Many people have formed the habit of slipping out of bed onto their knees.
Where shall we pray? Anywhere we can find quiet and seclusion. That may be in our bedroom, our church, or outdoors. If others see us, never mind. We are told by our Lord to pray in private but if no privacy is available, we need not worry. The thing He wants us to guard against is showing off. It may take courage to pray in places where we shall be observed by others, but when we consider what courage it took for Christ to live and die for us, this will not seem much to do for Him.
How shall we pray? Kneeling is the traditional position for prayer, and standing is also used in public services. In private prayer that position is best which most reminds us that we are in God’s presence and best allows us to concentrate our attention on Him. We shall find it more natural to kneel for certain parts of our prayer, especially confession, petition, and intercession. For meditation we shall probably sit. The mind, as well as the body, should be composed and alert.
How is our prayer answered? A man once prayed for a million dollars. He did not get it and complained to his rector that God had not answered his prayer. The rector replied, “God did answer your prayer, but His answer was ‘No!’” God may answer our prayer by showing us that we have prayed for the wrong thing. He may give us what we have prayed for, which shows it was the right thing. Or He may give us something different, which in His infinite wisdom He knows is better for us. Sometimes He gives us much more than we pray for. But whatever answer He makes, we must learn that it is better for us than anything we asked.
Whatever answers we receive to our prayers, we should learn to accept them, remembering that God sees the situation much more clearly than we do. We should be thankful for them. And we should act on them. Prayer that ends with a “nice comfortable feeling” and does not result in action becomes feeble and peters out. As soon as prayer is harnessed to action it grows deeper and stronger.
XIII – Worship
O God, who makest us glad with the weekly remembrance of the glorious resurrection of thy Son our Lord; Vouchsafe us this day such blessing through our worship of thee, that the days to come may be spent in thy service; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
– For Sunday Morning, Family Prayer.
One question in the Second Office of Instruction is “What is your bounden duty as a member of the Church?” [P.B., p. 291.] The answer begins: “My bounden duty is to follow Christ, to worship God every Sunday in His Church. . .”
To worship God every Sunday in His Church. To share in the privilege of public worship in church is the obligation of every Christian. People sometimes talk as though it were only in certain religious bodies that church attendance is compulsory, and that in the Episcopal Church one may worship in church or not as one pleases. This is not true. Attendance at Divine Service is the stated duty of every member of our Church. “All persons within this Church shall celebrate and keep the Lord’s Day, commonly called Sunday, by regular participation in the public worship of the Church.” [Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church, New York: The National Council, Canon 19.] This is the obligation binding upon every member of the Church.
Of course it is not simply because of certain rules that the worship of God is one of the obligations of a Christian. The basis is deeper than that. Christian worship does not rest upon man-made laws, but upon the God-given principles which we discovered in Chapter IX on The Worship of the Church. We might profitably review what was said there. At that time we were primarily interested in the liturgical and sacramental worship which is the Church’s highest offering to her Creator and Redeemer. Now we are thinking of the worship of individual Christians, the obligation which rests directly upon each of us. When we were discussing the Church’s worship, we found that it grew out of the cardinal principle that God is the center of all creation. The whole of life revolves about Him. The prime activity of His Church is to worship her Lord.
That principle which gives life and meaning to the Church’s worship, applies equally to the individual’s worship of God. Each man’s life centers, not in himself, not in his family or friends, not in his possessions, not anywhere in the things of this world, but solely in God who created and sustains him. The conscious recognition of that fundamental truth leads us to pour out the whole of ourselves, mind, body, and soul, in the adoring worship of Him who has given us everything which we possess.
But the instant that we think of the individual’s worship of God another principle is involved. An individual’s worship is not an individual act. In other words, a man’s worship of God is not a solitary action. The kind of worship which is one of our Christian obligations is essentially corporate worship. It is the worship of a body of individuals who have come together for that one purpose. We can speak of a man’s private prayers; we cannot speak of a man’s private worship, if we are to mean Christian worship in its truest form. At its best, and that implies at what God intended it to be, Christian worship is the adoration and prayer of the entire Family of God. Thus in the end the individual’s worship of God merges into the Church’s worship of God. We give it as individuals, but as individuals united by the ties of a common Family before God.
One often meets people who do not understand why their worship of God cannot be solitary. They say, “I like to worship by myself, in the quiet of the church when no one is around to disturb me; or in the silence of my own room; or perhaps out under the stars before the beauty of God’s heavens.” What they really mean to say is that they like to pray by themselves. People should pray in that way.
But worship at its best must be the action of all of us together, for it is not only the means of asserting our brotherhood in each other, but through the common experience of worship our sense of fellowship and love for each other is deepened and strengthened. Corporate worship is a Sacrament of Brotherhood. We have already learned the sacramental principle that spiritual and inward effects come through material and outward means. That is why common worship may be said to be a Sacrament of Fellowship or Christian Brotherhood. The outward sign is the united action of praise and adoration which with one voice we yield to our heavenly Father. The inward and spiritual effect is the strengthening of the unity which binds us to each other in love.
We hear other people who say, “Yes, we ought to worship God, but we don’t need to go to church to do it. We can worship God anywhere for He is surely everywhere in this world.” These are the people who when asked what is their bounden duty will agree that it is to worship God, but who are not willing to understand why the Office of Instruction adds “every Sunday in His Church.”
The first answer to this argument is the answer we have already given to those who think they can worship God alone. It is not absolutely necessary to worship God in church, but where else can you find a whole body of people who have come together for the express purpose of worshiping Him unless it be in His Church? Let us be quite frank in answering people who argue in this way. The fact is simply that men and women do not worship God outside of church. It is true that He is everywhere, but if we do not find Him somewhere we will soon lose our ability to find Him anywhere. We are human beings, subject to all the worries and distractions of the world about us. The place in which God is most readily available to us is the place which we have set aside as His House. There we can always find Him, for there we gather together in His Name to do Him honor.
Churches are specifically designed for corporate worship. They are erected and consecrated to the glory of God, beautified and adorned solely because of our common devotion to Him. Everything about the church, from the hidden stones of its foundation to the carved cross out of sight upon the roof, has been dedicated to Him whom we worship there. There is no finer description of the symbolism of the church than that of Bishop Wilson:
“Always the most important point [in the church] is the altar, symbol of God’s presence. Nothing is allowed to obscure the altar, nothing stands before it, nothing impedes access to it. The center aisle runs straight through the church from the entrance to the altar, symbolizing the pathway of life which leads straight to God. By the door of the church is placed the font, where we are baptized. It represents the beginning of Christian life just as the altar represents its goal. The center aisle is the narrow way that leads from Baptism up to God.
“The Bible is the guide book on our Christian way. It is not the end of the Christian life but a help in our progress. Therefore it is not placed before the altar, but at the side of the way upon the lectern.
“Preaching is for instruction and encouragement on the way. We do not live to hear sermons – we live for God. Therefore the pulpit is not placed before the altar, but at the side as another help on our way.
“Likewise music and singing are meant to inspire us on our way. We do not worship the organ – we worship God. Therefore the altar is kept clear while the organ and choir are divided on either side as further helps on the way.
“The church is built on three levels – the nave, the choir, and the sanctuary. The nave symbolizes life in this world, the choir means Paradise, and the sanctuary is the fullness of God’s Presence in Heaven. From life in this world the way advances to God, and progress is always upward.
“In the center of the altar stands the cross, chief symbol of everything Christian. It represents Christ. Flanking it are candles to remind us that Christ is the Light of the World. Flowers are placed beside the cross to symbolize the resurrection. These ornaments keep telling us that we worship Christ who through His death and resurrection has become the light of the world.
“Throughout the building there may be many symbols in carving, painting, or stained glass of the God we worship. Maybe it is the triangle for the Holy Trinity, the hand emerging from the cloud which means God the Creator, the sacred letters IHS which stand for Jesus Christ, or the descending dove which represents the Holy Spirit. They are not merely decorations. They have a meaning. In what other place could worship be so profitably offered as in a church building where the reverential habits of the ages have been gathered together to meet our sense of the fitness of things?” [F. E. Wilson Faith and Practice, New York: Morehouse-Gorham, pp. 267–268.]
Our obligation to share in the public corporate worship of God is not fulfilled by merely attending church on Sunday mornings. We must learn how to worship intelligently, just as we have to learn how to pray effectively. Every human being has an instinctive yearning for the companion ship with God which is his destiny. Every human being has within him a capacity for worship. But it is not enough to have a vague yearning or an undeveloped talent. These instincts must be developed, improved, and directed towards God. Otherwise the stronger instincts of selfishness and worldliness, instincts which develop too easily by themselves, will smother the finer and deeper spiritual instincts. We must learn to pray and worship together just as we have to learn to work and play together.
Have you ever entered a church during the chief service on Sunday morning to find it full of people, and yet somehow lacking any enthusiastic and infectious spirit of real worship. It happens too often. People come to church in crowds, yet when they get there each one retires into his own soul or his own thoughts. Some say their private prayers, some listen critically to the service or the sermon, some are busy looking about at their neighbors, some read their music leaflets, some are lost in reverie about their plans for the day or the week, some are simply half asleep. There can never be any corporate worship of God when each worshiper as he steps into his pew steps away from his brethren into a little world of his own thoughts and interests.
On the other hand, often one goes into a church or chapel to find but few present, yet such a spirit of peace and strength is radiated that one knows God is truly worshiped there. The size of the congregation does not determine the quality of the worship. That is measured by the gift each worshiper contributes to the offering which is being made to Almighty God.
A few common-sense rules will help to make our share in the Church’s corporate worship more intelligent and effective.
Times should be set apart for regular worship. Sunday is our day of absolute obligation. Nothing should be permitted to interfere with our worship on the Lord’s Own Day. That should be a Christian’s minimum rule. Moreover, plan to worship God on this day at one of the services of Holy Communion. We may attend other services on Sunday, we may receive our Communions on particular weekdays, we may be able to observe in church all the feast days in the Christian Calendar, but we must share in corporate sacramental worship at least on Sundays.
We must truly take and give our share in corporate worship. Train yourself to put aside for the moment your own plans and worries and interests when you enter the church for a service of worship. Give the time completely to God. He is willing and eager to help you bear your burdens and solve your problems, but He cannot guide and strengthen you unless you bring yourself to Him. This is not done if you remain cut off from your brethren and from Him by enclosing yourself in a little pen made of your own thoughts and desires.
Sing the hymns, make the responses, pray each prayer in the liturgy, follow the service with all your heart and mind. That is very elementary instruction, but it is of the utmost importance. The spirit of corporate worship is lost time and time again because the worshipers fail to draw upon the strength which lies in worshiping God with one heart and one mind and one voice.
Do not seek “to get something” out of the service. So many times we hear people say, “Well, I don’t think I’ll go to that service any more. I didn’t get anything out of it.” Of course they did not get anything out of it. In that frame of mind they were unable to perceive even the help which the Lord desired to give them. The worship of the Church is primarily for the glory of God and not for the satisfaction of human beings. The strange thing is that we do receive spiritual benefits from our worship, but never when our attitude is that of “getting something.” We get exactly in proportion as we give. The reply to those who say, “I didn’t get anything out of that service” is “How much did you put in?” It is only as we lose ourselves completely in the worship of our heavenly Father that He is able to give us the joy and peace, the wisdom and strength which are the fruits of true corporate worship.
XIV – Discipline
Almighty God, who madest thy blessed Son to be circumcised, and obedient to the law for man; Grant us the true circumcision of the Spirit; that, our hearts, and all our members, being mortified from all worldly and carnal lusts, we may in all things obey thy blessed will; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
– Collect for the Circumcision of Christ; p. 105.
The Christian is continually endeavoring to fulfill his obligations to love God and neighbor, to fight sin, and to live and grow in the family life of the Church. This is no easy undertaking. Prayer and worship, as we have seen, are the first duties. But they will do little good if we live slack and self-indulgent lives. A Christian has yet a third duty – that of constant discipline.
When we hear the word “discipline” we may think of several things. We may call to mind the good order which must be maintained in the class room if study is to be well done; or the rigorous training which is the task of a well-trained athletic squad; or army discipline, the strict regimentation of the soldier. In all these places – the class room, the athletic field, the field of battle – there are definite goals to be reached by the path of discipline.
In the class room there are lessons to be learned. Good order, quiet, and concentration, therefore, are required. On the athletic field there are games to be played and won. Strict training and hard practice are the best preparation. On the field of war, battles must be made victories. Obedience, unity of action, and skill in fighting are drilled into the soldiers to accomplish this end. Wherever anything definite and important has to be done, there we find that discipline of some sort is necessary to reach the goal.
What kind of discipline is provided by the code of the Christian? To answer, we must remember that the beginning of discipline is discipleship, the following of a leader or the learning from a teacher. At confirmation the Bishop solemnly asks the candidates:
“Do ye promise to follow Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour?” They answer: “I do.”
The Christian’s discipline is imitating and following Jesus Christ. And because He wants His disciples to follow Him freely and of their own accord, their discipline will be largely self-discipline. The object of this self-discipline is to bring our whole life under control, to make it manageable, so that we can follow our Master as He desires. Its object is also to reduce temptations to a minimum, for it is sin that makes it difficult for us to follow Christ and live up to our sacred obligations.
Where must our discipline be strongest? St. James wrote in his Epistle: “Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth.” [James, 3:4.] He was comparing the Christian to a ship. The body is the hull of the ship. The tongue is the rudder or helm. The mind is the pilot. What we keep in our mind long enough and strongly enough we are apt to say or do. What we say with our tongue determines to a great extent the course we take. For the ship to be under control completely, it must be under control in thought, in word, and in deed. Such control is Christian discipline.
Control of the thoughts. The imagination is the strongest force in our personality. Our actions follow our thoughts closely. Jesus had this principle in mind when He said: “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment; But I say unto you, that whosoever is angry with his brother without cause shall be in danger of the judgment.” In other words, to do evil in imagination is as destructive to the spirit as to do evil in open deed. It is upon the secret thoughts that God looks. There is the real center of our personality.
It is therefore of foremost importance that we keep our thoughts under control. This is to keep them honest, humble, and pure. If we are honest in our thinking about ourselves, we shall soon become humble and see our weaknesses even more clearly than others see them. Purity of thought will help lessen temptations to uncleanness, especially if we avoid suggestive books, places, and people. To turn our thoughts to the purity of our Lord or His Mother will strengthen us in this discipline.
We should not allow our thoughts to dwell too much on ourselves, for this leads us easily into self-pity and preoccupation with our own interests. It will help to keep us unselfish if we think of the needs of others continually and pray for them regularly. The mind directed toward God and fellow men becomes more and more capable of love. A frank daily self-examination should include the honest uncovering of any hatreds or grudges we may be harboring, and the sincere prayer to overcome them with God’s help. Thus we pray in Family Evening Prayer: “Purge our hearts from envy, hatred, and malice; that we may never suffer the sun to go down upon our wrath; but may always go to our rest in peace, charity, and good-will, with a conscience void of offence towards thee, and towards men.” We should also be careful not to regard any race or nation as inferior or as an object of our hatred. Each has its own virtues and its own contribution to make in God’s world. We must learn to love them all as our brothers and sisters in the Family of our heavenly Father.
Control of the tongue. The tongue is the rudder of the soul’s ship, and our chief means of communication with others. As St. James said, “Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men.” We are taught control of the tongue from the time we can talk, and we can never learn enough of it.
Honesty and accuracy are as important in our speech as in our thinking. Christ said, “Let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay.” To observe the duty “to be true and just in all my dealings,” [P.B., p. 289.] we have to train our speech to be free from any shade of lying or petty deception, and to avoid giving exaggerated and false impressions. Purity of speech will not only help us to keep our thoughts clean and free from temptation, but it will also safeguard the thoughts of others who may be more prone to temptation than we are. The lips with which we praise God and pray to Him should not be lips easily given to profane or obscene words.
My duty to my neighbor includes the requirement that I should “order myself in that lowliness and reverence which becometh a servant of God.” We can often measure our lowliness or the lack of it by the number of times we say “I.” The person who keeps talking about himself is not only a bore but brands himself as a selfish person.
When we are speaking of others, our speech should always be kind and constructive, If we have criticism to make of them, let us make it to their faces. When we speak about others, we should mention their good and strong qualities.
This matter of being constructive in our criticism and positive in our speech is well known to salesmen, statesmen, and most other people whose business it is to enlist the confidence and enthusiasm of others. Christians are engaged in the greatest campaign in the world to enlist confidence and enthusiasm, and they should use the best methods for doing so. Our Lord saw the good side of everyone and everything. Christians should go beyond their “duty to keep my tongue from evil speaking, lying and slandering,” and reflect a constructive and hopeful spirit in all they say.
Our speech should always be loyal. We should refrain from giving the wrong impression by speaking carelessly about people and institutions we love and to whom we owe much. This applies especially to the Church. There are some people outside the Church, or too young to have had much acquaintance with its work, who judge the Church largely by what they hear us say about it. We should therefore be careful to speak truly and fairly of those things which we hold dear.
Control of the body. One of the most disciplined Christians was St. Paul. This is what he wrote about his training: “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air; but I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection.” [1 Corinthian., 9:24–27.]
The Office of Instruction lists three states of discipline in which we must keep our bodies:
In temperance, which means moderation in everything we do, not only drinking but also eating, sleeping, recreation, and every other activity. Too much of a good thing is a bad thing. Healthy food is good for us. Too much of it becomes poison. There is an amount of food, of sleep, and of every daily activity that is sufficient for our healthy development. When we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” we ask God for just the amount which it is His will for us to have. To want more than this amount is gluttony, and is a sin because it is contrary to God’s will for us.
In soberness, which applies principally to drinking. Nothing breaks down self-control, especially control in matters of purity, as much as alcohol. Nothing makes people so irritable and selfish, and so useless to others. The use of intoxicants is something in which the Christian will exercise the utmost caution. He should try his best to find God’s will for him in this matter, and adhere to it.
In chastity, which is bodily purity. No Christian wants to be unchaste; but it is important to realize that we are dealing here with a powerful instinct and to avoid anything, however harmless it may appear at first sight, that may lead to unchastity. The Christian will remember that his body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. He will therefore respect and reverence it, not misuse it. He will also respect the bodies of others, for physical contact of any personal sort should never be anything but the symbol of love. Purity, though not an ideal easily reached, is perfectly possible to attain.
The final discipline of a Christian is “to do my duty in that state of life unto which it shall please God to call me.” [P.B., p. 289.]
The work of the Kingdom is demanding. It may require of us long stretches of grinding work, short hours of sleep. It always requires readiness to sacrifice and to spend ourselves. In one sense we are always “in training” for the Christian life. There is no off season. Even in times of rest and relaxation we should keep on guard against losing touch with God’s desires.
On an early page of the Prayer Book is a Table of Fasts. The chief fast days are Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Lent, the Ember Days, and all Fridays are listed as “other days of fasting, on which the Church requires such a measure of abstinence as is more especially suited to extraordinary acts and exercises of devotion.” Fasting is a practice as old as the Church itself. For Christians it has two values:
First, it reminds us in a rather forceful way of the sufferings and death of our Lord, and of His self-discipline.
Second, by imposing upon us a measure of self-denial, it helps us to keep our desires and appetites under control, and to make our bodies servants rather than masters. If “that state of life unto which it shall please God to call me” offers less in a material way than some other states of life, you can still embrace it cheerfully and whole-heartedly if self-denial is not strange to you. The Christian will practise fasting because it is enjoined by the Church and because it is an effectual aid to self-control.
In conclusion let us bear in mind four things about Christian discipline:
First, we must be willing to pay the price of discipline. From the very first Christians have found that to practise their religion faithfully sometimes involves risking popularity, and even success as the world judges it. We may as well make up our minds at the very beginning that following Christ is not always going to bring us through smooth and pleasant places.
Second, we should remember that we are unable, of our own power, to lead disciplined lives. We must rely humbly on God’s grace and the help of those who are traveling the road with us.
Third, we should keep before us the glory of our goal, the tremendous importance of the work of the Kingdom. We undertake our discipline not merely because it is “good for our souls,” though of course it is, but to enable us to do God’s work more effectively. If we bear in mind the work, it will make us more understanding about the discipline.
We can never tell when some apparently trivial act or small duty is having far-reaching effects. The great St. Augustine was led by a child’s simple song to read the passage that converted him. Sun Yat Sen, the famous Christian statesman of China, attended Jolani, a Church school in Honolulu. No doubt the teachers there, like the teachers everywhere, sometimes felt their tasks were humdrum, little knowing that they were training as a Christian the future leader of four hundred million people.
Fourth, in all our discipline we must keep the image of our dear Lord before us. It is easier to go through hardships and rigorous self-denial and training when we feel His strengthening presence before and beside us. St. Patrick practised such perfect Christian discipline that he won Ireland for Christ. His great hymn should be the inspiration of each one of us:
Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger. [Hymn 268]
XV – Service
O Lord, our heavenly Father, whose blessed Son came not to be ministered unto, but to minister; We beseech thee to bless all who, following in his steps, give themselves to the service of their fellow men. Endue them with wisdom, patience, and courage to strengthen the weak and raise up those who fall; that, being inspired by thy love, they may worthily minister in thy Name to the suffering, the friendless, and the needy; for the sake of him who laid down his life for us, the same thy Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
– Prayer for Christian Service; p. 43.
In the Prayer Book we find more frequent mention of serving God than of serving our fellow men. This does not mean that the service of our fellows is unimportant. To serve God is not only to worship and obey Him, but also to serve His people. Our duty to God is inseparable from our duty to our neighbor. The prayer at the head of this chapter is typical of the teachings of our religion about Christian service. We are to seek from God the wisdom and understanding which will fit us to serve our brethren best. We are to rely on His love and power for strength to supply their needs.
We were baptized “Christ’s servants.” Therefore our service is to be a part of His service to mankind, and patterned after His example. Our Lord’s deeds of help and mercy came after long hours of prayer, and with the full direction of His heavenly Father. They were done in His divine power. And they were done without limit as to the recipient’s race, poverty, sinfulness, or disease. When our Lord washed His disciples’ feet He showed us that no act is too humble for His followers to perform for others. When God’s love is perfectly revealed, it is in an act as lowly as that.
Our guide to Christian service is found in the Offices of Instruction. [P.B., p. 288–289.] “My duty towards my Neighbour is To love him as myself.” What does this mean?
To identify his interests with my own. For example, in thinking of my possessions, I will consider my friend’s needs as well as my own, and share with him. If he is sick or injured I will imagine myself in his place, and do what I can for him. If joyful news comes to him I will rejoice with him as though it had come to me.
To know him, or know something about him. Since my neighbor may live on the other side of the world as well as on the other side of the street, I may have to make some effort to know him. Perhaps I will never meet very many of my neighbors, but I can still read and study about them. And when I travel I can make a point of meeting new people and trying to understand their point of view.
To want what God wants for him. This will prevent us from being jealous, and from secretly hoping that our friend’s lot will not be as good as our own. God wants the best for him – exactly as He wants it for me.
To pray for him, as often as I can by name. Much of our service is based on the resolutions we make in our prayers.
To do what I can for him. The Prayer Book says, “to do to all men as I would they should do unto me.” Sometimes I may be tempted to do an act of service because it feeds my vanity. Service from such a selfish motive is usually misguided and unwanted. We should show imagination in our service. If we put ourselves in another person’s place, and ask what he really needs and wants, our service will be much more acceptable.
And who is my neighbor? The Office of Instruction enumerates several ways of loving our various neighbors:
To love, honor, and help my father and mother. Service begins at home, with our own family. We serve them by trying to live up to their hopes for us, and by making worth while their sacrifices for us. If we are living at home there are many little ways to help. It is a small thing to be careful of the family possessions, or to do the tasks which are our contribution to the family welfare. But these things make life pleasanter for us and for our parents. If we are away from home we can be regular about writing. And we can all pray every day for each member of our families. Do these things seem too small for God to be interested in? Some of the greatest saints have done far more trivial tasks than these to God’s glory.
To honor and obey the civil authority. This is to regard the authorities of the government as friends to be helped and served, rather than as persons to be annoyed or bothered for personal favors. The Church has been looked upon traditionally as a great aid to law and order in the community. Christians should cooperate with the government authorities, so that the Church may continue to be so regarded.
To submit myself to all my governors, teachers, spiritual pastors and masters. We should not only obey them but help them. The best way to help our teachers is to cooperate with them in what they are trying to do for us. We shall help our clergy most if we are faithful and active in the Church’s activities.
And to order myself in that lowliness and reverence which becometh a servant of God. This reminds us that no act of service is too humble and no person too lowly to help and serve. Christian missionary history is full of talented men and women who gave up brilliant worldly careers to serve lepers, outcasts, savages, and primitive peoples. Our duty to serve covers every human soul. Most people we shall serve unknowingly, and we may sometimes render our most valuable service to people of slight acquaintance. We must be ready to serve anyone, anywhere, at any time.
St. Paul wrote to the Galatians: “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them that are of the household of faith.” [Galatians, 6:10.] The household of faith is the Church. But this saying by no means excludes doing good to those outside the Church. The early Christians carried on extensive social service for their people. They cared for the poor, provided hospitality for travelers and jobs for the unemployed. It was to the despair of the pagan opponents of Christianity that the Christians did these things for others besides members of the Church. What could one do against a group that gave help and fellowship to everyone in need?
There are some special groups of people whom we shall have chances to serve. There are the young children, for instance. We may take time to play with them, and instruct them. Teaching a Sunday School class of little children is one such opportunity. There are the old people, who have themselves served the Church for many years and still enjoy her comfort and fellowship. The investment of a little attention to an older person will yield high returns in his or her pleasure and appreciation.
We can always minister to those in trouble, the sick, the helpless, the needy, and the bereaved. In such cases we must be careful to try to do for them what God wants for them, rather than what they may think they need. Sometimes a needy person may better receive a spur to ambition than our loose change, or a sick person courage and patience rather than too much sympathy. We can serve those outside the Church by supporting missions and keeping an eye open for people who might be brought into the Church.
Among the special fields of Christian service are:
Careers. The Office of Instruction bids us “to do my duty in that state of life unto which it shall please God to call me.” We can serve God in any walk of life, but there is one career in which we can serve Him best. It is most important that we should decide what this calling is, and by God’s help we can. He will guide us into a right choice through our interests and ability, through showing us the need for that sort of work, through the advice of friends who know us well, and through our life of prayer and worship.
A Christian can turn any useful professional, business, or agricultural career into a form of Christian ministry. It should be his aim to excel in his field, for to have practising Christians in positions of influence and authority will mean much for the building of a Christian world, and for the Kingdom. At the same time every young man should give serious consideration to entering the ordained Ministry of the Church. In it God can use men of diverse gifts, and to it He calls them in different ways. The Ministry of the Church gives the opportunity for lifelong service to God and to one’s fellowmen in the deepest and most complete way.
Possessions. Among the special prayers of Family Prayer is the following: “Almighty God, whose loving hand hath given us all that we possess; Grant us grace that we may honour thee with our substance, and remembering the account which we must one day give, may be faithful stewards of thy bounty; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
This prayer stresses three important truths. First, our possessions are given us by God; He is the source of everything we have. Second, it is part of our service to Him to use these things for His purposes. Third, our possessions are only loaned to us. We shall have to account for what we do with them. We will therefore be careful to use our money wisely, to spend it where it will do most good, to give it generously to the Church and other causes which do God’s work, and to save it for education and other opportunities which will equip us the better to serve.
We may think of our possessions as a sort of expense account to enable us to do God’s work. When a business man is sent somewhere by his company, he is given money to pay his expenses. In the same way God sees to it that those who are on His business are provided with the means to live and work. Our Lord tells us to trust God for our food and clothing, “for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” [St. Matthew, 6:32–33.] If more people practised faithful stewardship of their possessions, it would help greatly to solve the world’s financial problems.
Organizations. The modern world is so highly organized that it is difficult for a lone individual to have much effect upon it. As a rule we will serve most effectively when we add the weight of our influence to that of other people in some organization. We may belong to several organizations in our church, such as the choir, the acolytes’ guild, the altar guild, or a young people’s organization. All these give us a chance to serve, and so may clubs and organizations outside the Church. In them we learn that discipline of working with others, which the world badly needs to learn today. Who can teach men the lesson of cooperation better than Christians who have learned to work together in Christian organizations?
Citizenship. As citizens of a democracy we have a responsibility to influence the policies of our government. When we are old enough we can do so by our vote. But even before that we may be able to mold public opinion, to campaign for local causes, and to set an example of good citizenship. All these are important means of service. During the Middle Ages the Church wielded to much political power. For the last three hundred years there has been an increasing separation of government and religion. People are now coming to see that this tendency has gone too far, that politics need to be made honest, clean, and unselfish, and that nothing short of united and courageous Christian effort can make them so.
In this the Church must be careful not to let itself be used for the selfish ends of a particular party or political group. Its chief function is to stand for social justice, honest public service, brotherly cooperation, and a sense of responsibility on the part of both voters and office holders. The Church must be above parties, in favor of all measures that are fair, constructive, and humane, and against all forms of greed and injustice in national life. As members of the Church we have a special responsibility to make our citizenship a Christian citizenship.
God has a plan not only for our nation but for the world. It is a thrilling thought that we may serve Him in bringing this plan to accomplishment. We can see only a little of His plan at a time, but we may be sure that it is based on the family pattern which He revealed in Jesus Christ. In our business relations this will mean trust and cooperation between employers and employee. It is significant that A General Intercession in Family Prayer includes a prayer to “incline the heart of employers and those whom they employ to mutual forbearance, fairness, and good-will.” Jesus was the friend of the poor and rich alike. The Church must always strive to bring both together in its Family. Christian sympathy should extend to all kinds of people and every conflicting point of view.
The Christian world order will be based on peace among all peoples. We have a prayer For the Family of Nations, [P.B., p. 44.] in which we ask God to “guide . . . . the Nations of the world into the way of justice and truth, and establish among them that peace which is the fruit of righteousness, that they may become the Kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” How can we help God establish world peace? Christian peace is a spiritual quality. It is not merely enforced international harmony but rather a peace which springs from national righteousness and international justice. We can serve the peace of the world by learning to be at peace within ourselves and by being in love and charity with all our neighbors. The peace of God which passeth all understanding is the only peace that will do for the whole world.
The service of God and our fellow men takes all that we can give. Often we grow weary in it, and wonder if it is accomplishing anything. At such times we should remember that the Christians on this earth are only a small part of those who serve. “We also bless thy holy Name for all thy servants departed this life in thy faith and fear; beseeching thee to grant them continual growth in thy love and service.” [P.B., p. 74.] God is served and we are served by the whole Communion of Saints, the faithful in this life and the souls of the faithful in that world nearer to God. Our service only begins here. According to its quality here are we able to serve in the life beyond. Thus we may join one day the company envisioned by St. John and described in Revelation:
“After this I beheld, and lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb. . . . Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple.”