The Shape and Content of the 1979 Prayer Book of the Episcopal Church

by Louis R. Tarsitano & Peter Toon

The Prayer Book Society of the U.S.A., 2004




1.  Christianity and Formularies

2.  The Faith of the Episcopal Church

3.  The Shape of the Eucharist

4.  Ancient Texts, Translation & Doctrine

5.  Covenant with God

6.  Services for Ordination

7.  What is Common Prayer?

8.  What is a BAS/ASB?





      This book is for serious-minded Episcopalians and Anglicans and such other Christians who are interested in the Episcopal Church of the U.S.A. and the other Anglican Churches of North America.

      At first sight – based on the title – the topic seems to be at best only remotely concerned with either the worship of God the Father through liturgy or the proclamation by word and deed of the Good News of Jesus Christ, Savior of the world.  It appears to the untrained eye to be about a dry and boring topic which is only of interest to the few and which concerns something – formulary – in which most Christians, Anglican or otherwise, apparently have little interest.

      However, as those who persist with us into the early chapters and then to the end will see, this book is all about the very basis and foundation of the Anglican Way of Christianity.  In the present doctrinal and moral crisis of the Episcopal Church in the U.S.A., what is presented here is crucially important for the future of the Anglican Way in America.

      Let us admit that for most active and concerned Christians to speak of the Christian Faith in terms of “form” and “formulary” is seemingly without obvious relevance.  It is much less exciting than to speak in terms of evangelizing, protesting for justice, making converts, praying in the Spirit, speaking in tongues, helping the needy, experiencing blessing, feeling the presence of God, and so on.

      But imagine declaring about any human activity other than the worship of Almighty God, even at the level of popular sports such as baseball or football, “I enjoy the colorful uniforms and bustling activity, but I’m not really interested in the rules, the structure, or the concept of the game.”  A few people might decide “each to his own,” and treat your statement as a “different way” of enjoying such activities.  Most people, however, especially if they care about the particular sport in question, might say to themselves, if not to your face, “This person isn’t really interested in this sport in any objective, meaningful way.”

      We should, however, be interested in the rules, structure, and concepts of the worship of our Creator.  We live within this context of purpose and order, and this context is what gives meaning to our acts of evangelism, charity, mission, teaching, and so forth.  It is because we understand the context and contours of our relation to God in the practical matter of form that we are able to examine intelligently the quality of our worship and of our Christian living.

      Our purpose, then, is to attempt to show that in order for churches to worship and serve the Lord, to read and expound the Scriptures, and to proclaim the Gospel, they do need to have a clear Rule of Faith, a Creed, a Confession of Faith, a Formulary, or the like.  In fact, in the first chapter, we shall address this absolute need for spiritual order and Biblical content, as we seek to demonstrate that the churches of the Anglican Way have always had Formularies.  We shall show what these instruments of order are and that without these Formularies the Anglican Way is in great danger of being caught up in chaos, without clear purpose before God or man.

      Then in the rest of the book, we shall seek to answer the question,

Is the 1979 Prayer Book of the Episcopal Church a true Formulary of the Anglican Way?  Or, put another way, Is this Book truly biblically orthodox?

      To provide the answer will require that we examine some of the contents of the 1979 book – e.g., its Catechism, the Services of Holy Communion and of Baptism, and the nature and character of the language used in the translation of passages from the Bible and the literature of the Early Church.  Then, to move towards an answer, we shall need also both to present the nature of Common Prayer as historically understood in the Anglican Way and then establish the literary and ecclesiastical genre of the 1979 Prayer Book.  Having studied all this, it will then be obvious to the reader whether or not the 1979 Book is truly a Formulary of the Anglican Way.

Louis R. Tarsitano (St. Andrew’s, Savannah, GA)

& Peter Toon (Lichfield Diocese, England)

Easter 2004


Chapter One – Christianity and Formularies

      Christianity is the Faith that believes, teaches, and confesses that Jesus of Nazareth is both Lord and Christ.  The same Jesus Christ is also both the only-begotten Son of God the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth, and the revealed and authentic Word of God – the Eternal Word of the Eternal Father, made flesh.  This same Word of God was written in Scripture by men inspired and guided by the Holy Spirit of the Father and the Son.  Since there can be no authority above that of the Living God, the Blessed and Holy Trinity, his revealed Word is the final and supreme authority for his faithful people, not only in terms of the right knowledge of him, but also in the formation of a right reason in serving him, as well as for their salvation by him.

      This basic doctrine concerning Holy Scripture is stated in the New Testament with particular reference to the Old Testament. “Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost,” wrote Peter (a Peter 1:21); and Paul declared that “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).

      This basic New Testament doctrine of the Holy Scripture is taught and maintained in a variety of ways in the life of the Church.  From the traditional formularies of the Anglican Way, we may cite the sixth of the Articles of Religion:

Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.

In a more ecumenical vein, we may also cite The Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral of 1886 and 1888, the Anglican Communion’s historic statement of the barest essentials necessary for the recovery of the visible unity of the Church of Jesus Christ.  The Lambeth version of the Quadrilateral identifies the first of these essentials as:

The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as “containing all things necessary to salvation,” and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith.

Such a position is inescapable, if one is to take seriously the twentieth Article of Religion’s declaration that the authority of the Church resides in the Church’s being “a witness and keeper of Holy Writ.”


Supreme but not alone

      Yet the Holy Scriptures do not exist alone in the life of the world, not even in the Church’s life in the world, as if in a vacuum, stranded on a desert island, or at an oasis.  The Bible, with its Two Testaments, is God’s Book, the LORD’S Book, for his people.  It was his gift in time and space, first to the Jews (the ancient Israel), and then to the Christians (the Church, the New Israel).  So we rightly claim that the Scriptures are both Israel’s Book and, in the course of sacred history, the Church’s Book.  Thus it is that the rightful, proper context for the Sacred Scriptures is the life of the covenant people of God.  As St. Peter explained, “No prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation” (2 Peter 1:20).  The Scriptures are given to “peoples,” to the chosen and called-out people of God, and not to any individual human being in a private capacity, to make of them what he will.

      Not only did God employ his inspired servants of both the Old and New Covenants to write down his Word, but he also gave to his covenant people, first to the Jews and then to the Christians, the duty to collect and to authorize these writings as the Canon of Scripture.  From this divine intervention, we have received the Jewish (Hebrew) Canon and then the additions to it produced within the life of the Christian Church (the Greek Canon), forming One Canon of One Bible with Two Testaments.  The period of testing and discernment to achieve a general agreement on the actual, final content of the Canon of Holy Scripture for the Church took several centuries of the Christian era.  Nevertheless, the standard for that discernment remained constant throughout that period of testing.  To be included in the Canon of the New Testament, a book had to possess universally recognized apostolic authority.  That is, that book had to present the unchanged and unchanging truth that our Lord had entrusted to the custody of the apostles, that they should teach all nations.

      Having collected and authorized the full Canon of Scripture, the Church obviously had a conviction of what were the central doctrines and themes of the Bible.  This conviction came, as did the collection of the canonical books themselves, from what the Church, and Israel before her, had always believed and preached.  As St. Paul observed:

Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?  For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe (1 Corinthians 1:20–21).

      As we have seen, the XXth Article of Religion puts the same matter in different words when it calls the Church ‘a witness and keeper of Holy Writ.”  It was only reasonable, therefore, that the Church should conveniently summarize the central doctrines of the Holy Scriptures and her apostolic preaching in her Creeds – the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds in particular.  Thus we know that the Church of the fourth century, which had collected and confirmed the Canon of Scripture, also believed, taught, and confessed that God, the LORD, has revealed himself as a Trinity of Persons.  God is, as God knows and reveals himself to be, God the Father, together with his eternal Son, and together with his eternal Holy Spirit, Three Persons in Unity of Being and of One Substance.  Alongside and as part of her Trinitarian Faith, the Church also confessed an Incarnational Faith.  She believed that the eternally-begotten Son of the Father became Incarnate for us and for our salvation.  She taught that the Second Person of the Holy Trinity became man and that the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.

      It is a matter of historical fact, then, that the Holy Scriptures have never existed in terms of their meaning and purpose in a vacuum or in isolation, apart from the rest of the saving work of God.  The Bible was not to be understood or interpreted in a way that denied the truth of God’s Triune Being or the Truth of Jesus Christ’s Personhood as the Son of God made man.  In fact, we may say that there never was a time when the Bible was intended to be heard or read outside of a structure of belief, understanding, and prayer.  We recall that the apostles and first disciples read Jesus’ Bible (the Old Testament) in the light of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and his claim to be the Messiah of the Jews, fulfilling the Law and the Prophets.  Our Lord before his ascension taught them to read the Bible in this way, as he did, for example, the disciples on the Emmaus road, to whom “...beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27).  Likewise, we know from their own writings and history that the disciples who followed the Apostles in the proclamation of the Gospel of life read the Bible in the light of the apostolic teaching given unto them.

      Thus, the Apostles and the early Church understood the sacred Scriptures in a way that was very different from that of the Jewish rabbinical schools, for they approached the Scriptures from a different belief, conviction, perspective, and commitment.  The Christians’ joyful belief in the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ made a world of difference!  For those early Christians, and for those who share their faith in any time or place, the whole Bible is God’s Book, and by God’s gift and holy will, the right place to hear it read, or to read its pages, is in spiritual union with Jesus Christ, the exalted Messiah, within the worship and fellowship of the Christian Church.

      Of course, the Scriptures can be read with profit outside the Church of God.  Here we look to the Holy Ghost to be the invisible teacher who guides the true seeker after God to see that the Scriptures point to Jesus the Christ and salvation in His name.  However, as with the Ethiopian eunuch whom we meet in the Acts of the Apostles (8:26ff.), God also uses human help to bring people to see the meaning of Scripture that they may understand it correctly.  In this case Philip, the evangelist, was directed by an angel of the Lord to meet the Ethiopian in Gaza.  There he found the African reading the book of Isaiah (chapter 53), but not knowing who is the One who “was led as a sheep to the slaughter.”  By the grace of God, Philip was able to preach unto him the Lord Jesus as the Suffering Servant who is now the Exalted Servant of the Father.


Sola Scriptura?

      It is well worth noting that the summary doctrine Sola Scriptura (“the Scripture alone”), as emphasized in the Protestant world since the sixteenth-century Reformers, did not originally mean that we need no help in the right reading and interpretation of the Bible.  Rather, it meant that nothing, in this or any other age before the Lord’s return, should or can stand alongside the Canon of Scripture as the supreme and final authority for the Faith.

      Those who first cried Sola Scriptura demonstrated their true intent by their production of an abundance of pamphlets, treatises, and books to aid catechumens and church members in reading the Bible with profit. Central to these publications were the Catechisms, wherein were offered explanations of the Creed, the Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Sacraments.  By such Catechisms, Christian people were intended to gain a right structure of thinking about God and our relation to him, so that with the right Christian mind they could profitably hear and read the Bible as God’s living Word for them.

      Further, the same reformers published carefully constructed Confessions of Faith (such as the Augsburg Confession in Latin and German) in order to indicate how the Bible was to be understood in the communion of the Church and what doctrinal mindset pastors and preachers ought to have in their understanding and use of Holy Scripture.  As reformers, seeking to restore the God-given form of the Christian Church, they understood that a pastor or preacher whose mind and doctrine were not formed by the content and pattern of Scripture could not be trusted to guide the people of God in the scriptural formation of their lives.

      Thus we see that the Creeds of the Early Church, augmented by the Catechisms and Confessions of Faith of the National Churches of the sixteenth century in Europe, performed an important – even necessary – function.  They provided a door of entry and a sure stepping stone into the sphere of the Word of God written, so that the will of God would be known, understood, and obeyed by pastors and people.  A single earthly lifetime and the capacity of a single human intellect are insufficient on their own to take in the totality of the glory and grandeur of the Word of God.  The Creeds, Catechisms, and Confessions, then, represent a “communion of thought,” a common Christian mind that preserves in the Body of Christ, living on earth across the ages, a clear, accurate continuity of the most basic truths of the faith by which Christians live.

      While the advent of the printing press made the general availability of the Bible to the laity in their own vernacular languages a reality during the Reformation, this technological development did not mean that the Reformers encouraged a doctrine of the right of insulated private judgment or of private interpretation.  People were urged to read the Bible, and to read it daily, to be fed from the Word of God written.  At the same time, they were taught that the Holy Scripture can be read with profit only from within a Trinitarian Faith, the same faith that the Apostles taught and that faithful Christians had always believed.


Not only Creeds

      Together with the Creeds, the Daily Office (e.g., Morning and Evening Prayer) and the Divine Liturgy (the Order for the Holy Communion with its connected services) provided for the ancient Church perhaps the most important setting in which the Word of God was read, preached, heard, and prayed.  Thus, the structure, content, and ethos of the divine service, the corporate worship common to the Body of Christ on earth, continue to provide an important gate of entry into the living Word of God, and thus into communion with God the Father, through his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.  It is not too much to say that the basic doctrines of the Creed, expressed in doxological, eucharistic, intercessory, petitionary, and confessional modes, are the very substance of the Liturgy of the Word and Sacrament.  Here the Father not only speaks through his written Word, but also gives his only-begotten Son, the Incarnate Word, by the Holy Spirit to his worshipping children.  The faithful receive the Son, so that united to him and in him, they might believe, love, serve, and glorify His Father in heaven.

      The Ecumenical Councils constitute yet another example of how the context of the Holy Scriptures is to be found in the covenant life of the Church.  At the Ecumenical Councils (especially Nicaea 325; Constantinople 381; Ephesus 431; and Chalcedon 451), the Fathers settled doctrinal questions and produced dogma, the settled, basic, formal teaching of the Church.  The Council Fathers also answered practical questions about the Church’s daily life and order, establishing the basis of what we now call Canon Law.  These rules of order are the ‘Ancient Canons” referred to in the Anglican Ordinal, printed together with The Book of common Prayer.  So the Canons also became a means by which the faithful gained access to the purpose and meaning of the Bible, especially in matters of moral and ecclesiastical discipline.

      One way to describe the place and function of Creeds, the Divine Liturgy, and the Canon Law of the early Church of the fourth century and following is to call them “Formularies.”  As the use and meaning of this word is central to the purpose of this book, we need to reflect upon it at some length.



      St. Paul summarizes his instructions about the life and worship of the Church by saying, “Let all things be done decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40).  The apostle’s “in order” is kata taxin, which also means “according to the accustomed or given form.”

      We retain the Greek word taxis in English, as the first element of the word “taxidermy,” which means the arrangement of an animal skin over a form.  The sense of what St. Paul wrote, then, is not “according to some arbitrary form of individual choosing,” but “according to a particular, proper, given form.”  Just as a taxidermist is expected to arrange the skin of a bird in the form of a bird, and not in the form of something else, the Church is expected to arrange her life in the form that Christ has given his Church, through his Apostles.  Any other form would be, at best, a misunderstanding of the form and nature of the Church, as if a taxidermist did not recognize that he had been given the skin of a bird and tried to mount it on the form of a rabbit.  At the worst, a knowing, intentional effort to substitute a false form for the true form that Christ has given through his Apostles would be a denial of Christ himself.

      Thus, the verbal formulas of Christianity do matter, because they are the means of maintaining and living the forms given by Jesus Christ to his Church.  And it was the practical necessity of preserving the formulas that maintain the forms of Christian life which gave rise to written records of the formulas, call “formularies.”  A formulary is “a collection or system of formulas; a statement drawn up in formulas; a document containing the set form or forms according to which something is to be done (especially one that contains prescribed forms of religious belief or ritual)” (Oxford English Dictionary).

      In Latin, a “formulary” was originally a person, what we would call “a lawyer” (formularius), skilled in the formulas that expressed and maintained the law.  When St. Paul intervened in the Church of Corinth, he called on the Corinthians to maintain their Christian belief and practice according to the forms and formulas that the Church had received from Christ.  The Apostle did the duty of a formularius, but even Apostles are not immortal.

      More was needed than the personal gifts and prestige of the Apostles to maintain the proper form of the Church.  It was necessary to write down the Apostles’ teaching as “formularies,” just as it had been necessary earlier to write down (in what we now call the New Testament) the Apostolic preaching of the Gospel from which the formulas of the Christian Faith are derived.  The inspired written form of the Gospel of life (in the Four Gospels, together with the canonical Epistles authored by the Apostles and the rest of Scripture) is always primary, of course.

      What is derived from the Holy Scriptures can never be of precisely the same authority as that from which it is derived.  Nevertheless, the written formularies of the Church produced after the writing of the books of the New Testament, and from their contents, are authoritative and binding.  They are the product of the apostolic ministers to whom Jesus Christ entrusted his Church and upon whom the Holy Ghost descended for their guidance in all truth (see John 16:13).

      The ecumenical Creeds are examples of formularies, since they maintain the formulas in words for summarizing and expressing the Truth revealed in the Holy Scriptures.  The codes of canon law are formularies, preserving the formulas that maintain the Christian forms of thought, word, and deed in the life of the Church.  The ancient liturgies are formularies, giving shape to the universal worship of the Christian Church and demonstrating the permissible limits of local embellishments and emphases within a single, permanent order of divine worship.

      First, then, are the foundational formularies, the two Testaments of the One Canon of Holy Scripture.  Based upon these primary authorities, and emerging from them, are the patristic formularies – the Creeds, the Liturgy, and the Canon Law.

      No ecclesiastical body on earth has the authority to change the substance of these secondary or patristic formularies, as the undivided Church has received them, without first demonstrating to a similarly undivided Church that some error, demonstrable from Holy Scripture, has been made in them.  Local and regional churches do retain the authority, of course, to adopt subordinate formularies of their own (as they did in the patristic era), but only if their local formularies are in agreement with the formularies of the undivided Church (see further Article XXXIV, “Of the Traditions of the Church”).


The Formularies of the Anglican Way

      At the time of the Reformation in the 16th century, the Church of England produced certain formularies for its own use as a national jurisdiction of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.  These are The Book of Common Prayer, the Ordinal, and the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, supplemented in 1603 by a revised code of local (Church of England) canon law.  She took this action on the basis of her status as a national church, in two provinces, in the universal catholic Church.

      It is usual to refer to the religion of the Church of England, and of the national churches derived from her as “Anglican,” from the Latin title Ecclesia Anglicana (“the English Church”) used in medieval documents.  It is important to recognize, however, that her life in the one Church of Jesus Christ began when Britain was a province of the Roman Empire and centuries before the Angles and Saxons arrived to call their new home “Angleland.”  Thus, it is a simple error of fact to claim that the Anglican Church “began” in the Reformation, or even with the late 6th century mission of St. Augustine to evangelize the newly arrived Anglo-Saxon pagans.  When St Augustine of Canterbury arrived, the Christian Church in Britain was already several centuries old.

      The existence of the Church of England at the time of the Reformation cannot be in doubt, or else there would have been nothing to “reform,” so the purpose of the Anglican formularies of that period cannot have been to call her into being.  Rather, the Anglican formularies were devised to preserve the forms and formulas of the doctrine, discipline, and worship that the Church of England had received in, and from, the undivided Church.  To the extent that they were controversial, they were so because they addressed the controversies of that period over innovations introduced into the Western Church during the Middle Ages and the constantly expanding claims of the Bishop of Rome to universal ordinary authority over every Christian church in the world.

      Widespread calls for a “reformation” of the Church, as a return to Scriptural, apostolic, and patristic norms within Christianity, had issued from virtually every national church in the West for centuries before the actual English Reformation.  In the event, the English reformers proceeded on the basis of the Scriptures themselves, understood according to the faith and practice of the undivided Church as recorded in the ancient formularies.  The formularies of the English Reformation, therefore, were aimed precisely against innovation.  They are merely reassertions and reiterations, from within the Church of England, of the formulas and forms that had constituted the order of the undivided Church.

      The Thirty-Nine Articles, for example, are neither a new creed nor a new confession of faith.  The ecumenical Creeds are still the creeds and confessions of the Anglican churches.  The Anglican Way of following Jesus Christ does not depart from or add to the Creeds of the universal Church.  The Articles are merely an instrument for ending controversies about the changeless Faith of the Church in favor of the settled teaching of the Apostles and Fathers, to be found in the Church’s universal formularies.  There is nothing in the Articles than cannot be corroborated from the Scriptures and the Fathers.

      Similarly, the Book of Common Prayer is not a “new liturgy.”  It is simply the recovery of the ancient forms and formulas of worship and sacramental administration in vernacular English, making them available to every member of an English speaking Church.  The discipline of the Book of Common Prayer is the order of the undivided and universal Church, which fact explains why it has been possible to translate it into some 150 other vernacular languages without a loss of its ability to guide the people of the Church into the form of life that Jesus Christ has given to his Church.

      The Ordinal, likewise, as a formulary subordinate to the ancient formularies of the Church, provides for the lawful and sure transmission of apostolic authority to the bishops, priests, and deacons of the Anglican churches, without addition to or subtraction from the ancient order of the Church.  The continued use of this Ordinal binds the national churches of the Anglican Communion together in a common order, with a common ministry and a common discipline unquestionably consistent with the standard of Holy Scripture as understood by the undivided Church.

      The English code of canon law, and those similar codes derived from it in other Anglican national churches, is a local addendum to the canon law of the whole Church of Jesus Christ.  Its central principle is that no local church may legislate contrary either to the Holy Scriptures or to the received practice and discipline of the undivided Church.

      One need not, of course, be an Anglican for the sake of salvation.  The churches of the Anglican Way do not claim to be the one Church of Jesus Christ, but only a communion of national churches obedient to Jesus Christ in accordance with the forms and formulas of the Apostolic and Patristic Church.  The Anglican Way does hold, however, that a body of Christians must conform to the formularies of the undivided Church in order to claim to be a true local church within the one Body of Christ.

      We might well observe here, for the sake of accuracy and clarity, that “The Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral” mentioned earlier in this chapter is not an Anglican formulary, but rather a fraternal appeal to Christians of other bodies to embrace for the sake of Christian unity the essential order of the undivided Church as embodied by the ancient formularies.  The churches of the Anglican Way assert in the Quadrilateral their historic and unwavering belief that it is not fidelity to the formularies of the universal Church that has caused division among Christian churches.  Rather, division has followed from unwarranted departures from the forms supported by the ancient formularies, and from additions made to them without the consent of the entire Christian Church that these additions are consistent with the faith once delivered to the saints.

      The formulas that govern these matters are simple.  To be a true local church is to obey the formularies of the undivided Church.  To be a true Anglican church is to obey the Anglican formularies produced to maintain the ancient order of Christ within the Anglican Way.


Back to Our Basic Questions

      As we indicated in the Preface above, the questions we are asking you to consider with us in this book are “Is the 1979 Prayer Book of the Episcopal Church a true Formulary of the Anglican Way?” and “Is this Book biblically orthodox?”  We understand the difficulty of these questions for those who have become accustomed to the usages of the 1979 Prayer Book, but we would also insist that these are the questions that every earthly generation of Christians must ask itself about its teaching and worship in their form and content.

      The traditional formularies of the Anglican Way, the historic Book of Common Prayer, the Ordinal, and the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, have stood four and a half centuries of such scrutiny with minimal revision, most of which has had to do with the differences in the civil polity of the various nations in which the Anglican churches serve.  Generation after generation of people living the Anglican Way have agreed that these traditional formularies meet the Christian obligation of conformity to the faith once delivered to the saints, the very same faith that the Church of England received from the undivided Church and bestowed upon those churches that grew to maturity from her works of evangelism.

      It is more than fair, then, to ask the same questions about the 1979 Prayer Book.  Can this book serve the faithful as a formulary, positively and consistently assisting them in the formation of their lives according to the Biblical faith of Jesus Christ the Lord?  Is the faith delivered in the 1979 Prayer Book the very same faith that the Apostles spread throughout the world, forming the permanent, trustworthy basis for Christian life and practice?

      The place to start in answering these questions, then, is with a formulary that many people never think of as a formulary, if they think of it at all – the Catechism of the Church.  The traditional Book of Common Prayer (e.g., editions of 1662 and 1928) and the 1979 Prayer Book contain very different catechisms, which we believe describe two very different and conflicting faiths.  This difference is the critical matter that we will examine in the next chapter.


Chapter Two – The Faith of the Episcopal Church

      The holy, catholic and apostolic Church has been given the great commission to preach to the whole world the Gospel of the Father concerning his Eternal and Incarnate Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and to make disciples of all nations.  This commission remains in effect until the same Lord Jesus Christ returns in glory, with all the holy angels, to judge both the living and the dead.

      In obedience to this commission, the Church has made it her common practice that a person who has heard the call of God in the Gospel, turned from sin, believed on the Lord Jesus Christ unto salvation, and desired to become a committed Christian should be prepared for baptism and for church membership by a minister of the local church.  The title given to those who are being prepared for sacramental entry into the full life of the Church is “catechumens,” and the basic content of what they are taught is usually found in what is called a “catechism.”  Both words come from the Greek word catechesis, meaning “instruction,” which was the word used by the early Church to describe what was provided to converts before they were baptized at Easter Even.  Later, when the Church contained entire Christian families (or “households”: see Acts 16:15; 1 Corinthians 1:16), a child of Christian parents was baptized as an infant, and then as a young person was instructed in the catechism before his Confirmation and acceptance of the full responsibilities of Church membership.

      In the Anglican tradition, this same body of instruction, the Catechism, has been printed in The Book of Common Prayer, in relation to the Services for Baptism and Confirmation.  The Anglican Catechism, which was intended “to be Learned by Every Person before he be brought to be Confirmed by the Bishop,” contains brief explanations of the Creed, the Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer, together with further brief explanations of the two Sacraments “generally necessary to salvation,” Baptism and the Lord’s Supper (1928 BCP 577, 581).


From old to new Catechism

      The Catechism appearing in the American editions of The Book of Common Prayer (1789, 1892, and 1928) conforms to the structure and content of the Catechism found in the English editions of the Prayer Book, beginning in 1549 and taking final form in the edition of 1662.  Both strictly maintain a teaching tradition, firmly in place before and after the English Reformation, of using questions and answers to focus attention on the key matters of the Creed, the Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Sacraments.  In fact, the 1928 American edition of The Book of Common Prayer also provides two “Offices of Instruction” as services of worship for teaching the content of the catechism, along with a brief study of the offices of bishop, priest, and deacon (283–295).

      This tradition of using the Creed, the Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer as the focal points of instruction was clearly intended to be maintained in “A Catechism,” published in 1973 and prepared by a committee headed by Bishop Stanley Atkins of Wisconsin for inclusion in the proposed new Prayer Book.  However, the House of Bishops and the Standing Liturgical Commission decided that something different was needed – a new kind of catechism that would reflect the spirit and the content of the new services that were being approved for the new Prayer Book of 1976/79, matching what they took to be the more relevant and accessible structures and more modern language of the entire enterprise.

      So a small committee, headed by the Rev. Dr. Robert H. Greenfield, was set up to prepare the draft of an entirely new catechism.  The committee’s task was to deduce from the new services, whether already approved by the Standing Liturgical Commission or still in trial use, the doctrines that they contained and proclaimed.  The reason for this method was the maxim so often quoted at that time – the law of praying is the law of believing (lex orandi, lex credendi).  In other words, since the beliefs of Christians are established by what they pray, Christians need to examine carefully what they pray publicly in a liturgy or liturgies approved by the appropriate church authorities, for that is what those authorities intend them to believe.

      In regards to this new endeavor, it should be observed how much trust and confidence the House of Bishops had placed in those who had created and were still refining the new services of worship and the new public liturgy of the church, due to be approved by General Convention in 1976 and 1979.  Also significant was the general, but not very carefully investigated assumption that what the various committees had composed, as approved by the General Convention and the House of Bishops, was consistently wholesome, godly, and orthodox.  Furthermore, it was a dramatic break with the past that the House of Bishops had relied so thoroughly on the inductive method (using particular cases to develop a general statement) used by the catechism committee, as well as on the committee’s members to use that method accurately, to determine what it was that Episcopalians of the 1970s actually believed, taught, and confessed.  In contrast, the content of the old style of catechism in the traditional Prayer Book and brought forward by Bishop Atkins adhered to a catechetical tradition going back to the early Church in which brief explanations were offered of the most basic matters of the Christian faith.

      This contrast is starker than may first appear.  The new, experimental inductive approach said basically, “Let us poll various members of the Episcopal Church as to what they believe, or are willing to believe; let us examine the new prayers and services for what they teach or imply about God and man; let us factor in our own expert opinion of what life in the modern world requires; and let us construct a new catechism to summarize these data as the faith of the church.”  The approach of Bishop Atkins and other moderate revisers was much simpler: “Let us take what the Christian Church has always taught and update the language of the catechism to make that permanent, changeless Christian faith more accessible to today’s people.”  It was, however, the liturgical experts who ended up defining what the Episcopal Church was to receive and believe as Christian doctrine.

      The new “An Outline of the Faith: commonly called the Catechism,” approved by the House of Bishops and the General Convention, is found on pages 845 to 862 of the 1979 Prayer Book.  In a brief introductory comment, we are informed that this catechism provides an outline of instruction for use in parishes, a brief summary of the Church’s teaching for an inquiring stranger who picks up the new Prayer Book, and the basis for a simple service of instruction.

      Although this catechism is cast in the traditional question and answer format, this is its only important continuity with the traditional catechisms of the Church since in its doctrinal content it seeks intentionally to be modern and different.  This difference is reflected, first of all, in the order of its content.  Despite the introduction’s claim that the new catechism “is a commentary on the creeds,” it begins, not with God or the Bible, but with “Human Nature.”


Harmony as Righteousness and Salvation

      The Alpha and Omega of the new catechism is humanity itself since the first and last sections are entitled “Human Nature” (845) and “The Christian Hope” (861).  Logically, these topics must go together since the Christian hope includes “the completion of God’s purpose for the world,” and it is in “Human Nature” that we discover the nature and purpose, and thus the salvation when complete, of the human race.  By nature, “We are part of God’s creation, made in the image of God.”  And to be made in the image of God “...means that we are free to make choices: to love, to create, to reason, and to live in harmony with creation and with God.”

      Three words in this definition of human nature merit special attention: “free,” “create,” and “harmony.”  To say that human beings “are free to make choices” without qualification or allowance for the fallenness of the human intellect and will is to relapse into the Pelagian heresy, the false belief that human beings, despite the effects of sin, remain unrestricted in their choice of either good or evil.  Such a position, of course, makes nonsense of St. Paul’s anguished declaration of the continuing power of sin as sin: “For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I” (Romans 7:15).  Even more dangerously, this emphasis on “choice” is easily absorbed as a moral justification into the whole contemporary vocabulary of “freedom of choice” and the social movements built around it, supporting such anti-Scriptural causes as elective abortion, easy divorce and re-marriage, and same-sex unions.

      The ability “to create” is, likewise, another exaggerated or imaginary power attributed to human nature.  We ought, indeed, to thank God for his gifts of creativity among human beings, but we ought also to notice that divine creativity and human creativity are entirely different things.  God creates from nothing, as he wills.  Human beings create according to the limits, opportunities, and materials provided by God.  At the very least, it is incautious to use the word “create” in the same question and answer without explaining its very different meanings in regards to God and to man.  Without such clarification, it is quite easy to fall into the error that “creation” is a single activity in which both God and humanity engage on the basis of an equality of action, if not an equality of power or scale.

      While a redeemed mankind may hope for a final release from the effects of sin at the Last Day, the Last Day has not yet come.  Nor is there any promise in Scripture that, even after the General Resurrection, the human race will receive powers of creation equal to God’s.  Nevertheless, the most worrisome departure from the reality of human nature as revealed by God in Scripture is the new catechism’s notion that it is the purpose of humanity “to live in harmony with creation and with God.”

      “Harmony” is not a Biblical word or concept because it comes from a Greek word that means “a joint” or “a joining together,” with the extended meaning of the joining together of “parts, elements, or related things, so as to form a consistent and orderly whole” (OED).  God, humanity, and the rest of creation are simply not mutually equivalent parts or elements of a single whole or structure.  God is eternal and uncreated; man and the rest of the universe are creatures of God, with a distinct beginning in God’s act of creation.  Even at a mundane human level, a painter and a painting, for example, are clearly not members of the same “set,” sharing an equal sort of being.  And just as the painter would exist without the painting, God exists eternally without creation, so that creation cannot add to or subtract from God’s being.

      God’s self-sufficiency and perfect existence apart from creation are called his “transcendence.”  On the other hand, God’s voluntary, but unnecessary, involvement in the realm of his creation is called his “immanence.”  Thus, while a theory of harmony among God, humanity, and the rest of creation allows for the immanence of God, it leaves no room for the transcendence of the God of the Bible, for the unlimited I AM THAT I AM (Exodus 3:14).

      The theory of harmony as the perfection of purpose, salvation, and true righteousness is not a part of Christianity at all, but rather the intrusion of a principle common in Far Eastern religions and mysticism, whether polytheistic (gods and men sharing a common existence within a single universe) or monistic (in which apparent differences are illusion, and all is one).  The Scriptures will not permit such a theory, whether in their record of God’s granting dominion to man over the rest of creation (see Genesis 1:26, 28) or in their acclamation of God’s sole and unique dominion over all that is: “To the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever.  Amen” (Jude 1:25).  Nor can the medieval Christian mysticism of the “harmony” or the “music of the spheres” be twisted to include a harmony of God and man since the spheres were the divisions of the universe, God was the First Mover who set them in motion, and God was understood to exist perfectly outside the material harmony he had created.


Who is God?

      While the new catechism’s mistaken digression into theories of harmony is probably an artifact of the popularity of Eastern mysticism in the 1960s and ’70s, it still retains the power to sow confusion, even though the era of “gurus” is past.  “Theology proper” is the answer to the question “Who is God?”, and the new catechism makes a poor beginning at answering that question when it obscures the transcendence of God.  One might hope that some correction and a greater clarity might be provided in a section devoted to God the Blessed Trinity, but such is not provided.  “What is the Trinity?” is a question answered under the heading “The Creeds” with the spare, algebraic answer, “The Trinity is one God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” (852).

      The raw equation “The Trinity = Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” offers no guidance as to how we are to understand “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” as if the General Councils of the Christian Church had never met in antiquity to summarize and define the divine self-revelation of the Blessed Trinity.  The studied vagueness of the new catechism’s statement of the Trinity leaves room for almost any interpretation the individual person cares to give it.  One might imagine three gods (the false doctrine of tritheism).  Another might imagine that these Names are three ways of speaking about God (the false doctrines of Socinianism and modalism).  Yet another might think that these Names are poetic metaphors for a “spiritual wholeness” that can be called “Mother” as easily as “Father” (the false doctrines of theological feminism and theological post-modernism).  Or, by the grace of God, one might be blessed enough to stumble across the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity or an orthodox teacher, so that one came to believe that the indivisible Godhead is made up of Three Eternal Persons, of one divine substance (essence), and of equal might, majesty, and dominion.

      Since a catechism is a formulary, and the purpose of a formulary is to form the mind, conscience, and souls of the faithful according to divine revelation in the Scripture, let us compare the new catechism’s doctrine to that contained in an older formulary, the First Office of Instruction in the 1928 edition of the American Prayer Book.  Here is the answer to the question of what is chiefly learned in the Articles of Belief found in the Apostles’ Creed (284):

First, I learn to believe in God the Father, who hath made me and all the world.

Secondly, in God the Son, who hath redeemed me, and all mankind.  Thirdly, in God the Holy Ghost, who sanctifieth me, and all the people of God.

And this Holy Trinity, One God, I praise and magnify, saying, Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost; As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.  Amen.

      There can be little doubt that this older statement, despite an archaic verb or two, is clearer and more accurate about The Three-in-One and One-in-Three.  A person might refuse to believe it, but if he should accept it for what it is, as a minimal but complete statement of the glory of God, the truth of it will define and form the human person, rather than leaving the human person to define and form the truth for himself as the new catechism does.

      Nor can an adequate Trinitarian doctrine be assembled from the information provided by the new catechism under the separate headings of “God the Father,” “God the Son,” and “The Holy Spirit” (846, 849, 852).  One notices at once that the titles of these headings are not equal or parallel.  The Holy Spirit is not identified as “God the Holy Spirit.”  This asymmetrical description of the Three Persons of the Godhead is compounded by the new catechism’s teaching about each of the Three Persons, most notably in the fact that the word “Person” is used only in reference to the Holy Spirit.  Although the new catechism states that “The Holy Spirit is the Third Person of the Trinity, God at work in the world and in the Church even now” (852), no mention is made of the Father’s being the First Person of the Blessed Trinity or of the Son’s being the Second.

      The reason for this disparity is simple to explain.   The text of the catechism included in the draft edition of the proposed book said simply, “The Holy Spirit is God at work in the world and in the Church” (852).  Reasonable protests were raised that, as the text stood, a person who is unitarian in theology and denying the existence of the Three Persons of the Trinity, could agree to this statement, and so the additional words “Third Person of the Trinity” were added.  Unfortunately, the title of the article concerning the Holy Spirit and the statements about God the Father and God the Son were not edited to conform in wording and doctrine to one another.  If nothing else, the resulting hodgepodge of language demonstrates the over-confidence of expecting a single committee in a few short months to be able to produce an adequate replacement for doctrinal formulas that took generations of the faithful to refine.

      A similar lack of refinement is found in the section “God the Son.”  The new catechism asks, “What do we mean when we say that Jesus is the only Son of God?”  It answers, “We mean that Jesus is the only perfect image of the Father, and shows us the nature of God” (849).  The heretic Arius, whose false teaching that the Son of God had a beginning and was not of the same eternal being as God the Father had provoked the Council of Nicaea and the Nicene Creed, could have agreed to as much.  After all, in the same catechism, man is defined as “part of God’s creation, made in the image of God” (845).  What differentiates this “perfect image,” then, from other, less perfect images?  The unwary might come away from this statement believing that a mere difference of degree separates any man from the Son of man, without understanding that in his divine nature Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, is eternal, of one divine substance with the Father, and eternally begotten of the Father without beginning or end.


The Strange Omission of Original Sin

      If important, divinely-revealed information about God Almighty has been omitted from the new catechism, leaving its teaching about God so bland and general that it is often more confusing (or confused) than helpful, the human race does not fare much better.  Most unhelpful is the absence of a doctrine of human fallenness and original sin.  When the new catechism asks “Why then do we live apart from God and out of harmony with creation?” the answer follows: “From the beginning, human beings have misused their freedom and made wrong choices” (845).

      We have already examined the dangers of a doctrine of “choice,” in which the individual human person, treated as an isolated entity, is considered unfettered by sin or by any necessary external restraint in choosing what is “right” in his or her own eyes.  The phrase to focus on here, then, is “from the beginning.”  In Genesis, we read that God deemed all that he had created, including mankind, “very good” (1:31).  In theological terms, man’s first goodness in his creation by God is called “original righteousness.”  By man’s first sinning (what the new catechism calls euphemistically a “wrong choice”), by his “original sin,” human nature and the natural order under human dominion fell prey to sin, Satan, and death.  Psalm 51:6 literally translated reads: “I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me.”  However, the paraphrase in the 1979 Psalter seeks to remove the original sin by omitting conception: “I have been wicked from my birth, a sinner from my mother’s womb.”  In contrast, the IXth Article of Religion explains, “Original sin standeth not in the following of Adam (as the Pelagians do vainly talk;) but it is the fault and corruption of the Nature of every man, that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam; whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to evil....”

      If, however, the human race “from the beginning” has “made wrong choices,” then the human race was never originally righteous; it is not so much “fallen” now, as involved perhaps in a process of moral evolution; and it ought not to be that surprised when someone such as Cain makes a wrong choice and murders his brother Abel.  Human nature is diminished by that assertion of sin “from the beginning,” and the matter of human nature itself is confused even further by the particular article on sin: “Sin is the seeking of our own will instead of the will of God, thus distorting our relationship with God, with other people, and with all creation” (848).

      Is this relationship with God, other people, and all creation a single, undifferentiated relationship, in which at least a rough equality or continuum exists among God, other people, and creation?  The definition of the Messiah appears to affirm this proposition: “The Messiah is one sent by God to free us from the power of sin, so that with the help of God, we may live in harmony with God, within ourselves, with our neighbors, and with all creation” (849).  These statements, however, if they are meant to describe an eternal salvation, are difficult to square with our Lord’s assertions that “heaven and earth shall pass away” (Matthew 24:35) and that “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26).  Our Lord clearly teaches that the saving relation of God and man, through himself as Mediator, is unlike any other relationship that can be: “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6).

      Thus, both God and man suffer a loss of dignity in the transactions of relationship laid out in the new catechism.  Man loses his original righteousness and his particular place in God’s creation.  God is denied the perfection of his judgment and justice, as witnessed by the fall and the redemption of the fall on the cross, so that each choice-making human being may fall anew, by wrong choices, day by day.  What goes missing in particular, then, is the reconciliation of God and man in Jesus Christ: “For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.  And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement” (Romans 5:10–11).


A Minimal Bible for a Minimal Faith

      The writers of any catechism, of course, must make choices about what to include or not, just as we have had to decide which issues, among many, to discuss in this chapter on new catechism.  The difficulty of such decisions explains the typical dependence of most catechisms on earlier catechisms and highlights the unusual nature of the catechism in the 1979 Prayer Book as an entirely new project, unique to itself.  Nevertheless, whichever method catechism writers use, the normal and natural safety net for what they teach is Holy Scripture.  Is this safety net, then, securely in place in the new catechism?

      Under the heading “The Holy Scriptures,” the new catechism asks “Why do we call the Holy Scriptures the Word of God?”  It answers, “We call them the Word of God because God inspired their human authors and because God still speaks to us through the Bible” (853).  While this answer can be taken to uphold St. Peter’s teaching, “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Peter 1:21), as echoed by the Nicene Creed’s confession that the Holy Ghost “spake by the Prophets,” it need not be taken this way.  The new catechism’s doctrine of “Scriptural inspiration” is, once again, so flat and generic that it might mean that God “spoke by the human authors of Scripture” or that the human authors were inspired “as Bach was inspired when he wrote a concerto.”

      The nagging problem is that little word “still,” as in, “God still speaks to us through the Bible.”  The critical question that goes unanswered is “Does God still speak to us through the Bible as he spoke to our Lord and the Apostles by the words of the prophets, and as he spoke to the first Christians by the words of the Apostles and disciples, or does God speak to us now through Scripture is some different way?”  In other words, is the Bible God’s Word Written from beginning to end, breathed by the Holy Ghost (2 Timothy 3:16), or does the Bible contain some words of God and some words of men, so that the words of men may be ignored if they are found to be out of date?

      Since the answers to these questions describe two entirely different religions, one historic, Biblical Christianity, and the other something else, it is unfortunate that the new catechism provides so little guidance as to which answer is the proper one.  When we look to the question “How do we understand the meaning of the Bible?” we find this answer: “We understand the meaning of the Bible by the help of the Holy Spirit, who guides the Church in the true interpretation of the Scriptures” (853-854).  The difficulty, again, is that we are left to guess whether “the Church” means “the whole Church of Jesus Christ throughout her history, as confessed in the Creeds” “the Church on earth in this particular time,” or “a local church, such as the Episcopal Church and its General Convention.”


A Practical Answer

      While the text of the catechism adopted by the General Convention and the House of Bishops in 1976/1979 does not tell us which “Church” has the authority of “the true interpretation of the Scriptures,” subsequent events provide both an answer and a practical context for understanding the new catechism, taken as a whole.  In 2003, the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire elected a divorced, non-celibate man, engaged in the active practice of homosexuality, to be its bishop and “to guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the whole Church” (“What is the ministry of a bishop?” 855).  The General Convention of the Episcopal Church confirmed this election, and the man was consecrated an Episcopal bishop some time later.  The same General Convention gave the several dioceses permission to experiment with forms for the blessing of same-sex “partners” and “marriages.”

      We know, as a matter of fact, that the historic Church of Jesus Christ has, in obedience to Scripture, consistently and without exception forbidden same-sex relations, or any sexual relations outside the life-long marriage of one man and one woman.  But if this is so, we must also face the practical fact that as far as the General Convention and the majority of the House of Bishops are concerned, the new catechism’s “Church” in which “the true interpretation of the Scriptures” takes place consists of themselves.  The “faith, unity, and discipline of the whole Church” is, in their opinion, whatever they say it is.

      This state of affairs becomes even clearer when we consider the new catechism’s definition of “Holy Matrimony” – “Holy Matrimony is Christian marriage, in which the woman and man enter into a life-long union...” (861).  Let us, for brevity’s sake, put aside the vexed question of divorce and concentrate on the words “the woman and man.”  The plain sense of these words cannot be construed to include two people of the same sex, and yet the Episcopal Church is permitting same-sex relationships and “marriages,” while retaining this catechism as its official statement of doctrine.

      Thus, the general vagueness and doctrinal confusion of the new catechism has been ruinously exploited to render all that it is taught within it a mere collection of metaphors and suggestions, interpretable only by the authorities of the General Convention and the House of Bishops, which do not appear to experience any obligation to live in “harmony” with the present faithful or the saints in light.  Whatever it was meant to be, the new catechism has become a formulary that forms nothing, least of all the faith of the Church in the hearts and minds of believers.



      Let us be very clear.  We have never once suggested in this chapter that orthodox Christians cannot impose their orthodoxy on the text of the new catechism.  We freely grant that this is so.  Our concern has not been whether the catechism can be made orthodox, but rather, whether an honest but uninformed soul can be made orthodox by the catechism.  We think not.  Our preference, then, for the older formularies of the Anglican Way, including the traditional Prayer Book Catechism, is not founded in nostalgia or a delight in archaic language, but wholly in the truth of the Gospel and the desire to deliver that truth effectively and intact.

      The 1979 Catechism attempts both too much and too little, and events, if nothing else, have rendered it, along with its methodology, a failure.  A return to the traditional catechism, with its long history of predecessors and refinements, is the best way forward to the production of a contemporary edition of the catechism that makes unchanging truth available to the people of today.


Chapter Three – The Shape of the Eucharist

      From the 1960s, several words and phrases assumed a special place in the public discourse of the leaders of the Episcopal Church, both locally and nationally.  The constant emphasis that they placed on a relatively short list of liturgical concepts and sources signaled a new era in terms of sacramental worship.  Major portions of the received tradition, actively in use among Episcopalians and in their parishes, were to be discarded in favor of newly devised or reinvented practices, and with all the fervor that was characteristic of the 1960s in America.

      First of all, there was the word “Eucharist” (from the Greek eucharistia, “thanksgiving”) used as the name of the public celebration of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.  Second, there was the word “shape,” along with the longer terms “four-action shape” and “four-fold shape,” used of the structure of the Eucharist.  Third, was the name of an English monk, Dom Gregory Dix, who had written a book entitled The Shape of the Liturgy, positing the “four-action shape,” which was much read by liturgists and seminarians.  Fourth, there was the name of “Hippolytus of Rome,” an early third century writer who left behind for our study “The Apostolic Tradition,” wherein, the liturgists held, was given an excellent example of the “Shape.”  Finally there was the Latin word Pax, referring to the new ceremony of “the exchange of the peace.”

      “Shape” is an odd word to use of a service of divine worship and with reference to a public liturgy because the word “Shape” is necessarily an abstraction.  A circle or a square is a two-dimensional abstraction from the reality of the everyday world, useful perhaps in plane geometry or in philosophy, but removed, nevertheless from the ordinary life of the physical world.  Even a cake pan, which has a three-dimensional shape, is not a cake, in and of itself.  Filling it, moreover, does not always produce a cake.  A pan full of sand is a pan full of sand, and not an alternative form of “cake.”

      Yet between World War II and the 1980s, liturgists talked and wrote much on “the shape of the liturgy.”  To construct liturgies with the right shape became a virtual obsession.  Where did this use of the word “shape” arise?  It seems that, at least for English speaking students of liturgy, the word was made prominent by Dom Gregory Dix in his book, The Shape of the Liturgy, first published in 1945, but reprinted often in later decades and used as a text-book by many.  By “shape,” Dix meant the “standard structure” of the officially organized worship of the Church, which meant for him, for all practical purposes, the Sunday Eucharist.  Also, Dix meant by “shape” “the sequence of the rite” – what came first, what came last, and what came in the middle.  Further, Dix is known for his claim that there was, before the reign of Constantine the Great, what he called a four-action shape, structure, and sequence to the liturgical Eucharist:

            (1) the offertory, or the taking of bread and wine;

            (2) the prayer of thanksgiving;

            (3) the fraction, or the breaking of bread; and

            (4) the communion, following the distribution of bread and wine.

To these four actions, Dix argued, the primitive Church had added a preliminary greeting and kiss, along with a short dismissal at the end.

      Apparently, this novel application of the word “shape” to Christian worship was taken over by Dix from what was then called “the comparative study of religion,” wherein the structure/shape of the rites of different religions were investigated, described, and compared.  It is interesting to note that many of these comparative studies were conducted in the hope that the “shape” of the ceremonies of the various religions would reveal a “deeper meaning” common to the spiritual needs of the entire human race, apart from what some scholars might call their “superficially conflicting beliefs.”


The Quest for the Recovery of the Primitive Order

      It is clear that the Standing Liturgical Commission (SLC) of the Episcopal Church, which prepared the 1979 Prayer Book, believed that the Eucharist is and should be the central liturgy of each parish church on each Sunday and holy day.  From the perspective of the SLC, no matter how beautiful sung Mattins might be, no matter how meaningful and instructive said Morning Prayer might be, and no matter how much a great number of Episcopalians might love these services, nothing but the Eucharist must take pride of place on Sunday morning.

      The Commission’s operative principle was quite simple: for there to be genuine Christian worship, when the people of God assemble with their priest in their local church on the Lord’s Day, there must be a Eucharist.  After all, the SLC argued, in the primitive Church the Eucharistia, comprised of the service of the Word and of the Sacrament, was the primary liturgy for the Lord’s Day.  So we read the instruction in the 1979 Book: “The Holy Eucharist, the principal act of Christian worship on the Lord’s Day and other major Feasts, and Daily Morning and Evening Prayer, as set forth in this Book, are the regular services appointed for worship in this Church” (13).

      In contrast, The Book of Common Prayer (1928) instructs: “The Order for Holy Communion, the Order for Morning Prayer, the Order for Evening Prayer, and the Litany, as set forth in this Book, are the regular Services appointed for Public Worship in this Church and shall be used accordingly,” (vii).  Obviously the latter is less dogmatic about the principal service on Sundays, allowing some flexibility in local custom and sensibility.

      Based upon its conviction concerning the centrality of the Eucharist with its “four-action shape,” the SLC also took the view that “The Order for Holy Communion” in The Book of Common Prayer (1928), or in any other of the historic and classic editions of the Anglican Prayer Book from the first in 1549, was no longer a satisfactory liturgy for modern Episcopalians in a post-World War II and post-1960s world.  Major criticisms were made of it by those who claimed to be experts in the history and theology of liturgy.  For example, the traditional Order for Holy Communion was said:

(a) to be inflexible, allowing virtually no variation in length or in content;

(b) not to encourage congregational participation, leaving far too much to the official ministers; and

(c) not to contain a reading from the Old Testament or the use of a psalm.

These criticisms may be briefly answered by pointing out that:

(a) “Common Prayer” had always meant for Anglicans during many centuries, until this movement of liturgical innovation, not only a fixed structure but also a fixed content;

(b) the congregation participates in worship by being united in the Spirit and in prayer and in uttering the “amen,” as well as in the public recitation of the Creed and the responses within the Liturgy; and

(c) the 1928 Rite presupposes that the church has said Morning Prayer (and prayed the Litany) before beginning the Order for Holy Communion and, thus, has read from both Testaments of the Bible and prayed the Psalms.

Further, the critics claimed that:

(d) the 1928 Rite separated from each other the four essential actions of the Eucharist [i.e., he took, he gave thanks, he broke, and he gave to disciples];

(e) it failed to provide a real breaking of the bread;

(f) the traditional Eucharistic Prayer failed to offer thanks to God for creation and for the Incarnation and Resurrection.

      In response it may be stated that:

(d) the theory of the fourfold action, which had been set forth by Dom Gregory Dix in his widely-read The Shape of the Liturgy, was then and remains now only a theory, and does not have the authority of Bible or Creed;

(e) there is a breaking of the bread in the traditional “Order,” not after the Eucharistic Prayer, but within it, and this breaking is real and visible and not imaginary; and

(f) the doctrines that God is the Creator and that Jesus Christ is the Eternal and Incarnate Son are clearly proclaimed within the Creed and presupposed by all the content of the Service.

Finally, we may note that the critics asserted that:

(g) the “Order” did not have an epiclesis upon the people;

(h) it had no definite eschatological reference; and

(i) it was excessively penitential and lacking a clear celebratory and festal character.

Again, in response it may be stated that:

(g) there is an epiclesis (invocation for the descent of the Holy Spirit) upon the consecrated elements, and further, it is presumed in “the Lord be with you” that the Lord is present by the Holy Spirit with his faithful people;

(h) the whole of the traditional liturgy is a proclaiming of the Lord’s death and resurrection until he comes again in glory; and this form is different from the various reconstructions of the primitive order only in that it is based upon the developed worship and teaching of the Church over the intervening years;

(i) true celebration before the Lord of holiness includes genuine acknowledgement of and penitence for sin with a fervent desire for absolution: thus, the true confession of sins is also the true praise of God, the holy and merciful One.

      So it was that, on the basis of its critique of the “Order for Holy Communion” of 1928, and because of the general move in Bible translation and public worship towards “contemporary language,” which began in earnest in the late 1960s, the SLC determined that a revision was required.  This revision would encompass both the re-editing of the rite (text) from the 1928 Prayer Book and the production of a wholly new rite (text) in “modern language,” according to the principles of the “contemporary language” movement.  The purpose of this exercise, it was explained, was to recapture those elements of the Eucharist of the primitive Church that Dix and others had identified according to their working theory.  These included such things as an emphasis on the members of the congregation as a family gathered at the feast, the eucharistic or “thanksgiving” nature of the feast they shared, the feast itself as a foretaste of the heavenly banquet, the exchange of the peace, and the strict maintenance of the “four-action shape.”  In this way, what later were to be called Rite One and Rite Two were conceived as traditional and contemporary language expressions of the four-action Eucharist, with a determined shape and sequence of content, and highlighting necessary primitive themes.

      Thus, the SLC proceeded with its work on the basis of its belief that the shape or structure of the Eucharist is of supreme importance in order to ensure that all the essential elements, as they discovered and listed them in their various studies, are present in the text of the liturgy. Furthermore, the members of this powerful group were of the conviction that there is one shape, and one shape only, that is to be found universally in the primitive Church and that only this shape should be used either in the revision of present liturgy or in the creation of new liturgy.

      So not only did the members of the SLC create the new Order of Service for the Eucharist according to this hallowed shape (which they called Rite Two), but they also – with great daring and confidence – made the text of the “Order for Holy Communion” from The Book of Common Prayer (1928) fit into this shape (which they called Rite One).  Additionally, and most significantly for the future of Anglican liturgy, they also provided in the 1979 prayer book what they judged to be the essentials of the shape as an annotated list or schematic (pages 400–401) of what comes first, in the middle, and at the end, so that parishes could create their own local Eucharist according to this set structure, using approved ingredients from a variety of sources to supply each necessary part.

      Through this entire process, it never seems to have occurred to the SLC that precisely because the Anglican “Eucharist” of the traditional Book of Common Prayer had been a part of Anglican life since 1549, was based on medieval texts and their antecedents, and had been used all over the world in around one hundred and fifty languages, it had acquired its own legitimate place within the family of liturgies in use within the Church of God.  After all, in the 1960s, the Anglican Rite had been used for four hundred years, and in 1999 the Episcopal Church was encouraged to celebrate the 450th anniversary of The Book of Common Prayer.  In this matter of continuity, it is significant that in 2000 the Church of England, in its new collection of prayer books under the general title of Common Worship, included two distinct “shapes” – new services with a modified “four-action shape” and the service from the traditional Prayer Book with its own long-standing “shape.”

      Returning to the U.S.A., it is important to observe that the emphasis upon the right “shape of the liturgy” within the Episcopal Church has actually increased, rather than decreased since 1979, for at least two obvious reasons:

(a) to make and maintain the claim that common prayer is not found in shared texts, but really and truly in unity of shape, sequence, and structure; and

(b) to assert the claim that ECUSA is truly an inclusive church, embracing people of different views, lifestyles, and orientations, who may all fill this shape in their own distinctive ways.

It follows logically then, when shape, the mere sequence of content, is taken as what authenticates the liturgy, that the possibility cannot be avoided of allowing an ever-expanding variety of content and ingredients to be inserted into the received shape.  Thus unity in “common worship,” because of the use of a “common shape,” can be claimed even when there are massive doctrinal, theological, and moral differences from one rite to another and from one congregation to another.

      An obvious example of such diversity today is the use in one parish of inclusive language, where “brethren” and “man” are avoided in reference to humanity, and “Father,” “Lord,” “Son,” and “King” are avoided in reference to God, while in a nearby parish, where Rite One in traditional language is used, the frequent use of such traditional expressions, titles, and names is required.  However different these parishes may be in their language and presuppositions, they do, in fact, both use exactly and precisely the same shape!  If shape is the “proof” of liturgy and unity, then these parishes must be described as united and inclusive of one another, despite the obvious evidence of their religious disagreement.  One can see in this way just how important the pages 400–401 in the 1979 prayer book are.

      Looking back over the last thirty years or so, it can be claimed, and verified through appropriate study, that the emphasis on a fixed shape with variable ingredients has been a major impetus to the development and use of novel content for use in celebrating the Eucharist within the Episcopal Church as it has become more and more open to liberalizing social trends since the 1970s.  A careful reading of the various new rites approved by General Convention between 1982 and 2003, for trial use and with the bishop’s permission, confirms this view of the stability of shape, structure, and sequence on the one hand, and of the increasing diversity of content on the other.

      Dix himself, who used only traditional language and was deeply committed to classical, theological orthodoxy, would have been amazed and angered at the use made of his “shape” by Episcopalians and Anglicans in the latter part of the twentieth century.  He had used his great skill to make and to argue a case (he originally intended to be a barrister), but that case did not mean for him an open door for the entrance into the church of a variety of error and heterodoxy, let alone unending experimentation.  But he helped to open a door through which the zeitgeist, the spirit of a turbulent and chaotic age, continues to blow and to show no signs of abating.


Shape and the Early Church

      There is, of course, a definite shape – better “form” – to the Order for Holy Communion in the traditional, classic editions of The Book of Common Prayer from 1662 to 1928.  As we have noted, the traditional Anglican shape/form goes back to the reform of the medieval rite of the Mass by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer in 1549 and 1552 in the first two editions of The Book of Common Prayer.  This long-standing Anglican shape/form was rejected in the 1960s by the SLC as not being wholly authentic because it did not conform to its vision of the primitive pattern of the Church in the early centuries – the period when, it was romantically asserted, the Church existed as a persecuted minority in the multi-ethnic, multi-religious, and multi-lingual culture of the Mediterranean world.

      Thus it was claimed for the new four-action shape of the post-1960s liturgies that it represented the earliest, basic structure of the Eucharist from post-apostolic times – that is, to be specific, from the second and third centuries.  It was likewise asserted, with all the confidence of disciples of the French philosopher Rousseau, that being new, primitive, and pristine, this shape was therefore authentic and genuine.  But where did this shape come from?  The SLC and the other proponents of “shape” claimed that they found it in texts from the second century onwards, and especially in The Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus of Rome.

      Once the SLC had decided to imitate the supposedly clear four-action shape and pattern of the early centuries, it had to decide what content to place within the adopted structure of the new Rite that it was producing.  This provision of content was seemingly a simple thing to do, but in their pursuit of primitivism, the SLC faced a problem, for the earliest liturgies provided examples only of minimal content.  In those ancient days, the Celebrant would offer ex-tempore prayer, as well as using set forms (e.g., The Lord’s Prayer), uniting them as he was enabled by the Spirit.  And, we may observe, Episcopalians were certainly not to be encouraged to engage in ex tempore prayer in the liturgy, not even in the post 1960s – for only Baptists did that kind of thing!  Social convention, no matter what calls are made for innovation, often prove more durable than religious theory.

      Further, to meet a perceived variety of needs and aspirations amongst church members, as well as to conform to the basic right of choice demanded and required within western culture, the SLC decided to produce a variety of Eucharistic Prayers that could be fitted into the accepted shape.  They were encouraged in this decision by what had been done by the Roman Catholic Church in its new Missal, produced after the Second Vatican Council, and what the mother Church of the Anglican Communion, the Church of England, was also doing in its Alternative Service Book.  It may be noted that there were few in the vibrant liturgical movement who were challenging this way of developing liturgy and their voices were hardly heard.  The wind of change was blowing, and it took everything before it along with it.

      In this creative activity of writing new content for the supposed ancient shape, the members of the SLC naturally expressed their own doctrinal convictions and theological views – what else could they do?  They composed forms of words that they held and believed were the appropriate content for inclusion in liturgy that was to be relevant and credible in the late twentieth century in western culture.  And here, whether they intended to do so or not, and as we now can clearly see, they revealed just how far away they were in their thinking from the traditional doctrinal content of the Eucharist as it had been celebrated in the Anglican Way for centuries.  Much of what they produced was by classical standards sub-orthodox, or even worse, heretical.

      Yet, in the end, words were deemed secondary.  The Eucharist, it was said following Dix, is action, and it is what is done in liturgy that is primary, not what is written or said.  Get the action right and the words do not matter very much.  From the perspective of the SLC and its 1979 prayer book, the days are gone when it was appropriate to speak of “saying the mass” or “hearing the mass” or even “attending the Holy Communion.”


Shape vs. Form

      We must now ask the question, What, exactly, is this hallowed action-shape?  The answer is set out most clearly on pages 400–401 of the 1979 Prayer Book.  The shape has the following eight parts:

the people and the priest gather in the Lord’s name;

they proclaim and respond to the word of God;

they pray for the world and the church;

they exchange the peace;

they prepare the table;

they make eucharist;

they break bread;

they share the gifts of God.

Here, though the structure is fixed and inviolate, the contents are variable according to local need and necessity and according to theological, social, political, and cultural insights.  Rite One and Rite Two have the same shape, of course, but different ingredients in different language forms are placed within the basic elements of the shape.

      In contrast, both the shape and the content, the structure and ingredients, the form of the Order for Holy Communion in The Book of Common Player (1928), as in other editions of this classic Anglican Prayer Book, are fixed in all essentials.  In fact “Common Prayer” means “a fixed order and content of public prayer that is prayed in common by all.”  Of course, there are the internally consistent variations for the festivals, seasons, and holy days in terms of Collects and Bible readings, but the actual substance of the rite, the doctrinal content that makes it what it is, is constant week by week.  And here, in this tradition of form, it is understood that if the Service itself contains orthodox doctrine, then orthodox doctrine is proclaimed, believed, taught, and confessed each time the Service is used!

      It may be claimed without prejudice, that the form of the Order for Holy Communion in the historic Prayer Book represents a Reformed Catholic tradition of doctrine and liturgy, while the shape and content of the Holy Eucharist in the new Prayer Books from the 1970s represent an attempt to use an ancient structure and to fill it with mostly modern ingredients, together with a few remnants of traditional content.  Furthermore, it is fair to suggest that the 1979 Prayer Book, with its variety of content and ingredients within the common shape of its numerous eucharistic prayers, is hardly the kind of text that is appropriate for a Formulary of the Church.

      If more than shape matters, and the traditional Christian emphasis on form is correct, which we believe is manifestly true, then it is beyond the capacity of the 1979 to perform the work of a formulary – the formation of Christian lives according to a fixed, Biblical pattern.  As we saw in chapter one, and will notice further as we proceed, there exists no unity in doctrine within the section of the 1979 Prayer Book devoted to “The Holy Eucharist.”

      The form of the traditional Anglican Order for Holy Communion was based in general terms, but not in a slavish manner, upon the liturgy and doctrine of the Early Church, not of the second and third centuries, but of the fourth and fifth centuries.  As a means of communicating to the laity the nature of the Reformed Catholic Faith claimed by the Church of England, a simple memory device has been used from the sixteenth century involving the numbers one through five.  Anglicans believe that there is One Canon of Holy Scripture, composed of Two Testaments, which is the final authority from God for faith and morals, with Three Creeds [Apostles’, Nicene and Athanasian] proclaiming the Faith, Four Ecumenical Councils [Nicea 325, Constantinople 381, Ephesus 431 & Chalcedon 451] providing the basic dogma of The Trinity and the Person/Identity of Christ Jesus our Lord, and the example of Five Centuries of united Christian practice, providing models of liturgy, ordained ministry, canon law, and church life.

      To make this commitment to the one through five does not exclude the receiving of what happened as the Church lived on through later centuries.  Rather, it supplies the basis or foundation of the Church’s worship, doctrine, and discipline, so that those later centuries may be understood and evaluated.  And if the “Early Church” is defined in terms of the Church of the first five centuries in her entirety, rather than the limited period of the pre-Constantinian era, then, of course, a different approach to doctrine, dogma, liturgy, canon law, ordained ministry, piety, and devotion is formalized.  It can be seen clearly, then, that the mindset of the modern liturgical reformers is very different in its basic foundations from that of the standard divines of the Anglican Way, from Cranmer through Hooker and Andrewes, to Waterland and Keble.

      For the modern mindset that looks primarily to the primitivism of the second and third centuries, there is, for example, no great interest in the classic dogma of the Trinity and of the Person of Christ, which was stated with clarity and conviction by the Ecumenical Councils.  Wherefore, in the writing of modern liturgy, there is not necessarily present in the intention of the authors a deep sense of the need to conform to the principles and content of this dogma when referring to the three Persons of the one Godhead or to our Lord Jesus Christ.  They assume, after all, and most likely mistakenly, that there was no such precision of doctrine in the third century.  This lack of interest in precision is seen within the liturgical texts of the 1979 Prayer Book and (as we have seen in Chapter Two) within its Catechism, not to mention in The Propers for the Lesser Feasts and Fasts (1980), particularly in the sloppy and careless way that the dogma of the Blessed Trinity and of the Person of Christ is treated therein.

      For example, the Collect written for the celebration of the three Cappadocian Fathers (Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory of Nazianzus), who did so much to lead the Church into its clear dogma of the Holy Trinity, fails to proclaim clearly the Church’s doctrine of the Trinity!  It begins in the Rite One version, “Almighty God, who hast revealed to the Church thine eternal Being of glorious majesty and perfect love as one God in Trinity of Persons...”  To whom is this Collect addressed?  If to the Father, as in the regular collect form, then it does not make sense.  If to the Holy Trinity, then why not begin, “O Blessed Trinity...?”

      In contrast to this lack of concern for doctrinal precision, for the modern liturgist the exchange of peace is regarded as absolutely necessary because in the early centuries there was always in the service “the kiss of peace.”  However, by the time of the fifth century this practice had generally ceased as a congregational activity and was confined to the ministers at the altar.  So, those who created the traditional Anglican “Order for Holy Communion” did not include the public exchange of peace as a necessary part of the shape and content for it was not regarded as necessary, or even advisable (for pastoral reasons) as a congregational activity

      It may be noted in passing that the making of the exchange of peace in modern services into a major activity, and the center-piece for many of the whole service, is more about the desire to create “community” and to affirm everyone as a member thereof, than it is an imitation of the exchange of peace [God’s shalom, the peace of the one Lord Jesus Christ] of the early churches.  If one had a video of the giving of the holy kiss in the second-century church at the beginning of the Eucharist, it would look very different from the exchange of the peace in the modern congregation.  One would notice immediately, for example, the solemnity of the exchange, very unlike a modern handshake or hug, as well as the fact that the men exchanged the holy kiss only with other men, and the women only with other women.  The modern passing of the peace is hardly the dynamic equivalent of the ancient kiss of peace!


In Conclusion

      As we draw to a conclusion, we may state with confidence that the liturgies of the classical formularies (Orthodox, Roman and Anglican) are practical, three dimensional participants in the world of man, albeit with the intention of redeeming that world and lifting it up to the kingdom of heaven.  They are real forms, not abstractions, and they have an active presence in the complete life of man, not just as ideas, but as movements of the body, words on the lips, and association with real people right this moment and back through time.  The forms laid out by the formularies are the same, through and through.  The difference between “shape” and “form” is rather like the difference between an owl stuffed with straw (shape) and an owl with his life and blood and order intact (form).

      Thus, making the 1979 prayer book into the main formulary of the Episcopal Church, a purpose for which it could not be more ill-suited, given the theories behind its production, was at best setting this church on shifting sand – on an ever-moving, never-settled foundation.  The desire of the Episcopal Church, or at least its institutional leaders, to introduce innovations between 1979 and 2004 amply shows that its doctrinal foundation in the 1979 prayer book is inherently unstable and that an exaggerated emphasis on shape has enabled it to absorb all kinds of ideas and practices from the culture and society in which it exists, at the expense of doctrinal orthodoxy and the peace of its members.  In the world of “shape,” the contents of the faith must be reinvented every day, making the Church less and less like a family of God and more and more like a clash of competing political parties.


Chapter Four – Ancient Texts, Translation, and Doctrine

      As we have seen in the previous two chapters, how the Church articulates her faith, and whether she does so with clarity, precision, and consistency, are at the heart of her welfare and effectiveness as a servant people of God.  How the Church translates ancient holy texts is, likewise, of critical importance.  On the one hand, translation can be an avenue for sound and sure knowledge of the style and content of the sacred texts, or, on the other hand, it can be a means to modify, change, and obscure their meaning.  Not a few of the innovations in Christian doctrine and worship in recent times have been aided and abetted by the results of particular theories and ways of translating biblical and liturgical texts.

      Translating ancient texts for use in worship is not a new thing.  In the synagogue worship in which our Lord Jesus Christ himself participated, there was the reading of the Law and the Prophets in Hebrew from their scrolls, and then there was the rendering of the Hebrew into Aramaic, followed by the homily, also in Aramaic.  These three actions were performed either by a single person or by two or three in cooperation.  In other parts of the Roman world, the rendering was into Greek, the language most commonly spoken in the Roman Empire.  In fact, the Hebrew Bible had been translated into Greek by seventy Jewish scholars in Alexandria before the time of Christ, and we know this version as The Septuagint (from the Greek word for “seventy”).  Later, in the fourth century, the Bible was translated into “vulgar” (“common” or “later non-classical”) Latin, with Jerome as the primary translator, and this version is known as The Vulgate (Latin, editio vulgata).

      Since the Christian Church uses the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, and since these were written originally in Hebrew and Greek, there must be translation into the vernacular if worship is to be in the language of the people who assemble for worship.  For many centuries before the Reformation of the sixteenth century, all parts of the Scriptures were available in Latin, and some parts were available in English.  However, it was only in the middle of the sixteenth century that (a) the whole of the Scriptures was translated, printed, and published in English; and (b) there was a Prayer Book wholly in English, The Book of the Common Prayer (first edition, 1549).

      It is well known that the King James Version of the Bible (1611), known also as The Authorized Version, together with The Book of Common Prayer (1662), not only played a major part in the development of the English language but also provided the English speaking peoples with the two basic books of the Christian religion in the vernacular.  Until the 1960s, and even into the 1970s, these two books were the absolutely essential requirement for the worship of the Lord our God in Episcopal and Anglican parishes throughout the world.

      Since the 1960s, there has been a veritable deluge of translations and paraphrases of the Bible, and this deluge continues into the twenty-first century.  New theories of translating ancient texts have gained prominence and have been used in much of this translation work, with the result that the Bible seems to many now to have a different message – at least in certain areas – than it had when people used the older translations.

      What we shall attempt to do in this chapter is, first, to explain briefly the two major approaches to translation of ancient texts in contrasting use in the western world and to provide examples of them from the Bible.  In the second place, we shall note some of those parts of the 1979 Prayer Book which have been affected by the adoption of a different approach to translation from that used in the classic versions of The Book of Common Prayer from 1549 to 1928.  In doing this, we shall note also the doctrinal and devotional changes within the 1979 book that have been caused by the adoption of this approach to translation.  As with our examinations of the Catechism and the “shape” of the liturgy, we believe that this study will demonstrate that the 1979 Book is not a sufficiently reliable and sound text to be the Formulary of a Church.


The Two Basic Theories of Translation

      To translate a Greek, Latin, or Hebrew text into English is a difficult and demanding task.  There are many short-cuts available; but usually only the expert will be aware that such have been used.  The translator has to master the original language and text and to be highly competent in English in order even to begin to do a sound translation.  From the evidence of the number of versions of the Bible on sale – apparently over one hundred in the U.S.A. – it would appear that there are many who claim to be competent as translators in this generation.  And at the other end of the production line, there appear to be unwary consumers of the product who see the differences between versions of the Bible as about the same as the differences between boxes of cereal or bottles of soda in the supermarket.

      Looking at the variety of versions on the shelves of the college library, one cannot help but notice that, from the 1960s, the adjective “new” begins to appear in the titles of versions – e.g., New American Standard Version, New Century Version, New English Bible, New International Version, New King James Version, New Living Translation, New Revised Standard Version, and so on.  Obviously, this word in some or all cases represents a claim for a particular “new” version that its translation sets it apart in some major way from what has gone before.  Thus, when we look more carefully, it becomes obvious that Bible versions fall roughly into two categories, with some belonging to both with different degrees of commitment.

      On the one hand, there is the minority of versions (K.J.V., R.S.V., E.S.V.) that can be described as “essentially literal.”  These, as far as possible, seek to capture the precise wording of the original text and the personal style of the writer of each book of the Bible, but not in such a way as to violate the normal rules of language and syntax in English (the receptor language).  Here the emphasis is upon “word-for-word” correspondence.

      On the other hand, there is the majority of versions from the 1960s onward that can be described as following in whole or part the theory of “dynamic equivalence.”  This approach holds that whenever something in the original language-text is envisaged as foreign or unclear to the modern reader, the original text should be translated in terms of a dynamic equivalent – a word or concept that the translator believes the modern reader will understand as comparable in his own culture to whatever the original text said.  Here the emphasis is upon “thought-for-thought” correspondence.

      In comparing the two approaches, one can say that the “essentially literal” theory begins with the sacred text and attempts to do full justice to it in translation so that the translation itself seeks to be transparent to the original text, in that it has as its goal the reproduction of the language, expressions, and customs of the original text.

      In contrast, the “dynamic equivalency” theory aims to be transparent to the reader in his own society, culture, and knowledge of the English language.  The translator starts from where the reader is and renders the original text into a form of English that aims to be immediately understandable by him.  Since in a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-layered, multi-cultural, and multi-oriented society there are many types of readers, with all kinds of felt needs and aspirations, from the perspective of dynamic equivalency there will always be a demand or perceived need for an ever-growing and changing variety of versions of the Bible and of liturgical texts.

      The difference between the two approaches is best seen by reference to specific texts.  From the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38–42, let us note the important statement made by Jesus concerning the two sisters in verse 42.  Here are the renderings by the essentially literal translations:

“Mary hath chosen that good part” (KJV);

“Mary has chosen the good part” (NASB);

“Mary has chosen the good portion” (RSV);

“Mary has chosen the good portion” (ESV).

Now compare the renderings from dynamic equivalent translations:

“Mary has chosen what is better” (NIV, TNIV);

“Mary has chosen what is best” (CEV);

“There is really only one thing worth being concerned about” (NLT);

“The part that Mary has chosen is best” (NEB).

At first, the difference may not seem profound, but each of the renderings in the second set contains an interpretation of what Mary did.  The translators apparently do not wish to leave the reader to contemplate what may not be wholly clear on first reading, namely “What is the good portion meant by our Lord?”

      We see the same difference in approach when looking at Romans 1:17, where the essential literal translations all have “the righteousness of God is revealed.”  This rendering leaves open the meditative possibility that the “righteousness” in question may be an attribute of God, a gift of God to sinners, or both from the divine perspective being revealed.  In contrast, the dynamic equivalent renderings leave no room for Scriptural meditation and contain obvious interpretations:

“For in the Gospel, a righteousness from God is revealed” (NIV, “from” added);

“This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight” (NLT);

“For the Gospel reveals how God puts people right with himself” (GNB);

“The good news tells how God accepts everyone who has faith” (CEV).

Here the translators simply make the assumption, without allowing the reader to consider the reasonable alternatives, that the “righteousness of God” is one thing, and one thing only, a gift of and from God to sinners who believe the Gospel.

      It is necessarily the case that the translations based on dynamic equivalency will never wholly agree among themselves because their target audiences are so different – from conservative evangelicals, through liberal Catholics and liberal Protestants, to feminists and homosexual persons.  Of course, essentially literal translations, even though much fewer in number, will also not always agree in their renderings.  They are, after all, the work of imperfect human beings who, despite their commitment to one specific theory of translation, do have different ideas as to what is good or appropriate English for use in a translation of the Scriptures or of liturgical texts.  Perhaps the clearest example of this sort of difference in rendering is the use of “thou/thee” and “ye/you” (as in the KJV & the RV) and the use only of “you” for both man and God (ESV).  [The RSV retains “thou/thee” for God only and “you” for human beings and even for Jesus when he is presented in his humanity.]

      In the ancient languages (e.g., Hebrew, Aramaic, Syriac, Greek, and Latin), which have to be known for biblical translation, there is a very clear distinction between the words for addressing one person (singular) and for addressing more than one person (plural).  This linguistic fact would suggest that in order to preserve the word-for-word approach in the translation of ancient texts into English this distinction has to be preserved.  And English does have the capacity for rendering this distinction if “thou/thee” is used for the singular and “ye/you” for the plural.  However, in daily use “you” now covers both the singular and plural, and “thou/thee” is never used.  As noted above, the creators of the English Standard Version of 2000, though claiming that it is a literal translation, took the view that Americans would never buy and read it if it contained the older use of “thou/thee.”  Thus the ESV does not make clear the distinction in the originals between the singular and the plural, and God himself is also addressed as “you”.

      If the distinction between singular and plural, which is clearly there in the original text, is not continued in the translated text, then of course there will be many occasions when only those with access to the originals know whether the “you” is one person or more than one person.  For example, the Ten Commandments are addressed not to everybody in general but to each person, e.g., “Thou shalt not steal” (Exodus 20).  In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5–7), there is in the teaching of Jesus a constant movement from the plural “ye/you” to the singular “thou/thee, and to omit this distinction in translation is surely to miss something of the genius and import of the words of the Master.  Then, also, many of the great promises of God to his children to be with them in all forms of adversity and danger, pain and sickness, tribulation and war, are in the second person singular, as a personal word to the individual believer.  For example, “I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go; I will counsel thee with mine eye upon thee” (Psalm 32:8) and “O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall slam forth thy praise” (Psalm 51:15 – see also verses 16 & 17).

      The favored version of the Bible for use with the Ecumenical Common Lectionary, as well as with the Lectionary within the 1979 Prayer Book of the Episcopal Church, is the New Revised Standard Version, which as its long Preface makes clear, belongs to the new approach to Bible translations and is particularly sensitive to the perceived needs of those affected by the feminist movement.  There is apparently very little use of the essentially literal translations within the Episcopal Church in 2004.


Texts affected by the theory of Dynamic Equivalency

      When the 1979 Prayer Book was being put together in the late 1960s and through the 1970s, not only committees of Bible translators but also Ecumenical and Roman Catholic committees for producing modern liturgical texts were much at work.  For all of them, there was a felt need to produce texts that were relevant, credible, simple, and attractive to a western society that had come through the revolutionary social and cultural period of the 1960s.  Thus Evangelicals, Roman Catholics, and Liberal Protestants all committed themselves in general terms to the theory of dynamic equivalency, which they took to be the best way to meet the challenges in church and society caused by the massive changes in western culture since the end of World War II.  That is, the various committees looked first at their target audiences, and then they sought to render the original texts in a way that would be accessible, meaningful, appropriate, and receivable by them, according to their estimation of their capacity and needs.  And for all involved, this effort meant that God had to be addressed in the same way that human beings are addressed in everyday English – as the “You-God” and not the “Thou-God.”  In this commitment, Roman Catholic liturgists joined hands with the translation team that produced The New International Version.  They abandoned the method used by The Revised Standard Version of retaining “Thou/Thee” for the Lord God.

      There are many texts within the 1979 Prayer Book that can be cited as examples of the adoption of the general principle of dynamic equivalency.  Here are some of the pertinent examples.


1.  Psalm 1:1

“Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked.”

In the 1928 edition of The Book of Common Prayer, as also in the King James Version, this same verse is rendered:

“Blessed is the man that hath not walked in the counsel of the ungodly/wicked.”

Interestingly, the Latin title of this Psalm, which is actually given in the 1979 Book, is Beatus vir qui non abiit, which obviously means, “Blessed is the man...,” for Latin vir means “man.”  So what we see in the beginning of Psalm 1 in the 1979 Book is the use of inclusive language in order to make the Psalm acceptable to women, as well as men, in a period of feminism.  Whether “happy are they” is truly the dynamic equivalent of “Blessed is the man is a question that can he debated, but on first appearance it appears to be an odd kind of equivalency.  As we have already observed, the difference between the singular and the plural does have meaning in itself.

      In this “new” translation, however, there is more than a mere change of words.  There is a major change of meaning that affects the way that the Psalter is used, read, chanted, and prayed in holy, mother Church and in the Christian home.  If the “Man” is understood to be “the Son of Man,” even the Lord Jesus Christ, and this Psalm is seen as an introduction to the whole Psalter of 150 Psalms, as has been the case throughout Christian history, then what this Psalm declares is that we begin with Jesus Christ and continue to pray all the Psalms through, in, and with the same Lord Jesus in his Body, the Church.  This ancient Christian use of the Psalter provides the explanation why the Psalter is used daily in all the offices as Christian prayer.


2.  The Song of Simeon, Luke 2:29–32 (Nunc Dimittis)

      In the Rite Two section of the 1979 prayer book, this canticle is rendered:

“Lord, you now have set your servant free

to go in peace as you have promised....”

In an essentially literal translation (e.g. the E.S.V.), this same passage is rendered:

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,

according to your word....”

And in the Rite One section, following the 1928 Prayer Book, we read:

“Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace,

according to thy word....”

It is obvious that the rendering in Rite Two was not only affected by the tremendous emphasis on human freedom that blossomed in the 1960s and 1970s, but also that the translators have attempted to simplify the thought of the original text.  The same interest in freedom and simplification is to be found in the rendering of the Song of Zechariah, Benedictus (Luke 1:68–79), in Rite Two, where it begins, “Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel; he has come to his people and set them free.”  The translation in Rite One (following the 1928 Prayer Book) is, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people.”  In the latter, we find the technical and theological themes of “visitation” and “redemption,” which a literal approach requires, especially in the context of the entire Bible.


3.  The Creeds

      Two Creeds, the Apostles’ and the Nicene, are used within the services of the 1979 Book, and the translations of them printed in Rite Two are those provided by an international committee known as the International Consultation on English Texts (ICEL.).  As we shall see, they differ in important particulars from the translations in The Book of Common Prayer (1928).

      Take, first of all, the reference to the conception of Jesus by Mary his mother.  Both Creeds in the Rite Two of the 1979 Book declare that Jesus was “conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit.”  In contrast, the literal translation given in the 1928 Prayer Book and Rite One is “conceived by the Holy Ghost.”  There is no word at all in the original Latin and Greek that can be translated “the power of,” and these words were added as a “dynamic equivalent” to aid people in the understanding of the conception of Jesus, on the assumption that “by the power of the Holy Spirit” makes more sense than the literal translation.  Theologically, the problem with this new rendering is that it puts the conception of Jesus at the same level as all conceptions, for we are all, our kittens as well, conceived by the power of God.  The creedal point about Jesus is that his conception was unique, for it was the divine act wherein the Son of God took to himself human identity and nature.

      In the second place, take the way in which Jesus, the Son of God, is described in the Nicene Creed of Rite Two of the 1979 Book.  He is said to be “the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father.”  Contrast this with the words in the 1928 Book, where Jesus is said to be “the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of his Father before all worlds.”  The problem with the 1979 wording is that, in the attempt to simplify, it tends to place God and his begetting of his Son within “eternity.”  The words “before all worlds” (= “before all ages”) clearly convey the idea that the Holy Trinity is before all ages and before all worlds, and therefore, before and above all eternity.

      Finally, note how the critically important Greek word, homoousios, in the phrase homoousion to patri, is translated in the Nicene Creed.  Both Rite One and Rite Two of the 1979 Book have “of one Being with the Father,” where a capital letter “B” is used.  In contrast, the 1928 Book has “of one substance with the Father.”  The point being made in the ancient text of the Creed, which was originally proclaimed forcefully by St. Athanasius and the Council of Nicaea in 325, is that whatever deity, divinity, and Godhead the Father possesses, the same, identical deity, divinity, and Godhead the Son also possesses.  Since the sixteenth century at least, “substance” is the word used to translate ousia into English, and so homoousios becomes “the same substance.”  In the attempt to simplify by using the expression “of one Being,” the 1979 translation runs the risk of conveying the idea that there is one Divine Being who is both Father and Son, which is not what the original Nicene Creed written in Greek and Latin intended at all.  Furthermore, even capitalized, “Being” does not get across the unique, uncreated reality that the Father shares with the Son and the Holy Ghost, which is wholly other than the “being” of any creature.


4.  The manner is which God is addressed in Collect and Canticle

      All the Collects in the historic Prayer Book are either translations from the Latin or written to conform to the model of the Latin collects.  Collecta is the original Latin word, meaning a gathering of any sort.  So what does the Collect gather together?  There are various possibilities, and there appears to be a measure of truth in each of them:

1.  The gathering together in a precise form of certain aspects of the teaching in the Epistle and/or Gospel to which it is attached;

2.  The gathering together of the thoughts (recollection) of the people of God, a collectedness of mind;.

3.  The prayer to be used when people actually assemble together for worship – oratio ad collectum.

The Collects, precisely so called, normally have a common structure, although sometimes one of the parts thereof is omitted or compressed.

      First, there is the Invocation, where God (usually God the Father, but sometimes the Lord Jesus Christ) is addressed or “invoked.”  In the second place, there is the Recital and remembrance before God and in his presence of some doctrine or fact of a biblical topic or theme – e.g., of salvation, redemption, or providence.  Third, there is the Petition, which constitutes the body of the short prayer.  Fourth, there is the Aspiration or devout wish.  Finally, there is the Pleading of the Name of Jesus, the Mediator, when the prayer is addressed to the Father.

      This structure may be illustrated from the long Collect appointed for the Burial of the Dead (BCP, 1662):

O Merciful God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the resurrection and the life; in whom whosoever believeth shall live, though he die; and whosoever liveth, and believeth in him, shall not die eternally; who also hath taught us, by his holy Apostle Saint Paul, not to be sorry, as men without hope, for them that sleep in him: We meekly beseech thee, O Father, to raise us up from the death of sin unto the life of righteousness; that when we shall depart this life, we may rest in him, as our hope is this our brother/sister doth; and that, at the general resurrection in the last day, we may be found acceptable in thy sight; and receive that blessing, which they well-beloved Son shall then pronounce to all that love and fear thee, saying, Come ye blessed children of my Father, receive the kingdom prepared for you from the beginning of the world.  Grant this, we beseech thee, O Merciful Father, through Jesus Christ, our Mediator and Redeemer.


1.  Invocation: “O Merciful God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

2.  Recital & Remembrance: “who is the Resurrection and the Life...that sleep in him.”

3.  Petition: “We meekly beseech thee, O Father, to raise us up from the death of sin unto the life of righteousness.”

4.  Aspiration: “that when we shall depart this life, we may rest in”

5.  Pleading: “Grant this, we beseech thee, O Merciful Father, through Jesus Christ, our Mediator and Redeemer.”

In the Recital, the use of the relative clause (e.g., “who is the Resurrection, etc.” as above) became the means used in the language of prayer to enable the faithful to be reverent and humble before God, while, at the same time, recognizing that in Christ Jesus and by divine revelation we have been brought near unto the Father and have by his design a duty to ask petitions of him that he will grant.  Thus there is both a logical and a linguistic use of the relative clause.  Its use is a means by which the worshippers point out to God in a suitably humble and reverent way that he has both the power and the means to grant the petition.  They recall in his presence what he has already revealed to them and taught them to believe.

      In the Communion Service in the 1928 Prayer Book and in Rite One, the relative clause may be seen not only in the Prayer of Consecration but also in other places.  The Collect for Purity begins: “Almighty God, unto whom all hearts be open, all desires known and from whom no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts....”  And it is there in the Absolution: “Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who of his great mercy hath promised forgiveness of sins to all them that with hearty repentance and true faith turn unto him: pardon and deliver you from all your sins....

      And, of course, it is also there in the Communion Service in many of the Collects used on Sundays and Saints’ Days in the 1928 Book.  Here are two examples from the many:

“Almighty and everlasting God, who art always more ready to hear than we to pray, and art wont to give more than either we desire or deserve: Pour down upon us the abundance of thy mercy....” [Trinity XII]

“Almighty and merciful God, of whose only gift it cometh that thy faithful people do grant unto thee true and laudable service: Grant, we beseech thee....” [Trinity XIII]

A common way by which these traditional prayers/collects have been rendered into “contemporary English” is not only by using the “You” form to replace the older “Thou,” but also by abandoning the relative clause altogether.  Thus we get in Rite Two, “Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid....”  Here it seems that the Lord our God is being told what he already knows and knows in consummate perfection.  Nor is the result any more like everyday contemporary English than the traditional usage.

      Possibly the worst example of unsuccessful translation from the original Latin in the 1979 Book is to be found in the opening lines of the ancient canticle, Te Deum Laudamus, where the congregation says or chants:

“You are God: we praise you;

You are the Lord: we acclaim you;

You are the eternal Father:

All creation worships you....

Beyond the fact that the Latin cannot be construed in this way (as the professor of one of the present writers observed in 1965, in an introductory ecclesiastical Latin course), here mere creatures, sinful ones at that, dare to stand before the Lord God, Creator of heaven and earth, and to address him as if he were merely someone with whom they were on friendly terms.  In contrast, and with reverence and awe, the traditional translation has: “We praise thee, O God: we acknowledge thee to be the Lord.  All the earth doth worship thee, the Father everlasting....

      What is not often realized is that this change in the way that God is addressed is a major difference between the piety, devotion, and spirituality of the classic “traditional language” of public prayer in The Book of Common Prayer and the “contemporary language” in post 1970s Anglican liturgies.  It is a major change for it reflects a changed attitude towards God and possibly a changed doctrine of God.  In the traditional idiom, language is stretched and poetically formed in order to produce reverence and awe before Almighty God who is the holy and merciful One.  In contrast, in the modern liturgical language of Rite Two, language often tends to be used in a commonplace and pedestrian manner in order to “scale down” the majesty of God and to make worshippers feel more comfortable with him, on the strength of the theory that this reduction in grandeur will make them feel more welcome in God’s Church.


5.  Acclamation and Greeting

      First, let us examine the Acclamation used in the Eucharist of the 1979 Book, which claims to have its origin in the Greek Liturgy of St. Chrysostom.

      In the Divine Liturgy of the Orthodox Churches, there is a moment when the priest, from the altar and making the sign of the Cross while holding the Gospel Book, faces the people and says (as translated in the essentially literal way):

“Blessed is the kingdom of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, now and ever, and unto ages of ages.”

And the choir responds with “Amen.

      In the 1979 Book, the Standing Liturgical Commission provides what it judges to be a dynamic equivalent of this Orthodox Blessing as an Acclamation at the beginning of the Eucharist:

Priest: Blessed be God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

People: And blessed be his kingdom, now and for ever.  Amen.

      It is puzzling why the SLC did not simply use the regular translation of the Blessing, perhaps omitting the more Eastern “and unto ages of ages” and putting “for” in the usual Western way before “ever.”  What it produced is a confusing theological statement, made especially so by the use of the colon in the first line.  Why did the SLC choose not have the more traditional, “Blessed be God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,” which would have been a clear orthodox statement?  The wording that is in place now runs the risk of presenting God as one Person who has three names.  The colon suggests an equivalency, much like an “equal sign,” between what is before and after it, and thus “God” is the One known by the three Names “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”  At best it is difficult to know whether this is Unitarianism or Trinitarianism at the beginning of the Eucharist.

      Now let us examine the salutation or greeting which is given before the saying of the Collect of the Day.  In Rite One, as in the 1928 Book, it is as follows:

Priest: The Lord be with you.

People: And with thy spirit.

However, in Rite Two, as in the modern Roman Catholic Mass, the people say, “And also with you.”  There is no doubt whatsoever that an essentially literal translation of the original Latin is what is provided in the 1928 Book and in Rite One.  The dynamic equivalent rendering, “and also with you,” is based upon the supposition that this exchange is simply and only a Christian greeting, as between two friends meeting on the street and wishing one another a good day.  However, if the response, “and with thy spirit,” as has been and continues to be used in every liturgy in every language that we have had the opportunity to examine, is the correct translation, then there may well be within these words a theology of ordination and a specific prayer for the priest engaged in the sacramental ministry.  What if, as has been considered by a variety of theologians, the idea behind “and with thy spirit” is that there is in the soul of the priest the spiritual gift given to him at ordination and that here is a prayer for the arousal and use of this gift as he celebrates the Eucharist?  The dynamic equivalent, “and also with you,” does not permit even the contemplation of this possibility.


In conclusion

      The more one delves into the way in which ancient texts from Bible or Liturgy have been translated or paraphrased, especially in the contemporary language sections of the 1979 Book, the more one realizes that the SLC committed itself to “new” and experimental methods of translation.  It was so keen to be relevant to what it perceived was a new world, and so committed to be credible to a new generation which had lived through the 1960s, that it was far too ready to abandon much that had been regarded as solid learning and sacred content.  The result of its novelties and innovations is that what it produced as a Prayer Book does not have the internal coherence and stability to be a lasting Formulary for a Church in the Anglican tradition.

      There is in the description of the confusion in the crowd at the Cross of Jesus on Good Friday a cautionary tale.  Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?”  The crowd did not recognize this cry of dereliction from Psalm 22 and believed that he was calling for the help of Elijah!  The crowd confused the word for “God” with the word for “Elijah” because of their similarity.  The great danger is that in the over-use of dynamic equivalence, where mere similarity so often replaces exactitude, and where it is assumed that the translation of every text must be self-explanatory, without a need for a preacher or teacher, a confusion and an ignorance of this magnitude will creep into the life of the Church.

      [We bring to the notice of our readers that we have written together a book on the language of prayer which we commend to our readers: Neither Archaic Nor Obsolete.  The Language of common Prayer & Public Worship (The Prayer Book Society U.S.A., and Edgeways Books, England, ISBN 0 907839 75 4, 2003).]


Chapter Five – Covenant with God

      There are two Sacraments instituted by the Lord Jesus Christ as generally necessary for salvation.  One of these, Holy Baptism, is given once as the entry into the Christian life, whereas the other, the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion, is received often as the nourishment of the Christian life.  In the 1979 Book, there are two Rites with multiple options available within them for “the Holy Eucharist”; but there is one only Rite provided, in “modern language” and without internal choices, for “Holy Baptism.”  This lack of options suggests that the Standing Liturgical Commission (SLC) had at least as strong and as definite views about Baptism as it had about the Eucharist.  It may be noted, too, that the absence of any provision of a rite for Baptism, the foundational Sacrament, in the traditional language of prayer with its many connections with the historic Anglican ethos and in which God is addressed as “Thou/Thee,” suggests that the long-term aim of the SLC has been to remove such language from the life of the Episcopal Church, and in so doing to sideline or eliminate traditionalist members.

      Let us recall that Baptism is the entrance into the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church of God.  It is performed by the ministers of the Church in obedience to the command of the Head of the Church.  The risen Lord Jesus gave this commission to his disciples: “All authority in heaven and on earth is given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.  And, behold, I am with you always even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19–20).

      Thus, Baptism is to the New Covenant what circumcision was to the Old Covenant; and as the New Covenant abounds even more with the grace of God than does the Old Covenant, so Christian Baptism in the Name of the Holy Trinity is superior to circumcision.  So, too, although the outward and visible elements of the rite of baptism were taken over by the Church both from the Jewish rite for the admittance of Gentiles and from the rite of baptism administered by John the Baptist in the Jordan, it is, as a Christian rite in its inward and spiritual grace, transformed under the New Covenant into a bath (for the washing away of sins), a womb (for a new birth by the Holy Spirit), and a tomb (for death, burial, and resurrection with the Lord Jesus Christ) for believing and repentant sinners.

      When one takes a close look at the Rite for Baptism within the 1979 Book, one may come to the conclusion that it is a strange mixture of disparate elements:

1.  An attempt to produce a service that has the right “shape, in the sense of its being modeled on a reconstruction of the Baptismal service as it was celebrated in the primitive Church.  Here the same motivation is evident as in the creation of the Rite for the Holy Eucharist (see Chapter Three, above).

2.  A conformity in a general sense to the terminology of the science of anthropology and to its exploration of what is called “initiation”.

3.  A proclamation of some basic presuppositions of the amended religion that emerged from the revolutionary 1960s.

4.  A dumbing-down by over-simplification and a diminution by intent of the doctrines of human sin and of spiritual regeneration from the doctrines of the historic church, the classic Prayer Book, and the Articles of Religion.

Furthermore, as we have noted above, this Rite stands alone with no alternative written in traditional language or containing traditional Anglican doctrine concerning Baptism.  For those who use Rite I of the Holy Eucharist, for example, a mere substitution of “thou” for “you” in the administration of the 1979 rite of Baptism will not recreate the traditional service or much more than a shadow of it.


1.  The right Shape

      Let us begin by agreeing that there are, indeed, differences between the services for Baptism in the second and third centuries of the Christian era and those of, say, the fourteenth or fifteenth century in the West.  The service for Baptism in the various editions of The Book of Common Prayer represents an editing and reforming of the service of the medieval Church, although the sixteenth century Reformers and those who followed after them certainly kept in mind the teaching of Holy Scripture and the services used during the patristic period up to the fifth century or so.  In the traditional Prayer Book, there is no attempt to find a perfect model from the Early Church because the very theory of a single “perfect model” is foreign to the Reformers’ belief in various national “uses” within a Common Prayer tradition that belongs to the entire Christian Church throughout the world.  There is, however, in the classic Prayer Book tradition a determination to be faithful to the teaching of Scripture in the editing of the received Latin text of the service of Baptism, as it is rendered into English.

      Let us also agree that in general terms, allowing for differences among scholars and their reconstructions, the structure of the service of Holy Baptism in the 1979 Prayer Book conforms to the shape of the service used from about the third century in the Church situated in the Mediterranean.  In this shape, there is the presence of the Bishop, the presentation and examination of the candidates, the thanksgiving over the water, the Consecration of the Chrism (perfumed olive oil), the Baptism, the Anointing, and so on.  But let us note, too, that to recognize the presence of similar shapes is not necessarily to accept, as well, that the doctrinal content of the two services is the same.  The most that one can claim is that the doctrinal content of the 1979 text is (to use the expression from an earlier chapter) “dynamically equivalent” to that of, for example, The Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus.  In other words, the doctrine within the 1979 text, the contents that are poured into the shape, is whatever the SLC believed was appropriate and needed in the late twentieth century for people living in the industrial West to believe.  The fact that there is an authentic, primitive structure is, in the last analysis, merely of academic interest.

      Regrettably, too, the doctrinal content of the Baptismal Rite of 1979 is further weakened by its opening with the formula that also begins both Rite One and Rite Two of the Eucharist.  This rendering of the Blessing from the Orthodox Liturgy according to the principle of dynamic equivalency yields – “Blessed be God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit...”  Here, as in the Eucharist, this ambiguous wording runs the risk of setting the whole service in the context of an erroneous or weakened statement of the Christian Church’s doctrine of the Blessed Trinity, a weakness that is never corrected in the Catechism or in the other services of the 1979 Prayer Book by an expression of the dogma of the Trinity in classic theological terms.  Furthermore, this Trinitarian ambiguity, which we have discussed in some detail in the chapters on the Catechism and translation, is nowhere more critically important than in a service where the candidates are to be baptized “in the Name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”


2.  Initiation

      In the first sentence of the 1979 Prayer Book’s introductory explanation of “Holy Baptism,” entitled “Concerning the Service,” we read: “Holy Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body the Church” (298).  The key words to notice here are “full” and “initiation.”  For convenience, let us examine the second word first.  It is more or less an academic fact of life that the widespread use of the word “initiation” in ecumenical and liturgical circles since World War II is due to the influence of anthropology and the study of comparative religion, which have taken a great interest in the rites of initiation among tribal societies and in the multiple religions of the world.

      One gets an idea of how deeply these anthropological studies of initiation, along with their philosophical presuppositions, have penetrated even popular culture when a mother remarks that her teenager’s getting a driver’s license is “a rite of passage.”  Whether she means to or not, she is comparing her child’s visit to the Department of Motor Vehicles with the physical and mental ordeals of initiation that many tribal cultures impose upon their young before they are counted as adults.

      In England, the Liturgical Commission of the national Church has also included this word in its deliberations, but in doing so, it both recognized and admitted that the use of the concept of “initiation” in connection with the Sacrament of Baptism is something of an innovation, especially in the Latin West, for it is rarely used of the Sacrament of Baptism in the history of the Church.  The Commission wrote:

During the last fifty years the term ‘Christian Initiation’ has been widely used to indicate the cycle of rites which include baptism, confirmation and first communion.  In the early centuries the use of this term to describe Christian rites, though not unknown, was neither normal nor common.  Nevertheless it is a comprehensive expression and may therefore be useful, so long as it is not used to beg any theological questions about the relative importance of baptism and confirmation.  (The Alternative Service Book, A Commentary, 1980, p.105.)

Regrettably, within the Episcopal Church the term “Christian Initiation” has certainly been used to “beg theological questions” and as “a comprehensive expression.”  Indeed, if a comparison is made between the provisions and rubrics of the 1979 Book for Baptism and Confirmation, and those of The Alternative Service Book (1980) of the Church of England, that begging will be clearly seen.  In the American 1979 Book, Confirmation has no necessary connection with Baptism, while in the English Service Book of 1980, Baptism and Confirmation both appear under the heading of “Initiation Services.”

      Against the over-use of “initiation” as an all-inclusive expression of intention in the churches, various arguments may be offered.  For example, if a person is becoming a member of a community to which he has not previously belonged, or if a young person is being admitted into the responsibility of adulthood in a tribe, then the language of initiation is certainly appropriate.  Contemporary English commonly uses the word in this way to describe the ceremony of admittance into a Masonic lodge or into a college fraternity.  In these contexts, the “initiation” speaks quite adequately of an entrance into a new society.  However, if, as in Baptism, a human being is being forgiven by God, cleansed of sin, made a child of God by divine adoption, and received as an engrafted member of the Body of Christ and as an heir of eternal life, then “initiation” is not the right word.  It is insufficient to the task, especially on its own, of describing these wonders of grace and divine mercy because its reference is basically horizontal and communal, while what is achieved by regeneration is first of all a birth “from above” (John 3:3, Greek anothen).  An adequate description of Baptism must include a vertical and supernatural dimension, as well as a perspective that esteems the horizontal dimension of the human, earthly society of Christians.

      In regards to the other critical term employed in “Concerning the Service, the use of the adjective “full” asserts that the shape of the service (wherein there is baptism by water, the consecration of the Chrism, an anointing with oil, and possibly first communion – and all conducted by the Bishop on certain days of the Christian Year) is so comprehensive as not to require, as the classic Prayer Book does, the rite of Confirmation in order to complete the “initiation” when a child has reached an age of maturity.  In the 1979 Book, the rite of Confirmation loses its traditional character as the completion or final part of Baptism.  It becomes, instead, a separate rite in and of itself, optional in its nature, which has reference primarily to the reaffirmation of baptismal vows.  Tellingly, this new, reinvented form of Confirmation is printed in the section entitled, “Pastoral Offices,” rather than alongside “Holy Baptism,” as if to make clear that it has no essential connection with “Holy Baptism.”  (For an explanation of how the revised procedure according to the 1979 Book was supposed to operate, see the essay by Charles P. Price, “Rites of Initiation,” in The Occasional Papers of the Standing Liturgical Commission, No. 1. 1987.)

      In reality, and reality does assert itself despite our theorizing, the procedure followed in many American parishes since 1979 has been in all essentials the traditional Anglican practice.  The parish priest does the Baptisms of infants and adults, and the bishop visits now and again to do “confirmations.”  It seems that, for whatever reasons, people in parishes still desire Confirmation, not knowing or not caring about its demotion in the 1979 Prayer Book, attributing to it the status that it has always had in the classic Book of Common Prayer, where it is normally seen as the completion of Baptism and as a requirement before first Communion.


3.  The influence of the 1960s

      To anyone who lived through the 1960s it seems obvious that the members of the Standing Liturgical Commission were profoundly influenced in their mindset and language by their experience of that period of cultural revolution.  Nevertheless, many people forget, perhaps too conveniently in these times of ecclesiastical controversy, that a commitment to revision and re-invention was only one response among many to the influences of that time.  Significant groups of Americans (including Episcopalians, of course) responded in other ways, committing themselves to principles of moderation or to the preservation of tradition.  Nevertheless, given the working out of the cultural forces of the 1960s and of the years immediately following, it is not surprising that the SLC adopted the theory of dynamic equivalency for the translation of texts, preferred “contemporary language” to the traditional language of prayer, used the word “initiation” for the Sacrament of Baptism, described the making of the vows and promises at Baptism as “the Baptismal Covenant,” and included within the details of that covenant the easily recognizable social and cultural emphases of both the popular and religious culture of the 1960s.

      For example, the version of the Apostles’ Creed used in the declaration of the Faith that begins the section of the 1979 Baptismal service entitled “The Baptismal Covenant,” includes the erroneous sentence that we have discussed previously, concerning the unique and supernatural conception of Jesus by Mary.  It says that Jesus “was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.”  This form of words, taken in its most literal and natural way, commits the new Christian to an untrue statement that the conception of Jesus Christ is of the same nature and character as the conception, not only of all human beings, but also of all animals, for procreation is always dependent upon the presence of the power of God through the created order.  The Incarnation of the Son, which is his assuming of human nature in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is accomplished by the Holy Spirit directly, personally, and supernaturally.  Thus the candidate for baptism ought to state that Jesus was conceived “by” – directly “by” – the Holy Spirit.

      We saw earlier that the rendering “by the power of the Holy Spirit” within the Apostles’ Creed is one of the least successful products of the dynamic equivalent method of translation.  We should also recall, however, that themes of “power” and “empowerment” were integral parts of the politics and rhetoric of the 1960s.  Here these themes enter the life of the Church at the very moment of Baptism.  It would seem that it never occurred to the SLC, enthralled by the spirit and excitement of the age, that the traditional language of grace, of supernatural intervention, and of the Incarnation itself had its own authentic history and meaning.  Thus, when the members of the SLC attempted to put into practice the theory of dynamic equivalency, they more or less automatically expressed themselves in the idiom of “power” that was in use all around them.

      Other prominent themes of the 1960s were “peace,” “justice,” and “human dignity.”  So it is not surprising to find these two questions, asked and answered in this particular way, in “The Baptismal Covenant” (305):

Bishop: Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?

People: I will with Gods help.

Bishop: Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

People: I will with God’s help.

The desire for peace with God, and in God with our neighbors; the desire for God’s justice, according to his righteousness, so that his will may be done on earth as it is in heaven; the desire for God’s protection of the dignity of his creatures made in his image and likeness; and the desire that God will grant us both grace and participation in his mighty works are all Christian virtues.  We have no desire to minimize these important elements of the Christian life.  On the other hand, these questions and answers do minimize them by their utter vagueness and by their resort to the fashionable language of protest in the 1960s.  They could mean as much as the traditional moral teaching of the Holy Scripture and of the Church, or they could mean as little as the sloganeering of a pop song of the 1960s, “If I Had a Hammer,” which demanded “the hammer of justice, the bell of freedom, and a song about love between my brothers and my sisters, all over this land.”

      It is true, we freely admit, that these questions come after other questions about the Creed, membership in the church, repentance, faith, and the proclamation of the Good News.  However, the glittering generalities of love, justice, peace, respect, and dignity, treated primarily in these questions as man’s work in the world instead of God’s work in redeemed mankind, do, in fact, and as subsequent experience has demonstrated, open the door to the admission and inclusion within the life of the Church, as of primary importance, what can only be described as a distinct social, economic, and political agenda, native to the 1960s.  Furthermore, in their emphasis on man and his “right to choose” between good and evil, these questions encourage the distinctly 1960s view of individual, atomistic human freedom and moral agency that we have discussed previously.  Taken to its logical conclusion, this entirely unbiblical view of human freedom actively requires the rejection of the traditional moral order presumed in the Baptismal Service of the classic editions of The Book of Common Prayer.

      Certainly, the external evidence from the General Conventions of the 1980s and 1990s is that these themes from “The Baptismal Covenant” became the prominent and dominating themes of those Conventions.  The agendas of these Conventions were eaten up with an ever-expanding list of “human rights,” “environmentalist concerns,” and “peace and justice issues” derived from the political agenda of Western secularist society.  The two questions and answers quoted above have served the most radical members of the Episcopal Church, at the expense of most of the other members of the church, as a means of giving a religious patina to their political goals.

      The political activists have construed The Baptismal Covenant’s call to “serve Christ in all persons” and to love them as neighbors as a license for imposing their political will and their vision of a revised humanity on others.  They have extended the call to “respect the dignity of every human being” to include an obligation to accept and even to praise the individualistic and self-centered “choices” of others, whether in sexual preference, in the “right to choose” elective abortion, in the acceptance or denial of all or any part of Scripture, in the “right to same-sex marriage,” and so forth.  When they are through, nothing will remain of revealed Biblical morality, unless such morality is allowed as one barely tolerated choice among many others.  In 2004, this “respect for dignity” and concentration on “peace and justice issues,” has come to mean that in the Episcopal Church, under the claimed banner of “The Baptismal Covenant,” an actively homosexual man, living sexually with another man, can be consecrated an Episcopal bishop.

      For many Episcopalians, of course, the use of the expression “The Baptismal Covenant” is merely descriptive and neutral.  However, once again, the great emphasis put upon it by the SLC itself and by church leaders in the 1980s into the 1990s suggests that it is, for them at least, a code expression to imply something very important – a commitment to a Church that is radical in its mindset, agenda, and programs, conceived of as the only credible and acceptable way to make the old-line and main-line [Protestant] Episcopal Church relevant or useful in a post-1960s American society.

      Additionally, to those whose doctrine and devotion are rooted in the classic Prayer Book tradition of the Anglican Way, as well as formed by it, the use of “covenant” in the 1979 Book seems odd, in and of itself.  It seems to refer, not to a covenant as understood in the light of the biblical doctrine of grace, but rather to some sort of contract between two partners (one of whom is naturally somewhat more important than the other).  In the Scriptures, when God makes a covenant, he takes the initiative, he establishes it, and he sets its conditions.  There is no negotiation, as between two potential partners considering a merger of their businesses.  Thus when God has established a covenant, he both calls and enables human beings to enter into it.  He exercises his grace and power to accomplish this entry. “Those who respond do so by his inspiration, his grace, and in his strength.  The call of the Gospel, the New Covenant in Christ’s blood, is to accept Jesus Christ on the terms laid down by the heavenly Father of this same Jesus Christ.

      In a careful reading of the Baptismal Service in the 1979 Book, one cannot avoid the impression that the human being to be baptized is here envisaged as someone who is entering into a kind of contract with God, who obviously is the senior partner, but who nevertheless does allow some rights of negotiation to his human counterpart.  For, after all, in the spirit of the 1960s, the human partner has “dignity,” which is to be interpreted as a sense of self-esteem, rights of his own against all other persons, human or divine, and the freedom to choose what he will.  This reading of the 1979 service is supported by the wording of the definition of a covenant given in “The Outline of Faith” (Catechism, see above chapter 1): A covenant is a relationship initiated by God, to which a body of people responds in faith.”  We all know from experience and observation that in contemporary English “a relationship” is most often a temporary connection, easy to establish and easy to break, with a ring of impermanence about it, as it is constantly being re-negotiated.


4.  A dumbing-down

      The SLC, made it clear on many occasions that it did not approve of the presentation of the sinfulness of the human condition and the emphasis upon confession and penitence that are so obvious and essential in the classic Prayer Book Services, from Baptism, through Morning and Evening Prayer, to the Holy Communion.  It follows naturally, then, from the Commission’s often repeated objections to the traditional doctrines of sin and grace that there is only a minimal emphasis upon human sinfulness in the 1979 Baptismal service, as well as a reduced emphasis upon the need for full and real regeneration of the soul.  Let us be honest, the normal human being takes no pleasure in being told that he is sinful in the stark terms used by the Bible and by the classic Prayer Book.  By its dumbing-down and dilution of the doctrines of sin and redemption, the 1979 Book is pandering to this human weakness and attempting to gain favor or a larger “market share” with a “friendlier” form of Christianity, at least with some people.

      In the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, the candidate for Baptism is asked to renounce “the devil and all his works, the vain pomp and glory of the world, with all covetous desires of the same, and the sinful desires of the flesh.”  In the 1979 Book, the renunciation is of “Satan and the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God,” “the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God,” and “all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God.”  Thus, the 1928 renunciation is nothing more or less than the clear, traditional recognition, based on Holy Scripture, of the sinfulness of the world, the flesh, and the devil and of the need to set them aside with all of the temptations that arise from them.  Furthermore, it is assumed in this Service that each and every person suffers from original sin – that is, from a human nature that is biased towards sin and rebellion against God.

      In contrast, the content and context of the renunciation in the 1979 text can convey only a reduced sense of fallen human nature’s rebellion against God and sinful opposition to his will.  There is no doctrine of humanity’s original sin in the 1979 service.  Instead, there is a doctrine of “sinful desires” that each person must choose to resist.  Furthermore, in its over-emphasis on “covenant,” the 1979 text fails to communicate in any compelling way the link between the Christian’s love for God and obedience to his commandments, which link is taught much more clearly and emphatically in the 1928 service (compare John 14:15, “If ye love me, keep my commandments”).

      In the context of the reality both of original sin and of actual sin in the life of the candidate for Baptism, the dominant theme for the effect of Baptism on the repentant believer in the 1928 service is regeneration, a new birth by grace.  The foundation for this theme is in the words of Jesus Christ: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again [“from above” is an equally literal translation of what can be described as a gracious play on words], he cannot see the kingdom of God,” and “unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:3, 5).

      Thus, we find this prayer in the 1928 service: “Give thy Holy Spirit to this thy servant, that he may be born again, and be made an heir of everlasting salvation.”  Furthermore, after the Baptism the Minister declares: “Seeing now that this person is regenerate, and grafted into the body of Christ’s Church, let us give thanks unto Almighty God.”  The dominance of the theme of regeneration does not mean that other, complementary ways of understanding what God does in Baptism are neglected – e.g., those of dying, being buried with and rising with Christ, and of being washed.  However, the general sense of the entire service is that each human person is both out of communion with God and heading for hell unless he is born anew, from above, by the Spirit, and given the gift of communion with God in eternal life.

      In contrast, while all the right “pictures” of the character and effects of the Sacrament of Baptism are there in the 1979 service, these pictures remain awkwardly out of focus and do not communicate the same sense of eternity, of rescue, of heaven and hell, and of the majesty of God as both Judge and Savior so central to the content of the traditional rite of the Book of Common Prayer or to the other historic rites of the Christian Church.  Baptism is more domesticated and less awesome in the 1979 service, with its emphases on entry into the “Christian community” and on the individual person’s discernment of God’s purpose in this world, so that he or she can make it a better place.

      Few experiments are ever a total failure, but whatever the merits of the service of Holy Baptism in the 1979 Book may be, the re-invented rite is so different from the received service of the Anglican Way in structure, doctrine, and intention that it is hardly appropriate to serve as part of a formulary for a church that intends to continue in the Anglican Way.  Moreover, it has such obvious ties to the trends and vogues of the 1960s that it is already as dated as the slang or clothing of that decade, and not really suitable to be a formulary for the twenty-first century.  It is fast becoming an exercise in nostalgia for an imaginary “golden age of revolution,” in a way that the traditional rite never has been.  Mainstream traditionalists have no desire to re-live a previous century, let alone a previous decade.

      We will maintain, on historic principles, that anyone baptized according to the new Rite is baptized in the Threefold Name of the Blessed Trinity and, thus, it is a true Baptism.  We will, however, additionally maintain that the new Rite does not teach clearly or effectively the supernatural significance of what occurs in Baptism.  It fails the test that the traditional rite has passed for centuries.


A Unitary Festival with Baptism

      Although according to the 1979 Rite the actual service of Baptism may be performed at any time (with certain Sundays and holydays encouraged as “especially appropriate” occasions in “Additional Directions,” 312), a final re-invention to consider in relation to Baptism is the special place assigned to it, or at least to the renewal of Baptismal Vows, in “The Great Vigil of Easter,” observed on Easter Eve.  In a short but important essay published in 1984, Massey H. Shepherd Jr., a prominent member of the SLC, explained that the shape or structure of the 1979 Book owed much to the scholarly reconstruction of the liturgy, and especially of the Easter liturgy, in the ancient Church.  He wrote: “The unifying principle of most of the restoration or renewals of liturgy in the 1979 book from the ancient Church is the Paschal Mystery” (“The Patristic Heritage,” in The Historical Magazine of the Episcopal Church, Vol.53, 1984, pp. 22ff.).  He went on to explain that the whole Paschal Mystery was relived by the faithful in those early centuries once a year, on the anniversary of the Lord Jesus’ own Passover – the very center of the Christian Year, the festival of festivals, and the feast of feasts.

      In these reconstructions, the Pascha, as it is called from the Greek form of the Hebrew Pesach or “Passover,” was held to be a unitary festival, recalling the suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, as well as the gift of the Spirit to the Church on Pentecost.  Though centered on the events of Good Friday through Easter Day, with the most important rite being that of Easter Eve in the Great Vigil of Easter, what the scholars conceived of as one continuous festival actually lasted fifty days until Pentecost.  Thus they spoke of “the great Fifty Days” or the “fifty-day Sunday,” and of the seven Sundays of Easter (not “after” Easter as in the 1928 Book).

      Then, with the typical zeal of some scholars for the implementation of the latest theory, the liturgists required that the Paschal Candle remain lit until Pentecost to signify the fifty days of Easter.  Further, they explained that standing at all times, with no kneeling, is the “norm” for the celebration of this fifty-day Easter and, further, that the general confession of sins should be omitted because this fifty-day Sunday is a period of celebrating the resurrection, not of penitence for sins.

      Introducing such innovations into the Episcopal Church of the 1970s and 1980s was exciting to some, but worrying to others, whose piety and devotions were deeply rooted in the Christian Year as it exists in the historic Prayer Book, and whose practice included extinguishing the Paschal Candle at the reading of Acts 1 on the fortieth day, the feast of the Ascension.  The facts speak for themselves that the Early Church moved on from celebrating this unitary festival as it further developed the Church Year and identified not only Easter Day but also Ascension Day and Pentecost as specific feast days with their own significance.  This identifying of Ascension Day obviously had the effect of minimizing talk of the “great fifty days” because this period of fifty days was now necessarily divided into forty days plus ten.  So, too, the period of ten days after Ascension Day assumed a different ethos and spirituality from that of the forty days from Easter Day that led up to it, if only because the Church assigned an octave to the observance of Ascension Day.

      In terms of Baptism, there is nothing wrong and much right with preparing candidates during Lent for the receiving of this sacrament on Easter Eve.  However, the re-introduction of the Vigil of Easter, which the Roman Catholic Church has also revived, in no way logically or necessarily commits the Church to an academic reconstruction of the “fifty-day Sunday” as observed in the early centuries before the Christian Year seas fully developed.  The Anglican Way is not based on “primitivism” for its own sake, but it has always sought to follow the Early Church in what might he called her “maturity” – after she had had time to settle the Canon of Scripture, develop basic canon law, dogmatically express the great truths of the Faith, and develop the basic festivals of the Christian Year, under the guidance of the Holy Ghost.


Chapter Six – Services for Ordination

      During the Reformation of the sixteenth century, when many other national churches in Europe were not doing so, the Church of England. the ecclesia Anglicana, carefully and intentionally maintained what is called the “Threefold” or “Apostolic” Ministry.  The preservation of this ministry, in the three “holy orders” of Bishop, Presbyter/priest, and Deacon (“priest” is a shortened form of the word “presbyter,” from the Greek for “an elder”) is one of the important historic claims of the Anglican Way, intrinsic to the Anglican identity and to Anglican beliefs about what is necessary to be a complete, biblical Church of Jesus Christ, according to the pattern of the undivided Church of the first five centuries.

      Private theories of individual Anglicans aside, we know exactly what the Anglican Way has held to be true.  The XIXth Article of Religion declares, “The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in the which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ’s ordinance, in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same.”  If we turn, then, to the Preface attached to every traditional edition of the Anglican Ordinal, “The Form and Manner of Making, Ordaining, and Consecrating Bishops, Priests, and Deacons,” we find this explanation of who are the due ministers according to Christ’s ordinance given to his Apostles: “It is evident unto all men, diligently reading Holy Scripture and ancient Authors [the Church Fathers], that from the Apostles time there have been these Orders of Ministers in Christ’s Church, – Bishops, Priests, and Deacons.”  We find this connection between Articles and Ordinal confirmed in the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral of the nineteenth century, in which the Anglican Churches insisted that the shared preservation of the ancient ministry was a condition of any unions with other Churches, as a basic requirement for full, visible, intercommunion.

      The definitive nature of the Preface to the Anglican Ordinal, as an official, objective statement of Anglican belief cannot be overstressed in considering the historic Anglican doctrine of the ministry.  The Ordinal is, in fact, an Anglican formulary in its own right.  It is not actually a part or a sub-division of the traditional Book of Common Prayer, but rather a small, separate book bound together with The Book of Common Prayer, usually after the Psalter.  Thus, in none of the editions of The Book of Common Prayer, from the first English edition of 1549, up to and including the 1928 American edition, are the services for making deacons, ordaining priests, or consecrating bishops included as just another section of the Prayer Book.

      When we examine the 1979 Prayer Book of the Episcopal Church, however, we find that these services, from the perspective of the Standing Liturgical Commission (SLC) and the General Convention, are no longer considered or treated as a separate, defining formulary of the Anglican Way.  Instead, the services of ordination are simply included in the body of the 1979 Prayer Book itself, sandwiched between “Pastoral Offices” (Confirmation, Marriage, Burial, etc.) and the Psalter, in a section entitled “Episcopal Services” – so called because they are all conducted by a bishop.

      We encounter, once again, the inconsistency and confusion so typical of the SLC’s efforts to re-invent the services of the Church.  Confirmation (413), despite its de-emphasis in the 1979 Prayer Book is also an “episcopal service,” to be administered by a bishop, but it is included in “Pastoral Offices,” rather than in “Episcopal Services.”  Thus, “Episcopal Services” is not a compilation of all the services performed by a bishop, but really a replacement for the Anglican Ordinal, which is still the standard in most of the other Anglican churches in the world.  In this way, the long-standing Anglican tradition of treating the Ordinal as a separate formulary, in common use among the various Anglican national churches, has been set aside in order to conform the services of ordination to the theoretical construct behind the entire 1979 Book, gathering together and rationalizing all of the services approved by the Episcopal Church, so as to redefine and extend the meaning of the term “Common Prayer.”  This new definition seems to mean little more than “such services as have been approved by authority in the Episcopal Church in the United States of America,” regardless of what the rest of the Anglican Communion or the rest of the Christian Church has done or is doing.

      Regrettably, the incorporation of the three services of ordination into the general text of the 1979 Prayer Book itself is not the only innovation to be found within these “Episcopal Services.”  Here are some others, based on a comparison of the traditional Anglican Ordinal (1662 or 1928) and the Episcopal Services of 1979:

1.  In all three services, it is assumed that women will be candidates for ordination, and so masculine nouns and pronouns are italicized to allow for their replacement by feminine ones.

2.  As elsewhere in the 1979 Prayer Book, there is a definite attempt to model the shape, and to a lesser extent the content, of the services on primitive services for ordination, as reconstructed from the writings of Hippolytus and other writers from before the General Councils.

3.  There is the typical 1979 commitment to the theory of dynamic equivalency in the rendering of acclamations, greetings, Creeds, and Scriptures.

4.  There is a general reduction of detail in the 1979 Episcopal Services, as compared with the traditional Anglican Ordinal, in the presentation of the ministry’s spiritual vocation to the cure of souls.  The re-written “Litany for Ordinations” (548), on the other hand, introduces the same sort of “peace and justice” issues, in the naïve manner of the 1960s, that we have discussed earlier in regards to the “Baptismal Covenant.”

      Let us consider these innovations and their effect, then, as we also note that, significantly, there is no provision for ordinands who have a preference for the traditional language of prayer and spirituality, as that language was used in all previous Anglican ordinals.  The SLC and the General Convention have made certain that only their own, approved version of “contemporary language” is available for use in these modern Episcopal Services that replace the Anglican Ordinal in the 1979 Prayer Book.


Women in orders

      The basic facts are not in dispute.  In the 1970s, the Episcopal Church came under great pressure from the feminist movement, as it existed both within and outside the Church, to move quickly to the ordaining of women.  The first such ordinations took place illegally, without the agreement of the General Convention, in July, 1974, in Philadelphia.  Advocates of the ordination of women, in a strange mixture of religious and political language, called these illegal ordinations a prophetic act of civil disobedience.  Subsequently, the General Convention of 1976 went ahead to approve the ordination of women and to legitimize retroactively the Philadelphia ordinations.  On this basis, provision was made in the wording of the ordination services in the 1979 Prayer Book for the ordaining of women to all three orders of the ministry.

      Even many of the warmest supporters of the ordination of women will admit that this reactive, somewhat haphazard method of adopting these changes in eligibility for ordination may not have been the wisest or most charitable way of doing so, even before theological objections to the new practice are considered.  Such was the pressure in and upon the Episcopal Church in those days to “move forward,” however, that every suggestion that the American Church should wait for an agreement concerning this innovation before rushing into its implementation, whether within itself, within the Anglican Communion of Churches, or with the other households of the Christian Church, was brushed aside as irrelevant.

      Indeed, many advocates of the ordination of women felt that the vocation of the Episcopal Church was to be a torch-bearer and leader in achieving their vision of “full rights” for women within the wider Church, to stand alongside the other rights that women now enjoyed in Western society in general.  One can acknowledge the general good intentions of such people, without necessarily agreeing with either their feminist vision or their revised theology.  At the same time, however, one can also observe that their cause and their methods had less to do with the precedents of the historic Christian understanding of Scripture, the traditional Christian doctrine of holy orders based on that understanding, or the received Christian polity used in the past to reach a common mind on matters of faith and action, than they did with the secular human rights movement that developed after World War II.

      By and large, the members of the Episcopal Church universally agreed that human rights were both God-given and good.  What divided them was what they meant by “rights.”  On the one hand were those who held to a traditional Christian doctrine of rights – the demands of the righteousness of God on all mankind to do right on the basis of the divine revelation of the Divine Will.  From this perspective, what God had not commanded in Scripture, such as the ordination of women, could not be made a right.  On the other hand, were those influenced by the secular doctrine of rights, which searched for rights in the autonomous needs, desires, and aspirations of each individual person.  Unfortunately, this second view of rights was often organized around a model of conflict, in which one person has to seize his or her rights from another.  Under this construction of rights, it seemed only natural to identify a right to the ordination of women and then to seize this right politically from those who “stood in the way.”

      Furthermore, it was not long after the arrival of women in the pulpit, of women at the altar, and of women giving the blessing, that the cry increased for a language of prayer and worship that did justice to the presence of women in the sacred Ministry.  What followed this additionally identified right to an “inclusive language” of theology and worship (defined on feminist or androgynous terms) was the effort to produce just such a language, first in speaking and writing about human beings, and then in speaking and writing about God.  The first stage of this effort can be seen in the 1979 Prayer Book, as in the translation of the Psalter or here in Episcopal Services, as well as in many of the newly translated versions of the Bible that began to appear at that time.  We see the next stage, in a much more pronounced and obvious way, in the additional liturgies and services approved by General Convention in the 1980s and 1990s.

      What the people of the Episcopal Church, and of the Anglican Communion in general, are only now beginning to discover, however, is the great danger inherent, no matter how well-intentioned, in the substitution of politically conceived rights and a new religious language based in secular ideology, for the traditional rights and duties grounded in Scripture and a religious language rooted in the developed theological doctrine of the Christian Church in history.  It may seem merely a clever political maneuver, for example, to get around the obstacle of one’s fellow Episcopalians and their theological objections to the ordination of women by voting to italicize the personal pronouns in the new ordination services, so that they may be applied equally to men or women.  It may seem daring or avant-garde to permit experimental liturgies that invoke “God the Mother,” even though our Lord Jesus Christ taught us to pray “Our Father.”

      Then one day, the newest “right” is discovered, in the political and ideological way now enshrined in the 1979 Prayer Book, by a championing of the aspirations of people living a homosexual lifestyle.  The suggestion is made that the word “marriage” must now and henceforth be understood as inclusive of same-sex partners, or that the “wholesome example” required of bishops (Episcopal Services, 517) can be provided by a man living sexually with another man, as well as it can be provided by the faithful “husband of one wife” (1 Tim. 3:2).  The solemnization of same-sex ‘marriages,” the blessing of homosexual partnerships, and the ordination of self-identified homosexual persons become the new prophetic acts on behalf of those demanding their rights to sexual fulfillment with the person of their choice.  And the General Convention, despite the objections of those who “stand in the way,” despite the protests of Churches outside the General Convention’s jurisdiction, moves to approve this new sexual right, retroactively and for the future.

      The vast number of the proponents of the ordination of women and most people who have become accustomed to using the 1979 Book will say, “But we never had any intention of legitimizing homosexuality,” and “The ordination of women and homosexuality are completely unconnected.”  In their minds, of course, these objections are quite true.  What they do not see, however, is that the ordination of women was imposed upon the unwilling, both within the Episcopal Church and in the wider Anglican Communion, by the hardball tactics of secular politics, only this time, in the matter of homosexuality, they are on the losing side of the vote, and their objections from Scripture and Christian history are going unheard.  Moreover, the confused and open-ended doctrine of the 1979 Prayer Book, the re-imagined formulary by which they live, along with an ever-expanding vocabulary of inclusive language, leaves the Episcopal Church vulnerable to any proposition able to gain the majority of votes at a single General Convention.

      Those who object to the beatification of sexual relations of any sort other than what God blesses and commends in the Bible will now also find themselves subject to what has come to be called “the doctrine of reception.”  This doctrine was originally invented by the Eames Commission to calm those traditional Anglicans around the world who oppose the ordination of women as a departure from received Christian doctrine and discipline.  It claims that the ordained ministry of women is in a process of reception and testing within the Anglican Communion, so that all Anglicans must be patient and gracious to allow this experiment to proceed smoothly until its failure or success can be discerned as the will of God.  This process, moreover, is not a method of discussion, until a Christian consensus is reached.  Rather, it is an actual experimentation, forging ahead with a course of action that may or may not be acceptable to God and that is certainly believed to be a serious error in religion by many faithful members of the Church.

      In addition, there has never been any time limit or method of discernment attached to this doctrine of reception.  Some have suggested that the process may go on for centuries, although one suspects, given events so far, that it will continue only until such time as the opponents of the ordination of women knuckle under, go elsewhere, or die.  Certainly, there is little evidence that the leadership of the Episcopal Church has ever accepted this doctrine as anything other than a political means to appear fair-minded.  After all, the Episcopal Church now actually requires all officeholders to commit to this doctrine of the ordination of women, as if it were a permanent doctrine of the Christian faith, and of course, the rites and contents of “Episcopal Services” in the 1979 Prayer Book were designed to support it.  [See further the booklet by Peter Toon on the Eames doctrine of reception entitled Reforming Forwards?, published by the Latimer Trust of London, England (, 2004.]

      Thus, we enter a new experiment in sexuality, despite protests from Anglicans all over the world that the “doctrine of reception” was never intended to apply to sexual practices.  On the “cutting edge” once again, the Episcopal Church has already begun its own period of sexual discernment and reception.  The most recent General Convention granted its permission to the several dioceses to experiment with the blessing of same-sex unions, and both the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops approved the consecration to the episcopate of a man living a homosexual life.  The perpetrators of this detour from biblical morality have already begun to ask those who object to be patient and gracious during this time of reception of a new definition of conjugal love, until such time as its success or failure can be discerned as the will of God.

      We do not mean to taunt those who have used the “doctrine of reception” to get their own way, and now find it turned against them.  We are injured, too, by the same weapon.  We do, however, ask them to consider what recent events have made clear – the essential absurdity of acting today on the strength of the theory that some day in the future God might approve of what we are doing retroactively, as the General Convention approved the illegal Philadelphia ordinations.  All other Christian reformations in history have looked back to the Scriptures and to the model of the faithful Church for correction and renewal.  There has never been before a “reformation forward,” based on an as yet non-existent principle to be accepted or rejected in an unspecified future yet to occur.  Nor is there any basis in orthodox doctrine for imagining that God may one day change his mind about the order of his Church or the morality of his people.

      If nothing else, the Episcopal Church’s revision of its services of ordination in 1979 to include women as candidates, against that great day when God might approve the various innovations that the General Convention has made in its revised formulary and in its revised life, is a continuing source of mischief and disunity.  This replacement formulary makes experimentation in faith and practice an established principle in the Episcopal Church with all kinds of consequences.


The right Shape

      We have examined together previously the near obsession on the part of the SLC to introduce what it believed to be the right shape, structure, and content of the Eucharist in both Rite One and Rite Two.  We saw the same forces at work in the revision of “Holy Baptism.”  Since there is within the SLC’s favorite source, the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus, evidence of how ministers were ordained in Hippolytus’ region of the primitive Church, it follows naturally that the SLC chose to edit the received forms of service from the Anglican Ordinal (1549–1928) with great vigor in favor of their reading of Hippolytus.  They took great pains to include in the new ordination services what they saw as the necessary requirements and insights to be garnered from this ancient source.  In his commentary upon the ordination services, Marion J. Hatchett informs the reader with respect to the 1979 services that:

The ordination rites of this present revision restore the association of prayer with the laying on of hands.  The prayer of ordination at the ordination of a bishop is based ... upon the prayer of Hippolytus.  The order in which the rites appear in the book [1979] has been reversed so that the ordination of the bishop comes first, as in some ancient sacramentaries, emphasizing the centrality of this ministry.

And Dr. Hatchett goes on to tell us that:

The rites of ordination are intended to be used in local churches for individual candidates [rather than in cathedrals for multiple candidates].  In each rite representatives of the laity, and of each of the other three orders of ministers, are given opportunities to function in manners appropriate to their orders, and the newly ordained person participates in the climactic Eucharist.  The diaconate is not depicted as an inferior ministry in the new rite, but restored to its ancient dignity.  The ordained ministry is depicted as a ministry within rather than over the church.  The addresses, examinations and prayers of consecration depict more fully and more clearly the order being conferred (Commentary on the American Prayer Book, New York, 1980, p. 512).

      One might have hoped that the SLC and their liturgical consultants would have demonstrated, not just here, but throughout the 1979 Prayer Book, the same enthusiasm for the Bible and the historic Anglican formularies that they have lavished so freely on Hippolytus.  Nevertheless, some of these claims need only be taken as those of someone with an ardent attachment to a new product.  As we shall see, however, there is further evidence in certain areas of these ordination rites of the same dumbing-down and diminishment of doctrine that one encounters elsewhere in the 1979 Book.


Dynamic Equivalency

      As in the daily and Sunday services, as well as in the occasional offices, the rites provided in “Episcopal Services” represent a single, dominant theory of translating or rendering ancient texts into English, dynamic equivalence – the effort to translate texts by ideas or concepts, rather than literally, word-for-word.  Some of the major points made in the earlier chapter on language and meaning apply here, as well.

      In the version of the Creed used in all three ordination services, the only-begotten Son of God is, once again, said to receive his human nature in the womb of the Virgin Mary “by the power of the Holy Spirit,” rather than “by the Holy Spirit” – i.e., by the Holy Spirit’s personal presence and not through the laws of nature as with all the rest of us.  This misrepresentation of the fact of the Incarnation is contrary to the most basic duties of the ordained ministry to teach and guard the Faith.  It is simply amazing, therefore, that this error in doctrine should be an actual element of a service of ordination.

      Likewise, the same ministry and the supposedly tested and examined candidates for it, led by the Bishop, as in all of his (or now, in the 1979 regime, her administrations), begins each of the three services of ordination with the distorted, inadequate rendering of the Blessing from the Orthodox Liturgy that we saw opening other 1979 rites: “Blessed be God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”  In doing so, they gut the declaration of conformity to the faith required at every ordination, or, perhaps, they merely render it self-contradictory.  The version of the oath from “The Ordination of a Priest” will serve for all three orders: “I solemnly declare that I do believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation; and I do solemnly engage to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church” (526).

      Here is the problem.  The minimalistic statement of the opening acclamations, in their rendering of the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity according to the principle of dynamic equivalence, can easily be taken to mean as little as “God equals Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”  If so, then God the Father, and God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost are no longer considered in truth as the Three Eternal Persons of the One Godhead, but as, in falsehood, just three names for a single supernatural Person.  God’s Word Written in Scripture, however, leaves no room either for this minimalism or for the wrong conclusions to be drawn from it.

      Consider what is called “the Apostolic blessing”: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all.  Amen” (2 Corinthians 13:14).  In this blessing, the Three Divine Persons are neither run together, obscuring the Personhood of each of Them, nor is their any danger of the false assumption that They are merely names for a single God or that they operate apart from One Another as three separate “Gods.”  The Blessed Trinity has been the Church’s Faith from the beginning, and if the people of the first century could understand it with faith and joy, the people of the twenty-first century ought to be able to understand it without “dynamic equivalence.”

      The Word of Scripture, then, is contradicted or devalued at the very beginning of a service in which an oath of conformity to Scripture is exacted.  The same contradiction or devaluation, however, is a part of the revised 1979 formulary of the Episcopal Church, making it an official part of the doctrine, discipline, and worship that the ordinand must also swear to uphold.  If the new minister is to keep the first part of his vow, he must begin by disobeying the second part of it.  What results is either the kind of disorder in which words do not mean very much, or a permanent crisis of consciousness for the minister who believes that the Holy Scriptures are the Word of God and must take precedence over the murky teaching of the 1979 Prayer Book.

      Dynamic equivalence further weakens the 1979 Prayer Book as a formulary by rendering the response to the greeting “The Lord be with you” essentially formless and empty.  “And also with you” is simply not a translation, good or bad, of the Latin words translated “And with your (or, thy) spirit” in previous English liturgies and in most of the Western liturgies of the world today.

      At an ordination, there is a special opportunity for the meaning of the traditional “And with your spirit” to be made plain.  The new minister, having just received the gift of the Holy Spirit for his ordained ministry, turns and greets the people by saying “The Lord be with you,” acknowledging in this way that true worship is only possible by the presence and by the grace of the Lord God.  The people respond, “And with your spirit,” affirming and celebrating with the new minister the gift of the Holy Spirit now at work in him for ministry.

      This lovely act of Christian mutual recognition and support is more than it appears to be.  It is also a joint statement by the clergy and the laity of the way in which the authority of holy orders resides in God the Holy Spirit, and not in any human capacity or merit.


Dumbing down and revising

      As a final example of the “dumbing-down” or over-simplification of the lucid teaching and description of God’s proper order for his Church, required in a useable formulary and missing in “Episcopal Services,” we draw your attention to the portion of the ordination services known as “The Examination.”  Here the Bishop addresses the candidate for whatever order, asking various questions about the purpose and duties of the ministry he is about to enter.

      There is a grandeur and a brutal honesty about the Examinations in the traditional Anglican Ordinal.  When, for example, the Bishop examines a priest-to-be, there is a genuine sense that the ordinand is being invited to stop the proceedings if he has a shred of doubt that he is called to these obligations.  In the address, the Bishop warns: “The Church and Congregation whom you must serve, is his [Christ’s] Spouse, and his Body.  And if it shall happen that the same Church, or any Member thereof, do take any hurt or hindrance by reason of your negligence, ye know the greatness of the fault, and also the horrible punishment that will ensue” (1928, 540).

      Reading the equivalent, really replacement, passages in the addresses and examinations of “Episcopal Services,” there is no communication whatsoever of the intimate, personal obligation a minister bears to Jesus Christ and to his Church, or of the peril to himself with which anyone enters the ministry.  What we get in the new ordination services is much more like a “job description,” friendly but flat.

      Similarly, the Bishop asks a candidate for the priesthood, “Will you be ready, with all faithful diligence, to banish and drive away from the Church all erroneous and strange doctrines contrary to God’s Word?” and “Will you be diligent in Prayers, and in reading the Holy Scriptures, and in such studies as help to the knowledge of the same, laying aside the study of the world and the flesh?” (1928, 542).  It is not so much, then, that what is found in the 1979 text is wrong, as it is that the content never rises to the spiritual and moral heights of the historic Ordinal.  There is nothing like the historic Ordinal’s high doctrine of Holy Scripture, let alone a call to banish false doctrine, upon pain of “horrible punishment.”  Nor is there any sense of a minister’s spiritual duty to abandon the “study of the world,” especially when the world is made a major feature of the new Litany for Ordinations.  It is difficult to imagine the SLC thinking that the traditional questions and warning are relevant or meaningful in their conception of Christianity and the world.

      Thomas C. Oden who converted from liberalism to orthodoxy wrote:

When a theologian [bishop] forgets the distinction between heterodoxy and orthodoxy, it is roughly equivalent to a physician forgetting the difference between disease and health, or axe and scalpel, or a lawyer forgetting the difference between criminality and corpus juris.  Yet it is just this distinction that theology has over the last two centuries of alleged progress systematically forgotten to make.  A long chain of regrettable results has followed for pastoral care, biblical studies, preaching, Christian ethics, and the mission of the church (After Modernity... What?, Grand Rapids, 1990, p.59.).


In Conclusion

      It is an actual, not a hypothetical “chain of regrettable results” that has brought us to this reconsideration of the 1979 Prayer Book, of which “Episcopal Services” is an integral part.  At the best, whatever the merits of the new ordination rites, “Episcopal Services” must be called an experimental replacement for the Ordinal.  Neither the “Episcopal Services,” nor the 1979 Prayer Book that contains it, can stand as a formulary of the Anglican Way.  A true formulary cannot be open-ended in doctrine or careless in its statements of essential dogmatic truths.  Nor can a true formulary set aside the duty of the Church’s ministry to defend the people of the Church from false doctrine and to preserve the complete Gospel for those yet to be saved.  Further, an order of services expressly committed to the ordination of women cannot be part of a rule of faith because in 1979, even as now, and even under the doctrine of reception, the rule of faith that might include the ordination of women lies in the future, after further discussion, testing, and discrimination.


Chapter Seven – What is Common Prayer?

      The word “common” is used in a variety of ways.  In modern American English, many of the possible meanings of “common” are dismissive or pejorative.  This negative shift follows naturally, one supposes, from the American fascination with the unique and exceptional.  To be called “one of a kind,” for instance, is most often high praise.  Thus, when typical Americans hear the word “common,” their likely first response is to think of things “ordinary,” “unrefined,” “plain,” “overly familiar,” or “second rate.”  A “common criminal,” for example, may be disruptive or dangerous, but not really very interesting in himself.  A “common error” suggests the sort of mistake that many people make, without standing out from the crowd.  A “common cold” is the same old malady that afflicts the general public at certain times of the year.

      When we turn to “Common Prayer,” however, we enter a different realm entirely, a realm of kinship, cooperation, and sharing.  In this sense, “common” refers to the property and interests of an entire community, viewed as having a greater identity than the mere sum of its individual parts, making it possible to share such things as “the common good” or “a common culture.”  A “common friend” is not a second-rate friend, but a friend to many, perhaps to all the members of an identifiable group, all of whom hold their friend in equal esteem and mutual respect.  When Christians claim “a common Lord,” they mean the Lord God that they share “in common,” who unites them in his majesty, who gives them an identity in their joint obligation to obey him, and who is deserving of the love of all, without exception.

      It should be apparent, then, when the term “Common Prayer” is used in the Anglican Way, that no hint of the undistinguished or inferior is intended.  The texts of the services and rites used before Almighty God to address him in worship are surely intended to be of high, rather than of low quality, excellent in every way humanly possible, as the words and worship that are “held in common” by the whole people of the Church reach out to the infinite excellence of God.  “Common” in this sense, moreover, with its element of witness and of participation in the adoration of God, is characteristically the opposite of “private,” whether “private” means “out of sight” or “that which is the sole property of an individual person.”

      Since the basic meaning of “common” in the vocabulary of religious English is “that which the people possess together in relation to God and in which they unite as his people,” “Common Prayer” is the public worship of God, in which the people of God unite in the public place of worship, the consecrated building, using an approved form of service, under the godly governance of a legitimate ecclesiastical authority, within the universal Church of Jesus Christ.  And when the Common Prayer is that of a specific jurisdiction of the Church of God – e.g., a national church – then the same basic rites or services are used everywhere within that jurisdiction, with minimal local variation.  We should note here, lest there be any misunderstanding, that Common Prayer does not preclude or forbid godly devotions of a local nature, but only the substitution of such devotions for the forms of worship in which the whole Church, or a particular jurisdiction of the whole Church, finds its shared identity as a coherent people of God.  Common Prayer must always come first, and then local devotions when the common work of prayer is done.

      To use an analogy from music, we can compare Common Prayer to a hymn sung in harmony.  Both identity and individuality operate at the same time in such a harmony, without the confusion or disorder that would come from the singing of several different hymns at once.  Common Prayer leaves room for both shared and individual identity, as people attempt together the same well-defined acts of worship, united in their exercise of their particular gifts.  In contrast, as we shall suggest in the next chapter, multiple-service forms, with the best will in the world, have the tendency to degenerate into cacophony.  Ironically, as we shall also note below, the loss of true common prayer can also diminish the value of other sorts of prayer, local or private, because there is no longer a common model, thought, knowledge, faith, or standard by which to evaluate and improve them.  To use another analogy, it is the difference between building a good, sound house from a blueprint and trying to build a house with no fixed plan in mind at all.


The Book of the Common Prayer

      Before the Reformation and at the time of the publishing of The Book of the Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments and other rites and ceremonies of the Church: after the use of the Church of England (1549), the term “common prayer” in England usually referred to the Daily Offices said by the clergy and some of the laity in the chancel of each and every parish church.  This ancient form of daily prayer was not the private office of the clergy (although the members of the clergy prayed on behalf of the people, as well as themselves), but intended as the public gathering of the people of the parish to make the worship of Almighty God a part of their everyday lives.  It was “common prayer,” offered to God in Latin until 1549 and in English thereafter.

      The long title of the English Prayer Book of 1549 was, despite its first appearance, actually a simplification of the services of the late medieval period.  The title proclaimed that this one Prayer Book replaced a library of older service hooks, such as the Breviary, the Missal, the Manual, etc., that had been necessary to perform the services of the Church before the Reformation according to one of the five local Latin “uses” to be found in different parts of the realm.  The Sarum (Salisbury) Use may have been the most influential in the preparation of The Book of the Common Prayer, but the goal of the Prayer Book was explained in its Preface: “Now from henceforth, all the whole realm shall have but one use.”  With a Bible and a reformed Prayer Book, one could perform in English, in a shared form throughout the nation, all of the necessary services of the Christian Church.

      A further analysis of the original title will also show that its wording, The Book of the Common Prayer after the use of the Church of England, presupposes that there is a form of prayer “common” to the entire Christian Church throughout the world and throughout history, in whatever language the public, regular prayers of the Church are said.  What Archbishop Cranmer offered in English was meant to be a conservative document – the presentation of that “common” (understood as “universal”) prayer of the Christian Church, after the use of a particular national church, the Church of England.

      In 1552, the second definite article was removed from the title of the Prayer Book so that its title began, The Book of Common Prayer.  From that time forwards, the expression “Common Prayer” gradually came to mean all of the public services in which the people united, taken together, and especially Morning and Evening Prayer, the Litany, and Holy Communion.  The expression “Common Prayer” also came to mean the actual book that contained these services, for they were found nowhere else at that time, in an age when printing was unchallenged by today’s digitized, electronic media.  In this way; the expression “Common Prayer” in everyday conversation came to mean both a specific text containing services used in all parishes, and also the assembling and uniting of the clergy and people to use those services in public prayer and worship.

      In the official Book of Homilies (1562) of the Church of England, there are several sermons that deal with prayer.  One of these is entitled, An Homily wherein is declared that Common Prayer and Sacraments ought to be administered in a tongue that is understanded of the hearers.  After explaining two kinds of prayer, the silent prayer of the heart and vocal, private prayer, the Homily turns to a third kind of prayer:

The third sort is Public or Common.  Of this prayer speakerh our Saviour Christ when he saith, If two of you shall agree upon earth upon any thing, whatsoever ye shall ask, my Father which is in heaven shall do it for you; for; wheresoever two or three be gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them. ... By the histories of the Bible it appeareth that Public and Common Prayer is most available before God; and therefore it is much to be lamented that it is not better esteemed among us, which profess to be one body in Christ....  Let us join ourselves together in the place of Common Prayer, and with one voice and one heart beg of our heavenly Father all those things which he knoweth to be necessary for us.  I forbid you not to private prayer, but I exhort you to esteem Common Prayer as it is worthy.

      Here, Common Prayer is that praise and supplication offered to God the Father with one heart and one voice by the one body of Christ, gathered in the place appointed for worship and using the appointed prayer book, The Book of Common Prayer.  It is important to note that private prayer is distinct from Common Prayer, for it may occur anywhere at any time outside the act of Common Prayer, or it may occur before and after Common Prayer, as well as within it.  The Common Prayer is not a replacement for the thoughts and prayers of our hearts, but rather a way of cultivating those thoughts and prayers by a corporate life of worship that forms them and directs them in a trustworthy way that gives certain glory to God.

      In the Fifth Book of The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, written towards the end of the Elizabethan era, Richard Hooker, the distinguished apologist for the Church of England against Puritanism, defended and commended the official English version of “Common Prayer” as found in The Book of Common Prayer (the Elizabethan edition of 1559) against the criticisms of the Puritans.  For him, as for the homilist, “Common Prayer” is the worship of Almighty God with a single heart and voice by the one body of Christ, come together in one appointed place, using a language of prayer and doctrine that all understand, as it is maintained and preserved in a rite/text of the English Prayer Book.

      In contrast, Hooker argues that the preaching services of the Puritans and Presbyterians are not “common prayer.”  He does not deny, of course, that the Christian people that attend such preaching services genuinely hear the Word of God and give assent to prayer offered to heaven by a godly preacher.  Nevertheless, such services, because they are “common” to one congregation alone, and not common to the whole Church, offer little protection against un-godly preachers, who may twist the Gospel or the prayers that they offer to suit their own theories or needs.  Nor is there any guarantee that such services will mold the lives of the people who attend them, however pious, according to the pattern of the whole life of the Church of Jesus Christ, because they are conducted apart from the model of the Church’s universal or “common” worship.

      In reference to the consecrated church building and its association with common prayer, Hooker wrote:

Concerning the place of assembly, although it serve for other uses as well as this..., the principal cause thereof must needs be in regard of Common Prayer...: that there we stand, we pray, we sound forth hymns unto God, having his angels intermingled as our associates....  But of all helps for due performance of this service the greatest is that very set and standing order itself, which framed with common advice, hath both for matter and form prescribed whatever is herein publicly done.  No doubt from God it hath proceeded, and by us must be acknowledged a work of his singular care and providence, that the Church hath evermore held a prescript form of Common Prayer, although not in all things everywhere the same, yet for the most part retaining still the same analogy (V., xxv.).

For Hooker “that very set and standing order itself,” proceeding from the providence of God, is the Church’s Common Prayer, and in the case of the Church of England, The Book of Common Prayer (1559) authorized by Queen Elizabeth I.

      One of the basic characteristics of the traditional English (and Anglican) understanding and form of Common Prayer has been that there is, in an Anglican formulary, one only rite provided for each of the public services of the Church and that there is no provision for extempore prayer by the minister in those regular, public service, apart from the prudential use of Holy Scripture and the occasional prayers provided within the Prayer Book itself.  While the appointed readings from the Holy Scripture change daily, the actual service itself is virtually identical, day by day and week by week.  There is no optional rite for Holy Communion or Baptism (apart for provisions allowing the abbreviation of the regular forms of service at the sickbed and in times of imminent death) or for the Daily Services of Morning and Evening Prayer.  Consequently, Common Prayer also naturally developed the extended meaning of a single common text for each of the rites of the Church, not only as administered in a particular parish church, but as faithfully and dutifully administered in all the parish churches and other places of worship in the Church of a particular nation.

      This understanding of the founding of a national church’s common identity in the common texts of its worship lies behind the English “Acts of Uniformity” and the American certificates of “The Ratification of the Book of Common Prayer.”  The unity of these national churches is to be preserved by a loyal, charitable, and national uniformity in the use of the basic rites of the Church.  And this, of course, was what the various Acts of Uniformity meant and required – unity in uniformity through use of basic Rites.  This expectation of uniformity is no more remarkable or constraining than the expectation that all of the Old Israel, the prototype of a national church, should use the same Psalter in its worship or ask the same ritual questions every year at the Passover.

      It is important to recognize the traditional English (and Anglican) sense of the identity of Common Prayer with the book whose title contains this familiar term and whose pages lay out the national church’s identity in corporate prayer.  Writing from within the Church of England, Mr. A. C. Capey has recently observed:

Common Prayer belongs to the nation; it was created for us out of, and taking theological exception to, various department service-books and other documents; it was recovered for us, in defiance of the Presbyterian Directory, in 1662; it was retained for us, in defiance of William III’s desired “comprehension” (a sort of “homes-centres” ecumenical venture...) in 1689; it comfortably resisted Unitarian depredations in the 18th century; it was the linch-pin of the Tractarian movement; it was only cautiously modified in 1928, in an attempt to keep the Anglo-Catholics away from the lure of the English Missal.  The book belongs to us all, even if only a tiny proportion of the tiny proportion that attends church today actually prays it... (A. C. Capey, “Common Prayer and the Pirates” in The Real Common Worship, edited by Peter Mullen, Edgeways, 2000, pp.68–69).

      In America, within the culture inherited from England, from the Church of England specifically, and from the general ethos of the liberal arts tradition of Christendom, a similar principle of creative uniformity, that is, of a common life and common expression that create the identity of a people through mutual forbearance, whether in their civil or religious relations, has held great authority as a part of ‘Americanism” itself.  Apart from economic issues, the majority of debates in the United States about “immigration” are really about the abandonment or maintenance of this principle of shared identity.  Likewise, until recent experiments in liturgical revision and the multiplication of competing rites, which we have demonstrated in earlier chapters often disagree with the doctrine of the Church’s historic worship and even with each other, this establishment of a common identity in common texts for worship has been no less pronounced in the Episcopal Church’s American edition of The Book of Common Prayer than in the English Church’s Prayer Book.

      Without any serious doubt, then, to use the term “Common Prayer” in the Anglican Way is to speak of the public worship of the assembled Christian congregations within the all churches and cathedrals of a specific nation, using common rites, texts, and services taken from the national edition of The Book of Common Prayer.  It is, therefore, a straightforward, factual error to call any other kind of collection of services for worship, most especially those with multiple forms, a “Book of Common Prayer.”  Common Prayer does not refer to just any kind of worship that takes place in public, but only to such worship as is conducted according to the unifying common rites provided by an authentic edition of The Book of Common Prayer, according to its authority as the formulary of a unified national church.

      The authenticity of an edition of the Prayer Book is relatively easy to determine.  The basic rule can be found in the 1789 Preface of the American edition of The Book of Common Prayer, also printed in the later authentic American editions of 1892 and 1928.  The Preface sets out to explain the apparent differences between the American edition of the Prayer Book and the English Prayer Book of 1662, still the standard and official Prayer Book of the Church of England today.  It states:

It seems unnecessary to enumerate all the different alterations and amendments [in the American edition].  They will appeal; and it is to be hoped, the reasons of them also, upon a comparison of this with the Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England.  In which it will also appear that this Church is far from intending to depart from the Church of England in any essential point of doctrine, discipline, or worship; or further than local circumstances require (1928, vi).

The “local circumstances” in question, of course, were the circumstances of living in a republic with a civil constitution that forbids an established church, as opposed to life in a monarchy organized around an established church.

      Otherwise, then, except for such allowances as need to be made for each nation’s system of government or national culture, as long as those allowances do not conflict with the Holy Scriptures and the Christian Faith, an edition of The Book of Common Prayer is authentic when it does not depart from the doctrine, discipline, and worship to be found in the 1662 edition of the English Prayer Book.

      This important principle of constructive unity in a common form of worship has been enforced and underlined by the practice, which began in 1552, of printing the Act for the Uniformity of Common Prayer inside The Book of Common Prayer.  The 1662 Act for Uniformity may be read in many printings and editions of the Prayer Book (1662), and explanations of it are offered in the twenty or more annotated editions of The Book of Common Player that appeared in the nineteenth and early part of the twentieth century (e.g., see Prayer Book Interleaved with notes by W. M. Campion & W. J. Beaumont, 1866 and later editions).


A Godly Way of Life

      It is important to grasp that the contents of The Book of the Common Prayer were more than a translation and adaptation, or even simply a renewal, of the contents of the medieval services of prayer and worship.  The forms of worship found in The Book of Common Prayer reach behind the Middle Ages and witness to the recovery of a godly ordering of the whole of life on earth for Christians.  With its weekly Lord’s Day, by its Feasts and fasts, through the discipline and rhythms of the Church Year, 365 days a year, every year, The Book of Common Prayer is more than a formulary for worship.  It is a formulary for life – for the spiritual formation of the lives of the saints on earth.

      The Common Prayer of the universal Church, the accumulated wisdom of centuries of Christian faith, worship, and practice, as given structure and form in the offices and services of The Book of the Common Prayer, became the Anglican Way of relating to God – the definitive Anglican conception of a shared order of godly life in a national Church with her dioceses, colleges, schools, families, and baptized members.  In one Anglican national church after another, Common Prayer became the model of an entire life lived in communion with God the Father, through his Son our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, by the indwelling of the Holy Ghost.

      The details of such an achievement ought not to be taken for granted. as if they might have worked out on their own without the efforts of godly men and the guidance of God.  For example, in The Book of Common Prayer, the medieval daily offices (Martins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline) were gracefully compressed into two daily services of worship, Mattins and Evensong (or Morning and Evening Prayer).  These daily services of prayer, known as the “Daily Office” or the “Divine Office” because of their ancient status as the official daily prayers of the Christian church, had previously been conducted in Latin and seen as primarily the business of clergymen, monks, and nuns.  Now, however, these services were available in English and recommended for all the members of the Church, so that every member of the Church, in whatever state of life, was welcome to take part in the daily prayer of the whole Church.  At their local church or in their homes, all the faithful people of God could now be joined by the Holy Ghost to the entire communion of saints, together with the angels and archangels, in offering daily worship to God on behalf of the whole created order.  United to Jesus Christ, the Head of the Body, the people could pray the Psalter morning and evening in their own language as the intelligent members of the Body of Christ.  And on Wednesdays and Fridays, as well as in their parish services on Sundays, they could intercede for one another and for the needs of all people by joining in the Litany.

      On Sundays and Feast Days, as well as on other days of solemn obligation, all could hear the liturgy in English, including a sermon or homily.  Where the parish priest was not competent to prepare a sermon himself, a dependable, orthodox homily was read from Certain Sermons or Homilies (1547 and 1562), provided by the Church to accompany the Common Prayer.  If duly prepared, the people could receive the Holy Communion in both kinds, just as their priest did.

      At each of the Daily Offices were readings from both the Old and the New Testaments, as appointed by the Prayer Book.  At the Holy Communion, there were the Epistle and Gospel, together with a Psalm for each Sunday and Feast.  In this order of life, then, great emphasis was placed upon the Christian duty to hear and read the Holy Scriptures, to meditate on their truth, and to obey the Word of God Written day by day.

      Thus, The Book of Common Prayer is not just another “book of services” or “source-book for liturgy.”  Common Prayer is a biblical, traditional, and godly way for the congregation, Christian family, and individual baptized believer to relate to God the Holy Trinity as the disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, in the fellowship of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church confessed in the Creeds, realistically and practically within the entirety of God’s world and human life, 365 days a year, until the end of the present age and the return of the Lord.

      The basis of the Common Prayer is the daily offering of praise through the daily offices, wherein the Psalms (the prophetic personal prayers of Jesus Christ) are central to the lives of the members of the his Body, along with the meditative reading of all the Holy Scriptures as the disciples of the Living Word of God.  Linked to this sharing by grace in the Mind of Christ is the petitionary and intercessory prayer of the whole Church, represented by the Litany, along with the celebration of the sacramental meal of the new covenant in the Eucharist on the Lord’s Day and other holy days.  In the Holy Communion, the Church is fed and strengthened by heavenly manna as she communes with her Bridegroom, who is her life.

      The Common Prayer encompasses the entire life of a Christian, beginning with the “Churching of Women’ and its provisions for thanking God for the entry of a child into the world.  That child then enters into the life of the Church of God by receiving Holy Baptism and Confirmation.  When grown, that child and some other child of God, by the calling of divine grace, enter with one another into the holy state of Matrimony, to live as man and wife until their life’s end.  And in the sorrows of life, and at the end of this mortal life, the Common Prayer offers the Visitation of the Sick and the Burial of the Dead as the consolations of divine mercy.  Without a doubt, here is a total way of life for the faithful people of God on this earth.

      Since the purpose of the Common Prayer is to consecrate the whole of human life to God, it follows that it is “common” only in the sense that it establishes the norm of Christian living for all people, wherever they are and whatever their status in life.  Some persons, families, or congregations may choose only a minimal participation in such a life in Christ, while others may dedicate their whole hearts, their whole souls, and their whole minds to it.  Nevertheless, the objective value of the Common Prayer (and of a formulary that presents it honestly and accurately) is that a basic structure and uniformity are necessary within the Body of Christ to train us in good habits and in right discipline.  Form and structure are also necessary to help us learn what true freedom is in the service of God and in the exercise of our God-given duty to our neighbors.

      The Common Prayer is the Anglican Way, as the Anglican Way of being a disciple of Jesus Christ is set forth in the various national editions of The Book of Common Prayer.  This is true when we speak of all the editions of the Prayer Book in English, from the first in 1549, to the most recent Canadian book of 1962, and it is true when we speak of the other editions, in approximately 150 other languages, that have served Anglican national churches throughout the world, most often by adding local prayers to the model of the 1662 English Prayer Book.

      It is much discussing the “re-invention of the wheel” to attempt to discuss formularies and the Anglican Way apart from The Book of Common Prayer.  From the Reformation, The Book of Common Prayer has been the central formulary, the objective document, of what we now call “the Anglican Way.”  It expresses the doctrinal commitment of the Church of England and of the Anglican Communion of Churches to the Holy Scriptures and to the worship and glorification of God the Father almighty, through his only-begotten and Eternal Son, and by God the Holy Ghost.  Unless lex orandi, lex credendi (the law of praying is the law of believing, and the law of believing is the law of praying) has been reduced to the cynical principle “This is how we make Anglicans say and believe what we want them to,” The Book of Common Prayer is the only place where a mutually honorable discussion of the Anglican Way and of its primary formulary can begin.

      No edition of The Book of Common Prayer is perfect or untouchable.  But to abandon the whole tradition of this Prayer Book, along with all its particular editions, is to begin again whatever the churches of the Anglican Way once were from scratch and to declare that the history of that household of the Church that began in Roman Britain and became the Anglican Communion is over, dead, obsolete, null, and void.

      There have certainly been modifications in The Book of Common Prayer through its several editions in English and in many other languages.  Adaptations to particular cultures and societies have been made almost from the beginning of the Prayer Book tradition, when in the early days of Elizabeth I, a Latin edition was provided for colleges and universities, where Latin was the common tongue of scholars.  Local modifications of this nature, such as praying for a President and not a Monarch or incorporating national holidays into a national church’s observances, are simply not the issue.  What is at stake, however, is the confusion of prudent adaptation with the wholesale abandonment of the traditional commitment of the Anglican churches to a single godly order for all.  Such changes as are made in an edition of The Book of Common Prayer, in a spirit of charity and mutual respect, must not diminish or obscure the form of Christian life in which the Church welcomes everyone into her single common life, whether an archbishop or a new member; a king, a queen, a president, or a commoner; a man or a woman; a teenager or a grandparent.

      In this chapter, we have attempted to describe Common Prayer in terms of origin, content, and purpose.  We have also tried to make clear that we are no where in this study making the argument that particular editions of The Book of Common Prayer cannot be revised or improved.  Rather, we are arguing that any revisions or improvements in a national church’s Prayer Book can only be accomplished legitimately within the context of the Common Prayer tradition and according to the principle of Common Prayer itself.  An “each to his own” approach to worship and order has nothing to do with Common Prayer, and in the next chapter we will attempt to describe the origin and content of alternative forms of prayer that have been produced since the 1960s by and for Anglicans.  Alternative forms of service may have an arguable place in the life of the Church, but the two things they are not is “Common Prayer” or a formulary to guide the life of a national church.  We will see, too, as this discussion draws to an end, that whatever genuine authority that alternative services possess is drawn from their connection to Common Prayer and an adequate national formulary.


Chapter Eight – What is a BAS/ASB?

      Anyone entering an Anglican Church in North America or Britain in 2004 is likely to find that the congregation is not using the services of the historic Book of Common Prayer, but a different kind of service devised and created between 1960 and 2004.  In contrast, the same parish in 1954, just fifty years earlier, a blink of an eye in the history of the Church, would have been using one or another edition of The Book of Common Prayer (1662 or 1928) in much the same way as twenty or forty years before that, and so on, back to the first English edition of the Prayer Book in 1549.

      Further, in 1954, though there were differences of churchmanship to be seen, involving such things as liturgical emphases, ceremonial, and decoration, all the parishes would have used the same basic text or rite from the one Prayer Book of their nation.  Now, however, in 2004, what is very apparent to any observer is that there is very little uniformity at all, very little that is shared or common across parish lines.  There are so many different possibilities of texts and rites for use in the services of worship that, as the parishes make use of these multiple options, they can end up looking as if they were no longer connected, no longer members of the same national church.

      At the beginning of the last chapter, we attempted to illustrate the nature of Common Prayer by means of an analogy to a hymn that is sung in harmony, wherein both identity and individuality operate in a complementary way, at the same time, without the confusion that would come from trying to sing several different hymns at once.  Our point was to suggest that Common Prayer leaves room for both the corporate and the personal, as people bring their individual gifts to the shared and common work of worship, benefiting from the well-defined structure and content of this historical order of worship.  We also suggested, and here we come to the topic of this chapter, that multiple service forms, with the best intentions in the world, have the tendency to degenerate into cacophony – into an unnecessary clash between self-expression and our need as Christians to express ourselves as one Body of Christ.

      An exuberance for difference as an end in itself, and an appetite for multiple forms as an end in themselves, can lead in some cases to a kind of Babel – a reversal of the Pentecost miracle in which the common Gospel of Christ was heard by all in their own tongues from the Spirit-filled Apostles.  Let us not forget that forms themselves have meaning.  One cannot imagine a competent lawyer sitting still as his client is presented with a deed to property that departs from the common, time-tested form.  He would rightly he concerned that his client’s possession of that property might be jeopardized by conflicting forms of the expression of ownership.  The preservation of our inheritance of faith and worship, of our unity in Christ, demands at least the same care.


An overview

      Looking back to the middle of the twentieth century, we can see that there was a growing desire within the Anglican Churches of the West, after the Second World War, to develop additional rites of modern composition to stand alongside those in regular use from the historic Book of Common Prayer.  This urge to develop new rites followed from the twin convictions of the liturgists and others that the world was changing in some definitive way and that modern services would help restore the appeal of the Church to Western man.  The Lambeth Conference of 1958 discussed these linked convictions, along with the implications for the future if they were correct, and gave its consent for limited experiments and innovations.  Thus, in the 1960s, the first experimental or trial services began to appear.  In those early days, no one intended or expected that the new creations should become substitutes for the services within the Prayer Book; rather, the newly-devised rites were to be available for alternative use, where and when there was a felt need for them.

      Some common threads (propositions, really, to be exact) did connect the new services, whatever their superficial differences.  On the basis of contemporary scholarship, and especially its interest in the services of the Church before the time of the General Councils, the new services were to have a new structure or “shape.”  Out of a concern that modern people were too far removed from both the concepts of the Bible and the language of the Prayer Book to find them believable any longer, the new services were to be written in a new kind of language, called “contemporary English,” based on theories of “dynamic equivalence” and the comprehension level of the daily newspaper, introducing the “You-God.”  And finally, the new services were to deliver an updated theology, less concerned with sin and redemption (a concern some of the innovators considered a type of superstitious dread), and more focused on celebration.  The implementation of these new principles, their proponents argued, would make the services of the Church more “user friendly,” more relevant to modern life, and more accessible to modern people.

      Liturgists, bishops and clergy involved in this process of “liturgical renewal” were men and women with a mission, motivated by a sense of real purpose.  They believed that they were the new reformers, bringing regeneration, renewal, relevance, and intelligibility to the Church in the West.  The Anglican liturgists were also much encouraged and emboldened by the tremendous energy for liturgical change at work in the Roman Catholic Church in the decades after the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II), which met in the mid 1960s.

      The ecumenical dimension of liturgical change is important.  We need to be aware of inter-church commissions that worked on the translation of common texts (e.g., the Lord’s Prayer, the Creeds, and certain Canticles) and on the revision of the Lectionary (the list of appointed readings from Scripture).  The International Consultation on English Texts (ICET) worked from 1969 to 1974; the International Commission on the English Liturgy (ICEL) from 1974 to 1983; and the English Language Liturgical Consultation (ELLC) from 1983 onwards.  Their work has been published in succeeding editions of Prayers We Have in Common, and most of their renderings have been used in whole or part by Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches in their various new liturgies.

      It is quite fair, however, to describe the English texts produced by these groups as more often paraphrases than translations, given their dependence on dynamic equivalence and their use of “contemporary English,” which turned out, in the end, to be a new liturgical dialect of its own that had very little to do with the real English of thought and speech in modern times.  The Consultation on Common Texts (CCT) has also produced both the Common Lectionary and the Revised Common Lectionary, and these, with modifications, are in use in many Churches, with the New Revised Standard Bible being the preferred version for Anglicans and Protestants.

      In the enthusiasm of the early days of liturgical innovation, and in the desire to make progress quickly, many assumptions were made and many short-cuts were taken that in later and calmer times have been challenged and seen to be false or not wholly correct.  Perhaps the best known of these half-truths or insufficiently digested fashions are some of the basic assumptions of Gregory Dix in his influential book The Shape of the Liturgy (1945, often reprinted).  Dix, as we have discussed earlier, focused attention on eucharistic action rather than on the theological words that give meaning to action, and this shift in emphasis was very popular among students of liturgy in the 1960s and 1970s.  Most seminarians were encouraged or required to read Dix’s book.  The structure of the Communion Service, and especially the content and the manual acts of the Eucharistic prayer in the new rites from the 1960s were often based on his conclusions, in particular his theory concerning the four-action shape of the Prayer of Consecration.

      The fact that liturgists have changed their minds often as they explored and experimented with this and other theories in the last four decades of the twentieth century is easily proved by (a) the tremendous number of experimental and trial services from the official Liturgical Commissions that have come and gone, and (b) the lack of agreement in the essays and articles published in the magazines and journals dedicated to modern liturgy.  A useful way, then, to begin to study this torrent of new rites is to go to two collections of the earliest of them, edited by Bishop Colin Buchanan – Modern Anglican Liturgies (1968) and Further Anglican Liturgies (1975).

      A persistent problem that liturgists have faced, and still face today, is how to use a modern form of English that really seems “contemporary and at the same time is an appropriate means and vehicle for the naming and praising of God.  When the commitment to developing a contemporary idiom for Bible translation and liturgy creation was made in the 1960s, it seemed to many a straightforward task, with the possibility of quick solutions to any problems as they arose.  Yet, beyond the other intrinsic difficulties that we have already considered, the effort to devise a new idiom of Bible and prayer never achieved any real or consistent style before a new constituency for revision, the feminists, began demanding that “contemporary language” must also be “inclusive language.”

      No longer could “man” mean “men and women” or “brethren mean “brothers and sisters,” as in the original languages of the Bible.  “Mankind” must now be “humanity,” so that inclusive language will always, without doubt, include women and make them visible in every phase of life.  Vocal leaders of the post 1960s generation claimed to be conscious, even to feel the pain, of the great harm that patriarchy and sexism had done to the dignity and place of women in society and church.  And once the Liturgical Commissions added inclusive language to the agenda in response to this pressure, then all existing translation and writing, including those in the first forms of “contemporary English,” stood in need of revision.

      Significantly, after women were ordained, there was a further cry from them and their supporters for what was called “justice” in language.  Why, should God be always addressed in the masculine gender, when they believe that God is both feminine and masculine in nature and character?  Why should a female priest have to address God as if he were a male, calling him “Father”?  Thus, if one looks at experimental and trial liturgies, one can usually date them by how much and how far they incorporate the feminist agenda for language.  The use of inclusive language for “God” (or “Goddess”) obviously also belongs to the more recent developments of contemporary language for prayer and worship.

      In summary, it may be claimed that changes in Anglican Liturgy and Public Worship took place in three phases.  First, there was the call for renewal, involving the creation of new forms of services (a new “Shape”) with greater participation by the laity, but without any great change in traditional language, as from the “Thou-God” to the “You-God.”  In the second place, there was the call for “contemporary” language; and this often emotional and fervent call for relevancy, as defined by liturgical commissions, went hand in hand with the calls for changes in liturgical structure and content.  Thirdly, when a first type of “contemporary” language was in place, it was quickly judged by many feminists (female and male) to be as unacceptable as “traditional” language, in that it supposedly also preserved sexism.  So, then, urgent adjustments began to be made to make women feel more visible and audible in the Liturgy, and it became acceptable in some quarters to speak of God as “She” and “Mother.”  All these events and changes took place very quickly, too quickly, and in the wake of the revolutionary enthusiasm of 1960s.  Thus, serious errors were made in terms of shape, style, doctrine, idiom, and content that will require an honest and charitable examination of some duration to recognize fully and to put wholly right.


Modern prayer books

      Many of the experimental texts and rites discussed above were placed in a new kind of prayer book with the approval of the provincial synods of the national churches concerned – e.g., Australia (1978), USA (1979), England (1980), Wales (1984), Ireland (1984), Canada (1985), Southern Africa (1989), New Zealand (1989), Australia again (1995) and England again (2000).  Let us examine briefly several of these new books.


1978.  An Australian Prayer Book

for use together with The Book of Common Prayer, 1662

      This Prayer Book of 1978 was intended as supplementary to the historic Book of Common Prayer (1662), and not as a replacement for it.  Even with the introduction this supplement, however, the historic BCP remained, with the Thirty-Nine Articles, the controlling standard of doctrine and worship.

      In this new Prayer Book, provision for pastoral needs and parish situations is made on the comprehensive model of the classic editions of the Book of Common Prayer.  What is different is a departure from the historic standard of one rite for all the faithful in a nation.  There are various options – several forms of Morning and Evening Prayer, two Orders for Holy Communion, Holy Baptism, Confirmation, and Marriage, and all in “contemporary” language.  Additionally, the Ordinal, Psalter, and the Collects are also in modern language.  In terms of the Eucharist, the first Order is based on the shape and content of the classic service in the BCP, while the second Order is based on the new shape and content taken from an early church model (Hippolytus) popular with liturgists at that time.

      A Prayer Book for Australia for use together with “The Book of Common Prayer (1662)”and “An Australian Prayer Book (1978)”appeared in 1995 and has 850 pages.  In these pages, there are alternatives and options for almost every purpose, and there is a specific recognition of the changing demands concerning inclusive language.  The Preface declares that, “Since 1977, the use of male pronouns as generic terms has become unacceptable.  To be sensitive to this is a matter of courtesy and justice.  The Commission has adopted inclusive language in referring to human beings.”  And in addressing God “a range of forms of address,” which are claimed to reflect “the diversity and richness of biblical imagery,” is used.


1980.  The Alternative Service Book (ASB)

Services authorized for use in the Church of England in conjunction with The Book of Common Prayer, together with the Liturgical Psalter

      In the Preface of the ASB, we read that “It is a remarkable fact that for over three hundred years and despite all attempts at revision, the Book of Common Prayer has remained the acknowledged norm for public worship in the Church of England, as well as a model and inspiration for worship throughout most of the Anglican Communion.”  The Preface also makes this noteworthy claim: “Rapid social and intellectual changes ... together with a world-wide reawakening of interest in liturgy, have made it desirable that new understandings of worship should find expression in new forms and styles.  Christians have become readier to accept that, even within a single church, unity need no longer entail strict uniformity of practice.”

      What is found in this Alternative Service Book of 1980 is the result of a decade or so of the trial use of a number of new services, based upon the principles and priorities of the “community of liturgists.”  It is so designed in terms of contents that it provides a variety of options within the services designed for all public occasions, together with collects and a Psalter, and so it can be used as the only prayer book for a given parish.  While most of the provision is in “contemporary language,” one form of the Holy Communion, Rite B, uses traditional language and has a general family likeness to the Order within the historic BCP.

      Neither this Alternative Service Book of 1980 nor its replacement and successor, Common Worship of 2000 (a multi-volume provision), is meant to replace The Book of Common Prayer of 1662, which remains the standard of doctrine and worship for the Church of England.


1985.  The Book of Alternative Services (BAS) of the Anglican Church of Canada

      This Book, as its title clearly indicates, was intended to be an alternative to, and not a substitute for, The Book of Common Prayer (1662, revised 1962).  The Preface tells the reader that the contents of the Book reflect more than fourteen years of continuous research, experimentation, criticism, and evaluation.  However, the BAS is similar to both the American Prayer Book of 1979 (which we shall consider below) and the English Book of 1980 in both its use of “modern, vernacular English” and in providing options for all the basic services.  For example, there are six Eucharistic Prayers, in contrast to the one in the historic Prayer Book.  Moreover, the structure of the Eucharist follows the new shape of the liturgists and includes at its center the possibility of sharing the re-devised and re-introduced “Peace.”  The BAS has, as well, provisions for services that are not included in the classic BCP.  These include Prayers at Mid-day, a form for the Great Vigil of Easter, and the Blessing of Oil.  Further, the Psalter used in the BAS, which is committed to inclusive language for humanity, is taken from the American Prayer Book of 1979.  Once again, it may be noted that this BAS contains rites for all the services in a parish, from baptisms to funerals, and that it also contains new services for the ordination of bishops, priests, and deacons.


1989.  A New Zealand Prayer Book.

He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa

      In New Zealand there are two official languages, English and Maori, and thus the New Zealand Prayer Book reflects this reality.  The first experimental Liturgy, produced in New Zealand in 1966, broke new ground by being the first liturgy within the Anglican Communion to address God as “You,” which change was described as a an attempt to close the gap between liturgical language and the words of everyday experience.  Not surprisingly, then, this New Zealand Book uses only “You” of God and it is deeply committed to the use of inclusive language, not only for humanity, but also, in some part, for God himself.  Furthermore, the Psalter is heavily edited and verses are omitted that are judged to be “unsuitable” for Christian worship, demonstrating a revised doctrine of the Word of God Written.  Again, as with the other modern Prayer Books, this one is designed so as to be wholly sufficient for the use of a parish, a diocese, and even the whole Province.  At the same time, it does not officially replace The Book of Common Prayer.


In summary

      The liturgical innovation introduced into the Anglican provinces of the Western nations from the 1970s through to the 1990s was a new type of complete, re-invented prayer book (the BAS/ASB) that was intended to be “contemporary,” “relevant,” and “accessible” and, thus, on the theoretical basis of these terms to contrast markedly with the existing, official, traditional Book of Common Prayer.  The new type of book was committed to the incompletely developed “contemporary language” of the “You-God,” to “inclusive language” for humanity (and in some cases for God), to the provision of optional texts for virtually all services to avoid or prevent uniformity, and to the new shape for the Eucharist (based on an early patristic model).  While the new books were supposed to conform to the doctrinal standard provided by the official Book of Common Prayer, to say the least they contained a different doctrinal emphasis from the classic book, and, as we have seen in the case of various sections of the American 1979 Book, actual contradictions.  The word most often used with regard to the modern services has been “Celebration,” to make the contrast with the perceived sobriety of the traditional services, usually on the assumption that the person not engaged in outward celebration is not celebrating at all.

      Most important for the future welfare of the Church, however, is the observable phenomenon that where the new books have been used alone, and not in close conjunction with the BCP, there has been a growing loss of a common identity among Anglicans due to this commitment to multiple service forms, at least as far as the defining, constitutive, Common Prayer of the whole Church, or of the Church in a particular nation, is concerned.  This loss of a shared identity is also unmistakably a basic causative factor in the doctrinal and moral turmoil within the Anglican or Episcopal provinces in the West, a turmoil that has begun to threaten the unity of the entire Anglican Communion.  Multiple service forms for the accomplishment of Common Prayer are rather like trying to operate a nation under multiple constitutions at the same time.  Variety is not always “the spice of life,” for where common identity and character are concerned, variety in thought and language is more like a multiple personalities disorder than a wholesome diversity.  Marriages with multiple forms and multiple meanings of the vows that establish them soon end.

      Having described the characteristics of both Common Prayer and Alternative Services as the two basic forms of Public Worship for Anglicans in the West today, we are now able to approach nearer to the central issues of our enquiry – determining whether or not the 1979 ECUSA Prayer Book is either correctly named or a proper formulary for a national church.


The naming of 1979 ECUSA Prayer Book

      The General Convention of the Episcopal Church, meeting in 1976, and then again in 1979, passed by a majority vote the necessary legislation to replace The Book of Common Prayer of 1928 with a new Prayer Book, whose full title is, The Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments and Other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church, Together with the Psalter or Psalms of David (1979).

      The question we are committed to ask here is not, Is this a well-designed source book for worship, in which there are useful provisions for the right worship and service of Almighty God?  But, rather, Is the title given to this Prayer Book the correct one?  The answer to the first question, depending on one’s interests, point of view, and commitments, may well be “yes.”  The answer to the second, much less subjective question, however, is “no.”  Let us explore two ways of establishing the answer to the second question fairly and objectively.

      First of all, we have to say that the title of the 1979 Book is absolutely correct, if we have in mind what is printed on the title page and what is recorded in the minutes of the General Convention.  This triennial Synod of the Anglican province of the U.S.A. most certainly voted for the introduction of a new “Book of Common Prayer” to replace the edition dated 1928, along with the form and content of the preceding American editions of the traditional Book of Common Prayer.  The history is clear enough.  Since the 1960s, there had been constant and continuing work by the Standing Commission on Liturgy, after it had given up the lesser task of updating the traditional Prayer Book, to produce an entirely new Prayer Book.  Then the title used by the SEC to describe its new collection of new services, approved by the General Convention, was the same title that had been in use since Colonial days on the title-page of the English Book of Common Prayer of 1662 and on the title pages of the American editions of the Prayer Book, in 1789, 1892, and 1928, all of which, unlike the 1979 Book, had conformed to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the historic Common Prayer.

      In other words, if the General Convention has the authority and the power to use the name of “Common Prayer” as it pleases, and for any collection of services it decides to approve for use in the Episcopal Church, then the American Prayer Book of 1979 is truly, rightly named.  But what is the limit of this power of legislative fiat?  Can the General Convention declare that the telephone book is “the Book of Common Prayer” and make it so?  If such a question seems silly, it becomes desperately serious when it is rephrased as “Are the worship and doctrine of the Episcopal Church whatever the General Convention declares them to be?”

      The old system of continuity in Anglican formularies, especially the continuity between one edition of The Book of Common Prayer and another, was a safeguard against such arbitrary action by any synod or convention.  Clearly, however, “The Book of Common Prayer” was the title chosen and used by the General Convention on the advice of its Liturgical Commission as a method of declaring that safeguard unnecessary or obsolete.  Of this fact there is no doubt: the general claim inherent in the General Convention’s replacement of the American Church’s definitive formulary, which was assumed by many to be true, that the 1979 Book is simply the latest edition of a Book that has gone through many editions since the first one of 1549, is unsupportable in terms of the actual content of the 1979 Book.

      Thus, in the second place, if we approach the questions of the accuracy of 1979 Book’s title through the method of comparison and analysis, then we can look for our answer by making comparisons between what was approved by the American General Convention and what was approved by the General Synods of other provinces in terms of new liturgies.  That is, if we examine the content of the Prayer Book of 1979, and compare that content not only with that of the BCP of 1928, but also with that of the BAS or ASB of various other Anglican provinces (e.g., Canada and England), then we shall meet what can only be called a real problem.  The 1979 Prayer Book is exactly like a BAS/ASB, even though it bears the name of BCP.  In other words, in terms of comparative literature and the history of the several editions of the historic and classic BCP, that which was called “The BCP” by the Episcopal Church is wrongly named.  The classic name was pirated for a virtually new product.

      The background to this amazing decision lies in the fact that each province of the Anglican Communion of Churches is independent and autonomous and has no legal need to consult any other sister church.  It also lies in the general move by the ECUSA away from a strong commitment to traditional morality and an unchanging moral order under God in the universe, towards moral relativism and a belief in unlimited human moral choice and freedom, a belief we have mentioned in earlier chapters.  All that apparently mattered for the leaders of the Episcopal Church was that they had the right (in a culture of rights) to decide to call the new book by any title they chose, and truth-telling did not come into it.  Intimately connected with this general loss of a sense of moral order, there can be identified the diminishing sense of God as the transcendent One and a growing sense of God as universal Spirit – the immanent, not very demanding God who is all “love.”  The English theologian P. T. Forsythe once said: “If within us we have nothing above us, we soon succumb to what is around us.”  When the Church loses the sense of the holy and righteous Majesty of the transcendent Blessed Trinity, then she has little desire or strength to resist the pressures and inroads of moral relativism from the world around her.



      Let us recall that the 1789 BCP was an American adaptation of the 1662 BCP for use in the new and independent U.S.A.  This Prayer Book, like the English one from which it is derived, had one form of Morning and Evening Prayer, of the Litany, of the Holy Communion, of Baptism, and so on.  The 1892 BCP was a gentle and minimal revision of the 1789 BCP, and likewise, the 1928 BCP was a gentle and minimal revision of the 1892 BCP.  Both the edition of 1892 and that of 1928 retained the basic structure and content of Common Prayer as received from the 1789 edition.  In all three American editions there is a most definite family likeness for they all use the traditional English style and language of prayer, including the address of God as “Thou/Thee,” and they follow the Common Prayer’s unifying tradition of offering only one form of each service.  It is obvious when examining them that they are all editions of one Book, and that the differences between them are slight, being of the kind one meets in different editions of one and the same book.

      While there are some similarities between the BCP of 1789/1892/1928 and the Prayer Book of 1979, the differences between the two are, in fact, rather great.  The 1979 Book uses “contemporary language,” including “You” for God, has more than one rite for Morning and Evening Prayer, and provides more than one Eucharistic Prayer for Holy Communion.  It is a Book in which each rite or form of service is open to many possible variations, as long as a basic structure or “shape” is maintained.  Rite One is the term used in the Book for traditional language services (which are not identical to, but generally similar to those in the 1928 BCP); and Rite Two is the term used for contemporary language services, which are the most plentiful.  The structure for Rite One services is based, not on the historic BCP, but on the model of Rite Two services.  The Ordination Services specifically provide for the ordination of women to all three Orders, and the Psalter uses inclusive language – e.g., Psalm 1 begins “Happy are they...,” in contrast to the traditional and accurate words, “Blessed is the man...”

      The process of liturgical change in the Episcopal Church actually began in the 1950s with the intention of making modest improvements to the 1928 BCP in a way that would preserve its character and identity and incorporate the best insights of the liturgical movement for renewal.  However, as the work progressed, and as trial services were created and used, the goal became not another gently improved edition of the classic BCP, maintaining the traditional language of prayer and providing one rite for one purpose, but a whole new kind of prayer book, with multiple options and endless variety, much like the books being prepared at the same time in Australia, England, Ireland, Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa.

      The important difference between those other provinces of the Anglican Communion and the American province, the Episcopal Church, is that the latter decided to go its own pioneering and innovative way.  And it did so by using the ancient and hallowed title of the classic Book of Common Prayer as the title of its new Book.  Thereby, it deliberately gave the impression to its own membership, and to other provinces of the Anglican Communion, that the new Book was truly and really in the historic line of classic editions of the historic Prayer Book, which was the common inheritance of all Anglicans.  In fact, it was advertised as the latest and best edition of the historic Book!  Certain people of an Anglo-Catholic churchmanship, dazzled by the homage paid to Gregory Dix, were often heard to declare that the 1979 Book was the best Prayer Book since that of 1549.

      By choosing to act in this way, replacing the historic Prayer Book with what should have been a Book of Alternative Services, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church was obliged, in order to maintain the fiction that its ASB was the Prayer Book, to disallow the use of the 1928 BCP in its dioceses and parishes (except under special circumstances and with the permission of the diocesan bishop).  Further, by this action, it also set aside what was at that time, for the rest of the Anglican Communion of Churches, the standard of doctrine and worship of the Anglican Way, the historic Book of Common Prayer, in which, importantly, are also contained the Ordinal and the Articles of Religion.  Other provinces, as we have noted, had specifically separated their new services from those of the BCP and had called the new collections by another name, a variation of the title BAS/ASB.  By this procedure, they had retained the BCP as their chief formulary and standard of doctrine and also preserved it as a living Prayer Book for such clergy and parishes that desired to use it regularly or occasionally without needing any special permission of a bishop.

      What’s in a name and what’s in a title?  It all depends on the name and the title of course.  For the Anglican Way, the title The Book of Common Prayer is not only hallowed, but also fundamental to the Anglican churches’ reformed Catholicity.  To pirate this name is a serious crime against God and his Church, and such a crime the Episcopal Church committed in 1979.  All who love God and his truth, who belong to the Anglican Way and desire its prosperity, need to work together to bring their erring fellow churchmen to a better mind and to set right this act of piracy and theological dishonesty.  If the 1979 Book is to be retained, it should be as a BAS/ASB under the authority of the historic, classic Book of Common Prayer (latest edition in the U.S.A., 1928), as the orthodox formulary of the Church.



      In this book, we have tried to outline the objective reasons why the 1979 Book of the Episcopal Church is not, in itself, the proper instrument of true reform and renewal in the Church today.  The problems of doctrine, discipline, and worship that threaten to divide American and international Anglicans, not only into different blocs or parties, but also into fundamentally different religions, cannot be addressed by a new kind of service book that institutionalizes individual choice at the expense of shared, corporate identity.

      To have criticized the 1979 Book as an instrument of order and unity, however, is not to deny its graces or potential contributions to the life of the Church.  It is arguably wise and desirable, for example, to supply the members of the Church with special orders of service for major days in the Christian Calendar, such as Good Friday or Easter Even (Holy Saturday).  Nevertheless, without a common life and a common prayer – a center and a formulary that hold all together – the people of a Church divided cannot enjoy the benefits of liturgical enrichment or development.  The peaceful unity of the Church is the precondition of constructive liturgical refinement and expansion.

      The choice we have presented, then, is not a false dichotomy – an unnecessary and unrealistic choice between the traditional Book of Common Prayer and the various Books of Alternative Services.  As a Book of Alternative Services, the 1979 Book of the Episcopal Church, along with any successor books of alternatives that will follow it as its experimental elements are evaluated to be retained or rejected, can serve the Church in a positive way.  On the other hand, as a substitute or replacement Book of Common Prayer, meant to serve as the organizing formulary of the faith and practice of a national church, the 1979 Book does more harm than it does good.

      We hope that it has been clear that our arguing that the 1979 Book should be placed in its proper perspective and put to its proper use is not a call or demand that it should be abolished or banned.  We know from experience how useless and divisive it is to attempt to ban an accustomed form of worship.  And if efforts to prohibit the use of the historic Book of Common Prayer were unkind and destructive, such an assault upon the 1979 Book would be equally wrong.  Searching for a common mind on what the 1979 Book means is a collaborative task for us all, rather than a coercive initiative by one faction in the Church to be worked against another.

      Many of us, coming from a variety of perspectives, believe that the churches of the Anglican Way in America are in need of spiritual and doctrinal renewal.  The traditional Book of Common Prayer is simply the better tool for this renewal – not perfect, not incapable of improvement, but certainly the objective representation of the last time the faithful were in substantial agreement.  When we are lost, the wisest course of action is to retrace our steps until we reach the last place where we knew where we were.  And then we can move forward together again.

      Likewise, we must consider that the Anglican Reformation left us with a system in which the Holy Scripture, implemented by shared formularies, was the highest authority among us.  The Anglican Way does not provide a pope, a supreme council of bishops, or an international synod and legislature.  Authority has been vested in Scripture and in the formularies, by means of a shared continuity in the submission of our private opinions to the shared doctrine, discipline, and worship of the whole Church, on earth and in heaven.  All at once, by a mere vote or two, to abandon or to replace the historic Anglican Formularies is to saw off the limb behind us that attaches us to the True Vine of the Christian Church.  And even if we wish to contemplate a new or different system of authority among us as Anglicans, it makes no sense at all to abolish the formularies that have bound us together without knowing in advance, for certain, what that alternative is and whether the alternative will work at least as well in guiding and uniting us.

      The recovery of the order and unity of the classic Anglican formularies (and of classic Anglican authority, as well) is really rather simple.  We must, at every level of our life as Christians, in our own hearts and minds, in our households, in our parish churches, in our dioceses, and in our national church take the Scriptures and the Formularies as our authoritative guides to Christian living.  Those who use the traditional Book of Common Prayer in their teaching and worship should seek to understand it as completely as possible in the context of Holy Scripture and the history of the Church.  Those who use a Book of Alternative Services, whether occasionally or all the time, should seek to understand what they do and pray in the light of the traditional Prayer Book and the other Anglican formularies, teaching the same Scriptures, the same faith, and the same common life of Common Prayer as is taught in any other parish of the Anglican Way according to the formularies.  Superficial differences may abound, but unity in the essential content of Common Prayer must abound more for there to be an Anglican Way.

      As an example of how an intentional return to the Scriptures and Formularies might be established as a basis for our future unity and future growth in Christ together, we offer this form of words as a suggested basis for the solemn recovery of the classic Formularies and the taking up of the serious work of reform:

The Episcopal [or this diocese/or this parish] as a faithful part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, worshipping the one true God, a Trinity in Unity and a Unity in Trinity, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; professing the Faith uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the Catholic Creeds, which Faith the Church is called upon to proclaim afresh to each generation; and led by the Holy Spirit: bears witness to the Truth of God maintained and taught in the historic Formularies of the Anglican Way, The Book of Common Prayer (1662, 1789; 1892; and 1928), the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion (1801), and the Ordinal (The Ordering of Bishops, Priests and Deacons, 1928); and furthermore, it declares that its use of the Prayer Book of 1979, or of any further Book of Alternative Service lawfully approved, is conducted in full conjunction with The Book of Common Prayer (1928) and under its doctrinal authority.


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