In the Preface to the main volume of COMMON WORSHIP: SERVICES AND PRAYERS FOR THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND, the new Directory of Services for this ancient Church, we read this paragraph.
The services provided here are rich and varied. This reflects the multiplicity of contexts in which worship is offered today. They encourage an imaginative engagement in worship, opening the way for people in varied circumstances of their lives to experience the love of God in Jesus Christ in the life and power of the Holy Spirit. In the worship of God the full meaning and beauty of our humanity is consummated and our lives are opened to the promise God makes for all creation – to transform and renew it in love and goodness.
Here several claims are made and a theology of worship is briefly stated. One claim is that the services are “rich and varied”. They are certainly varied but whether they are rich in style and content is a matter of judgment. Another claim is that each and all of them, those in traditional and those in contemporary language “encourage an imaginative engagement in worship”. It is difficult to see why the imagination is particularly singled out, and not say human reason. Human beings are so different. Some are drawn into worship through the kindling of their emotions and affections, some through their imagination, some through the contemplation of their minds and some through the determination of their wills.
The theology of worship expressed here is stated in such a way that it is not easy to ascertain precisely what is in mind. And those who composed the sentences seem not themselves to know what it means (when I asked them).
At first sight – at least through the eyes of the orthodox Anglican – it appears to be pointing to the beatific vision of the age to come. However, on closer examination, it is referring to something less, some experience attainable in this life through the use of Common Worship services. It may be observed that for orthodox theology the “full meaning and beauty of our humanity” are only seen and known in the perfected humanity of the resurrected and exalted Incarnate Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, through, by and in whom the faithful people of God approach the Father of glory in adoration and praise. Thus only as sanctified and redeemed by him and in union with him can sinful human beings begin to see the beauty of our humanity as it is shines forth in the One who is the new and glorified Adam, even Jesus the Christ.
Perhaps an attempt is being made here to relate a theology of creation (which has been a popular theme in recent times) to a theology of worship and because compressed into a few lines, the meaning intended is not conveyed clearly. It is certainly not an expression of the theology of worship of The Book of Common Prayer or of The Articles of Religion, the formularies of the Church. Why I say this is because it seems to be making positive assertions about the future of the present sinful world/creation and this runs contrary to the traditional doctrine of the last judgement and the passing away of the present world before the arrival of “the new creation” of “the new heavens and the new earth”.
“To consummate” is to bring to completion, to accomplish, to fulfil and to bring to perfection. It is surely only in the worship of heaven itself that what we are as human beings in relation to God, our Creator and Redeemer, is brought to perfection and completion.
In fact, one of the disappointing things about the multi-volume Common Worship is that it does not contain a coherent definition or consistent theology of worship. There are all kinds of hints and suggestions (emanating perhaps from the multiple hands and diverse sources of its origins and composition) but no overall clear statement. This is odd because one cannot but note that “the journey” is very much a dominating image underlying the structure and theme of many of the services. So much so that I have called my forthcoming [Sept 03] book, which examines this multi-volume provision, by the title, COMMON WORSHIP CONSIDERED. A LITURGICAL JOURNEY EXAMINED (www.edgewaysbooks.com , isbn 0 907839 78 9)
The Rev'd Dr. Peter Toon