Perhaps the most important phrase within the 1979 prayer book of the Episcopal Church is “peace and justice.” That is, it is crucially important as stating the basis for the practical outworking of the new Episcopal religion, conceived in the 1960s, given form and substance in the 1970s, and made practical in the 1980s & 1990s.
Most people know that one of the great expressions and cries that summed up the revolutionary spirit of the 1960s, a massive era of change in American society, culture, and religion, was “peace and justice.”
The “peace” referred not to that “peace which passes all understanding” which the Spirit of Christ creates in the soul, but peace as the aim of political and social action, peace between nations, peace between classes in a given society, peace not war, peace as a program of politics, and peace as a lifestyle of “free” living in harmony with the created order and with the universal-soul deep inside oneself.
The “justice” was not that which God required in ancient Israel, the justice wherein man obeyed God’s laws and acted towards God and his neighbor justly. It was not that justifying righteousness of Christ whereby sinners are placed in a right relation with God the Father for salvation from sin and holiness of living. No, it was justice in basic secular terms, justice based on humanism, on the centrality and dignity of human beings and their natural, civil and human rights. Thus it related to bringing radical changes in society, and in the church as a society within the larger society. It was expressed in liberation movements.
In the Baptismal Service in the 1970 prayer book, and specifically within what is called “the baptismal covenant,” all who are to be baptized – and all who renew their baptismal vows or promises – commit themselves “to strive for peace and justice among all peoples, and respect the dignity of every human being.” This kind of commitment was new for baptismal services as they had existed in the Catholic and Anglican traditions.
Since this service was created in the early 1970s, and since it was created by theological liberals, the balance of probability is that the meaning of this commitment is to be sought not in a careful study of the meaning of the words “peace” and “justice” in the Hebrew and Greek Testaments of the Bible. Rather, it is to be sought in the general ethos of the late 1960s and early 1970s, which bring us into a modern left of center political meaning, as outlined above.
That it has this political meaning is further suggested by the fact that the liberal elite of the General Convention used this phrase and others from the Baptismal Covenant as the themes for General Conventions in the 1980s and 1990s. Then there is the further point that the Liturgical Commission insisted that the 1979 Baptismal Service must always be used even in churches where the bishop had given permission for use of the classic BCP 1928. This “Covenant” wherein God and human beings make a contract to work together for peace and justice is at the heart of the Episcopal Religion that was conceived in the 1960s.
The 1960s meaning fits well with the actual agenda and concerns of the dominant groups in the General Convention throughout the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. There was commitment to civil rights, to anti-war groups and programs, to human rights for the divorced in terms of remarriage in church, to abortion rights for women, to artificial birth control and family planning for all who desired it, to ecology and green issues, to the ordination of women, to the use of language for God and humankind that was just in terms of women’s feelings, to the rights of homosexual, bi-sexual and Lesbian persons to express their orientation and be accepted as full members of the church, and so on. The Gospel as presented was good news from “God” for this world concerning its improvement and its being blessed as “God” and humanity cooperated. The ordained Ministry existed for purposes of managing the flock and counseling those who needed self-affirmation and help. And the Church as church had little or nothing to proclaim about membership of the heavenly Jerusalem and that the baptized are/ought to be aliens in this world and pilgrims on their way to the next, the heaven above. Indeed its practical theology became “Love is God,” that is, all loving action and deeds done in the pursuit of peace and justice express Love and this Love is God.
And, of course, the Prayer Book of this new Episcopal Religion of peace and justice is that of 1979, together with the further smaller sets of services published in the 1990s. In using them those who pursue peace and justice feel at home for the major traditional themes of the Bible are presented only weakly, even erroneously, in this collection of prayer books. At all costs the use of the classic Prayer Book, the true Book of Common Prayer, must be avoided for in that book in all its authentic editions, the Majesty of God and his holiness and righteousness are presented as the basis of his mercy and grace and man is portrayed as possessing the divine image in a distorted way and thus in need of divine healing and salvation through Christ Jesus. And redemption and salvation is out of this world into the world and age to come; and living in this world baptized Christians are to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world as they are also pilgrims heading for the heavenly Jerusalem.
The ECUSA is still taken up with the theme of peace and justice and its religion is very much a this-worldly phenomenon for it seems to know little of the Jerusalem which is above and which is the mother of all true believers, but to be involved much in programs and agendas which give “God” names and backing to social, economic, cultural and political concerns of those who are known as “liberal” in society in general.
To have any hope of real salvation the ECUSA needs to discover the real PEACE of the Gospel of Peace, the Peace of which the angels sang at the birth of the Messiah. Further, it needs to discover that JUSTICE which so thrilled the mind and heart of St Paul as he described and proclaimed it in his Letter to the Roman Church. To do so it will have to give up the Baptismal Covenant and recover its real, historic Prayer Book – whether that Book remains in its classic, traditional English or is rendered into an equivalent contemporary form of English.
May 8 2006 visit www.anglicansatprayer.org