If you support Christian Marriage, and you want to be sure you begin with one, don’t use the 1979 Marriage Service!
Recently advocates of homosexual, covenanted same-sex partnerships have been explaining that the Marriage Service in the 1979 Prayer Book only needs minor adjustments to be used for a “marriage-service” involving two persons of the same “gender” (or, as I would say, “sex’). I think that they are right in their claim and interpretation, though wrong in what they desire. If this surprises you, read on please.
The Service in the 1979 Book was produced in the aftermath of the 1960s and the sexual revolution begun then. Also it was produced at the height of the feminist movement, in the context of a divorce culture, when artificial birth control was commonly used, and where self-fulfillment was a high priority for many entering marriage. In fact in 1973 The Episcopal Church had changed its rules (canon law) on marriage, abandoning the disciplinary canons and introducing pastoral ones (i.e., to allow for the marriage of divorcees easily) and its new Prayer Book Service had to reflect this changed situation.
The easiest way for anyone to see how what was once named “God’s holy ordinance” has been devalued in the Episcopal Church is by beginning with the Book of Common Prayer in its 1662 edition, and moving on to its American 1928 edition, and then moving to the innovatory 1979 Book and making comparisons.
I leave my reader to do the full examination but let me indicate what to look for.
1. In the Preface look for what is stated to be the doctrine of marriage. Notice a diminution from 1662 to 1928 and then notice a different ethos altogether in 1979.
2. In the vows made by each person, notice whether there are any significant differences between what one promises and what the other promises – again starting with 1662 and going via 1928 to the 1979 Book. That is, is the distinction between male and female there clearly in what they promise one to the other?
3. In the Collects and Prayers notice what doctrines are implied – and note that the notion of procreation being “if it be thy will” found in both 1928 and 1979 is not in 1662 or the C of E 1928 edition.
4. Examine whether the Dominical and Apostolic teaching on marriage is embedded in the different services and to what degree? (Matthew 19:3-15; Mark 10:2-16; 1 Peter 3:1-6; Ephesians 5:21-33; 1 Corinthians 7:10-17).
My own conclusion is that unless the 1979 service is dramatically revised and made to conform to the teaching of the Lord and his Apostles and towards the text of the classic service in the BCP 1662, then it is less than an appropriate rite for use by betrothed couples, who are repentant sinners and who believe on, and desire to serve, the Lord Jesus Christ.
In fact the existence of this 1979 Marriage Service with its implied support for both serial monogamy and for unions in which procreation is refused or minimized through artificial birth control and for achieving self-fulfillment has been a major factor that has helped to move along the agenda of the LesBiGay activists. In fact those who use the 1979 Marriage Service without amendment probably have no right at all to say anything about the demands of the LesBiGay Episcopalians for they too are denying the ordinances of the Lord which state that “the two shall become one flesh.”
For those who decide or desire to use the classic 1662 Service but who want to use contemporary English, then they can – contact me.
Notice that on pages 435-6 of the 1979 Book general provision is made for a marriage either in “you” form or “thou” form and it would appear that the 1662 Service or the 1928 Service or the Canadian 1962 (BCP) Service could be used in either language form within these rubrics.
We look to the Continuing Anglican jurisdictions and the dioceses and jurisdictions within the Anglican Communion Network to recover, proclaim and support the Christian doctrine of marriage in the Anglican Rite which they use, the teaching they give and in their spiritual and pastoral care.
The Revd Dr Peter Toon July 1, 2006
P.S. Click here for a file that I wrote ten years ago on the topic of holy matrimony for publication in the magazines of Forward in Faith USA and The Prayer Book Society USA. I fear that what I have been saying regularly over the decade has been heeded by few! Yet I continue in the hope that seeds are being sown which will grow into a renewed doctrine of marriage.