Tuesday, October 31, 2006

ONE and one only: Reflections on the Proposal of the Bishop of Pittsburgh made on October 25

St Paul tells us that “there is one Body and one Spirit—just as you were called in the one Hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-6). No wonder the apostle goes on to emphasize that unity in the congregation is of paramount importance both for God’s purpose and for human salvation and sanctification.

From such a foundation it is reasonable to infer that where you have in the present time a denomination (which by definition is a distinct part of the One Body of Christ that exists because its members prefer its special emphases in preference to other possible emphases within the One Church and One Faith under the One Lord), that denomination ought to be more united in basics than it is possible, under normal circumstances, for the whole Body of Christ to be. That is, birds of a feather flock together and people of like mind should find a strong commonality. By definition a denomination is a group with similar or identical doctrines.

Therefore, working from this premise, one could assume that members of the Anglican Way are united on majors and only differ on minors. Or, at least, one could assert that they ought to be, for unless they are so united, what is the use of there being a specific jurisdiction or denomination within the One Catholic Church of God called Anglican?

Moving along from idealism to reality, we all know that the Anglican Way in North America is not One Way but an assortment of many ways which seem to be—in general terms and in charitable estimation—going in roughly the same direction but at different speeds and with different vehicles. There is not one Anglican Church but fifty or so, from large to very tiny; there is not one Anglican Liturgy, but hundreds of variations of several basic liturgies; there is not one English version of the Bible used, but many different renderings, translations and paraphrases. Just precisely where “the underlying unity” is in all this is most difficult to pinpoint—maybe just in the name itself.

In this context, it was most encouraging to read that the Episcopal Bishop of Pittsburgh, speaking at Nashotah House on October 25, 2006, boldly proposed that to bring some basic unity into the fragmented Anglican Way in North America there should be One Prayer Book and One version of the Bible. He does not state what is his preferred Bible but his preferred Prayer Book is The Book of Common Prayer of 1662 (which is the most widely used and authoritative Liturgy in the Anglican Communion, either in English or in some 150 other languages into which it has been translated).

Perhaps—in order for this excellent proposal to come anywhere near to possibility in the extremely opinion-based culture of America—we need to expand this proposal a little, while keeping to its essence.


In order to make the BCP 1662 the primary Formulary, under the supreme authority of the Bible, and in order for this to mean something real and lasting, and be a unifier, then Anglicans need actually to use it regularly, at least twice month. They should use it either in its original, classic English form (with prayer for President instead of Monarch) or in an agreed equivalent form in a kind of contemporary English where God is addressed as “You.” [The AMiA is already doing the latter on a trial basis with texts that will be perfected after trial use—contact thomascranmer2000@yahoo.com for details.] Of course the ceremonial and music can be according to local taste as long as neither actually conflicts with the doctrine and spiritual ethos of the Liturgy. On any Sundays when the BCP 1662 is not used then there could be the availability of an official Alternative Rite which would under the doctrinal authority of the BCP 1662 and thus in conformity with it in essentials, including “Shape” (here one can think of the American BCP of 1928 in its original form or in a contemporary English form as an Alternative Rite, as also the Canadian Prayer Book of 1962 in both forms).

One advantage of this way forward would be to put the American Anglican Way into much the same Liturgical use as vast parts of the Anglican Communion. Those who really wanted a more specifically “Catholic” way could go off to Rome or Orthodoxy and those who wanted a specifically more “Protestant” or “Charismatic” Way would have a massive choice in the supermarket of religions. Practical unity requires that there be limits to comprehensiveness.


As we all know, from 1611 through to the 1970s in the English speaking world there was only really One Bible, and that was the English AV or, as it is known around the globe, the KJV. This Bible version goes naturally and admirably with the BCP 1662 and only the radical iconoclast dare tear the two apart.

Yet, as there is a felt need for a Liturgy in a contemporary form of English, so there is the same for a version of the Bible. But, in the capitalist culture of the U.S.A., this desire for a contemporary language version of the Holy Scriptures has got out of control. There are so many versions now on the shelves of the bookstore that only the expert can distinguish their varying purposes and quality. Happily, there are very few which are suitable for public reading in Liturgy, where such reading of the Scriptures is seen as a vital means of grace, and to go with the KJV one of these few has to be chosen—one per diocese if not one per province. And such a version has to have the Apocrypha if it is to be used for the Daily Offices. Thus we are left with the RSV preferably in its later form as the Common Bible and the NRSV (which has for some the disadvantage of taking a deliberately inclusive approach in regard to the sexes). Regrettably, as of now, the ESV (which is closely related to the RSV) does not have the Apocrypha and so if used would need supplementing with the RSV or NRSV.


Obviously these matters have to be made public, thought about, debated and studied—and why not now in the great crisis of Identity facing the Anglican family.

At the same time, we all need to be aware—and consider most seriously—that the present encouragement of centrifugal forces in liturgy, Bible versions, doctrine, discipline and devotion, is keeping Anglicanism as a very much divided and dysfunctional way in North America. The effort and readiness of coming together in a disciplined and humble way to use One Bible and One Prayer Book would be to set in motion (with divine help) powerful centripetal forces that have not been felt or known for many years. To work for this to happen may be at first a thankless task in the highly opinionated and fractured reality of Anglicanism in the USA but it may pay off in the long term—especially if a growing number of sincere souls get involved and the winds from heaven blow to cause the centripetal movement to take place!

P.S. If God’s centripetal winds do blow upon us then maybe we shall also move to more unified doctrines of both women’s ordination and holy matrimony.

drpetertoon@yahoo.com October 30, 2006

[again I commend the book, Who killed the Bible? by my learned friend and distinguished literary critic, Ian Robinson. Buy this paperback from www.edgewaysbooks.com It addresses this question of "One Bible."]

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