The Episcopal Church has practically rejected and even denied prevenient Grace - now is the time for all of its people to accept it in faith and practice!
A Meditation arising from reading The Windsor Report and the BCP
One sure thing that the Church as a Body and baptized Christians individually ought to desire is this: not to be stepping ahead of the footsteps of God in the walk of faith. Or, put positively, being sure that God is before us preparing the way for us, because we are seeking to walk in his will.
As a Body The Episcopal Church – in the judgment of its extended Family (The Anglican Communion of Churches) – has been walking alone, and not in the way of the Lord. According to The Windsor Report of 2004 (itself commended by the leadership of the whole Communion), The Episcopal Church is suffering from moral and spiritual sickness (paragraphs 22-30) and this is why it is not walking in the ways of the Lord and in the footsteps of Christ the Lord. And, we may say, this sickness is a general one, including all within it, for in one Body each and every part is affected for ill in some way or another.
One petition that is, therefore, most appropriate – indeed urgent – for Episcopalians to pray is that for prevenient/preventing grace. Here “prevent” does not mean “to hinder” or “cause not to happen” ; but, according to the Latin verb from which it comes, to anticipate, to be beforehand with and to forestall (prae = before; venire = to come). For had God gone before and ahead of the General Convention of The Episcopal Church, especially in the period of the 1970s when, walking alone, it changed its whole foundation, then it would not be in the crisis and sickness it is experiencing now. Looking back, we may dare to say that God did not go ahead to prepare the way through the 1970s into the 1980s because the Church itself decided in the late 1960s that it wanted to walk apart from the will of the Lord Jesus Christ in faith, liturgy and morality. It forsook the covenant with the Lord to pursue an agenda it gained from the secular revolution of the times.
Three times in the Collects of The Book of Common Prayer (England 1662,) and twice in the American edition of 1928 and Canadian of 1962, Anglicans pray to God using the verb “to prevent.”
Almighty God, who through thine only-begotten Son Jesus Christ hast overcome death, and opened unto us the gate of everlasting life: We humbly beseech thee, that as by thy special grace preventing us thou dost put into our minds good desires, so by thy continual help we may bring the same to good effect; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. [England & USA]
LORD, we pray thee that thy grace may always prevent and follow us, and make us continually to be given to all good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen [Trinity XVII] [England, USA and Canada]
Prevent us, O Lord, in all our doings with thy most gracious favour, and further us with thy continual help; that in all our works, begun continued, and ended in thee, we may glorify thy holy Name, and finally by thy mercy obtain everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. [Fourth Collect at end of The Order for Holy Communion] [USA & Canada]
Only one of these was put into the 1979 Prayer Book and that was the second, where the verb “prevent” was changed to “precede” for Proper 23.
If we examine these collects we can see that what they presume is this: that because of our basic sinfulness and lack of spiritual and moral maturity – not to mention our rebellious wills and ungodly minds – we need the intervention of God who, anticipating that we shall surely make mistakes on our own, both places good and right intentions in our hearts, and also goes ahead of us in his providence to prepare the way for us to go, so that we actually can and do walk where he will have us go. Certainly, The Episcopal Church and all its members, if they have any wisdom at all, ought to return to walking after the LORD, placing their feet where his have left their marks. They need to pray, “Prevent us, O Lord….”
Visit www.anglicansatprayer.org and for a description of the sickness of The Episcopal Church take a look at my Episcopal Innovations, 1960-2004, available from www.anglicanmarketplace.com
There is surely also a message from these collects to the Continuing Anglican Churches who, while confessing the same faith, using the same traditional Prayer Book, and actually praying the collects printed above, manage to walk apart and not together – often with a certain amount of hostility. They also have to face the scandal of their illness (divisions) and the root of it/them is that they are not receiving a sufficient supply from heaven of prevenient grace and are walking in their own paths, not paying attention to the footsteps of the Lord.
None of us can do without prevenient grace!
The Rev'd Dr. Peter Toon MA., D.Phil (Oxford)