Monday, November 13, 2006

A timely Prayer for the North American [Anglican] Church[es]

Here is Collect that has been prayed—in Latin from the fifth century and in English from the sixteenth—at Holy Communion and in the Daily Offices on that Sunday (and week following) towards the end of the Christian Year known as Trinity XXII.

The usual English translation provided in The Book of Common Prayer from its first edition in 1549 is as follows:

Lord, we beseech thee to keep thy household the Church in continual godliness; that through thy protection it may be free from all adversities, and devoutly given to serve thee in good works, to the glory of thy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Here the Latin continua pietate is rendered “in continual godliness,” taking pietate to refer to human beings, and thus to how God’s people ought to behave and live. However, it is probable that the intended meaning of the Latin phrase was intended to relate to God and to mean “with thy continual pity/compassion” and so be a reference to the God’s guardianship of the Church—“We beseech thee to keep thy household the Church with thy continual pity…” Happily, either of these renderings makes perfect sense and the former was probably chosen by the Archbishop Cranmer in 1549 because he wanted it to be clear that those who are justified by faith are also to be those who live godly lives.

“Household” is good, old-fashioned English word which is little used today because its meaning hardly fits modern co-habitation and “family” structures. A household is an establishment consisting of children and servants, dwelling together under one roof, and subject to the rule and guardianship of a father and master (whose wife is the mistress). When speaking of the Church as God’s household the meaning is similar but not identical. God’s household consists of children and servants but these are not two distinct sets of people but one and the same people considered under two aspects. So he or she who in a real sense is a child of God (adopted by the grace of God for the sake of Jesus Christ) is also a servant of the LORD God, the Master (because a disciple of Jesus Christ). Thus the baptized, believing followers of the Lord Jesus Christ have both great and high privileges as the children of God and also many and profound duties as the servants of God. For ever and on into everlasting life these two aspects of their identity will remain for they are always beloved creatures with the privileges of adopted children and the duties of humble servants.

If we press the picture of the household, we can say that the Church is an ordered family where, while all are both children and servants, there are some servants who are above others and rule on behalf of the Master and in the spirit of the Master—thus the doctrine of “headship” and the sacred Ministry.

We all need to implore our heavenly Father—implore [beseech the Master] in order to let him know that we pray from the depths of our being and not merely with words framed in the mind or uttered by the lips—both to preserve his Church with his continuing pity and compassion and also to keep his Church in that genuine faith which issues in faithfulness and godliness. And to keep and preserve through thick and thin and especially in North America through the powerful attractions of the Zeitgeist which can take on religious attraction and is so seductive!

Of course, the Church can seek to go it alone and use its own human resources and claimed knowledge and experience to face the challenges and problems that necessarily exist in the secular culture today in the West. Yet, when it recalls and accepts that it is a household and not a democracy, it will seek the protection of God’s providence and care so that it is not overcome or infiltrated by adversities and adversaries (of which/whom there is no lack in the western world). Indeed the very best way to experience and enjoy the protection of the Most High is to be faithful as obedient servants committed to what the Master has commanded to be done in his Name and for his Kingdom and thus for his glory in this world.

What we have seen and been part of as Episcopalians or Anglicans in North America for a long time now is a sustained rebellion against the whole idea that the Church is the household of God and that we are not only children of God but also and always the servants of God. We act as though we are free citizens in a democracy where we make the rules and God rubberstamps them!What we have not liked, and still do not seem to like, is the implication that the Master makes the rules and gives the orders to the Church and there is no negotiation with him, only humble and loving submission to him through the confession of Jesus Christ as Lord. We have thought that we can negotiate with God—e.g., make our own baptismal covenant to determine his relation to us—and, indeed, we have even acted as though we can make God in our image and after our own taste (God is Love and nothing much else). Thus we have rejected that doctrine and approach to God which bows in holy reverence before His Majesty and trembles there in holy fear, seeking to gain wisdom and knowledge (for the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom…) from the Father through the Son and by the Holy Spirit.

Let us pray this Collect and do so with true devotion and piety.

Lord, we implore You to keep your household the Church with your constant compassion in continual godliness; that through your protection it may be free from all adversities, and devoutly given to serve you in good works, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. November 11, 2006

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