Monday, May 14, 2007

Liturgical "Spin" from Anglican Leaders

How we are misled in the basic area of Prayer

In the U.S.A. in 2007 we hear much about "spin" in politics, by which we seem to understand the obvious manipulation of facts to serve the advantage of a political party or government agency. And in the "spin" we note that the use of images and pictures is often very important, determining the way people look at a given subject or topic.

From the liberal establishment within western Anglicanism, we are subject continually to "liturgical spin" through which the attempt is made to persuade us that there is a definite family likeness to all Anglican Prayer Books around the world and that "the law of praying" is always to be the "law of believing" (or in Latin, lex orandi, lex credendi). We note that the image increasingly being used by professional liturgists—and bishops, clergy and laity who listen to them—for the relation one to another of the massive variety of official Prayer Books in use in the Global Anglican Communion is "Family Tree." That is, we are told originally that there was The Booke of The Common Prayer of 1549, and from this original shoot has come a whole series of Prayer Books, both in English and in other languages, and all these have, despite differences, the same essential nature ("bloodline" and "family characteristics"). In 2007, we are further informed, there is truly a very large tree with many branches and a variety of fruit on each branch, and the tree is still growing, with some pruning there and there.

Here the underlying view is that when any of the thirty-eight or so autonomous Provinces of the global Anglican Communion produces a Prayer Book and officially authorizes it, then, whatever its structure and content, it is an Anglican Prayer Book and within the one Anglican Family Tree of Prayer Books, whatever its content and title.

This image is used as a basic organizing tool in the recent publication from Oxford University Press in the U.S.A. of The Oxford Guide to THE BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER, A worldwide survey (2006). Since this book is being, and no doubt will be, used as both a text-book and a reference text by thousands of people, the influence of this image will probably be huge, both initially from the text itself and later through those who have read the text uncritically and absorbed the image. And this is most regrettable for in its simple straightforward form it is grossly misleading: it is "liturgical Spin." The Prayer Books in use in the global Anglican Communion do not belong to one type, even if they have certain things in common as, for example, use of the Apostles' Creed and Lord's Prayer (just as different types of cars all have windows). In fact, to avoid "spin" the image of the family tree has to be developed in particular ways in order for it truly to represent the flow of official Anglican Prayer Books in Great Britain and around the world. But this makes the image more complicated and thus more difficult both to present and to remember accurately. Thus here "the spin doctors" with the simple image have the advantage in terms of communication and they appear to be winning the argument, as it were, amongst liberals and conservatives, as well as those in the middle.

With this is mind let us develop the image of the tree.

1549 to 1962

If we think first of all of the editions of The BCP from 1549 through to 1662 in England; and then from 1662 to 1928 in the U.S.A., from 1662 to 1962 in Canada (and likewise in Ireland, Scotland and Wales), we have very clearly what can be called a Family Tree. And branches from it have reached into many parts of the world where there were translations of the basic text, or parts of the text, into other languages. It is therefore a large tree with many branches and twigs and with over 150 types of fruit (languages); but it is recognizable as one tree. (For example, it contains one text of each service/rite and the only basic variation in all editions is in the Psalms and Bible readings appointed daily and weekly.) Common Prayer is thus in the form of common texts intended for use by all, and all of the time.

Alongside this huge tree, we may see various seedlings, which are related to it as hybrids, each one unique. Here we think of the adaptations of The BCP of 1662 made chiefly by anglo-catholics in the West and as missionaries abroad as they translated The BCP into various languages, specifically, languages in the Indian sub-continent, Japan and Korea. In general, their aim was to make The BCP conform to the structure and content of Eucharistic Rites of the Roman Church (thus various "Missals" in Great Britain and the U.S.A .) and of the ancient Church in the Eastern Mediterranean area (thus "the BCP" for India in 1961). Where these hybrid seedlings still grow they are used by few people, and often within "continuing Anglican" churches.

So to cover the period from 1549 to 1962 we need the image of one large family tree with several seedlings growing apart from it. And we need to be clear that the seedlings are the deliberate results of changing the internal character of the tree from which they were taken.

1963 to 2007

Before noticing the flow of Anglican Prayer Books in the period from 1962 we need to recall significant "winds of change" that were blowing through the Churches in the West in the 1960s and afterwards. To explain these would take much space and thus I simply list a few of them:

(a) With the moves to translate the Bible into "contemporary English" there were calls, which were soon heard, to prepare new Prayer Books in "contemporary English." And the pursuit of "dynamic equivalency" became a common aim in translation of ancient texts.
(b) Professional liturgists were calling for a "renewing" of liturgy by making use of the liturgical texts from the Early Church, especially those associated with Hippolytus of Rome, and supposedly from the third century.
(c) Following Vatican II (1962-65) the Roman Catholic Church began to produce new Liturgy and this was studied and imitated.
(d) The 1960s was a period of social and cultural revolution in the West and caused the Churches to press for relevance and simplicity in their public worship, with much more congregational participation than in the past.

The Lambeth Conference of Bishops of 1968 gave the green light to the move to create new liturgy to "supplement" that available in The BCP of the Family Tree. And thus from the late 1960s liturgists in the West entered a new era when they came out of the shadows, effectively to become not only the people driving the agenda of the churches but also the ones creating its new doctrine, for everywhere the cry was heard, lex orandi, lex credendi. Very few of them were learned in a real sense, but they were enthusiastic and they had been given green lights by Synods and House of Bishops. Thus they tended to follow the "leading lights" — e.g., Gregory Dix, author of The Shape of the Liturgy. Though there was some cooperation and various international gatherings, each Province, being autonomous, had its own team of "experts," which produced texts for trial use and then amended them for "permanent" public use in books of texts. So there was not one new Prayer Book (with minor local variations as with The BCP) but a growing variety of similar but different Prayer Books, many showing the particular opinions of the primary drafters of the texts.

Thus if we have to use an horticultural image it cannot be that of the family tree; for the situation is that of a variety of seedlings, some small and some large, and each one (in some cases two) growing in an individual province. To complicate the task of identifying the new seedlings, some provinces called them by titles to distinguish them from the family tree, The BCP, while others actually used the name of the family tree, calling the new, "The BCP." In England, for example, the new seedlings were called Alternative Service Book 1980 and Common Worship (2000), to distinguish them from The BCP (1662). But in the U.S.A., West Indies, Nigeria and Ireland, for example, the new seedlings were all given the title, "The BCP" as if they were simply a new edition of the classic BCP—which is what not a few liturgists apparently believed and wanted people to believe!

Practical consequences

People notice similarities between the modern Roman Catholic Mass and Easter Eve Liturgy and the same services in modern Anglicanism. And most realize that the reason for this is imitation by Anglicans as well as use by each group of similar ancient texts and principles in the 1970s. However, there is one massive difference between the two Churches and it is this: while Roman Catholicism has one central authority and one basic Liturgy everywhere (with of course local music and ceremonial guided by cultural factors), Anglicanism has multiple authorities and so there is no single modern basic Liturgy that is used everywhere. Rather, each province has its own provisions and these may be like or unlike neighboring provinces.

This embarrassing fact for Anglicanism is becoming more apparent and public at the present time due, in part, to the crisis over innovations in sexuality in North America, and the repercussions globally. There is a generally felt need for stronger ties to bind autonomous provinces together, and from this has emerged the idea of all provinces covenanting together to uphold and share one and the same Faith—just as individual provinces have covenants with Lutheran and Methodist churches. So there exists in 2007 the draft of a proposed "An Anglican Covenant," which has the general approval of The Primates' Meeting, and which will come before the Lambeth Conference of 2008 for debate and possible commendation.

At this point, we need to notice how the "liturgical spin" claiming that there is one basic Anglican form of public prayer has been written into this draft document, and how that to accept it in its present wording will be to accept this "spin" to the long-term detriment of the Anglican Way. Here is the portion of the proposed text (which may be revised at the Lambeth Conference 2008) together with a very significant footnote attached to it:

(5) that, led by the Holy Spirit, it [Anglican Communion] has borne witness to Christian truth in its historic formularies, the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordering of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons 1;
(6) our loyalty to this inheritance of faith as our inspiration and guidance under God in bringing the grace and truth of Christ to this generation and making Him known to our societies and nations.
1 This is not meant to exclude other Books of Common Prayer and Ordinals duly authorised for use throughout the Anglican Communion, but acknowledges the foundational nature of the Book of Common Prayer 1662 in the life of the Communion .

One way to read this text from within the image of the family tree is to agree that The BCP (1662) has been very important, but that in reality it has been superseded at least in part by later editions of "The BCP"—such as those in use in Japan, Korea, West Indies, U.S.A., Nigeria and other provinces. In this way, the function of The BCP (1662) loses its place as the one primary doctrinal formulary of the Anglican Way and as a means to unite all genuine Reformed Catholic Anglicans. And we are thrown back to where the Anglican Way is situated in practical terms in 2007—not one Lex Orandi as the basis for one Lex Credendi, but many laws of prayer supporting many laws of believing. In other words—if you like—one tree but a unique tree bearing a bewildering variety of different fruit from a massive range of branches (and thus an unreality!). So the question is raised: What really unites Anglicans globally, even nationally? And in answer we say that the proposed "Covenant" cannot unite and at best can cement an uneasy and fragile alliance.

If the liturgical spin and the image of the one family tree are abandoned (as truth surely requires), then, of course, the footnote will have to go and (5) will have to use the present tense (as it should now have in the C. of E.!) so that the classic Formularies of 1662 (which already are in the constitutions of many of the provinces) will actually and actively become the basic doctrinal foundation of the global Anglican Way and provide the Liturgies to be used when there are international gatherings—e.g. the opening Eucharist at Canterbury Cathedral for the Lambeth Conference and for Primates' Meetings. Further, part of the Covenant would be to use the title, The BCP, only and solely for the original and genuine Family Tree of authentic editions of this book, and require provinces to provide titles to other Prayer Books, which reflect their recent origins and provenance. So then there will be the One Family Tree and many seedlings but all will accept and respect the priority and authority of the Family Tree. Over time the number of seedlings would diminish and the practical authority of the Family Tree increase.

Certainly if the Lambeth Conference leaves intact the section printed above on the Formularies then it will be very clear that The Anglican Way will have no common doctrinal base even if it claims to have one. And I can see two apparently powerful reasons why the section may stay as currently drafted: (1) the reference to the 1662 Formularies is taken directly from the Declaration made by Ministers of the Church of England when ordained, and instituted to parishes, and so has a certain authority from the mother Church of the Anglican Communion; and 2) the large (20 millions) Province of Nigeria has chosen to call its own modern Prayer Book by the title, "The Book of Common Prayer" (1996) and its leadership is very proud of this book and will not be keen to diminish it in any way.

In closing one is reminded of words of Jesus:

. . . every tree which bringeth not good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Matt 3:10
. . . every good tree bringeth forth good fruit, but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. Matt. 7:17
. . . these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground? Luke 13:7. May 14, 2007

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