Thursday, August 09, 2007

How the first edition of The American BCP was commended in 1789 & How the same message may commend The BCP 1662 for Common Cause in 2007

Soon after Independence, the General Convention of the new denomination, The Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America, sent forth the first American edition of that Book of Common Prayer, of which the English edition from the seventeenth century had been used in the thirteen colonies for many years. The new edition was dated 1789 and the one it replaced was dated 1662, but both had the same title, being [it is important to note] two related but different editions of One and the same Book, one for use in a Monarchy and one for use in a Republic.

The last paragraph of the 1789 Preface, written for the General Convention by the Rev. Dr. William Smith, expressed fine principles and sentiments, and it is worth quoting in full:

And now, this important work [of revision] being brought to a conclusion, it is hoped the whole will be received and examined by every true member of the Church, and every sincere Christian, with a meek, candid, and charitable frame of mind; without prejudice or prepossessions; seriously considering what Christianity is, and what the truths of the Gospel are; and earnestly beseeching Almighty God to accompany with his blessing every endeavour for promulgating them to mankind in the clearest, plainest, affecting and majestic manner, for the sake of Jesus Christ, our blessed Lord and Saviour.

Let us analyze what the General Convention (by far and away the most democratic Anglican synod in the world at that time) is asking of the American public, both Episcopalians and other Christians. And as we do so, it is necessary to bear in mind that The BCP 1662 had been very widely used in the American colonies, not only in churches but for family prayers, and not only by Anglicans but also by other Protestant Christians. So, what was being introduced was not a major innovation but a familiar product in an updated version. Virtually all the Founding Fathers of the U.S.A. had been influenced, if only in language, by The BCP 1662.

Turning to the text, we see, first of all, that it is requested that the BCP be read and prayed with a meek, candid, and charitable frame of mind. A frame of mind refers to a state and attitude of mind, and here it is to be meek (quiet, gentle and submissive to the Lord), candid (truthful and straightforward). and charitable (generous and tolerant).

Further, it is requested that it be read without prejudice or prepossession. That is without irrational, preconceived opinion or without beliefs and impressions formed before seeing the text

And as Americans, belonging to the age of reason and Enlightenment, they are asked as readers to consider seriously the nature of Christianity and what it both proclaims as Good News and teaches as Truths. Yet they are asked not to engage in such considering without also fervently asking Almighty God for his blessing upon the propagation of the Gospel and its Truths to all people by the church, in the clearest, plainest, moving and dignified way possible, for the sake of Jesus Christ, Lord and Saviour.


Whether many Americans took this advice at the end of the eighteenth century is difficult to estimate. Without a doubt some did.

However, what we may say is that the content of this paragraph can, does and will speak a timely word in 2007 to the members of the Common Cause Churches and Networks (including the Anglican Communion Network) on behalf of whom their representatives have committed them to The BCP 1662 as a formulary and standard of worship, doctrine and discipline. What was said about the replacement for The BCP 1789 may in changed circumstances serve to commend the right reception of The BCP 1662 in 2007! Let us hope that The BCP 1662 is received in the way that General Convention desired its own new edition of The BCP to be received in 1789-90. August 10, 2007

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