Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Book of Common Prayer as only Prayer Book or as Formulary also

--a discussion starter for those who use the classic Book of Common Prayer with its own language of prayer.

I want to suggest, if not prove, that amongst traditionalist Anglicans, of the kind who support the Prayer Book Societies in Great Britain or in North America, there are two different ways of receiving, using and interpreting any of the basic editions of the one Book of Common Prayer.

(A) One approach is to see The BCP standing alone in its own right as a/the Prayer Book. Here The BCP is said to contain excellent Liturgy and to fulfill the worshipping needs of people both in public and in private and for all occasions in life. Its language is said to be of such a quality that it helps to separate one from the normal things of the world and to be able to concentrate upon praying to God and meditating upon his works and words. In terms of its teaching it is seen as being illustrative and expressive of the basic doctrines of the Apostles and Nicene Creed and thus of being “central” and not supportive of enthusiasm or extremes.

Because this approach tends to dwell on the fine language, which, of course, is not the same as that spoken outside the assembly of the worshippers, there is a tendency here not to see or unconsciously to avoid the basic doctrines that those, who composed The BCP from medieval liturgies and the Bible, regarded as very important. That is, the aesthetic appreciation of the language becomes the very means whereby what the language actually shapes and presents is missed.

All students of The BCP 1662 would agree that, for example, from the hands of Cranmer and associates, it assumes the doctrine of original and actual sin and thus denies all forms of (English) Pelagianism; it presents and embodies justification by faith alone, denying any possibility of salvation by works even though it calls for good works as the expression of true faith; it assumes the gracious headship of the male in family and church, and it understands that godly fear (awe and reverence) of God is a basic mark of the Christian life.

My point is that not a few of the doctrinal assumptions of the Reformed Catholicism of the Church of England from the Elizabethan Settlement, which are truly writ large in the edition of The BCP of 1559, 1604 and 1662, can be missed when the same BCP is viewed standing alone and primarily in aesthetic terms and without reference to what its authors and editors believed it taught.

(B) Another approach, which the Canon Law of the Church of England has always assumed, is that The BCP is not only a Prayer Book but it is also a Formulary (giving Form to the Doctrine of the Church) along with The Ordinal (services for ordinations) and The Thirty-Nine Articles. And, further, that these three are complementary and present essentially alone and together the same form of doctrine—Reformed Catholicism.

In this way of looking at The BCP, it is seen as doxology, the expression of doctrine in adoration, praise, thanksgiving, confession, intercession and petition. It expresses the doctrines found in The Articles not in propositional terms but in the language of prayer. Thus the people of God confess the Holy Trinity by praying to the Father through the Son and with the Holy Spirit and they look for salvation and blessing from the Father through the Son and by the Holy Spirit. In terms of the Minister, his identity and calling is read from The Ordinal and from there into The BCP so that what each of the Three Orders is and does is based upon what The Ordinal presents and teaches.


If any of the Three is separated from the others then the genius of Reformed Catholicism of the Anglican Way is lost in full or in part.

Without the Ordinal and Articles, The BCP can be set in a context wherein it is simply the prayers of social conservatives who think of its language as poetic and metaphorical and not as teaching doctrine.

Without The BCP and The Articles, The Ordinal sets apart Ministers for a Church without form and shape.

Without The Ordinal and The BCP, The Articles can become like a continental confession of faith, thereby removing doctrine from an intimate relation to worship and living.

So there are modern two ways in the West to tame The BCP and make it seem like a sweet poetical collection of words about God that decent, conservative people use in preference to modern liturgical compositions that lack quality and tend towards progressive liberalism:

One is to separate it from the other two Formularies, as not a few do in the West today, in order to be able to forget or overlook its built-in doctrines and allow it to be a satisfying cloak to social conservatism.

And the other is the way of some modern liturgists—especially those of the C of E liturgical commission right now in 2007—and that is to smile kindly and paternalistically upon The BCP, to say good things about it, to commend its use occasionally, and to make sure thereby that its doctrinal thrust is partly or fully negated by heaping on it feigned praise and thus making sure that this “lion” cannot roam free and roar.

The BCP is doxology but it is also doctrine and the doxology is not truly expressed unless it is informed by the doctrine, for who God is, who Jesus Christ is and what is salvation from sin into glory, are supremely important in both prayer and life.

The Revd Dr Peter Toon Sept 13 2007

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