Christian worshippers who speak English have the choice in the U.S.A. of two forms of English-for-prayer. One [TELP] has been around since the sixteenth century and was universally used until the 1960s; and the other [CELP] has been around since the 1960s and is nearly universally used in 2007. Though the choice is real, it is like the difference between shopping in a mall and supermarkets, one the one hand, or shopping in hard-to-find specialist shops, on the other.
TELP stands for the Traditional English Language of Prayer as found in, for example, The Book of Common Prayer (1662), The King James Bible (1611), the Hymnody of Charles Wesley, and the Poetry of George Herbert. Its most obvious characteristic is the use of “Thou” as the second person singular.
CELP stands for the Contemporary English Language of Prayer as found in modern Roman, Lutheran, Anglican and Methodist Liturgies, in recent translations of the Bible and in modern songs and choruses sung in churches. Its most obvious characteristic is the use of “You” as the second person singular.
In the U.S.A. today one can make these generalizations, I think:
- No congregation anywhere uses TELP consistently for the whole Service—Bible reading, prayers, hymns, sermon and notices. (In contrast many use CELP consistently.)
- Less than 1% use TELP for a major part of the Service, that is for Bible reading, prayers and hymns. The Sermon and notices are always in CELP.
- Up to 80% sing the occasional hymn in TELP because it is not available in a suitable modern form and the traditional has appeal.
- Up to 40% say the Lord’s Prayer in TELP (R.C’s especially who are the largest denomination in the USA).
- Amongst Anglicans and Episcopalians (with circa 1 million attending church regularly and more at Christmas!) not more than 5% use TELP in the sense of No 2 above. Many of this number are in the small Continuing Anglican denominations.
- CELP is not uniform or of one type; it comes in various versions according to who creates it and for what purpose. E.g. much of the R C usage is geared for global use of English speaking peoples and so tends to be “dumbed down.” And much of the evangelical-charismatic-experientialist use is aimed at the perceived common denominator and so is also “dumbed-down.”
- Though there are signs of a desire to return to either the Latin Mass by Catholics or the TELP by Anglicans, Lutherans and Methodists, the trend is still that of the triumph of CELP virtually everywhere, including the vast Southern Baptist denomination.
For to cease to be acquainted with, or to read, or to be familiar with the TELP cuts off a people from a massive treasury of devotion and doctrine in prose and poetry, together with music forms created for it. As yet there is nothing remotely like this vast reservoir of excellence available in CELP.
In many areas of life we can well manage without the knowledge, ways and means of the 16th or the 17th or the 18th centuries—e.g. in medicine and surgery—but the life of the soul before God, individually and corporately, is a different matter; for here most surely we have much to learn and much to gain from the great treasury there written in the form of TELP!
And there is one important area I may single out as a sphere where only the TELP works (because as the experts would say of its special register) as genuine “God-language.”
I refer to the standing of creatures, specifically fallen, sinful and disobedient creatures before their Creator and Judge the Holy, Almighty Lord God. TELP speaks much of the fear of the Lord and has worshippers often “beseeching” the Holy Father and also often asking Him to “grant” this or that blessing. TELP excels at providing the opportunity and ethos of reverence and awe before God, for it comes out of a context when society was hierarchical and proper respect was due to those above you in the Lord!
In contrast CELP belongs to the sphere of human rights and a general emphasis upon leveling, and so it cannot handle the “vertical” relation of holy fear and reverence but has to transmute it into something near to a “horizontal” relation. Thus it is that “the fear of the Lord” is hardly heard in 2007.
Further, the addressing of God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ as “Thou/Thee” allows for the New Testament emphasis upon “filial fear” that is the combined relation of both holy fear and holy intimacy which belongs uniquely to those who are in Christ Jesus and adopted children of God.
So I suggest that wise people will say that we cannot let go TELP and the forms in which is it expressed—BCP, KJV, Hymnody, Poetry, Doctrine & Devotion. We must keep it for we need it and we are the losers if we let it go. It is like giving up the family name, the family tree, the family history and the family heirlooms.
May I invite my readers to obtain and read Neither Archaic Nor Obsolete: The English Language of Prayer, by Lou Tarsitano & Peter Toon –from www.edgewaysbooks.com in UK and Europe and from www.anglicanmarketplace.com in the USA and Canada.
May I also suggest that one very good idea—suggested by my learned friend Ian Robinson—is that in every major town/city there should be at least one center of excellence, that is one church, where the TELP is used within classic forms of liturgy and bible translation for the glory of God and the edification of the people. For Anglicans this means the use of the classic BCP, KJV, Hymnody and so on. How about the Anglican Communion Network and Common Cause making such centers part of their strategy!
Dr Peter Toon firstname.lastname@example.org Wednesday Nov. 7