Friday, February 29, 2008

SIN, Morning Prayer, and Modern Anglicans

A meditation by Peter Toon for all who are sinners, even on this unique day, February 29

One surprising fact about the New Anglicans, that is, those who having left The Episcopal Church and are joined to African dioceses/provinces, is that they are “easy come easy go” about Morning Prayer, and, in general, do not use Evening Prayer. They are very much “Holy Eucharist” centered for the Lord’s Day, and on other days, usually have services that are of the same kind as evangelical and charismatic congregations, not in the Anglican Way.

By not participating as a godly habit and discipline in Morning and Evening Prayer—in church or at home—the New Anglicans (as well as the Old Episcopalians) miss much, from the systematic reading of the Old and New Testaments to the praying of the Psalter, Collects and Canticles.

Here I want only to point out that what is also missed in not saying the Daily Offices is the daily reminder of the nature of human sin, so that it is confessed aright and repented of by the worshippers. It is good to remember that a very important doctrine assumed in the classic Book of Common Prayer is this: truly to confess our sins is genuinely to praise God. Why? Because in acknowledging and turning away from our sins before God, we recognize not only his holy wrath and judgment against sin, but also his mercy and compassion in the forgiving and cleansing of sin.

Today, with the general emphasis on “celebration” and a general dumbing -down of the horrendous nature of sin, too many of us see confession of sin as something to get over with quickly in order to enter into the real thing: “celebration.” In doing so we fail to see that true celebration begins with real confession!

What is sin according to the General Confession

After the call by God to his elect to meet with him (via the Scripture sentences), Morning and Evening Prayer proceed with a message for the assembled people concerning the purpose of their coming together. They are to confess their sins, offer thanks and praise, to hear God’s Holy Word, and to offer petitions.

Confession is offered to God through “The General Confession.” After addressing and identifying God as the almighty and most merciful Father (of the Lord Jesus and baptized Christians), this Prayer allows the assembled people to make a thorough confession of their sin. Here are the words of the Prayer:
  • We have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep
  • We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts
  • We have offended against thy holy laws
  • We have left undone those things which we ought to have done
  • We have done those things which ought not to have done
  • Thus there is no health in us.

Here we certainly have a comprehensive description of our human sinfulness and each of us, through self-examination and in the light of the written Word of God, have much to confess in each and every category.

  • We have not continually remained on the narrow way that leads to everlasting life and we have not stayed content and engaged on the highway of holiness. We have gone off on to other ways and roads which do not lead to the living God.
  • We have too often followed the deceitfulness and covetousness of our hearts, instead of being guided always by the clear teaching of the Lord Jesus.
  • We have broken God’s holy commandments.
  • We have failed to do that which by God’s law we ought to have done—sins of commission.
  • We have done that which by God’s law we ought not to have done—sins of omission.
In and of ourselves, and by ourselves, we cannot begin to save ourselves: we need God’s mercy.
In the light of all this everyone who confesses is “a miserable offender” who looks to the grace of the Father through the Incarnate Son by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit for forgiveness, cleansing and everlasting life. Happily the service continues with the Absolution.

Sin and the contemporary Eucharist

Whether one attends the modern R.C. Mass, a liberal or evangelical/charismatic Anglican Eucharist, or a Lutheran/Methodist Eucharist, what one cannot miss is the emphasis on the horizontal and sharing, and of a community meal, with only a minimal emphasis on the vertical, transcendental, and offering to the high and majestic God. This contrasts greatly with both the older R.C. Mass as a propitiatory offering to the Father in heaven, and on the classic Anglican Order for Holy Communion as an offering of sanctified lives, with praise and thanksgiving, to the Father through the Son to feast at his Messianic Banquet.

And, with relation to sin, the uncovering of it and the need for its forgiveness and cleansing, in those who would receive the sacramental body and blood of the crucified and now exalted Jesus, is made very clear in the traditional Anglican Service. That is, one communicates in both fear and trembling and also with joy unspeakable.

Sin and contemporary Anglican Movements

How one evaluates sin before God not only affects Daily Prayer and Sunday Eucharist but also Anglican polity and business. This is a big subject and one can only touch on it here. However one can state, as a general rule, that the view of sin that characterizes much of recent Liturgy (from 1970s onwards) leads to a different approach to ministry, evangelization, and church politics than does the view of sin within the classic Formularies (BCP, Articles and Ordinal) of the Anglican Way. To give one example: the traditional view of sin, and of the depravity of the human heart/soul, causes one to be very careful in following the motions and inspirations of one’s heart. In seeking guidance over complex modern Anglican questions, that are filled with emotion and conflict, one does not simply trust one’s own bright ideas and disclosures: rather, one carefully examines them in a large context before following them, if at all.

Then in decisions by congregations or parts thereof, by dioceses and varied groups to take this or that side, this or that action, within the present Anglican crisis, the weight given to human sinfulness and how much to trust human nature, even when speaking charismatically and reasonably, will often determine what decision is actually made!

A very clear example of how a novel doctrine of sin leads to innovations in church doctrine and morals is provided by The Episcopal Church itself. When sin is moved to the category of the suppose evils caused by political, economic, social and educational policies, and from that of the failures and depravity of the person and the group, then the world is seen, and salvation is described, in ways that accord with liberal progressive ideologies. The Faith is thereby changed and this begins at the very beginning with the “Baptismal Covenant” so treasured by the present Presiding Bishop.

A less clear (because many of us are within it), but real, example would be the way in which a contemporary dumbed-down doctrine of sin (inherited primarily from the 1979 Episcopal Prayer Book and modern popular Evangelicalism) has affected the way in which the New Anglicans have expressed and conducted themselves from before their secession from TEC right through into association with African Provinces. Many in this movement have paid little attention to what may be called the arguments from the classic Anglican Tradition about Anglican Polity and Procedure and, as it were, casting aside the wisdom of the centuries, and following the common way of American secession, they have followed primarily their own modern “hearts” in the interpretation of the Bible. Thus, for example, godly patience and prudential judgment seem to have been severely lacking from Anglican “orthodox” ranks for some time now.


Only One was not a sinner and had no sin—the Lord Jesus Christ. And he alone is the only Savior of sinners, and the One Mediator between God and man. In this knowledge, we ought to acknowledge and confess our manifold sins and wickedness and not seek to dissemble or cloak them before the face of almighty God our heavenly Father.


The Revd Dr Peter Toon Feb 29, 2008 Lent III

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