The Prayer Book:
Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow
Three addresses given at St. Paul’s Church, Bloor Street, Toronto, on May 1, 1999
at a special event organized by the Prayer Book Society of Canada, Toronto Branch,
in celebration of the 450th anniversary of the Book of Common Prayer
The Revd. Dr. Robert Crouse,
retired Professor of Classics
at King’s College, Halifax;
The Revd. Ed Hird,
rector of St. Simon’s Church,
The Revd. Dr. James Packer,
Professor of Systematic Theology
at Regent College, Vancouver
Table of contents:
“The Form of Sound Words” (2 Tim. 1:13): The Catholicity of the Prayer Book
by the Revd. Dr. Robert D. Crouse
“Filled with the Knowledge of His Will” (Col. 1:1-14)
by the Revd. Ed Hird
“Rooted and Built Up in Christ” (Col. 2:6-7): The Prayer Book Path
by the Revd. Dr. James I. Packer
The Revd. Dr. Robert D. Crouse
Dr. Robert Crouse was born in Winthrop, Massachusetts. He earned degrees at King’s College, Halifax; Harvard University, Massachusetts; and Trinity College, Toronto. He taught first at Bishop’s University, Quebec and subsequently at Dalhousie University and King’s College. Dr. Crouse has served as Examining Chaplain for the Diocese of Nova Scotia, and is currently a member of the Primate’s Theological Commission, and is Canon Theologian for the Diocese of Saskatchewan. He has taught three times at the prestigious “Augustinianum” in Rome as Visiting Professor of Patristics.
As we gather here to celebrate the four hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the first English Book of Common Prayer, we must do so with a profound sense of thankfulness for a tradition of faith and worship which has conveyed across the centuries, from generation to generation, and to every corner of the globe, “the Doctrine, Sacraments, and Discipline of Christ as the Lord hath commanded in his Holy Word….”; a tradition which has provided for the faithful not only an effectual means of hearing and understanding the Word of God, but also a sacred language of devotion, a means of praying the Word of God.
That tradition of common prayer has been and continues to be for us a means of grace and sanctification, which, as the “Solemn Declaration” of our Canadian General Synod puts it, “we are determined by the help of God to hold and maintain … and to transmit unimpaired to our posterity”. In the words of the Psalmist, “There is a river, the streams whereof make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High” (Ps. 46:4). Let our first and deepest thought today be one of thankfulness to Almighty God for the blessings of that tradition.
The Book of Common Prayer, from its earliest version of 1549, down to its most recent revision in our Canadian version of 1962, is not simply a liturgical resource book, or an “aid to worship”; it is, rather, a complete and logically ordered system of instruction in the essentials of Christian faith and Christian living, and it has been a guide to the practice of piety in a characteristically Anglican way in every generation. Thus, the Reverend John Keble, for instance, Professor of Poetry at Oxford, saintly country parson, and one of the great leaders of the Anglican revival in the nineteenth century, remarked in the “Advertisement” of his immensely popular collection of sacred verse, called The Christian Year:
Next to a sound rule of faith, there is nothing of so much consequence as a sober standard of feeling in matters of practical religion: and it is the peculiar happiness of the Church of England to possess, in her authorized formularies, an ample and secure provision for both.1
An anonymous contributor to the Tracts for the Times, probably the same John Keble, in a sermon on the Prayer Book, hailed it as a great defense against “the waves of men’s fancies”, and “the winds of strange doctrine”. The Church, he said, “teaches you today with the same lessons, and teaches you to pray to God in the same ‘form of sound words’, that she did your fathers, and those who died a thousand years ago”.
And this is one great advantage in the teaching of the Holy Church, that popular impulses which prevail do not affect her one way or the other … From the beginning to the end of her sacred year, she continues to bear witness against that world into which she has been received, unfolding one by one her great mysteries, and the doctrines and practices connected with them; ever labouring to maintain “the form of sound words in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus”.2
Keble and his fellow-Tractarians strongly objected to proposed changes in the Prayer Book, which they perceived as tending in a Latitudinarian direction. John Henry Newman, in particular, in Tract 38, and again in Tract 41, urged the clergy to resist all alterations. He pointed out that all the changes suggested were intended to make the book less catholic.3 It is surely one of the ironies of history that pressure for the most radical revision, and, indeed, abandonment of the Prayer Book tradition in the twentieth-century has come mainly from those who would regard themselves as spiritual successors to the Tractarians.
Dr. Rowan Williams, Bishop of Monmouth, in his Foreword to a recent book on The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Anglican Tradition, remarks with reference to modern Anglican controversies about eucharistic doctrine, that “if we look at the way practically all of these controversies have been conducted, one thing that immediately strikes the observer who has any awareness of Anglican history is the phenomenal degree of collective amnesia on this general subject that seems to afflict Anglicans”.4 And the historical amnesia which seems to characterize Anglican approaches to eucharistic doctrine afflicts at least as severely modern Anglican approaches to the intimately related matters of eucharistic liturgy, and worship generally.
Thus, several churches in the Anglican Communion have in recent decades produced liturgies as alternatives to, or substitutes for the Book of Common Prayer, which seem to arise out of a forgetfulness of – or perhaps even in some cases an antipathy towards – the essentials of the historical tradition of Anglicanism, and seem, indeed, to promote that very amnesia out of which they arise. The anniversary which we currently observe will be useful if it serves to re-invigorate our memory, our lively awareness of that continuous tradition of faith and worship which must be the basis of any sound judgement in the present, and any genuine hope for the future. Memory is the necessary matrix of all creativity; amnesia can produce only disorientation and disintegration.
The Book of Common Prayer is the form of the collective memory of Anglicans, the consensus fidelium, the “common mind” of the Church, the principle of authority and cohesion of the institution, and the guarantee of its catholicity. For reasons such as these, successive Lambeth Conferences have urged caution in regard to revision of the Prayer Book. The 1948 Conference, for instance, issued a warning:
The Conference holds that the Book of Common Prayer has been, and is, so strong a bond of unity throughout the whole Anglican Communion that great care must be taken to ensure that revisions of the Book shall be in accordance with the doctrine and accepted liturgical worship of the Anglican Communion (Resolution 78a).
However, already in 1947, Catholicity, the Report of the Anglo-Catholic party in the Church of England to the Archbishop of Canterbury, while recognizing the Book of Common Prayer as the most important safeguard of Anglican unity, despaired of its continuing effectiveness in that regard:
The Book of Common Prayer has played an incomparably greater part [than the Establishment] in the fashioning of our unity. It has moulded our religious outlook and given us a lex orandi wherein our lex credendi has been defined and expressed. It has held the warm allegiance of men of all parties and of none. But in our recent history its failure to remain the bond of unity, which once it was, is freely admitted … That the Prayer Book still teaches our tradition to countless Anglicans cannot be denied. That it is an effective authority for unity in worship and teaching can hardly be claimed. Nor is any revised Prayer Book likely to acquire such an authority unless it arises out of a common theological understanding.5
Finally, Richard Buxton, in a recent essay on “The Prayer Book outside England”, recognizing that the Prayer Book has served as a principle of cohesion in the Anglican Communion, raises the anxious question:
Now that many parts of the Anglican Communion have largely abandoned worship in the Prayer Book tradition, … how is this cohesion going to be maintained in the future? Will it be possible to say what the character and ethos of Anglican worship is, in brief and simple terms, on a worldwide basis at the end of this century?6
Authority for Christians is fundamentally the authority of the Word of God, expressed in Holy Scripture. Anglicanism, in particular, is a certain way of hearing and understanding and living by the Word, an ongoing exegesis of God’s Word, fostered by and expressed in the tradition of common prayer. In no other Church in Christendom does liturgy play so crucial a role. In the Roman Church, according to Cardinal Ratzinger, “The true sense of the teaching authority of the Pope consists in his being the advocate of the Christian memory. The Pope does not impose from without. Rather he elucidates the Christian memory and defends it.”7 Anglicans recognize no papal magisterium; for us, it is the tradition of common prayer which elucidates and defends and deepens our memory of the Word of God. The destruction or neglect of that tradition induces a crippling amnesia; and as we keep this anniversary, it behooves us to think about the causes of the malady, and its cure.
The causes of Anglican disaffection towards the Prayer Book tradition are multiple: ecumenical, sociological, and theological, as well as liturgical. Undoubtedly, post-Vatican II revisions of the Roman rites continue to exercise a powerful influence upon some Anglicans, even in the face of a rising tide of misgiving within the Roman Church itself, as expressed, for instance, in Msgr. Gamber’s work on The Reform of the Roman Liturgy, recently made available in English, with a preface by Cardinal Ratzinger,8 and the recent work of the English Dominican, Aiden Nichols, Looking at the Liturgy: A Critical View of its Contemporary Form.9 Cardinal Ratzinger observes that
J.A. Jungmann, one of the truly great liturgists of our century, defined the liturgy of his time, such as it could be understood in the light of historical research, as “a liturgy which is the fruit of development” … What happened after the Council was something else entirely: in the place of liturgy as the fruit of development came fabricated liturgy. We abandoned the organic, living process of growth and development over centuries, and replaced it – as in a manufacturing process – with a fabrication, a banal on-the-spot product.
Msgr. J. D. Crichton, dean of English Roman Catholic Liturgists, points to one aspect of the problem, when he deplores the “loss of reverence which ultimately leads to a loss of the sense of the transcendent God who is the supreme Object of all worship. In a way we are in danger of forgetting what worship is all about. It is not just a heartwarming experience for those who like that sort of thing”.10
Besides the powerful influence of the Roman Catholic Liturgical Movement, the official revision of the Roman liturgy, and many unofficial subsequent experiments, works on the history of theology by Scandinavian Protestants, Bishop Aulèn’s Christus Victor and Bishop Nygren’s Eros and Agape (both of them translated by a leader of the Anglican Liturgical Movement, Fr. A. G. Hebert, SSM) also have had a telling effect upon the way in which Anglican liturgists have thought about the Latin theological tradition from Patristic times up to and including the Reformation. Although those works have been widely and severely criticized in recent decades, their influence still lingers, and determines, for instance, how some liturgists think of medieval and Reformation doctrines of the Atonement, and the penitential element in the Prayer Book liturgy.
Criticism of the Prayer Book tradition, and the inclination to abandon it in favour of a fresh start, were brought to a head in 1945, with the publication of Dom Gregory Dix’s massive work, The Shape of the Liturgy. From Dix’s standpoint, the reform of 1549 was a disaster: “with an inexcusable suddenness, between a Saturday night and a Monday morning at Pentecost 1549, the English liturgical tradition of nearly a thousand years was altogether overturned. Churchgoing never really recovered from that shock”.11 According to Dix, Archbishop Cranmer was really a Zwinglian in eucharistic doctrine, but nevertheless “a great liturgical artist … and the phrases of the present rite are very dear to thousands upon thousands of people from habit and intimate personal associations … The way in which his material would have to be used needs more, and … more intelligent consideration than it seems to have received”.12
But if Dix thought it possible and desirable to salvage something of the Prayer Book tradition, his disciples on the English Liturgical Commission, E. C. Ratcliff and Arthur Couratin (as Roger Beckwith remarks) “held that the Prayer Book was ‘incurably Protestant’ (Couratin’s words), and that therefore the wise course for Catholics was not to treat it as a disordered Catholic rite (as they had done in the past) and try to amend it, but to get rid of it and substitute something else”.13 The result of that policy is, of course, the production of books of alternative services.
Now, more than half a century after the publication of The Shape of the Liturgy, it would be difficult to find serious scholarly defenders of Dix’s assessment of Cranmer’s theology, or certain of his conclusions about early Christian liturgies14; just as it would be hard to find defenders of the stark theses of Christus Victor and Eros and Agape; yet all those positions seem to linger as presuppositions of liturgical reform.15 Thus, the dearest ambition of many twentieth-century liturgists, Roman and Anglican, has been to skip over seventeen centuries of Christian tradition to recover for twentieth-century congregations a liturgy of the pre-Constantinian Church, hypothetically reconstructed from the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus.
Other liturgists, eschewing such romantic antiquarianism, have been convinced that the peculiarity of our increasingly secular society requires that liturgy be re-made to reflect the thought forms and speak the language of a secular age. Still others suppose that liturgy must be particularized to reflect the interests and cultural ambitions of particular groups within our society. All of these tendencies war against the basic Catholic conception of common prayer, which should comprehend our distinctions and transcend the narrow confines of particular times and places and special interests.
Tradition is, and must be, open to growth; liturgies have been, and must be, revised from time to time; but I think we should be well-advised to respect the policy of the 1662 revisers, of keeping to “the mean”: a policy admirably followed by our Canadian revisers in 1962; and that we should be well-advised to resist with importunity wholesale revisions or alternatives promoted because they seem to accord with the ephemeral linguistic and theological and sociological fashions of the moment.
Archbishop Cranmer’s work in 1549 was certainly a radical revision, but it was a revision very much within a living tradition, and Catholic in scope, preserving, for instance, virtually intact, such essential elements as the ancient eucharistic lectionary of the Sarum Missal, while at the same time drawing upon a wide range of liturgical sources, Patristic and Medieval, Eastern and Western, Catholic and Protestant. The result was a liturgy at once Catholic and Protestant: Catholic in its continuities and in its general character as liturgy; Protestant in its care to subject every element to the judgement of the Word of God in Scripture. In that double aspect, it established and expressed the essential character of Anglicanism as a Reformed Catholicism, and that has been the secret of its remarkable durability and its capacity for comprehending and transcending narrow party interests.
That liturgical achievement, at the very heart of Anglicanism, is now very much in peril throughout much of the Anglican Communion, and as we celebrate this anniversary with thanksgiving, it behooves us to be thoughtful about the basic questions involved in the defense of the Prayer Book tradition: questions about the nature and authority of divine revelation, questions about the fundamental meaning of worship, questions about the basis of our religious language, and questions about the essential character of Anglicanism as a way of being Christian! That is to say, the tradition must be defended not with prejudice, but with understanding.
A return to liturgical sanity, and a recovery of Anglican unity will very much depend upon that understanding. That is the task to which our celebration calls us; let us undertake it in hope and patience, “ever labouring to maintain ‘the form of sound words in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus’ “.
As T.S. Eliot puts it, in “East Coker”:
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.16
- J. Keble, The Christian Year (London: Church Literature Association, 1977), p. 1. As Sheridan Gilley remarks in his introduction, by the year of Keble’s death, the work had gone through ninety-five editions. (p.xvii).
- “The Church Prayer-Book: A Safe Guide”, Plain Sermons LXI, reprinted in The Machray Review, No. 7, Dec. 1998, p. 70.
- Cf. G. Cuming, A History of Anglican Liturgy (London: Macmillan, 1969), p. 193.
- R. Williams, “Foreword”, in H. McAdoo and K. Stevenson, The Mystery of the Eucharist in Anglican Tradition (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 1997), p. vii.
- E. Abbot, et. al., Catholicity. A Study in the Conflict of Christian Traditions in the West (London: Dacre Press, 1947), p. 53.
- R. Buxton, “The Prayer Book outside England”, in M. Johnson, ed., Thomas Cranmer: Essays in Commemoration of the 500th Anniversary of his Birth (Durham: Turnstone, 1990), p. 250.
- As quoted in J. Little, The Church and the Culture War (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1995), p. 43.
- K. Gamber, The Reform of the Roman Liturgy (Una Voce Press, 1998).
- A. Nichols, Looking at the Liturgy (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1996).
- J. Crichton, “Worshipping with Awe and Reverence”, in Priests and People, 9-12 (1995), p. 453.
- G. Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy (London: Dacre Press, 1945), p. 686.
- Ibid., p. 728.
- R. Beckwith, “The Prayer Book and Evangelical Doctrine”, in The Prayer Book (Charlottetown: St. Peter Publications, 1985), p. 75.
- Cf. K. Stevenson, Gregory Dix – 25 Years On (Grove Liturgical Study, 10; Bramcote: Grove, 1977); P. Bradshaw, “The Liturgical Use and Abuse of Patristics”, in K. Stevenson, ed., Liturgy Reshaped (London: SPCK, 1982), pp. 134-145.
- Cf. contributions by R. Crouse, G. Dunbar and W. Hankey in G. Eayrs, ed., Atonement and Sacrifice: Doctrine and Worship (Charlottetown: St. Peter Publications, 1990).
- T. S. Eliot, “East Coker” V, Four Quartets (Revised edition, London: Faber and Faber, 1979), p. 26.
The Revd. Ed Hird
The Revd. Ed Hird was ordained in 1980. He served in the parishes of St. Philip’s, Vancouver, and St. Matthew’s, Abbotsford, before becoming the rector of St. Simon’s Church in North Vancouver in 1987. He has been active on a number of committees at the diocesan level. Ed is the past National Chair of Anglican Renewal Ministries Canada, and has spoken at Renewal, Essentials and Prayer Book Society conferences in Honduras and in various locations across Canada. Inspired by the Essentials movement, he recently re-introduced the Prayer Book as one of the two main Sunday services in his parish, with significant growth resulting.
We live in an age in which the knowledge of God’s will is deemed by many to be either unknowable or irrelevant. Our society reminds me of the story of the roving TV reporter who was sent out to the shopping malls on Saturday morning to investigate the problem of teenage apathy and ignorance. Every teenager had the same response: “I don’t know and I don’t care”! And to be fair, teenagers are not the only Canadians suffering from spiritual ignorance and apathy. I remember an adult coming up to me after a sermon I preached in a previous parish. This person said, “I’m totally shocked. I have never made it before to the end of a sermon. I would always just doze off and wake up at the end of the message. But this time I actually heard it through to the end.”
This problem of apathy and ignorance can be traced back to the ancient disease of Pyrrhonism. Pyrrhonism is a system of skeptical philosophy, expounded in 300 BC by the Greek thinker, Pyrrho of Elis.1 The heart of Pyrrhonism is the denial of all possibility of attaining certainty in knowledge. All one is left with is the classic west-coast phrase: “Well, whatever works for you”. With the collapse of confidence in objective truth, our Canadian culture is sinking in intellectual subjectivism and moral anarchy. A few months back we saw a Canadian judge strike down child pornography laws while claiming that our Canadian Constitution and our Charter of Rights somehow protect the possession of child pornography. We live in an age where there “is no king and everyone does as they see fit.” (Judg. 21:25). We live in an age of leadership crisis. It is not just our politicians, our police officers, our school teachers, our military leaders. Even in the Church, yes, in our Anglican Church, there is a profound leadership crisis that is crippling our corporate ability to get on with the task of making disciples of all nations. Perhaps the never-ending “sexual politics” in the Anglican Church of Canada is really a symptom of a deeper leadership crisis at the core of our beloved Church.
More than ever, we in the Canadian Anglican Church need to discover afresh what it means to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will and given the power to carry out that will. As J. John at the Canterbury ‘98 Conference put it, “We only have enough time to do the will of God”. So many of us in the Church are like Martha whom Jesus said was distracted by many things, but missing the main one of sitting at Jesus’ feet. One of the many things I appreciate about the Prayer Book Society is the clarion call to prayer. The Prayer Book Society is not a Colonel Blimp English Memorial Society.2 Rather it constitutes a mobilization of God’s troops to the sacred calling of spiritual warfare through sustained and intensive prayer. If there is anything that we know about God’s will, it is that God wills that we “pray without ceasing”. Let’s be honest. How many of us need to cut back on our prayer life, because it is getting in the way of doing God’s will? Despite any fears that prayer will make us so heavenly-minded that we are no earthly good, the truth of the matter is that only the prayerful and heavenly-minded are ultimately any earthly good. The late Mother Teresa of Calcutta was a living testimony to the intimate relationship between prayer and resulting action.
It is not without reason that the Apostle Paul calls us again and again to “devote ourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful” (Col. 4:2). Prayer is the backbone of all lasting renewal. As Dr. E. Stanley Jones, the famous Methodist missionary to India put it, “there can be no great spiritual awakening either in the individual or in the group unless and until the individual or the group give themselves to prayer.”3 Dr. Jones goes on to say: “When we feel that there is something wrong and that it is all ending in futility, instead of giving ourselves to prayer, we appoint a committee! If a monument”, says Dr. Jones, “were erected over the dead situations in Christendom, we might inscribe on it ‘Committeed to Death’. We call a committee instead of calling to prayer.” It has been said that the 16th century Reformation began in Luther’s prayer closet. The truth is that all reformation, all renewal, all restoration begins in someone’s prayer closet. Quoting Dr. Jones again, “we find sooner or later that in prayer we either abandon ourselves or we abandon prayer. Prayer will keep us from self-withholding or self-withholding will keep us from prayer.”4
I would encourage you, if you have your Bibles with you, to turn in the book of Colossians to Chapter One, which deals with one of the greatest prayers in the New Testament. I believe that it would be presumptuous to try to improve on the New Testament prayers. Rather, our goal as 21st Century Anglicans should be to model all of our prayers on the biblical pattern of prayer shown especially by Jesus and the Apostle Paul. I remember my rector, Ernie Eldridge, telling me that one of the great strengths of the Book of Common Prayer is that something like 80% of it is straight from the Bible. The prayers in the BCP were written by people who were steeped in the biblical thought forms, and so produced biblically sound and lasting prayers.
Paul is writing here to a formerly great and flourishing city that had been in a recession for the last three to four hundred years. Colossae, whose name means “Monstrosity”, had become a backwater no-name town that had been left behind in the busy pace of 1st century Greek life. Its neighbouring towns, Laodicea and Hierapolis were well-known respectively for their financial and administrative prowess, and for their burgeoning tourist and hot springs industry. They, like Colossae, were located on the River Lycus, a river famous for overlaying its surrounding river banks with thick deposits of chalk. As Bishop J.B. Lightfoot put it, “Ancient monuments are buried; fertile land is overlaid; river beds choked up and streams diverted; fantastic grottoes and cascades and archways of stone are formed, by this strange, capricious power, at once destructive and creative, working silently throughout the ages. Fatal to vegetation, these incrustations spread like a stony shroud over the ground. Gleaming like glaciers on the hillside, they attract the eye of the traveller at a distance of twenty miles, and form a singularly striking feature in scenery of more than common beauty and impressiveness.”5 In some ways, Bishop Lightfoot’s description seems like a parable of the Canadian Church … beautiful, impressive, but calcified and choked up by double-mindedness and fear.
Paul had never personally visited Colossae. Rather, he preached extensively in the coastal city of Ephesus, with the result that his new converts spread the gospel extensively to many lesser-known cities and towns that were further inland. There is a remarkable similarity between the books of Ephesians and Colossians, especially in the structure of Paul’s prayers in both epistles. In both Colossians and Ephesians, Paul centres his prayer in thanksgiving. You will notice in verse 3 how Paul says: “We always thank God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you …”. In a structure similar to that of the Lord’s Prayer, Paul pays the debt of gratitude before he moves into his personal requests. “Thy kingdom come” needs to come before “Give us this day our daily bread.” In the Alpha Course, Nicky Gumbel says that the three key prayers that we can pray are “thank you”, “please”, and “sorry”. Back in 1931, Bishop Lewis Radford of Goulbourn, Australia commented regarding this passage that “a survey of the grounds for thanksgiving revives the spirit of hope, and provides fresh material for petition.”6 The Christian life is not a life of Pollyanna-style positive thinking, but rather that of eucharistic thanksgiving in all circumstances, trusting that God can turn everything that is against us to our advantage, that all things work to the good for those who love him.
Why was Paul so thankful? Verses 4 and 5 tells us that Paul was thankful because of the great triad of Christian graces: faith, hope, and love. So often when Paul prays, he prays according to the three-fold pattern of the only things that will remain in the end. Faith: their faith in Christ Jesus; Hope: hope stored up for us in heaven; and Love: love for all the saints. As Bishop J.B. Lightfoot put it, “faith rests on the past; love works in the present; hope looks to the future”.7 Does the Prayer Book Society, indeed does the Anglican Church have a future as we celebrate the 450th Anniversary of the Book of Common Prayer? I believe that the answer to both questions is yes, if we will ground our Christian life more and more on the three-fold graces of faith, hope and love. I will always remember Dr. Robert Crouse’s presentation at the Montreal Essentials ‘94 Conference when he spoke of “despair, that most dangerous of all sins.”8 Satan, the ultimate deceiver and seducer of God’s people, is a past master at the use of discouragement and despair in crippling the saints. He would love us to believe that the Anglican Church in Canada is beyond hope, that there is no point in praying and working for the restoration of biblical orthodoxy.
The good news found in verse 6 of Chapter 1 of Colossians is that “all over the world the gospel is producing fruit and growing”. Lambeth ‘98 was a powerful reminder of that truth with the hundreds of Asian, African, and South American bishops making their presence felt in unforgettable ways. The gospel, as Bishop Lewis Radford put it, is both a transforming force and a travelling fire.9 It is a fire that cannot be stamped out no matter how hard secularists and revisionists may try.
Recently over 600 churches were involved in an interdenominational outreach covering southern B.C. 1.8 million dollars were donated by Christian business people so that the stories of Canadian Christians could be shared on the media. The ads were very sensitive, low-key, and Canadian in content. Yet the CBC, at the last minute, turned down $25,000 worth of communication because the messages were pro-Christian. This is the same Crown Corporation that is happy to take money for Mormon commercials and yet rejects mainstream Christian messages while moaning about not having enough money for CBC programming. Our nation has very quickly moved from valuing its Christian heritage to intentionally excluding it in the name of inclusiveness. I am sure that you all know about the federal government bureaucratic edict that forbade Christian clergy, in the name of inclusiveness, from using the New Testament or mentioning the name of Jesus at the Swiss Air funeral service. Despite the fact that most of those tragically killed were self-identified members of Christian churches, and although the Koran was allowed to be read, Jesus’ own words were censored. We can thank our Lord Jesus Christ that he will always have a faithful witness in Canada, even if someday it may require missionaries from Africa and Asia to come and re-establish the gospel in our own homeland.
Verse 7 tells us about Epaphras, the founder of the Church at Colossae. Some early church traditions make him the first bishop of Colossae.10 Verse 7 describes him as “our dearly loved fellow servant”, as a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf. Both Paul and Epaphras were passionate that the Colossians should be filled with the knowledge of God’s will. Epaphras was so passionate about this that Paul commented in Colossians chapter 4, verse 2 that Epaphras was “always wrestling in prayer for you that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured.” The Greek word for wrestling is agonizomenos which means to agonize. It is God’s will that each of us agonize in prayer for the restoration of our beloved Anglican Church of Canada. Wrestling in prayer is the key to being filled with the knowledge of God’s will. That is why the Rev. Samuel Shoemaker, the Anglican priest who wrote the “12 Steps” and helped to found Alcoholics Anonymous, quoted Colossians Chapter 1 in writing step 11. What does Step 11 encourage us to pray for: “… the knowledge of His will for us and power to carry that out.”
What is the use of knowing what to do, if we haven’t the power to do it? What is the use of studying the Bible if we never do the Bible? What is the use of praying the Prayer Book if we never live out the Prayer Book? The key to doing the Bible and living the Prayer Book is Colossians chapter 1, verse 8: “love in the Spirit”. It is not the love of power that will set the Anglican Church free, but rather the power of love. Dr. Gordon Fee, the well known New Testament Scholar from Regent College, notes that virtually everywhere that the word “power” is used in the New Testament, it is referring to the power of the Holy Spirit.11 Only the Holy Spirit can give us the power to change. Only the Holy Spirit can give us the power to love. Only the Holy Spirit can give us the power to forgive. Verse 8 tells us the secret of lasting renewal: “love in the Spirit”.
In the early days of Anglican renewal, a bishop in northern B.C. fired his dean because some of his parishioners had had the nerve to pray that the bishop be filled with the Holy Spirit. If only they had just prayed for the bishop to be filled afresh or anew, the Dean might have kept his job. Why do all of us need to be filled with the Spirit again and again? (Eph. 5:18). The reason, as D.L. Moody put it, is that we leak. It is always touchy to pray for one’s bishop without sounding like one is trying to give his bishop advice. It is so easy for us to dump all our unmet dreams and frustrations on the back of our bishops. Yet God calls us to bless and not curse. God calls us in verse 9 to never give up praying for each other, and that certainly includes our bishops. Verse 9 is a wonderful way to pray for your bishop, your rector, and your wardens in a way that none of them could possibly object to. Just pray that God will fill them with the knowledge of His will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. All of us need to be filled up, to be more full of God’s grace, peace, joy, hope, and faith so that we will be more full, more grace-full, more peace-full, more joy-full, more faith-full. The point of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22) is to fill us up inside with more of the character of Jesus Christ.
What will being filled with the knowledge of God’s will really do for us? Paul tells us in verse 10 that such filling will result in our walking worthy of God, in our pleasing the Lord in every way, in our bearing fruit in every good work, in our growing in the knowledge of God. Being filled with the knowledge of His will is the key not only to living in the Spirit but also to walking in the Spirit (Gal. 5:25). As our AA friends remind us, it is not enough to talk the talk; we also need to walk the walk.
Yet all of us are powerless in ourselves to change our lives. In fact, no change is possible until we admit in the words of Step 1 that “We are powerless over our (addictions and sins) and our lives have become unmanageable”. The reason why “12 Step” people talk so much about a Higher Power is that our own power, our own resources, are never enough to make a lasting difference. We need, in the words of Luke 24:49, to be clothed with power from on high, the very power of the Holy Spirit. That is why Acts 1:8 says that “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you shall be my witnesses … to the ends of the earth.”. That is why Colossians chapter 1 verse 11 talks about our being strengthened with all power: in the Greek, “being powered with all power”, with all dunamis, all dynamite. There are logjams in our beloved Anglican Church of Canada that nothing but the power, the dynamite, of the Holy Spirit can possibly remove. All of us know many faithful Anglicans who have given up in despair and left our church, perhaps returning occasionally for their Communion “fixes”. When we think of the mother/father God/Goddess apostasy that our new Anglican “Common Praise” hymn book is leading us into, only the power of the Holy Spirit will be able to lead us out of that syncretistic swamp. Yet with God, nothing is impossible! Would anyone like to become the founders of a Blue Hymn Book Society of Canada?
Dr. E. Stanley Jones holds that “the difference between a river and a swamp is that one has banks and the other has none. The swamp is very gracious and kindly, it spreads over everything, hence it is a swamp. Some of us are moral and spiritual swamps. We are so broad and liberal that we take in everything from the shady to the sacred. Hence we are swamps. A river has banks – it confines itself to its central purpose. The civilizations of the world organize themselves not around swamps, but around rivers.”12
To me, the Book of Common Prayer and the Bible are rivers. The new Common Praise hymn book in contrast is a gracious and kindly swamp. The river that is the Holy Spirit confines Himself to His central purpose, which is to fill us with the knowledge of the Father’s will and to give us the power to carry that out. The Colossian Christians were a tiny, faithful minority living in a “new-age” spiritual scene. As with the original Colossian church, one of the greatest challenges facing our Anglican Church is well-meaning interfaith syncretism. In our worship of newness and inclusiveness, we are rushing to replace the riverbanks of our BCP with the neo-gnostic swamp of centering prayer/mantra yoga, enneagram workshops, labyrinths, Jungian-based personality tests, and invocations of “God our Father and our Mother”.13 Lord, forgive us for our naïve worship of the seemingly new and trendy, and for our disrespect for the wisdom of our Anglican forebears. Genuine renewal is actually about renewing the riches of our inheritance in Christ Jesus, not about uncovering secret “new revelations”. (Eph. 1:18)
Most renewal movements in the past few centuries, including the various holiness, pentecostal, charismatic, and third-wave expressions, can be traced back to the influence of two Anglican priests, John and Charles Wesley, the founders of Methodism. Canadian Methodism was the largest of the bodies which came together to form the United Church of Canada in 1925. Few people realize what a high view the Wesleys had of the Anglican prayer book and of the Anglican Church in general. Even on the verge of being forced to ordain his own preachers, John Wesley commended the Church of England to his leaders as “the best constituted national church in the world”.14 John Wesley also taught his followers that “there is no LITURGY in the World, either in ancient or modern language, which breathes more of a solid, scriptural, rational Piety, than the COMMON PRAYER of the CHURCH of ENGLAND”.15 John Wesley did not just appreciate the Prayer Book theology. He even loved its language, language which he described as “not only pure, but strong and elegant in the highest degree.”16 John and Charles Wesley experienced manifestations of the Holy Spirit that would make the Toronto Airport Fellowship look tame, yet the Wesleys still held up the Prayer Book as a vital tool for orthodoxy and renewal. And John Wesley was even radical enough that he advised all his clergy to administer the Lord’s Supper every Sunday at the main service.17
As Dr. Bard Thompson put it, “It was the way of John Wesley to espouse extempore prayer, yet esteem the prayer book; to give free expression to evangelical power, yet prize the structures of the church …”18 Yet sadly Wesley’s wisdom was largely ignored. His followers decided that they could pray better and with more devotion when their eyes were shut, than they could with their eyes open, praying from a book.19 So they cast aside the Prayer Book and produced the United Church of Canada instead. Wesley drew the balance between the stability of tradition and the dynamism of the Spirit. His followers, however, became progressively less rooted generation after generation. It is so easy to cast aside “the riches of our inheritance”. It is much harder to humble ourselves enough to go back home and start afresh. I remember how hard I tried to convince my Grandma Allen to “get with it” and give up on the Book of Common Prayer. But she was so “stubborn and inflexible” that she died with the Bible and the Prayer Book by her bedside.
Our parish of St. Simon’s had not used the Book of Common Prayer at its main service for over 25 years. When I came back from the Montreal ‘94 Essentials Conference and suggested that we might try doing the Prayer Book on fifth Sundays, some of my leadership secretly wondered if I might have lost my mind. But eventually they came to see in unity what I was talking about. Reintroducing the Prayer Book as one of our two main services has brought 30% growth in average Sunday attendance over the last two years. I am not saying that it was easy to reintroduce the Book of Common Prayer. Many Anglicans don’t like change, even if it means restoring the riches of their inheritance. There are many well-meaning Anglican clergy out there who would rather die than admit they may have made a mistake in abandoning the classic Book of Common Prayer. Many clergy have battle scars from liturgy wars in the 1970’s and early 80’s. They have finally achieved relative liturgical calm in their parishes and they are reluctant to “open up old wounds”, and disturb the relative truce.
But God’s will for us as clergy is not merely for us to preserve the peace or to be keepers of ecclesiastical aquariums, but rather to be fishers of men and women. Our greatest desire as Anglican leaders must be our desire to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will and to have the power of the Holy Spirit to carry it out. Why else do we pray every day “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done”. What is God’s will? The Bible is clear that God’s will, among other things, is that we go into all the world, preaching the gospel to all creation, and that we make disciples of all nations (Mark 16:15, Matthew 28:19). 1 Timothy chapter 2, verses 4 and 5 tells us clearly that God’s will is that all people be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth, and that there is only one mediator, one bridge between God and humanity, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all. The leadership crisis in our Church is directly linked to a growing fuzziness of vision regarding God’s will that the lost be found. Many church leaders are beginning to publicly question whether the lost are really lost after all, and whether God really wants to find them. Unless we are convinced that the man Christ Jesus is the only mediator between God and humanity, and that he really gave himself as a ransom for all, not just for those raised in the church or in the west, we will not have the power to carry out this great and lasting commission. As Dr. John Stott put it recently at an Vancouver Anglican Essentials gathering, we claim uniqueness and finality in Christ alone.
If all we do is squabble about liturgical preferences and do not reach the lost, we are a people most to be pitied. The Book of Common Prayer is not an ingrown book. It is a book with a passion that the lost might be found. In contrast to the BAS, the BCP is clear that God wants us to win the world for Christ. The BAS, if you read it carefully, is written in a way that it can either encourage you to do evangelistic mission work for Christ or merely to affirm God in all cultures. The BCP, however, is uncompromising in its biblical stance that “God is not willing that any should perish but that all may come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) As the Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, said a while ago at Kanuga, “Evangelism is not a matter to be debated but a command to be obeyed.” God’s will, as expressed in Colossians 1 verse 13, is that he might rescue (many) from the dominion of darkness and bring (them) into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we might have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. We say each Sunday in the Creed that we believe in the forgiveness of sins. Are you sharing that forgiveness with your lost neighbour, family member, co-worker? I pray in conclusion that God may fill each of us with the knowledge of His will, that none should perish, that all may come to repentance, and that God may give us the power of the Holy Spirit to carry out his will to the very ends of the earth, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
- The Oxford Dictionary of the Church, F.L. Cross, ed. (Oxford University Press, 1957), p. 1128.
- Colonel Blimp was a humorous anachronistic figure in the British WW2-based television series “Dad’s Army”.
- Dr. E. Stanley Jones, Pentecost: the Christ of Every Road, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1930), p. 247.
- Ibid., p. 248.
- The Rt. Revd. Dr. J.B. Lightfoot, as quoted in Dr. William Barclay’s The Daily Study Bible: the Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians (Toronto: G.R. Welch Co. Ltd.), p. 91.
- The Rt. Revd. Dr. Lewis B. Radford, Colossians (London: Methuen & Co. Ltd, 1931), p. 3.
- Ibid., p. 151.
- Anglican Essentials, George Egerton, ed. (Toronto: Anglican Book Centre, 1995), p. 289.
- Radford, op. cit., p. 153.
- Ibid., p. 154.
- Dr. Gordon Fee, God’s Empowering Presence (Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1994), p. 35.
- Dr. E. Stanley Jones, op. cit., p. 227.
- As done in the Canadian Anglican “Common Praise” hymn book (1999), which tragically alters the much-loved “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee” hymn from “God our Father, Christ our Brother” to “God our Father and our Mother”.
- Liturgies of the Western Church, “The Sunday Service”, ed. Bard Thompson, (Cleveland and New York, Meridan Books, The World Publishing Company, 1961), p. 416.
- Ibid., p. 416.
- Ibid., p. 416.
- Ibid., p. 416.
- Ibid., p. 416.
- Ibid., p. 410.
The Revd. Dr. J.I. Packer
Dr. James I. Packer was born in England and educated at Oxford where he earned degrees in Classics and Theology. He served as a priest and seminary tutor for nine years before becoming warden of Latimer House, an Anglican evangelical study centre in Oxford, in 1961. In 1970 he became Principal of Tyndale Hall, an Anglican seminary in Bristol, and in 1979 he was appointed Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology at Regent College, Vancouver. Dr. Packer has written many best-selling books, and is one of the most widely read Anglican authors in the world.
My task is to celebrate the Prayer Book, not to talk about myself, and I intend to keep to my agenda. But I think I need to start by telling you straight out that I am speaking to you as one of those rare birds who over the years has found the historic Anglican Prayer Book to be a source of increasing delight and excitement (I choose my words; I mean them), so that now in my eighth decade I find myself valuing it more than at any earlier time in my life. I was brought up on the Prayer Book, in the sense that I was baptized and confirmed in the Church of England and attended church regularly with my parents till I went up to Oxford at age eighteen. Throughout those years, however, the Prayer Book bored me stiff, simply because Christianity bored me stiff. I was an intelligent, introverted, isolated boy who lived, I suppose, respectably but conventionally. I knew God was real, and that Christianity was no doubt true, but I had no interest in knowing God relationally, and I hated the pilgrim perspective of the Prayer Book and the hymns, which told me that the supreme significance of this present life is as preparation and training for a more important, endless life that Christians will live in God’s immediate presence. After Jesus Christ made himself known to me and claimed me, however, and once I had got beyond my resentment of the Church of England for never having clearly explained the gospel to me, I began to value the Prayer Book as what others have often called it, namely the Bible arranged for worship, and to see its two-world, grace-oriented, Christ-centred outlook as the highest wisdom. I began to discover how as you use it pulls you into its own world (which is, of course, what Karl Barth once called the strange new world of the Bible). I began to find out how it expands you emotionally and relationally as a person, and how at every turn of the road it highlights and honours our Lord and Saviour Jesus. I came to see that the root problem with the Prayer Book (if “problem” is the right word) is not that its language is ceremonial in an old-fashioned way, but that it is a spiritual book for spiritually alive people, and you cannot expect anyone to be other than bored with it until Jesus Christ renews their hearts and the Bible itself begins to open up to them. So. now, in my eighth decade, I am more of an enthusiast for the Prayer Book than ever, I am increasingly grateful for what it gives me, I find that during the past ten years I have spoken and written more on its behalf than ever before, and it is as an enthusiast that I move at this moment into my announced subject.
As good Christians, and Anglicans among them, should always do when matters of spiritual significance arise, let us begin with the Bible. In Colossians 2:6-7 Paul focusses the message of the entire letter by writing as follows. “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” I want to make three observations regarding these words.
First observation: this text speaks about Jesus Christ, calling him the Lord and declaring him to be in the most literal sense central to Christian existence. Our lives are only Christian, Paul implies, as we live them “in him,” “rooted and built up in him” – the word “in” evidently carries a great weight of relational meaning. But now, who is this Jesus Christ? When Paul wrote to the Colossians he needed to spell out the answer to that question, for some after being taught it were losing their grip on it, and with the current prevalence among us of liberal theology, which always starts by diminishing the stature of Jesus Christ, we today need to pay specially close attention to what Paul says. Just as Paul’s understanding of justification by faith permeates all his writings but is most fully set out in Romans, so Paul’s understanding of who and what Jesus is permeates all his writings but is most fully set out in Colossians. What Paul has to tell us about him may be stated thus:
First, Jesus is the man of Calvary. Paul speaks explicitly of his cross in 2:15-16, that is, of Jesus’ execution as a condemned criminal. The cross, so we find, is the place where Paul’s thinking and teaching about Jesus regularly starts.
Second, Jesus is the Son of God, “his beloved Son” (1:13), “the image of the invisible God” (1:15). The one whom Paul calls “God” is “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:3). Jesus is the human name for the Son of God incarnate, and Paul uses the word “fullness,” which had evidently become a code-word among the unorthodox Colossians to express the fact of incarnation – “in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (1:19); “in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (2:9). That present tense, “dwells”, points to the fact that the incarnate life of the Son continues for ever – continues, therefore, now, as at this very moment we contemplate his reality and his role. He, says Paul, is “the first-born from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything” (1:18). That is the Jesus with whom we have to do today.
Third, Jesus is the Lord of creation: such was the Father’s will for the Son who was his co-creating agent. “All things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (1:16-17). As he brought everything into being, so he sustains it, or it would cease to be: that, of course, includes you and me. Paul calls Jesus “the Lord Jesus” (3:17), “the Lord Christ” (3:24), and “the Lord” simply (3:18, 20, 22, 23, 24, 4:7, 17), in addition to saying that Christians receive “Christ Jesus the Lord” in the verse from which we started (2:6). Lordship signifies ownership, dominion, and authority. Scholars agree that “Jesus is Lord” was in effect the first Christian confession of faith. Paul insists that Christians must relate to Jesus Christ as their Lord, by obeying his commands, acknowledging his control of their circumstances, relying on his power to enable them to serve him loyally, and seeking to please him in all that they do.
Fourth, Jesus is the Christ of Scripture, that is, the predicted Messianic king whose coming into the world would mean peace and well-being – shalom, to use the Hebrew word for all in his universal kingdom. A whole philosophy of history is wrapped up in the title “Christ” (which means, “the anointed one”). Jesus, the Davidic descendent to whose reign the prophets looked forward, is now on the throne of the universe, and will in due course reappear for the final glory of his own people and the final judgment (“wrath”) that is in store for our unbelieving and disobedient world (3:1-6).
Fifth, Jesus is the sacrifice for sinners, the one through whose blood-shedding on the cross reconciliation and peace with God became realities for Christian people (1:20). Six verses on from our passage Paul explains this as follows: “God … forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands” – that is, cancelling the death-warrant that his law had become to us through our failure to fulfill it. “He set this aside,” Paul continues, “nailing it to the cross” (2:13-14). Do you see what that means? If you and I had been among the spectators at Calvary, we could have read on the notice nailed to the cross declaring the crime for which Jesus was being put to death the words Pilate wrote to identify him as a political subversive – “The King of the Jews”. But had we looked at the notice then, or if with our mind’s eye we look at it now, with spiritual understanding, what each of us would see written there is the ghastly computation of all our own sins. “He was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, upon him was the punishment that made us whole … the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Is. 53:5-6). Or, as Paul puts it in Galatians 3:13, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us”. Or, as Jesus himself stated it, “The Son of man came … to give his life a ransom for many” (Mk. 10:45). Paul’s picture of the record of our sins nailed to Christ’s cross says it all, in an unforgettably vivid and poignant way.
Sixth, Jesus is the life of believers – “Christ who is your life” (3:4). To see what this means., we must begin by noting that for Paul those who have not yet come to a life-changing faith-fellowship with Jesus are, as he puts it, “dead in trespasses”, that is, totally unresponsive to God in their hearts, just as the physically dead are totally unresponsive to any form of stimulus that we might apply to them. By contrast, however, those with faith, who are alive in Christ and whose life Christ is, have been brought into a condition in which the Christ who rose and reigns calls, draws, welcomes, pardons, corrects, strengthens, upholds, and encourages them, so that they are able to testify that Jesus is known to them as the friend who loves them and walks with them and as the focus of their worship and service and as the fountain of patience, persistence, and hope in their hearts whatever their outward situation. “To me, living is Christ” said Paul elsewhere (Phil. 1:21), and all believers learn to say the same as they realise what Christ’s entry into their personal existence has involved.
Clearly, Christ who is our life, will make us and keep us different from those around us, and that leads on to our next major point.
Second observation: this text speaks of persons linked with Jesus Christ – citizens of Colossae in the first instance, but by parity of reasoning all those who in our day or any other share the faith of which Paul is speaking. These are they who have “received Jesus Christ the Lord” – that is, received him as their personal Lord and Saviour and committed themselves to follow him in personal repentance for past godlessness and personal loyalty and obedience for the future. The key phrases pointing to their link with Christ are “walk in him” (which is the literal rendering of Paul’s main verb), and “rooted and built up in him”. “In him”, as I said earlier, is a weighty phrase pointing to union, communion, and solidarity – togetherness, we may say, in all thinkable ways. And truly, as every Anglican needs to see (some, I fear, are not seeing it as yet), togetherness with Christ, here and hereafter, is what Christianity in every age is all about.
The verbs Paul employs to express this togetherness are pictures. Walking is the Bible’s apt and vivid picture of the living of a life: the thought is of a steady, purposeful, energetic, rhythmical, usually unspectacular exertion, expressing itself in this instance in what Eugene Peterson, in one of his memorable book titles, called “a long obedience in the same direction”. Rooted is the picture of a tree drawing all its nourishment for growth and fruitage from a single source, namely the soil in which its roots are anchored: the thought this picture expresses is of constant dependence on Christ at a conscious level and constant forming and transforming of us by Christ in ways of which we will not always ourselves be aware. Built up is Paul’s recurring picture of a new building being erected, or of a broken-down and non-functional building being renovated; this picture points to Christ’s ongoing work through the Holy Spirit of conforming believers to himself in mind, heart, character, and conduct. The pictures, as we see, overlap, but all point to the same reality – a life in which, as the hymn puts it, Christ is our life, and our love, and our path, and our prize.
Paul’s thought is amplified and safeguarded by the next two phrases. “Established in the faith, just as you were taught” is a warning against drifting away from the authentic apostolic emphasis on the centrality, sufficiency and glory of Christ to notions which, like the Colossian unorthodoxy of angel-worship, relativize him to non-Christian forms of religious expression treated as absolutes – a warning that is much needed in these days in which multifaith and syncretistic ways of thinking are so widespread. “Abounding in thanksgiving” reminds us that in Paul’s view mankind was made for thankfulness to a generous Creator as a life-activity (see Rom. 1:21), and that one divinely intended effect of our renovation in Christ is to return us to that activity, with more to be thankful for now than was the case before the Fall. The thought of thanksgiving as a basic and constant exercise of the Christian life often appears in Paul (see 1:12, 3:15-17; Phil. 4:6; Eph. 5:4, 20; 1 Thes. 5:18), and thanksgiving as a way of life is modelled for us over and over again in the Psalms.
Here, then, is Paul’s outline of the life of fellowship with Jesus Christ for each believing individual. That is not quite all, however, that our text sets before us.
Third observation, briefly – this text speaks of a people linked with Jesus Christ. The frame of corporateness, within which the plurals of our text should be set, was established in 1:18, where the incarnate Son is declared to be “the head of the body, the church”. In Ephesians, which should, I judge, be read as a companion piece to Colossians, Paul greatly enlarges this perspective, displaying the church as both the body and bride of Christ and also as the new man and the temple of God, and declaring: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all” (Eph. 4:4-6). Our individuality in Christ, as converted and born-again persons living consciously in fellowship with him, must never become “lone ranger” individualism, which devalues the congregation and its discipline out of spiritual self-indulgence and turns our personal faith into what is sometimes called “a flight of the alone to the Alone”. That sort of Christianity is badly out of shape. Instead, we must recognize the unity and solidarity of all Christ’s people with him and in him, and learn to see our separate congregations as so many local outcrops and small-scale manifestations of Christ’s one church universal, and therefore make it our habit to express our adoration of and communion with and commitment to the Son and the Father through the Holy Spirit by doing things together. That is the way we are to go.
And now I have reached the point where I can say with clarity what I want to say about our Canadian Book of Common Prayer, set against the background of its 450-year history: namely, that it has been, still is, and will continue to be a marvellous means, under God, for achieving the goal of personal and corporate fellowship with the holy Trinity in the rootedness, faithfulness and thankfulness of what the General Confession calls “a godly, righteous, and sober life, to the glory of (God’s) holy name”. In other words, the Prayer Book comes to us as a stellar source of help for fulfilling Paul’s summons to us in Colossians 2:6-7. Let me spell out what I mean.
Put yourself for a moment in the shoes of Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, in the year 1547. Henry VIII has just been succeeded by the boy-king Edward VI, and at last all systems are “go” for the reformation of the Church of England. The first task has to be the production of a God-honouring, life-enhancing set of services in English that all congregations will use, and that will involve all the worshippers in a way that advances their personal discipleship to Jesus Christ. The project is ambitious and demanding, but Cranmer has resources for it. Over and above his access to like-minded colleagues, he is himself a learned man, familiar with the liturgical and theological legacy of all Christendom since it began; he knows the writings of the Fathers, the Medievals, and the Reformers; he is a brilliant producer of poignant prayers for public use, as he showed in his Litany of 1544; and he is a Bible-man to his fingertips, totally committed to the Reformation ideal of Bible truth irradiating every Christian’s head and heart and shining forth in every Christian’s attitudes and actions. On what principles, now, was he to proceed? The two versions of his Prayer Book, those of 1549 and 1552 respectively, show him implementing the following five.
1. Services must be congregational. Cranmer’s goal was a book of Common (that is, communal) prayer. Before the Reformation the priest had said Mass in Latin, and the congregation, not understanding, spent the time saying private prayers, or else did nothing. Cranmer, however, drafted services in the vernacular, writing into them set parts for the congregation to say (prayers, psalms, responses), and he looked forward to the day when all worshippers would be able to read and would have a copy of each service open before them, so that they could follow with their eyes as well as their ears, and so be completely involved in what was going on. In his preface to the 1544 Litany he had written: “And such among the people as have books and can read may read them quietly and softly to themselves; and such as cannot read, let them quietly and attentively give audience in time of the said prayers, having their minds erect to Almighty God, and devoutly praying in their hearts the same petitions which do enter in at their ears, so that with one sound of the heart and one accord God may be glorified in his church.”1 “One sound of the heart” – that was Cranmer’s ideal of congregational worship, and surely there can be no argument that in this he was right.
2. Services must be simple. Cranmer’s Prayer Books reject the studied ornateness of thought and ritual in older worship forms in favour of studied simplicity and, as we have just seen, “inwardness”, meaning that involvement of heart to which complexity and elaboration are always hostile. Cranmer sought to reduce ceremonial to the minimum consistent with full reverence and decency, and to simplify the flow of his services as drastically as the substance and thrust of the biblical truth being expressed would allow. His sixteenth-century ceremonial language, to which Prayer Book users have always had to adjust, masks for some today the essential simplicity which marks all Cranmer’s services, but it is there, as I shall illustrate in a moment, and Cranmer’s achieving of it has milestone status in Christian liturgical history.
3. Services must edify. As we saw from Colossians, Christians are to be “built up” in Christ; and Cranmer’s 1549 preface “Of Ceremonies” states explicitly that edification is the end “whereunto all things done in the Church (as the Apostle teacheth) ought to be referred.” Recognizing that edification comes through the teaching and applying of biblical truth, Cranmer gave a major place in his drafting to Scripture readings and set exhortations, and prescribed a sermon at each Holy Communion service. Already he had sponsored the writing of the Homilies, a set of sermons to be read from pulpits to guarantee that Christian basics would be properly presented to all congregations. (Thus, the first four were on personal Bible reading, human sinfulness, justification through Christ’s death, and saving faith.) And Cranmer’s Lectionary, used for daily worship, would take you through the Old Testament once and the New Testament twice every year. Thus Cranmer, Bible-man and gospel-man that he was, sought to advance Anglican edification.
Involved here was a long-term educational ideal. Facing a laity deeply ignorant of basic Christianity, it was central to Cranmer’s plan to construct services of proper theological fullness and depth and then teach people to use them. The Prayer Book as we have it today still sets the same high standard. It has never been possible to enter properly into Prayer Book worship without some prior acquaintance with the essentials of the Christian message, plus some concentrated mental effort, requiring some preparation of heart beforehand.2 The payoff, however, if I may so express it, is that the profound simplicities of Cranmer’s liturgical forms have infinite power to feed the soul, as Anglicans for four and a half centuries have been discovering. One grows into the Prayer Book, one never outgrows it.
The principle that services should have a didactic quality, so that they may both instruct and edify, is rarely stressed (you will agree) in modern liturgical discussion. The quest today is for services that will express what people have in their hearts at the moment, rather than put into their hearts what they need to grasp if they are ever to grow in grace and please God – that is one reason why today’s alternative service forms are so shallow and flat. The plea for reducing the theological content of services so that they will never outstrip any participant’s present understanding gets a hearing today that Cranmer would not have given it. Train up the people, he would have said, rather than water down the faith! Surely this is the true wisdom, which we need urgently to recover. It is never right to buy simplicity at the cost of shallowness.
4. Services must unify. One aim of Cranmer and his colleagues was to unite the local congregations of England, some ten thousand of them as it seems there were, in a common faith, a common worship, and hence a common sympathy of a kind that cannot exist where patterns of belief and worship diverge. The 1549 Prayer Book was enacted as an all-England liturgy, just as our 1962 book was intended to function as an all-Canada liturgy. Uniformity historically, whatever its political significance at different times, has always been valued by church leaders as a means of realizing the ideal of unity, and it seems to me that this pastoral argument for uniformity in the essentials of worship is as strong today as it ever was. Agreement in the use of a liturgy that is biblical, evangelical, and worthy of God (which is the only uniformity I argue for, as it is the only uniformity that English and Canadian Anglicans have ever had) has three beneficial effects. First, it keeps the church’s standards of worship at the highest level. Second, it brings all worshippers face to face with the gospel and keeps them there. Third, it maintains a sense of oneness and solidarity within the church as a whole. In today’s discussions of the historic Anglican ideal of uniformity, only two points are usually made: first, that uniformity is not the same as unity, which can exist without it; second, that more flexibility than the Prayer Book prescribes would sometimes be an advantage. True, no doubt, yet the deeper truth lies in the balancing points: first, that godly uniformity is a potent means of expressing and deepening unity in Christ, and second, that in enlarging the area of allowed variation we should hold to the principle that as there is one gospel, and only one, so the actual worship of churches within the same diocesan and provincial networks should be seen and felt as one, and only one. Too much variety makes this impossible.
5. Services must express the gospel. Cranmer saw that a good service is not a set of unconnected bits and pieces, like a club concert – it is an integrated unit, having an overall “shape” and a clear, planned “route” along which worshippers are led. Cranmer “routed” Anglican public worship via the gospel, so that it might have a fully evangelical “feel” and “shape”. How did he do this? By giving his services an inner structure consisting of a sequence of three themes: sin., detected and confessed; grace, proclaimed and celebrated – and faith, focussed and expressed. In the proclaiming of grace Jesus Christ the Mediator must be central, so we may formulate the sequence as, first, facing our utter need of Christ; second, acknowledging God’s merciful provision of Christ; third, expressing our trustful, thankful response to Christ. Thus Cranmer’s services first make us face our present badness; then they tell us of the new life of grace; finally they lead us into the right response, which is multiple – prayer and praise for pardon; joyful trust in God’s promises of mercy; learning of God from his Word; asking for help both for ourselves and for others, professing our own faith, and giving ourselves directly to God out of gratitude for all he has given to us. Since this point about the structure of Cranmer’s services is not always appreciated, I propose now very briefly to illustrate it, first from the “Bible” services of Morning and Evening Prayer and then from the sacramental service of Holy Communion.
What “route,” now, do Morning and Evening Prayer follow? In the Cranmerian form in which we are familiar with them, the first step is a penitential sentence and declaration leading to a confession of our sins. Then comes step two, the proclamation that God pardons and absolves penitent believers, so that we pray with confidence for “true repentance, and his Holy Spirit”. This prayer is the beginning of step three, faith’s response to the gospel, and all that follows – the Lord’s Prayer, the doxology, psalm-singing, listening to God’s voice in Scripture, confessing our belief, making intercession – appears as the further action of those who by faith have laid hold of God’s pardoning mercy in and through Jesus Christ our Lord. Thus the sin-grace-faith sequence is basic to the whole service, just as it is basic to the Christian experience that the service expresses and deepens.
Now we look at the service of Holy Communion, the sacrament of continuance and strengthening through faith in the living Christ and his atoning death. What is the “route” here? A detailed answer to this question would be complicated by the fact that Cranmer produced two versions of Holy Communion, that of 1549 and that of 1552, and complicated also by the further fact that while England’s 1662 Prayer Book, to which the Solemn Declaration of 1893 refers, follows 1552 very closely, Canada’s 1962 Communion service does not fully correspond to either of Cranmer’s forms.3But a general answer to our question does not require discussion of these specific differences, and it is a general answer that I offer now. The general answer is that the ground-plan of the Communion service consists of the sin-grace-faith sequence repeated three times, like successive turns of a screw – the first time in an introductory way, in the Ante-Communion; the second time with specific application to those who plan to communicate, and the third time by administration of the sacrament itself, confirming the grace proclaimed in the comfortable words.
To be more precise: the first cycle consists of (1) recognition of sin, in the prayers “cleanse our hearts” and “Lord, have mercy upon us”; (2) proclamation of grace in the New Testament readings, epistle and gospel; and (3) four responsive exercises of faith – testifying (“I believe”), learning (the sermon), giving (the collection), and interceding for the church on earth.
The second cycle involves us in (1) acknowledging personal sin in the confession, (2) being assured in the comfortable words of the grace of Christ to sinners; and (3) actively embracing that grace (by the Prayer of Humble Access in 1549,4 by the Sursum Corda thanksgiving in 1552).
In the final cycle we come as self-identified sinners to “God’s Board,” as 1549 calls it: we are given the elements with words that assure (“the body … given for thee”, “the blood … shed for thee”), we receive them with faith in the redemptive reality they signify, and we express that faith in further gratitude for grace in our post-communion praying.
Whether the consecration prayer (the canon) is best made part of the second cycle, as in 1549, or the third, as in 1552, England’s 1662, and Canada’s 1962, and whether 1962’s other differences from 1549, 1552 and 1662 are defects or improvements, is of no consequence or relevance in this analysis, and I mention these questions only to dismiss them.
Time forbids further exploration of the way Cranmer used his threefold sequence in constructing his services, just as it forbids us to confirm our results so far by theological analysis of the Collects, those profound prayers that Cranmer provided for each week of the year. That will have to wait for another occasion. But I hope I have said enough to indicate, at least in a preliminary way, how by observing the five principles under review Cranmer was able to mastermind a Christ-centred liturgy that marvellously matches and furthers God’s plan for the church as Paul set its out in Colossians 2: 6-7. Now to my conclusion.
The conclusion can be formulated as follows. As biblical Christians who are also, in the providence of God, trustees for the Book of Common Prayer, this precious aid to biblical godliness, we are under obligation to commend and defend it in the church, and to give credibility to our advocacy of it by making full use of it ourselves. The Prayer Book path of disciplined life in Christ is one that we must ourselves learn to follow – which means, to start with, taking seriously the paragraph with which the Canadian expansion of Cranmer’s catechism closes:
Every Christian man or woman should from time to time frame for himself a RULE OF LIFE in accordance with the precepts of the Gospel and the faith and order of the church where in he may consider the following:
The regularity of his attendance at public worship and especially at the Holy Communion.
The practice of private prayer, Bible-reading, and self-discipline.
Bringing the teaching and example of Christ into his everyday life.
The boldness of his spoken witness to his faith in Christ.
His personal service to the Church and the community.
The offering of money according to his means for the support of the work of the church at home and overseas.
This sets us on the road – and, may I add, none of us will ever find a better pattern for private prayer and Bible-reading anywhere than that offered by the Prayer Book’s own daily offices. But this, again, is a tempting theme that time does not allow me to develop.
One of the weightiest last-century authorities on walking in Christ and being rooted and built up in him was the evangelical patriarch and churchman Charles Simeon. I conclude my conclusion with a quotation from him with which I, for one, resonate at a very deep level:
“I seek to be, not only humbled and thankful but humbled in thankfulness before my God and Saviour continually. This is the religion that pervades the whole Liturgy, and particularly the Communion Service, and this makes the Liturgy inexpressibly sweet to me. The repeated cries to each Person of the ever-adorable Trinity for mercy, are not at all too frequent or too fervent for me; nor is the Confession in the Communion service too strong for me: nor the Te Deum, nor the ascriptions of glory after the Lord’s Supper, Glory to God on high, etc. too exalted for me … this shows what men of God the framers of our Liturgy were, and what I pant, and long, and strive to be. This makes the Liturgy as superior to all modern compositions, as the work of a Philosopher on any deep subject is to that of a schoolboy who understands scarcely anything about it.”5
- From An Exhortation unto Prayer, and a Litany with Suffrages – Private Prayers from the Reign of Queen Elizabeth (Cambridge: Parker Society, 1851), p. 570.
- As Bishop Colin Dunlop frankly declares: “Perhaps there is no system of public Worship which makes such heavy demands upon the attention of the humblest worshipper as does the Book of Common Prayer”, in Anglican Public Worship (London: SCM, 1961), p.40.
- In 1549 Cranmer kept the traditional pattern of the Great Eucharistic Prayer (the Canon), including intercession, thanksgiving, consecration of the elements, commemoration of Christ before God, and self-oblation by the worshippers, prior to the communion itself. In 1552 Cranmer broke up this prayer, eliminating the Godward commemoration and postponing self-oblation till after the communion. Canada 1962 restores some of the 1549 Canon to what since 1552 had been called the Prayer of Consecration, thus giving two acts of congregational self-oblation, one before communion and one after; though it remains clear that, as in Cranmer’s 1552 and England’s 1662, and indeed, according to Cranmer’s own estimate, in 1549 as well, the essential act of the Eucharist is not offering either Christ or ourselves to God, but thankfully receiving the bread and wine that commemorate Christ’s sacrifice for us.
- There is a rich meditation on the Prayer of Humble Access by Desmond Scotchmer in The Lamp (bulletin of the Ontario branches of the Prayer Book Society of Canada), no. 13, Lent 1999, pp. 2-3.
- H.C.G. Moule, Charles Simeon (London: Methuen, 1892), pp. 214f.