After a long process of revision, re-writing, re-interpreting, and careful planning, the Anglican Church of Canada is following a US-Canadian trend of publishing a new hymn-book for the pews, called Common Praise. This is intended to replace the old Blue Book (Book of Common Praise, 1938), and the joint United Church of Canada—Anglican Church of Canada Hymn Book of the 1970s (“The Red Book”).
But it is also intended by some to do much more.
Anything attractively produced in a hard cover has a certain kind of reality and authority about it, especially for loyal Anglican used to a Prayer Book. As with other recent liturgical productions, what is apparent in Common Praise 1998 is that the old unity of doctrine, worship, and Scripture which characterized the Book of Common Prayer tradition, and the older hymn books based on that classical pattern, is to be loosened, if not fatally changed in certain parts of the new hymn book.
Common Praise 1998 is a book of un-common praise, some parts of it having less and less in common with the Scripture, with authentic patterns of Anglican Worship, and with the original hymns.
This follows the trend of books of ‘common worship’ which break up the old pattern in favour of many options, rites, and interchangeable parts which speak more of relativism than of truly Common faith and Common Prayer. Those who lead the Anglican Communion in this direction are propagating a generic and a relativist form of the Christian religion. For, in principle, once variety is affirmed there is an open door to an infinite variety of further rites and hymns, orthodox or not.
One of the hymn-revisers and writers, Brian Wren has stated:
“The patriarchal idol is no local infection we can treat with the antibiotics of traditional theology. It permeates the central symbol system of Christian faith, the very language that bears Christian revelation. The Bible has to remain our indispensable point of reference, because it records the Jewish and Christian discovery of, and wrestling with, the true and living God. Yet the Bible’s language and imagery cannot control or restrict us…” What Language Shall I Borrow? Brian Wren p. 130.
Contrast this with two of the introductory principles John Wesley insisted on in 1780, regarding the many hymns composed by himself, and by his brother Charles Wesley:
…That which is of infinitely more moment than the spirit of poetry, is the spirit of piety. And I trust, all persons of real judgment will find this breathing through the whole Collection. It is in this view chiefly, that I would recommend it to every truly pious reader, as a means of raising or quickening the spirit of devotion; of confirming his faith; of enlivening his hope; and of kindling and increasing his love to God and man.
And here I beg leave to mention a thought which has been long upon my mind, and which I should long ago have inserted in the public papers, had I not been unwilling to stir up a nest of hornets. Many gentlemen have done my brother and me (though without naming us) the honour to reprint many of our Hymns. Now they are perfectly welcome so to do, provided they print them just as they are. But I desire they would not attempt to mend them; for they really are not able. None of them is able to mend either the sense or the verse. Therefore, I must beg of them one of these two favours; either to let them stand just as they are, to take them for better for worse; or to add the true reading in the margin, or at the bottom of the page; that we may no longer be accountable either for the nonsense or for the doggerel of other men…
As in recent books of worship produced by the world-wide “Liturgical Movement”, what is at bottom, the not-so-hidden agenda, is a gradual but real shift in the faith, in who we understand ourselves and God to be, in what worship is about. This is commonly admitted. Such revision subjects hymnody ancient and modern to the rubric of various contemporary fads, a range of competing parties and political influences within the church. This is a time when meaningful and faithful liturgical revision is virtually impossible because of the babel of voices demanding attention to their particular agendas.
This series of essays arises partly from a number of public workshops and discussions sponsored by the Prayer Book Society of Nova Scotia & Prince Edward Island, seeking to interpret this latest book in the light of classical theology and worship, as embodied in the living Prayer Book tradition, seeking to give God true worship and glory according to his word and the teaching of his church down the ages as it is reflected in worship, hymn, and doctrine. Many thanks to the authors, to various other publications for permission to reprint related articles, and to all who helped in editing, typing, proofreading, and getting this booklet into publication.
Thanks to the people who look after the PBSC websites for taking this project and putting it online. Some of the following has been presented or published elsewhere online. Information will soon be provided for those who wish to order a printed copy of this booklet for their own study, presenting to others, and for the benefit of those who are not online.
We hope this will be a helpful and thoughtful contribution to the discussion which must surround anything as important as a new hymn book. As one contributor, Dr. Robert Crouse, has written:
…The modifying or marginalizing of traditional religious language is an essential part of the liberal agenda. The new liturgies of the Book of Alternative Services did not really accomplish very much in that direction; the new hymn book is a bolder step forward, and it will no doubt be followed by more progressive liturgies. Perhaps the expectation is that people will sing anything so long as they like the tune, and thus will become used to the new language before they have to confront it in more solemn liturgical form…
…The basic question, I suppose, is this: Are the concepts, images and language of the Holy Scriptures, as understood in our tradition, definitive for our faith and practice as Anglicans today? I think the answer must be “yes”, and I think that the continued existence of Anglicanism depends upon that answer.