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Martyred for the Gospel

Martyred for the Gospel
The burning of Tharchbishop of Cant. D. Tho. Cranmer in the town dich at Oxford, with his hand first thrust into the fyre, wherwith he subscribed before. [Click on the picture to see Cranmer's last words.]

Collect of the Day

The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany.
The Collect.

O LORD, we beseech thee to keep thy Church and household continually in thy true religion; that they who do lean only upon the hope of thy heavenly grace may evermore be defended by thy mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Daily Bible Verse

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Irony of Evangelical and Reformed Liturgy: It Does Not Exist

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost; As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen. --1662 Book of Common Prayer


By Charlie J. Ray

I was recently encouraged by a couple of e-mails and Facebook messages I received this week.  So in light of that I would like to say a few things in brief about the order of worship in the churches I have attended and the purpose of a good liturgy.  Why does having a common form of worship and order matter in the first place?

At the risk of sounding redundant let me say first that even the Papists understand that most people learn doctrine from the lectionary readings and the sentences of Scripture quoted during the services.  The trouble with the Roman Catholic Church and with the Anglo-Catholic movement within the Church of England and the Anglican Communion is that Scripture is not the test of sound liturgy.  Rather Tradition, understood as a divine revelation, is introduced and the repeated lines from the common prayer service becomes an indoctrination in semi-pelagian theology and sacerdotalism.  The problem here is that this is a violation of the principle of Sola Scriptura, which the confession of the Anglican Communion outright denies:

Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.  Article VI  (See also:  1 Corinthians 4:6; Deuteronomy 4:2; Proverbs 30:5, 6).
Furthermore, we must receive God's promises in such wise as they be generally set forth in Holy Scripture; and in our doings that will of God is to be followed which we have expressly declared unto us in the word of God.  Article VII

Why is having a common or standard form of prayer so important?  This could be a controversial issue since under the ministry of Archbishop William Laud (1573-1645) the Puritans were extremely persecuted over the theological content of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.  Laud was an avowed Arminian and was even considered as a secret conspirator with the Jesuits by the Calvinist and Anglican minister, Augustus Toplady (1740-1778).

The irony here is that the Puritans did not want to completely do away with common prayer in my opinion.  What they really wanted to do was to remove any vestiges to sacerdotalism in the prayer book.  Although the 1662 Book of Common Prayer became the official doctrine and liturgy of the Elizabethan Compromise, the 1552 Book of Common Prayer is actually the most reformed prayer book, although some Anglo-Catholic scholars wrongly insist it was never officially implemented.  The same can be said of the 39 Articles of Religion, that is the 42 Articles are more Protestant in tone and content.  Archbishop Thomas Cranmer's 42 Articles of Religion were edited and reduced to 39 Articles by the theologians under the authority of Elizabeth I.  Both the 42 Articles and the 1552 BCP were the best representation of the English Reformation produced.  That being said, the 39 Articles of Religion and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer do not allow for either Arminianism or Anglo-Catholicism and particularly so in regards to the latter.

Moving on from those necessary background details, the genius of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, according to the Anglo-Catholic theologian Gregory Dix, was instituting the principles of sola Scriptura and sola fide in the shape of the liturgy.  In other words, Cranmer's goal was to revise the liturgy previously used by the Roman Catholics in the English church such that the result was the utilization of key Scriptural verses or sentences and a solid teaching of the doctrines of the Protestant Reformation, including justification by faith alone.  If you do a comparison between the opening sentences or verses read that the beginning of the Morning and Evening Prayer services of the 1662 BCP and the 1928 BCP, you will immediately see differences and those reasons are to downplay the Evangelical message emphasized by Cranmer's edition of the prayer book, much of which was retained in the 1559 BCP and the 1662 BCP.  There are many other changed implemented by the Anglo-Catholics and Tractarians in the 1928 prayer book that could be mentioned but I will leave that for another post.

You are asking where this is leading but please bear with me a bit longer.  There was a time when "rote" memorization was not denigrated.  Modern theories of public education have tried to draw a sharp contrast between learning by "rote" and true intellectual comprehension and enlightenment.  Of course there is truth to this.  I could teach a horse to count to ten by simply signaling the animal when to tap his foot and when to stop.  The horse no more knows how to count than the man in the moon truly exists.  In regards to long term memory in people however it is absolutely necessary to drill by constant repetition the alphabet, grammatical rules, the multiplication tables, and a host of other learning keys that are embedded on the hard drive of the human mind.  Of course, a person could memorize all these things and still not be able to spell, read with comprehension or do mathematical problems.  But that is not necessarily so.  When I was studying New Testament Greek I had to learn long tables of Greek forms of nouns, propositions, adjectives, and the tenses, moods and voices of verbs.  The only way to learn these morphological charts is by repetitious vocalization of the words and by constantly writing and rewriting by hand these tedious details so that the words and language becomes internalized by rote repetition both visually and auditorially.  

As a child the first thing I can remember about public school education in both Georgia and Alabama was learning the Lord's Prayer--which was always said first--and the Pledge of Allegiance.  I can remember both word for word to this day because both were drilled into my long term memory over years of constantly repeating them in unison and out loud.  As an aside, the version of the Lord's Prayer said in public schools as I remember it was always the version taken from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.  

Also, when I visited Baptist and other Evangelical churches as a child, the Sunday school classes and vacation Bible schools were permeated with key verses of Scripture from the King James Version of the Bible.  To this day most of the Scriptures I remember are from the KJV, despite the fact that for many years I read modern versions like the NIV, NASB, RSV, and the ESV.  Why?  Because these verses were read and repeated often in that version of the Bible in churches.  While the KJV may not be a perfect translation there is something to be said for its almost universal use across the vast swath of Evangelical Christianity in the United States.

The same can be said for the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.  Even today most Evangelicals unwittingly utilize the same marriage vows used in the prayer book.  Many Presbyterian churches use a traditional confession of sin and absolution that is very close to the confession and absolution printed in the 1662 BCP--and all without any knowledge of where it comes from!

Ironically, most Evangelical Reformed churches today have emasculated their liturgy and dumbed down doctrinal differences for the sake of gaining new members and financial support.  That is truly ironic because the Puritans were originally more concerned with purifying the liturgy and prayer and making sure that their doctrine was correct!  These days one can hardly tell the difference between a Reformed church and a Pentecostal or Methodist church.  Evangelical latitudinarianism, no creed but the Bible, and "Why can't we all just get along?" is the word of the day.  Most "Reformed" churches are more broad church than anything else since learning the theology of the catechisms (Westminster Larger and Shorter Catechisms, Heidelberg Catechism, and the 1662 Catechism) is largely replaced by simply ignoring catechesis altogether or by some weak exposition of the "plan of salvation".

Even more ironic is the fact that very few if any Evangelical and Presbyterian churches say the Gloria Patri or even read or sing the Psalms anymore.  When I visited liberal Presbyterian churches often the form of worship was similar to the prayer book services, though there were many deletions.  Liberal Presbyterian churches almost always say the Gloria Patri!  The same is true of liberal Lutherans.  Often Evangelical and conservative Lutherans delete much of the traditional liturgy while the liberals continue to say the creeds and sing the Psalter!


The genius of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer was that he instituted learning the doctrines of sovereign grace and the five solas of the English and Protestant Reformation by making them a part of the liturgy. (See Samuel Luenberger, Archbishop Thomsas Cranmer's Immortal Bequest: An Evangelistic Liturgy).  People were being taught the Evangelical Gospel and the moral law via the common prayer services in the prayer book.  Learning by repetition visually (reading the prayer book) and aurally (hearing the Scripture sentences, confession of sin, Gospel absolution, and creeds) drilled the doctrines of grace into the minds and hearts of the people.  By the way, the "heart" in Scripture is not the seat of human emotions but the organ of thought and that is true with few exceptions.  (See Heart and Head, Affections and Feelings, Edwards and Machen).

The principle of Lex orandi, lex credendi means that what we pray is what we believe.  That is why liturgy is so important.  The Papists know this all too well, which is why they include the Rosary and other such deviations in their mass.  How much more should Protestants teach doctrine in their order of worship?

All congregations of all denominations have a liturgy.  What that liturgy emphasizes and teaches is another matter altogether.  Given the influence of the modern church growth movement worship services have been accommodated to the personal preferences of church goers.  Unchurched Larry and Mary dictate what the church will do or not do, which is the key ingredient for liberalism.  Services have been shortened from 2 hours or 1.5 hours to 45-60 minutes at most.  This abbreviation makes it then necessary to cut out reading from the Psalter or Psalms, the reciting of confessions and creeds, and confession of sins and absolution.  Even more to the point, churches that allegedly emphasize only the Bible often do not read Scripture in the service other than a couple of proof texts for the sermon!

The overall effect of the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement and their emphasis on church growth and megachurches has been to gut Evangelicalism of doctrinal teaching, sound liturgy, and solid discipleship in the doctrines of grace.  Part of the blame in Anglican circles is the rise of the Anglo-Catholic movement and the emphasis on the Lambeth Quadrilateral with an emphasis on ecumenical reunion rather than Scriptural truth.

With the advent of modern translations of the Bible mass confusion has set in regarding what the Bible actually says and how certain verses of Scripture are to be translated.  Every denomination has its own translation which adheres to their understanding rather than utilizing more literal translations and letting the text interpret itself.  Couple this with the rote memorization issue and people these days can hardly quote a Scripture verse verbatim.  And ask someone what the Ten Commandments are and ask they to quote them or even summarize them.  Most are unable to do so.  But the 1662 Book of Common Prayer requires the Decalogue to be repeated each and every time the sacrament of the Lord's Table is offered.  The 1662 Catechism uses the same quotation of the Decalogue used in the Lord's Supper so the utilization of these Scripture sentences makes it easier to memorize the commandments.  The theology of the prayers said after the quoting of the moral law makes it clear that keeping the law is something God does in us monergistically and not synergistically:
Lord, have mercy upon us, and incline our hearts to keep this law.
Lord, have mercy upon us, and write all these thy laws in our hearts, we beseech thee.  Lord's Table.

Notice that "hearts" here is not the seat of the emotions since the law is "written" in the heart.  The word for heart here is equivalent to the mind or the sentience of the soul.  

For these reasons I deplore the liturgical malaise afflicting Evangelical churches in general and Reformed churches in particular.  For most churches these days pietism, feelings, and emotions take precedence over what matters most:  sound doctrinal preaching and teaching!  (See 1 Timothy 3:2; 2 Timothy 2:24; Titus 1:8-9; Matthew 4:23; Mark 1:14; Matthew 7:28).  It looks like Jesus was very concerned about doctrine since He preached and taught the doctrines of the kingdom of God.

Furthermore, It seems that Anabaptist theology has overtaken Evangelicalism at large and Reformed churches in particular.   And even the Anglican churches are for the most part openly apostate even in their conservative versions since the vast majority of them are openly Anglo-Catholic and semi-pelagian and teach the idolatry of sacerdotalism via their liturgy.  The 1662 BCP and the 39 Articles openly forbid the lifting up of bread and wine as idols but the modern Anglo-Catholics continue to do so openly.  And the 1979 book of revised prayer services utilizes a catechism that is openly and overtly pelagian!  (See 1979 Catechism).

In conclusion, I must emphasize that I am not opposed to modern translations of the Bible per se.  I am not opposed to modernized language in the creeds and the prayer book, provided that no theological changes, deletions or emendations are utilized.  The 1928 BCP is not faithful to the 1552, 1559, or 1662 Book of Common Prayer, despite its similarities.  I could point out numerous emendations, additions, and changes if time permitted.

What I do advocate is a return to a common version of the Bible in a literal translation and a return to the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and the 39 Articles of Religion in the Anglican Communion at large.  This might seem to be an impossible task at the moment but it is not beyond the realm of  possibility given God's sovereignty.  (See Mark 10:27).  For the Presbyterians I would recommend a return to a more formal liturgy that includes the Psalter and lengthier lectionary readings.  The 1662 BCP lectionary is a healthy one that includes a systematic reading of key passages that are long enough to give total context with the Bible as a holistic book.

The use of both the King James Version of the Bible and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer would not only increase biblical and doctrinal literacy among the laity but it would also teach the doctrines of sovereign grace and the Protestant Reformation.  Unless and until Reformed churches both Presbyterian and Anglican return to their theological roots in the KJV and the 1662 BCP there can be no reversal of the gross ignorance of the Gospel that is rampant in the society at large.  Regarding the particular Baptists I cannot say that they are Reformed since they reject both formal liturgy and creeds for the most part.  Though I do concede that the Baptists do have confessional statements such as the London Baptist Confession of Faith.

If anyone doubts the Evangelistic and the Reformed theology of the 1662 BCP I quote the prayer of humble access used in the sacrament of the Lord's Table:

WE do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.

The 1662 Book of Common Prayer does not teach real presence in any way, shape or form.  In fact, I was surprised to see Michael Horton claim that Presbyterians say there is a real presence in the sacrament.  (See his new systematic theology, The Christian Faith).  This is just ambiguous enough to bear some truth.  There is a real presence "in the sacrament" but NOT in the bread and wine!  That would be the Lutheran view.  The "real presence" takes place by the presence of the Spirit of Christ in the hearts and minds of His regenerate and elect people, which Horton denies.  Horton's view does not get that the sacrament is in the heart and is signified by the object lesson of the outward sign.  (See Horton on real presence).  This presence is by faith as an instrument of comprehension and a specific and particular understanding of the objective work of Christ on the cross.  There is no spiritual re-sacrifice of Christ but only one complete and final sacrifice at Golgotha.  (Hebrews 10:12).  The sacrament without the inward grace of a true and living faith is merely an empty sign.  (See Catechism and Hebrews 11:6; Romans 10:17; Romans 4:5).  The only time there is a "bare sign" is when the person partaking is not a Christian.  How about that?  Church mice eat bare signs and Christians eat the body and blood because of their faith in the cross and that eating is not with the teeth or drinking with the lips but a metaphorical eating and drinking in the heart/mind by faith!  In other words, Horton seems to reject the view espoused by Cranmer, Calvin, and Zwingli, namely receptionism.

I will close with the Gloria Patri:

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost; As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
  

 Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, Sola Scriptura, Solus Christus, Soli Deo Gloria!



1 comment:

aaytch said...

Good article. If Presbyterians were to return to a more formal liturgy that included the Psalter, lengthier lectionary readings, and a more Biblical emphasis on the problem of sin whose solution is found in Christ alone, the result would be the 1662 BCP.

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