Thursday, December 3, 2009

Liturgical Renewal

The newly formed North American expression of the Anglican Communion, ACNA is in new territory. This is true in liturgics as much as every other area of our common life. Recently I have heard numerous voices expressing deep suspicion directed at the 1979 Prayer Book and calling for a return to the 1928 BCP or even a return to the 1662 Prayer Book (though some call for a kind of “modernization” of the language of the 1662 Book). The reasons for this desire are no doubt many, ranging from the well known and sustained attacks on the theology of the new prayer book expressed by the Prayer Book Society in their publications, to a kind of general angst that connects the '79 prayer book with the theological misadventures of the past thirty years in the Episcopal Church. Recently I read an article telling of the duplicity of Urban T. Holmes, exposing his alleged cover-up when challenged by traditionalists that the new prayer book under his oversight represented an enormous change in theology. Furthermore, a great many seem to think that by jettisoning the '79 prayer book the new Province will somehow be made safer from a return to the heresies of TEC.

So is the '79 prayer book the bastard child it is alleged to be? Did it lead to the unhappy state of theological mire TEC finds itself in today? These are questions best left to someone with considerably greater liturgical training than myself and are difficult, if not impossible to answer in any case. Yet I do have a concern, a dog in this race. My concern is that liturgical renewal not be lost as an Anglican pursuit. In order to frame my concern, I need to express my thoughts about what being an Anglican means to me, how I came to love Anglicanism as an expression of the Christian faith and how liturgical renewal should have a place in that wonderful and lovely kind of Christian faith.

I joined the Episcopal Church in 1980 and so have never worshiped with the 1928 prayer book. (I do hasten to say that I consider that a loss!) Due to the particularly “take no prisoners” approach to pastoral care the bishops were employing at the time, by 1980 the '28 prayer book had been expunged from all of the parishes I ever attended. I was at that time a thoroughgoing charismatic community church convert who went to Oral Roberts University (where else?). Unaware of the danger to my conviction that the Early Church was “just like us” in the free form charismatic movement, I studied the Early Church Fathers under one professor who was Eastern Orthodox and another who was Baptist leaning towards Orthodox (Fr. Ted Williams and Professor Howard Irvin, respectively). My eyes were opened.

The one Father that particularly converted me in heart and mind was the unforgettable St. Ignatius of Antioch. Ignatius, the bishop of Antioch, was on his way to Rome to be devoured by wild beasts for the crime of being a bishop. Since bishops in those times were not princes of the Church gowned in purple, but rather “the off-scouring of the world,” this godly man had probably never spoken to more than a few pagans at a time, so he actually burned with passion over the coming opportunity to speak or at least to act the part of a Christian before 50,000 certified Roman Pagans! It was an ancient mass evangelism opportunity absolutely relished by the old man. So I was sure he must have been a Baptist!

Then he spoke of having given a prophetic word in one of the churches that was so accurate that it was thought he had colluded with their controversial bishop. Ignatius replied:

Some there may be who wanted in a human way to mislead me, but the Spirit is not misled, seeing it comes from God.....When I was with you I cried out, raising my voice—it was God's voice-- “Pay heed to the bishop, the presbytery, and the deacons.” Some, it is true suspected that I spoke thus because I had been told in advance that some of you were schismatics. But I swear by Him for whose cause I am a prisoner, that from no human channels did I learn this. It was the Spirit that kept on preaching in these words: “Do nothing apart from the bishop; keep your bodies as if they were God's temple; value unity; flee schism; imitate Jesus Christ as he imitated his Father.” (To the Philadelphians)

So I figured Ignatius was a Charismatic Baptist!

Yet I was unprepared for what followed. Nothing in my Lutheran upbringings, certainly nothing in my charismatic training could have prepared me for the discovery of how catholic Ignatius was. I protested (of course!). I complained. I assumed some anonymous catholic had interpolated these foreign and altogether anachronistic doctrines into the text! Yet there was no exit through that door. Evidently all serious scholars believed the text was original and dated to A.D. 90-110. Here he was, this bishop of the church in the city of Antioch right in my path! The problem for me was that if he was not taught by St. Paul the Holy Apostle himself, then he surely was taught by someone who had been! So imagine my misery. This Ignatius was counseling obedience to the bishop, respect for the deacons, and honor for the presbyters! (Establishing strong evidence for a very early three-fold ministry). He called communion “the Eucharist” and dared to call it “the medicine of eternal life.” He declared that Christ Jesus was baptized “in order to hallow the waters.” He cried out:

My eros has been crucified and there burns in me no passion for material things. There is living water in me, which speaks and says inside me, “Come to the Father.” I take no delight in corruptible food or in the dainties of this life. What I want is God's bread, which is the flesh of Christ, who came from David's line; and for drink I want his blood: an immortal love feast indeed!

As he proclaimed these things, the Protestant, Charismatic, comfortable assumptions of my youth, like undermined citadels, began to crumble to ruins. I recalled in my childhood asking my mother about the small Episcopalian church near our Lutheran church in Tampa, Florida. “Mom, who are those guys,” I asked. “Oh them! They're almost Catholic”, she replied, and that Solomonic appraisal had served me well for the next 20 years of my life, delineating the ecclesiastical starting point of the dangerous slippery slope of dreadful apostasy ending at the feet of the Pope!

I must say, however, if Ignatius was a catholic, I had never met a catholic like him....He also said things like “Try to gather together more frequently to celebrate God's Eucharist and to praise him. For when you meet with frequency, Satan's powers are overthrown and his destructiveness is undone by the unanimity of your faith.” (Eucharist as Spiritual Warfare???) He yearned to proclaim the gospel to every creature under heaven; no, he positively lived for that cause! He prophesied, he believed in all the powers of Christ in the gifts of the Spirit. He talked more like a holy roller with catholic leanings than any catholic theologian or bishop of the modern period that I had ever read! So what would I do with this lion in the road...with this “Spirit-filled baptocharicatholic”? I have never been one to dismiss new truth by merely saying, “well, that is just not our tradition.” Resolve the dilemma. After all, did not the damned mentioned in the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians perish because “they refused to love the truth and so be saved”? (2 Thessalonians 2:10) Ignoring truth was not an option and, for me, Ignatius was an “inconvenient truth” if there ever was one. As E.V. Hill once remarked about the man who converted him from hatred to love, “That man's love beat me down....” Ignatius and other ancient authorities, had beaten me down.

I explored Eastern Orthodoxy along with nearly a dozen other Oral Roberts Seminary graduate students who were on the same path. Unlike some of these fellow students, I could not jettison the charismatic elements of the faith found both in Holy Scriptures and in the early fathers; yet the Eastern Orthodox clearly frowned upon any expression of charismatic gifts in the context of the Divine Liturgy. Furthermore, this was before I had heard of the Orthodox Church in North America (an American expression of Orthodoxy) and I found the encrusted ethnic elements of the Orthodox church to be a daunting barrier to a young man of American Anglo-Saxon descent.

The Roman Church was simply not an option. My readings in the early church Fathers only served to deepen my conviction that 19th century dogmas of papal infallibility and the immaculate conception of Mary (to take only two examples) were serious distortions of doctrine. I had also become convinced that the East is right about the filioque in the Nicene Creed and the attendant rise of unbiblical Papal privilege. My sojourn with the Orthodox only deepened my conviction that “the Great Modern Council,” (what would be the 8th Ecumenical Council) needed to be called between the Roman Church and Orthodoxy to revisit and by the grace of God heal the abomination of the 1054 Great Schism, putting everything on the table and refusing to adjourn until the kind of agreement arrived at during the Nicene Council could be repeated in our time. Since that was unlikely to happen in my lifetime, I did not seriously consider the Roman Church for a church home. That left Anglicanism as the next great expression of catholic and patristic faith. Here was a church that could conceivably combine all the elements that made Ignatius and his fellowship so winsome. The Anglican communion was catholic! It celebrated the Eucharist Sunday by Sunday (at least all the churches I was familiar with!)...just like Ignatius! It had the three-fold ministry of the catholic world dating back to Ignatius and past him into the New Testament Epistles. It worshiped with a liturgy, just like the synagogues of Jesus' time and, though it is unproven, very probably like the earliest churches Ignatius led or visited. Yet it also was charismatic, at least permissively. Was it not the church of Fr. Dennis and Rita Bennett, with a strong charismatic renewal movement? And though the church in the United States was really a pretty poor example, at least one could not deny that the rest of the Anglican Communion had shared with Ignatius a passion for taking the gospel everywhere in the world with both great enthusiasm and a host of martyrs.

Therefore, in 1980 I left ORU and traveled to Trinity Episcopal Church, Portland, Oregon where I was confirmed and three years later, ordained as a deacon and in 1984 as a priest. I lived, tragically, to watch the Diocese of Oregon unravel and deconstruct nearly everything that drew me to Anglicanism including effectively tossing the Fathers of the church into the dustbin of history.

I have told my story because I came to Anglicanism with a patristic vision of a church in which the various forms now so disparate could be again unified, as in the life and expression of Ignatius. The patristic era belongs to us all: Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican, Protestant. It was the time of the undivided Church of Jesus Christ and remained undivided for over a millennium. Perhaps by returning to our roots (and was that not the purpose of the Reformers?) we may again express and live a Christian faith that is universal and whole and therefore healthy and humble. Though not without it's problems, the 1979 Prayer book was also an honest attempt to return to our liturgical roots and develop expressions of liturgy that were compiled from ancient forms and faith. In my opinion, this is good! With Ignatius in mind, let us proceed. We have to ask the question of our new province, what will we become as we seek our identity beyond the Episcopal Church?

So where indeed do we go from here? Back to the '28 prayer book? Back to 1950's Episcopalianism in the good old days before the heretics? Way back to 1662 and the Elizabethan prayer book so that all modernism can be stamped out and held at bay with a liturgy that clearly says who we are and what we shall remain until the Lord's return? Do we swear off from the intoxicating wine of liturgical renewal for good and forever?

Is that really what Anglicanism is?

In my opinion, it may seem safe. It may seem secure. But I suggest that path may be the safety of a cave; ultimately perhaps even of a tomb.

After all, what was really the point of the Reformation in England. For nearly everyone but the Puritans, was it not to reclaim the “Church in England”? Did it not hinge on the argument that before A.D. 1000 the Church in England was not under the direct control of the Pope? Before the seventh century, had it not been in communion with, but not under any control of the emerging papacy? Had the English Christian kings around the first millennium not insisted that the Pope had no temporal authority in England nor even ecclesiastical authority sovereignly to appoint Bishops? Furthermore, there was the Celtic Church which was indigenous to the British Isles. These anonymous saints were the true founders of “The Church in England,” were they not? If all this is true, then a true Protestantism in England would be continuing to reform itself even today. Why would it stop with the 16th or 17th century? Would Thomas Cranmer really be happy were he to be told that his work and his words were the foundation of a wholly new church, let alone a particular denomination among many? Would he or any of the reformers be happy to be told that their work and vision had become the canon, the very foundation of the theology and the practice of the Anglican Communion? I truly think not! I think they would be appalled to find themselves idolized thus. I suspect they would point behind themselves and tell us to continue to reform the church of Jesus Christ in England until it was reformed to the church of the Fathers and ultimately to Jesus and the Apostles themselves.

I remember a discussion I had with a fellow “examining chaplain” in the Diocese of San Joaquin. I was astonished to hear him insist that the Anglican church began in the 16th Century! All this time I thought the Church of England began with Jesus the Christ and then spread through anonymous missionaries to England sometime in the second century after him! I thought we could claim the great saints Ninian and Columba and Patrick! But evidently they actually belonged to the Roman Church in his mind! If he were right, then we are not in any way a catholic church, nor a patristic church, nor do we have anything but a particular style to offer the world and the rest of the church; evidently merely an “English style” or an “Anglican ethos” expression of church. How sad that would be. Yet how unnecessary! No, I am told Cranmer searched all the manuscripts he could lay his hands on of ancient worship. He scoured the early Fathers. He borrowed prayers from East and West to put together the English Book of Common Prayer. Though we are not “Cranmerians,” we can certainly follow his example and search again, and create again with even greater depth and diversity of texts (Cranmer, for example could never have read anything from Ignatius of Antioch!) So I say, if the 1979 Prayer Book tried but fell short of liturgical renewal we should not banish the effort, but renew it with greater study and effort and purer motives (IE: no liberal agenda smuggled into the work!).

But first, let us backtrack a bit and look at what may lie behind the desires of many to recreate the 17th century church in the 21st.

Here are some salient reasons for that longing as I can see it:

  • Traditionalists simply love the language and meter and stately prose of the writing of that period. Without a doubt we cannot match the beauty of that language. Unlike modern English, the ancients wrote and spoke to create beauty and poetic power as well as clarity of expression. This is clearly not so much the case anymore. Nevertheless, this desire for ancient language in worship does lead to a curiosity. Were they to get their way and we all worship from the 1928 or 1662 Prayer Books, Anglicanism in America would hold the odd crown of being the church whose liturgical expression was written in the most inaccessible language of any modern church (including Rome except in the few places that are returning to Latin!) We would need classes for our people to understand Elizabethan English! This only proves the theory that many confuse “ancient” with holy, in much the same way that orthodox Jews in Jerusalem are the only Jews who will refuse to speak Hebrew on the street since it is the language of the Holy Books! (After all, Yiddish was created for street talk! Right?) Perhaps I am wrong, but I really do not believe we want to be seen as the most inaccessible of all the churches of Christ in our worship language 400 years after having been the first church to dare to revise and then print the liturgy in the language of the people! To me that seems a betrayal of Anglicanism, not it's natural expression.

  • Some believe the cause of all the heresies is the '79 prayer book. If we return to traditional prayer books there will never again be a wave of heresy such as we just experienced. While this argument seems convincing somewhat, we have to ask wider questions. Was the '79 prayer book really that powerful in directing human thought? Or have we simply witnessed yet another surge of deconstruction resulting from adherence to elements of the Enlightenment that are still progressing onward toward oblivion? After all, the Enlightenment was breathtaking for science, but an unmitigated disaster for philosophy, art, humanities and religion. The spirit of Voltaire lives on and many influenced by that philosophy still seek to destroy all faith, belief in miracles, and everything “unreasonable” in life. It is the triumph of the head over the heart instead of standing before the Lord with they mind in the heart. Though it is undoubtedly true that liberalism has a foothold in the '79 prayer book, it is also just as true that the vast majority of that book is thoroughly orthodox. Having said that, I would be very happy to move on from the '79 book if that does not necessarily mean moving away from liturgical renewal.

As mentioned above, part of the problem of liturgical renewal is that modern people have a terrible time writing good liturgy! Our form of English tends to be either highly intellectual or highly sentimental. Neither will do for liturgical expression. One needs the language of the heart. Words need to move not the feelings nor the intellect but the heart. Therefore liturgy must deal with the subjects of the Bible and express both sin and redemption, both deep inner yearnings of the heart and the changing of the will, both the darkness within the heart and the renewal of the Holy Spirit. Christ lives in the human heart according to the Scriptures...what are modern people to do with that? They must retool their own language and liturgy to engage the heart: therefore liturgy can be a weekly lesson in that pedagogy. It's no good reliving the heart-language of another people; we must find expression of it in our own style. The fruits of the Spirit; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, self control, humility and faith are NOT the topics of many conversations around the office or on the playing field. Our best hope in restarting the conversations about things that really matter is to form our prayers around these things. I think one of the reasons the Tolkien Trilogy was so phenomenally successful was this very thing; we were taken back...way back into a time when men and women spoke of things from the heart. The Lord of the Rings is neither sentimental nor blandly intellectual. It is the stuff of heart; blood, virtue, testing, failure, redemption and, ultimately, love -- not love of self, but sacrificial love. One could almost forge it all into a new religion, right there in the theater. Though The Lord of the Rings is, of course, pure fiction, yet the characters and their language and their world are not. They are clearly patterned after the great ancient sagas in their expression and laid over the framework of the Christian Redemption story in their shape. This “food for the heart” was greedily snapped up by modern people who did not even understand their own famished hearts' longing. We never talk that way to each other---no, not even to God. How sad. Liturgy must address this. Therefore our liturgy must be ancient and modern, produced by “scribes of the Kingdom” who “bring out of their treasures things both old and new.” It must be in the language of the heart, yet engage the mind. So it must be poetic (like much of the Bible!) and epic in scope. For such is our faith and the Story of God. I think we can do this, though it may take some time.

This is the moment for a new movement that seizes upon opportunities.

We could return to liturgical renewal seeking a Biblical, foundational, patristic and modern liturgy. Let it be one Ignatius might love and St. Paul might approve. Like Cranmer, but with many more sources before us, could we not energize the poets among us who have not surrendered to the dry intellectual poetry of our time, nor the sentimental hash of popular culture and who can draw from these ancient sources a language of the heart that would give to us food for the soul for generations to come?

As we wait for this to emerge could we, like the early church, not leave the door open for many local expressions and allow the people of God and the artists of the Faith to write and reprise and edit and redact until timeless beauty begins to be revealed from “the Spirit and the Bride”?

We could just be an English exact and eternal replica of the place our 17th century fathers stopped on their road to renewal and reformation, beautiful and stately as that may be. Or perhaps we could continue their quest and discover the Spirit giving us the unique leadership offered to the humble living on the margins; the place of real discovery and innovation: the wellspring of prophets. We could return from our recent journey through the desert with words of the water of life.

At the very least, I would hope this plea would help to enable our leadership to offer a place for those who dream. If we must return to 1928 or 1662, would it be too much to ask those who suffered the outrages of the pastoral totalitarianism of the 1980's to give to others the drink of freedom denied to them? Could we allow that some or even most might return to the great prayer books of the past while others hear the voice of the Spirit say “Come” to the quest of “things old and things new” and find a new voice in worship of Almighty God? I, for one, would hope that the answer to these questions would be in the affirmative.

- The Very Rev Carlos Raines, Dean of Saint James' Anglican Cathedral


Fred Schwartz said...

Kind sir:
You really ought to read your own Jerusalem Declaration. Your prayerbook of "choice" is the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. Get ready to pledge your allegiance to the King/queen of England.

Holysmoke said...

Thanks for reading the article and taking time to comment, Fred. I am hoping for is a work in progress.
While I think your point is pushed a bit, you have actually pointed to that very trend I am concerned about and one of the reasons I wrote the article! I think it would be a shame to force the 1662 PB upon the whole Province (ACNA), let alone the whole Communion. As to the King/Queen of England, I prefer to help "defend the constitution against all enemies, foreign or domestic!" I won't be "pledging allegiance to the king/queen of England" any time soon!

David Katzakian said...

I do not believe that the 1979 Prayer Book contributed to the decline of TEC. It was one of the results of the decline into heresy. Once in use, it might have then further aided the decline.

I would advocate a return to the sound theology of the 1928 & 1662 BCPs as opposed to returning to their use. I grew up with the 1928 BCP, and while the language is poetic, it is hard to understand. While the 1662 BCP is the prayer book of choice, it is for its theology. It being used as the basis for a prayer book for ACNA churches, so there would be no allegiance to the British Monarchy. Mr. Schwartz need not fear.

There is an article on the Prayer Book Society's site ( about how some African priests are using the 1662 BCP as a means of grounding their flocks in solid orthodox teaching and a bulwark against western heresies.

Fr. Carlos is right about getting the language of the liturgy just right. It will take much hard work, but the results will be worth
the effort.

There is a contemporary language prayer book based on the 1662, 1928 and 1962 BCP editions. It was created for AMIA. More information is at

For those who would like to use the 1928 BCP, provision could be made for that as well, such as the current Saturday morning service in the chappel. This way no one has to be forced to endure a prayer book not to his liking.

Nicholas said...

Fr. Carlos,

I know I haven't stopped by in a while and therefore just had a chance to read this. I'll probably be sending a link to some Anglican's I know for further, and much better comment.

I don't think your point about Elizabethan English is fair. Many quotes out of the original King James still survive today and we, after all, insist that high school students burden themselves with Shakespeare. Holy language should challenge and should have an air of the ancient and if possible the Timeless.

We also have to deal with your admission to the beauty of the language. A beauty that causes the language of the original BCP to still be used in modern movies when beauty and awe are called for (in much the same way that they often don't find presbyterian elders to fight vampires; but I digress). Beauty in and of itself is Holy as it originates with God. If what is current is less beautiful we should seriously question its use.

This brings us to your interesting use of Tolkien. One of the great feats of Tolkien's work is that he depended on the fine nuances of very old language in order to drive his narrative. For example, the use of only Anglo-Saxon derived words for the Rohan. It is probably one of the few works in existence in which the world was created in order support linguistic morphology.

Big "O" Orthodoxy likewise would, I think, question the rapid adoption of more modern language for the sake of modernization itself. One of my frustrations with reciting the Lord's Prayer in the mornings with your fellowship was the loss of the community given by a traditional reading. Changing the language disturbs the ability of the community to internalize the language and that in itself should be approached with caution.

As to your questions regarding whether the cause of orthodoxy was really hampered by the 1979 BCP I can't comment fully, having never been an Anglican. However, I have compared the language critically and have been disturbed by the subtle (and sometimes glaring) changes that were made (as a complete aside I've had the chance to slowly work through "Shape of the Liturgy" by Dom Gregory Dix with a very interesting Anglican critique on the older BCP's). You likewise seem to note that these variances exist. If they exist, and if the 1979 BCP is considered a method of teaching the flock, then shouldn't it be removed in favor of the older books at least until your proposed project is completed? After all it shouldn't be treated as a prop.

Hopefully I'll be able to round up a few others for some comments. Please take these in the best light, since we know each other at least a little I hope they will be received well. I'll also try to stop by for morning prayer int he future.