Sunday, September 20, 2015

When Common Prayer Was Common

Earlier this month, we went to a 28 BCP congregation with our teen. My wife and I had been there a couple of times (it’s a long drive) but our daughter had not. I was amazed at how much she knew of the liturgy and service music: the original (vs. modified) Nicene Creed, the General Confession (vs. Confession Lite), the Scottish Gloria, the Merbecke Angus Dei and Sanctus. (None of us knew the Kyrie).

She has almost no exposure to the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. She spent all of preschool in Rite I, and then in the next nine years split time between Lutheran, 28 BCP (perhaps three years) and then Rite I; for the last few years (until recently) she has been worshiping with the ACNA trial use liturgy. On the other hand, it was very familiar for my wife and I, who spent almost all of our first four decades (i.e the 20th century) with the 28 BCP and then Rite I.

To me, our experience was a powerful reminder of the brilliance of Cranmer’s vision: the Book of Common Prayer is a book of common prayer. At one point in history, you could walk into a church anywhere in the country (or perhaps the world) and fully participate in the service. The prayers you learned as a kid would be the ones you would say until you breath your last breath. Among creedal Protestants, the Anglican faith was more defined by common worship than a common confession because (as known to 5th century Christians) Lex orandi, Lex credendi.

Of course, this also applies to hymns and service music. Yes, churches need a variety of forms and setting — I'm now a fan of the penitential vs. ordinary time approach to service music — but continuity and familiarity are underappreciated virtues.

Books of Alternative Services Rather Than Common Prayer

The brilliance of Thomas Cranmer was to provide a new prayer book in the vernacular that both linked back to the Latin Sarum (i.e. Salisbury) Rite and standardized the liturgy across the entire church. From the 16th century until the latter half of the 20th century, this was the norm for the CoE and Anglicans worldwide.

In America,  the 1979 prayer book marked a break for ECUSA from a Book of Common Prayer to what Peter Toon correctly noted was an Alternative Services Book. It provides multiple services and multiple variants, and also started the process of ongoing prayer book revision. The 2015 TEC convention vowed to start a new round of prayer book revision, in part to offer a new “gender neutral” version of the 1928 BCP marriage rite for high church LGBT parishioners.

We would love to say that Mother England has avoided these liturgical and doctrinal errors, but they haven’t. Planning a future trip to London, I found that “prayer book” services listed on the CoE church locator website were a small fraction of those local parishes.

With liturgy — as with bible translations — the 21st century model seems to be that revision is an ongoing process of modernizing the language — and the theology — rather than maintaining continuity with previous generations.

Traditional Language and Process

It’s hard to tell what the ACNA will end up doing. It opted for a single unified prayer book — rather than variant services — but following the 1978 Rite II model of a radical break from Elizabethan English. (To be fair, this is exactly the model promoted by Toon himself). It’s hard to tell if this will be a one-time or ongoing process: the disadvantage of having a standing (rather than temporary) committee on liturgy or music is that they will feel a need to do (i.e. change) something.

Among ACNA member bodies, the Reformed Episcopal Church has had relatively infrequent revisions of its prayer book — in 1873 (when it broke from ECUSA), 1963 and 2003. My impression is that the latter is recommended but not universal among REC churches.

For those that left ECUSA in between REC and ACNA — i.e. those Continuing Anglicans who quit ECUSA over the 1979 prayer book — they have been defined by their use of the 1928 BCP. In retrospect, their 1977 concerns about theological and liturgical revision have proven remarkably prescient.

Despite their severe fragmentation, these Schism I jurisdictions share a single unchanging prayer book (However, their prayer book differs from 1928 in that the lectionary was revised in 1945). This is probably the only pocket of liturgical unity in all of North American Anglicanism, continuing to live out Cranmer’s vision.

Still, having a book doesn’t define a process: It is a good prayer book, but what will the process be if there is something that must be updated? How will these churches reject recent heresies of the post-Biblical church?

In the end, I was struck by how dramatically easy it was for our family to worship using the standardized rite. Our daughter had never set foot in either in this church or a church of its province (ACC); the 28 BCP parish we previously attended was APCK. In terms of liturgy or theology, there is more variance within the TEC (or ACNA) than there is between the various jurisdictions of the continuing church.

So this raises (once again) the obvious question: if it’s the same faith, same worship and same prayer book, why are there dozens of Continuing jurisdictions in the US — other than 30-year-old grievances and a desire to propagate (or retain) purple shirts?

Thursday, September 17, 2015

What is Anglicanism Without Doctrine?

In the US, we have seen the successive separation from ECUSA of the the REC, Continuing Anglicans, AMiA and then the various factions that make up the ACNA. All were over doctrinal issues, and none of those who left are officially recognized by Canterbury as part of the Anglican Communion.

Now, with the last Lambeth conference a failure, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has announced a conference of global Anglican leaders that (for the first time) includes the spiritual leader of the ACNA. The Daily Telegraph reports:
The Archbishop of Canterbury is preparing to gamble his legacy on a high-stakes plan to overhaul the 80 million-strong worldwide Anglican church in what he sees as a “last throw of the dice” to avert a permanent split over issues such as homosexuality.
His aides liken it to a plan to have “separate bedrooms” to stave off divorce within the AC, allowing different factions to have different doctrines while retaining some ties to the CoE.

ACNA Abp. Foley Beach says he’ll decide whether or not to attend after consulting with the other GAFCON allies. However, journalist David Virtue argues that going would be a mistake:
First of all, if there is no "common doctrine," Anglicanism itself is meaningless. What does it mean to be Anglican if two different versions of the same faith are tolerated! To be an Anglican means a specific identity, a specific theological outlook. The Scriptures and the Gospels, the Apostolic Church, and the early Church Fathers are the foundation of Anglican faith and worship that make up the Anglican Communion.

The Church of England is part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. It worships the one true God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It professes the faith that is uniquely revealed in the Bible and set forth in the Catholic Creeds (the statements of faith developed in the Early Church that are still used in the Church's worship today). The Church is called to proclaim that faith afresh in each generation.

So the question must be asked again, can the two groups, orthodox and heterodox, live under the same roof and still call themselves Anglican? I think not. It is impossible. Most TEC bishops have denied the creed in one form or another, the worst case being John Shelby Spong who was never disciplined for his outright heresies. Walter Righter, Gene Robinson, and Katharine Jefferts Schori -- the latter has denied the bodily resurrection of Jesus and calls personal conversion a Western heresy.

For nearly two decades, the Global South primates and the GAFCON bishops have argued, pleaded, and fought with TEC to repent of its heresies. They have steadfastly refused to do so.
Without a confessional (like Lutherans or Presbyterians) or a central authority (like the RCC), the Church of England and its children have been notoriously squishy on doctrine throughout their 450+ year existence as a Protestant church apart from Rome. Some of this was the direct consequence of efforts to end civil war after the conflicts over the Tudor succession.

Our central doctrinal statement — the 39 articles — reflect the famous “Elizabeth fudge” of trying to be both Reformed and Catholic. Since that time, the (latitudinarian)  “broad church” was an attempt to hold together a range of Christian beliefs. However, in the 16th century, both the Reformed and Catholic faith were recognizably Christian and (largely) based on Biblical teaching, as were the subsequent evangelical and Anglo-Catholic interpretations of Anglicanism.

Virtue is right that the doctrinal innovations of the past three or four decades are not the same church as those who hold to the earlier interpretation of the Anglican faith. We no longer share a prayer book, ecclesiology or governance, so if we don’t share a doctrine, how is this “one faith”. So while the current (and previous and next) archbishop don’t want the divorce of the Anglican Communion to fracture on their watch, they are powerless to mend the irreconcilable differences.

The Telegraph makes clear that some of the Church of England will be leaving to join ACNA, GAFCON and the majority of the world’s Anglicans. If the modernists get Canterbury, perhaps the traditionalists can claim York, the other historic see of the CoE. From an architectural standpoint, it would be more than a fair trade, and the seat is currently held by an Africa-born bishop sympathetic to the Global South.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

ACNA Announces Baptism Services

The ACNA and its Liturgy and Common Worship Task Force this week announced
(via Twitter)  the addition of four new services to its Texts for Common Prayer:
  • Holy Baptism
  • Confirmation
  • Baptism with Confirmation, Reception and Reaffirmation
  • Renewal of Baptismal Vows
The task force proposals were approved by the House of Bishops at their June meeting in Vancouver. (However, they were actually posted back in July and the change log shows that there have been no changes since then).

These new services are added to the trial use versions of the main services — morning prayer, evening prayer and communion — released in Fall 2013. (Due to defects in the 1979 prayer book ordinal, that was drafted first and is already officially approved).

The Task Force hopes finish drafts of all texts by 2017, and then combine those with feedback to produce a final version.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Catholic Lutherans

During my brief (mostly Missouri Synod) Lutheran period, I learned a lot about the goals and role of Martin Luther and his early followers (particularly Melanchthon and Chemnitz), and the role they played in launching and defining the Reformation and a Protestant understanding of Christianity.

As an Anglo-Catholic, I find a lot to like about the (doctrinally orthodox) Lutheran teachings and believers. One reason is the strong liturgical worship promoted by traditionalists such as Issues Etc. and its advertisers. But as a catholic Christian, I also found many of the ideas of Calvin (and particularly Zwingli) as a bridge too far — let alone the Puritans and Anabaptists.

The quandary in understanding Lutheranism is its love/hate relationship with the Roman Catholic Church. Luther was a monk who wanted to reform the church and its excesses, creating a separate movement only when the 16th century church made it clear it didn’t want to be reformed. At the same time, there persist many ideas of the early Lutherans — including in the Book of Concord — that emphasize the 16th century persecutions and conflicts in the early Lutheran church; even to this day, many Lutherans (falsely) feel a need to reject RCC practices. Today, those differences seem exaggerated in a post-Christian culture, at a time when we Biblical Christians are more similar than different.

The American Lutheran Smörgåsbord

Despite many mergers in the 20th century, the 8% of American Protestants who are Lutheran (vs. 3% for Episcopal/Anglican) are fragmented across numerous denominations and jurisdictions. From 1990-2000, there were three major groups:
  • Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), descendant of the Scandinavian Lutheran churches. With about 3.8 million members today (per Wikipedia), it the largest and most liberal — it is among Lutherans what TEC is among Anglicans — and is in full communion with the liberal mainstream Episcopalians, Congregationalists, Presbyterians and Methodists.
  • Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS), derived from the German Lutherans of the 19th century. It is the next largest at 2.2 million members, and is probably most similar (liturgically if not theologically) to traditional Anglicans.
  • Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS), which in my experience felt more evangelical than Lutheran. 
Two smaller groups broke away from ECLA in this century. In 2001, the Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ (LCMC) was formed in 2001, in response to ELCA entering into communion with TEC. In parallel to the ACNA, in 2010 the North American Lutheran Church (NALC) was formed in response to ELCA theological modernizations, notably its support for gay marriage.

The NALC recently planted its seminary HQ at the Trinity School for Ministry, the training ground for the evangelical wing of the ACNA. Like much of the ACNA, the NALC (and LCMC) declined to join the LCMS because (like the ELCA) they support women’s ordination; thus, the NALC is analogous to the pro-WO wing of ACNA. With its opposition to WO and support for traditional liturgy, the LCMS is the Lutheran body closest to the Anglo-Catholic faction of Continuing Anglicans, but it also participated in a 2013 ecumenical summit with both the ACNA and NALC.

Clearly, affinity to Roman Catholic doctrine does not come easily to traditional Lutherans. The ELCA is the only American Lutheran church to endorse the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. Meanwhile, the LCMS explicitly rejects that declaration and any attempts to minimize differences between Lutherans and the RCC over the doctrine of grace and salvation. As the editorial head of LCMS’s publisher, Pastor Paul T. McCain, wrote in 2010:
Ten years after it appeared, we still continue to hear that the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification was a “breakthrough” between the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran Church. The media loves to perpetuate this myth. In fact, the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification is a fraud. It was a sell-out by revisionist Lutherans to Rome.

Rome is not to be faulted in any of this. The Papacy maintained the historic position of the Roman Church, and did not change it. Mainline liberal Lutherans, however, compromised the key doctrine of the Scriptures and the very heart of the Lutheran Confessions.
Thus, my general sense is that — unlike for Anglo-Catholics — (Roman) Catholic doctrine holds no particular attraction for traditional (particularly LCMS) Lutherans.

A Catholic Lutheran Church

My visit this summer to the International Congress of Catholic Anglicans made clear to me the importance in Anglo-Catholic theology (if not Anglicanism more broadly) of the continuity of Anglicanism to the early, undivided church. Like Catholics and Orthodox, we are creedal, subscribe to many of the ecumenical councils of the first millennium, and have sought to maintain the apostolic succession. We harken not only to the traditions of the Apostolic church of the 1st century, but also the traditional interpretations developed (particularly in the 2nd-4th centuries) as Christian clergy and theologians wrestled with early heresies and schisms.

In many ways, the Reformed and Catholic nature of Henry’s Church of England (and the Anglican faith more broadly) seemed like a minimalist reformation of the 16th century RCC, rather the more dramatic changes of Calvinism and the Puritans. Next to Anglicans, Lutherans seemed the least radical of the Protestants in rejecting pre-Reformation Christian doctrine that was recognizable (if modified) in the 16th century Roman Catholic Church. Still, I haven’t thought of them as asserting unity with the undivided church.

Lutherans are certainly creedal, with the Apostles’ Creed occupying a central role in Luther’s Catechism and all three creeds central to the Lutheran confession captured by the 1580 Book of Concord compiled by “the second Martin” and others. As in Rome and Canterbury, the Athanasian  Creed among Lutherans makes repeated reference to the “catholic” (i.e. universal) faith. In the current LCMS prayer book/hymnal, the Lutheran Service Book (2006), the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds refer to the “holy Christian Church,” but with this footnote:
Christian: the ancient text reads “catholic,” meaning the whole Church as it confesses the wholeness of Christian doctrine. [LSB, pp. 158,159,174,175,191,192,206,207,264]
By endorsing the Niceno-Constaintinopolitan and Athanasian Creeds, Lutherans implicitly and explicitly recognize the work of the first four ecumenical councils (325-451). Given the ongoing conflict between German Protestants and Catholics, the Book of Concord seemed more focused on 16th century (Roman Catholic) councils, notably the Council of Trent which began the Counter-Reformation.

The Scandinavian Lutherans endorse apostolic succession while (due in part to obstruction by 16th century Catholic bishops) the Germans do not. Like the Swedish Lutherans, the CoE and ACNA were able to launch new churches that inheirited the apostolic succession their clergy received in their former jurisdiction.

Given all this, I was surprised recently to hear this house ad on Issues Etc. quoting one of the speakers on its 2015 conference audio DVD:
[Will Weedon] I don’t know about you: I want no part of some church that began in 1517.

[Todd Wilken] Pastor Will Weedon speaking at this year’s Issues Etc. “Making the Case” conference.

[Will Weedon] I am not interested in it. Why would I be? I want the Church that began with Jesus Christ, which was founded by his Apostles, and in which the teachers of the Church continued to teach for centuries. I want to be part of that Church.

And the self-understanding of the Lutheran church is that we are the Catholic church of the West.
A regular guest on the Internet radio show, Pastor Weedon seems like an authoritative spokesman for LCMS doctrine as its director of worship since 2012.

Further Context

I don’t have a copy of the $300 DVD, so I wrote to Pastor Weedon to ask if he had a paper or script for what he had presented. In response, I got a lengthly email and a copy of one of his earlier writings.

In response to my email referring to the
[I heard] recent Issues Etc. ads that quote you as saying at Making the Case 2015 that the Lutheran church hearkens back to the early (i.e. undivided) church.  … I don't associate it with Lutheran theology.
he replied in part:
it’s actually an assumption and common place for us Lutherans.  …This is what Scripture teaches (citing the Scriptures). This is how the Church has always understood what Scripture teaches (citing the Fathers). This is exactly what we are teaching and nothing new.

The great Martin Chemnitz in his monumental Examination of the Council of Trent very bluntly states: “We confess we disagree with those who invent opinions which have no testimony in any period of the church. We hold that no dogma that is new and in conflict with all antiquity should be accepted.” I:258.
With his email, he included an essay that was also posted to his blog and his earlier parish website, which began:
Learning from the Fathers
Many times, Lutherans are challenged with:  “Well, where was Lutheranism before Luther?”  The implication is that Rome or the Eastern Orthodox have some sort of “corner” on the great church Fathers.  But Lutherans have never believed this to be true.  The Fathers repeatedly present the same or quite similar approaches to doctrine as the Lutheran Confessions do.  Here are some citations from the Fathers that may be of help in dispelling the notion that “Lutheranism” is a johnny-come-lately to the Church scene:
The essay offers quotes from the Patristic Fathers that support Lutheran theology, grouped using the three solas: sola scriptura, sola fide, sola gratia. The quotes cite Ambrose, St. Basil the Great, St. Clement, St. Cyril, St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. John Chrysostom, St. John of Damascus and St. Thomas Aquinas, among others, from collections such as the 127-volume Fathers of the Church and the 28-volume Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers.

These quotes aren’t going to convert a Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox to sola scriptura. At the same time, they remind us that early tradition points us (as it did the undivided church) back to Holy Scripture.


Creedal Protestants share with each other — and Rome and the East — an adherence to the canon of scripture, the ecumenical creeds and the teachings of the early Fathers. They differ in terms of ecclesial authority: Anglo-Catholics give considerable deference to tradition, the Orthodox give primacy to its specific canon of Holy Tradition, while Rome vests ultimate authority in the Magisterium.

Compared to other Protestants, Anglicans and Lutherans ascribe a greater role to tradition (including the early Fathers) in interpreting scripture. Still, Lutherans have more of a sola scriptura orientation than their Catholic or Orthodox counterparts, perhaps guided by Martin Luther’s final statement at the Diet of Worms that said
wenn ich nicht durch Zeugnisse der Schrift und klare Vernunftgründe überzeugt werde; denn weder dem Papst noch den Konzilien allein glaube ich, da es feststeht, daß sie öfter geirrt und sich selbst widersprochen haben, so bin ich durch die Stellen der heiligen Schrift, die ich angeführt habe, überwunden in meinem Gewissen und gefangen in dem Worte Gottes.…
In other words,
Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason - I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other - my conscience is captive to the Word of God.