Benedicite, omnia opera Domini

O all ye Works of the Lord, bless ye the Lord : praise him, and magnify him for ever.

O ye Angels of the Lord, bless ye the Lord : praise him, and magnify him for ever.

O ye Heavens, bless ye the Lord : praise him, and magnify him for ever.

O ye Waters that be above the Firmament, bless ye the Lord : praise him, and magnify him for ever.

O all ye Powers of the Lord, bless ye the Lord : praise him, and magnify him for ever.

O ye Sun and Moon, bless ye the Lord : praise him, and magnify him for ever.

O ye Stars of Heaven, bless ye the Lord : praise him, and magnify him for ever.

O ye Showers and Dew, bless ye the Lord : praise him, and magnify him for ever.

O ye Winds of God, bless ye the Lord : praise him, and magnify him for ever.

O ye Fire and Heat, bless ye the Lord : praise him, and magnify him for ever.

O ye Winter and Summer, bless ye the Lord : praise him, and magnify him for ever.

O ye Dews and Frosts, bless ye the Lord : praise him, and magnify him for ever.

O ye Frost and Cold, bless ye the Lord : praise him, and magnify him for ever.

O ye Ice and Snow, bless ye the Lord : praise him, and magnify him for ever.

O ye Nights and Days, bless ye the Lord : praise him, and magnify him for ever.

O ye Light and Darkness, bless ye the Lord : praise him, and magnify him for ever.

O ye Lightnings and Clouds, bless ye the Lord : praise him, and magnify him for ever.

O let the Earth bless the Lord : yea, let it praise him, and magnify him for ever.

O ye Mountains and Hills, bless ye the Lord : praise him, and magnify him for ever.

O all ye Green Things upon the Earth, bless ye the Lord : praise him, and magnify him for ever.O ye Wells, bless ye the Lord : praise him, and magnify him for ever.

O ye Seas and Floods, bless ye the Lord : praise him, and magnify him for ever.

O ye Whales, and all that move in the Waters, bless ye the Lord : praise him, and magnify him for ever.

O all ye Fowls of the Air, bless ye the Lord : praise him, and magnify him for ever.

O all ye Beasts and Cattle, bless ye the Lord : praise him, and magnify him for ever.

O ye Children of Men, bless ye the Lord : praise him, and magnify him for ever.

O let Israel bless the Lord : praise him, and magnify him for ever.

O ye Priests of the Lord, bless ye the Lord : praise him, and magnify him for ever.

O ye Servants of the Lord, bless ye the Lord : praise him, and magnify him for ever.

O ye Spirits and Souls of the Righteous, bless ye the Lord : praise him, and magnify him for ever.

O ye holy and humble Men of heart, bless ye the Lord : praise him, and magnify him for ever.

O Ananias, Azarias and Misael, bless ye the Lord : praise him, and magnify him for ever.

 

Ananias, Azarias and Misael are names for Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego the friends of Daniel. This is probably my favourite bit out of the morning prayer in the BCP where all of creation is called and encouraged to praise God. I try to think of every thing mentioned as I recite the lines, the repetition at first was tedious but I’ve gotten into it now and keep returning to this passage in particular.

Getting to grips with the Book of Common Prayer

Getting to grips with the Book of Common Prayer

I have to catch myself sometimes, I never thought I’d be this kind of Christian. Even a couple of years ago I was a fairly generic brand of miscellaneous evangelical. I’m still trying to work through what I think and where its leading me, part of this is getting my head round the challenge and appeal of the Book of Common Prayer.

The Book of Common Prayer is a foundational text for the Anglican church, its been adapted for use by both Catholics and Orthodox and at a time was the backbone of Church services nearly everywhere English was spoken. It contains Prayers but it also contains Orders of Service, Psalms to be sung or prayed, Catechism, the Creed of St Athanasius, the 39 articles of the Anglican church and more. For many it’s considered not just a foundational part of Anglicanism but of the English language alongside Shakespeare and the Bible. It was originally compiled during the reign of King Edward the VI, the son of Henry the VIII by Thomas Cranmer, the then Archbishop of Canterbury.

With the decline of liturgy and the various changes within the English church in the 20th century however the Book of Common Prayer is currently out of favour with many Christians. I have the 1662 pocket edition and it reads like the King James Bible, to many and myself initially it can prove complicated and overwhelming. Yet this is partly because, archaic language aside, its prayers are primarily corporate in nature which is something increasingly rare today. The secret to the BCP is in its name – it is meant to be common, or rather something we share ‘in common’ with one another. One person I was talking with, about the liturgy and prayers of the BCP, articulated it in the following way.

One of the things that is most blessed about the liturgy is the fact that it binds us into the community, whether we are praying in our corner alone or united with others in one place. The prayers are ‘we’ and ‘our’, not ‘I’ and ‘my’. It transcends space and time, uniting believers around the world and through the ages — not just to Cranmer but beyond, through the centuries of medieval development and to the ancient church. I love that feature of it. And this emphasis on community, made explicit in many prayers but also built into the traditional structure of Anglicanism from parish to diocese through province to primate, is definitely at odds with much evangelicalism — and this is a shame, because there is something beautiful about the knowledge, zeal, commitment, and drive for holiness that is embodied in evangelicalism at its best. But today, evangelicalism, even in corporate worship, continually uses ‘I’ ‘me’ ‘mine’ (one thinks immediately of the Beatles) and spends much of the time of praise looking to the praiser and his or her experience, not to the one being praised.

 

The Prayer Book sets us free from that without jettisoning the important, deep, biblical theology evangelicals claim as their own.
The use in the prayers of ‘we’ and ‘our’ aren’t original – it mirrors the Lord’s prayer.
OUR Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy Name,
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, in earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive them that trespass against us;
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil,
(For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory.)
Amen.

 

Lord’s Prayer
The Lord’s prayer in this sense is common too and if you recite it with any frequency, then this is liturgy in a fashion. Its tragic that, in my own experience, many evangelical churches seldom say it anymore publicly, or even share communion that often anymore.
The other thing I found challenging about the BCP is that it contains morning and evening prayers. I had to check with someone but the BCP assumes this is done every day. The idea of church being open every day, both morning and evening for me was pretty challenging. The idea of getting together with others early in the morning reminded me of a letter by Pliny the Younger on the Early Church.
..they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so..

 

Excerpt from the letter of Pliny the Younger to the Emperor Trajan

This idea suggested Church, not just Christianity as a way of life. It was something always going on, always coming together and the emphasis was on the ‘common’ faith shared between believers. This is a Church, like the early church, which changed the way society was structured and run. Discussing this with my own minister I was disappointed to hear that the majority of ministers trained today have little to no exposure to the Book of Common Prayer and we are exchanging our heritage for something that seems in comparison so minimal. I only knew anything about because I sought it out, otherwise this is a text many of us either knowingly disregard or are ignorant of.

More recently when a family member was admitted to hospital I was distraught and I prayed till I didn’t know what to say. Out of words I went and picked up the BCP opening it on the section detailing ministry for the sick and ailing. Praying those words knowing that they had been said thousands of times of people in similar situations throughout the ages was profound. The words themselves have power, but so does the common nature of the text I had been given. I knew whatever happened, me and my relative were bound together in the footsteps of Christians who knew that same pain and struggle and responded by bringing it to God. When you push past the archaic language the words are surprisingly candid, human and they help give us focus, directing us out of ourselves towards God.

The BCP is full of prayers thanking God for all areas of our life but it also contains everything you need to know theologically to be considered an Anglican. It contains a Catechism, a Creed and the 39 articles. If an apocalypse were to happen today and all knowledge of this world to disappear, you could, upon discovering the BCP amongst the rubble, continue the practice and belief of the Anglican church from this small book. The faith in the BCP is a common faith, a public faith that is easy to understand and consistently referencing scripture throughout. The BCP is a ticket to a new (but really ancient) vision of church.

Despite all this I struggle to read the BCP consistently, the prayers are long and its not a fashionable thing to do. Yet theres an appeal to it, to be honest it feels a bit of dirty secret when I’m amongst my classically evangelical friends. The BCP is meant really for corporate settings, but I pray it alone because no one really does it anymore – not even my minister. I pray that changes. Even when I struggle I’ve taken to incorporating elements from it into my more open prayer. The doxologies, key phrases and terms are hooks I use to tap into the theology contained within it when I go about my day.

I don’t really understand the point in all the formality in so many church services but I am now beginning to understand the point of the BCP. If you’ve never read the BCP I would encourage you to do so. For all the christian books and music published today you can do worse than to direct funds elsewhere temporarily and pick up a copy for yourself. Let it speak for itself and instead of merely reading the words, like I used to, consider what is being said and why on the pages you read. Its worth it.

O Lord, open thou our lips.
And our mouth shall show forth thy praise.
O God, make speed to save us.
O Lord, make haste to help us.
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.
Praise ye the Lord.
The Lord’s Name be praised.

Introduction to Evening Prayer, 1662 BCP

Getting to grips with advent

Getting to grips with advent

Advent is one of those things I’ve always been aware of but it is only in the last year I have paid special attention to. Growing up, if you said ‘Advent’ my response would be ‘Calendar’ – it was the countdown to Christmas.

In recent years working in tech and eCommerce have alienated me from Christmas. The amount of money people throw at this secular festival is really something thats made me spend a long time thinking about what it even really means anymore. Increasingly the assertion that Christmas isn’t actually Christian thrown about at this time of year is rooted less in a desire for clarity but to exorcise Christian influence over the festival so it might be recast in a secular image. There are valid means to moderate and oppose such things pertaining to Christmas itself, but I realise it is Advent which helps us understand it in its distinctly Christian fashion.

Advent has a twofold character: for it is a time of preparation for the Solemnities of Christmas, in which the First Coming of the Son of God to humanity is remembered; and likewise when, by remembrance of this, minds and hearts are led to look forward to Christ’s Second Coming at the end of time. For these two reasons, Advent is a period for devout and expectant delight

Universal Norms on the Liturgical Year and the Calendar, 39

The above quote sums up my general knowledge of Advent. That firstly it serves as a period of remembering Jesus’s coming into the world and secondarily as a period of expectation looking towards his return. The first collect in the Book of Common Prayer for Advent reads..

ALMIGHTY God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious Majesty, to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever. Amen.

The Collect from the First Sunday in Advent

The tone changes during the 3rd week of Advent upon which the collect reads..

O LORD Jesu Christ, who at thy first coming didst send thy messenger to prepare thy way before thee: Grant that the ministers and stewards of thy mysteries may likewise so prepare and make ready thy way, by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, that at thy second coming to judge the world we may be found an acceptable people in thy sight, who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

The Collect from the Third Sunday in Advent

This reflects the two tone nature of Advent I mentioned earlier. Personally, I find Advent an immensely powerful time to reflect back on the year, my actions, thoughts, deeds and that of the world. It’s a sobering time that stands out in contrast to the trappings of contemporary Christmas. We always go forward into the year with such hope, but life is tough and we all have our faults and struggles. This reminds me of the hope and wonder of Christ coming as a child at Christmas and the seemingly tragic nature of his death. How could Mary have known what her Son was going to be subjected to? Yet Advent doesn’t leave us here in doubt and despondency and looks forward to Christ’s return. The tragedy becoming a comedy, despair into hope.

This isn’t news to many people and for me these are things I’ve heard again and again but it feels sometimes these things are fading memories. Such thoughts slip away with the passing of time and as the culture, and even the church, shifts around us. These celebrations are increasingly like stories seldom told. Those who do tell don’t even know the details, or worse don’t bother to tell you them because they expect you to be bored by such things. Yet I’m not bored, I want to be told again and again.

Whenever the first Christmas took place, it feels right that we celebrate it in the darkest time of year. I enjoy winter during the period of Advent because the cold and darkness of the world reminds me of our need for its light. The seasons themselves have a liturgical flavour to them in that we all share in them equally and are affected by their moods. The hope of the gospel penetrates my heart at this time in a way that doesn’t naturally happen the rest of the year precisely because of this literal contrast between light and dark, day and night. The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned.

In many ways I’m over Christmas. I still enjoy the food, the family and the music but I’m more interested in Advent now. For me it ends in the early hours of Christmas day, walking home from the Church after the midnight service. I imagine the angels singing around us as we go out from that place to take the light of God into the world. I’m filled with hope again and am looking forward to the return of the King.

Thoughts on Anglicanism

At the Reformation the Church of England became protestant in order to become more truly and perfectly Catholic.

William Van Mildert, Bishop of Durham 1826-36

Anglicanism, or the Church of England (CoE), is a church with an uncertain future. It has rightly drawn ridicule from both believers and unbelievers alike for its actions in recent years. Finding itself hemorrhaging members and increasingly factional over a range of issues. I was raised in it yet walked away from it for a time because I saw it as fundamentally compromised. Yet despite that I have found myself increasingly convinced of a form of Anglicanism in recent years for two primary reasons.

Catholicism

1031aristobulos
Saint Aristobulus, the first Bishop of Britain

Anglicanism is Catholic in the sense that reciters of the Nicene creed believe in ‘one holy catholic and apostolic Church’. We Protestants are quick to assert that ‘Catholic’ means universal and that is true, however one of the things I struggled with in an Evangelical background (which I still believe in) was that the faith I encountered felt no older than the 1960’s that birthed it. Strictly speaking Catholic means those practices and beliefs that have always been present in the church and shared for a continuous period of time, Anglicanism can still in this light call itself ‘Universal’.

Having travelled England and the British isles I am increasingly challenged by the detritus of Christian history in this land that even the reformation wasn’t able to remove from the face of the country God placed me in. We have such a rich inheritance left behind by those who went before us that I am confronted by them and challenged by their lives and sacrifices in the name of the Gospel that I want to find myself in their company.

As a Protestant I am guilty of believing any useful Christian history starts from the Reformation onwards. Yet Anglicanism I believe is one of the few Protestant churches that can claim the uninterrupted heritage of the Church in some form as their own in a thoroughly unique and powerful way, and I think all Protestants should want to get to grips with it with gladness.

Protestantism

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William Tyndale, English Reformer

The reformation when it came to England had a focus on removing erroneous unbiblical beliefs and practices that had emerged in the church. The Anglican church shared in the reformation that swept throughout Europe and as a denomination has carried it far beyond the borders of the British Isles. The sacrifices of figures like (a hero of mine) William Tyndale and the coming into existence of the Bible in English happened within the context of what is now the Anglican Church.

I believe in a Church that first and foremost is devoted to following God through his revelation in the light of scripture. That despite how wondrous, exciting and beneficial following those who’ve gone before us is I recognise that scripture alone is our final authority. Whilst the traditions and history of the Church is an anchor for us it is not infallible and should not be beyond reproach. Should the church fail to act in the light of the Gospel message preached by Jesus and his followers that has worked its way to us through the ages the Bible alone is a prophetic voice calling it to account. The cult of the saints, transubstantiation, the belief in purgatory and priestly indulgences are all examples of things in the history of the church which do not have their roots in scripture which we subsequently reject.

I have found Peter J. Leithart’s ‘The End of Protestantism’ an interesting piece related to my thinking on this, whilst I don’t agree with everything I think he does get a lot of things right in it. Protestantism has always been (up until recently) a scholastic movement which is increasingly defined in some cases by ‘what it isn’t’ (Roman Catholicism) rather than what it is. I come from an Evangelical background, but I would actually take the sermons in the tradition of the Apostolic fathers over the pop-psychology I hear in many Evangelical church sermons today. We need to look increasingly beyond our own individualistic salvation to that of a vision big enough for not just us but all of society and this is something I feel the tradition of the faith can help us in our efforts to once again baptise the nation as we look at both the successes and failures of those before us.

Baskerville_title
The Book of Common Prayer is a good reflection of Anglicanism’s fusion of Catholic faith and Protestant conviction

Contra Anglicanism

lloyd-jones-copia1
Martin Lloyd-Jones was a well know critic of the contemporary Church of England

Now I’m not going to pretend the Church of England has got its act together. I’m still deliberating a lot of this and have echoes of Stott vs Lloyd-Jones in the 60’s doing the rounds in my mind. One day I wake up on the side of Stott and the other Lloyd-Jones but regardless I am convinced that a Christian has a commitment to be Catholic and simultaneously Protestant. I need to fight for the church and I honestly feel that my attempt to understand classical Anglicanism, whilst unpopular today, is a Christianity at its most authentic.

The reality of the Church of England is that it is compromised socially, morally and theologically. Compromised is the right word because it tries to create space for conflicting theologies and visions of the church pretending they can all coexist. Being together is better than being truthful in many instances which unsurprisingly compromises its witness.

Being part of the establishment of the country also comes with pressure to conform to the society around it and not the Gospel as historically (and Biblically) understood. This also gives the church its own coloured history and personally I think it’d be good if disestablishment happened sooner rather than later. On governance every insight I’ve had into Church runnings in the CoE makes me feel a little bit sick at how convoluted and political it all seems. It is also particularly lost to the working classes in our society, it’s a middle and upper class church and that needs to change.

Final thoughts

Now do I attend a church that necessarily matches up to the ideal I’ve discussed? No, I attend my local parish church that operates largely in the tradition of Holy Trinity Brompton. A tradition which is increasingly typical of growing Anglican churches in London that don’t really feel all that Anglican. They do good work and pull numbers but for several reasons I think they really lose out in some key areas which raises questions for me about their sustainability in the long term.

My own ideal is a low church set up that is Evangelical in conviction, expositional in its teaching, interested in explicit Discipleship and investing in the life of the community and with a place for the Book of Common Prayer in its services. Easily accessible to everyone but with clearly defined membership for those committed to the church and regularly celebrating the sacraments.

My only point of contention with classical Anglicanism on this is the idea of infant baptism, it is a well established occurrence I know but I personally advocate believers baptism. The idea of baptising someone unable to make the choice themselves seems meaningless to me. The closest anabaptist in me can’t help it.