“Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.” (2nd Timothy, 3:5)
I was first introduced to the 1979 Prayer Book as a boy while worshiping with my mother and brothers at the Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration in Richardson, Texas. As I tried to familiarize myself with it, even at the age of twelve I knew something was missing, that my worship of Almighty God had been sapped of beauty and reverence. For a boy of twelve to come to such a conclusion, something had to be seriously awry.
Like everyone else in the pews (and most clergy) at the time, I assumed that the Church’s goal was to make its newly revised prayer book “relevant” to those using it, and that eventually we would get used to it. But now as liturgists, clergy, and lay-people have had time to examine the 1979 Prayer Book these last thirty years, they have uncovered the troubling motives and, yes, conspiracy behind the crafting of the ‘79 Prayer Book. This conspiracy sought a fundamental theological change under the guise of linguistic reform.
The Rev. Urban T. Holmes, a member of the Standing Liturgical Commission, the entity responsible for crafting new liturgies, admitted as much in his book entitled, Worship Points the Way – – a celebration of the life and work of Massey Hamilton Shepherd, Jr. Holmes boldly asserted that “the 1979 [Prayer] Book, it seems clear, is a symbol of a theological revolution. . . .”
For the Anglican Church the Book of Common Prayer is both the law of prayer and the law of belief. Lex orandi lex credendi: as we pray, so we believe. Within its pages are the doctrine and discipline of the Anglican Church. This principle is why every jot and tittle of the liturgy is so important.
In seminary we were taught that the Book of Common Prayer is essentially the Holy Bible arranged for public worship and private devotion. In other words, for Anglicans the Book of Common Prayer expresses devotionally the highest authority to which we may appeal. To change wording, let alone doctrine, must be measured by the canon of scripture, as well as by the Fathers and Councils of the early Church. John Wesley pronounced the Book of Common Prayer the finest document of biblical and rational piety in the English language.
The Book of Common Prayer has undergone a series of periodic revisions in the Anglican Church since its first issuance in 1549. Most of these revisions have been minor and meant as a process of fine tuning which in no way altered the doctrine and discipline of the Anglican Church. Not so with the 1979 Prayer Book.
In place of the glorious Book of Common Prayer, the ‘79 Prayer Book substitutes “a secular, humanist, man-centered concept” in place of “the biblical, orthodox, and God-centered teachings” that are the heritage of the Book of Common Prayer. No wonder so many baptized persons already have fled the Episcopal Church’s ship of souls as its doctrinal leak continues to worsen.
If your plan is to re-make the Church into something else, the Book of Common Prayer would be your primary target. So it was in 1979 and with devastating consequences for the Episcopal Church. A large number of the Prayer Book’s revisers were humanists, willing not only to change the doctrine and discipline of the Book of Common Prayer but to propose an even more radical revision than was adopted in the ‘79. A single factor prevented their doing so: they knew that doing so would initiate a backlash which would prevent adoption of their work.
Some of the revisers, in lecture and in writing, had assigned to the dustbin of history doctrines central to the Christian faith: doctrines such as the Virgin Birth; the seven sacraments as instruments of grace (not mere symbols of grace); and, above all, the doctrine which lies at the heart of the Christian faith: Jesus Christ, Incarnate Son of God, rose from the dead. For them such doctrines are holdovers of the outmoded scholarship which dominated Church belief until the start of the Protestant Reformation. It is, they thought, time to move on.
Now a caveat: not everything accomplished by ‘79’s revisers was hurtful to the Church. For example, structural changes were made in the Holy Eucharist which helped divorce it from the Puritan influences of the sixteenth century; e.g., moving the Gloria in Excelsis to its proper place after the Kyrie; specifically authorizing the Kyrie in Greek; eliminating the second sentence in the administration of Holy Communion (inserted into the infamous edition of 1552 to prevent a Puritan insurrection against Queen Elizabeth); however, the alternatives ’79 inserted in place of the ‘28 Administration Sentences are themselves vague, open to wide interpretation.
The New Testament and the historic Catholic faith unwaveringly maintain that Holy Baptism means “regeneration.” (Cf. Titus 3:5-6). In the 1928 and earlier editions of the Book of Common Prayer, the Office of Holy Baptism (pp. 273-82) refers to some form of the word “Regeneration” four times. In the ‘79 version that word is not used once; in its place are substituted two words “full initiation.” (cf. p. 298) Upon an admittedly hasty reading of the ‘79 Service, I failed to find the word or the concept of Regeneration. There were many pious words to cover the omission, but nothing that reflects the biblical teaching.
You may recall my saying that in the Anglican Church the Book of Common Prayer is both the law of prayer and the law of belief. Lex orandi lex credendi: as we pray, so we believe. Within its pages are the doctrine and discipline of the Anglican Church. This principle is why every jot and tittle of the liturgy is so important.
When the 1979 Prayer Book was introduced by the Episcopal Church, it marked a deliberate revolutionary theological shift from every previous Book of Common Prayer going back to 1549. The consequences of this new theology are sadly evident in the Episcopal Church today.
The most dramatic theological change in the ‘79 PB was the virtual abolition of the Sacrament of Holy Confirmation. Like the Sacrament of Baptism, Holy Confirmation is also scripturally based (Acts 8:17 & 19:2, 6; Hebrews (6:2). The ‘28 BCP (pp. 296-9) reflects the importance of the Sacrament of Confirmation several times during the service (e.g., the first words from the Bishop require the reading of the scriptural basis for the Sacrament, Acts 8:14-17); indeed, the Order’s final rubric underlines the essential nature of that Sacrament: “And there shall none be admitted to the Holy Communion, until such time as he be confirmed, or ready and desirous to be confirmed.” (P. 296)
The essential prayer in Holy Confirmation is that it confers the seven-fold gifts of the Holy Ghost upon the confirmand. The ‘79 PB removes this prayer (cf. Acts 8:15), thus reducing the sacrament to a prayerful hope that the human psyche will somehow benefit by undergoing the ritual (q.v. ‘79). That one alteration, by itself, renders the rite invalid.
Another important element: the ‘28 BCP specifically quotes from Acts 8, which witnesses to the fact that this Sacrament is an important, scripturally required sacrament. Neither this nor any of the other references to the centrality of Sacrament of Holy Confirmation for fully adult participation in the life of the Church is even mentioned by the ‘79 PB. These cannot be accidental or “mere” verbal updates. They were, without doubt, purposeful omissions.
Now with regard to the Mass, the validity of the ‘28 BCP has been accepted by all historic, sacramental churches including Rome, where [with structural changes some of which Anglicans would accept] it is presently authorized and used as “the Holy Mass according to the Anglican Use of the Roman Rite.” Its authenticity and essential nature are unassailable.
The ‘79 PB on the other hand, represents what must be regarded as a secular humanist document which replaces the clear, orthodox Christian doctrines of the Incarnation and Atonement evident in the ‘28 BCP with a stack of four alternatives (Eucharistic Prayers A-D) each of which disagrees with at least one of the other Prayers, and all of which are (at a minimum) doctrinally muddy, inadequate, or heretical. The following evaluation is both succinct and apt.
These rites run the gamut from a less-than-orthodox paraphrase of Eucharistic Prayer of the new Roman Missal to a do-it-yourself ‘Order for Celebration of the Holy Eucharist.’ The latter is an open invitation to all the secular and agnostic teaching and practice in the Church from Simon Magus to boy-evangelist Jimmy Joe Jeter.
Note that even in Rite One (the less unorthodox of the two Rites), the fourth of the Comfortable Words is altered in such way as to dilute (or eliminate) the historical doctrine of Our Lord’s Atonement. The deed is done by merely changing the word, “propitiation” to “perfect offering.” (p. 332) Nothing more than a verbal change? Compare with I John 2:1-2 KJV. Then remember that in Greek the word “propitiation” means “atoning sacrifice.”
Or compare Rite One’s Prayer of Humble Access with the ‘28 BCP: the revision eliminates “that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood.”
There is a warning, too, that Rite Two’s mishmash so bastardizes the doctrine of sacrifice central to 1928’s liturgical offering of the Holy Eucharist that historic doctrine is there only if it be inferred by the reader from an ambiguous text. Furthermore, the very inclusion of Rite Two underlines the fact that revisers held that no doctrine can be regarded essential to the Truth about the Person, the Incarnation, the Sacrifice, or the Atonement of our Blessed Lord.
Given what has been mentioned thus far, it would be foolish to ask has the ‘79 PB gone beyond the irreducible minimum. Loyal members of the Episcopal Church say “No”; however, as a prominent theologian remarked, Why would anyone even want to see how minimally he could express the historic Christian doctrine of the Holy Eucharist? Given the most charitable interpretation, that is precisely the thin ice on which 1979 skates. Traditional Anglican Churches believe that ice has been irreparably broken.
There is much more that needs to be said (some of which is more egregious than elements mentioned thus far) but this essay is meant to serve as a brief analysis.
A few words about Holy Matrimony and Holy Orders; the ‘28 affirms both as sacraments; each is lifelong and indissoluble. On the other hand, in 1973 the General Convention adopted a canon completely overthrowing the teaching of Christ and of the New Testament concerning the lifelong state of marriage. Marriage, according to the Episcopal Church’s current teaching, is a glorified agreement which can be broken at will. What was proposed and called a “marriage canon” was in actuality a “divorce canon. . . .” The only requirement which is really necessary in order for an Episcopal priest to perform a wedding for a a divorced person is the priest’s finding that the prior marriage has been annulled or dissolved by a final judgment or decree of a civil court of competent jurisdiction.
Concerning Holy Orders: In 1976 the Episcopal Church’s General Convention altered the requirement (in place since our Lord consecrated the Apostles) that the candidate be male. It also enacted a canon approving the ordination/consecration of women to the priesthood and episcopacy. The ‘79 PB revisers accomplished this deed by changing a few pronouns! Amazing how much can be accomplished by a few pronouns.
There has been confusion and misunderstanding among clergy and laity as to why the Church does not ordain women as priests. The opposition to women’s ordination has nothing whatsoever to do with talent or modern notions of equality. It has everything to do with an accurate representation of the being and nature of God. This topic deserves a more thorough response; therefore, I will soon address this important subject in a future essay on our Website.
It must be admitted that in the direction of Protestantism, the 1979 Prayer Book accomplishes everything ecumenical that could be hoped for; sadly, those very actions have set back everything accomplished in recent years on the other side of the ecumenical divide. While dilution of doctrine has made the Episcopal Church more acceptable to the widely divergent brands of Protestantism available at today’s religious buffet, Eastern Orthodox, Old Catholic, and Roman Catholic authorities haves warned that the ordination of women would undo all the work accomplished in recent years toward closer relationships.
In authorizing anomalous ordinations, the Episcopal Church chose to shape itself closer to prevailing secular culture than to position itself as a Rock on which secular culture might rely for strength, for grace, for solace, for direction, for certainty.
I close with these words from one of today’s most respected commentators on things liturgical:
People who have the time and inclination to read my . . .tracts and books will have noticed that constantly over the years I have referred to the official Prayer Book of the Episcopal Church, as “the 1979 Prayer Book.” This is a reasonable title to use . . . for one reason – in order to avoid using the official title as given to it by the General Convention of the Episcopal Church . . . which was “The Book of Common Prayer.” Why do I seek to avoid calling this book by its official title? . . . I cannot in conscience of historical judgment see it as The Book of Common Prayer. It is most certainly a Prayer Book, but to my eyes it is not the “The Book of Common Prayer.”
If you would like further reading on the theological defects of the 1979 Prayer Book you may speak with me and I will be happy to provide you with further reading materials.
May we give thanks to God that St. George’s Church and its national church body, The Anglican Province of Christ the King, are founded upon a scripturally and doctrinally solid rock which is the 1928 Book of Common Prayer.
Fr. Gordon Hines, Rector
the late Fr. Yates C. Greer