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The content of Advent sermons can be difficult for today’s pewsitter to accept — provided the clergyman (or woman) giving the sermon is true to the Bible.

For example, this year — Year C — the First Sunday of Advent gives us Luke’s account of Jesus’s words on His Second Coming. I was really looking forward to going to Sunday worship to hear about that.

But, no. Instead, we heard about the Creation Story in Genesis juxtaposed with John 1, the arrival of the Light of the World — the usual Christmas Day reading. The young ordained Anglican priest told us — a group of oldsters — that God really loves humanity, and we have nothing to worry about from Him. As we are all long in the tooth, we remember fire and brimstone sermons.

My takeaways from the old days were, ‘God loves humanity — His creation, made in His image — but He hates sin’. The Bible is all about this message, from cover to cover.

Advent readings follow a sequence for a reason. The sermons are supposed to match each Sunday’s theme, intended to get us to repent — ‘turn around’ — from our worldly ways before Christmas.

Therefore, it was a relief to read two reflections for Gaudete Sunday, the Third Week of Advent, from fellow Anglicans: an Episcopalian and an Anglican priest.

My reader undergroundpewster, the author of Not Another Episcopal Church Blog, wrote his reflections of John the Baptist’s message to his numerous and diverse followers (Luke 3:7-18). Although Gaudete Sunday is one of joy, John the Baptist called his followers ‘you brood of vipers’, warning them of ‘the wrath to come’ if they did not repent. And, he said of Jesus:

His winnowing-fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.

Undergroundpewster wrote (emphasis in the original):

Good news like, “but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Hmm…

With good news like that, who needs bad news?

Then he directed us to an excellent sermon at Crossway by Pastor Paul David Tripp, which explains why Jesus is the Good News (an excerpt follows, emphases mine).

It is all about humanity’s sins (bad news) for which Jesus sacrificed Himself in a once and perfect oblation on the Cross (Good News). Emphases mine below:

Sure, you can run from a bad relationship, you can quit a bad job, you can move from a dangerous neighborhood, and you can leave a dysfunctional church, but you have no ability whatsoever to escape yourself. You and I simply have no ability to rescue ourselves from the greatest danger in our lives. This means that without the birth of Jesus, we are doomed to be destroyed by the danger that lurks inside us from the moment of our first breath.

You don’t need to look far in the Bible to know what this danger is. Its stain is on every page of Scripture. Romans 3:23 exposes this danger with a few simple words: ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.’ Sin is the bad news of the Christmas story. Jesus didn’t come to earth to do a preaching tour or to hang out with us for a while; he came on a radical mission of moral rescue

He came to rescue us because he knew that we couldn’t rescue ourselves. He knew that sin separates us from God and leaves us guilty before him. He knew that sin makes us active enemies against God, and what he says is good, right, and true. He knew that sin blinds us to the gravity of our condition and our dire need for help. He knew that sin causes us to replace worship of God with an unending catalog of created things that capture the deepest allegiances of our hearts. He knew that sin renders all of us unable to live as we were designed to live. And he knew that sin was the final terminal disease that, without help, would kill us all.

The Revd Paul David Tripp holds a DMin from the well regarded Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. Sermons from Reformed — Calvinist — pastors are always useful in reminding us why we need to repent: so that we might share eternal life with God and His Son Jesus Christ.

So, going back to the sermon at my church, yes, God loves humanity, but God really hates the sins that humans commit because of Original Sin. We cannot help ourselves, as the Bible tells us. Therefore, it is misleading for a young cleric to say, ‘God loves humans — nothing to worry about, folks’.

The second helpful sermon comes from an Anglican vicar in England, The Revd Vic Van Den Bergh, author of Vic the Vicar! Vic also had a post on the meaning of Luke 3:7-18, which puts repentance into perspective. Vic addresses his thoughts to present-day Christians, who are, after all, supposed to walking in Christ’s ways.

Excerpts follow:

Are we producing fruit ‘in keeping with our repentance’? Does the gratitude for our salvation have any substance in the way we live or do we think that attending church, wearing a cross (fish), and dropping money in the offering makes us fit for heaven?

Do you think the crowds were asking themselves how much bad stuff they were laying up alongside, or instead of, the treasures they should have been storing up in heaven?  Yet this is what John was calling them to focus on. John was calling them (and us) to look at the ways they (we) can raise their game and live differently

He didn’t tell anyone that God wanted them to be happy doing what they saw as fit and right to do (regardless of what the Bible might teach). He didn’t tell them to give more money – because God doesn’t want your money, He wants your hearts and lives filled with love and generosity in things, actions, and in spirit.

He told the people before him to live a godly and righteous life in the things and the places they were returning to after the show – and that is exactly what the prophecy of Malachi some four hundred years before called the people to do. And they didn’t and so, with the arrival about to be made public, John is trying to get the people to get their lives in order so they look at least a little bit presentable. This is not a harsh rebuttal but an act of generosity for it’s giving those hearing his words the chance to turn around (that’s a clever use of ‘repent’ innit?) – and this is what we are also doing when we encourage people to change their lives before it’s too late.

Living our lives well, looking and sounding and acting like Jesus, in the world is one of the most important witnesses we can make to our being people of faith. You don’t need a dog collar or a title or a medal – you need to exhibit the generous heart of God and that needs a cross – and gratitude, rejoicing in the freedom from sin and reconciliation with the godhead that that brings. Here we find the fruits of gladness become made real in our generous and right living. It’s so simple really, isn’t it?

He explains why even such a harsh message should bring us joy on Gaudete Sunday (December 16):

rejoicing is the natural response to the fact that God has taken away the punishment of his people and has ‘turned back’ their enemy. The reality in the words of Zephaniah given some time around 620 BC is the same reality that Jesus’ death on the cross brings for the Christian too. Jesus’ death brings defeat for our enemy (satan) and he (Jesus) bears in His body the punishment for us. He takes our place. What love. What generosity to pay a bill that wasn’t His to be paying! Jesus is the mighty warrior who saves; them one who no longer rebukes but rejoices over us with songs of deliverance.

And the Apostle Paul gets into the act with his letter to the church in Phillipi, a communication which I think affirms all we have here, for when he says, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice,” he is nodding towards the fact that to rejoice is a choice of attitude. It is the expression of our gratitude for all God has given and done for us

Let us bear this message in mind as we celebrate Christmas with friends and family.

Regardless of desirable gifts and sumptuous feasts coming up on Tuesday, one thing should stay in our minds as we contemplate the Christ Child in the crib: Jesus is our eternal Lord and Saviour, who paid the bill ‘that wasn’t His to be paying!’ Rejoice!

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My apologies for not posting Forbidden Bible Verses today.

I intend to schedule it for tomorrow.

Unfortunately, I had something to do this afternoon which took much longer than expected and had to be done within a particular deadline. It’s finished now and I can truly agree, once again, that there is a wideness in God’s mercy.

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy is a hymn that Dr Frederick William Faber, a clergyman with a Doctor of Divinity degree, wrote in 1862 to the melody of WELLESLEY (Tourjee).

Since then, Dr Faber’s lyrics have been adapted to other melodies, such as Corvedale by Maurice Bevan (b. 1921), sung below by the Choir of St Paul’s Cathedral, London:

The hymn is widely sung across many denominations and appears in 785 hymnals.

Hymnary.org has the lyrics to Faber’s hymn:

1 There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,
like the wideness of the sea.
There’s a kindness in God’s justice,
which is more than liberty.
There is no place where earth’s sorrows
are more felt than up in heaven.
There is no place where earth’s failings
have such kindly judgment given.

2 For the love of God is broader
than the measures of the mind.
And the heart of the Eternal
is most wonderfully kind.
If our love were but more faithful,
we would gladly trust God’s Word,
and our lives reflect thanksgiving
for the goodness of our Lord.

Faber was part of the Oxford Movement — members of the Church of England who moved to High Church (traditional Roman Catholic-style) liturgy — in the 19th century. The movement later became known as Anglo-Catholicism and exists today.

John Henry Newman was one of the Oxford Movement adherents. He eventually became not only a Roman Catholic but also a Cardinal.

Faber also ‘crossed the Tiber’ and became a Roman Catholic in 1846. Hymnary.org tells us that he was the son of a Church of England clergyman, Mr T H Faber, and:

was born at Calverley Vicarage, Yorkshire, June 28, 1814, and educated at Balliol College, Oxford, graduating B.A. in 1836. He was for some time a Fellow of University College, in the same University. Taking Holy Orders in 1837, he became Rector of Elton, Huntingdonshire, in 1843, but in 1846 he seceded to the Church of Rome. After residing for some time at St. Wilfrid’s, Staffordshire, he went to London in 1849, and established the London “Oratorians,” or, “Priests of the Congregation of St. Philip Neri,” in King William Street, Strand. In 1854 the Oratory was removed to Brompton. Dr. Faber died Sept. 26, 1863.

Balliol College is one of the foremost Oxford colleges. It is interesting that Faber served a parish in Huntingdonshire, part of Cambridgeshire, which was known for its Low Church adherence. During Cromwell’s time, two centuries earlier, Cambridgeshire was Calvinistic in belief, the very antithesis of High Church beliefs and worship.

Anyone who knows London will also know that the London Oratory is one of the centres of the capital’s Roman Catholic worship. The Oratory also has a famous boys’ school, which is over-subscribed year on year.

Last week, I recapped the 2018 royal wedding, which included this …

The presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States gave an address. BT.com reported:

The Most Rev Bishop Michael Curry, the first black presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church, gained worldwide attention with his address at Prince Harry and Meghan’s wedding on Saturday during which he evoked Martin Luther King and spoke of poverty and injustice.

Mr Curry, along with the gospel choir, brought a flavour of the American bride’s homeland with the speech at St George’s Chapel in Windsor.

… along with a tweet:

One of my readers, longtime Episcopalian blogger, underground pewster, wrote a sharp analysis of the sermon on May 23: ‘Bishop Curry: All You Need is Love’.

It is a must read, especially for fellow members of the Anglican Communion. As pewster has probably put a lot of work into this, only a taster follows.

The first part of Curry’s sermon is about love. Before I go into pewster’s analysis, my perspective is that, if he had preached this 50 years ago, most of us would have found it novel and engaging. It’s very much of that era, especially with a timeless Martin Luther King Jr quote at the start:

The late Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. once said and I quote: “We must discover the power of love, the redemptive power of love. And when we discover that, we will be able to make of this old world a new world, for love is the only way.”

There’s power in love. Don’t underestimate it. Don’t even over-sentimentalize it. There’s power – power in love. If you don’t believe me, think about a time when you first fell in love. The whole world seemed to center around you and your beloved.

Now on to underground pewster’s analysis (emphases in the original):

I think he is equating two different types of love.

“Oh there’s power, power in love. Not just in its romantic forms, but any form, any shape of love. There’s a certain sense in which when you are loved, and you know it, when someone cares for you, and you know it, when you love and you show it – it actually feels right.”

Uh oh, following “it feels right” can lead you into all kinds of problems.

“There is something right about it. And there’s a reason for it. The reason has to do with the source. We were made by a power of love, and our lives were meant – and are meant – to be lived in that love. That’s why we are here.”

It would have been helpful if he had defined what type of love he was talking about, and that is one of the major weaknesses of his sermon. 

I agree. How many times have we heard this type of thing before, especially conflating different types of love? As pewster explains at the beginning of his post (emphases mine below):

While there is nothing wrong about preaching on love, it requires a deeper exposition. The love of God and the love of Christ for the world, God’s love for the Church, and God’s intended love between one man and one woman are things that most Episcopalian Bishops are incapable of communicating. No one expected Bishop Curry to talk about complementarianism, and no one expected any major digressions into his favorite themes, so his sermon appeared benign if not great to most of his viewers. It had to sound benign you see, because he could not say the words that he really wanted to say about his novel ideas about what makes up a Christian marriage in front of an audience of two billion people because those words are so unbiblical that the effect on his sect would be ruinous.

Most traditional Anglicans, including Episcopalians, understand exactly what pewster means by ‘unbiblical’, but, in case there is any doubt, he clarifies it at the end of the post:

Maybe we haven’t supported enough liberal causes, maybe we haven’t marched in enough gay pride parades, maybe we haven’t celebrated enough gay marriage ceremonies in the Church, maybe we have been sending those e-mails from The Episcopal Public Policy Network into the Spam box, maybe we haven’t performed enough abortions, maybe we haven’t brought enough lawsuits against faithful Christians, or maybe we have been critical of the Episcopal sect in print and on social media.

And you know what they call people who go against the zeitgeist, those who disagree with Bishop Curry and his unbiblical agenda, an agenda that he was afraid to verbalize in front of an audience of billions?

“Haters!”

True.

There was another bit from Curry’s sermon which did not escape pewster’s notice (emphasis in the original, mine in purple):

It was only a matter of time where the power of this version of love will be used by the Bishop to try to stir people to political action,

“Someone once said that Jesus began the most revolutionary movement in human history.”

Wait a second! God revealing himself, and dying for us was the number one world changing event in human history.

Exactly!

The second half of Curry’s sermon was all about fire. Recall that the following day was Pentecost Sunday, but the bishop did not mention that. He went into a long description, citing Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (ugh), of how fire shaped human history. Curry ended with this (emphases mine):

Fire makes all of that possible, and de Chardin said fire was one of the greatest discoveries in all of human history. And he then went on to say that if humanity ever harnesses the energy of fire again, if humanity ever captures the energy of love – it will be the second time in history that we have discovered fire.

Dr King was right: we must discover love – the redemptive power of love. And when we do that, we will make of this old world, a new world.

My brother, my sister, God love you, God bless you, and may God hold us all in those almighty hands of love.

Fire is the main symbol of Pentecost. One of the mandatory readings for that feast is Acts 2, the account of the first Pentecost, excerpted below:

2:1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.

2:2 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.

2:3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.

2:4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

The Holy Spirit isn’t just for Pentecost or Confirmation. He is here to guide us all our days. Therefore, as I wrote in a comment to pewster, this is a summary of what I would have said without describing all the human uses of fire:

With all the preaching about fire, couldn’t he have mentioned that May 20 — the morrow — was Pentecost Sunday?

I would have done a sermon on the divine gifts from the Holy Spirit that can enrich a Christian marriage.

It’s not that difficult and would not have gone off track.

Then again, sadly, we are dealing with today’s Episcopal Church.

Curry’s sermon exemplifies the weak theology we so often see not only in the Episcopal Church and the wider Anglican Communion but also in other established churches, including the Catholic Church. We are infested with unbiblical messages, especially many that, like Curry’s, ‘sound nice’.

The truth of the matter is that biblical Christianity offends. That said, its challenges can — and should be — presented in a winsome way, to encourage people to live in a Christlike manner.

It’s a shame that yet another cleric missed yet another opportunity — this one on a grand scale — to tell that truth.

Is it any wonder Anglican churches are closing in so many English-speaking countries?

I was of two minds as to whether to report on the royal wedding which took place on Saturday, May 19, 2018.

I turned off the television after the Duke and Duchess of Sussex — Harry and Meghan — took their preliminary vows.

A wedding not a blessing

I wondered why they were given a full wedding ceremony rather than a church blessing, since Meghan Markle had been married previously.

However, Sky News reported that the Church of England changed the rules well over a decade ago (emphases mine below):

The Church of England agreed in 2002 that divorced people could remarry in church, with the discretion of the priest.

The duchess, a former actress:

married American film producer Trevor Engelson in 2011. They filed for divorce in 2013, citing “irreconcilable differences”.

The Most Reverend and Honourable Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, officiated at the service.

The Dean of Windsor, The Rt Revd David Conner, conducted the service and the initial vows (‘I will’), although rings were exchanged later in the service with the Archbishop of Canterbury officiating.

It was somewhat off-putting to hear the Dean’s words at the beginning, which included ‘the joy of sexual union’.

If people are getting married only to salve their consciences in that department, they’re headed down the wrong route.

There are two reasons for this.

The first is that a marriage should be a partnership of equals — the best friendship a man and a woman can ever share with God’s blessing.

The second is that no one knows what the morrow will bring. I do know of young couples who were deprived of ‘the joy of sexual union’ early in their marriages because of sudden debilitating illness or accidents.

Friendship comes first in a marriage. The Dean would have been better placed to use the old American adage:

Kissin’ don’t last, cookin’ do.

Prince Charles took the wise decision to walk his future daughter-in-law part way down the aisle:

The Duke’s aunt, Princess Diana’s sister, gave the one reading of the ceremony:

Here is Justin Welby formally joining the couple in matrimony. These video clips are excellent. No one does weddings like the Church of England (I’m so pleased to be a part of it):

The presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States gave an address. BT.com reported:

The Most Rev Bishop Michael Curry, the first black presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church, gained worldwide attention with his address at Prince Harry and Meghan’s wedding on Saturday during which he evoked Martin Luther King and spoke of poverty and injustice.

Mr Curry, along with the gospel choir, brought a flavour of the American bride’s homeland with the speech at St George’s Chapel in Windsor.

At the end of the ceremony, the happy couple left St George’s Chapel, Windsor:

Back story: Meghan’s Baptism and Confirmation

The Duchess of Sussex was baptised and confirmed privately prior to the wedding.

Sky News reported:

Prince Harry and Ms Markle announced their engagement in November. A day later Kensington Palace confirmed that Meghan, who identifies as Protestant, would be baptised and confirmed ahead of her wedding day.

Heavy had more:

According to Access, Markle has already been accepted into the Anglican faith, and Welby baptized her in a secret ceremony in March 2018.

The cake and reception

The Queen hosted the first reception:

Sir Elton John, who had sung at Princess Diana’s funeral, performed:

Thankfully, the cake was not the usual heavy fruitcake:

A filling made from Amalfi lemon curd and elderflower buttercream ties all the elements together. The cake is decorated with Swiss meringue buttercream and 150 fresh flowers, mainly British, and in season, including peonies and roses.

Then it was time for the second wedding reception:

Official wedding prayer

This is the couple’s wedding prayer from the Church of England:

But Heavy pointed out:

This stands in contrast to the previous royal wedding, between then-Prince William and Kate Middleton, who wrote their own prayer for the ceremony, as the Telegraph reported.

God our Father, we thank
you for our families; for
the love that we share and
for the joy of our marriage.
In the busyness of each day keep our eyes fixed on
what is real and important
in life and help us to be generous with our time
and love and energy.
Strengthened by our union, help us to serve and comfort those who suffer. We ask this in the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Amen.

I have prayed for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex and hope that they grow together in the peace and love of Jesus Christ.

The Archbishop of Canterbury — The Most Reverend and Right Honourable Justin Welby — has a short sermon on the life of Christ and the importance of His sending the Holy Spirit to the disciples on the first Pentecost.

The Holy Spirit not only increased the growth of the Church from a mustard seed to a mustard tree (my words, not Welby’s), He also changed the world. Welby says that during the first few centuries, only Christians took time to help the poor:

I’m hardly the greatest fan of Justin Welby, but this sermonette, which runs just over three minutes, is well worth reading (subtitles) or listening to.

If you’ve been following my Forbidden Bible Verses series on the Book of Acts, you’ll feel the excitement that Welby describes — all thanks to the power of the Holy Spirit.

You can read more about Justin Welby at Heavy. Note the first point in the article, which must have come as a shock.

Before exploring the first feast day of the year, I would like to wish all my readers a very happy, healthy and prosperous 2018!

Traditionally, January 1 was a Holy Day of Obligation in the Church and, until recently, that continued in the Roman Catholic Church.

Circumcision of Christ stained glassIn following from the birth of Christ on Christmas Day, January 1 would have been — in Church calendar terms — the day He was circumcised according to Jewish law, Luke 2:21:

21 And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

Over the years, where circumcision was considered taboo, other commemorations have replaced it, such as Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God.

However, a case can certainly be made for retaining a commemoration of the Circumcision, as it was the first time Jesus shed His precious blood, a foretelling of the Crucifixion. These posts explain more. The second one gives evidence that this feast day was also commemorated in the oldest Protestant denominations:

January 1 – Feast of the Circumcision of Christ

New Year’s Day: the Circumcision — and Naming — of Christ Jesus

As for the stained glass depiction, I am most grateful to my reader undergroundpewster who sent me two links about it last year:

The Circumcision window is currently in the Cloisters Museum in Manhattan. Originally made in Cologne, Germany ca. 1460–70 for the Kreuzbrüder (“Crutched Friars”). The Cloisters (http://www.metmuseum.org/visit/met-cloisters) is a way for us in the States to view a bit of old Europe without having to get a passport.

Window details at (http://www.ipernity.com/doc/laurieannie/35821507)

The ipernity.com link is a copy of the Cloisters’ description, where you can also see a full view of the stained glass window. What I have posted above — the mohel and the Christ Child — is a detail of a larger scene:

A mitred high priest sitting on a throne supports the Christ child on his lap with a draped hand. Two male figures kneel before him. The elder — bald, bearded and dressed in rich robes — holds a knife in his right hand as he initiates the circumcision. His young assistant, graced with golden curls but more modestly attired, holds a broad metalwork charger. The glance and gesture of the Christ child identifies the standing female in a white wimple and robes of blue as his mother, the Virgin, who witnesses the event. The cool palette underscores the solemnity of the rite.

Hmm. I thought that the mohel‘s assistant was Joseph. Joseph went with Mary to present the Christ Child in the Temple a few weeks later. But who am I to argue with art experts?

The Cloisters acquired the window in 2003. It is likely to be the only one depicting this event.

In closing, I wish you all the very best for the year ahead. May God bless you abundantly.

advent wreath stjohnscamberwellorgauDecember 17, 2017, was Gaudete Sunday, the Third Sunday in Advent.

Gaudete Sunday

Traditionally, the celebrant in Catholic Mass as well as Anglican and Lutheran Communion services wears a pink — rose — vestment, because this is a time of joy and hope in expectation of our Saviour’s birth.

Even in the absence of a rose vestment, the pink candle on the Advent wreath is lit on this particular day.

For these reasons, Gaudete Sunday is also known as Rose Sunday.

Gaudete means ‘rejoice’ in Latin. The name is taken from the original Introit:

Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete. Modestia vestra nota sit omnibus hominibus: Dominus enim prope est. Nihil solliciti sitis: sed in omni oratione et obsecratione cum gratiarum actione petitiones vestræ innotescant apud Deum. Benedixisti Domine terram tuam: avertisti captivitatem Jacob.

This is the English translation (emphases mine):

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Let your forbearance be known to all, for the Lord is near at hand; have no anxiety about anything, but in all things, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God. Lord, you have blessed your land; you have turned away the captivity of Jacob.

Many centuries ago, Advent began much earlier, after the feast of St Martin on November 11:

The season of Advent originated as a fast of forty days in preparation for Christmas, commencing on the day after the feast of St. Martin (11 November), whence it was often called St. Martin’s Lent“—a name by which it was known as early as the fifth century. In the ninth century, the duration of Advent was reduced to four weeks, and Advent preserved most of the characteristics of a penitential season which made it a kind of counterpart to Lent.

The Lenten counterpart is Laetare Sunday.

One can imagine that after several weeks of fasting, a break must have been welcome, which is what is done on these two Sundays during the two seasons of penitence.

The readings communicate spiritual joy and expectation.

Gaudete Sunday readings — Year B

The Gaudete Sunday readings for Year B are available at the Vanderbilt University Lectionary library.

Not all of them are used in a single service but all have the theme of hope and joy.

We see the theme of expectation in the reading from Isaiah:

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

61:1 The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners;

61:2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn;

61:3 to provide for those who mourn in Zion— to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, to display his glory.

61:4 They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.

61:8 For I the LORD love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.

61:9 Their descendants shall be known among the nations, and their offspring among the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge that they are a people whom the LORD has blessed.

61:10 I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

61:11 For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.

Some Christians use that as a defence of social justice, but the greater message is that God made a covenant to send His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to Earth to humbly save mankind. Jesus released us from captivity to sin and freed us to be with Him for eternity.

The Psalm’s theme is joy after being released from captivity. I particularly love the expressive second half of the first verse:

Psalm 126

126:1 When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.

126:2 Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.”

126:3 The LORD has done great things for us, and we rejoiced.

126:4 Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like the watercourses in the Negeb.

126:5 May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.

126:6 Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.

The Magnificat gives glory and thanks to God. These are the words of Mary at the Annunciation, when the Angel Gabriel appeared to tell her she would be the mother of Jesus:

Luke 1:46b-55

1:46b “My soul magnifies the Lord,

1:47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

1:48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

1:49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.

1:50 His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.

1:51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

1:52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;

1:53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.

1:54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,

1:55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

St Paul’s message is one of rejoicing and praying unceasingly. As we turn from sin — an Advent theme — may God sanctify us entirely as we await the coming of our Saviour:

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

5:16 Rejoice always,

5:17 pray without ceasing,

5:18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

5:19 Do not quench the Spirit.

5:20 Do not despise the words of prophets,

5:21 but test everything; hold fast to what is good;

5:22 abstain from every form of evil.

5:23 May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

5:24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.

John’s Gospel tells us of John the Baptist, who prophesied, baptised and prepared the people for the coming of the Messiah. Note John’s theme of light, especially timely as we enter into the darkest days of the year, although he was referring to Jesus Christ as the light against worldly darkness:

John 1:6-8, 19-28

1:6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.

1:7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.

1:8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.

1:19 This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?”

1:20 He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.”

1:21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.”

1:22 Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”

1:23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,'” as the prophet Isaiah said.

1:24 Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.

1:25 They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?”

1:26 John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know,

1:27 the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.”

1:28 This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.

The traditional Octave of Christmas also began on December 17. Readings to follow tomorrow for December 17 and 18.

At the weekend, I wrote about Acts 9:36-43, the account of Peter raising Dorcas from the dead.

Dorcas became a role model for charity, particularly for women. It is not unusual to find stained glass windows depicting her, especially in Anglican and Episcopal churches. The example on the left comes courtesy of Wikipedia and can be found in St. Michael’s Parish Church, Mytholmroyd, West Yorkshire.

Dorcas Societies — Dorcas Circles in the US — exist today in many churches around the world. They are known not only for supplying clothes to the needy, which is what Dorcas did, but also food and practical help to those who need material assistance.

Eastern Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican (including Episcopal) and Lutheran Churches celebrate her feast day on January 27 (Protestant) or October 25 (Eastern Orthodox and Catholic). The Catholic Church calls her St Tabitha. Protestants have a joint feast day remembering Dorcas, Lydia of Thyatira and Phoebe, two other notable women of the early Church — and the New Testament.

The early theologian, Basil of Caesarea (St Basil the Great), referred to Dorcas in his work, Morals (rule 74):

That a widow who enjoys sufficiently robust health should spend her life in works of zeal and solicitude, keeping in mind the words of the Apostle and the example of Dorcas.

She is also commemorated in poems by Robert Herrick (“The Widows’ Tears: Or, Dirge of Dorcas”) and George MacDonald (“Dorcas”) as well as in religious paintings.

This year, I have been running a series of posts on Percy Dearmer‘s 1912 volume, Everyman’s History of the Prayer Book, published by Mowbray.

These are the previous posts in the series:

Percy Dearmer on the Anglican Thirty-nine Articles of Religion

Percy Dearmer on the title page of the Book of Common Prayer

Percy Dearmer on the title page of the Book of Common Prayer – part 1

Percy Dearmer on the title page of the Book of Common Prayer – part 2

Percy Dearmer on the earliest church service manuscripts

Percy Dearmer’s interpretation of St Paul on prophecy and tongues

Percy Dearmer on elements of worship in the New Testament

Percy Dearmer: how several prayer books became one liturgical book

Percy Dearmer on Reformation, royalty and the Book of Common Prayer

Percy Dearmer: first Anglican Prayer Book ‘too fair-minded’ for a violent era

Percy Dearmer on the effect of Edward VI’s reign on the Church of England

Percy Dearmer on the Second Prayer Book’s Calvinistic bent

Percy Dearmer on the Third Prayer Book and Elizabeth I

Percy Dearmer blamed Calvinists for sucking the life-blood out of Anglicanism

Percy Dearmer on the Fourth Prayer Book and the King James Version of the Bible

Percy Dearmer on historical background to the Fifth Prayer Book, 1662

Percy Dearmer on the Savoy Conference for the Fifth Prayer Book

The clergymen who participated in the 1661 Savoy Conference produced a revised — Fifth — Prayer Book that was first issued on May 19, 1662.

Today it is referred to as the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. It is still in use.

Chapter 11 of Dearmer’s book describes a remarkable volume considering that the Savoy Conference was half-Anglican and half-Puritan.

The preface, which Robert Sanderson, the Bishop of Lincoln, wrote was comprehensive. It laid out the history of the previous Prayer Books and made it clear that all attempts were made to revise liturgies and a set of services to satisfy, in Sanderson’s words:

all sober, peaceable, and truly conscientious sons of the Church of England.

Dearmer tells us that 600 alterations were made to produce the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. He summarises them this way:

The changes described in this Preface are — 1. (DIRECTIONS) for the better direction of the officiant, 2. (VERBAL) the alteration of obsolete phrases, 3. (SCRIPTURE) the use of the Authorized Version, especially for the Epistles and Gospels, 4. (ADDITIONS) some new prayers and thanksgivings, especially for use at Sea and an order for the Baptism of Adults.

Directions needed to be given to avoid the disputes of the past, especially with the Puritans. A hymn was authorised for Mattins and Evensong, or Morning and Evening Prayer, respectively.

Dearmer tells us that the Consecration of the bread and wine for Holy Communion was made clearer and returned to Church tradition from antiquity rather than embrace a more Calvinist construct:

The rubric before the Consecration (“When the Priest, standing before the Table, hath so ordered,” etc.) was added, and also the direction for the Fraction and other Manual Acts, heretofore left to tradition. The very questionable rubric providing for a second consecration by the mere repetition of the Words of Institution was reinserted. The two rubrics were added ordering that what remains of the Sacrament after the Communion shall be covered with a linen veil, and afterwards reverently consumed.

The Black Rubric about divine Presence in Holy Communion was re-added and revised:

with the crucial alteration of “real and essential presence” to “corporal presence.”

Other ceremonies were clarified. Directions for the publishing of wedding banns were included. The Visitation of the Sick no longer mandated confession. Dearmer explains:

The words “Here shall the sick person be moved to make a special Confession of his sins, if,” etc., were substituted for “Here shall the sick person make a special confession, if,” etc.; and the words “if he humbly and heartily desire it ” were added.

Certain words, more Anglican in nature, returned or were added to the Prayer Book:

The more important were: In Divine Service and in the Liturgy, “priest” was substituted for “minister at the Absolution. In … the Intercessions, “Bishops, pastors, and ministers” was altered to “Bishops, Priests, and Deacons.” In several places the word “congregation” was changed to “church.” “Forsake” was well changed to “renounce” in the Baptismal Vow.

The Epistles and Gospels were taken from the 1611 King James Version but the Psalter remained in the words from the 1540 Bible, because the old wording of the Psalms was very popular with churchgoers.

Psalm numbers were altered for certain ceremonies.

More hymns were authorised for Easter Day, and the Gloria was re-added.

A ceremony for baptising adults was added in response to increasing requests in English parishes and for missionary efforts in the colonies.

Prayers to be used at sea were added.

Two state services were added. The Accession Service (for the incoming monarch) was already there, but services for King Charles the Martyr and the Restoration were inserted. These were not taken out until 1854, with the Accession Service the only state service remaining.

Dearmer thought that the two state services were too political and ended up alienating some churchgoers, thereby causing a decline in membership in the Church of England:

They are … full of political opinion, their loyalty is expressed in extravagant terms, and they confide to Almighty God their denunciations of “violent and bloodthirsty men,” bloody enemies,” “sons of Belial, as on this day, to imbrue their hands in the blood of thine Anointed,” “the unnatural Rebellion, Usurpation, and Tyranny of ungodly and cruel men” — using for preference four words where one would have been too much.

This is magnificent, but it is not peace. Now, when we remember that these State Services (with additions in subsequent reigns) were cheerfully used throughout the country for nearly two centuries, we can understand the accompanying decline in the English Church. The Church of a party could not be the Church of a people; nor could a Church, which did nothing to supply in her Services the growing needs of succeeding ages, fail as time went on to alienate large sections of religious men.

He also thought that, over the next two centuries, the public increasingly viewed the Church of England as an exclusive, establishment organisation. The Prayer Book, in his estimation, no longer served the needs of some people, who came to see the prayers as dry and outdated:

the poverty of our Visitation of the Sick has driven many thousands into faith-healing sects, and the inadequacy of The Burial Service has caused others to seek comfort in Spiritism.

Quite possibly. However, Dearmer does not address the fact that since the 17th century, mankind has gradually become given to emotion rather than logic. Consider the revival movements of the 18th century which used sensationalism rather than rationality to get theological points across. We now have no end of tiny Holiness churches which emphasise individual ‘experiences’ and ‘testimony’ over Jesus Christ and Holy Scripture. People don’t go for the Bible, they go for the show.

Dearmer concludes Chapter 11 by expressing his wish for a new Prayer Book. I wonder, had he been alive today, what he would think of The Alternative Service Book (1984) and its successor Common Worship (2000). The latter is an improvement over the former but is mind boggling with so many different collects and versions of various prayers. One wonders if all that is necessary.

Then again, my next door neighbour finds the most modern, pared-down liturgy irrelevant to her needs: ‘Why have liturgy at all?’ It looks as if we are approaching that point, complete with ‘healing services’ every few weeks. The more relevant the Church of England becomes in response to people like my next-door neighbour, the fewer the number of people attending Sunday services.

In fact, any Anglican clergyman that offers a 1662 service finds his church nearly full.

Yes, the 1662 service is still the only one that continues to draw crowds in the 21st century. It’s a pity more Anglican priests don’t understand that simple premise.

This year, I have been running a series of posts on Percy Dearmer‘s 1912 volume, Everyman’s History of the Prayer Book, published by Mowbray.

These are the previous posts in the series:

Percy Dearmer on the Anglican Thirty-nine Articles of Religion

Percy Dearmer on the title page of the Book of Common Prayer

Percy Dearmer on the title page of the Book of Common Prayer – part 1

Percy Dearmer on the title page of the Book of Common Prayer – part 2

Percy Dearmer on the earliest church service manuscripts

Percy Dearmer’s interpretation of St Paul on prophecy and tongues

Percy Dearmer on elements of worship in the New Testament

Percy Dearmer: how several prayer books became one liturgical book

Percy Dearmer on Reformation, royalty and the Book of Common Prayer

Percy Dearmer: first Anglican Prayer Book ‘too fair-minded’ for a violent era

Percy Dearmer on the effect of Edward VI’s reign on the Church of England

Percy Dearmer on the Second Prayer Book’s Calvinistic bent

Percy Dearmer on the Third Prayer Book and Elizabeth I

Percy Dearmer blamed Calvinists for sucking the life-blood out of Anglicanism

Percy Dearmer on the Fourth Prayer Book and the King James Version of the Bible

Percy Dearmer on historical background to the Fifth Prayer Book, 1662

In that last post about the tumultuous events leading to the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, Percy Dearmer emphasised the joy that Anglicans felt on being able to use their once-forbidden Prayer Book again. In fact, demand was so great that it was reprinted five times that year.

Consensus was that a new Prayer Book was needed. The one in use dated from 1604.

Atmosphere during the Restoration

Even after the Restoration, memories of Charles I’s beheading and the oppressive Puritan Interregnum were still fresh in the minds of the English people.

The new Parliament passed laws ensuring that Puritans and other non-Conformists — called Dissenters during that new era — and Catholics were prohibited from holding public office and more.

In Chapter 10, Dearmer explains (emphases mine):

their worship forbidden by the Conventicle Act of 1664 under a final penalty of transportation, their extremer ministers refused permission to come within five miles of a town by the Five Mile Act of 1665, and their conscientious members debarred, in common with Papists, from all civil, military and naval office by the Test Act of 1673.

This was because many new Parliamentarians had returned:

to their native villages at the Restoration, to find the church smashed, the trees felled, and the home of their ancestors destroyed.

Although Dearmer, who wrote in 1912, was appalled by these draconian laws, he did acknowledge that:

The Puritan ministers also, who were ejected, were, after all, themselves intruders; for there had been a worse ejectment of Anglicans before. Above all this, there loomed in men’s minds the indelible memory of the martyrdom of King Charles.

Continued Puritan interference

The Puritans were not going to give up easily, however.

Before Charles II set sail for England in May 1660 — he had been in exile in the Spanish Netherlands — a delegation of Presbyterian divines (learned and pious theologians) went to meet with him at The Hague:

and asked that, as the Prayer Book had long been discontinued, the King should not use it when he landed. They also asked that his chaplains should give up using the surplice.

The new king replied:

with his usual keenness of wit, that he would not be restrained himself when others had so much indulgence.

Once Charles II was in England, the Puritans continued putting pressure on him and Anglican bishops, asking:

that the Prayer Book might be made like the liturgies of the Reformed Churches.

The nine surviving Anglican bishops replied that maintaining the status quo — holding on to existing elements of ancient Greek and Latin Liturgy — would give the Catholics less cause for complaint. (The Puritans had moved far away from ancient liturgy, parts of which were in the Anglican Prayer Book.)

In October 1660, King Charles declared that a conference would take place the following year to discuss a new Prayer Book.

The Savoy Conference

The Savoy Conference convened on April 15, 1661. It lasted over two months.

It was so called because the Bishop of London, Gilbert Sheldon, lived at the Savoy Hospital and held the conference in his lodgings there. (Today, the Savoy Hotel and Savoy Theatre stand on the site.)

In attendance were 12 Anglican bishops and 12 Presbyterian divines. Each side also had nine assistants, called coadjutors.

The Puritans expressed their usual complaints about the use of the word ‘priest’, the frequent participation of the congregation in prayers, kneeling for Communion, the use of wedding bands in the marriage ceremony, commemorating saints’ feast days, the Catholic nature of vestments and even the use of the word ‘Sunday’.

The Anglicans were not having any of it:

The Bishops replied to such criticisms as these by referring to Catholic usage, and to a Custom of the Churches of God, agreeable to the Scripture and ancient, and to the Catholic Consent of antiquity.

Dearmer gives us summary statements from both sides.

The Puritans said:

To load our public forms with the private fancies upon which we differ, is the most sovereign way to perpetuate schism to the world’s end. Prayer, confession, thanksgiving, reading of the Scriptures, and administration of the Sacraments in the plainest, and simplest manner, were matter enough to furnish out a sufficient Liturgy, though nothing either of private opinion, or of church pomp, of garments, or prescribed gestures, of imagery, of musick, of matter concerning the dead, of many superfluities which creep into the Church under the name of order and decency, did interpose itself. To charge Churches and Liturgies with things unnecessary, was the first beginning of all superstition.

If the special guides and fathers of the Church would be a little sparing of encumbering churches with superfluities, or not over-rigid, either in reviving obsolete customs, or imposing new, there would be far less cause of schism, or superstition.

The Anglicans said:

It was the wisdom of our Reformers to draw up such a Liturgy as neither Romanist nor Protestant could justly except against. For preserving of the Churches’ peace we know no better nor more efficacious way than our set Liturgy; there being no such way to keep us from schism, as to speak all the same thing, according to the Apostle. This experience of former and latter times hath taught us; when the Liturgy was duly observed we lived in peace; since that was laid aside there bath been as many modes and fashions of public worship as fancies.

If we do not observe that golden rule of the venerable Council of Nice, ‘Let ancient customs prevail,’ till reason plainly requires the contrary, we shall give offence to sober Christians by a causeless departure from Catholic usage, and a greater advantage to enemies of our Church, than our brethren, I hope, would willingly grant.

The Anglicans won.

The one thing both sides did agree on was including Scripture readings from the Authorised — King James — Version of the Bible.

The Savoy Conference ended on July 24, 1661.

Fifth Prayer Book, 1662

On November 20, 1661, a committee of Anglican bishops was appointed to revise the Prayer Book.

They completed their work on December 20. The Convocations of the Archbishops of York and Canterbury approved the Fifth Prayer Book.

On February 25, 1662, the new Prayer Book was annexed to the Bill of Uniformity.

After passing both Houses of Parliament, the Bill of Uniformity received royal assent on May 19.

The legislation then became the Act of Uniformity, and the Fifth Prayer Book — the Book of Common Prayer — was made mandatory for public worship in the Church of England. And so it remained until 1984.

Dearmer concludes:

It is sometimes said as a jibe against the Prayer Book that it is part of an Act of Parliament.

Yet:

our present Prayer Book was not one whit less the work of the Church, whose rights and liberties were most carefully safeguarded at every stage. The troublous century which we call the Reformation Period began with tyranny and oppression, but it ended with the establishment of constitutionalism in 1662; and the royalist Parliament which enforced the settlement, did at least represent the people.

The next entry will concern the 1662 Book of Common Prayer itself.

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