Friday, January 11, 2008

Is Common Prayer Sufficient?

“Praying Shapes Believing.” That motto sums up the importance of liturgy or common prayer as the glue that holds the Church together. It’s a fitting motto for the Anglican tradition, of which the Episcopal Church is a part. It's one factor that accounts for our shying away from binding confessional or dogmatic statements in favor of the central importance of The Book of Common Prayer (in its many revisions in England, the United States, and elsewhere).

“Praying Shapes Believing.” It’s a motto that lies at the heart of the Prayer Book tradition. But from the beginning, it’s a motto that not everyone has been willing to accept without qualification.

It seems that not everyone trusts that when others say the words in the Prayer Book, or when they say they really meant what they said, that, in fact, they really did mean what they said they meant when they said those words as printed in the Prayer Book.

Take, for example, a proposed resolution asking a diocese to reaffirm the uniqueness and lordship of Jesus Christ in the face of “a perceived drift towards universalism in the Episcopal Church.” Apparently, saying the words that affirm the uniqueness and lordship of Jesus Christ in the liturgies of the Daily Office and every Sunday in the liturgy of the Eucharist is no longer sufficient. The Collects, the Creeds, and the Eucharistic Prayers are not enough. Yes, you said the words printed on the page. Yes, you're willing to say that you really meant what you said when you said those words printed on the page. But do you really believe it? And are you willing to demonstrate to “our” satisfaction that you do, in fact, really believe it?

Perhaps a resolution like this signals that, for some in the Episcopal Church, common prayer no longer works. Implicitly if not explicitly, they claim that we need something more. What would that “more” look like?

Perhaps a resolution like this is also a sign that some are pressing for an as-yet-defined post-Anglican or post-Episcopal Church. Would such a Church really be something new and different than what’s already available in the “religious marketplace”? Or would it be one that looks and feels a lot like churches that already exist – churches, for instance, that require members to assent to confessional or dogmatic statements rather than being content with the sufficiency of common prayer?

“Praying Shapes Believing.” Is that really enough?

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