What Are the Theological Differences Between the 1928 and 1979 Book of Common Prayer?

Recently received the following in the “electronic mailbag”:

Is there an essay, site, or book that describes the theological differences between the 1928 and 1979 prayer books? I have found one reference, “How Episcopalians Were Deceived,” but not much else.

I was raised (and remain) a Methodist. I developed an interest in the history of the Church of England & Episcopal Church as a result of my studies as a lay reader (similar to a deacon) almost 20 years ago. I have copies of three prayer books (Church of England, 1928 Episcopal, 1979 Episcopal) and have found each of them to be useful. Yet I know that the growing Anglican movement in North America has very strong opinions on the subject.

Just curious.  Thanks for the work you’ve done on your site. It is very interesting.

I certainly have some opinion on the subject, but I thought I’d put this out to the Anglican blogosphere; many of you are more knowledgeable on this than I am.  Any takers?

9 thoughts on “What Are the Theological Differences Between the 1928 and 1979 Book of Common Prayer?”

  1. One of the biggest theological differences is the softening of the language used in the General Confession, particularly between the 28 BCP and Rite II of the 79 prayer book. The shift is from a sincere attitude of contrition and an honest admission of our dire predicament before the righteous judgment of a Holy God due to our sin (28 BCP) to a mere “oops, I sort of messed up” that strays a little too close to those “apologies” offered by politicians (“If sorry that someone got offended by what I said”) (70 BCP, Holy Communion Rite II). This is tied to the subtle social justice message peppered throughout the revised BCP (including changes to the Baptismal Covenant pointed out above).

  2. I didn’t realize there was that much of a difference, other than the two Rites. I was a member of an R.E.C. church and we used the 1928 (I believe) until they finished the denominational prayer books, which were based on the 1662/1928 BCP.

    Question (before I forget): Was the Anglican/Episcopal church predominately Calvinist or Arminian. I was just wondering. The R.E.C. (now ACNA) church I had visited here says that the BCP was Calvinist, mainly because it referred to election and predestination, but I didn’t see that. Thant makes me think that the Anglican church was rather Reformed but moderately Calvinst/Arminian (I.e. Wesleys/Whitfield were A/C). It also makes me think that both can survive and work in the church. I have a slightly reformed bent. I question the double predestination of Calvin, yet am sympathetic toward the single predestinarianism of Luther (I read that he was). That means I am neither fully Arminain nor Calvinist-just reformed (Arminian was still considered Reformed even though he disagreed with the Synod of Dordt, which I believe Calvin would’ve disagreed with as well.

    1. It seems that the subject of Calvinism and Anglicanism is “the thing” these days. I just completed an acrimonious debate about this on this blog very recently.

      This is my take: although there’s no question Anglicanism started out as a Reformed church, I do not think it can be classified as Calvinist. There are two reasons for this.

      The first is Article XVII. Call it hyper-Calvinistic if you like, but any idea that people can fall away after election goes against the whole Calvinistic concept.

      The second is the Episcopal church structure. Calvin commended the Presbyterian one in the Institutes, which the Scots did and the English didn’t.

      It is noteworthy that those in England who held to the Calvinistic concept did not like either one of these aspects of Anglicanism (among others), as evidenced by the English Civil War.

      This is an involved subject which, as I’ve said, I’ve covered and argued about on this blog at length.

  3. I agree with B Hunter on the watered down confession. I had posted a blog on “How Episcopalians Were Deceived” a while ago, and I have not seen much else written about the subject. I do think it is a subject worthy of a dissertation or at least a Master’s thesis. You won’t see such a thing proposed to any candidates at your typical Episcopal Seminary I am afraid.

  4. As I get older, I see more and more sincere young Christians who can not really understand what the difference is between the two books, beyond the style of language. My one sentence answer is that the 1928 BCP (and older editions) required orthodox beliefs which the 1979 book merely permits.
    So, while it is comparatively hard to point to actual errors in the 79 (though, they exist), there are many many instances of prayers being watered down, truncated, and generalized to avoid the robust Reformed theology of the classic English Prayerbook.
    An interested reader would do well to google the late, Rev. “Peter Toon,” and read some of his many essays that explore this issue.
    Or just look for yourself at the rich theological scheme and narrative arc of the old burial office, or the old visitation of the sick, or the old prayer of humble access (which doesn’t even exist in rite two). Or look at how so many of the collects have been subtly neutered, such as the “Prayer of St. Chrysostom” at the end of Morning Prayer. They didn’t simply re-translate, they intentionally re-wrote it to say something different, and weaker, than the original. And they did so with full knowledge that they were changing the theology of the book, and lying about it. And that is why there were, and remain, hard feelings among those of us who were around when it happened.
    Good luck.

    1. “generalized to avoid the robust Reformed theology of the classic English Prayerbook.”

      Good. Reformed theology is of the devil.

  5. Thanks for the referral to Rev Peter Toon. I found a pdf of his “Episcopal Innovations” pamphlet which, though it does not specifically compare the two prayer books, does describe the theological changes that produced the 1979 version. Very educational.

    Note: I am the original “mailbag” correspondent.

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