What I Learned About Approaching God From the 1928 Book of Common Prayer

I’ve not done much posting re the Anglican Communion these days.  That’s because, to be honest, it’s not an improving story.  Predictably the Church of England is going the way of its Episcopal counterpart, having learned nothing from their experience.  The orthodox Anglicans have appointed a former tank commander to lead the charge; they’re going to need one, and they don’t need to proliferate purple shirts the way they have done in North America either.

On the other side of the Atlantic, Field Marshal von Rosenberg’s panzers have scored a breakthrough in the land of Dylann Roof by getting back much of the property of the Diocese of South Carolina.  In some ways it’s an unexpected result, but in some ways not.  Although it’s hard to prove, in an era where the elites’ main goal in life is to get laid, high or drunk (and to restrict the rest of the population to the same goals) it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that there’s a great deal of judicial table-tilting going on.

In any case I want to focus on something more important: how do we approach God?  And more specifically, how do you explain this to a kid?  My education, in part, came from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, which was in use at the time at Bethesda-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church.  It’s an example of “Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi, Lex Vivendi:” the law of prayer is the law of belief and the law of living.  It’s one reason (beyond “we’ve always done it this way”) why the prayer book wars of the 1970’s were so bitterly fought.

Important note: for those who don’t like the 1928 Book because you think it’s got too much of an Anglo-Catholic drift, the part I plan to discuss is nearly identical, with one important difference, to that in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.  The section in question comes from the Holy Communion.

After the offering (which was taken up at Bethesda in seriously large silver trays) we pray for the whole state of Christ’s church, needed more now than then.  After this (and here the 1928 Book skips the lengthy Exhortation,)  the following is said:

¶ Then shall the Priest say to those who come to receive the Holy Communion,

YE who do truly and earnestly repent you of your sins, and are in love and charity with your neighbours, and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, and walking from henceforth in his holy ways; Draw near with faith, and take this holy Sacrament to your comfort; and make your humble confession to Almighty God, devoutly kneeling.

¶ Then shall this General Confession be made, by the Priest and all those who are minded to receive the Holy Communion, humbly kneeling.

ALMIGHTY God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Maker of all things, Judge of all men; We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, Which we, from time to time, most grievously have committed, By thought, word, and deed, Against thy Divine Majesty, Provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us. We do earnestly repent, And are heartily sorry for these our misdoings; The remembrance of them is grievous unto us; The burden of them is intolerable. Have mercy upon us, Have mercy upon us, most merciful Father; For thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, Forgive us all that is past; And grant that we may ever hereafter Serve and please thee In newness of life, To the honour and glory of thy Name; Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

¶ Then shall the Priest (the Bishop if he be present) stand up, and turning to the People, say,

ALMIGHTY God, our heavenly Father, who of his great mercy hath promised forgiveness of sins to all those who with hearty repentance and true faith turn unto him; Have mercy upon you; pardon and deliver you from all your sins; confirm and strengthen you in all goodness; and bring you to everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

I think it’s fair to say that any celebration of the Lord’s Supper–whether it features Bill Clinton’s Eucharistic Theology or not–should have a point where those who are about to partake repent of their sins.  I’ve seen ones that don’t and it’s not pretty.  The reason for that comes from 1 Corinthians 11 and I won’t go into detail about it here.

The text above, however, makes several assumptions:

  • We are sinners.   For me, that wasn’t a hard concept to grasp as a kid.
  • Repenting of them is a good thing, and possible.
  • Once we repent, we live a “new life.”  That’s contrary to what’s usually taught in Evangelical churches, i.e., that the only point in this journey when you get a new life is when you’re initially saved.  What it means is that, as Christians, we sin, but we repent of them and come back into a relationship with God.
  • We need to confess our sins to God.  As an aside, I myself must confess that I had too much fun with the General Confession while writing The Ten Weeks.
  • Pardon comes after repentance.  The last prayer exposes one of the many ambiguities of Anglicanism: does the priest have the power to forgive sins?  The answer is, frankly, equivocal, but as a kid I came from a family with a decidedly anti-clerical streak, so I didn’t leave the granting of forgiveness to our priest, but sought it from God himself.

¶ Then shall the Priest say,

Hear what comfortable words our Saviour Christ saith unto all who truly turn to him.

COME unto me, all ye that travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.  St. Matt. xi. 28.
So God loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, to the end that all that believe in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.  St. John iii. 16.

    Hear also what Saint Paul saith.
This is a true saying, and worthy of all men to be received, That Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.  1 Tim. i. 15.

    Hear also what Saint John saith.
If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the Propitiation for our sins.  1 St. John ii. 1, 2.

Now comes the good part: the Scriptural backup to all this.

COME unto me, all ye that travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.  St. Matt. xi. 28.

Growing up in an environment which was a Protestant version of Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility, this was a relief.  “Come to me, all you who toil and are burdened, and I will give you rest! Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly-minded, and ‘you shall find rest for your souls’; For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Mat 11:28-30 TCNT)  I always found God’s demands far easier to fulfil than man’s, not only because God was more consistent, but because he gives the strength to carry them out.

So God loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, to the end that all that believe in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.  St. John iii. 16.

This well-known scripture needs little comment.

This is a true saying, and worthy of all men to be received, That Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.  1 Tim. i. 15.

See earlier comments.

If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the Propitiation for our sins.  1 St. John ii. 1, 2.

Now things get interesting. I’d be the first one to admit that “propitiation” is a mouthful for a kid, but coming from a family where a large vocabulary was inculcated and used, it wasn’t as extraordinary as one might think.  The simple definition of the word “is an action meant to regain someone’s favour or make up for something you did wrong.”  We see here that, not only did Jesus Christ do this for us, but also that he anticipated that we would get into trouble and provides the means to get out of it.

The whole concept presented here is one where the coming to God is one where it is anticipated that, along the way, we will fall into sin, but that if we turn with repentance back to God he will forgive us and restore us.  It’s entirely separate from the pompous, butt-sitting concept we get from Reformed and Baptist alike that, once we’re in the elect (Reformed) or force our way in (Baptist) we’re done.  And it’s also separate from the more secular “one false move and it’s the abyss” idea that we see all too often in our society.  (That’s something that bothered me in my academic pursuits as a student; one course go wrong and the sequence was finished or thoroughly screwed up.)

These words are indeed of comfort, then and now.

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