Friday, 26 December 2014

Joel Osteen Wants God to be Quiet.

Manners are the coin in which love is paid out. They are one of the main ways that charity begins at home. They are extremely important in the creation and maintenance of a healthy atmosphere in any space shared by humans. They go a long way toward actually making a house a home and actually making a biological unit a happy, functioning family. In a thousand little ways throughout one single day spent together, we can chose to show love and affection and regard for one another or we can chose to communicate disinterest, disgust, disregard, and even hatred. In a thousand little ways throughout one single day, we can create and nourish and strengthen deep, lasting, profound, satisfying relationships, or we can scratch and tear and damage those relationships until they actually bleed to death.

Manners are especially important in a home environment, where we often foolishly think that we can relax our manners just because we ARE at home. But love most certainly does NOT mean never having to say you are sorry ! Rather, how we treat the people to whom we are most bound in this life, our wives, husbands, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, etc., will be an indication of how we shall treat people in other contexts. Charity really must begin at home, if it is to go anywhere at all, with any hope of being even moderately well-dressed. Habits will be in place before principles are ever understood and so parents must instill in their children the simple, basic habits of courtesy from the earliest years.

Manners also go a long way toward creating a healthy work environment. When we treat those around us with simple courtesy, we usually find it reciprocated. The principle of "measure for measure"
pertains in our public life. Generally speaking, though obviously not always, the "measure" you use in your treatment of others is the "measure" you get back (Luke 6:38). You get treated the way you treat. Difficult, even volatile situations are often defused by a single word, or even by the tone in which a single word is uttered, perhaps even by a wordless gesture. A day at work can be made more pleasant, and efficiency can be greatly enhanced, simply by the thoughtful employment of the most basic rules of courtesy.

In Spanish-speaking countries, one learns to use the subjunctive mood in order to soften requests or demands. In this way, it is possible to ask for something slightly indirectly and so much more respectfully. Or it is possible to use the diminutive form of a word in order to win someone over, to convince them to help you. "Amigo" or "amiga" can become "amigito" or "amigita". Thus "friend" quickly and easily becomes something like "my little buddy" and so becomes a key to unlock a door which might otherwise stay fast shut. Manners are the coin in which love is paid out. They are also very effective social lubricant.

You will have recognized by now that a lot of this has to do with what comes out of our mouths. A lot of this has to do with the words we chose to allow to come out of our mouths. A lot of this has to do with the tongue. The medieval proverb is true : the first virtue is to keep your tongue. And here is a modern 21st century version of that : "Never miss an opportunity to keep your BIG MOUTH SHUT!" That is, in fact, very good advice, for the tongue is a deadly weapon :

the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell. For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.
Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be. James 3:6-10

What can more easily poison the atmosphere in a house than a whole bunch of people sitting around griping and complaining about ... well, take your pick : the weather, their school, their teachers, their neighbours, their friends, their relatives, each other, their work, their co-workers, their boss, their church, their pastor, the government, wages, taxes, and, if you live in Saskatchewan and it is winter, the weather once again ... ? The atmosphere in a home, because of the tongue, often becomes heavy, oppressive, and dark. In the same way, that atmosphere can become light, refreshing, liberating, when we learn to use our tongues to create rather than to destroy, to bless God rather than to curse man. Again, this is done in the very simplest of ways, with a word, or even with the slight modulation of the tone of a word.

All this is a way of saying that it is important for us to be "positive". We do need to be careful that what comes out of our mouths is gracious and helpful and encouraging (Ephesians 4:29). There must always be a significant, conscious, and very creative gap between the instant an unspoken thought forms itself in our mind and the instant it goes flying inexorably out of our mouth to lodge itself in the open and unsuspecting mind of another. Words carry powerful emotional charges. They can pierce and hurt and explode. They are missiles. And we need always to be so careful what sort of impact our words will have on those around us.

It is important, therefore, to be positive. This is especially true for Christians, since we have so much to be positive about. God is for us and so who can really be against us ? (Romans 8:31). In a sense, everything, really everything, has been given to us in Christ (1 Corinthians. 3:22). Nothing can really hurt us. We are "okay". Why should we not generally be very positive about life, about our daily challenges, about our families, about the future, about everything ? The fact is, our God reigneth (Isaiah 52:7). Hallelujah !

So, I agree that it is important to be positive (and I insist on it very positively in my own home) but, NOTA BENE, that statement must always, always be very carefully qualified and cannot be held as the main principle of a philosophy of life, the unassailable centre of a world-view. To hold to the principle "always be positive" as if it were an absolute value, an absolute truth, an unbreakable commandment of God, written in stone as by His finger, is to be foolish in the extreme. It is foolish on a very basic level because there are times when we need to talk about things that will fall into the general category of "negative". There are times when we really do need to talk about things that are unpleasant or difficult or painful, times when we need to be criticized ourselves or when we need to criticize others. It would be impossible to raise children without punishing them from time to time or criticizing them, calling attention to things that they need to change in their behaviour, or in their appearance, or in their habits. In the same way, it would be impossible for our economy to function if employers were never allowed to assess and evaluate and, if necessary, dismiss their employees. Getting fired cannot usually be considered anything but "negative", but there are people who need to be fired if our economy is going to function.

At a deeper level, holding "be positive" as the main principle of your philosophy of life, becomes quickly absurd and even dangerous. When the widely popular Joel Osteen quips, "If you can't be positive, at least be quiet", and everyone happily applauds, we need to recognize what is implied by his words. If this is actually put in the context of all that he says in general, it in fact amounts to a denial of reality, and a denial of reality that sadly deceives others and outrageously insults God. For what is he really saying but that we ought not to talk about reality, namely, the reality that this is a fallen world in which we live, and that we are a fallen race ? And let me point out, when pressed on this, Joel Osteen readily admits that he will refuse to talk about sin because it is negative and he just wants to be positive. But sin is real, both the actual sin that we commit in our thoughts, words, and deeds, and that latent, inner sin, called "original" or "birth" sin, that infects every human heart that is born into the world. As Spurgeon says, "In the youngest breast there lies a stone". And we need to take that in, even if it is not very positive.

It is not very positive, but it is true. Sin is the Great Negative. In the youngest breast there lies a stone. Human beings are fallen creatures. Who could honestly read history and think anything different ? Sin is a reality, a very significant reality. And by refusing to talk about it, people like Joel Osteen are really just telling God to be quiet. They are saying that we ought not to talk about certain things that appear in the Holy Scriptures. They obviously mean to say that God needs an editor. And they are available. Joel Osteen and others may view the Bible as a useful resource book for their happy pep talks, but they do not view it as the Word of God written. And by telling God that He cannot talk about certain things, which they as "pastors" do simply by refusing to teach those things, they deceive those who look to them for wisdom and guidance, ridiculously insulting the God whom they presume to represent.

What does it mean to be dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1) ? Every human being needs to know the answer to that question. It is, in fact, an accurate description of everyone that is born into this world. There is a very real sense in which we enter this world DOA : "dead on arrival". To be dead in your trespasses and sins means to be in very great danger. It means to be unable to save yourself, unable to save yourself from the judgement, the wrath, that your condition really deserves, for God is holy, and He is light, and there is no darkness in Him at all (1 John 1:5). To be dead in your trespasses and sins means to be condemned and unable to save yourself from the condemnation that awaits you. And let us be clear, there is nothing, nothing that can possibly be more "negative" than this. This is as negative as it gets. And this is what your condition is, indeed, it is what you ARE apart from Jesus Christ. This is what every human being is apart from faith in Jesus Christ.

Only Jesus Christ, only God, can by His power make you alive when you are dead in your trespasses and sins. And, please recognize, that you are so dead in your trespasses and sins that you are entirely unable even to desire him to save you, let alone turn to Him and ask for His mercy and grace and help. Even that desire and that turning He must give to you. And, please recognize, He is in no way obligated to give it to you. God is not obligated to save anyone. He is not obligated to save you or to save me. If He left us in our sins, and to the wages they inevitably earn, i.e. a lost eternity, He would be entirely just.

The wonder is that He does save. By His grace, and according to His sovereign will, He calls out of death into life all those whom He chooses to call out of death into life, all those whom He chooses to save, all those on whom He will have mercy. We come to Him in repentance and faith, being saved entirely by His grace, for even our faith in Him is His gift to us (Ephesians 2:8). Salvation is of the Lord Himself, from beginning to end. The only difference between a believer and an unbeliever is the grace of God. And, if we are in our right minds, and understand the alternatives, we shall have it no other way.

Of course, this is precisely why human beings, however foolishly, hate God and hate the Gospel. The Gospel is good news, the best news ever, the most "positive" thing ever, the Great Positive, but it implies our sinfulness and our complete and utter inability to save ourselves. Man hates this. And so man will insist upon being "positive" about man and will do His best to silence God. Man refuses to let God say anything negative about man. And generally speaking, when folks get all sensitive and huffy about being judged or criticized, and when they fire at you the words of Jesus, "Judge not" (Matthew 7:1), they are really just wanting you to let them alone in their trespasses and sins. They want the freedom, the right to sin. They want God to shut-up. In this case, "If you can't be positive then at least be quiet" really means : "Shut-up. Leave me alone. I like being dead in my trespasses and sins".

Thankfully, God is not quiet. And He will not be silenced by anyone, not huffy sinners nor rich televangelists. He speaks. He speaks of the reality of sin and of the reality of His grace and mercy and only fools refuse to hear Him speak of BOTH those things. But those who do hear Him, who are willing to hear ALL that He has to say, will hear the most positive thing that can ever be, or has ever been said to man :

All that the Father giveth me shall come to me ... and him that cometh to me I will in no wise
cast out. John 6:37

God grant that all who read this may so come.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

The Magistrate to Obey the One, True God

The Wisdom of the Rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer III.

One of the most obvious things about the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) is the frequency with which it calls us to pray for those who are set in authority over us, for those who hold public office in the country in which we live, for our civil rulers, for kings, princes, presidents, governors, for those who in times past were referred to as MAGISTRATES. The word "magistrate" is generally used in our day to refer to a lower court judge or minor law officer such as a justice of the peace, but in times past was used to refer to anyone who held high public office or authority in a country or state. Thus, a king or a prince or a duke or a president or a prime minister or a supreme court judge, even the consuls of ancient Rome, all these were referred to as magistrates. And this is an appropriate usage, as our English word simply comes from the Latin word for "master".

Again, one of the most obvious things about the BCP is the frequency with which its calls us to pray for these magistrates. The rubrics (the rules for the conduct of the service) for Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer in the English 1662 BCP require that prayers for the monarch and the royal family be said daily. This is not optional unless the Great Litany is to be said, whereupon they may be omitted. In the Great Litany, however, a number of petitions appear which cover the same themes, so that prayers for the magistrates form a constant part of the Daily Offices in 1662. It should be mentioned here that to pray, for example, for Elizabeth II, the Queen of Canada, is to pray not just for her personally, but for all those in civil authority in the country, the Queen still being Head of State in Canada. To pray for her, therefore, is to pray for the Prime Minister, the Cabinet, and the Federal Parliament, for the Premiers and the Provincial Legislatures, as well as her other representatives: the Governor-General and the Provincial Lieutenant-Governors, the Judiciary, etc. Indeed, it is to pray for all forms of government in Canada.

Likewise, in the Holy Communion service in 1662, two prayers are provided for the monarch, one of which is to be said at each celebration. Prayers on the same theme are required in the Prayer for the Church Militant, or general intercession, found in the same service. A prayer for Parliament is provided in the "Prayers and Thanksgivings" section of the book, to be used when Parliament is in session.

The rubrics for Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer in the 1928 American BCP provide optional prayers "for the President of the United States and All in Civil Authority" on a daily basis. In Morning Prayer two prayers are provided one of which may be used. In Evening Prayer one is provided. In should be noted that, in keeping with the greater flexibility and greater desire for brevity that is found in 1928, none of these prayers is required to be said. They may be omitted when the Litany is used or they may be omitted at the discretion of the Minister. However, prayers for the civil authorities do still appear in the Prayer for the Church Militant in the Holy Communion service and these are not optional. Such prayers are likewise found in the 1928 version of the Great Litany, in the section called "Prayers and Thanksgivings" and in the very beautiful "Family Prayer" as well.

It should also be noted that in the earlier versions of the American BCP, starting with the 1789 edition, the prayer for the President in Morning Prayer was NOT optional. When the Great Litany was said, it was said AFTER the prayer for the President. This, apparently, was due to the fact that George Washington, who was an Anglican, lived some eight miles from his local church. This meant that he did not usually attend the evening service. Therefore, if the Great Litany was used in the morning (and it seems likely that it frequently was, in obedience to the rubrics) and the prayer for the President omitted, he was not going to hear it very often. He, therefore, requested that it be made a "shall" rather than a "may", so that he could be present to hear it. So, in this small but touching way, the first President of the United States, being a churchman, was allowed to have some influence on the liturgy of his church. This was apparently not changed until 1928.

If you have read thus far, you will likely be aware that these prayers for the magistrate are included in the BCP simply in obedience to Holy Scripture. The Apostle Paul says it very clearly in 1 Timothy 2, verses 1 and 2 :

I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.

It is in obedience to this scriptural command, then, that we pray daily for our leaders and pray for them in the context of the Lord's Supper as well.

Significantly, a very important principle is found in the second verse above. Paul exhorts us to pray for the magistrate so that "we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all GODLINESS and honesty". At first, it may seem odd to us, living in so-called secular democracies, that there should be a connection between the magistrate and godliness. Yet, Paul makes the connection. To Paul, praying for kings and those in authority, means that we shall be able to lead quiet lives of godliness and honesty. What is implied in his words, is that the magistrate is to be a promoter, or a protector, of godliness or of piety.

In Romans 13:1 , we are reminded that "the powers that be are ordained of God". And we are exhorted by the Apostle to obey those powers because they are ordained of God. He even tells us, in verse 2, that to resist the magistrate is to resist God. But he also makes it clear that the magistrate is a servant of God, a minister of God, appointed to protect those who do good and to punish those who do evil. What is implied here, again, is that the magistrate has a responsibility himself, an obligation, to uphold what is good, to act and to judge and to decide according to what is good. For Paul, this can only mean that the magistrate is to act in accordance with God's Holy Law. In no other way could they truly be His ministers, His servants.

This theme appears in other places in the Scriptures. In Psalm 72: 1,2 we read

Give the King thy judgements, O God, and thy righteousness unto the King's son. Then shall he judge thy people according unto right: and defend the poor.

In Psalm 82, verse 1 and 2, God is represented as appearing among the magistrates of the earth :

God standeth in the congregation of the princes: He is a judge among gods. How long will ye give wrong judgement: and accept the persons of the ungodly?

In Proverbs 29, verse 2, we read,

When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice: but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn.

In Proverbs 20, verse 28, re read,

Mercy and truth preserve the king: and his throne is upholden by mercy.

In Isaiah 1, verses 10 and 17, we read,

Hear the word of the Lord, ye rulers of Sodom ... learn to do well, seek judgement, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.

The "powers that be are ordained of God" but they are also responsible to God to rule according to His justice, His judgements, His righteousness, His law. This theme is reflected in many of the prayers for the magistrate found in the BCP. For example, when we pray for the Queen in the 1662 Holy Communion service, we pray that she may "know whose minister she is" (i.e. God's) and that, knowing this, she "may above all things seek [His] honour and glory". When we pray for the President in the 1928 Morning Prayer service, we pray that he, and all those who are in civil authority, may be given by God the

wisdom and strength to know and to do [God's] will ...

and also that they may be filled

with the love of truth and righteousness.

And what could be more clear than the prayer "for the whole state of Christ's Church militant here upon earth" found in the 1662 Holy Communion service? There we pray that God will "save and defend all Christian Kings, Princes, and Governors", granting to the reigning sovereign and "all that are put in authority under him/her, that they may truly and impartially administer justice, to the punishment of wickedness and vice, and to the maintenance of true religion and virtue". A very similar prayer is found in the Holy Communion service in the 1928 American BCP, with appropriate changes for the American, republican form of government.

The powers that be may be ordained by God, but they are also responsible to God for the way in which they wield their delegated power. Christians are to be good citizens and to obey their magistrates. But the magistrates themselves are to be good magistrates and are bound to obey God whom they represent. We note in the last mentioned prayer that they are even bound to be concerned for the "maintenance of true religion", that is, that they are bound to be concerned for the protection of the Gospel. They do not proclaim the Gospel, that being the role of the Church. But neither are the civil authorities to be indifferent with regard to the true religion, rather they are do all they can to uphold and maintain it. This principle may seem strange even to Christians raised in the secular atmosphere of 21st century Canada. But it is given clear expression in the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter XXIII, Section III :

The civil magistrate may not assume to himself the administration of the Word and sacraments, or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven: yet he hath authority, and it is his duty, to take order, that unity and peace be preserved in the Church, that the truth of God be kept pure and entire; that all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed ...

It was given clear expression at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, who was asked this question :

Will you to the utmost of your powers maintain the laws of God, the true principles of the Gospel, and the Protestant Reformed Religion established by law?

Totally apart from the question as to whether or not the magistrates in Canada, or in the United States, or in the United Kingdom, all understand their responsibilities and actually fulfill them today (a question that surely needs to be asked frequently), what is clear from both the Holy Scriptures and the prayers of the BCP, is that they do have these responsibilities. They are to be "nursing fathers" to the church (Isaiah 29:43). They are to obey God's law and even be concerned for godliness and piety.

I believe that this is a great encouragement to Christians. Yes, we are called to obey the powers that be. But the powers that be are also called to obey God, whether or not they want to acknowledge it. And it is also clear in Scripture that we may not obey them if they command us to disobey the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. For example, the Apostles are specifically commanded by the Jewish Council and the High Priest NOT to proclaim the Gospel. But their answer is

we ought to obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29),

and they fill Jerusalem with their preaching.

It is a great encouragement to Christians to know that there is an authority above the authority of the magistrate, above the authority of the state, to which the magistrate and the state are ultimately and solemnly responsible and to whom they will one day give account. It is a great encouragement to us to remember that the

King's heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water; He turneth it whithersoever he
will. (Prov. 29:1)

It is the Lord who sets up kings and presidents and prime ministers and the Lord who casts them down. And there are times when God will cast them down. As St. Augustine says in the City of God IX, 4 :

If justice be taken away, what are governments but great bands of robbers?

When the Canadian Parliament presumes to redefine marriage, it presumes to sit on God's throne. When it presumes to ignore the murder of unborn children, it presumes to sit on God's throne. When it presumes to abolish capital punishment, it presumes to sit on God's throne. But the throne, of course, is occupied and the One who sits there cannot be robbed of His power or glory.

It is a great encouragement to Christians to remember that there is a God who rules over all the kingdoms of this earth, to whom all the magistrates of this earth are solemnly responsible. And while the church is not given the power of the sword, as the civil rulers are, yet it is the role of the church to teach the magistrate what his duty to God is. Therefore, as we pray daily for the magistrate, let us also pray that the church will awaken again to all her duty, that the Gospel will be faithfully proclaimed, and that all the rulers of all the nations will be taught to obey all that the one, true God has commanded.

And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen. (Matthew 28:18-20)

Monday, 15 December 2014

Canadian Diversity, Canadian Atheism

In October of this year, two acts of terrorism were committed on Canadian soil, one in Montreal, one in Ottawa. In each case, a Canadian serviceman was murdered by an individual identifying himself as a Muslim. In response to these attacks, some in Canada have suggested that "our" Canadian model of diversity, with its key-notes of pluralism, multi-culturalism, tolerance, and inclusivity, has been insufficiently taught to new immigrants, to our children, and in our communities. It is thought that the men who committed those murders had not been properly instructed in the importance of "Canadian values" and had not properly understood what the core of Canadian identity really is, namely, a deep commitment to diversity, multi-culturalism, pluralism, tolerance, etc.

Some in Canada (for example, Mr. Farid Rohani of the Laurier Institution) have therefore called for a renewed emphasis on "Canadian diversity" and for a new effort by those in authority to teach it in our schools and communities. It has been suggested that religious schools should be denied funding unless they teach pluralistic "values". Usually included in the notion of diversity or pluralism will be the following : freedom of choice (read abortion), gay rights, the importance of celebrating different cultures and ethnicities, gender equality, freedom of religion, and a separation of church and state or religion and state. Again, this is assumed by many to form the core of our Canadian identity.

Recently, however, a survey was conducted by the Canadian Race Relations Foundation. When Canadian respondents were asked to list 10 values in order of importance, multi-culturalism, defined as "respect for cultural and religious differences", was not high on the list. But 64 percent of respondents did agree with the statement that "Canadian multi-culturalism allows people to pursue certain cultural practices that are incompatible with Canadian laws and norms". This suggests that many Canadians are concerned that pluralism or multi-culturalism is itself a problem, not that it has been insufficiently taught to new immigrants, etc. This also calls into question the assumption that it is pluralism, tolerance, and inclusivity that make up the "core of our identity" as Canadians. I suspect that a desire for peace, order, and good government are more indicative of what is in that core.

More importantly, many fail to realize what actually lies behind the constellation of ideas that make up what is called "Canadian diversity". Again, these ideas will include : freedom of choice, freedom of religion (understood in a particular sense), respect for different cultures, gay rights, equality of the sexes, a separation of church and state (again understood in a particular sense). The last in this list is of particular importance here. What needs to be recognized is that to teach these things is to seek to impose a very definite world-view on Canadians. And what also needs to be recognized is that they are indicative of a world-view that is essentially atheistic. They do not represent some safe, neutral, common ground existing in the midst of a battle between competing cosmologies, such as, for example, the Christian or the Muslim or the Marxist interpretation of reality. They simply represent one more world-view competing for dominance. They represent an atheistic view of reality. And I say so because of what is generally understood by "separation of church and state" : that with regard to the formation of Canadian values, with regard to ethics and morals in Canada, with regard to legislation and governance in Canada, God may NOT be considered relevant. This is practical atheism : God and religion are not allowed to have any influence in the development of our supposedly shared world-view.

The problem for many people, perhaps, is that the question "which God, which religion?" seems to be unanswerable. Because it is assumed that all religions are equal, and that Canadians should be free to be Christians or Hindus or Buddhists or Satanists, it is thought impossible to allow ANY religion to have any influence in guiding the formation of our values, ethics, or laws. What is then assumed is that the government must take up a neutral position. It is further assumed that this is actually what has happened. But nothing could be further from the truth. Neutrality is a myth. The pluralism that exists in Canada (still a relatively recent development) is not religiously neutral. It constitutes a real world-view, a set of propositions or assumptions or beliefs about the way the world really is, about reality. It involves an interpretation of reality and that interpretation is atheistic.

Incidentally, as a Christian, I do not believe that the cause of Christianity can be advanced by the use of the iron or civil sword, that is, by coercion. A forced conversion is no conversion at all. I therefore believe in "freedom of religion" in that qualified sense but I do not believe that all religions are equal or that the civil powers are free from the obligation to uphold and protect true religion.

To return to my main point, one has a world-view, one has an idea about the way the world really is, when one assumes that a child can be aborted at any time during a pregnancy. This is a materialistic, naturalistic world-view which assumes that human beings have no soul or spirit, that there is no life after death. The child is thought of merely as physical or material ... as unwanted, inconvenient tissue. One has a world-view when one believes that religion is a personal, private matter, which can never have relevance for the public square. Such a position assumes that all religions are essentially man-made and do not reveal divine truth, which truth, if thought real, would certainly HAVE to be relevant and authoritative in both private life AND the public square. Even if one assumed that God had revealed a little of His truth in each of the religions, it would then be reasonable to try to gather up all that scattered truth and apply it to the formation of our laws and customs. But the assumption is that religion is simply irrelevant in public discourse, and that, therefore, no such divine truth has ever been revealed. In the same way, one has a world-view when one assumes that it is good for two men to marry and have sex with one another. This is a world-view that denies a Creator God with special ends and purposes for His creation, and specifically with His own special purposes for man and woman. It denies a Creator God by denying any purpose for the biological differences between male and female and so it implies an atheistic, evolutionary understanding of man and the universe.

As a Christian, I assume that there should be a distinction made between church and state. They are different spheres, with different purposes. But by that I do not mean that God is to be separated from the state. Both church AND state are under God's authority and both are answerable to Him. God's law, as revealed in the Bible, is no less relevant in Ottawa than it is in my home. It is no less relevant in the public square than it is in my private life. Ottawa is obligated to obey God. The God of the Bible is the God of the Universe and so He is the God of Ottawa, too, and Washington, London, Moscow, Beijing, Riyadh, etc. In fact, I assume that the powers that be in Canada, our elected leaders, our civil magistrates or rulers, are appointed by God. That means that they are responsible to Him and ought to enact laws that are in harmony with His divine laws. I also assume that every human being is likewise responsible to God, the God of the Bible, and will be judged by Him according to His law, and so condemned, or saved by Him according to His electing love and grace.

I realize that some may now want to point out that not everyone in Canada shares my Christian world-view. I am fully aware of that. But here in Canada, and everywhere in the world, different world-views are at variance with each other, in competition with each other, in conflict with each other. What needs to be realized is that our so-called "Canadian diversity", our so-called pluralism, is just another of those competing world-views. It is not neutral ground, it is not a haven of peace in the midst of a battle. It is one of the armies in the battle, a world-view, and an essentially atheistic one, which is most definitely at variance with the other world views ... and especially with the Christian.

So, it is unrealistic to expect Christians simply to abandon their world-view and acquiesce in another, alien, God-denying one. It has been suggested recently that all religious schools in Canada should be made to teach gay rights, freedom of choice, etc. And it has been suggested that public funding should be withheld from them unless they do. So be it. I doubt that Christians are going to abandon the truths of their religion just because the government refuses to fund their private schools. If they did, they would not be Christian. But why would we accept that the Christian world-view cannot be allowed to influence Canadian values, or Canadian laws, but that an atheistic world-view can and must be imposed upon Christian schools and Christian children, by the civil authorities? Apparently, I am not allowed to impose my world-view on anyone, but some clearly have every intention of imposing theirs on me, and on my children and grandchildren.

Lastly, I should mention that I also assume the following : that, in time, Canada will again become a Christian nation, more truly Christian than it has ever been in the past. I assume that God's dominion will truly be "from sea to sea" as is implied in Canada's motto, taken from Psalm 72:8. I assume that His laws will be respected and obeyed, being written not in stone but in the hearts of the majority of men. At that time the preamble of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms will become true, where it says that "Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law". Someone involved in the creation of that charter had the sense to realize, as recently as 1982, that those two things stand or fall together. I also assume that, in time, the battle between the various world-views will end, not only in Canada, but all over the world, and that the Christian world-view will be triumphant, even before the restitution of all things. In the meantime, it is of the greatest import that, as Canadians, we be very aware of what is actually being said when we are talking about "Canadian diversity", and what it is that some are actually wanting to do, namely, impose an atheistic world-view on a whole nation and on people who are not atheists.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

The Wisdom of the Rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer

Part II - The Daily Offices As Daily Offices.

Daily Morning and Evening Prayer constitute one of the greatest treasures to be found in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer (abbreviated hereafter as "BCP" in this post). They provide a rich diet of God's Word for the daily sustenance of God's people. We are told that in the early church, in different parts of the known world, there were two daily services provided for all the people which were regularly attended by them. As time passed, these daily offices seem gradually to have become the preserve of "professional" prayers, the clergy and lay-brothers/sisters in the monasteries, in the large cathedral churches and basilicas, or in the chapels of university colleges. The two early offices developed, with regional variations, into a set pattern of multiple prayer services or so-called Day Hours (Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline) and one Night Office (Mattins). Obviously, such a full daily (and nightly) round of prayer could not be observed by the ordinary folk of the parish who laboured in the fields or in the markets or in other vocations throughout the day.

The English Reformation of the 16th century has been described as, in part, a "rediscovery of the congregation". The Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, in the first (1549) and second (1552) editions of the English BCP, sought to re-established two daily services of prayer for the benefit, not just of the clergy and monastics, but of all the people of England's parishes. Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer, as they appear in the prayer books of 1549 and 1552, use elements of the medieval Day Hours and Night Office, but in a form greatly simplified. They were designed to be vehicles for the real conversion and spiritual growth of both clergy and people by means of the consistent and systematic public reading and hearing of the Word of God.

Cranmer himself in his Original Preface (1549) to the BCP, points out that the services of the Church of England had become so complicated that "many times there was more business to find out what should be read, than to read it when it was found out" (I cannot help but see a smile pass across his face as he writes this). He also makes clear what his purpose was in supplying the simplified Daily Offices. He wanted the Scriptures to be read right through without their "continual course" being broken by interpolated bits and scraps, such as hymns, anthems, responds and invitatories. That is, whole books of the Bible were to be read through chapter by chapter, day by day, month by month, year by year. He provided a Calendar, or list of daily Bible readings, which we call the Daily Office Lectionary, "which is plain and easy to be understood". That is, he provided an
order of prayer, and for the reading of Holy Scripture, much agreeable to the mind and purpose of the old fathers, and a great deal more profitable and commodious, than that which was of late used. (from the Original Preface of 1549)

His guiding purpose, in other words, was spiritual edification, the building up of both clergy and people, by means of the constant and faithful proclamation of the Word of God. His desire was to profit the people entrusted to him by making God's truth accessible to them.

I believe that one of our greatest responsibilities as faithful Anglicans is to honour the Archbishop's purposes and intentions. I am not ashamed of being called an Anglican when that word is properly defined. The Bible, with the use of the Prayer Book, and a faithful, honest, humble submission to the 39 Articles of Religion (which includes, by definition, a submission to the three Creeds of the primitive Church, to the Homilies of the Church of England and to the Textus Receptus), with the authority of the Bible being first and foremost, these give us a way of being Christian that is healthy, rich, and deeply rooted in Christian history. For Christianity is not something that we are required to re-invent for ourselves day by day. It is a great river into which we step, by the grace of God alone, by the call of God, and by which we are carried along in one good, strong current or another. The real Anglican current of that great river carries me along just fine and I am thankful to God for it.

For those of us who are clergy, we can best respect Thomas Cranmer's vision by our own faithful, daily use of Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer, for this is clearly what he purposed for us:

And all priests and deacons are to say daily the Morning and Evening Prayer either privately or openly, not being let by sickness, or some other urgent cause. And the Curate that ministereth in every Parish-Church or Chapel, being at home, and not being otherwise reasonably hindered, shall say the same in the Parish-Church or Chapel where he ministereth, and shall cause a bell to be tolled thereunto a convenient time before he begin, that the people may come to hear God's Word and to pray with him. (from "Concerning the Service of the Church")

We may not have a bell which we can cause to be tolled. We may not even have a Church or a Chapel to which we can call the people to come. We may live very busy, tent-making sorts of lives. But saying the Daily Offices remains our daily responsibility and an example we ought to be setting for the people under our care. Let us always remember, although we tend not to use the word anymore, that we are still "curates" and have as our responsibility the "cure of souls", which "cure" has as its root meaning our care and concern for those entrusted to us.

I have always been somewhat surprised to find that many clergy, in various churches which claim to be Anglican, feel no responsibility for saying the Daily Offices but are wont instead to substitute other forms of daily devotions and disciplines. Devotional reading, as well as biblical and theological study, ought to be part of our daily lives, as time permits, as should extempore prayer throughout the day, but the Daily Offices ought to be bedrock for us, the place where we begin. They are the ground floor of our devotional life as clergy.

The compilers of the 1928 American BCP clearly had the intention of making the Daily Office much more flexible and adaptable than it might arguably be said to be in the 1662 English BCP. In 1662, there are few rubrics that allow one to shorten the service or to make it more flexible, although it is important to remember here the so-called "Shortened Services Act" passed in the English Parliament in 1872 which permitted the occasional shortening of Morning and Evening Prayer and provided guidance for the same. But we see in the 1928 American book a clear attempt to make the Daily Offices more readily adaptable to local, 20th century situations. Although it is possible to have too much flexibility and too many options, so that the basic shape of the service is so distorted as to become unrecognizable, some flexibility is surely welcome, when the heart of the service is protected. This balance seems to be struck in the 1928 book.

In the 1928 American BCP version of Morning Prayer, after saying one or more of the opening Sentences of Scripture, the minister is not required to say the long Exhortation to Confession which begins "Dearly beloved brethren...". He may replace this with an exhortation which consists of a single sentence. But he may also omit altogether the Exhortation, the Confession, and the Absolution, and go directly to the first Lord's Prayer. He may also omit the Exhortation, the Confession, and the Absolution, AND the first Lord's Prayer, going directly to the Versicles and Responses, "O Lord, open thou our lips ...". After the first lesson, he has the option of saying or singing ONE OF THREE different canticles, one of which is the very short "Benedictus Es, Domine", a canticle not found in 1662, being taken from the Apocryphal book "The Song of the Three Holy Children" where it forms the first part of what we call the "Benedicite" (one of the other canticle options in both 1662 and 1928). After the second lesson, he likewise has the option of ONE OF TWO different canticles, including the short Psalm 100, the "Jubilate". After the Creed, the Lord's Prayer, further short Versicles and Responses (fewer than in 1662), the Collect of the Day, the Collect for Peace, and the Collect for Grace, the minister may simply end the service

with such general intercessions taken out of this Book as he shall think fit, or with the Grace.

In other words, he may essentially end Morning Prayer after the third Collect, just as in the original prayer books of 1549 and 1552. Clearly, he has a great deal of freedom to make Morning Prayer adaptable to even the most busy, modern, 21st century cyber-world schedule. It is difficult to see how such a service could take longer than 15 minutes. And a similar flexibility is provided for Evening Prayer.

If the clergy ought to be committed to saying the Daily Offices, it seems also incumbent upon the laity of our parishes to remember and respect Archbishop Cranmer's intentions as well. We have enjoyed in North America and England the venerable custom of having Morning Prayer celebrated regularly as our main Sunday morning service, a custom which seems to have developed in the 19th century. Previously, the pattern on Sunday morning was Morning Prayer, the Great Litany, and the Holy Communion or, more frequently, the Ante-Communion, a custom which continued up into the 20th century in many places. But many of us North-American Anglicans have grown up learning to love the beauty of Morning Prayer (it alternated with Holy Communion in varying patterns, of course), complete with its organ, choir, sung canticles, hymns, sermon, and offertory. The 1959 Canadian BCP wisely provides rubrics which recognize this custom, permitting a sermon after the Third Collect of Morning Prayer, for example, or after the Grace, followed by an offertory and a hymn.

Yet however much we have grown to love Morning Prayer in that form (and hopefully we love it in that form because it gives us so much of God's Word), we need to remember that it is a Daily Office and is meant to be PART OF OUR DAILY LIVES AS WELL. Immediately, we shall hear those voices which will say that such discipline is not required of the laity as it is of the clergy and this is so. But it was what the old Archbishop wanted for the people of the church and it will surely be profitable to them. It may be that many lay folk are unable to find the time to say Morning and Evening Prayer each day, although it will be instructive to compare the daily time spent in prayer with the daily time spent, after work, before a screen of some kind. But with the great flexibility provided, for example, in the 1928 BCP, there really does not seem to be any reason why even the laity may not learn to use the Daily Offices as such. At the least, it would be possible for our people to begin to edify themselves by reading each day the lessons provided in the Daily Office Lectionary. And once again, that Lectionary in the 1928 book is notable for providing plenty of options and variations.

What I am suggesting is that, as Anglicans, we should all be SERIOUS STUDENTS of the prayer book. We should be students of the Bible on a daily basis, of course, that really being the whole point of the Daily Offices, but being students of the prayer book can only help us to be better students of the Bible as well. A serious student of the prayer book will be familiar with what is in the book, will know the different services that are there, and how they relate to one another, for the various services are entirely interdependent. The celebration of the Holy Communion assumes, for example, the proper use of the Daily Offices, and a basic understanding of the Catechism.

Being a serious student of the prayer book also means knowing that options and variations and minor changes are going to part of our regular Sunday fare and that we should learn to welcome them. Parishes which insist, for example, on never using a particular canticle of Morning Prayer because "the Reverend Mr. Brown never used it during his 200 glorious years of ministry with us", ought to be awakened to their perversity. A minister of the Anglican Orthodox Church, without doubt, has a duty to follow the rubrics of the BCP when he leads a public liturgy in the parish, and he is wise to be sensitive to local custom, but as long as he follows those rubrics he is doing his duty faithfully, even if it means that there are some slight variations from the Sunday before or from the well-remembered patterns established by some beloved previous minister. No congregation or clergyman, even a bishop, really has the right to overrule the rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer or to tell a minister that what the BCP tells him is an option is entirely ruled out by fiat of the congregation or by some other unwritten, pseudo-romish tradition. This is not faithfulness to the Anglican Way ... the Bible, the Prayer Book, and the Articles ... but a perilous capitulation to local idiosyncracy and pettiness. An Anglican congregation that refuses to use portions of the prayer book has simply taken it upon itself to revise the prayer book according to its own preferences, something which it has absolutely no right to do. For example, according to the Canons of the Anglican Orthodox Church, a revision of the 1928 prayer book can only take place by decision of two separate national conventions of the church, a very healthy proviso.

Again, daily Morning and Evening Prayer are among the greatest treasures to be found in our BCP. They are instruments of grace to us because they proclaim to us, constantly, incessantly, gloriously, the great Word of Grace, the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. They keep us focused there. They are a daily still point in the midst of a rapidly turning world. Let us thank God for them and day by day, Sunday by Sunday, year by year, allow God, through them, that is, through His Word and Spirit, to establish in us what by His grace we trust he has already wrought in us. And to His Name be all the glory.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

On Being Told You Have Cancer

Getting ready to die is hard work. I realize it probably should not be. As Christians, we are to live each day sub specie aeternitatis, that is, under the aspect or in the light of eternity. We are to be aware that our days are numbered, that they may not accrue to even the usually allotted span of three score and ten. I am presently just pushing three score. But throughout my ministry I have buried enough people, among them many people much younger than myself, and accompanied many as they lay dying, to awaken me to the reality of death and its unexpectedness. As the character in the old medieval morality play is made to say, "O Death, thou comest when I least expected thee"! Likewise, Bishop Thomas Ken's stately evening hymn teaches us frequently to sing,

Teach me to live that I may dread the grave as little as my bed.
Teach me to die that so I may rise glorious at the awful day.

I know that my Redeemer lives. I know that I am justified by His righteousness, and not at all by my own. I know that this faith which lives in my heart is a gift from Him. I know that I need Him every hour. I know that He loved me with an everlasting love, from before the foundation of the world. I know that he who dies believing dies safely in His love. I know that I must bear my own Cross and follow Him. But when they tell you that you have cancer, in my case a very large B-Cell type tumour, the corrupt fruit of a disease called Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, it seems there are some unavoidable reactions.

This is so because information of this type, "you have cancer", tends to carry with it a fairly powerful emotional charge. Words and ideas and thoughts carry with them an emotional charge, just as a pair of socks can become electrically charged when you walk across a dry carpet in winter. And the emotions attendant upon learning that you are very sick are both involuntary and relentless. They insist that you attend to them. And so you must. This takes time and is laborious, just what you do NOT need when you are sick, of course, but it must be done, and, if we are wise, it will get done. How complicated our emotions are need hardly be said. They carry us here and there, up and down, in and out. We cannot escape them. They demand our attention.

Perhaps we feel cheated, thinking that we are being robbed of precious years of life, while others, surely less worthy than ourselves, go on living disease-free, utterly useless, wastrel lives! Perhaps we dread saying goodbye, if only for a while, to those who we feel still need us in some way, those who are perhaps vulnerable and in need of our protection and care. Perhaps we just feel afraid, and unwilling to think about what our last hours may be like, what kind of pain we may have to endure. Perhaps we feel just a strong sense of uselessness, that we have not lived our lives as we should have.

And, of course, we have not. As Christians, we know about Original Sin and we know that even a life repeatedly dedicated to God's service is far from being what it should. We are not what we ought to be. We are not what we shall be. And, yes, thanks be to God, we are not what we used to be. We may, however, find ourselves thinking "if only", and re-running those deeply imbedded video clips of our most stupid, ridiculous, sinful moments. This may not be entirely without its uses. It does not hurt us to remember that we are sinful, even when we are regenerate. But there is something to which we must constantly return, especially when we are sick and faced with a death which may come sooner rather than later.

And it is this : He hath made every thing beautiful in his time (Ecclesiastes 3 11). It is a beautiful thing to have cancer. And this is so because there is a purpose for everything. Nothing happens outside, or apart from, God's wise counsel and foreknowledge. He makes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust. He overrules all His creatures and all their actions. As Dr. Gill wisely notes ...

God has made everything; as all things in creation are made by him, for his pleasure and glory, and all well and wisely, there is a beauty in them all: so all things in providence; he upholds all things; he governs and orders all things according to the counsel of his will; some things are done immediately by him, others by instruments, and some are only permitted by him; some he does himself, some he wills to be done by others, and some he suffers to be done; but in all there is a beauty and harmony ...

In other words, it is a beautiful thing to be told that you have cancer. It is not an accident. You are not a victim of blind chance or fate. It is, in a very real sense, God's visitation. It is a gift. This is what it means to understand God's "providence". We mean that He overrules all things, that His wise, loving, holy, good, guiding hand is finally behind everything which happens to us and, if we are wise, we shall consciously receive it ALL AS FROM HIS HAND. He is never unjust, never evil, never sinful. But even what is evil or sinful, He overrules it for His own purposes and those purposes are always beautiful. He hath made everything beautiful in His time. And, as John Calvin reminds us, therein lies true felicity:

give heed and you will at once perceive that ignorance of providence is the greatest of all miseries, and the knowledge of it the highest happiness. (Institutes - 1 17 11)

In other words, for the Christian, it may not be pleasant to be told you have cancer and that you may die sooner rather than later. The emotional charge that comes along with those words is real and pressing. But behind all this lies reality. And what is real is that God is God, that this is His world, and that I am, by His grace, His son. Can anything happen to me that is not designed to increase my faith in Him? Can anything happen to me that is not for my good? Can anything happen to me that can really hurt me? The answer to each of these is an emphatic "no". Also, is anything impossible with God? Is He no longer the sovereign ruler of His universe? Is it beyond His power to heal either directly or by means or even against means? We give the same answer.

Of course, I am heartily sick of being sick. The treatment which is, thanks be to God, making me gradually, steadily better, also has the effect of making me feel right poorly, and as day follows day, and month follows month, the mind and body grow weary. I certainly did not plan to be sick this long! But there is another level, the level where we really live, the level of the soul or spirit. There is no weariness there, only joy, joy in knowing that real happiness is a by-product. It is one of those things which, if we pursue it, will always remains just out of our reach, but which will flow to us freely and easily when we pursue what we ought. For it remains forever true, that if we seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, then all that is needful will be added unto us as well. He hath made all things beautiful in His time. God grant that we may embrace as beautiful all that he sends and to Him be all the glory.

Friday, 28 November 2014

The Wisdom of the Rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer.

Part I - With a Loude Voyce.

The RUBRICS of the Book of Common Prayer (abbreviated BCP) are those directions and instructions, usually italicized and in small print, provided for the proper ordering, conduct, and celebration of the various services contained in that venerable book. The rubrics are found interspersed throughout all the liturgies as a guide to the minister as he plans and leads the service, whether it be the Daily Offices, Holy Communion, Holy Baptism, or any of the other Rites and Ceremonies. In many older editions of the prayer book, the rubrics are actually printed in RED, which reminds us of why they are termed RUBRICS, this being a word derived, either directly or via the French, from the Latin word for the colour red.

Throughout my some 30 years of using the Book of Common Prayer in both public and private worship, I have come to appreciate the rubrics for what they are, namely, rules for the proper, decent, ordered, and dignified conduct of the service. But I have also come to value them as sources of real insight into the minds and purposes, and even into the vision, of our brave English Reformers, who compiled, translated, ordered, arranged, edited and, in part, composed our Book of Common Prayer, one of the greatest treasures of the Christian Church. The rubrics are really a treasure-house of information and wisdom, in spite of their seemingly humble purpose.

As an example, I need only point to the rubrics supplied for the office of Morning Prayer found in the 1552 version of the BCP. The reader will most likely know that the first complete English edition of the Book of Common Prayer appeared in 1549 during the reign of young Edward VI, when Thomas Cranmer was Archbishop of Canterbury. This first book was superseded in 1552 by the Second Prayer Book of Edward VI, the book which became, with minor variations, the BCP of 1662, the version which has the right to be called the basic pattern of all later variations and editions of the book. Although it is necessary to note here that some modern "variations", which are still called the BCP, no longer bear any real, faithful, theological, or linguistic resemblance to 1662, the 1979 "BCP" of the Episcopal Church of the USA being an example. There are also bishops of the liberal, apostate Anglican Communion, personally known to me, who feel free to create their own liturgies, rites which bear far more doctrinal and linguistic resemblance to the modern Roman Mass than to the BCP, which resemblance is entirely deliberate. These are usually the same bishops who have severe allergic reactions to the 39 Articles of Religion.

First of all, we should notice in the 1552 book that the service is entitled "An Order for Morning Prayer Daily Throughout the Year". This often comes as a surprise to folks who are accustomed to experiencing Morning Prayer only as the main Sunday service in their local parish, complete with hymns, sermon, and offertory. But it is clear that Cranmer and the other Reformers intended that it be a daily service, that it was to be said or sung in the local church, with the minister of the parish ringing the bell each day at the time of service. The same is, of course, true of Evening Prayer. It was to be a daily service in each local parish, with the minister ringing the bell to call the people to prayer and to hear the Word of God. In our 1928 American BCP, in use in the Anglican Orthodox Church, the service is still entitled "The Order for Daily Morning Prayer".

Perhaps most striking in the rubrics for Morning Prayer in the 1552 book, however, is the clear emphasis on making sure that the people can actually HEAR the Word of God. For example, we read ...

The morning and evening prayer, shall be used in such place of the Church, Chapel, or Chancel, and the minister shall so turn him, as the people may best HEAR.

That is, the service is to be said in that part of the church where the people may best hear what is being said, and the minister is to place himself for the accomplishment that same purpose. Likewise we read, referring to the penitential Scripture sentences that open the service, that

at the beginning both of Morning Prayer and likewise of Evening Prayer, the minister shall
read with a LOUD VOICE some one of these sentences of the scriptures that follow.

Also, when we come to the first Our Father, we read that

then shall the Minister begin the Lord's Prayer with a LOUD voice.

When we come to reading of the two appointed lessons after the Psalms of the day, the rubric reads,

Then shall be read two lessons distinctly with a LOUD voice, that the people may hear ...
the minister standing and turning him so as he may best be heard of all such as be present.

And another rubric then adds,

And to the end the people may the better hear, in such places where they do sing, there shall the lessons be sung in a plain tune after the manner of distinct reading, and likewise the Epistle and Gospel.

After the Creed, when the minister calls the people to prayer with the Mutual Salutation (The Lord be with you, etc.), he is again instructed to pronounce this "with a LOUD voice". At the second Our Father we read

Then the Minister, Clerks, and people, shall say the Lord's Prayer in English, with a LOUD
voice ...

It appears that there are at least two things going on here. One, we see evidenced a deep concern that the service be intelligible to the ordinary man. Archbishop Cranmer and his colleagues wanted the people of England to be able to hear the Word of God, the Holy Bible, the Holy Scriptures, the Holy Gospel, and to hear it read to them in a language they could understand, namely, English. But he also wanted to ensure that it would be read to them in such a FASHION that they would be able to understand that English clearly. There was to be no mumbling of the lessons, no reading of the lessons from some obscure corner of the church where nothing could be heard. The minister was so to position himself and so to use his voice that the people would hear and understand the Word of God. The Reformers were very aware, therefore, that "faith cometh by hearing" (Romans 10 17). No doubt, we have all been frustrated by hearing lessons read very poorly on a Sunday, whether by a minister or by a lay person, who seems to assume that faith cometh by "making unintelligible". It is always possible to tell whether or not the reader has taken the time to prepare himself for the reading, by the starts and stops, the stumbling and bumbling that goes on, or not. But we all know that a good, clear, faith-filled reading of God's Word can be a great and powerful blessing to those present. Cranmer was supremely aware of this and the rubrics of Morning Prayer reflect his awareness.

These same rubrics also implicitly impress upon the minister the weight of the responsibility of his most important function, and that is actually to be a minister of the Gospel. He is to be no longer a mummer, an actor, a false, sacrificing priest. He is to proclaim to the people under his care the pure Word of God, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That this remains our task I trust no one reading this will doubt, while we note again that it is the simple but wise rubrics of the prayer book which remind us of this great duty and privilege.

Secondly, it is of real significance that the people themselves are being encouraged, by the rubrics of the BCP, to participate fully and heartily in the service. They are to say the prayers with the minister with a LOUD voice. This, too, is a privilege and a great responsibility. It is to be their service as well as the minister's. Gone now the habit of each individual worshipper whispering his private devotions while the liturgy goes on around him. Now all voices join together in the ancient and beautiful words of the Our Father and the Creed, or in the saying or singing of the Psalms and the great scriptural canticles of Morning and Evening Prayer. And it is to be done with a LOUD voice, that is, unashamedly, openly. "O Lord, open thou our lips". For if we are ashamed to confess our faith in God loudly and clearly when we are in midst of the congregation, it is not likely that we shall confess Him very readily in the public square.

Sadly, I have often noticed that many worshippers are accustomed deliberately NOT to say the common prayers on a Sunday. They are there and they are worshipping but they DELIBERATELY do not participate in the prayers. On various occasions I have simply asked the reason for this and am often told that they find it helpful to their worship to say the prayers to themselves or in just a very quiet voice. Sometimes, their silence may be due to the presence of liturgical bullies, either lay popes or clerical ones, who push the prayers at such a rate that no one can possibly keep up with them. And personally, I would rather not say the Lord's Prayer at all than run through it at such a rate that I cannot even catch my breath. One of the most beautiful customs of the aboriginal Cree people of Canada is their habit of saying the Lord's Prayer very calmly, very slowly, and very thoughtfully. How I love to recall the sound of their voices ... Notawenan kitchekesikok ayayan ... Our Father which art in heaven ....

Generally, when prayers are being said in unison, such as the Lord's Prayer or the Creed or the General Confession, the minister ought to allow the people themselves to set the pace of the prayer. He can take control again if there is no unity, due to the presence of bullies, or simply to a lack of leadership and confusion among the voices. But that everyone should participate in the common prayers seems only too obvious. We are not there primarily to conduct our own private little conversations with the Almighty, although we come to be personally in His presence, to sense His presence, to hear His voice, and to lift our voices to him. There may and should be times in the service where we can, in silence, utter our own private prayers to Him, but the common prayers are meant to be just that. We are not there alone. We are there as members together of the same Body of Christ, the blessed company of all faithful people and, as I have often reminded my listeners, when you lift up your voice and I hear it, when I hear you say "I believe in God", that encourages me in my faith, perhaps on a day when it greatly needs encouragement. In worship, we should all work hard at making the common prayers truly common, being prayerfully aware and deeply sensitive to the presence of those around us, striving to speak to God in one voice.

Thus, dear friends, there is great wisdom to be found in the humble rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer. Take the time some Sunday to read them over before the service begins. There is much there to feed our sense of devotion and worship and much to help us better to understand this great, deep, rolling river of Christianity into which, solely by the grace of God, we have stepped, for even as we wade in the shallows of that river, we may often hear echoes of the deepest depths.