THE GOSPEL AND THE NEW PRAYER SERVICE
Now the Church of England has set out on a long, long trail of liturgical experiment. For perhaps two decades, if not more, the use of alternatives to Prayer Book services is going to be a feature of Anglican life. The idea is to give new services a thorough trial, so ensuring that decisions about them will not be hasty.
Play Our Part
In this project all must share. Fine as our Prayer Book is, it has not been touched for three hundred years, and it would be absurd to claim there is no case for change. Some, the present writer among them (see Tomorrow’s Worship), hoped revision would be handled differently; none, however, should stand aloof from what is now happening. New services are being offered us, and we are all responsible for making an assessment of them.
Clearly, questions must be asked about their verbal form. Are they plain? forceful? dignified? neat? flabby? Complicated, unclear services will not do. But the basic question is: will they implement the biblical ideal of worship in spirit and truth (John 4:24)? That is primarily a question of content. From this standpoint, the acid test of whether new services are fit to replace our 1662 forms is a double one.
They should not contain less of the Gospel than 1662 does.
Our present services set forth the Gospel in two ways. First, they take us into the world of the Gospel the world of spiritual reality, in which God’s wrath and mercy, man’s sin and salvation, the atonement, God’s promises, remission of sins, union with Christ, new birth, the war with Satan, the Spirit’s ministry, and the hope of glory, are the main facts on which to focus. The 1662 services are full of these things. Second, they embody both the content of the Gospel and the experience it evokes by constant use of the sin-grace-faith sequence of themes as a structural principle. Evangelically, Prayer Book services are rich, and if new services are to be acceptable they must be no less rich.
New services should contain more of the Gospel than 1662 does.
This is possible! Stronger notes of joy in Christ’s victory and the Christian hope, for instance, and more stress on the prospect of Christ’s return, would make our already rich services richer still, and new services supplying this lack without loss in other directions would be most welcome.
Do the services recently proposed for experiment meet these specifications? Hardly, (see Towards a Modern Prayer Book, ed. R. T. Beckwith). What a pity this is! It must be hoped that church people everywhere will see, and say, that new services, whatever their other merits, remain sub-standard till they equal and, indeed, outdo 1662 in presenting worshippers with the Gospel.