Other branches of the Anglican Communion have already gone through this turmoil: Do we replace the traditional Book of Common Prayer? And those who have know the arguments pro and con. The Anglican Church of Canada has already sought a compromise, and brought out the big green Book of Alternative Services a couple of decades ago. But the little red book is still used in many churches, and it is normative for the church, even if many parishes just don’t use it.
The biggest issue is whether we give up the pseudo-Elizabethan language. Honestly, this is just the hot button; that is not the real issue. The mock-Elizabethan is not good Elizabethan. It reinforces a false piety in some people, that we need a special language to talk to and about God. Now, I use Plain speech sometimes, and like it, but it is only appropriate among Quakers and when I want to give someone a good stern talking-to. It sounds serious.
Didn’t we just hear about the disciples receiving the Spirit and running out in the streets speaking the Good News in many vernaculars? Sounds like the Holy Spirit is there with us when we talk to people in a language they know.
But language is not the real issue. The real issue is the theology of the “old book” versus the “new book.” The Book of Common Prayer is a theology of repentence; the Book of Alternative Services is a theology of salvation. The old is “Forgive us our sins” and the new is “Alleluia!”
To everything there is a season. Honestly, though, we aren’t done with repentence. I believe we need to confess and repent more than ever. Turning from repentence too soon is a way of hiding from our sin and complicity. The quick and easy corporate confession allows no room for personal and private reflection. (This is also true of the traditional prayer books – there isn’t much emphasis on holding our shortcomings before God.) Some modern Orthodox prayer books have long liturgies of self-examination and confession, and we in the Anglican Church really need these right now. We are too often the power people, the dominating culture, and power and dominance are always grounds for temptation to sin. Anglicans need to learn humility, corporately and individually.
The emphasis on “Alleluia” before repentence, confession and penance has lead, along with the culture of self-esteem, to the promotion of our individual skills and arrogances. I do not want to hear applause in a church! I see way too much promotion of performance – choral and solo singing, preaching, and liturgical presentation as a form of entertainment. The church is not in competition with cultural entertainment; it is an antidote to the passive, please-me selfishness of society.
A new prayer book will have to be balanced between confession and praise, I believe. It doesn’t matter if it ever includes mock-Elizabethan; that is just a red herring. What matters is how it presents our relationship to God. I think we need less liturgical form, rather than a whole new variety. Let’s shut up for a while and listen to the Holy Spirit.
For it matters more what we do outside the church throughout the week than what we do in church on Sunday morning. God knows us through our work, not our words.