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Saviour or Savant? : Liturgy at Lambeth

Where Presbyterians have the Westminster Confession and the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical churches a “Doctrinal Basis”, Anglicans have a combination of the Thirty Nine Articles and two liturgical documents, the Book of Common Prayer and the Ordinal.


The three are read together - the Prayer Book and the Ordinal set out as public services what is stated in the Articles.


Anglicans also love a bit of Latin, and the classic expression of this idea is, “Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi”, a phrase that goes back to the fifth century theologian, the wonderfully named, St Prosper of Aquitaine. The phrase means “the law of prayer is the law of belief”, or very loosely, “what we pray is what we believe”. If you want to know what Anglicans believe - then simply listen to the liturgy of their services. How Anglicans worship is their main form of theological authority.


It was hard not to think of St Prosper, and indeed Thomas Cranmer during the Lambeth Conference Service held at Canterbury Cathedral on Sunday.


Arguably, Cranmer’s greatest achievement was to embed in the original BCP the key reformation doctrine of justification by faith alone. Salvation came not by good deed but only because “Almighty God, our heavenly Father” out of “tender mercy” gave his,

“...only Son Jesus Christ to suffer death upon the Cross for our redemption; who made there (by his one oblation of himself once offered) a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world…”


Anglicans have rejoiced in these words, said just before the elements of Holy Communion are blessed, for over 450 years. Such truths, of course, are amongst those for which Cranmer was martyred.


His beautiful, powerful and enduring words were not used by the Archbishop of Canterbury on Sunday.


Instead, the congregation were offered a “liturgy” which emanated from the “Primates Task Group” appointed after the 2016 Primates’ Gathering. This was the Gathering after which the Episcopal Church of the USA were supposedly put on the “naughty step”,[1] but instead their Primate was appointed to the group). Apparently, they requested, the International Anglican Liturgical Consultation (IALC) to prepare common liturgical resources, including a Eucharistic Prayer, which can be used at international gatherings whenever Anglicans from more than one Province are together”.


The “resources” were “endorsed” at the Primates’ Meeting in Jordan, in January 2020. Whether they’ve otherwise seen the light of day is not clear.


This is what finally emerged for the edification of the faithful in Canterbury from the attempt to sanction those who had “torn the fabric of the communion”,

“It is right for your children by adoption and grace to give you thanks and praise, everlasting God, source of life and holiness, through Jesus Christ our Lord. He was born as one of us, and came to live and serve, to teach and heal, and to draw us to communion with you. He gave up his life for us, and was lifted up on the cross to draw all people to himself. And now we give you thanks because you gather your children throughout the world to be one, even as you, Father, are one with your Son and the Holy Spirit…”.


For sure it is not the poetry of the BCP but is much more pernicious than that. In order to declare that light and darkness have fellowship, it seems to have been necessary to no longer declare the death of Christ as sacrificial, substitutionary, sufficient, satisfaction for sin. Instead, Jesus died to draw and gather everyone to himself and each other. What was all about sinners’ unavoidable need of Christ becomes all about Christ’s intense desire to for his “children” throughout the world to be united.


Those “messages”, as the modern world like to say, are not the same. To the extent that they in any way incorporate each other a preference was made for Christ as the one who unifies humanity rather than Christ as one saves sinners.


It is a telling preference - is humanity’s fundamental problem alienation from each other or alienation from God? And which is it that is celebrated in the Eucharist?


It is said that the divide at the Lambeth Conference is about sexuality - it isn’t. The divide is about whether we are first and foremost a world of wretched sinners in need of a saviour or warring siblings in need of a savant.


And how do we know that is the real issue? Because Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi.

[1] It was determined that, “For a period of three years The Episcopal Church no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and that while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, they will not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity”.

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