Saturday, November 1, 2014

Anglicans Ablaze: Reformation Day and the English Reformation

Anglicans Ablaze: Reformation Day and the English Reformation

Thursday, September 4, 2014

It's A Good Thing To Have An Obsession Regarding Sin

It is true.  Early Anglicans were obsessed with sin.

Each regular service from the Prayer Book is introduced by a recitation of  "sentences" that remind the Christian of his unworthiness.  Then follows a notification of God's "sundry" demands that we confess our manifold unworthiness resulting from sins which can not be hid from Him and which remain impediments to worship if not at first repented of.  And so Anglicans are instructed to make an oral confession of sin whose clarity and precision is unequaled in Christendom:  
ALMIGHTY and most merciful Father; We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare thou them, O God, who confess their faults. Restore thou them that are penitent; According to thy promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesu our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake; That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of thy holy Name. Amen.
Then follows a liturgical "absolution" or remission of sins before finally the congregation is permitted to move on to the next part of the service.  Most modern Anglicans at this point are ready to say "enough is enough", that it's time for the more pleasant aspects of worship. Indeed the service from here does move on to praises, thanksgivings, catechisms, creeds and prayers, but it does NOT leave the concern for sin behind.  Its dealing with sin has really only just begun.

There are reading from the Psalms, new testament and old testament which more often than not contain further accountings and explanations of our sin nature. Then there are the two separate readings of the Lord's Prayer where we say "Forgive us our trespasses...", and various responses in which we say "Shew thy mercy upon us" and "make clean our hearts within us",  plus canticles and readings such as the "Te Deum" or the "Deus Miseratur" where we encounter God's displeasure with our sin again, and again, and again.

According to the Book of Common Prayer, a proper Anglican is supposed to follow this "order of prayer" twice per day every day, and on Sundays the service (called Holy Communion) is extended to include a liturgical recitation of the Ten Commandments plus a very long sharply worded warning concerning the consequences of coming to the "Lord's Table" without having first repented.  If that's not enough, the Book of Common Prayer also calls us to recite the Litany three times per week and the Commination several times per year.  How many Anglicans have even heard these once in their entire lifetime?

There can be no doubt about the central characterizing theme of the Book of Common Prayer, but it has all been brushed to the side in modern times. Indeed, 'there is no health in us'. Apart from recognizing and following the Order as prescribed in the Book of Common Prayer, can anyone claim the "Anglican" label which first and foremost insisting that we are a people that owes its existence only to God's mercy? 

The modern church sees the early Anglicans' concern with sin not as a good thing but as unhealthy, unnecessary, and obsessive.  In reply, we might well say that without such an obsession toward sin, the Reformation and all the other historical uprisings of spiritual power would have been impossible.  God honors the humble and confounds the proud, and yet most western Anglicans today are in denial concerning their sin nature.  They have rewritten the Prayer Book without this priority, and they have ceased to follow the daily Order that once was seen as necessary.

Cranmer and his Reformed contemporaries (in both the Church of England and elsewhere) clearly believed that no matter how painful it is to enumerate and confess one's sins daily, it is important to do so.  God being merciful and trustworthy according to His sovereign election has put off His wrath sufficient to save us, but He calls us to remember our iniquities whenever we approach the 'throne of Grace', apart from which we have no life at all.