ACNA’s Theological Lens

The Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) issued The Apostle, which looks to be their annual report; you can download it at this link. Inside the report, in a section titled “Prayerbook & Common Liturgy,” Bishop Bill Thompson discusses the work of the Prayer Book and Common Liturgy Task Force on revising the liturgy. He mentions something called “the Theological Lens”:

…we authored what we have called our “Theological Lens.” This document has become our guide for all of the liturgies that we will author. It has been approved by our College of Bishops and the Provincial Council of the church.

Somewhat disconcertingly, this important document cannot seem to be located anywhere publicly. We can only guess at its contents when Bishop Thompson says:

As we have noted in the “Theological Lens,” we want to have the liturgies of the church be rooted in the tradition of our Anglican heritage while also being accessible to both long-time Anglicans and those new to the tradition. The liturgies that we produce will not be innovative but clearly founded in the historic Anglican Prayer Book tradition.

Something this important should really be available for everyone to see. I can’t think of any reason to keep it hidden. It doesn’t engender faith in the process if these things aren’t available. There is nothing inherently wrong with another Prayer Book revision, but given the theological proclivities of some in ACNA, such a revision could be prove to be divisive.

Further gleanings from the Lens can be found from a review of the Theological Lens written by the Reverend Gavin Dunbar of the Prayer Book Society, located here. However, Dunbar was reviewing an earlier draft of the “Lens,” so the final version may be very different. What follows are the apparent excerpts from the first version of the document as provided by Rev. Dunbar:

The Initial Report of the Prayer Book and Common Liturgy Task Force

An expanded explanation of our guiding principles [for prayer book revision] (pp 2-5),

Section I – III Anglican Worship

(pp 6-8)

Finally, it treats of the late modern developments which have undermined the “hegemony” of the Prayer Book: evangelical, catholic, charismatic, and “missional” agendas (about which little is said); modernization of liturgical language; the drives for inculturation and ecumenical convergence.

An “exegesis” of the six principles

the “expanded explanation” of these six “guiding principles” is found on pp.9- 10 where it is called

Sections I-III deal with the nature and purpose of worship

Section V The Holy Spirit and the Church

Section VI Scripture

Scripture is “God’s Word written, the authoritative witness to God’s saving words and deeds in the history of Israel”

Section VI.2

The Old Testament is “the record of the revelation of God’s interaction with the world and humankind, especially the people of Israel”…the New Testament is “an historical record of God’s presence among us in Jesus the Christ, and those who followed Jesus.”

“God’s directives for humankind,”

“how to behave toward God, our neighbors, and community.”

Section VII The Catholic Faith

The Bible “both convicts of our sin and provides guidance in fulfilling God’s will”.

Guiding Principles for Anglican Worship

The Report discerns six principles for Anglican liturgy in Anglican history: four of them identified by Cranmer’s “inspired genius under Divine Providence”; the fifth by modern liturgists (not similarly distinguished); and a sixth arising out of the experience of liturgical revision. These are:

The Liturgy should be:

  1. Grounded in Scripture

Holy Scripture must be the foundation of all Christian worship

A.3 …words and concepts, metaphors and images, used in common worship should be as close to direct quotations of the Holy Scriptures as is grammatically possible

  1. Respectful of the Tradition of the Undivided Church where this is not contradictory to Scripture

Tradition is to be carefully respected, especially the worship practices of the Undivided Church, as long as they do not contradict Scripture…the 16th-century Reformers attempted to return to the practices of the Early Church in their liturgical revision, but were hindered by a lack of primary resources…scholars today have much more direct access to the primary sources of the liturgies of the Undivided Church, and are not hindered (as much) by the polemics of the 16th century; therefore they can provide us with more authentic resources from which to draw for our contemporary liturgies.

  1. Edifying to the people – by using language and ceremonies “understood of the people”

Edification means that language must be understood by the congregation, and that the ceremonies should be correspondingly relevant to them…archaic language can become idolatrous if it gets in the way of common comprehension, or when it is valued more for its beauty than its content.

Language is constantly changing, only “dead” languages like Latin or Archaic [sic] Greek do not change because they are no longer spoken; therefore for a language to remain understandable it has to constantly “morph”, i.e. thee/thou used to be an intimate form of address, now it is only used in a formal manner towards a “distant” God.

  1. Permissive of cultural variation not contradictory to Scripture or Creeds

Ceremonies do not have to be identical across nationalities and cultures, but they must also not contradict Scripture or the Creeds…an important question for liturgists today is whether 16th-century English Court rituals are still appropriate for the informal and egalitarian society admired in the West.

D. 3 -whether the Church year should be revised to reflect the southern as well as northern universal calendar for all circumstances?

  1. Ecumenical rather than distinctively Anglican

Words and liturgical forms should correspond to what the catholic faith has always taught and practiced (i.e. Vincentian canon) and emphasize our closeness to other Christian Communions rather than our uniqueness (ecumenical convergence vs. ecclesial divergence.

  1. Evolutionary in development [rather than revolutionary (as in recent liturgical revision)]

Words and liturgical forms should show a continuity with the Church’s historic tradition; change and development should take place in a way that creativity and innovation do not undermine either the orthodoxy of the liturgy or confuse the piety of the people.

…the BCP and KJV “still resonate in modern British and American speech

Recommendations for the Immediate Future

Both [1928 and 1962] can become obstacles to modern comprehension because of their 16th century language and limited acknowledgment of new approaches to sacramental life. Since those who prefer Cranmerian language are already using either the BCP 1928 or the Anglican Service Book, there is no reason to publish yet another traditional language book.

…a Prayer Book for the ACNA “should be in modern language, with few variables, and closely relate to the classical BCP texts”…the 1979 BCP was a “self consciously revolutionary composition…with some redeeming characteristics.”

I’ve turned this into a PDF here.

Robin Jordan ably brought attention to the hidden nature of the document in his comments on Virtue Online here.

2 thoughts on “ACNA’s Theological Lens”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.