Project Canterbury

The Needs of the Age Respecting the Public Worship of Our Church

[no author]

New York: [no publisher], 1873.

The divisions of Christendom for the past thousand years, as they have afforded the heathen systems peaceful possession of their own lands, and Mohammedanism an attractive opportunity for sweeping away some of the fairest parts of the heritage of Christ, have also indicated a fearful prevalence of disease, and consequent weakness, in the Christian Church. And it has been the exalted privilege of the English branch of the catholic Church to remove the corruptions which through human frailty had crept into the body and preyed upon its life and strength, and to restore the Church to its primitive purity of doctrine, and to revive that simple form of worship, of which the holy Apostles had set the pattern.

But although the difficult work of purifying and reforming the Church of the whole English people was at first accomplished with remarkable unanimity, her peace was soon disturbed by controversies: discontent soon ripened into open dissent. And although the Church of England was enabled to preserve the unity of her organization, she has been for three hundred years beset with the opposition of rival bodies of her dissenting children, who, though nurtured in her bosom, have presented an attitude of hostility toward her. Her authority has been disowned by half of her people; and it must also be confessed that her hold upon the mass of her own conforming members has ever been but feeble.

[4] In the primitive days of the Church sects arose and separated from her, because in doctrine and discipline they were essentially alien elements and could not be assimilated to the catholic body. But such was not the case with most of the English Dissenters. They have ever adhered with persistent fidelity to the great fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith as confessed by the Church of England. And although most of the fierce controversies which raged two or three centuries ago, gathered around questions of ecclesiastical polity and discipline, it may safely be affirmed that the primitive system of ecclesiastical regimen, which the Church of England strove to restore and revive in its main outlines, would have aroused no such opposition and hostility, had that system of regimen been actualized free from the political complications of the times, and from the divers accretions entailed from feudal institutions. The Church became identified with the civil policy of the Stuarts, and in that bitter strife the Puritan party became the irreconcilable adversaries of the Church. And although the sharpest contention was often waged about the most trifling points of order and discipline, the real causes of disaffection lay hidden beneath these historical phenomena. The Church of England failed to satisfy the spiritual needs of the English people. These spiritual needs not being satisfied, the discontent thereby engendered was expressed in dissent or actual separation from the Church. There can be no doubt but that almost every dissenting society arose out of some fault, defect, or abuse in the Church; and that the Church, had she been in a state of natural health and strength, would have amended the fault, and supplied the defect, and corrected the abuse complained of, instead of being depleted and weakened by the expulsion of so many energetic members. And it may be borne in mind that it is some times the most enlightened who most clearly detect faults, the most earnest who most keenly feel defects, the most religious [4/5] who most painfully deplore abuses. Certainly the dissent of such men as Owen, Howe, Baxter and Doddridge cannot be attributed altogether to ignorance, self-will, or perversity. When a divine so learned, so large so deeply religious as Howe, separated from the Church because he was convinced that under her system he could not feed and edify his flock as he was in duty bound to do, we may conclude that there is some reason for doubting whether the Church's system was as catholic as her doctrine, without casting the whole blame either upon the Dissenters or upon the chief pastors who at that time administered her affairs. We may suspect that there may have been bands which oppressed and hampered the spirits of not a few high and noble champions of the faith.

And we cannot contemplate the sad spectacle of a great orthodox church lying in death-like lethargy amid a nation fast lapsing into general infidelity, immorality, and forgetfulness of God, as was the condition of England in the last century, without painful misgivings. When the great Wesley, fired with an apostolic zeal and moved with the purest love of saving souls, traversed the whole land preaching repentance, seeking the lost, and dispensing to the neglected and the offcast the priceless riches of God's grace; and when he had awakened so many thousands from the death of sin to a new life,--was all that great rich harvest of souls gathered together and garnered in the church? No, they were formed into a separate organization to swell the ranks of dissent, alienated from the church. Yet Wesley lived and died a faithful and devoted priest of the English Church. Shall we cast the whole responsibility of that schism upon the bishops and rectors of the establishment? These her own neglected children, now converted by the Preaching of her own priest and brought to her very door, she was unable to embrace and keep in her fold. She was not able to mould and guide and govern that multitude of human beings seething with [5/6] religious fervor. Under her system she could not assimilate them, and thus mightily increase her own strength and promote her own health and vigor. We now recall to your mind Lord Macaulay's celebrated passage respecting the English Church's method of dealing with enthusiasts. Let us learn wisdom by experience.

Thus, we see great religious movements initiated in the Church, and calculated to work most beneficent results, and wield a tremendous power, restrained and stifled and blighted by some influence or other, and rendered alien and hostile to the Church, and permitted to increase the confusions and divisions of the Christian profession. A living branch of the true catholic Church of Christ ought to be equally adapted to the needs and aspirations of every class of men, ought to have within her self the power to guide and govern all, ought to be able out of the fulness of divine life inherent in her to appropriate to her own growth and her own development every energy of religious zeal.

From the first beginning of the Reformation to the present, it has been the steadfast policy of the Established Church to secure and enforce uniformity,--a uniformity of discipline and the ritual of worship. While great laxity was permitted with respect to doctrine, one stringent rule regulating public worship was ordained for the whole kingdom, and its invariable use made obligatory upon all. Under the reign of King Charles II., this policy culminated in the notorious "Act of Uniformity," the enforcement of which occasioned the ejection of two thousand clergymen from their ecclesiastical offices, most of whom faith fully held and taught the doctrine of the Established Church, who could not, however, conform to the rules and regulations by law established. And the non-conformists became a hostile and embittered sect. The records of the Ecclesiastical Courts testify the continual struggles within the establishment itself against these same regulations.

[7] And after all these bitter strifes and destructive battles, involving such heavy losses, has uniformity been attained? Has the English Church succeeded in securing "oneness of form?" Uniformity is only a means to an end; it is presumed to be the means of securing unity of faith, and of binding men's affections in one bond of love. Oneness of outward form is desirable only so far as it is the means of promoting these worthy objects. How far the enactment and enforcement of such Levitical statutes and restrictions as that Act of Uniformity were consistent with the original charter of the Christian Church we will not undertake to decide; but we do affirm that it failed to secure uniformity, while it occasioned the evils of permanent separations. There was a more real uniformity among the Christian people of England in the middle ages, when each diocese enjoyed the unrestrained right of celebrating the Holy Eucharist after the use of Sarum or York, or Lincoln, or Hereford, or Bangor, according to its own choice, and when each religious house fulfilled its daily office of praise and prayer in forms determined by its own will, than there was when it was ordained by royal authority that "now from henceforth all the whole realm shall have but one use." After the non-conformists were turned out of their livings, it may be doubted whether all the conforming clergy conformed to the statute that "all priests and deacons are to say daily the Morning and Evening Prayer either privately or openly." And although the very same words may have been uttered in every parish in the kingdom at the same hour on every Sunday, it is manifest that for two hundred years there have been very striking differences in the methods of celebrating divine service, which have ever been expressive of divergencies in doctrine far more radical than existed between Hooker and Owen. These ritual expressions have ever been party badges, bones of contention, subjects of costly litigation, and topics of inveterate animosity and dissension. All these [7/8] legal enactments to secure uniformity have failed to conform the nation to one consistent form of faith, or to mould them to one type of religious life. The conforming and plastic power must. work from within outwardly, and not from without inwardly.

It has generally been the prime endeavor of the catholic Church to secure unity of faith; and from this oneness of doc trine has followed as a natural consequence such oneness of forms of worship as was desirable. The general tendency has been toward uniformity without legal constraint. In the primitive Church each bishop determined the form of worship used in his own diocese, and the divers forms used in the Church Catholic in all essential points, grew into a uniformity according as there was agreement in doctrine. The shell protects the kernel, but without the kernel the shell is of little worth. Even if it were attainable, it is very doubtful whether an outward uniformity be a desirable boon to the Church. The forms suited to kings and nobles may not always fit the common people. The forms adapted to one age may not meet the exigencies of an other age. They sometimes grow old like a garment. They are not designed to bandage an embalmed mummy, but are the useful vesture of the living and energetic body of the Risen Lord, who is clothed with glorious apparel and is girded with power. While the effort to make all things uniform may tend to bring all natures to a dead level, it may depress the higher without elevating the lower. Divers men may differ in shape of feature, in dimension of body, in expression of countenance, and yet bear the image of God; and spiritual men may be transformed by the renewing of their minds to the likeness of a Lord, who is of infinite perfection, without being pressed into the rigid mould of an outward uniformity. Forms must be outward expressions of inner realities; in order that they may be means of edification and blessing, they must be truthful indices, otherwise they are deteriorating and deadening to the souls of men. And if [8/9] the Church will fulfil her divine mission in this sinful world, she must use such forms as are adapted to the exigencies of each age and country, and are capable of being competent vehicles to convey her priceless treasures of infinite truth to the souls of men, and of being also adequate expressions of their heaven ward aspirations and affections to God.

But our concern is with the American Church. The venerable Mother Church of England has transmitted to her an Apostolic Ministry and Order, and has handed down to her the blessed inheritance of Divine Truth in all its primeval purity, illustrated and fortified by the learning and piety of her great divines. But with this inestimable heritage are entailed the encumbrances and complications which have oppressed and distracted and crippled the Mother Church for three centuries. The same animosities and prejudices assail her from without, and the same party strifes agitate her within, while at the same time she has neither the strength nor dimensions of the mother. In the eyes of the world she does not stand in the same commanding attitude as the ancient Church of England by law established. Amid a babel of sectarian confusion, she, feeble in strength, weak in resources, small in numbers, claims to be the true. branch of the Holy Catholic Church on this American Continent, and aims to gather into her fold the great population of this vast Western Empire. To do this she must in very deed make good her claims; she must in very deed show her will and her strength to conquer and to rule.

What beautiful garments of praise must she put on! What holy fires of heavenly devotion and zeal must burn continuously upon the altar of her heart! What sweet-smelling odor o spiritual incense must ever ascend from her lips! What costly sacrifice must she daily offer to her Redeemer in His holy temple! With what unction of holiness must she shine! What a glorious light of spiritual knowledge and wisdom, what a [9/10] brightness of the Divine Presence must she shed upon the house of the living God! She must in very truth become the living and holy Church of Christ, filled with the light and glory of God, ere the forces of the Gentiles, gathered together on this continent, shall come to her, and bring gold and incense, and show forth the praises of the Lord. Not by controversy or argument, not by logical evidences of Christianity or acute demonstration of Apostolic succession, but by the sword of the Spirit and the power of prayer, by the beauty of holiness and the strength of truth, shall she build the old wastes, raise up the former desolations, and repair the desolations of many generations. She must be really true, truly holy, religiously apostolic, and thoroughly catholic, or else she will never heal these lamentable wounds which now spill her life-blood, and never correct these humiliating divisions, on account of which she now sits in the dust mourning.

Are we so fond as to imagine that the policy which was the occasion of opening the dread chasm, will be the means of drawing together its cloven sides, now hardened by time? That the forms which were inadequate to cement together the walls and bulwarks, will now suffice to build up and repair and consolidate, when the materials are more intractable and unwieldy? Do we think that a daughter's loyalty consists in her wearing garments of the same shape, dimension and material, as her mother? And is the fidelity of the American Church to her mother determined by her repetition of the same precise words at her public worship? Does ecclesiastical unity consist in identity of forms, or sameness of words? Does it not rather consist in spiritual and divine realities, in fidelity to unchangeable verities? Does it not essentially consist in the belief and confession of that immutable truth revealed by the Incarnate Son of God, and in the steadfast maintenance of Apostolic Order?

If the forms of the English Church were inadequate to the [10/11] spiritual needs of the English people, is it to be presumed that they will satisfy the wants of a people gathered out of all nations on earth? If they failed to hold together that one people in one spiritual household, is it reasonable to suppose that they will now suffice in this land to draw together and mould into one shape a nation distracted by sectarian divisions, and educated under alien influences? But, if the forms of the English Church were adapted to the English people three hundred years ago, it does not follow that they are adapted to the wants of the American people now, in this age. The American Church has inherent in her as a National Church, that power of ordering her own rites, as was exercised by the Mother Church at the Reformation. And indeed she is under the necessity of so doing, to meet the exigencies of the peculiar circumstances in which she is placed.

It was the task of the English Church. to keep her own, it is the task of the American Church to recover the multitudes sprung of those lost by the Mother Church; to assuage the animosities, correct the errors, and heal the wounds that arose out of the religious strifes of England. It is unnecessary to depict the deplorable condition of things in this great country, and the tremendous work and responsibility incumbent on the Church; each true-hearted Christian knows too well the burden. Several hundred sects as complaisant candidates canvassing for popular favor, while infidelity presents a bold front! The vast fabric of a new civilization reared in a new country, and not moulded by the principles of the Christian faith! By the power of God, the Church must win this vast empire for Christ. It is manifest that she must put forth every energy, utilize every resource, exert her whole strength; her work must be administered by wisdom, her operations be directed by some intelligent oversight; and a stop put to the present prodigal waste of her strength. But most especially must she develop her forms [11/12] of worship. She must give scope for natural growth. She must allow the trunk to develop into branches, and the branches to blossom and bring forth goodly fruit. She must remove the bandage of a rigid uniformity. She must be edified, not straitened; edification not destruction! development not uniformity. There is no Church in all Christendom which has been so hampered and bound in her public worship with rigid and unbending rules, so incapable of adaptation to divers times and circumstances. The living and growing body of the Church is swaddled in the bands of stringent and unchanging ritual enactments. Generation after generation, age after age, all her members must at every act of common worship utter precisely the same words, precisely the same number of words, in precisely the same order. Whether God's people be thereby edified or not, her clergy are obligated by solemn oath to conform strictly to this unchangeable letter of the law, or they subject them selves to the possible penalty of degradation from the sacred ministry. A priest of the Church charged with the care of souls by a higher authority than canon law, bound to edify them in the knowledge and love of God is not permitted to gather his flock into God's house for worship and instruction on a week day, unless he utters all those words by law established, without any deviation whatever from the prescribed order; if he does so, he becomes a breaker of the law, and subjects himself to penal discipline. His commission as a priest of God is thus to a large extent made void. He is distrusted by the very Church who sends him forth to feed her sheep. He is inhibited by law from offering any other than the seven or eight prescribed prayers, and he is not permitted with his people to praise God in the inspired words of Isaiah, Mary, or Simeon, or to join the adoring hosts of heaven in the words recorded by the Apostle John.

Forms of worship were made for man, and not man for forms [12/13] of worship. Edification is not an uprooting of foundations, but a building up of the superstructure upon the firm and immovable foundations of Catholic Truth and Order.

All persons being baptized under one form, and rightly made members of Christ under the same conditions, and entitled to the same privileges, they are gathered into one fold and are pledged to receive that food and nurture which will promote their growth in grace. And being found worthy, they are admitted to the Holy Communion of the Body and Blood of Christ, which is both a most heavenly Feast and the highest act of worship which the faithful here on earth render to the Most High God. As a participation in this Communion is an unspeakable privilege to each true Christian, the form in which he presents this Eucharistic service is a most grand and sublime homage to the Majesty of God. And it may be confidently, yet humbly affirmed, that no branch of the catholic Church celebrates this high Eucharist under so perfect a form as the American Church. And at the same time this sacred office is replete with rich and varied exhibitions of divine truth in its apt provisions of Collect and Epistle and Gospel for every Sunday and Festival, to edify the worshippers and also fitly express their devotion. And it may be asserted that the sacramental offices of the American Church, particularly that of the Holy Communion, are most worthy exponents of the Christian faith as held from the beginning by the Holy Catholic Church, and most competently satisfy the exigencies of all men at all times.

But it is not so with respect to the order for Daily Morning and Evening Prayer; to which alone all our remarks have reference. It does not fully exhibit all the phases of Christian truth according to the course of the seasons of the Christian Year, nor does it fully satisfy the spiritual needs of our time and country. Nor do we suppose it possible for one unvarying office to fulfil the varied purposes, as now required. And now we state explicitly [13/14] what we plead for. We ask that the use of divers offices of Public Worship may be permitted in the Church on Weekdays; and that after they have thus been used for a time, and their fitness and truthfulness tested by experience, the lawful authorities of the Church may determine whether their use shall be further permitted or else discontinued. We also state what are the offices needed. It is manifest that the Evening Office should not be a repetition of the Morning, but should be a distinct Office; and that, as many Parishes hold three services on each Sunday, there should be a Third Office. But inasmuch as no one Office, however comprehensive or elastic, will suffice to bring out in bold relief the great events celebrated, or the great verities taught, by the Church at each succeeding season, it is necessary that there should be a distinct office for each season of the Christian Year.

Moreover, we ask that this vesture may be woven of divinely inspired fibre; and that out of the priceless treasures embedded in the utterances of prophets and apostles, this clothing may be of wrought gold. We ask that the Church may be permitted without let to set forth the praise and glorify the truth of God in the very words indited by the Spirit in Holy Scripture, with all the fulness and magnificence suitable to her devout acknowledgment of the boundless blessings of the grace bestowed on her by her Lord; and that she may be suffered to offer her petitions, declare her wants, express her holiest affections, and utter her heavenly aspirations to the God who sits upon the throne of grace, hearkening to the voice of His faithful people, in the words of those many Prayers of the Ages, which are the precious and common heritage of the catholic Church, and which succinctly speak the hearty desires of all true Christian people at all times and in all places.

Shall the deepest plaint of penitential sorrow and the joyful outburst of Hallelujah be forever uttered in one unvaried [14/15] monotone, by a living church that hath a human voice? When she stands before the Cross of her Redeemer, and witnesses His awful Passion, and laments at. the amazing pangs and woes of the adorable Lamb of God endured for her salvation, shall she be forbidden to utter the pathos of her love and devotion? Shall she be forbidden at that time to supplicate in solemn Litany for each particular gift of the beauteous graces that then beamed forth from the dying Lord? And when the dawn of Easter-day revives the memories of a Risen Lord, shall the Church be re strained from venting her joy, that Christ is risen, He is risen? May she not then worthily celebrate His glorious Resurrection? May she not then exultingly adore the Mighty King, who hath overcome death and victoriously trampled down the powers of Satan? And when her ears are intently open to hear the words of Peace from the lips of the Great Shepherd of the sheep, whom the God of Peace bath raised from the dead, shall the words of a Lenten Exhortation be thrust upon her lips, and a law forbid her to pray for any other of the heavenly gifts which come to us through the Resurrection of Christ, than that "He may put into our minds good desires and enable us to bring the same to good effect?" Shall our ordinary daily service blend into a dreary uniformity all the Christian seasons distinctly marked by our office of the Holy Communion? Shall the warmth and glow of the Pentecostal Fire be quenched, that all men may speak the wonderful works of God in one tongue and in the same words?

But it is said, "there is danger in change, and if change once begin, where will it end?" There is danger in change. The Militant Church cannot escape danger. "She must walk warily in times of, quiet, and boldly in times of trouble," for manifold perils ever beset her. She struggles in a world which is at enmity with God and lying in wickedness, against the mighty principalities of the devil. She is in danger amid the fierce wrestle and the din of battle, and she is in no less danger amid [15/16] the sweet calm of grateful repose. Sleep under the spell of benumbing cold is a sure prelude to death. The delusive security she enjoys under the patronage of an earthly Caesar is a greater danger than the bloody persecution of a Diocletian. She is endued with faith and with courage, in order that she may bravely confront the danger and conquer. "If the bands of uniformity be once unloosed, there is danger of the abuse of liberty." There is. But the bandage which at one time holds together and protects, may at another strangle the very life. The Church is a living body, with vital organs which perform their appointed functions, assimilating the good and casting off the evil. The Church has Doctors to defend the faith, and Bishops to govern and administer and execute. If Bishops be verily successors of the Apostles, have they not power to with stand the heretical and the wicked? And have we not a most finely adjusted system for trying and condemning and punishing those clergyman who offend by word against the law? And shall it be forever that the watchful guardianship of our Mother Jerusalem over her freeborn Sons shall so largely consist in a strict exaction of verbal conformity to literal rules, while weightier matters are neglected? Nay. The City of God must be edified, though the enemy lay in ambush, and though her vigilant workmen be compelled to labor with the weapons of warfare in their hands. Jerusalem shall be garnished with all manner of precious stones, whose divers shapes and hues make her lofty towers shine with resplendent glory. Let my soul bless God the great king, for Jerusalem shall be built up with sapphires and emeralds, and precious stone; her walls and towers and battlements with pure gold. And the streets of Jerusalem shall be paved with beryl and carbuncle, and stones of Ophir; and her streets shall say, Alleluia, and they shall praise Him, saying, Blessed be God, who hath extolled her for ever.

Project Canterbury