Worship, Gospel, and the Book of Common Prayer

photo: Lindsay Harris via your-cathedral.org

Thou movest us to delight in praising Thee; for Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee.   

St. Augustine, Confessions

What Is Worship?

For Christians, worship is our response to God’s grace and redeeming act of sacrifice on the cross on our behalf.  It is our imperfect attempt to glorify Him who is most deserving of our praise, affection, love, and devotion.

Worship is core to the human experience.  Some cultural forces trivialize worship, but worship is an intrinsic characteristic of human life, and always has been.  Christian worship holds to the central biblical narrative: we were made to worship God, but through the entrance of sin into God’s created order, we now most love to worship anything else.  God, in an overwhelming act of compassion and grace, sent his Son Jesus to suffer the penalty of sin on our behalf.  Because of his perfect sacrifice, our hearts are free again to worship Him who is most deserving of our praise.

With that basic understanding of worship in place, we can now focus attention on the particular form of worship found in the Book of Common Prayer.

Why Use A Book Of Common Prayer?

The Anglican church liturgy is found in the Book of Common Prayer, initially written by Thomas Cranmer during the English Reformation.  “Liturgy” is simply the customs and practices employed in corporate worship.  All churches adhere to some form of liturgy–it is “what we do” when we gather for worship.  For some churches and denominations, the liturgy is explicit and specific; for others, it is more loosely defined.  The Anglican liturgy is based largely on scripture and practices of the early church in the centuries immediately following Jesus’s death and resurrection.  While no form of worship is perfect, Anglican worship is buttressed by foundational truths that ensure consistent focus on glorifying God alone:

1. The Anglican liturgy provides proper perspective.  

Even though we have been redeemed in Christ and have been given new life in Him, while we live in a world ravaged by sin we must recognize the effects sin has on us.  Our sinful desire to worship anything but God remains a constant temptation. In every aspect, Anglican worship is designed for us to properly recognize God’s overwhelming, comprehensive love for us, and our overwhelming need to receive it.  From the order of events during worship, to the various components of worship, to the words said together and on our behalf, Anglican worship drives us to our knees as we recognize the lavish love God has chosen to display for his people.  

While the condition of our heart and the seasonality of our emotions may at times evoke a reaction to what in those moments feels like a rigid and uncompromising worship structure, our worship is designed to reflect the steadfast source of our faith, not the current state of our emotions.  Our moods change, but our faith as reflected in worship remains constant and alive.

As our minds are placed in proper perspective and as our hearts are placed in check, Anglican worship also reminds us of our need for each other. Jesus called us to himself so that we together may be the body of Christ on earth. Various elements of our worship remind us of the roles that we are called to play in each other’s lives as we work together to form the body of Christ here on earth.

2. The Anglican liturgy spurs growth in discipleship.  

Personal growth in any area of life begins with focus and discipline: focus to maintain course and discipline to maintain momentum in that direction.  Anglican worship is based on scripture and the historic practices of Christians from the church’s foundation.  As described by the Anglican Church in North America in To Be A Christian: An Anglican Catechism, “The Book of Common Prayer is saturated with the Bible, organizing and orchestrating the Scriptures for worship. It leads the Church to pray in one voice with order, beauty, deep devotion, and great dignity.”  

Anyone who engages with Anglican liturgy must also engage the gospel message, which reveals the very heart of God himself.  From the creeds to the prayers, from the songs to the sermon, the gospel of Jesus is proclaimed, and thus our hearts are formed in worship by its life-giving power.  The Anglican liturgy seeks to engage you with many and varied ways of participation so that you too may be formed by the gospel. In this way, worship in the Anglican tradition develops in us both an ability to maintain focus on God and a disciplined pattern of conduct to glorify his name in all that we do.

The Church Transcends Time

As the ACNA explains in To Be A Christian, “The Holy Scriptures teach me how to worship God, and the Church’s liturgy guides my worship in keeping with the Scriptures.”  While no worship is perfect, we find Anglican worship compelling because of its roots in the historic church, it’s dependence on Scripture, and its focus on engaging the heart of the worshiper with the truth of the gospel.  It is by no means the only form of worship, but it is one that has been tried and tested for centuries. As we gather for worship each Sunday, we do so standing on the shoulders of those who worshiped before us, those who knew the truth of the gospel and sought to pass that truth along to the generations to come.  As they have done before, so we now seek in our worship to fix our eyes on Christ, “the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). To God be the glory!

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