You have to admit Evensong is a beautiful form of prayer! Evening Prayer or vespers is the daily evening service of Bible readings and prayers prescribed in the Book of Common Prayer. I’ve really missed liturgical worship but I’m lucky in a way, the Baptist church I attend is almost 200 years old, and still uses a very old order of worship.
Maybe I’ll visit the local Anglican parish this weekend for communion.
In a study whose results he says will probably be controversial, a Canadian professor contends that theologically conservative mainline Protestant churches are more likely to grow while their liberal counterparts decline.
“It is clear that theological conservatism plays a role in distinguishing growing from declining mainline Protestant churches,” concludes Theology Matters: Comparing the Traits of Growing and Declining Mainline Protestant Church Attendees and Clergy, a paper to be published this month in the Review of Religious Research, an American scholarly journal.
The paper’s authors state that by “conservative,” they mean views that are typically held by conservative Protestants, such as a high regard for the authority of the Bible, a literal belief in teachings such as the deity and resurrection of Christ, and a belief that Christianity is true to the exclusion of other religions.
The article summarizes the results of a recent study done of 22 churches in southern Ontario, drawn from the Anglican Church of Canada, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, the Presbyterian Church in Canada and the United Church of Canada. Seeking to identify the possible reasons for growth and decline among mainline Protestant churches, the authors looked at both churches that had gained and lost congregants over the previous 10 years. It surveyed 2,255 regular attendants and 29 clergy on their theological views, religious practices and other matters; the study also involved interviews of clergy and selected congregants.
Lead author David Haskell, professor of religion and culture at Wilfrid Laurier University, and his team compared the survey results with whether the churches had been growing and declining, and identified a number of trends.
The features they found that tended to be most associated with growing churches, according to the paper, were, in order of importance: how churches used contemporary worship; their emphasis on youth programs; the theological conservatism of the clergy; and the theological conservatism of the parishioners.
Although theological conservatism actually came third and fourth on this list, the paper describes its importance as a predictor of church growth as the “most notable result” to emerge from the study. This, Haskell says, is because the authors conclude from the interviews they conducted that the first two factors were in some sense underlain by the second two.
The evangelical nature of conservative Protestant theology seemed to enjoin on these clergy and parishioners, he says, an unusually high desire to adopt practices—such as contemporary worship and youth programs—deemed more likely to attract new people.
“These people are willing to modify their services, be innovative in both their worship and in their youth programs because they are inspired by their doctrine to do so,” Haskell says. “If it means guitars and drums in church, then that’s going to happen. If it means a youth group that does paintball and then Bible study, then that’s going to happen.”
The survey found that both congregants and clergy of growing churches tended to score highly on a questionnaire intended to gauge their theological conservatism. For example, asked to agree or disagree with the statement, “Jesus rose from the dead with a real, flesh-and-blood body leaving behind an empty tomb,” 93 per cent of clergy and 83 per cent of parishioners from growing churches agreed, versus 56 per cent of clergy and 67 per cent of parishioners from declining churches. Asked to respond to the statement, “The beliefs of the Christian faith need to change over time to stay relevant,” 69 per cent of clergy from shrinking churches agreed, compared to zero per cent of clergy from growing churches.
David Haskell, professor of religion and culture at Wilfrid Laurier University and the author of Theology Matters. Photo: Contributed
Haskell’s paper acknowledges a 2014 report based on an 18-month survey of Church of England members, which claimed that theological orientation or “churchmanship” was an essentially insignificant predictor of church growth or decline. That paper argued that the prioritization of growth by clergy, a sense of clear mission and purpose among the congregation and an openness to change were more strongly associated with growing churches. But the Church of England study, Haskell says, suffered from some key flaws. Instead of surveying a large number of congregants, for example, it relied on answers posed only to a small number of “key informants.” And instead of attempting to gauge theological orientation by asking questions on specific points of belief, it asked respondents to locate where they stood on three scales—catholic vs. evangelical, liberal vs. conservative and charismatic vs. non-charismatic—a less reliable method, he says.
Even apart from the results of his study, Haskell says those who deny that church growth is linked to theological conservatism should ask themselves why evangelical churches have been growing in recent decades while mainline Protestant ones have been declining.
“You can say it’s not the theology, but you’d better be able to tell me what it is,” he says.
Dean Peter Elliott, of Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver, says the study will likely affect people differently depending on the assumptions they hold about the importance of congregation growth versus other factors, such as truth in church teaching and preaching.
Elliott sees in the theological conservatism presented in the study an emphasis on clarity and simplicity—traits that are likely to appeal to people but often come at the expense of deeper understanding, he says. He hopes the study won’t sway church leaders toward more simplistic teaching in a bid to fill pews.
“I don’t doubt their research, but where that leads me is asking the question, ‘So what?’ ” he says. “I worry sometimes that studies like this can be dispiriting to those of us for whom our practice of Christianity moves more in the gray areas rather than black and white, and that acknowledges the complexity of theological questions and invites thoughtful engagement with the Christian way rather than a sort of blind obedience.”
Christ Church Cathedral, often regarded as a liberal church, has seen its congregation grow significantly over the past 20 years, he says. Elliott attributes this growth at least partly to its liberal theology. People are drawn to Christ Church, he says, because it encourages “thoughtful engagement” with Christianity. “I think people feel that their intellects are respected—that their Christian journeys are ongoing through a life,” he says.
Canon Barry Parker, rector of St. Paul’s Bloor Street in Toronto—one of the growing churches that took part in the study—says he wasn’t surprised to learn of its results. They seem to support what he’s seen in Anglican and other churches in North America, he says.
Parker says St. Paul’s Bloor Street is theologically conservative in terms of its adherence to creeds and other historic elements of the faith, though not necessarily conservative in its application of ministry.
The conservativism of his church, Parker says, has more to do with focusing on what’s essential in the Christian message than providing clarity and simplicity for their own sake. People are drawn to this emphasis on the historic teachings of the church because they’re seeking sustenance from timeless truths, he says.
“I know some people criticize us, saying people want black or white in this chaotic age, but my experience is very different,” he says. “I think people are looking for hope, and meaning, and purpose—those three particular things—and they want it with content. They want to know that what they can believe can stand the test of time, and the test of life.”
John Calvin summaries, “our souls are fed by the flesh and blood of Christ in the same way that bread and wine keep and sustain physical life. For the analogy of the sign applies only if souls find their nourishment in Christ—which cannot happen unless Christ truly grows into one with us, and refreshes us by the eating of His flesh and the drinking of His blood.
Even though it seems unbelievable that Christ’s flesh, separated from us by such great distance, penetrates to us, so that it becomes our food, let us remember how far the secret power of the Holy Spirit towers above all our senses, and how foolish it is to wish to measure His immeasureableness by our measure. What, then our mind does not comprehend, let faith conceive: that the Spirit truly unites things separated in space.
Now, that sacred partaking of His flesh and blood, by which Christ pours His life into us, as if it penetrated into our bones and marrow, He also testifies and seals in the Supper—not by presenting a vain and empty sign, but by manifesting there the effectiveness of His Spirit to fulfil what He promises. And truly He offers and shows the reality there signified to all who sit at that spiritual banquet, although it is received with benefit by believers alone, who accept such great generosity with true faith and gratefulness of heart.
In this manner the Apostle said, “The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ?” (1 Cor 10:16; order changed). There is no reason for anyone to object that this is a figurative expression by which the name of the thing signified is given to the sign. I indeed admit that the breaking of bread is a symbol; it is not the thing itself. But, having admitted this, we shall nevertheless duly infer that by the showing of the symbol the thing itself is also shown. For unless a man means to call God a deceiver, he would never dare assert that an empty symbol is set forth by Him. Therefore, if the Lord truly represents the participation in His body through the breaking of bread, there ought not to be the least doubt that He truly presents and shows His body.And the godly ought by all means to keep this rule: whenever they see symbols appointed by the Lord, to think and be persuaded that the truth of the thing signified is surely present there. For why should the Lord put in your hand the symbol of His body, except to assure you of a true participation in it? But if it is true that a visible sign is given us to seal the gift of a thing invisible, when we have received the symbol of the body, let us no less surely trust that the body itself is also given to us.
Michael P. Jensen is the author of Sydney Anglicanism: An Apology and (with Tom Frame) Defining Convictions and Decisive Commitments–The Thirty-Nine Articles in Contemporary Anglicanism. He is the rector of St Mark’s Anglican Church, Darling Point, in Sydney, Australia.
1. Since the arrival of Christianity in Britain in the 3rd century, British Christianity has had a distinct flavor and independence of spirit, and was frequently in tension with Roman Catholicism. The Britons were evangelized by Irish missionary monks, and it wasn’t until the 7th century that the Roman church established its authority over Christianity in the British Isles, at the Synod of Whitby. But tensions continued until the 16th century.
2. The break with Rome in the 16th century had political causes, but also saw the emergence of an evangelical theology. The Church of England was not just a church of protest against the pope’s authority and his interference in English affairs. It was also a church that adopted a distinctly evangelical theology. The English Reformation cannot be reduced to the marital strife of Henry VIII.
3. Anglicanism is Reformed. The theology of the founding documents of the Anglican church—the Book of Homilies, the Book of Common Prayer, and the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion—expresses a theology in keeping with the Reformed theology of the Swiss and South German Reformation. It is neither Lutheran, nor simply Calvinist, though it resonates with many of Calvin’s thoughts.
4. Scripture is the supreme authority in Anglicanism. Article VI, “Of the sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation,” puts it this way:
Holy Scriptures containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.
In Anglicanism, Scripture alone is supreme as the saving Word of God. Reason and tradition play an auxiliary role. This was the view of divines like Thomas Cranmer and Richard Hooker. There is a popular myth that Anglicanism views reason, tradition, and Scripture as a three-legged stool of authorities, but it is quite false.
5. Justification by faith alone is at the heart of Anglican soteriology. In its liturgy, its view of the sacraments, in its founding documents, and in the mind of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, the Church of England holds that works do not save and cannot save a person. Only the blood of Jesus Christ is effective to save.
6. In Anglican thought, the sacraments are “effectual signs” received by faith. For Anglicans, the sacraments—the Lord’s Supper and baptism—do not convey grace in an automatic sense, or by a grace adhering to the objects used in them.
7. The Anglican liturgy—best encapsulated in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer—is designed to soak the congregation in the Scriptures, and to remind them of the priority of grace in the Christian life. There is grace on every page—it is not only the heart of Anglican theology, it is the heart of Anglican spirituality.
8. Anglicanism is a missionary faith, and has sponsored global missions since the 18th century. The sending and funding of missionaries to the far reaches of the globe to preach the gospel has been a constant feature of Anglican life, although this has happened through the various voluntary mission agencies as much as through official channels.
9. Global Anglicanism is more African and Asian than it is English and American. The center of contemporary Anglicanism is found in places like Nigeria, Uganda, and Kenya. In these places there are burgeoning Anglican churches, and a great deal of evangelism and church planting. There are strong Anglican churches too in Asia and elsewhere. Noticeably, where liberal theology has become dominant in Anglicanism—mainly in the “first world”—Anglicanism is rapidly shrinking, and is possibly only a generation from its demise.
Daylight Savings Time ended this morning meaning we lost an hour of sleep. I skipped the 8am Book of Common Prayer service and attended the 10:30 Book of Alternative Services choral worship service instead and, even though I began my Christian life in the Anglican Church, I had forgotten the differences. The BCP service is a quiet and solemn affair with the emphasis being placed on our unworthiness to approach the Lord’s Table but, because of Jesus Christ, we may approach trusting in His grace and mercy. The BAS service is much more lively. A choir enhances the auditory experience and lifts the soul. A believer approaches the Lord’s Table with a glad heart knowing that Christ has paid a price for his salvation and we approach rejoicing in that knowledge.
4 And they journeyed from mount Hor by the way of the Red sea, to compass the land of Edom: and the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way.
5 And the people spake against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread.
6 And the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died.
7 Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord, and against thee; pray unto the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people.
8 And the Lord said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live.
9 And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.
107 O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.
2 Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom he hath redeemed from the hand of the enemy;
3 And gathered them out of the lands, from the east, and from the west, from the north, and from the south.
17 Fools because of their transgression, and because of their iniquities, are afflicted.
18 Their soul abhorreth all manner of meat; and they draw near unto the gates of death.
19 Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and he saveth them out of their distresses.
20 He sent his word, and healed them, and delivered them from their destructions.
21 Oh that men would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men!
22 And let them sacrifice the sacrifices of thanksgiving, and declare his works with rejoicing.
And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins;
2 Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience:
3 Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.
4 But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us,
5 Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)
6 And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus:
7 That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.
8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.
10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.
I’ve never really thought about the use of a lectionary in the past but I can see it being a useful tool, one that weaves scripture together, creating a theological theme. One aspect I really enjoyed but forgot about was the reading of the Holy Gospel where the Gospel is carried above the readers head into the middle of the congregation. The Gospel was read among the people. I can’t speak for others but I found this striking.
One of the highlights of this mornings worship service was The Glory of These Forty Days, a 6th century hymn that lacked the “I” or “me” emphasis found in most modern hymns today. It was nice just to sing about scriptural topics. We also sang Newton’s “Amazing Grace” and Toplay’s “Rock of Ages.”
The glory of these forty days
1. The glory of these forty days
we celebrate with songs of praise,
for Christ, through whom all things were made,
himself has fasted and has prayed.
2. Alone and fasting Moses saw
the loving God who gave the law,
and to Elijah, fasting, came
the steeds and chariots of flame.
3. So Daniel trained his mystic sight,
delivered from the lions’ might,
and John, the Bridegroom’s friend, became
the herald of Messiah’s name.
4. Then grant us, Lord, like them to be
full oft in fast and prayer with thee;
our spirits strengthen with thy grace,
and give us joy to see thy face.
5. O Father, Son and Spirit blest,
to thee be every prayer addressed,
who art in threefold name adored,
from age to age, the only Lord.
Rev. Mark preached a sermon about doing the hard things in life including believing and trusting in Christ for salvation. I have to admit the shorter sermons are refreshing. Services run over an hour and the sermons are 15 minutes or less – I enjoy how Rev. Mark gets to the point. The lectionary readings were the basis of his sermon, that we must believe in Jesus Christ and His promises made to us. We must trust in Christ’s mercy.
As we partook of the Bread and Wine the “Agnus Dei” or “Lamb of God” was sung by the choir. The “Agnus Dei” is drawn from John 1:29 which reads, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” and is used in many liturgical services including Lutheran.
The text in Latin is:
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona nobis pacem.
Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, grant us peace.