Doctrine Matters: Chapter 5 Doctrine and Worship

by Colin Buchanan

(click to read foreword, chapter one, chapter two, chapter three, chapter four)

Introduction: The origin of today’s Trinitarianism

It has become my habit to enquire of clergy, ordinands, lay leaders and adult confirmation candidates why they are trinitarians. They usually find the question disconcerting, but patient persistence starts to yield a clear answer. Today’s believers, if they are trinitarian at all, are so because they recite creeds, encounter the baptismal formula, say ‘The Grace’ together, and sing three-verse hymns, addressed verse by verse to each of the three persons of the Trinity. The cumulative effect of these interlocking items is to convince worshippers at the very least that the Christian doctrine of God is that he is to be understood in a trinitarian way – while at most it convinces the individual worshipper that he or she should so believe and trust in God for herself or himself.

But without these materials, how would a believer in Jesus Christ know how to think about God? Reading the Bible on one’s own or in a small group might bring an enquirer near to the answer, but the actual paradoxes in the unity of the Godhead and the threeness of the ‘persons’ are such as to baffle people enquiring on their own. Indeed, they are more likely to fall into heresy, as the sole escape from the wildly impossible statement - that which defines the Trinity – to which the biblical wisps of evidence would seem to be driving them.

Historically, of course, it took till 451, and more than a century of hot controversy, before the church reached anything like a settled mind on the issue. It is therefore arguable that any individual who tries to reason the matter out by herself or himself is very likely either to get it wrong if the quest is completed in one lifetime, or, alternatively, never to get it done at all. The individual must be rare indeed who, with a tabula rasa of a mind, labours over an open Bible, from which to learn the truth of God, but nevertheless comes up with an orthodox doctrine of the Trinity. We may go further and postulate that either the person does not exist and never has done, or, if such an individual does once in a millennium come up with the truth, then that doctrine is likely to be a freak result, a coincidence, or the outcome of a combination of mutually cancelling errors.

We do not abate one inch from the position that all that needs to be known of God is to be found in scripture. We still affirm that the scripture is in broad terms transparent and teaches God’s truth. But to ask one lone individual to function without outside assistance from others around him or her in the present, or from commentators or theologians from the past – that is a self-defeating programme. If we go further and expect that lone indovidual to discern the raw matierals of Christian doctrine in the scriptures, to draw together the different materials into a single formulated whole, to bombard that formulation with every kind of difficulty and objection, to adjust the formulation to meet the difficulties, and then smilingly present the upshot as rounded and tested statements of Christian doctrine (as, e.g., in the case of the Trinity) – then that is to go too far. We cheerfully conclude that God’s provision of an open Bible was not intended to fulfil that function, and we are driven back to allocating great value to the debates of Christian history and the importance of received traditional formulations. Such formulations are still open to revision in the light of scriptire, but the valuing of them is a starting-point in seeing the role of traditional worship materials in the inculcation and preservation of the central doctrines of the faith.

We may add a further quirk. When the doctrine was under debate in the fourth and fifth centuries, it was resolved not only by comparing scripture with scripture, but also by the church reflecting on how it already worshipped. Of course there was a theoretical possibility that previous worship was incorrect, but the general assumption in the early church was that the inherited ways of worship had (at the very least) a strong prima facie case for being a measure of orthodoxy. Thus a church which worshipped Christ as God could not avoid a credal affirmation that he is God – and yet not in such a way as to involve there being two or more gods.

So we propound a dynamic in the conveying of doctrine – a conveying well illustrated in the case of that difficult but vital formulation, the Trinity – from one generation to the next:

· Doctrine is revealed in holy scripture.

· It is enshrined in historic ways of worship.

· It is crystallized and formulated under pressure of controversy, when scripture and ways of worship are in dialogue.

· This crystallization reinforces the role of doctrine in the ways of worship, as thereafter that doctrine emerges in worship not simply by accident, but by careful design.

· Nevertheless the formulations are always up for judgment by the supreme authority in matters of faith and doctrine – scripture itself – and they are to be tested anew by scripture in each new generation.

· The unsophisticated – perhaps almost all the church – in fact learn their doctrine from inherited (and often imposed) ways of worship. (The sophisticated can of course test for themselves the exactness of formulations by recourse to the full text of the scripture, but this is a discipline beyond the reach of most of the church for virtually the whole of its history.)

We might add to this account that, even in unsophisticated people and unlettered periods of history, forms of worship do not stand quite alone as conveying the word of God from one generation to the next. There are also credal, confessional, and catechetical forms. Even these find their ways into the language of worship, so that a constant mutual dialogue has been observed down history. And ways of worship should not be confined too closely to verbal texts – the sheer arrangement if a congregation in a place of worship, the very location of the leaders of the assembly, and the position of, say, a communion table in relation to the congregation, will also be silently eloquent about our doctrine of the church and sacraments. Anything I say hereafter about the role of doctrine in worship should be reckoned to include these non-verbal statements, for all that the revelation of God is by word, and that the norm of the inclusion of God’s revelation in our worship events is by word also. The word is primary, and sacraments, music, buildings, furnishings, and art underline and reinforce (or sometimes contradict and weaken) what is handed on in word. The doctrine imparted thereby is not mediated solely by word, but it is always under judgment from the norms which are verbal.

Doctrine is always in principle doxological[1]

Scripture and liturgy differ, of course, in their authority. The scripture is primary and non-negotiable, while liturgy is derivative, more flexible and more contingent. But they also differ in their form. Scripture involves a plethora of styles, written for a multitude of purposes. The Gospels include biography, apologetics, ethics, soteriology, homiletics, etc. The Epistles include autobiography, polemics about orthodoxy, euchology (i.e. ground rules for prayer), pastoralia, etc. Worship motifs run through these writings and ‘telling the Christian story’ is part of the task of worship. History itself comes into the Gospels and Acts, into the personal background to Paul’s letters, into references to Jesus having come in the flesh to be crucified and to be raised from the dead, and into every reference to how God has already been at work in the lives of Paul’s (or Peter’s or John’s) readers.

So there is a vast overlap of materials, or at least a heavy dependence of forms of worship upon the text of scripture. This in turn means that those forms become the vehicle for conveying the knowledge of the word of God (in whatever flexible form) from one generation to another. And the understanding of scripture is in turn largely influenced by the current experience and context of the church which is reading scripture – and that current experience and context includes at a very deep level the experience of worship. How the church worships becomes how it understands God’s truth

But scripture is still supreme

One of the major differences between the early centuries of the church and the present day lies in the availability of the scriptures. We are used to a dozen or more translations being ready to hand; we are used to a version of some sort being in every home; we can hand out matching versions with identical page numbers to a confirmation class or a Bible study group. The texts are simply there.

But that was not so in the early centuries. Printing was unknown, and texts were rare and precious. Indeed the word of God was thought to be somehow embodied in the person of the bishop, and his role was to teach. As he also presided over worship, it was understood that the two were in line with each other, and mutually interpreting. The only danger sign from our point of view was that forms of worship, having developed unselfconsciously over the generations, began to assume an autonomy which was not open to question. The liturgical tradition had a ‘givenness’ comparable to that of the scripture. No worshipping community would have dreamed in the early centuries of criticizing, let alone deliberately reforming, the liturgical uses which they themselves had inherited. Certainly church leaders (and even pilgrims) would know that traditions varied from one place to another. Certainly, bright ideas from one place might, it seems, occasionally get slipped into the rites of another. But the general principle was that forms of worship reflected and embodied the truths of God beyond argument, and they should therefore be always expounded in an orthodox sense, and never be called in question.

From our point of view, not every primitive text is quite so univocally orthodox, and thus the exposition could have a somewhat forced character to it. A small instance: I once published (in my Grove Books’ capacity) a most stimulating and delightful monograph by Rowan Williams, Eucharistic Sacrifice: The Roots of a Metaphor, and was struck by a quotation from a sermon of Ephrem the Syrian (though it is easily paralleled elsewhere in Christian authors).[2] Ephrem expounds Simeon’s greeting of the infant Christ in the temple as an offering of him to God, and then explores deeper significances of that oblation. But the underlying point is that ‘offering Christ’ is in some way part of his pattern of thought and speech – and this is almost certainly due to the oblationary emphases in his weekly eucharistic rite. As a matter of fact the Bible presents some difficulties for an idea expressed in this way, and so Ephrem has to go on to re-explain it. He thus (almost without reflection) reconciles Bible and liturgical text – but what he cannot do, which is what the Reformers later did, is to challenge the contingent form of the liturgy from the surer ground of the Bible.

This in turn puts some constraints upon the use of primitive forms made by the English Reformers – and points to some constraints which should be upon us today. The Reformers admittedly spoke of seeking out the uses of the early church, and, although they had a somewhat smaller range of primitive texts and materials than are available to us today, they were by no means lacking in scholarship. Yet in the last analysis, they were only ransacking the early centuries for good precedents for changes that they wished in fact to make on other (i.e. biblical) grounds – or were seeking materials to demonstrate polemically that Rome did not now stand where the early church had stood. The early authors were themselves not autonomous in the things of God, and, though they might well at times be bearers of God’s truth, that was a matter for testing by scripture, not for mere assertion. Indeed, it might well be argued that the Church of England formally crossed a very significant line when Cranmer’s Article VII of 1553 (Article VIII of 1571) declared that the three Creeds ‘...ought thoroughly to be received [and believed, 1571]: for they may be proved by most certain warrants of holy Scripture’ (italics mine). Catholic grounds for receiving the Creeds might have been that they had the force of General Councils behind them, or that they had always and everywhere and by everyone been believed and recited – but both these grounds are ignored, the inherited texts are resubmitted to the test of scripture, and they are declared orthodox on scriptural grounds.

From this the formal principle emerges that scripture is ‘supreme’ over all traditions, including traditions of worship. This was a principle well down the list in the logical chain I set out above. It is first well focussed in the Reformation controversies. And, if it is formally stated in the Thirty-nine Articles, it is constantly illustrated from the very earliest progress of the Reformation. It is, for instance, hardly a coincidence that one of the earliest changes in almost every part of Europe where the Reformation came was the restoration of the eucharistic cup to the laity. The contrast was stark and clear – the inherited tradition of worship was that the bread alone was given to the people (a pattern which spread quite fast in the wake of the decree of the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 enforcing the doctrine of transubstantiation): but when people could read the scriptures they found that at the last supper Jesus had not only said ‘Drink this...’ but had even added (for the cup alone) as though in a particularly prescient way: ‘... all of you’. The issue presented itself once the Bible was read, and it pushed people into one of two camps – either the worship tradition was autonomous (in which case it had to be viewed as compatible with the Bible at whatever cost in logic, perspicuity or common sense – and there would be no excuse for altering it), or it was subject to judgment by the Bible (in which case it could be and should be altered). Men and women fell into two camps as they adopted one of two mutually exclusive principles.

To summarize: we discover that the right expectation is that the texts of worship should foster and sustain the word of God in euchological (and doxological) form[3] and should thus pass them from one generation to the next; and the faith is regularly learned, and learned aright, by worshippers benefitting from this principle. However, the tradition may digress from the truth or become fossilized. So the church has a constant duty to review its forms of worship, both treasuring its traditions on the one hand, and being ready to alter what is not true to scripture on the other.

Worship is more than a correct verbal statement of truth.

Once the above principles are clear, it is timely to issue a warning. Worship is not exhaustively defined by its correct reproduction of doctrinal orthodoxy. Ideally, worship is a function of people, not programmes; it stems from the heart as well as the mind; it bonds and unites those who engage together in it; it is the point of corporate meeting with God and building up of God’s people in love; it is the point of earnest repentance, praise and petition; it is the point where God’s word is proclaimed (usually in an unprogrammed way); and it is the point where sharing together at the Lord’s table has values, meanings and obligations running far beyond what is formally expressed in words. As with preaching, so with every other element of worship – there is a strong responsibility resting upon the leader to plan the scriptural and doctrinal content as carefully as possible, but to look to God to do more than we can ask or think even through our plans.

Worship may also include (like sermons!) a greater or lesser degree of extemporary elements. A baptism rite may include personal testimony; prayers should often be not only related to topical needs, but should also in many situations be contributed on the spot by many worshippers. The doctrinal content of such contributions may be low (or even occasionally heretical), but their enriching of the liturgy is beyond all doubt. They do, however, emphasize the need for a responsible doctrinal framework (usually indeed ‘the tradition’) to support the contemporary elements. The Christian story is to be told and retold as the context of extemporary prayer and informal praise.

So Christian worship may include more than correct verbalization of truth – but it must not include less. The freer the extemporary parts are, the more secure must the doctrinal framework be. That does not, of course, have to be an inflexible rubric for every single act of corporate worship – we are right to assume reasonable continuity in our congregations from week to week, and to plan both framework and freedom to provide the right integration of them over a considerable period of time. Indeed it might well be argued that the Christian year provides exactly that period of time – and that the existence of fixed foci of the year at Christmas, Easter and Pentecost gives a strengthening to the doctrinal framework, while leaving great scope for ‘ordinary’ seasons to exhibit less concentrated attention on the incarnation, the atonement and resurrection, and the coming of the Spirit. Instead, the low seasons can be employed more opportunistically for themes and even syllabuses which are precipitated more by the worshippers’ known needs and gaps and less by our convictions about God’s own priorities. Of course those who attend only at harvest will hardly hear much about the cross (except from the determined preacher prepared to exploit John 12.24 for soteriological purposes!). But we cannot pour the whole of Christian doctrine into any one event, and the Christian year proides in a serene and objective way that vital framework of true belief over its period of time. Any arbitrary selectivity about themes should then become self-correcting, as the round of the year puts into the forms of worship the great central doctrinal concerns of the church.

The reforming principle at work in the Reformation

For those of us who are Anglicans, it is worth spelling out more fully how this principle of the supremacy of scripture worked through into our forms of worship in the Reformation period. We may almost spell it out in a logical chain of procedure:

  1. The existing liturgical rites continued when Henry separated from Rome. They were ‘the tradition’ and they were not to be lightly attacked or altered.
  2. When the thoroughgoing doctrinal reformation came about in Edward’s reign (1547-53), the existing Latin rites remained lawful, even while their successors were being planned. Small inroads were made, such as first the requirement to read the Epistle and Gospel in English (1547), and then the insertion of the English-language The Order of the Communion into the mass, with a view to distributing both elements to the people, with other vernacular devotions first (1548). The very minor character of these changes was an affirmation that the tradition was being respected, and, although it would be duly reformed, this would not be by wholesale abolition and the creating of wholly new forms overnight. The scriptures were judging the texts, and reform would come, but the tradition was being allowed its interim status.
  3. This programme was set out in ‘The Proclamation’ prefixed to The Order of the Communion: ‘...willing every man...also with such obedience and conformity to receive this our ordinance and most godly direction, that we may be encouraged from time to time further to travail for the reformation and setting forth of such godly orders as may be most for God’s glory, the edifying of our subjects, and for the advancement of true religion...’[4] No doubt Cranmer (who must have written this) was concerned about the psychological effects of change, and wanted it to appear gradual so as to better received; but the principle at root is more objective than that – namely, that the past tradition can and should stand until it may be properly demonstrated to be contrary to God’s word, upon which it must be reformed.
  4. The doctrinal conflict of the Reformation was thus a measuring of existing liturgical forms by the standard of scripture, followed by a reforming of them where they were found to be doctrinally adrift. This could be illustrated in a dozen ways, most notably in relation to communion, but almost equally in the case of Morning and Evening Prayer (the issue about which Cranmer wrote his own Preface to the 1549 and 1552 Book – entitled ‘Concerning the Service of the Church’ in 1662), baptism, confirmation, burial and ordination.
  5. While the Reformation did throw up doctrinal ‘Articles’, the Forty-two of 1553 and the Thirty-nine of 1571 came to reinforce and undergird a doctrinal reformation already imposed through the changes in the forms of worship. The Reformers saw not only that the clergy would themselves be reformed if they were to follow a more scriptural and doctrinally purified form of worship, but that the very principle that ‘the way you pray is the way you believe’ (i.e. the old Latin tage ‘lex orandi lex credendi’) was calculated to reform men and women’s hearts as well as their minds.
  6. Even so, the production of new forms was not the conclusion of the matter. By definition the doctrinal dialogue between the scriptures (and the rediscovered scriptural doctrines of justification and of the sacraments) and the liturgical texts had to continue. Liturgical forms inevitably have a provisionality written all over them. It was a principle of the Reformers that ‘a reformed church is up for continuous further reform’ (ecclesia reformata semper reformanda). There is an endless eschatological quest for forms of worship appropriate to changing times set up for us by the very principles on which the Prayer Books of 1549, 1552, 1559, 1604 and 1662 were established.
  7. The role of the liturgical forms in the reform of church life also gave them a role in the public doctrinal stance of the Church of England. In one sense, this was nothing new. The East and West had identified the polarization from each other both before and after the Great Schism by their differences in liturgy.

Whether such controversy was over whether communion bread should be leavened or unleavened, or was over the invocation of the Spirit to conscrate the bread and wine (the epiclesis), or was even over the Filioque (‘and the Son’ in the Nicene Creed about the Holy Spirit’s origin), differences in worship forms spelled out doctrinal differences between churches. And it became all the more so at the Reformation. The official liturgy of the Church of England allocated that church a defined place upon the Protestant map of Europe. Some might want that place changed (whether by further reformation or by positive reaction), but none could doubt where it stood. To this day the 1662 Prayer Book remains among the foremost formularies of the doctrine to which the clergy vow to be loyal. And it at the very least interesting to read in the Preface to the Alternative Service Book of 1980: ‘Those who seek to know the mind of the Church of England in the last quarter of the twentieth century will find it in this book as certainly as in those earlier formulations [i.e. the Prayer Book, Articles, and Homilies].’[5]

Would you know what our public doctrinal stance is now? Then tolle, lege (‘pick up the book and read’) – as the heavenly voice said to Augustine – this Book and its worship forms will tell you. We may be less confessing and rather nearer to witnessing than in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, but the concept that our doctrinal stance shines through our liturgical forms is no less present.

Some modern issues

If we take the view set out above, we may well conclude that liturgy, in so far as we can write down, or put on record, with what words and actions people worshipped in different ages, is actually a form of historical theology. It expresses doctrine and presents a church’s doctrinal stance. In worship it moves and forms the people who use it (and it may be presumed to be received benevolently by God himself also): out of worship it gives formal contnuity to the faith of a church which itself has an ontology (formal existence) even when it is not actually meeting).

Thus it was worship forms which were under review when the papal encyclical Apostolicae Curae of 1896 condemned Anglican orders. What were orders for? Why, to provide a valid priesthood. Why did we want a valid priesthood? To secure a true eucharistic sacrifice offered by a truly sacrificing priesthood? How should we know that any eucharist was meant to be an offering of the eucharistic sacrifice? Why, by inspecting the text. The Pope duly inspected the eucharistic rites of 1552 and 1662 and concluded that any presbyters ordained to preside such rites could not have been expected to do what the Catholic Church does at the eucharist, and thus, by argument backwards from the liturgy, the Anglican presbyterate was declared no true priesthood. Irrespective of whether the Pope’s conclusion was or was not right on his own terms, the interest for us this minute is that the doctrine of the ministry was being settled on the basis of the eucharistic liturgy – and its historical development in Anglicanism. Similarly, when the Anglican archbishops replied in 1897, asserting the validity of Anglican ordinations from the sixteenth century onwards, they replied in terms of the ordination rites and eucharistic rites. In my view they got it wrong (for they tried to find a eucharistic sacrifice in the 1662 rite which was drafted to exclude it). But they were handling the right materials – for liturgical uses do give birth to doctrine, and it would have been useless to have replied to the Pope without reference to Anglican liturgical rites.

I go back to Apostolicae Curae partly because I cherish a slight niggle about a more recent comparison of eucharistic doctrine in the two churches. The first Anglican/Roman Catholic International Commission concluded in September an agreement on the eucharist, finally published on 31 December 1971.[6] That first common statement has great currency over the last twenty years; despite some strains in handling its most sensitive points, it has won wide acclaim; and broadly it has been backed by Anglicans of every school, and only marginally queried, very recently, by Rome itself. But, irrespective of its merits as a formal acccord on eucharistic doctrine, the complaint I am making is that the agreenent had a dogmatic character unrelated to the actual official liturgical texts of both churches. It is indeed arguable that the two sides agreed with each other but had no agreement with their own texts. Certainly the Anglican texts of the period up to 1971 exhibited a large range of doctrinal emphases (not all of which would have readily fitted with the agreement); while on the Roman Catholic side the new post-Vatican II eucharistic prayers – in so many ways an advance on their predecessors – still expressed doctrines of eucharistic sacrifice which went far beyond the agreed statement, and could hardly be squared with it.

Conservative liturgy and liberal theologians

I now want to open up a totally different area of doctrine and liturgy. When I first joined the Liturgical Commission in Sptember 1964, Anthony Hanson (who was then the Church of Ireland observer) took me aside and told me not to worry about high church tendencies, but rather to be on the alert for the ‘South Bank’ (this was in the early days after the publication of Honest to God[7]). We did at that time have both the Bishop and the Provost of Southwark on the Commission, but neither was going to commit doctrinal enormities. Indeed, my conservative self found the Commission reasonably comforting - the deep sense that, even when being creative, you are running within a doctrinal tradition is reassuring, and there was, as far as I could see at the time, no mind (whether from inside or from outside the Commission) to challenge the tradition. The Commission in particular was not doctrinally iconoclastic. At least, it was not until one, when...

It happened in a symposium produced to accompany Series 3 Communion, the rite which first addressed God as ‘you’ and was authorized as an alternative service from February 1973. The symposium was edited by Ronald Jasper, was entitled The Eucharist Today: Studies on Series 3, and was published in 1974. The last contribution in this was by Leslie Houlden, a member of the Commission, and a somewhat ‘liberal’ theologian. His chapter, dubbed ‘Liturgy and her Companions: A Theological Appraisal’, protested at the credal conservatism of the eucharistic rite (and indeed of all the Commission’s work) in the following terms:

If you dig, you find an astonishing phenomenon. You discover that the principles of liturgy have become disciplines in their own right, quite apart from other aspects of Christian thought. It is a fact that is worth contemplating, for it is surely quite new in Christian life, that liturgy can be constructed without significant reference to the total theological scene and seeing itself as an independent skill...

Demythologizing, whether mild or severe, may indeed lead to an impoverishment of imagery. It can equally lead to a restoration of a sense of the living God by removing the opiate of an obsolete story.... [The eucharistic Preface] speaks of alleged ‘events’ of the distant past, while admittedly drawing some attention to their lasting effect. God, ages ago, created, gave liberation from sin, and brought into being a people ... however much weight we place on the life and death of Jesus, the faithful believer will not be content to see ‘redemption’ as tied exclusively to those events... the old purely historical-cum-theological approach persists - in obedience to liturgical tradition, and, behind that, to the canonizing of a particular way of regarding the witness of Scripture.

...we praise God for creation through Jesus, his living Word. We appeal thereby to a biblical and patristic concept, that of Christ as the pre-existent Logos...

But quite apart from cases of extreme difficulty such as this ... is continued biblical allusion necessarily the right way to make satisfactory modern liturgy? May twentieth century Christians not pray in words of their own?[8]

This chapter of Leslie Houlden’s has been the subject of much comment, and has almost become a point of reference as a locus classicus. He has himself reprinted it once. I had a go at meeting his position head-on in my chapter ‘The Liturgist in the Church’ in a pre-Lambeth symposium of 1988.[9] As I have since continued to hear the idea around that somehow Houlden has thrown down a gauntlet none dare pick up, I prefer to think that my chapter has not been read (rather than, having been read, it has then been discarded as useless). I therefore venture to repeat the headings of my reply. In summary, they come out thus:

  1. Liturgy stands close to scripture, and to the creeds. When the creeds are rewritten to exclude (say) the creation, or the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, then liturgy can take the same steps (though we would not have much left). If demythologizing is a proper discipline, then it must come into force after the crossing of the Red Sea has taken its place in liturgy, not before. The ‘story’ has its place in creed and liturgy and means there no more or less than in the scripture.
  2. If we allow the theologians this demythologization, where does it end? Is the empty tomb ‘myth’? Is all hymnody about Jesus rising from the dead to be ‘demythologized’, so that we do not say he ‘rose’ but only that he survived (or whatever)?
  3. What alternative programme of liturgy-writing is on offer? Houlden writes of imagery as ‘riotous and exciting as possible’, which sounds wonderful (though, we have to remember, neither the riot nor the excitement can be generated from scripture). Indeed, what are these ‘words of their own’ with which twentieth-century Christians are to pray?
  4. We might, of course, also throw the issue back to the theologians. Are they all of this Houlden school? Would all of them deplore scriptural imagery as a way of praying today? Indeed, should scripture itself be read in liturgy, if it can only mislead and needs replacing.? Can the average layperson be trusted to read or hear the scriptures (let alone mark and inwardly digest them)? Where does the Houlden thesis take us as pastors?

Perhaps the fleeting whims of theological schools need the relative stability of scriptural liturgy to undergird their volatility. And while it is clear that ceremonies and rituals of a secular character can be devised (or can even arise through the corruption of Christian ceremonies), if the ceremonies we value are in fact to be Christian, then the Christian story will run through them. A health-giving spiral is then set up – our forms of worship will whet our doctrinal appetites, and our scriptural studies will invade our forms of worship. If, as the people of God, we are ‘not to live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God’; and if a community lives by its communal activities – i.e. by its liturgical life – then it is clear that the word of God and the patterns of our worship must interact upon each other for their communal life to be life in God. Christian doctrine should conserve that word of God, depending not only upon the given data of the scripture, but also upon the the living expression of the word in worship. And the word of God, thus conserved, should in turn both charter and empower, but equally monitor and restrain, the ways in which we worship. If a health-giving cycle is established, then our worship of God in Christ not only brings glory to God, but, through the penetration of God’s truth into our lives, also becomes food to the inner hunger, drink to the thirsty soul.

Questions for discussion

  1. How did you learn Christian doctrine (e.g. the doctrine of the Trinity), and how do you know you have got it right?
  2. What impact on your understanding of the Christian faith has come from items in public worship. Such as, e.g., (a) sermons, (b) hymns, (c) public reading of scripture, (d) prayers, (e) extemporary or informal contributions?
  3. What do you learn about the beliefs of other denominations from their ways of worship?

Notes: Doctrine and Worship

  1. ie. Is such that it can be expressed in worship
  2. Rowan Williams, Eucharistic Sacrifice: The Roots of a Metaphor (Grove Liturgical Study 31, Grove Books, Nottingham, 1982) pp.21-23.
  3. The meaning of these terms is explained earlier in this chapter
  4. The text of this Proclamation is to be found in the Parker Society volume of The Liturgies of Edward VI, pp.1-2. or in my own Background Documents to Liturgical Revision 1547-1549 (Nottingham, Grove Books, 1983), p.14
  5. The Alternative Prayer Book 1980, p.10.
  6. See the Final Report (London: Catholic Truth Society / SPCK, 1982), pp.11-16.
  7. John Robinson, Honest to God (London: SCM Press, 1963)
  8. J.L.Houlden’s ‘Liturgy and her Companions: A Theological Approach’ in R.C.D.Jasper (ed), The Eucharist Today: Studies on Series 3 (London: SPCK, 1974) pp.170, 172-4.
  9. Colin Buchanan ‘The Liturgist in the Church’ in Peter Eaton (ed) The Trial of Faith (London: Churchman, 1988) pp.143-161.

Colin Buchanan was ordained in 1961 and, after one curacy, joined the staff of the London College of Divinity (which later became St John’s College Nottingham) in 1964 to teach Christian worship. At the same time he became a member of the Liturgical Commission and served on it until 1986. From 1986 to 1991 he was a member of the Doctrine Commission. In 1979 he became Principal of St John’s Nottingham. He became Bishop of Aston in 1985 and after resigning from that office in 1989 he became an assistant bishop in the diocese of Rochester and Vicar of St Mark’s Gilligham. He became Bishop of Woolwich in 1996 and retired in 2004 He was the original founder of Grove books and is the author of many books on worship.

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