(AM) Andrew Symes–General Synod debates about liturgy open up bigger questions of truth and religious freedom

If the Church of England approves prayers to celebrate and affirm gender transition and / or same sex relationships, does it matter? Some would say it doesn’t, as long as individual parishes are not compelled to use such prayers. Some churches long ago stopped using most formal liturgies anyway, so perhaps the question is irrelevant. But others would say such prayers are very important. For the LGBT activist, specific prayers are necessary to publicly validate identity and experience in the setting of the church; “to actually name us and our reality”, as Christian Beardsley says about ‘trans’ people.

Theologian Martin Davie agrees with the LGBT activists about the importance of officially sanctioned liturgies in the C of E and how they express truth: what we all believe. In his recent essay he revisits the theme of ‘lex orandi, lex credendi’, meaning that what the church believes and what it prays must be aligned. Davie points out that unlike some other Protestant denominations, Anglicanism defines its system of belief not just on a statement (the Thirty Nine Articles), but also a series of prayers and rubrics (the BCP and the Ordinal). But of course Davie argues strongly against the adoption of the proposed new liturgies, precisely because they would imply that the church believes something different to what it has always believed. While some may claim that such prayers in church would only be a minor local expression of pastoral care for individuals, in fact LGBT activists know very well that they would be a symbol of a radical change in how the church understands itself and reality.

The Anglican formularies are derived from an accepted understanding of Christian faith based on Scripture, and prayers that we say reflect that. It’s not the case, as some have claimed, that prayers develop according to our evolving experience and understanding of God, and then we get our theology from these prayers (Davie cites the Anglican Church of Canada as having embraced this erroneous idea). Rather, Article 20 is quite clear:

‘The Church hath power to decree rites or ceremonies, and authority in controversies of faith: and yet it is not lawful for the Church to ordain anything that is contrary to God’s word written.’

In other words, Scripture comes before liturgy and controls its content. Considering the question of prayers of affirmation for same sex couples, Davie concludes that the only way this could be done with integrity is if the C of E repudiates all its existing teaching on sex and marriage in the Canons and Prayer Books, and says it no longer believes in the teaching of Scripture as historically understood.

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Posted in Anthropology, Church of England (CoE), Ethics / Moral Theology, Liturgy, Music, Worship, Parish Ministry, Pastoral Theology, Theology