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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A Presbyterian Prayer Book? Something Like That.



I just finished reading through the 2 volume work originally crafted in 1867 by Charles W. Shields D.D., titled "The Book of Common Prayer As Amended by the Westminster Divines."
[The document can be found at Google Books. Follow this link: http://books.google.com/books?id=G33ZAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false]

The first volume looks to me to be simply the 1662 Book of Common Prayer with changes, or emendations  some minor, and some clearly noticeable  The changes came from some of the very theologians who worked on the Westminster Confession of Faith, and the "Directory for Publick Worship" a few years before.

In the second volume is where the the editor/author explains the history, background, and purpose of the work.The explanatory notes are a longish section, something of an apologia as to why Presbyterians get the Hives when it comes to prescribed forms of liturgy. Nevertheless, there were some interesting historical notes describing how poor and denuded had become Presbyterian "worship" by the 19th Century - quite a sad state of affairs. Then Shields (the author/editor) explains what brought the commission together, and how he came up with this "Presbyterian Prayer Book." A Presbyterian Prayer Book was never printed as such. Shields simply scraped it together from the documented "Exceptions" of the Westminster Divines (primary source), the Savoy Liturgy (Baxter) and the 1689 attempted revisions (secondary sources, to validate what he had picked up from the primary source). Quite an interesting read. In Shield's favor are his reasons for pulling together this work - he thinks it would help Presbyterians to worship better!

The value of Shields' work is to show three things: (1) The Scottish Presbyterian theologians were not adverse to the Book of Common Prayer, in and of itself. Their beef were toward certain papistical trends in it, and what they deemed as superstitions items. (2) The Scottish Church already had been using a set-form of liturgy and prayers, established by Knox. But to compromise with the Independents, they allowed them to formulate a "Directory" for public worship, and dispose of set-forms. In other words, it was the more Zwinglian party who stripped Presbyterian worship of set prayers, and liturgical forms. (3) Shields' reasoning for re-establishing a liturgy seem from my experiences to be correct and corrective. I recommend Shield's work, and would encourage Presbyterian ministers to obtain it, and think through its application and usefulness.

Along with the above work, I would also recommend a work that is something of a work-in-progress by a PCA minister, Patrick W. Curles. He has pulled together several resources in his version of the "Book of Common Worship" that is quite useful. You can order it here: http://www.lulu.com/shop/patrick-curles/book-of-common-worship/hardcover/product-3311050.html
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Mike

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