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Horrors! John Wesley had a Prayer Book!

It’s Monday morning. Worship pastors and leaders at Pentecostal (especially semi-Charismatic ones) are gathering at their favourite coffee shops (or Chik-fil-a) to celebrate their taking the congregation to the “Throne Room” once again with their Spirit-led worship. No thought of liturgy enters their heads, even though the schedule they followed was down to the second.

Some of these worthies have at least some seminary education, and somewhere back there they heard that modern Pentecost is in the Wesleyan tradition, descended from the movement started by John Wesley. So they’ve thought, “I’ll bet that Wesley moved in the Spirit the way we do!” But they would be wrong. Not only did Wesley have a very high opinion of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, but in 1784 he prepared an abridged version of same for Methodist churches in the newly independent United States.

Now that our worship leader friends have spit out their coffee or waffle fries (they would have included carrot and raisin salad had Chik-fil-a had the good taste to keep it on the menu) it’s time to face facts: people in the past, including John Wesley, who believed and preached the life-changing gospel of Jesus Christ, followed and appreciated liturgical worship. They benefited from forcing our ministers to go through the scriptures and not just hit the “high spots.” They also benefited from forcing everyone to pray for our government and its leaders even if they disliked them intensely.

The relationship between Wesley’s abridged version of the 1662 BCP is complex and given fuller treatment here. What I want to do, as someone who was raised on the 1928 BCP, is to compare the two Morning Prayer services. Doing that yields the following:

  • Wesley omits the Venite altogether. In doing so he avoids the issues that the Episcopal Church attempted to deal with. In reality he only has two of the chanted hymns: the Te Deum and the Jubilate Deo. That part of Morning Prayer tends to get a little repetitious and Wesley’s abridgment of same isn’t bad. He also softens the absolution, which was the 1662’s (and 1928’s) attempt “thread the needle” between the powers Our Lord gave his apostles re binding and loosing and their successors abuse of same.
  • The prayers immediately after the Creed are much shorter, a trend repeated in the 1928 BCP.
  • He replaces the prayer for British royalty (the importance of which has been underscored by the recent death of Elizabeth II and the accession of Charles III) with something more generic for the new Republic.
  • He omits the prayer for the “bishops and other clergy.” It’s tempting to think that he was hoping that the clergy could receive more than the “continual dew of thy blessing,” but my experience with our ministers tells me that, for most of them, that’s about all they can absorb.
  • He, by reference, picks up the two best prayers of the bunch: the prayer for All Conditions of Men and the General Thanksgiving.

There are other issues of difference–the lectionary, the church calendar itself, etc.–that deserve better treatment for those who are interested. But my point is simple–just because we think that the way we worship is from the Throne Room and the only way to really approach God doesn’t make it so, and seeing how those we follow in the faith did it only underscores that point.


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