The Prayer Book in the Process of Evangelism

I have been considering how to make evangelistic use of the regular services in the Book of Common Prayer – Morning and Evening Prayer, the Litany, and Holy Communion – both to help Christians renew their belief and to show forth the faith to pagans. Our faith, after all, is all about the good news of Jesus Christ, and so the Church must keep this gospel front and centre, doing all it can to call all men to receive the person of Jesus Christ with humble faith. If this be not our goal, then (as the Prayer Book says) all our doings, being without charity, are nothing worth; but if it be our goal, by the work of the Holy Ghost, then there is no more evangelical system of services than our Prayer Book.

Holy Communion

Since every Lord’s Day is a feast day, it seems most proper, both then and on other feast days, to have the Lord’s Supper in commemoration of the benefits procured for us by him who died and was raised for our salvation. To be weekly refreshed with the Body and Blood of the Lord is only fitting, seeing as the same Lord who has given us these gifts has also established by nature the rhythm of the seven-day week, a rhythm that even the most hardened pagans – by the providence of God – have adopted after the practice of the Church. It is true that the Prayer Book’s Holy Communion service is directed very obviously at those who are already in the covenant and marked with the sign of baptism, and so it does not lend itself to being attended by pagans. But this need not be a weakness. Christian attendance at Holy Communion, and pagan absence from the same (at least most of the time), embodies the theological divide between Christian and pagan. All are human, and all are sinners, but one is distinguished from the other by having title to the inestimable benefit of Christ’s Body and Blood, and to all the benefits thereof. This distinction cannot but convey that there is an in and an out, a feast and an outer darkness: all are called to come in, but some are unwilling. Pagan hearers who are very seriously considering the claims of Christ can attend Holy Communion and see what gift is conferred upon those who are washed in the righteousness of God.

Daily Office

For those who have not reached this point, who have not yet contemplated being baptized into the faith, Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer are the services to which we can invite our friends to see the worship of God: though we hold Holy Communion to be a more solemn act of worship, daily prayers and hearing of the word are not to be despised. These services are easier than Holy Communion for an outsider to understand: we reckon with our offences before God, we hear instruction in the doctrine and practice of the faith, and we petition God for ourselves and for others. They cannot pray the same prayers as we do, if they do not believe in the basis of these prayers, but all the same they may silently pray to the God they do not know. As they hear choral Evensong on a Sunday, they can consider the things they hear and act according to the measure of their belief. So we need to find ways to say Morning and Evening Prayer publicly and have a congregation to attend these services, both Christians and pagan hearers. On university campuses this should not be too difficult, if committed students can be found first, but we should also try to find ways for urban workers to attend services too.

Litany

Finally we come to the Litany, which as the shortest service may be a gateway. Given the popularity of weekday services in the City of London, lunchtime talks followed by the Litany on Fridays may be a good way to reach people: Christians could stay for prayers, and pagans could choose to leave if they wanted. Perhaps lunches could be laid out at the end of the talks, to be taken either then or after the Litany – though I suppose Christians might choose instead to fast on Fridays. For Christians, a lunchtime Litany would be a way to remember the Passion of our Lord in prayer and fasting for their own sins and the life of the world; for any pagans who came in to hear, it would be a weekly witness to the love of Christ for all of us poor sinners, particularly if all who attended were enjoined to reflect on the sacrifice of that Lamb of God:

Those who are visiting, you’re welcome to get lunch, but we invite you to stay with us and reflect on the death of Jesus Christ. Brothers in Christ, join me. As Christ died on Good Friday for the sins of the whole world, that all might live in him, let us now remember his love by praying for all those for whom he gave his life.

From glory to glory

What we proclaim is Christ crucified. From hearer to catechumen to candidate for baptism, from Litany to the Daily Office to Holy Communion, a person at each of these stages of contemplation on the way to baptism is met by the gospel-soaked pages of the Book of Common Prayer. As he desires to learn more about Christ, he can be met by friends who will explain the Scriptures to him. And so, God willing, he will come at last to be joined to Christ.

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One response to “The Prayer Book in the Process of Evangelism

  1. Pingback: Asking Pagans Not to Attend Church? | Cogito, Credo, Petam

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