Archive for the ‘Anglican and Lutheran’ Category

Thoughts and Questions About the Temptations of Jesus   2 comments

Above:  The Temptations of Jesus

Image in the Public Domain

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For St. Gregory the Great Episcopal Church, Athens, Georgia

Lent 2019

 

Texts:  Mark 1:12-13; Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13

Reading the Bible for spiritual formation is an ancient Benedictine practice.  My primary purpose in writing this short piece is to ask, how do the accounts (mainly the Lukan and Matthean ones) of the temptations of Jesus challenge us, both as individuals and a parish, to follow Jesus better than we do.

The Temptation to Turn Stones into Bread

Bread was especially precious in ancient Palestine, with relatively little arable land.

We are blessed to be able to purchase our bread inexpensively at stores.  Bread is abundant in our context, so we probably take it for granted more often than not.  We can, however, think of some tangible needs related to scarcity.

One challenge is not to permit tangible needs to overtake intangible necessities.  We all depend entirely on God and dwell within a web of mutual responsibility and dependence.  According to the late Henri Nouwen, this temptation is the temptation to be relevant.  Relevance is not necessarily bad; in fact, it is frequently positive.  However, maintaining the proper balance of tangible and intangible needs is essential.  Furthermore, Christ’s refusal to cave into the temptation to use his power to make bread—to cease to depend on God—ought to remind us never to imagine that we do not depend entirely on God.

Questions

  1. Do we permit tangible needs to distract us from intangible necessities?  If so, how?
  2. Do we manifest the vain idea that we do not depend entirely on God?  If so, how?

The Temptation to Jump from the Pinnacle of the Temple

Many scholars of the New Testament have proposed what the pinnacle of the Temple was.

That matter aside, this temptation is, according to Nouwen, the temptation to be spectacular.  It is also the temptation to attempt to manipulate God by trying to force God to intervene in a miraculous way.  That effort, like turning stones into bread, would indicate a lack of faith.

We humans frequently like the spectacular, do we not?  We tell ourselves and others that, if only God would do something spectacular, we will believe.  We are like those who, in the Gospels, only wanted Jesus to do something for them, and not to learn from him.

Questions

  1. Does our attraction to the spectacular distract us from the still, small voice of God?  If so, how?
  2. Does our attraction to the spectacular reveal our lack of faith?  If so, how?
  3. Does our attraction to the spectacular unmask our selfishness?  If so, how?

The Temptation to Worship Satan in Exchange for Earthly Authority

Many Palestinian Jews at the time of Christ thought of Satan as the power behind the Roman Empire and of the Roman pantheon as a collection of demons.  Jesus affirmed God the Father as the only source of his identity.

This temptation is about idolatry, power, and morally untenable compromises.

Many well-intentioned people—ministers, politicians, and appointed office holders, for example—have, in the name of doing good, become corrupt and sacrificed their suitability to do good.  They have sacrificed their moral integrity on the altar of amoral realism.

Some compromises are necessary, of course.  As Reinhold Niebuhr reminded us, we cannot help but commit some evil while trying to do good, for human depravity has corrupted social systems and institutions.

Questions

  1. Have we established our identity apart from God?  If so, how?
  2. How have we, with good intentions, committed or condoned evil?
  3. Have we made morally untenable compromises?  If so, how?

The Good News

The good news is both collective and individual.

I discover the principle, then:  that when I want to do right, only wrong is within my reach.  In my inmost self I delight in the law of God, but I perceive in my outward actions a different law, fighting against the law that my mind approves, and making me a prisoner under the law of sin which controls my conduct.  Wretched creature that I am, who is there to rescue me from this state of death?  Who but God?  Thanks be to him through Jesus Christ our Lord!  To sum up then:  left to myself I serve God’s law with my mind, but with my unspiritual nature I serve the law of sin.

–Romans 7:21-25, The Revised English Bible (1989)

Jesus has modeled the way to resist temptation—to trust God and to understand scripture.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 10, 2019 COMMON ERA

THE FIRST SUNDAY IN LENT, YEAR C

THE FEAST OF MARIE-JOSEPH LAGRANGE, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND BIBLICAL SCHOLAR

THE FEAST OF SAINT AGRIPINNUS OF AUTUN, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP; SAINT GERMANUS OF PARIS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP; AND SAINT DROCTOVEUS OF AUTUN, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN OGLIVIE, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR

THE FEAST OF SAINT MACARIUS OF JERUSALEM, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

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https://neatnik2009.wordpress.com/2019/03/10/thoughts-and-questions-about-the-temptations-of-jesus/

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2019/03/10/thoughts-and-questions-about-the-temptations-of-jesus/

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First Reformed (2018)   2 comments

Above:  The Blu-Ray Cover for First Reformed

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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FIRST REFORMED (2018)

Starring

Ethan Hawke as the Reverend Ernst Toller

Amanda Seyfried as Mary Mensana

Cedric “the Entertainer” Kyles as the Reverend Joel Jeffers

Michal Gaston as Ed Balq

Written and Directed by Paul Schrader

Rated R for some violent images

One hour and fifty-three minutes long

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The desire to pray itself is a type of prayer. How often we ask for genuine experience when all we really want is emotion.

–Ernst Toller, in First Reformed

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How easily they talk about prayer, those who have never really prayed.

So writes the Reverend Ernst Toller of those, such as some Evangelical teenagers, believers in the heresy that is Prosperity Theology, in First Reformed.  One of those adolescents says,

If happiness came in pill size, it would have JC stamped on it.

Toller, in contrast, writes in his journal,

These thoughts and recollections are not so different from those I confide to God every morning. When it is possible. When He is listening. This journal is a form of speaking, of communication from one to the other. A communication which can be achieved simply and in repose without prostration or abnegation. It is a form of prayer.

He understands what St. John of the Cross called the Dark Night of the Soul.  The teenager with the JC happy pills has no clue regarding spiritual maturity.

First Reformed is a staggering, thought-provoking, spiritually honest and profound work.  The movie, set in Snowbridge, New York, outside Albany, is about the spiritual struggles of Ernst Toller, a former U.S. Army chaplain.  He is 46 years old, divorced, guilt-ridden, depressed, and physically ill.  He drinks too much.  Toller blames himself for the death of his son, a casualty of the Second Iraq War; the father, following the family tradition, encouraged the son to join the military.  Toller, unwilling and unable to justify that war morally, feels very guilty for the death of his son.  The suicide of a parishioner’s husband, an environmental terrorist, sends Toller down a path potentially destructive of more than just himself.  Given that Schrader wrote both this movie and Taxi Driver (1976), the spiritual kinship of Toller and Travis Bickle is obvious.

Toller is the pastor of the First Reformed Church, a 250-year-old congregation that functions more as a tourist trap than as a church.  He has few parishioners.  First Reformed Church is a chapel of Abundant Life Church in Christ and Christian Fellowship, a non-denominational, “Spirit-filled” megachurch in town.  Joel Jeffers, the head pastor at Abundant Life, is at least as morally ambiguous as Toller, who contemplates using a suicide vest.  Whereas Toller understands the Christian obligation of environmental stewardship, Jeffers ignores the issue.  After all, the generous contributions of Ed Balq, a local industrialist and a major polluter, finance Abundant Life’s media programs and much of the community outreach.  Furthermore, Balq is paying for the repair of the organ at First Reformed Church and the reconsecration of the congregation on the occasion of its anniversary.    Jeffers does, however, care about Tollers and want him to be physically, spiritually, and emotionally well.

A pastor needs a pastor,

Jeffers advises Toller.  Furthermore, according to Jeffers, Toller is always in the Garden of Gethsemane.

The reaches its climax in an ambiguous scene, the meaning of which the director’s commentary does not explain clearly.  Schrader wants to avoid easy answers, as do the two reverends in the movie.  I still do not know of Toller emerged from his Dark Night of the Soul, or even if he was alive when the end credits rolled.  I have an idea, but no certainty.

First Reformed is a movie that shuns certainty.  Much of the best art does.  Uncertainty invites the viewer of the art to interact with that art.  My advice is not to watch First Reformed immediately before going to bed, for, if one does, one’s mind will be busy trying to make sense of the film when one should be sleeping.

The cast is excellent.  Amanda Seyfried, actually pregnant while portraying a pregnant widow, plays the character with whom Toller connects more than any other.  If anybody can lead Toller out of the Dark Night of the Soul, she can.  Ethan Hawke plays a depressive very well.  He is believable in his portrayal of a spiritually disturbed minister.  Cedric “the Entertainer” Kyles proves that Joss Whedon is correct; comedians are fine dramatic actors because comedy is more difficult that drama.  Kyles portrays Jeffers as a believable, generally sympathetic character.  The only unambiguous character is Ed Balq, who professes Christianity while destroying the environment and dismissing criticisms as unfounded and politically motivated.  Michael Gaston plays him believably, without the figurative mustache-twirling.

I do have one minor criticism regarding an error.  Why are members of a Dutch Reformed church using Episcopal hymnals?  The answer, of course, is that the structure labeled “First Reformed Church” in the movie is actually that of an Episcopal congregation.  The Prayer Books are out of sight, to present the illusion that the building is for a Calvinist church, albeit one with a central altar and a pulpit on the right.

If you, O reader, seek to watch a spiritual movie that will force you to think for yourself and ponder ambiguities of faith, First Reformed is a movie to schedule.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 21, 2019 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MIROCLES OF MILAN AND EPIPHANIUS OF PAVIA, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS

THE FEAST OF SAINTS ALBAN ROE AND THOMAS REYNOLDS, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIESTS AND MARTYRS

THE FEAST OF SAINT GASPAR DEL BUFALO, FOUNDER OF THE MISSIONARIES OF THE PRECIOUS BLOOD

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN YI YON-ON, ROMAN CATHOLIC CATECHIST AND MARTYR IN KOREA

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The script is here.

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The Cross and Glorification, Part V   Leave a comment

Above:   Icon of the Crucifixion, by Andrei Rublev

Image in the Public Domain

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For Good Friday, Year 1, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970

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O Savior of the world, who by thy cross and precious blood hast redeemed us:

save us, and help us, we humbly beseech thee, O Lord.  Amen.

or

Merciful Father, who gave thy Son Jesus to suffer the shame of the cross:

save us from hardness of heart, that, seeing him who died for us,

we may repent, confess our sins, and receive the outpouring of thy love;

through the same Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 122

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Merciful Father:  you gave your Son to suffer the shame of the cross.

Save us from hardness of heart, so that, seeing him who died for us,

we may repent, confess our sin, and receive our overflowing love in Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

or

How great is your love, O God, for sending Jesus to take up a cross and lay down his life for the world.

Work in us such true remorse that we may cast out sin, welcome mercy, and live in wonder,

praising the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ the Savior.  Amen.

The Worshipbook–Services and Hymns (1972), 147

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Hebrews 10:4-18

John 19:17-42

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In this post stunned near-silence compels me to write little, for the assigned readings speak for themselves.

In The Episcopal Church we read the Passion narratives as congregational plays, complete with large and small parts.  The reading of Passion narratives on Palm/Passion Sunday and Good Friday is powerful–more effective than a bookcase full of commentaries.  The service for Good Friday, according to The Book of Common Prayer (1979), ends in silence, as it should.  That is a moving silence, replete with grief and reverence.

My advice is to permit Jesus to be liturgically dead until Easter.  Permit the stunned silence to have its full effect.  Easter will, after all, arrive on schedule; do not hurry it.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 13, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF HENRY MARTYN DEXTER, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER AND HISTORIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT ABBO OF FLEURY, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF SAINT BRICE OF TOURS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF SAINT NICHOLAS TAVELIC AND HIS COMPANIONS, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYRS

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Posted November 13, 2018 by neatnik2009 in Episcopal Church, Hebrews 10, John 19

Tagged with , ,

The Cross and Glorification, Part III   Leave a comment

Above:   A Crucifix

Photographer = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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For Holy Wednesday, Year 1, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970

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Everlasting God, who delivered the Children of Israel from cruel captivity:

may we be delivered from sin and death by your mighty power,

and celebrate the hope of life eternal within your promised kingdom;

through Jesus Christ our Savior.  Amen.

The Worshipbook–Services and Hymns (1972), 145

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Hebrews 5:5-10

Luke 22:24-34

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The author of the misnamed Epistle to the Hebrews (neither an epistle nor to Hebrews), whoever he was (Origen said that only God knew who wrote it) did not read the Gospel of John.  The most probable reason for this was that the “Epistle to the Hebrews” predated the Fourth Gospel.

The reading from Hebrews 5 may mystify a Christian shaped by the Johannine Gospel.  What does it mean that Christ learned obedience via his sufferings?  And what about Christ being perfected?  The divine passive in the latter case indicates that God was the actor, the one who perfected Christ.  But was not Jesus already perfect–always perfect?  The confusion does not cease even when one realizes the particular meaning of perfection in this case–suitability to be the ultimate sacrifice.

None of this inconsistency constitutes a difficulty for me, for I am not a fundamentalist.  I acknowledge the obvious fact–that the New Testament contains mutually exclusive points of view presented and authoritatively.  I prefer the Johannine perspective to that of the author of the “Epistle to the Hebrews” when the two contradict each other.

Both readings (Luke 22 and Hebrews 5) agree on the priority of obeying God.  The ethic of service (from Luke 22) fits hand-in-glove with the obedience of Jesus (Hebrews 5).  One may also ponder John 12:26 (from the previous post‘s readings), about following Jesus, who loved us all the way to an ignominious execution–his execution, in the Gospel of John.

Robert C. Wright, the Episcopal Bishop of Atlanta, likes to say,

Love like Jesus.

When one considers that statement in the full context of Christ’s life, one realizes that this is no feel-good slogan, but a challenge to discipleship, to cross-bearing.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 13, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF HENRY MARTYN DEXTER, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER AND HISTORIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT ABBO OF FLEURY, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF SAINT BRICE OF TOURS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF SAINT NICHOLAS TAVELIC AND HIS COMPANIONS, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYRS

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Repentance, Part IV   2 comments

Above:  Ash Wednesday Cross

Scanned by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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For Ash Wednesday, Year 1, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970

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Almighty and everlasting God, who hatest nothing that thou hast made,

and dost forgive the sins of all those who are penitent:

create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we,

worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness,

may obtain of thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 120

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2 Corinthians 7:2-10

Matthew 6:16-21

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Seasons exist in nature.  That they exist in liturgical calendars makes sense, too.  It is a pattern as old as antiquity and present in Judaism and Christianity.

The focus of Lent is repentance, or, literally, turning around.  Traditionally, one is supposed to give up a bad habit, a food one needs to avoid, et cetera, or to take up a good habit.  We human beings are creatures of habit, so may we nurture positive ones.

Advent and Lent are the two preparatory seasons in Western Christianity.  During Advent one is supposed to prepare for the twelve days of Christmas.  Some of us take Advent and Christmas so seriously that we wait until nearly Christmas Eve to say “Merry Christmas,” then say “Merry Christmas” through January 5.  During Lent we are supposed to prepare for the fifty days of Easter.  I, with my United Methodist background, and Episcopalian affiliation, take Lent seriously while not mistaking it for a time to wear a hairshirt.  (Asceticism is not my spiritual path.)  I also observe the Easter season, all the way through the Day of Pentecost.

I propose taking on a task for Lent.  The details of the task properly vary from person to person, but it should work toward building up treasure in Heaven.  Choose one task, O reader, and complete it diligently, faithfully, and well.  May you emerge from Lent as a better person in God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 6, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF CHRISTIAN GREGOR, FATHER OF MORAVIAN CHURCH MUSIC

THE FEAST OF GIOVANNI GABRIELI AND HANS LEO HASSLER, COMPOSERS AND ORGANISTS; AND CLAUDIO MONTEVERDI AND HEINRICH SCHUTZ, COMPOSERS AND MUSICIANS

THE FEAST OF THEOPHANE VENARD, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, MISSIONARY, AND MARTYR IN VIETNAM

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Human Doubts and the Mighty Acts of God   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of St. John the Baptist

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year 1, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970

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Most loving Father, who would have us give thanks for all things

and dread nothing but the loss of thee:

preserve us from faithless fears and worldly anxieties;

and grant that no clouds of this mortal life may hide from us the

light of thy love which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 117

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Jeremiah 23:3-8

Philippians 4:4-7

Luke 1:26-38

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The readings for this Sunday speak of corrupt rulers, the promise of divine deliverance of the nation, the restoration of exiles to their homeland, the practice of making considering for others a defining characteristic of oneself, the practice of trusting in God, and of the conception of Jesus and the annunciation of that event.  That is quite a variety of material.  Much of it speaks for itself.  Obviously the lectionary points toward linking Jeremiah 23 to Luke 1, with Philippians 4 providing commentary.

Instead of checking off all the above items in this post as I continue to write, I prefer to focus on one line:

For nothing is impossible with God.

–Luke 1:37, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

Do you, O reader, affirm that?  Do I?

I speak, er, write for myself, the only person for whom I can do so.  A rationalist lives between my ears and behind my eyes.  I am one of the people most likely to ask pesky, inconvenient questions, and one of the least likely join a cult.  St. Thomas the Apostle, the great doubter, is my favorite Biblical character, for I identify with his skepticism.  One of the reasons I am an Episcopalian is the premium Anglican theology places on reason, in the context of scripture and tradition, for balance.  I am an intellectual, not a mystic.  I possess a healthy dose of skepticism.  Nevertheless, I also affirm the necessity of Kierkegaardian leaps of faith.  Such a leap of faith is necessary for one to accept the Incarnation, regardless of whether one affirms of rejects the Virgin Birth.

Yes, I affirm that nothing is impossible with God.  I affirm it more on some days and less on others.  My faith is a work in progress.  I bring my doubts to God; doing that constitutes an act of faith.  God, as I understand Him, does not strike anyone down for asking questions faithfully and honestly.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 22, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF FREDERICK PRATT GREEN, BRITISH METHODIST MINISTER, POET, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF BARTHOLOMEW ZOUBERBUHLER, ANGLICAN PRIEST

THE FEAST OF EMILY HUNTINGTON MILLER, U.S. METHODIST AUTHOR AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF KATHARINA VON SCHLEGAL, GERMAN LUTHERAN HYMN WRITER

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Rich Irony   3 comments

Above:  Part of the Title Page of The Worshipbook–Services and Hymns (1972)

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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There is a liturgical joke that highlights certain denominational differences.

In a county seat town somewhere in the United States of America, the First Baptist Church was hosting the annual community Thanksgiving service.  The local Episcopal priest was one of the participating ministers.  When the priest’s role in the service had come, the host pastor said,

Now Father Jones from the Episcopal church will lead us in one of his…written prayers.

Father Jones walked up to the pulpit and said,

Let us pray.  Our Father, which art in heaven….

I was thinking of that story, which could be true, even if it is not, because of an ironic written prayer I read on page 202, from the “Other Prayers for Worship” section of The Worshipbook–Services and Hymns (1972), from the mainline of U.S. Presbyterianism:

For Those Who Write Prayers

Almighty God:  you have no patience with solemn assemblies, or heaped-up prayers to be heard by men.  Forgive those who have written prayers for congregations.  Remind them that their foolish words will pass away, but that your word will last and be fulfilled, in Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

This prayer, indicating a traditionally Puritan Presbyterian hostility to written prayers and to prayer books, exists in the same volume as many written prayers for congregations to use.

I find this matter rather amusing and theologically alien to me, for I belong to The Episcopal Church, which has a rich and unapologetic record of written prayers–Books of Common Prayer, even–reaching back through the corridors of time to The Book of Common Prayer (1549) and deeper into the past, to missals and the Liturgy of the Hours, and before that, to The Didache.  If one does not approve of written prayers for congregational use, one can avoid them, but hopefully such a person will avoid the hypocrisy of writing or using a written prayer asking divine forgiveness for those who write prayers for congregational use.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 20, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF PHILIP SCHAFF AND JOHN WILLIAMSON NEVIN, U.S. GERMAN REFORMED HISTORIANS, THEOLOGIANS, AND LITURGISTS

THE FEAST OF FRIEDRICH FUNCKE, GERMAN LUTHERAN MINISTER, COMPOSER, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF MARY A. LATHBURY, U.S. METHODIST HYMN WRITER

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