Why be liturgical? Garwood Anderson’s recent post draws attention to a faddish liturgical understanding that has taken hold, not just in some evangelical churches, but in the Episcopal Church as well (and, no doubt, other liturgical churches). This understanding claims that liturgy acts upon its participants in such a way that they become better Christians. Like Anderson, I loathe the erroneous assumption that liturgy necessarily produces some sort of salutary effect (I further loathe the application of this assumption to the Bible and to the sacraments, especially the Eucharist). Conversion is a conscious choice to live in accordance with a consciously chosen set of norms. Insofar as our understanding of liturgy does not drive us to choose Christian ideals, our understanding of liturgy is fundamentally flawed. But what if liturgy — or, a particular understanding of it — is itself inimical to the Church’s very wellbeing? In what follows, I propose that the Anglican Communion has become the home of a pervasively unhealthy liturgical anti-intellectualism. To cast out this spiritual malaise, we must return liturgy to its proper place: as one — but only one — of the activities that defines the Church of God in via.
Lex orandi, lex credendi?
What is liturgy? Let us first guard against a popular misconception. Liturgy is often defined with the simple Latin phrase lex orandi, lex credendi. This is sometimes translated, “the rule of praying is the rule of belief.” Is this translation accurate? Most people do not know Latin and therefore cannot speak to the matter. But in fact, this popular translation is only half true. Unlike English, Latin is an inflected language. This means that word order does not matter. Instead, the case of a noun (e.g., whether it is the subject, the direct object, etc.) determines its meaning. Lex orandi means “the rule of praying,” and lex credendi means “the rule of believing.” In each phrase, lex is in the nominative case (and is therefore the subject), while orandi and credendi are gerunds in the genitive case. Importantly, no verb is technically present in the phrase lex orandi, lex credendi. How then have some people teased a propositional statement (“the rule or praying is the rule of belief”) out of this Latin phrase?
In Latin, no noun is needed when two words or phrases are in the same case. Rather, the verb esse (“to be”) is implied. Because the two halves of this phrase share identical cases, the two terms are shown to be equivalent (e.g., A = B). Consequently, one could just as accurately translate lex orandi, lex credendi as “the rule of belief is the rule of prayer.” Because the English language privileges word order, this second translation has a very different meaning than “the rule of prayer is the rule of belief.” But if we wish to be accurate (and there is no faithfulness without accuracy), we need to recognize both the richness and the difficulty of translation. One-sided translations do not inform: they mislead. Lex orandi, lex credendi does not claim that liturgy determines belief. Rather, it claims that liturgy and belief are both laws and that each law supports the other. The rule of prayer is the rule of belief, and the rule of belief is the rule of prayer. Subsuming one of these rules to the other actually renders meaningless the popular liturgical proof-text lex orandi, lex credendi.
Other, more recent books have translated lex orandi, lex credendi in even more erroneous fashions. Consider the following examples. In their co-authored volume The Hospitality of God, bishops Mary Gray-Reeves (USA) and Michael Perham (England) gloss lex orandi, lex credendi as “Our doctrine is derived from our liturgy,” and they further explain that “liturgical texts define doctrine.” And yet, lex orandi, lex credendi contains nothing that might be used to so privilege liturgy over doctrine. Regrettably, this error is not unique to Gray-Reeves and Perham. Mark Earey writes in his recent monograph Beyond Common Worship that lex orandi, lex credendi is “usually freely translated as something like, ‘The law of praying establishes the law of believing’, or more simply as ‘Worship establishes doctrine.’” Earey actually opposes this popular liturgical shibboleth, but here again we have inexcusable mistranslation, for lex orandi, lex credendi also contains no Latin verb that might be translated as “establishes.” It is clear that lex orandi, lex credendi has taken on an increasingly wayward life of its own.
On liturgical anti-intellectualism
What is gained by elevating liturgy to such an exalted status? The answer is bound up with Anglican historical ignorance — ignorance of ourselves but also of other Christians. In the popular essay collection The Study of Anglicanism, W. Taylor Stevenson opens his article “Lex Orandi—Lex Credendi” by writing:
There is not now, and there never has been, a distinctive Anglican theology. We have no Thomas or Luther, no Calvin or Zwingli. Nor is there any authority in Anglicanism which corresponds to the magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church or the theological themes which provided the touchstones of theological inquiry of the Protestant Reformation.
The same view can be found in the recent volume Anglican Theology by Mark Chapman. Anglicans, however, might be interested to know that none of these four figures ever held a position like that which Stevenson imagines. Zwingli was always marginal in the Reformed tradition; Calvin was just one authority among many others (and it is only neo-Calvinists of the last fifty years who seem to have become ignorant of this). The same is even truer of Luther’s relationship to Lutheranism. Many of Luther’s ideas — from his rejection of free will to his views on the sacraments — were rejected by his colleagues in his own lifetime. Reading Melanchthon’s 1559 Loci, as well as the Lutheran confessions collected in the Book of Concord, will rapidly resolve any lingering doubts on this matter. Finally, as far as Aquinas goes, his current elevation via Neo-Thomism occurred only in the late-nineteenth century; Neo-Thomism ceased being a matter of import at Vatican II. If having a “distinctive” theology depends upon having a major theologian who is the sine qua non of one’s tradition, then like Anglicanism, neither Lutheranism nor Calvinism nor Roman Catholicism have a “distinctive” theology.
Let us turn now to Anglican self-understanding (and the lack thereof). Bishops Gray-Reeves and Perham concisely explain their elevation of liturgy by writing, “we have never been a confessional church.” Patrick Malloy, Associate Professor of Liturgy at General Theological Seminary, argues the same but elaborates:
[W]e Anglicans do not have confessional documents that define who we are and what we believe (like the Presbyterians, for example, who have the Westminster Confession) or a magisterial hierarchy (like the Roman Catholics, who have the Pope and the various related officials and curial bodies); our liturgy is our agreed-upon self-definition. What we do in the liturgy and how we do it declares what we believe and impresses an identity upon us. The liturgy is foundational for us.
It is not clear why Malloy thinks that we have no confessional documents. By elevating the Book of Common Prayer to the status of uncontestable theological authority, it becomes a confessional document. More importantly, Anglicans have historically relied upon a number of theological texts. The most well known of these are the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, which were used for nearly three hundred years as a way of preventing non-Anglicans from attending and graduating from Oxford, Cambridge, and other Anglican institutions of higher learning in the British Isles. No eighteenth-century Dissenter would have believed that Anglicans lacked confessional documents! But other texts have also been important, such as the canon law, the two books of homilies, and the Paraphrases of Erasmus of Rotterdam. Let us not forget the legal realities that defined most of Anglican history; all of these confessional documents were established and maintained by Crown, Parliament, and Convocation.
Let us also not forget the history of Anglican educational curricula. Here in the United States, Bishop White set in place a theological curriculum that lasted into the late nineteenth century. Furthermore, a study of the print history of Anglican texts would reveal that a number of works were of abiding import for centuries, such as Bishop John Pearson’s Exposition of the Creed, Richard Allestree’s The Whole Duty of Man, Robert Nelson’s A Companion for the Festivals and Fasts of the Church of England, and Bishop Butler’s The Analogy of Religion. Each of these works was reprinted dozens of times for centuries, and Butler’s works entered Anglican curricula in the nineteenth century. Contemporary ignorance about these texts reveals much about the present state of Anglican/Episcopal education, but nothing at all about our tradition’s past.
Today, the liturgy is to Anglicans what the Bible is to evangelicals: a debilitating intellectual crutch used to excuse indifference to — and even hatred of — the ecclesial commitments borne and sustained by rigorous and thus humbling study. In our laziness, we cast off accountability both to our fellow Anglicans and to the wider body of Christ. We cannot teach what we do not know; we cannot defend what we do not understand; we cannot give what we do not have. And thus we shuffle off to mumble prayers to an unknown God, convinced that our inarticulate incoherence is an effectual sign of uniquely privileged grace. We defraud other Christians — but we deceive only ourselves.
Christian liturgy is one of the few facets of Christian existence that neither begins with nor belongs to the Church. Liturgy directs us beyond the early Church and back to ancient Israel, but it also directs us beyond ancient Israel to the God who transcends both time and space. In Exodus, it is written: “In accordance with all that I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle…so you shall make it” (25:9). This revelation is the beginning of liturgy. Whether one reads the third-century Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus or the sixteenth-century Lawes of Richard Hooker, the revelation of divine worship has always been both the ideal and the norming norm of Christian worship. This is true throughout the New Testament; the earliest Christians participated in the Temple’s liturgy and the same liturgy formed the backdrop of later New Testament works, notably the Letter to the Hebrews and the Apocalypse of St. John. But none of these texts portrays the liturgy as the font of Christian identity — and how could liturgy be thus, when liturgy did not and does not begin with Christianity? Liturgy is one of the great aids of discipleship. Liturgy is the Church’s inspired emulation of heavenly worship. Liturgy is not a first principle from which we deduce all doctrine. Liturgy is not and cannot be a substitute for discipleship. Liturgy does not and cannot exhaust the Church of its many other duties. In the words of the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom: “In wisdom, let us attend!”
 See W. Taylor Stevenson, “Lex Orandi—Lex Credendi” in John E. Booty, Stephen Sykes, and Jonathan Knight (eds.), The Study of Anglicanism, second edition (SPCK and Fortress Press, 1998), pp. 187ff.
 Mary Gray-Reeves and Michael Perham, The Hospitality of God: Emerging Worship for a Missional Church (SPCK, 2011), pp. 13–14; ch. 2 as a whole is concerned with liturgy.
 Earey, Beyond Common Worship, p. 100.
 Stevenson, “Lex Orandi—Lex Credendi,” p. 187.
 Mark Chapman, Anglican Theology (T & T Clark, 2012), p. 4.
 Gray-Reeves and Perham, The Hospitality of God, p. 13.
 Cited in the May 2011 pastoral letter by the Rt. Rev. Mark Sisk: http://archive.constantcontact.com/fs039/1102067254998/archive/1105586716868.html. Accessed September 10, 2014.
 For Erasmus’ extensive influence in England, see Gregory D. Dodds, Exploiting Erasmus: The Erasmian Legacy and Religious Change in Early Modern England (University of Toronto Press, 2013).
 See Robert W. Prichard, The Nature of Salvation: Theological Consensus in the Episcopal Church, 1801 – 1873 (University of Illinois Press, 1997).
 For the later influence of these authors and their writings, see the respective entries in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.