Though the American Prayer Book has granted various civil offices different emphases in its state prayers, it’s been asked if a hasty substitution of the Presidency for Monarch might upset older notions of an Ordered Society? The potential problems invoked by such swapping has been discussed in several places, especially with respect to the Litany(1). Nonetheless, students of American church history are probably mostly familiar with John Wesley’s Sunday Service. Further discussion on the development of American state prayers allots Wesley a candidate for influence upon the United States BCP. While not comprehensive regarding the question, this post aims to open some discussion.
A history of the Sunday Service may be read elsewhere, but in anticipation of the American Revolution Wesley sent his version of the Prayer Book to colonial evangelicals along with the Rev’d Thomas Coke as superintendent for his Methodist people in 1784. The book was never widely received by American methodists, but it later became a reference point as liturgical enrichment progressed during the course of the 19th century. There are some worthy modifications to the 1662 liturgy, among which includes a KJV psalter, ditching the older Coverdale. Curiously, some of Wesley’s alterations were more conservative than Protestant Episcopalians proposed two years later as well as certain parts of the approved book in 1789. However, it’s the Whole State Prayers that’s of special interest as found in Wesley’s “Holy Communion” service. Concerning the magistrate it reads,
“We beseech thee also to save and defend all Christian Kings, Princes, and Governors; and especially thy Servants the Supreme Rulers of these United States; that under them we may be godly and quietly governed: and grant unto all that are put in authority under them, that they may truly and indifferently administer justice…”
For the sake of comparison, here is the English 1662 or Original version:
“We beseech thee also to save and defend all Christian Kings, Princes, and Governours; and specially thy Servant GEORGE our King; that under her we may be godly and quietly governed: And grant unto her whole Council, and to all that are put in authority under her, that they may truly and impartially administer justice..”
Interestingly, Wesley did not omit the entire royal prayer (!), keeping “Christian Kings”, et al.. Though Wesley dropped the specific name of the royal sovereign in favor of “the Supreme Rulers of these United States”, we can suppose Wesley sought an expression which shyly acknowledged Monarchy without great offense to Whig sympathies. Incidentally, the same language– “Supreme Rulers”– is used by Wesley in his transmission of the litany to the people called Methodists.
Protestant Episcopalians would make similar alterations in their 1785/89 BCP. However, the American revision apparently amalgamated “Christian Kings– ” with “– Supreme Rulers “, rendering the familiar term “Christian Rulers”. Also, Wesley’s generic “all” is replaced with more specific magistrates like state Governors, etc.. — predictable in an emerging Federal order. Could Wesley’s Service be a missing link to the history of Americanized State Prayers? Anyway, the proposed edition of 1785 basically pinned down the wording we now know,
“We beseech thee also to direct and dispose the hearts of all Christian Rulers, and. especially the Rulers and Governors of these states, that they may truly and impartially administer justice..”
Obviously the interposition remains speculative. However, we should keep in mind the significant intercourse between Methodist and Protestant Episcopalians over such matters as who acquired the first Episcopate for the colonies. Why not a similar rivalry or cross-influence with Sunday Services? The parallels of the aforesaid State Prayers seem too strong to fully dismiss and certainly deserve further investigation.
(1) There have been several posts on this question, on this blog and elsewhere. I’d like to compose a list here:
In time, I’ve noticed two operative principles or premises in the BCP’s alleged chain of authority. 1) an Erastian order emerging from a single corporate society vs. 2) a Two-Kingdom order where church and state are separate societies yet cooperative. The first view emphasizes the calling of a nation or family, such as the Messianic household, from Abraham to David to Jesus. The second construction emphasizes the calling of a ministerial or priestly order, leaning upon apostolic succession, the call of an Aaronic priesthood, etc.. My suspicion is the American revision of state prayers remained optimistic about a ‘christian society’, basing itself upon the first view rather than later. Many of my harsher disagreements with the American book are not so sharp given fairly legitimate difference of opinions between 2-Kingdom, 2-sword, and full-blown Erastian schemes. However, 2-sword and full-blown Erastianism seems to become more problematic as the society (or its elite) becomes more hostile to Christian belief?