At the beginning of this last semester in the Theology and Ethic seminar here at New College, a speaker came in to talk about the idea of Lex orandi or the Law of Prayer. He was speaking from a specifically Anglican perspective. Now, I am not an Anglican. I am happily and contentedly a Presbyterian. However, his talk on Lex orandi was fascinating and it has stuck with me.
Lex orandi is the shortened form of a longer phrase: Lex orandi, Lex credendi or the Law of prayer is the law of belief. In Anglican thought the idea is that the liturgy shapes and leads to theology. This is why Anglicans very proudly do not subscribe to any particular doctrinal statement. As one prominent Anglican biblical scholar said in an interview, "We, Anglicans, believe what is true." Their worship shapes their theology.
The question that has rolled around in my head for months now is: "Can a Presbyterian embrace Lex orandi, Lex credendi?" I want to propose that the answer to the question is yes. Now, we can't understand the meaning of the phrase to be the same as that of our Anglican brothers and sisters. However, as Presbtyerians I think we can honestly say that the way we pray tells us what we actually believe or even going more holistically how we act is an indication of what we believe.
Lex orandi, Lex credendi can be a helpful corrective for those of us in the Reformed world. While it is true that our faith (i.e. certain theological convictions) shapes our practice, we often think that this is a one way street. However, what Lex orandi helps us to realize is that practice also shapes our faith. Both our faith and our practice reinforce each other.
As I read Thomas Brooks' Precious Remedies this week, this simple truth was made all the more clear. Brooks in chapter 2, when discussing devices eleven and twelve, talks about how our false beliefs can lead us into sin and how the company we keep can lead us into sin. In device twelve, we see that how we live (or better with whom we live) can lead us into temptation. In device eleven, we find that our false beliefs can lead us into temptation. In both cases we find that our faith influences our practice and our practice influences our faith.
There are two separate yet equally dangerous errors that plague the church these days. The first is attempting to get theology right while ignoring our Christian life. The second is to ignore our theology and only worry about the Christian life. The ancient understanding Lex orandi, Lex credendi corrects both these errors. It says that we are what we believe and believe what we are. Thomas Brooks brings this out again and again in his little book Precious Remedies. Every Lord's Day as we worship through hearing the Word preached, participating in the prayers, partaking in the sacrament, and we are reminded that this worship forms us and what we believe about God. (Side note: This is why only doing that which the Lord commands in Scripture is so important for our worship. Worship forms who we are. Scripture tells us that we are to be conformed to the image of Christ and Scripture displays Christ to us in ways that human inventions, no matter how pious they may be, cannot do. Therefore, Scripture must regulate our worship.) We see this truth proclaimed in the catechisms, as they not only tell us what to believe but also how what we believe changes how we live. The truth is, good Christian discipleship tells us over and over again that our faith shapes our practice and our practice shapes our faith. Lex orandi, Lex credendi.
I am currently reading through Thomas Brooks' Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices. If you would like to read along, next week we will pick up the pace and cover chapter 3.