In his Rhythm of Gods Grace, Arthur Paul Boers (a Mennonite theologian!) gives a brief history of daily prayer.
In the fourth century, he notes, “it was normal for most churches to have morning and evening prayer every day. Many participated. Christian leaders expected regular attendance. Ambrose of Milan. . . wanted Christians to come at least each morning” (p. 43).
As the monks became more influential in cathedral liturgies, “corporate public worship that was once available to all changed to long, inwardly oriented devotional services available to fewer and fewer folks” (46). Through the middle ages “the estrangement between corporate worship and personal spirituality deepened. Services grew longer and more complex. . . . Lay participation was not necessary” (47). In the end, “Many lay persons moved away from corporate prayer” (47).
Reformers tried to revive fixed hour prayers in modified forms, but without much success.
Despite the simplifications of the service introduced by Reformers, “on the whole, Protestant devotions were relegated to pastors’ studies, family prayers, or school chapels” (49). The Book of Common Prayer maintained morning and evening services, but in a form influenced by the monastic tradition of private, introspective prayer.
Citing Paul Bradshaw’s Two Ways of Praying, Boers explains that “The Reformation took to new lengths emphases begun in the late Middle Ages,” including “‘a trend to elevate individual, contemplative, and interior prayer as spiritually superior to the communal, external forms of the divine office, which it was thought could present a distraction to real praying.’ A divorce between personal piety and corporate worship continued to grow until the nineteenth century. With the industrial revolution and urbanization, people lost rural rhythms that permitted regular prayer. Individualism continued to spread, as did a voluntaristic approach to faith. ‘There were also the effects of the romantic revival and the resurgence of evangelical fervor'” (p. 50).
He suggests that worship has to be triple to be healthy – public worship, private prayer, and daily common prayer. Boers argues, “The Office is a ‘missing link’ between corporate and private prayer. Its absence has led to much distortion for Christians in both corporate worship and personal prayer. . . . The schism between corporate worship and private prayer can be healed if Christians practice all three. Praying together at a similar time can profoundly reverse unhealthy individualism in our prayer” (74).
posted by Peter J. Leithart on Saturday, September 29, 2012 at 3:33 pm
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