Note to readers: Liturgical entries on this blog are based on the traditional calendar of the Books of Common Prayer and the traditional one-year Eucharistic lectionary. If you follow a newer calendar or three-year lectionary, there are variations in names for some Sundays and in the readings.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Precepts of the Church

The specifics of Christian practice are innumerable, but the principle is clear. Every single Christian is called to serve Christ and His Church with our time, talents, and resources. Even when we are exhausted or sick, there are ways that our thoughts, words, and prayers can contribute to the mission of Christ’s Church. Since the specifics are vast, most of us need a little more concrete guidance. Thus, it is useful to consider what have been called the Commandments or Precepts of the Church. These Precepts are short and practical steps for the average church member to pursue in order to cultivate basic Christian devotion and service.

Usually such lists of precepts have consisted of from three to seven items. Although rooted in the Bible and the teachings of the early church, such lists of precepts became common in the Middle Ages and have continued in Roman Catholic and Anglican teaching.
One notable Anglican list of Precepts was developed by Bishop John Cosinsthe Caroline theologian who became Bishop of Durham in 1660. His list of Precepts had six headings which can be paraphrased as follows. 1) Observe prayer book festivals and holy days such as all Sundays, feasts of Christ, and New Testament saints. 2) Keep fasting days such as Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and the seasonal Ember Days. 3) Follow the customs and rules of the church for the sake of discipline and order. 4) Pray morning and evening, and when possible participate in Morning and Evening Prayer in the church. 5) Receive Holy Communion frequently and at a minimum 3 times a year, including Easter week. 6) Keep to the church’s teaching on marriage [V. Staley, The Catholic Religion, pp. 251-252].

These Precepts can be organized in shorter or longer ways, but whatever the form, they are useful reminders. We must make deliberate efforts to remain faithful, and we must move beyond general intentions into specific actions. Although we don’t want to become too narrow or legalistic, we do need to apply our faith in particular or concrete ways