I ran across this article recently. The author discusses the shift in Presbyterian worship style towards a more Episcopalian or Anglican liturgy. Having wondered about this particular phenomenon, I was intrigued. I intend to do more research and write a more in depth article on the topic, but for today, I will just give a short excerpt from the article as food for thought:
The critical problem with Episcoterianism is that it is not based on or compatible with the doctrine that lays at the heart of all Presbyterian worship – the Regulative Principle – which states that “the acceptable way of worshiping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshiped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scripture” (WCF 21.1) The RPW is a logical outgrowth of the doctrine of Sola Scriptura and the integrally related doctrine of the sufficiency of scripture, and states that Christ alone has the authority to determine how his church should worship Him, and that He has done so in the Bible.
Episcoterian worship however is based upon the Anglican theory that “The Church hath power to decree Rites or Ceremonies” (The 39 Articles, Article 20) essentially stating that Christ has granted the church the authority to create new patterns for worship and to decree that congregations shall adopt and follow these patterns. Thus in Episcoterianism we see the introduction of many elements into worship that, while they may be ancient, are not prescribed in scripture such as vestments, the church year, lectionaries, processions, liturgies, the use of images, etc.
Of late this traditional worship is enjoying something of a revival in Presbyeterian churches, often as a result of the rejection of “contemporary” worship. In some congregations they have gone well beyond the old blended Episcoterianism of the 1950s and have instituted what can only be described as high-church Anglican or even Anglo-Catholic worship.
In the next article, I will examine historically how Episcoterianism crept into Presbyterianism in the late 1800s, but now I want to publish a document, Presbyterians Reject Prescribed Liturgies, that should show in detail how alien Episcoterianism is to Old School Presbyterianism.
The author then reproduces the full document “Presbyterians Reject Prescribed Liturgies” which lays out an argument against the use of liturgies. The whole article is worth reading. The following excerpt is from the conclusion:
Once more: prescribed Liturgies, which remain in use from age to age, have a tendency to fix, to perpetuate, and even to coerce the adoption and propagation of error. It is not forgotten, that the advocates of Liturgies urge, as an argument in their favour, a consideration directly the converse of this, viz., that they tend, by their scriptural and pious character, to extend and perpetuate the reign of truth in a Church. Where their character is really thus thoroughly scriptural, they may, no doubt, exert, in this respect, a favourable influence; but where they teach or insinuate error, the mischief can scarcely fail to be deep, deplorable, and transmitted from generation to generation. Of this, painful examples might be given, if it were consistent with the brevity of this sketch, to enter on such a field. On the whole, after carefully comparing the advantages and disadvantages of free and prescribed prayer, the argument, whether drawn from Scripture, from ecclesiastical history, or from daily experience, is clearly in favour of free or extemporary prayer. Its generally edifying character may, indeed, sometimes be marred by weak and ignorant men; but we have no hesitation in saying that the balance is manifestly in its favour. For, after all, the difficulty which sometimes occurs in rendering extemporary prayer impressive and edifying, is by no means obviated, in all cases, by the use of a Prayer-book. Who has not witnessed the recitation of devotional forms conducted in such a manner as to disgust every hearer of taste, and to banish all seriousness from the mind?
I believe the author may be on to something. I plan to do a good deal more reading on the subject. If you have any resources to suggest, please leave a comment.