One helpful idea I’ve come across recently is the distinction between having a Rule, and having rules.

Martin Thornton, in his book English Spirituality, argues that the (Cranmerian) Book of Common Prayer is not merely a collection of “church services”, but lays out a rule of life structured around the daily office, weekly communion and “habitual” personal devotion. He quotes John Cosin’s list of the “Precepts of the Church”, which can be summarised as follows:

  1. To observe the Festivals and Holy Days appointed.
  2. To keep the Fasting Days with devotion and abstinence.
  3. To observe established church customs and ceremonies.
  4. To participate in the public daily office (matins and evensong) where possible.
  5. “To receive the Blessed Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ with frequent devotion, and three times a year at least, of which Easter to be always one.”
  6. To seek personal absolution from a priest in order to prepare for communion.

He then contrasts this with the 1948 Lambeth Conference’s “short guide to the duties of church membership”:

  1. To follow the example of Christ in home and daily life, and to bear personal witness to him.
  2. To be regular in private prayer day by day.
  3. To read the Bible carefully.
  4. To come to Church every Sunday.
  5. To receive the Holy Communion faithfully and regularly.
  6. To give personal service to Church, neighbours and community.
  7. To give money to the work of the parish and Diocese and for the work of the Church overseas.
  8. To uphold the standard of Marriage entrusted by Christ to His Church.
  9. To care that children are brought up to love and serve the Lord.

As Thornton observes, while there are many similarities between the two, the fundamental difference is that the first is a Rule, a holistic system for Christian prayer and devotion, while the second is “a list of rules”, “open to an infinite amount of private interpretation”.

John H commenting at Boars Head Tavern