Note: the following was adapted from three posts on the BCP and Work originally published on our website in September of 2014.
In light of the Labor Day holiday, I thought it would be timely to discuss what the Book of Common Prayer has to say about work and labor. With the obvious exception of the Holy Bible, there is no book more important to Anglican life than the Book of Common Prayer. It should not be surprising, then, to find that the Prayer Book has some wisdom to share on the general topic of vocation and on the specific topics of work, duty, and labor.
In the 1928 edition of the American version of the Book of Common Prayer (that is, the version we use at All Saints), we find the word “labour” occurring 46 times, and the word “work” occurring 362 times. While many of the instances of the Prayer Book using the word “work” refer to things other than our vocational labors (such as good works, works of righteousness, the Lord working his will in us, etc.), thanksgiving and prayer for our daily work is scattered throughout many of the services. I found three of these examples to be especially profound and poignant with respect to how Anglicanism’s most important resource wants us to view our work in our various vocational callings.
For Every Man in his Work
Almighty God, our Heavenly Father, who declarest thy glory and showest forth thy handiwork in the heavens and in the earth; Deliver us, we beseech thee, in our several callings, from the service of mammon, that we may do the work which thou givest us to do, in truth, in beauty, and in righteousness, with singleness of heart as thy servants, and to the benefit of our fellow men; for the sake of him who came among us as one that serveth, thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen (p. 44)
The first passage on work is the most obvious: the prayer “For Every Man in his Work.” In this passage, we find one of the purposes of our work, as well as ways that work should be different for Christians than it is for the World.
It may be surprising, but this prayer shows us that one of the reasons we are to work is that our work is part of God declaring his glory and showing forth his handiwork. Furthermore, our work on earth reflects God’s work in heaven and on earth. Our work is to bring God glory, and we work because God works.
Made to Work . . . and then we Fell
This is reminiscent of the Creation accounts in Genesis, where God makes all of Creation simply because it was good for him to do so. Then, God makes man and woman for the purposes of working and tending his creation. Even in granting Adam and his descendants dominion over creation, it was always for the purposes of taking care of what God had made, not to destroy and twist it for our own desires. Prior to the Fall, Adam’s work included naming the animals (demonstrating both Adam’s lordship over them and what we’d call scientific inquiry about them), having children, tending the Garden, and enjoying the fruits of all this work.
After the Fall, Adam was still to do these things, albeit with much toil and hardship. The curse of the Fall is not work itself, but rather work that is tedious, difficult, and at times unfruitful. The combination of the corruption of our work and sin’s corruption of our natures means that we are now often inclined to use our work for greedy purposes that promote selfish or evil ends. Our work often results in us being oppressed or oppressing others. We often cooperate in ugliness and in untruthfulness, serving our own ambitions rather than God’s purposes. We often find ourselves entrapped work that seems trivial, purposeless, or to which we feel unsuited and in which we feel unfulfilled. We end up living for the weekend or for retirement, and see much of our regular daily lives as a waste of time.
Redemption Including Redeemed Work
With the coming of the Messiah, we get the down payment of the reversal of the Fall, including the redemption of work. As the prayer above notes, Our Lord came as a servant. He also was known as the son of a carpenter. That is, Jesus himself engaged in vocational work, both in his early life, and in his later ministry. In Christ, we are able to follow his example, and change even tedious work into something that can glorify God.
This prayer also points out characteristics of work that glorifies God: work done in truth, work done in beauty, work done in righteousness, and work done with singleness of mind. This echoes St. Paul’s admonition to the Philippians:
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you (4:8-9, KJV).
It is when our work conforms to these words of Scripture and this prayer that we will find fulfilment and vocation in it. Sometimes that means we change our attitudes. Sometimes that means we change our jobs. Often this takes stepping out in faith and trusting in God’s provision so that we are servants to him rather than to mammon (that is, money). The truth is, every job, career, calling, vocation, etc., can still be marred by the curse of the Fall. But God has redeemed us from the curse, when Jesus became a curse for us. Just as Jesus rose from the dead, we have the hope of our own resurrection in the World to Come, when all of the effects of the Fall are set to rights again and all our work is performed in the fullness of God’s glory. In the meantime, we use our work in truth, beauty, righteousness, and singleness of mind, for God’s glory, and not for the service of mammon, repenting when we fail, and trusting in God’s help.
Catechesis and Our Bounden Duty
The next of our three passages is the shortest: the description of our “bounden duty” found in the Second Office of Instruction. Our Prayer Book includes two Offices of Instruction, meant for parents and ministers to catechize (that is, instruct in basic Christian principles) the children of the parish. The First Office (pp. 283-289) mirrors the traditional Anglican Catechism, and is designed to teach the basic beliefs necessary for a person to be Confirmed by the bishop. The Second Office (pp. 290-295) fleshes out the First Office and gives supplementary teaching, especially with regard to basic Sacramental Theology. In discussing what it means to be a member of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, the catechumen is asked:
Question: What is your bounden duty as a member of the Church?
Answer: My bounden duty is to follow Christ, to worship God every Sunday in his Church; and to work and pray and give for the spread of his kingdom (p. 291).
The phrase “bounden duty” should be familiar to anyone who has been regularly attending Mass on Sunday morning, as it pops up in the Eucharistic Prayer where we ask the Father to accept our “sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving” and we offer and present to Him “our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice” through Jesus’ merits. That is, fully admitting that we are “unworthy, through our manifold sins, to offer unto [Him] any sacrifice,” we respond to Christ’s once-offered “full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice” by offering ourselves up to God in praise and thanksgiving (see pp. 80-81).
But how does this relate to the “bounden duty” we find in the Second Office of Instruction? This may be surprising, but this office brings our work, prayer, and giving into the praise and thanksgiving we talk about at Mass. That is, our praise and thanksgiving isn’t limited to gathering for Mass with our brothers and sisters in Christ, but it extends to our daily work, daily prayer, and to our giving for the Kingdom. Furthermore, it shows that our daily sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving through our daily work, prayer, and giving all contribute to God answering our prayer, “Thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.” In other words, God uses our work, prayers, and giving as the means by which he advances his Kingdom, in this fallen and broken world, even as we look forward to the day when he will fully establish his Kingdom in the new heavens and new earth at the Resurrection of the Dead.
The Pure Milk of the Word
The fact that this shows up in our Offices of Instruction indicates that it is really a basic teaching of the Church; this is milk teaching, not meat. Unfortunately, we have been so used to creating compartmentalized lives where we make strict boundaries between our “Church lives” and our “work lives” and our “home lives” that we often fail to see how the Gospel impacts our whole selves. This shows up in the tendency to think of some work as “holy” or “godly” simply because it is specifically related to Church or religion, while other work is “secular” or “mundane.” The truth is that the Gospel sanctifies (that is, sets apart or makes holy) all of our vocational work that is done “in truth, in beauty, and in righteousness, with singleness of heart as [God’s] servants, and to the benefit of our fellow men.” Living out this bounden duty, then, is part of who we are as Christians, and is not something extra and arduous for only professional ministers or “super-Christians.”
Furthermore, we must emphasize the importance of being catechized and catechizing others. One of the reasons we have so many lazy and rebellious Christians is that we are reaping several decades of poor catechesis in much of the Church. We’ve been so interested in making converts that we have often failed to raise those converts into disciples. Discipleship begins with catechesis. We can never grow to maturity without starting at the beginning. From there we grow into lifelong discipleship and serious spiritual formation. This takes place in the local parish and in the family (which has often been traditionally called the “domestic church”). We can never grow into our vocational calling as mature Christians if we are not willing to do what it takes to grow up in the faith. That is why we have various opportunities for discipleship or catechesis every week. It’s the rare Christian that will grow up by himself or herself; we need each other, and we need discipleship. For those of us who are parents, godparents, or teachers, we also need to pass the faith along by catechizing those under our care. That is one of the most important vocational callings that comes with being a parent, godparent, or teacher.
Facing Some Reality: A General Intercession from Family Prayer
So far the prayer book has looked at the ideal with respect to our vocation and work and has offered up teaching and prayer that can help us move toward that ideal. In our final passage, we see some of the harsh reality that comes with living in a broken, fallen, and sinful world:
O God, at whose word man goeth forth to his work and to his labour until the evening; Be merciful to all whose duties are difficult or burdensome, and comfort them concerning their toil. Shield from bodily accident and harm the workmen at their work. Protect the efforts of sober and honest industry, and suffer not the hire of the labourers to be kept back by fraud. Incline the heart of employers and of those whom they employ to mutual forbearance, fairness, and good-will. Give the spirit of governance and of a sound mind to all in places of authority. Bless all those who labour in works of mercy or in schools of good learning. Care for all aged persons, and all little children, the sick and the afflicted, and those who travel by land or by sea. Remember all who by reason of weakness are overtasked or because of poverty are forgotten. Let the sorrowful sighing of prisoners come before thee; and according to the greatness of thy power, preserve thou those that are appointed to die. Give ear unto our prayer, O merciful and gracious Father, for the love of thy dear Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen (pp. 599-600).
The first thing that immediately stands out in this prayer is that we are acknowledging how sin has corrupted work and working conditions. Like anyone else in this world, Christians can be overworked and underpaid. Work can be overly difficult, tedious, and burdensome. Accidents happen. Fraud is a reality. Employers exploit their workers and workers cheat their employers. Education and “works of mercy” are undervalued. The aged, the young, the sick, and widows can be vulnerable to people taking advantage of them. The poor and prisoners are forgotten. The government can (and often is) marred by corruption of one sort or another. In short, things are a mess!
Crying out to God
But the prayer doesn’t leave us there. On the one hand, in facing this reality, we cry out to God, even as the Children of Israel cried out to him when they were enslaved in Egypt. And just as he heard their cry (Ex. 3:7-8), he hears our cry as well. In the Resurrection of Christ, we have the promise that we will one day rest from those labors and come to the Promised Land. Our Lord Jesus Christ is, indeed, the second Moses who rescues us from slavery. The most important part of this rescue mission is, of course, our justification and redemption from slavery to sin and the devil. But we will also ultimately be rescued from the brokenness, fallenness, and sinfulness of the world when he returns to fully establish his Kingdom on Earth in the final Resurrection. He will judge with righteousness the case of all those who have been wronged and will set everything right again. In J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, the long-awaited returning King was described at his coronation: “ancient of days he seemed and yet in the flower of manhood; and wisdom sat upon his brow, and strength and healing were in his hands, and a light was about him (p. 6908)”. How much more will this be true of Our Lord when he returns and gives justice!
Working for the Kingdom
On the other hand, the Church has long recognized that we have a duty as God’s people to bring a taste of God’s Kingdom into the broken world. In addition to evangelism, this has always taken the form of working to make the world a better place. In Ancient Rome, Christians protected abandoned and unwanted infants, spoke against abortion, and worked to end the brutal blood sports so common in those days. In America and England, Christians were at the forefront of the abolitionist movements to end the evils of slavery. Christians were at the forefront of movements to get legal equality and voting rights for women. Christians have always been great builders of schools, hospitals, and orphanages. In short, Christians have always wanted to end the evils and sufferings in this world in practical ways.
This principle also extends to business practices. In Ireland, for example, the Guinness family began their famous brewing company as a way to provide good employment their fellow Irishmen, alleviate the horrible poverty typical of the area, and to provide a drink that was healthier than the oft-polluted water or the oft-abused whiskey. To the Guinness family, this was part of their Christian duty, living out their vocational calling as Christian businessmen of means.
The Gospel calls the Christian employer to treat his workers as his brothers, with fairness, justice, and mercy. The Gospel also calls the Christian worker to treat his employer as his brother, working in a diligent and truthful manner. Furthermore, we all are to use our work as a way of living out the Gospel, both in living out its principles and in working for the kingdom.