Book of Common Order

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The Book of Common Order was a book compiled in the 1550s and 1560s by Scottish Protestant reformer John Knox and others. The Book of Common Order served as the worship book of the Church of Scotland from 1564 to 1645.

The book was first printed in 1556 under the title Book of Geneva. This version, initially titled Book of Our Common Order, became widely used in the Reformed churches (see Reformation). It passed through various editions between 1556 in Geneva, Switzerland, and 1644 in Edinburgh, Scotland. The book contained the Psalms, as well as instructions to ministers about how to carry out basic duties, such as prayers, election and ordination of ministers, choice of elders and deacons, visitation of the sick, and excommunication.

The Church of Scotland adapted the Book to modern needs, issuing authorized editions in 1928 and 1940. The Book of Common Order was eventually replaced in Scottish churches by the English Prayer Book.

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Book of Common Order

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The title used historically by the Church of Scotland and associated Presbyterian churches for their liturgical handbooks. The latest edition bearing the name was published for the Church of Scotland in 1979 and contains forms of service in the traditional "Thou" style of addressing God as well as in more contemporary "You" form.

Contents of this book are the divine service (three full and one shortened orders for Holy Communion together with an outline order of service for public worship when the Lord's Supper is not celebrated), services for Christian initiation, the celebration of marriage, funerals, and the ordination and admission of elders. It also contains a lectionary, two sets of collects, and proper prefaces for the Christian year.

The first book to bear this title was published by authority of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1562 and contained texts for the ministration of the sacraments. Two years later a further edition included material for all purposes, including metrical psalms and versions of other portions of Scripture. The first edition had been largely based on what was known as John Knox's Genevan Service Bool (1556), introduced by that Reformer for the English congregation in Geneva, which consisted largely of exiles from the reign of Mary. The attempt to replace the Book of Common Order by the so-called Laudian Liturgy of 1637 precipitated the Solemn League and Covenant, but in 1644 it was displaced by the Directory of Public Worship.

As the Book of Common Order had never been an absolute formulary like the Book of Common Prayer in England, but rather a standard and model of worship, the minister was given freedom for extempore prayer as well as flexibility of usage. This led to very "free" types of services in some churches during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but this century has seen the resurrection of the Book of Common Order. The United Free Church of Scotland published a book of this title in 1928, and then the Church of Scotland itself, after reuniting with that church, produced the 1940 edition of the Book of Common Order, later revised in 1952. As well as the usual services, this handbook had interesting forms for the dedication of various church buildings and furniture as well as some useful devotional material in prayers for special occasions and graces.

D H Wheaton
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)

W. D. Maxwell, An Outline of Christian Worship; H. Davies, Worship and Theology in England, I, 274-93, IV, 370-72.

The individual articles presented here were generally first published in the early 1980s. This subject presentation was first placed on the Internet in December 1997.

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