What was again made clear in Columbus, Ohio, at the 75th General Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church is that there is a very clear connection and route from the content of its innovative 1979 Prayer Book to its major innovations in sexuality. And that connection is specifically through the constant use of the text of the “Service of Holy Baptism” (pp.299ff.) with its “Baptismal Covenant.”
Here is the text of one Resolution from the 2006 General Convention which communicates the radicalism of the use of this “Covenant” as it refers to people of all kinds and all “orientations”:
“Resolved, the House of Bishops concurring, That the 75th General Convention commit itself to baptismal equality for members of all ages; and be it furtherResolved, That the 75th General Convention direct the Executive Council to appoint a Task Force for interpreting our biblical and theological language and heritage about God and people in ways that include all those created in God’s image; and be it further
Resolved, That the Task Force will offer guidelines to assure linguistic visibility in the everyday worship, music, education, preaching, written materials, and clip art used at the congregational, diocesan and national levels of the Episcopal Church such as many Protestant denominations already have; and be it further
Resolved, That the Task Force include theologians, members of the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, the Committee on the Status of Women, the House of Bishops’ Theology Committee, the Executive Council Anti-Racism Committee, and the Office of Communications; and be further
Resolved, That the Task Force publish by 2009 those principles and guidelines with recommendations for introducing them to congregations, the Episcopal Church Center, church-related organizations, staff and media; and be it further
Resolved, That Baptismal equality is understood as the welcoming of all baptized persons into the Body of Christ, where all are included equally, and the grace and gifts bestowed by God in this this sacrament are recognized and fully utilized; and be it further
Resolved, That the General Convention request the Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget and Finance to consider a budget allocation of $38,000 for two meetings of the Task Force and $2,000 for publication of the principles and
Inclusivity and equality are the common denominators in all of Jesus' parables about the household (kingdom) of God. Today the Church is challenged to look at what it means to receive someone through baptism into the household of God and to include them fully into its life and ministry.”
Overseas journalists present at the Convention were mystified by the constant references in Committees and House of Deputies and Bishops to the Baptismal Covenant as the basis of ECUSA religion. Andrew Carey, son of Lord Carey, admitted on his Blog that he could not see why baptism was mentioned so often. This is because the emphasis upon the supposed contract made with God in baptism to become a radical innovator is peculiarly North American.
I recall vividly being present at a meeting of the Standing Liturgical Commission at the Convention of 2000, where I was giving evidence on behalf of the use of the classic BCP of 1928. It was agreed that with the local bishop’s permission and under certain conditions certain services of the 1928 BCP could be used. However, of one thing they were all clear, and the female priests there present most clear. This was that there was no substitute possible for the use of the Baptismal Service. For herein was contained what they obviously believed was an essential part of the progressive religion of the modernizing Episcopal Church.
I also recall vividly watching the installation – by himself! – in the National Cathedral at Washington of Griswold as the Presiding Bishop. Here it was made very clear that in Baptism God sows the seed of all possible ministry and ministries in the Church, lay and ordained. Thus at any time a baptized person may be called to any ministry, whatever the person’s sex or “orientation.” So, once baptized, any person is a potential candidate for all ministries and the fact of having been baptized is always to be the primary consideration.
Baptism, ECUSA style, is the ritual entrance into a community (a community in modern terms is the coming together of “individuals” for a common purpose). But what kind of community? This is presented within what is called “The Baptismal Covenant”. Though there is promise to be committed to certain traditional things such as church attendance, resisting of evil and proclaiming the Gospel, the innovation is in the questions which require an affirmative reply: “Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?” And , “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being?”
Anyone who has followed the debates and resolutions of the General Convention from the 1960s through to 2006 will have no doubt of the great importance attached to these innovative commitments, which provided for not a few General Conventions their titles and themes. What these commitments mean – if we listen to the General Convention and the Executive Council – is a virtually total dedication to the expanding agenda of civil and human rights and the support of all moves to affirm self-worth and human dignity. Thus anyone making these commitments within the context of the Episcopal Church is virtually committing himself/herself to all the innovations introduced by the General Convention since the 1960s, from the right to divorce and remarriage in church, through a variety of women’s and minority rights, to the rights of homosexual persons to be true to their orientation. That is, a commitment to a community which is not only in the world and for the world but is also OF the world, differing only from the world (enlightened culture) in using “God-language” for human ideas and activity.
In the traditional Services of Holy Baptism, the emphasis is upon regeneration, birth from above, and dying to sin and rising to new life in Christ, for membership of a heavenly communion (not an earthly, activist community) where life on earth is a pilgrimage and where as a soldier and servant of Christ one is at war with the world, the flesh and the devil in the service of the heavenly Father. Let my reader compare the content of the 1979 service with that in the edition of the classical BCP of 1662 or 1928 in order to get the complete contrast between the doctrine, style and emphases as well as the content of the two different forms of entrance into Christian Faith.
Of course, there is sufficient traditional material in the 1979 Baptismal Service to hide its real and true purpose, which is that of initiating people into an activist community which, in the name of God, and with some use of traditional language and means, is primarily committed to bringing or reflecting change in human society, so that in it equality, justice and peace are to be found, and war and discrimination against persons are no more. To see what “peace and justice” mean one only need look at the work of the “Peace and Justice Commission” of the Episcopal Church since the 1970s, and to see what “dignity of persons” is all about one only need the acceptance by this Church of most of the agenda of the LesBiGay and Feminist lobbies.
So I am continually surprised, indeed shocked and grieved, that those who claim to be “the orthodox remnant” within ECUSA use this service, with its “Covenant” (= contract made with God), all the time and seem not to realize that by using it they are supporting unwittingly the very doctrines and agenda that they say they oppose! I am also amazed that AMiA clergy of the Province of Rwanda use it as well!
I suggest that as a protest for the Gospel and against the New Episcopal Religion they use instead the classic Anglican Service and, if they insist that it be in so-called contemporary language, then we can supply that for them right away!
(For a reasoned critique of the 1979 Prayer Book from the vantage point of the classic Anglican Way, see Louis. R Tarsitano & Peter Toon, Neither Orthodoxy Nor A Formulary…. Available on line at http://www.anglicanmarketplace.com/ or by calling 1-800-727-1928)