Saturday, March 31, 2007

The Baptismal Covenant – insights from Professor Bryan D Spinks

I recently acquired, "Reformation and Modern Rituals and Theologies of Baptism," (2006) written by the Englishman, Bryan D Spinks, who is Professor of Liturgy at Yale.

Having myself on various occasions analyzed and criticized the baptismal Service in the 1979 prayer Book of The Episcopal Church –most recently in my booklet, "Mystical Washing and Spiritual Regeneration", March 07)—I was keen to see whether or not he had anything to say about it.

And he had several pages on the making of the "initiation Services" in the 1979 book (pp.172ff.). And what he says is illuminating and happily for me confirms much of what I have written and been saying about the 1979 service.

He writes: "Perhaps the greatest surprise and innovation is the section entitled 'The Baptismal Covenant'." He notes that the theme of making a personal covenant with God in Baptism has not even been a minor theme in Anglican Services of Holy Baptism. But further, he makes the very important point that the way the 1979 service is constructed itself shows that the obvious interpretation of "covenant" is "contract", that is the one to be baptized make a contract with God.

In the Service constructed by Cranmer and in the various authentic editions of The Book of Common Prayer (1552, 1662, USA 1928, Canada 1962) Baptism is followed by exhortation to the baptized or to Godparents as to duties. That is gift of the Grace of regeneration is followed by a call for human response.

In the Service constructed in the early 1970s and in the 1979 Prayer Book the layout is such as to suggest an agreement or contract followed by Baptism (Grace) so that Grace is limited by contract. And that contract of course—coming from the late 1960s & early 1970s—made the pursuit of "peace and justice" and the giving dignity to all persons a part of the mission given by God (something which comes out very clearly in the public statements of the present Lady Primate who sees working for the Millennium Goals of the U.N. what the covenant is all about).

The Canadian 1985 Service is similar to the American of 1979 and has the same faulty theology. Happily in Canada they can fall back to use the BCP 1962 which has an excellent Service.

In that the leadership of The Episcopal Church has made this 1979 Baptismal Covenant its major charter and guide to much of its life and witness, it has descended from the heights of grace to the depths or error and apostasy, where human beings decide what is their duty to God.

For my booklet, "Mystical Washing and Spiritual Regeneration" (64pp), which is really a strong commendation of Infant Baptism and includes the 1662 Service in Contemporary English (as a real alternative for those who have come to see that the 1979 is unusable by those who want to stay within biblical priorities), go to or call 1-800-PBS-1928 March 31 2007

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