Sunday, April 15, 2007

Baptism, Sacrament of Christ, the Lord. What is involved for Reformed Catholics, that is Anglicans?

Since the release of my essay/booklet, " Mystical Washing & Spiritual Regeneration," I have been involved in various discussions mostly by e-mail. One of these topics is the relation of this Dominical Sacrament to what Jesus called "the new covenant in my blood" (Luke 22:20). In the essay there is a long section on the theme of covenant, in part required by the centrality in The Episcopal Church's excessive commitment to what it calls "The Baptismal Covenant." Here is a further attempt to make what I think is the Reformed Catholic, that is historic Anglican, teaching, clear.

1. Baptism is the Sacrament by which God places a person in his kingdom and church, as He forgives his sins and gives him the gift of eternal life.
2. What God provides in Baptism requires absolutely no payment by the recipient. The gift is placed in the open hands and receptive heart of a person who receives and believes the Gospel of the Father concerning His Son. The gift has two aspects—a right standing and relation before God the Father and the beginnings of a faithful, obedient and holy life of love for God and neighbor—that is, what has been often called Justification and Sanctification.
3. Baptism is the initiation Sacrament of the New Covenant (which is the final, glorious phase of the covenant of grace given by God, the Lord, to Abraham brought into being by Christ Jesus) and is therefore not to be understood as if it were a modern compact, contract and covenant, involving two or more negotiating partners. It is a covenant in that there are two parties, God and man, but there is no negotiation for God establishes and sets all the conditions of the covenant. So it is more like—in modern terms—a testament (will) where what is given is given is given only according to the will of the giver. Therefore, it is dangerous to speak of "a" or "the baptismal covenant" for this may suggest or contain the idea that human beings have negotiating rights with God, the Lord.
4. Before the actual Baptism there are preparations to be undertaken by the Minister (church) who is to baptize. For example, he has to be satisfied that the candidate (or Godparents of the candidate where an infant is presented) believes the Gospel and is repentant for his sins –thus embraces the Creed, renounces the world, the flesh and the devil, and is obedient to the will of God made known by Christ Jesus. (The Minister or church must not put into the Baptismal Service before the Baptism occurs any conditions other than those set by the Lord of the new covenant and set forth in the traditional services of Baptism.)
5. After the Baptism in water in the Triune Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, there may be also the laying on of hands in prayer and blessing and the anointing with consecrated oil; but these two latter are not essential and will not be used where Confirmation occurs later.
6. The saying of the Lord's Prayer by the baptized is the prayer of
one who has been adopted by the Father into his family and the receiving of Holy Communion is the sharing in the fellowship of the Body of Christ and being spiritually strengthened by the Body and Blood of the crucified and now exalted Jesus.
7. After Baptism is completed it is appropriate for the Minister to address the baptized – or the Godparents – concerning the privileges, duties and responsibilities as the baptized child of God the Father.

[Note that all the above elements are present in the Baptismal Services for Infants and Adults in The BCP (1662) and may be clearly seen in the contemporary English version of the Service provided by me in the booklet, "Mystical Washing," available from or 1-800-PBS-1928]

Comments on "The Baptismal Covenant" in the 1979 Prayer Book of The ECUSA

Whatever may be thought about the content of this "Covenant" (my own view is that it is too geared to the ethos of the late 1960s and early 1970s in terms of social change) it is most certainly in the wrong place. Where it is placed, it becomes part of the preliminaries—indeed conditions—which are required before the receipt of the Sacrament and thus it takes away from, in fact denies, the character of the New Covenant as the Covenant of Grace, established only by God in his mercy and justice. Its content—if judged to be truly worthy of being publicly stated—belongs to an exhortation addressed to the baptized after Baptism.

If biblically-based Episcopalians want to use the 1979 service then they ought to leave out "The Baptismal Covenant" before the Baptism, and, possibly, render its content into an exhortation after the Baptism is completed. They will, however, be better served by using another Service – say from the American BCP 1928 or from the 1662 English BCP, either in traditional or contemporary English. The 1979 Service is so much attached to the radical agenda of The ECUSA that it is difficult, maybe now impossible to use it in an orthodox way at all. "Peace and justice" and "human dignity" have been defined clearly by successive General Conventions and Presiding Bishops and their definitions belong wholly to a liberal progressive agenda, which has been rejected by much of the Global Anglican Communion.

Easter 1, 2007

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