Sunday, September 23, 2007

Rowan & The Baptismal Covenant

During his conversation on September 20-21, 2007, with the American Episcopal House of Bishops, Archbishop Rowan heard various arguments for the recognition, blessing and deployment of persons in same-sex relations and for the holiness under the Gospel of Jesus of such arrangements. One form of the argument—as he indicated at the press conference— was new (or unfamiliar) to him and that was the exceedingly common American Episcopal claim that this innovation in sexual conduct and relations is morally supported and required by The Baptismal Covenant [TBC].

The Services of Holy Baptism in The Book of Common Prayer (1662) and Common Worship (2000) of the Church of England do not contain “The Baptismal Covenant” and so this “contract with God” is not familiar to Anglicans in Britain. The Archbishop has probably never taken a baptismal service in which there is an explicit TBC like there is in the American 1979 Prayer Book.

Enter Pelagianism

From a theological perspective, the placing of TBC before the actual Baptism in water with Christ’s words creates the heresy historically known as Pelagianism (even though Pelagius himself may never had held it). It is the belief that man is able in his freedom to negotiate with God terms of his salvation from God and for his duties to God. Also it is the belief that God actually takes serious such actions of [sinful, arrogant] man.

In the baptismal service in the 1979 Prayer Book those to be baptized establish a contract with God wherein are certain duties and these are taken on by them before they are actually baptized—that is before God has received them as repentant sinners, forgiven them, regenerated them and adopted them as his children through the sacrament of Baptism. In contrast, in the normal Anglican baptismal service, it is only after the Baptism is completed then those baptized are told of their high privileges and their solemn duties unto God the Father in the Name of Christ. All that comes before Baptism is rejection of Satan, the evil world and sin with profession of the Gospel, already proclaimed and heard.

Justice, Peace and Dignity

TBC was created by liturgists in the 1970s as they felt the strong cultural wind of the revolutionary 1960s. Especially were they keenly aware of the widespread call from the 1960s for “peace and justice” and the affirmation of “the dignity of each and every person” what his or her background, ethnicity and appearance. So in their confidence that they could set the terms of human relations to GOD, they created TBC in which is a mixture of traditional duties and novel (i.e., 1960s) ones. The latter are a commitment “to strive for justice and peace among all people” and “to respect the dignity of every human being.” Further, these novel ones were understood from the beginning (as virtually every agenda of every General Convention since the 1970s shows, and as the very public commitment and agenda of the present lady Presiding Bishop demonstrate) in terms that arose from the social, political, economic and cultural agenda of “left of center” idealist pressure groups of the 1960s and 1970s.

So today the millennial goals of the United Nations are seen and commended as if they are equivalent to the arrival of the kingdom of heaven on earth. And respecting the dignity of human persons is seen through the lens of human rights and therapeutic models of human nature and happiness. Inevitably such an understanding and commitment requires advocacy and support of the rights of people of varying “sexual orientation” not only in society but also in the Church.


Further, and importantly, because the priority of TBC, understood as indicated above, is most of the time integrated into a novel doctrine of God, those who are deeply committed to TBC (as are many bishops) see this commitment as given to them personally by God and they, as his apostles and prophets, have to teach and commend it. (Note here that the doctrine of God can be any which sees God as Deity in a relation of evolution, development, and change to and with the cosmos—e.g., panentheism and/or process theology. So the new prophets see themselves as together with God in the mission of God as agents of change (for the better) in the universe and in the church. Eschatology for them is the realization of the millennial goals and the exercise by each and every person of his or her rights.

The point to be made here forcefully is that anyone, who has a novel doctrine of God (rejecting classical Trinitarian Theism and embracing a God who is tied to the cosmos eternally), and who is also committed to TBC is bound by conscience to support the momentum of innovation and change that is occurring in western Christendom and specifically in The Episcopal Church. And the full rights of homosexual, lesbian and bi-sexual persons is but one part—howbeit right now a focal part—of the general commitment.


Thus the position of the liberal progressives of The Episcopal Church, led by the competent lady Presiding Bishop, is a deeply religious and moral one, with implications in many directions. However, it is not in any way at all the traditional Christian Religion & Morality, known from Scripture and Tradition. That it is not so, does not mean that these people do not want to be in close touch with traditional Churches and peoples. Since they see themselves as prophets of the new order they need people to whom they can prophesy!

September 22, 2007 Dr Peter Toon

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