Thursday, June 19, 2008

All of the Baptismal Covenant

For some time now I've noticed that when most Episcopalians talk about the Baptismal Covenant, we're almost always referring to the "Questions of Promise":
  1. Will you continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?
  2. Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
  3. Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
  4. Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
  5. Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

Actually, the more I've noticed how most of us talk about the Baptismal Covenant, the more aware I've become that when we invoke these promises, it's usually only the last two we reference. Indeed, with the exception of our more conservative brothers and sisters, rarely do I hear anyone passionately invoking our need to continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship; or exhorting us, when we fall into sin, to repent and return to the Lord; or challenging us to be evangelists by proclaiming the Gospel in word and example.

Such a minimalist approach to the Baptismal Covenant reduces it to less than half of its content. For in addition to the five "Questions of Promise," the other full half of the Baptismal Covenant consists of three "Questions of Trust":

  1. Do you believe in God the Father?
  2. Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?
  3. Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?

The answers to these questions takes the form of the Apostles' Creed, one of our two statements of the Church's faith. Before we say what we promise to do as Christians, we first say what we believe as Christians. The doing follows from the believing. And it's no accident that the very first thing we promise to do is to "continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship," and there's no better summary of the apostles' teaching than the Apostles' Creed. So while the doing of our faith may take "progressive" forms, we only get to that by first giving ourselves in faith and trust to the orthodox faith of the Church.

Phil Snyder, an Episcopal deacon who blogs over at "The Deacon's Slant," puts it well in a recent posting:

First, we subscribe to the orthodox faith by naming God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Part of the Covenant is to believe (the Greek is pisteuo) certain things. That doesn't mean simply that we intellectually assent to them or accept that is true. That is just surface belief. The Greek pisteuo actually denotes more than simple mental assent. It denotes trust and confidence. We don't just say that these things are true, we place our trust in them. We have confidence in them. We risk ourselves that they are true.

And in voluntarily taking that risk of faith, we also voluntarily embrace the practical implications spelled out by the five "Questions of Promise." Deacon Snyder teases out just a few:

So, if a member of the clergy denies the Virgin Birth, he is violating his Baptismal Covenant. If a member of the clergy denies the physical resurrection - either of Jesus or of us, she is violating her baptismal covenant. If a person uses names for the Holy Trinity other than "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (or the older language of Holy Ghost), he is violating his baptismal covenant.

I would also add that if a member of the clergy practices communion without baptism, he/she is also violating not only his/her ordination vows, but also the Baptismal Covenant, since it is part of the apostles' teaching that we gain admittance to the Eucharistic table only through the waters of Baptism.

So in addition to the commitment to serve as advocates for the poor, the vulnerable, the sick, and the voiceless - an advocacy which can take many forms, both "progressive" and "traditionalist" - our Baptismal Covenant entails a strong commitment to the orthodox faith of the Church.


plsdeacon said...

Hi Brian,

I'm actually written part 2 and part 3 in this series. I'm planning on a post for every promise.

Please come back and read and comment often.

Phil Snyder

Bryan Owen said...

Thanks Phil. I did see your posting on the first promise and thought it was quite good. I look forward to your future installments. I appreciate your efforts to unpack the theological and practical import of something as central to our identity as Episcopal Christians as the Baptismal Covenant.

Perpetua said...

I'm comparing the 1928 to the 1979 Prayer Books on this. I do notice that a lot of what the individual committed to in 1928 has become corporate in 1979. That in 1979 the specification of renouncing coveteous behavior and lustful behavior is excised. And in 1979 the individual is making new specific promises that were not in the 1928.

In the 1928 Prayer Book, the promises made are:
1) Dost thou renounce the devil and all his works, the vain pomp and glory of the world with all coveteous desires of the same and the sinful desires of the flesh, so that thou wilt not follow nor be led by them,
2)Dost thou believe in Jesus Christ, son of the Living God?
3) Dost thou accept him and desire to follow him as thy Savior and Lord?
4) Dost thou believe all the Articles of the Christian Faith as contained in the Apostles Creed?
5) Wilt thou be baptized in this Faith?
6) Wilt thou obediently keep God's holy will and commandments , and walk in the same all the days of thy life?

I'm stunned at how much this was expanded for the 1979. I seem to be operating under a different baptismal commitment,

matt boulter said...

Thanks, Brian. I will link to this post.