May 13, 2011

The (Other) Covenant

...The Baptismal Covenant, that is.
One would have to be living under a rock to be unaware of the prominence of the Baptismal Covenant of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer in our current ecclesiastical life and discourse. Not only is it regularly recited as part of every baptism, but it is also used in most Episcopal parishes as part of a public reaffirmation of baptismal vows several times each year. More than that, it is often cited as undergirding a particular baptismal theology that is brought to bear on issues apart from baptism itself.

I have long been aware of an inner misgiving about the extent to which the Baptismal Covenant has been employed outside of the context of baptism and reaffirmation. It was only on reading Dr. Ruth A. Meyer’s essay in the Chicago Consultation’s collection of essays on the proposed Anglican Covenant, The Genius of Anglicanism, that my misgivings took on a more precise form. This was not due to anything she said in particular, but the text stirred my mental pot. Her essay was designed to contrast the Baptismal Covenant with the proposed Anglican Covenant, and to explore the meaning of the word covenant itself. Hence the pot-stirring.

Long story short, it seems to me upon reflection that our Baptismal Covenant — in particular in the last two questions which form its coda — has exuberantly wandered into areas that are not necessarily baptismal, nor indeed necessarily Christian, and that this has distorted our baptismal theology by incorporating elements which, while certainly not inimical to it, do not properly belong to it. The liturgical revisers have gone a Milvian Bridge too far.

Let me elaborate: In case you don’t trust your memory, here are the two “questions” in question.
Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
They were added to the rite, along with the other questions (but one — more on that anon), as a coda to the Apostles’ Creed, as identifying “some of the principal commitments that are inherent in the baptismal life.” (Prayer Book Studies 26, Supplement, p 98.) That these virtues should be practiced by all who are baptized is beyond question, but to coopt them as particularly baptismal is to some extent to water down the principal and truly characteristic features of baptism. The irony is that the same study document includes a chapter on “the Breakdown of Christendom” while the revisers were still within the thrall of that world-view. For obviously the commandment to love ones neighbor is Jewish, and the concept of the respect for the dignity of every human being is a feature of many if not most philosophical and religious traditions, perhaps most importantly rabbinic Judaism. One would certainly hope that all baptized persons will practice these virtues — what one would also hope is that any human being would practice these virtues whether baptized or not.

What I am suggesting in all of this is that at least some of our current confusion about the nature of baptism may be a result of the this revision. The revisers were keenly aware of baptism as a “border rite” marking “the boundary between Church and not-Church”; and that “being a good member of society does not necessarily support being a good Christian” (ibid., 38). Yet that did not prevent their falling precisely into the Christendom trap by including two general (and admittedly important) aspects of human virtue as the tail end of an explicitly Christian — perhaps the most intrinsically Christian — act.

It appears that in the process of creating the revised baptismal rite, those responsible lost sight of the basic context: the double meaning of baptism as remission of sin and incorporation into the church. The revisers had so lost sight of the “sin” aspect that in the proposed version (Prayer Book Studies 26, p. 13) they omitted the question, “Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?” (It made it in to the 1976 Draft Proposed Book.) They did include the questions that concern the Christian life, qua Christian, that is, as part of the church: the apostles’ teaching, fellowship and worship, and the responsibility to proclaim the gospel. But the following questions, while, as I say, commendable in themselves, are hardly peculiar to baptism.

What exactly is “Christ” in all persons? If this is shorthand for “the divine image” well and good — but is that either what “Christ” means or what people will take it to mean? Doesn’t this usage, particularly linked with an originally and profoundly Jewish commandment (“love your neighbor as yourself” — Leviticus 19:18) form a kind of Christian supersessionism if not triumphalism? What is “Christ” in my non-Christian neighbor? (I may well be comfortable thinking that way, as I acknowledge Christ to be “the divine image” in perfection; but would my Jewish, Buddhist, or Muslim neighbor, to say nothing of my atheist friends, consider that an honor? In an increasingly pluralistic society, this now seems a kind of flabby or semi-conscious imperialism.

Even more, the call to respect the dignity of every human being is incumbent on every human being in virtue of their being human — it is a responsibility of our common humanity, not something additional taken on at baptism. To respect the dignity of every human being is not uniquely — or sad to say even characteristically — Christian. It is in fact profoundly disrespectful of the dignity of non-Christian human beings so to co-opt this universal human mandate as part of our peculiar Baptismal Covenant.

This overgeneralization or “spread” has had, it seems to me, the unfortunate consequence of muddying the baptismal waters and confusing or confounding being “a decent moral human being” and “being a member of the body of Christ” through initiation into that body by baptism. What purports to be a “baptismal theology” becomes another instance of Christendom at work, of a generic form of humanism.

This is by no means intended as a slap at humanism! I consider myself a humanist, and perhaps that explains my touchiness at seeing what appears to be a Christian co-option of a virtue that predates it. The failure to keep the distinction between humanism and Christianity has continued the 19th century blurring whereby “Christian” becomes not a marker denoting membership in the Body of Christ, but the very kind of vague compliment describing “a good person” that I find so repellent when used in phrases like, “that’s very Christian of you” or the converse, “you are being un-Christian.” It reminds me too much of The Worst Sermon I Ever Heard, which began (and I can remember it verbatim because it was such a shock after having heard Isaiah 1:17 as part of the first reading), “The corporal works of mercy are uniquely Christian.” (The sermon ended, “We mustn’t be like Zacchaeus, climbing trees to get away from Jesus...” Yes, it was that bad.)

But I digress. I sense we are experiencing unintended consequences, and a baptismal theology that has lost its roots in incorporation into Christ. Is it any wonder people are seeing no problem with “Communion without baptism” — if what baptism is about is being “a decent moral person” whose dignity ought to be respected as such — who are we to say that sacramental baptism should be a prerequisite to sacramental communion? If baptism is primarily about how one acts, rather than who one has become by means of it, we are treading deeply Pelagian waters, it seems to me. (Also noting that, as the tradition has it, while baptism is a prerequisite for participation in communion, so is being a moral person, living “in love and charity” with ones neighbors.)

So my question is not, Have these two questions improved our ability to live as moral human beings? I hope they have; indeed, I think perhaps they have. My question is, What has over thirty years of hearing these questions and proclaiming our assent done to our conception of baptism?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


Anonymous said...

JOHN 2007

I wholeheartedly applaud the direction of this line of thought and FWIW find (in my estimation) the Baptismal Covenant routinely severed from cross and resurrection and being almost cipher for inclusivity of a liberal democratic kind which, in the same vein as Tobias, has its virtue. Baptism however I find enormously Christologically underdetermined these days

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thank you, John. I've been thinking since posting this how I might re-write the questions... if indeed these additional questions are needed. I've been thinking along the lines of "Will you by your actions towards others reveal Christ at work in you?" That's still rough, but it reemphasizes the notion that the newly baptized is now a member -- in the Pauline sense of an "organ" -- of Christ to do God's work in the world, while acknowledging that baptism should indeed bring about some change in how we act towards others.

Marshall Scott said...

Tobias, in the congregation I served (long ago, in a galaxy far, far away) they told the story (dating even before the 1979 Prayer Book) of a couple in which the wife was a member of the parish, and the husband was a member of a church in the Campbellite, non-instrumental tradition. Still, he came to parish activities and to parties in parishioners' homes, and everybody knew him well. At length, he was asked why he didn't just join the Episcopal Church, and enjoy the intellectual and social freedom that would come with it. His response was, "Oh, it would be too hard to be an Episcopalian."

Those who asked, familiar as they were with the tradition in which he worshipped, couldn't understand that. How could it be harder to be an Episcopalian?

"Oh," he answered," it's pretty straightforward, really. Where I worship if I show up regularly, and am seen by the right people; and if I say the right words and know the right hymns on Sunday, nobody much cares what I do the rest of the week. You Episcopalians keep talking about how I'm supposed to be living in the world the rest of the week, loving my neighbor as myself. It's much easier where I am."

As I noted, the story predates our current Prayer Book, and cites the Summary of the Law, read in those days not just at baptisms or Easter, but at every communion service - whether weekly, or twice a month, or even once a month, significantly more frequently than we repeat the Baptismal Covenant now.

I think the Baptismal Covenant doesn't address the meaning of Baptism directly at all, but about the Christian life. I think it came together in response on the one hand to Evangelical spiritual "scalp hunting;" and to a pietism, and even quietism, that can be tempting in sacramental worship.

To that end, the thought that some of the actions and attitudes committed to are not exclusively Christian doesn't bother me. I have long subscribed to the Code of Ethics of the Association of Professional Chaplains (APC), my primary professional organization. The fact that there was so much overlap with the Code of Ethics of the National Assocation of Catholic Chaplains (NACC) that eventually the two (and other) organizations developed a common Code was never much of a thought. I can commit to doing things that others may do. They will understand them differently perhaps; but that doesn't make those things inappropriate for me to embrace, nor impossible for them to appreciate that I embrace them.

I don't know that we can avoid some sense of supersessionism. At the same time, I'm conscious of the discussions in interfaith groups about prayer in the name of Jesus. I have certainly heard those non-Christians who said that they were uncomfortable hearing in mixed settings prayer in the name of Jesus. I have also heard those non-Christians who expected prayer in the name of Jesus, both as clear acknowledgement of the identity of the praying Christian, and as confirmation of the non-Christian's right to pray with a different acclamation. In the multifaith environment of chaplaincy, this is a lively discussion.

Do we risk some Pelagian temptations? I don't know that those temptations are greater if our intentions are explicit. I do recall the call in James that our faith be measurable in concrete acts in our lives.

A. S. Haley said...

Amen, and well said, Father Haller. I could not agree more. And I commend your attempts at rewording the questions - retaining them as they are just perpetuates their misapplication. I might be inclined to try this version: "Will you love and serve Christ from henceforth in thought, word and deed?"

JCF said...

Hmmm, I'm going to have to think more about this (sometime when my attention is NOT diverted while watching my beloved Giants! ;-))

I know I really LIKE the Baptismal Covenant passages in question. I think they are True/Truth. I think the BC would be lacking---perhaps fatally lacking---w/o them. Without them, I wonder if the BC would be a little too much "I promise submission to BrandX God, who is BrandX-ier than all other gods!" kinda thang.

Yes, must think about it some more...

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks for the further thoughts. Marshall, I'm by no means suggesting the summary of the law has no place -- on the contrary, though I think the Eucharist is the better place for it, and that is where we always heard it in the old rite, and now frequently in the new, as part of confession.

I think your point about "the Christian life" is exactly what concerns me. It fudges the "pivotal" and particular liturgical celebration -- the "initiation" -- and bleeds a bit too much over to the future living. Don't the affirmations and renunciations adequately capture the future promises? It seems to me this whole bleeding together of baptism and eucharist, rather than seeing one as initiatory and the other celebratory -- kairos and chronos or entry and enjoyment, beginning and living --- these are the categories that have been smushed together, and it seems to me CWOB is a symptom of that confusion. The "baptismal life" is actually the "eucharistic life" -- the life of the community of faith in the teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread and prayers --- and the moral life lived in the world of neighbors and strangers.

Counselor Haley, thanks for the additional thought and suggestion.

JCF, the question is, good as those virtues and sentiments are, what do they have to do with baptism itself? The bigger theological issue is: does one have Christ "in" one until one is "in" Christ? And isn't it precisely, after all, submission to Brand Xristos we proclaim when we accept him and say we will "follow and obey him as Lord." (to the exclusion of others, in a nuptial sense!) FWIW, if I didn't believe Christ was who this rite proclaims him to be, I wouldn't have any reason to follow him rather than some other brand.

This does all bear further thought...

Eric Funston said...

As I have said elsewhere, I think we've put too many road-blocks in the way of baptism. We should be offering it rather more freely than we do -- a long catechumenate is unrealistic in today's world, and demanding that it be done only on special "liturgically appropriate" days ignores the realities of people's lives. I agree with you about what I call "the behavioral implications" of the symbol of faith (the Apostle's Creed). I'm not sure they belong in the liturgy as promises made before God and everyone! They belong in the mystagogical follow-up to baptism, the continuing education of the faithful.

I think you may on the right track in seeing the current form of the Baptismal Rite and the theology behind these behavioral promises as a source of the debate about so-called "open communion" (meaning admission of the non-baptized to the table rite).

C. Wingate said...

I need a little help to follow this; specifically I know next to nothing about the whole Prayer Book Studies, so I don't understand how 26 fits into things.

I can see your point about "Christ in other persons"; it's almost as though loving the Lord our God somehow has to be transmuted into some kind of interpersonal interaction. As to the last question, I'm not quite convinced that there is a problem with the last question, as I don't know that there is some reason not to promise to avoid sinning even when it was already bad.

OTOH for that sermon there needs to be a icon of Chrysostom doing a facepalm or something.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Eric, that is another issue, but I agree about the irony of extra weight on baptism and its shrinking importance in the minds of some.

CW, I"m fortunate to have a full set of the Prayer Book Studies, which in serial form offered revisions to the various parts of the BCP and offered rationales in the years from the late 60s through the early 70s. What I mean is that the volume on Baptism seems incoherent with itself, in its emphasis on post-Christendom while still seemingly under its spell.

Just for clarity, the problem for me is not with the questions themselves, but with their forcible linkage with baptism -- it is that connection I find both problematical and unnecessary, and possibly confusing. One should be able to respect the dignity of every human being, and work for justice and peace, whether one is baptized or not. Christians have no particular claim on -- or gift for -- ministries of justice and peace, at least as far as the record shows! I think John Chrysostom would agree -- to the shame of many Christians...

ON the other hand, the promise to avoid sin is properly linked to baptism -- though as I note the revisers did not include it until the final draft.

Marshall Scott said...

I took the time to check Blessed Marion of Sewanee. In his Commentary on the American Prayer Book, he wrote,

"In the 1662 revision a question was added after the renunciations and the affirmation of faith, 'Wilt thou then obediently keep God's holy will and commandments, and walk in the same all the days of thy life?' This question dates from the liturgy compiled and used by Robert Sanderson, later bishop of Lincoln, during the interregnum when the use of the Book of Common Prayer had been outlawed. The five questions that replace that one question spell out what is needed to 'keep God's holy will and commandments.'" (Hatchett, p. 274)

Setting aside for the moment whether we need greater explication in our generation (and I think it could well be argued), we might ask still whether these questions might be better associated, as in 1662, with the renunciations and affirmations than with the Creed.

C. Wingate said...

Ah, I understand; I was a bit confused about the order of things there.

I would say that there is an expectation in some sense that people should no sin regardless of whether or not they are baptized; however could not necessarily expect the unbaptized to appreciate this. It almost seems to me that you are saying that this would only cover the first great commandment, and not the second, and that the expectation for the second is objective and universal. I have trouble agreeing with this, if only because that would make the parable of the good Samaritan unnecessary. I'm at the moment comfortable with saying 'OK, you are getting baptized, and whatever you thought about loving your neighbor before, you're making a commitment to it now."

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Marshall, Blessed Marion does provide a good summary of the process by which the questions were added. It grows out of the Reformation/Restoration love of language, and multiplication of making things explicit. In our 1979 revision a similar process took place: compare how much longer the BCP 1979 is than the 1928. And witness the proliferation of texts since! It is part of the phenomenon Blessed Aidan Kavanagh as "liturgy as pedagogy in disguise," the fear that if something isn't spelled out it will be missed. That is really the role of catechesis and mystagogy, however eloquent our liturgy may be, especially in its symbolic, rather than its textual, form. But that's really another topic. Though one dear to my heart....

The point I'm trying to make, which I fear is not getting across, is about the extent to which the questions, and perhaps as you note their placement, appear to link certain expectations (which I think are universal human expectations) with baptism (an essentially and necessarily sectarian phenomenon). I think this is inflating baptism beyond its capacity, and forces the liturgy to say too much that is general and not enough what is specific to baptism as baptism: initiation and membership.

CW, now I'm having trouble following you on the Good Samaritan! But I agree with your final clause about the emphasis on commitment. However, again, this seems a non-liturgical sort of thing that should be dealt with in preparation -- and more importantly in the actual behavior of the church as a whole, which as I note is not always evident.

Closed said...

I would say who one receives (emphasis on receives which Hooker understands similarly through his use of participation which is always a gift to us) oneself to be because of baptism, perhaps that is the Lutheran influence, but a I think an important corrective that is both christocentric and focused on the divine initiative and our response. Turning to Maurice, who has so greatly influenced Anglican baptismal theologies and their renewals, as Maurice reminded his 19th century controversialists, baptism does not make us children of God, changing us into something else, so much as it is the explicit and public communal as well as personal reception of this having always been that in Christ in whom from the beginning we were and are created and culminating in the Incarnation with all of the many facets and the final accomplishment of all in Christ. Our being baptized into this one, turned to this one, turned to our true and only source is a return to the only true reality there ever was or is if you will for humanity and human society. The blur happens when we no longer think that this Person and work needs receiving on our part publicly, explicitly, communally, that the corrective Maurice brought that Christian witness ultimately is not divorced from the life of the world as if a witness to another type of humanity and society (the ark imagery he so despised), but to humanity and society as God intends (restored? recapitulated?)--and is perfect in and perfected by save no one but Jesus Christ. Loss of christocentrism in discussing these matters is where the problem arises in my opinion.

I think the central issue is precisely whether or not we have lost a sense that baptism is incorporation not simply into the Church a la some rites of passage lingo so popular during the 60s and 70s, but into Christ of which the Church is his Body. The result is a collapse of christocentrism into the community which then is easily generalized so that the intersection between Christian witness and living a good human life which cannot be divorced are not merely conflated, but the latter has come to trump the former when in actuality what God has done for us in Christ (the Creed) is the ground for our witness and life. This is all to say that for Christians, our witness in word and deed and life flows out of God's self-gift to us in Christ.

I think part of the problem is not simply the questions, but perhaps the placement.

On the other hand, what I don't want to see us do is divorce again that Christian witness is not to an ark (sectarian) model just as it is not to a conflation (worldly?) model, but Christian proclamation/witness is to humanity and society as intended and perfect in and perfected by in save one, Christ--which places the Acts language in a different category from the other questions, in my opinion. A tension must remain between fleeing the world and collapsing faith into the world. Christendom not only tends to do the latter, it in part spurred the need for the former.

Closed said...

I might add that I think some historical context may lay behind these questions, like TEC's still working through our being implicated by slavery and so forth. There is a contextualization here I think of trying to spell out what in fact was not obvious simply as a human being much less as a Christian. I think of Wesley's Come Thou Long Expected Jesus written as he witnessed a young white boy being taught how to buy black people in the market place.

Jon said...

Thank you for this thought provoking post. I'm definitely going to be spending some time thinking about this, especially its link to open communion as that is an issue that is very operative for me at the moment.

As you and most of the posters have mentioned, these questions do represent things that we want to affirm, that "yes" doing these things is an essential piece of who we are. Given that we are non-confessional, does the presence of these questions represent an effort to introduce a kind of confession through the back door?

I say this because the way the Episcopal church talks about the Baptismal Covenant is very reminiscent of the way the Lutherans talk about their Confession (at least as I saw it in seminary). That is, the Baptismal covenant, like the Lutheran Confessions, is a foundational document upon which the church hangs alot of its engagement with the world and is formative for its own self-understanding.

Jon White

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thank you, Christopher, for some very helpful references to our (later) tradition. It may be that the order of the questions -- placed after the Creed -- is a big part of my discomfort. Coming as they do as a sort of "conclusion" -- rather than letting the Creed be the culmination of a sort of, "...and we do these things because..." then culminating on the big bang "Holy Spirit... holy Church... holy people... forgiveness... resurrection... life everlasting!" A much better climax, I think.

I also sense you are correct that much of the lingo in the last question stems from the era of Civil Rights marches and Vietnam. (Just as elsewhere in the BCP we see hints of ecological concern.) These universal concerns had quite particular referents at the time of composition, and they seem a bit self-conscious, I sense.

Jon, I hadn't thought about it that way, but I think you are correct. That is part of what strikes me as so odd, given what I think is the universal appeal of the notions, the "We Espicopalians do this because it is part of our Baptismal Covenant" -- as if we wouldn't if it weren't.

I was at Bishop Roskam's celebration of her 15th anniversary of ministry at the Cathedral of S John the Divine today, and the BaptCov was used. Again it struck me as odd -- this whole idea of reaffirming vows in general, but also the sense that baptism as beginning and eucharist as continuation seems to be what is missing. We do these things because we are the living body of Christ, the church, which, as Bp R said in her sermon, we do not serve, but which (with us as part of it) serves God in the world. Bread for the world in mercy broken: that is the church.

Closed said...

One could say, as I did in my dissertation, that we have had American Reformations. The shaping of our present Prayer Book flows out of particular theological controversies and concerns as much as any other prayer book.

I am curious about . My sense has always been that the responsive promises are precisely that, responding that we will live out of the God Who is and shows Godself to be so in the way, namely, Jesus Christ as professed in the Creed....the Creed functions in a canticle-eque way in this regard...

I'm not sure that a reversal that would make the Creed the climax would necessarily fix the problem. I think that either way, some folks will ignore that all that we do can only be response to the God whom we profess and trust in in the Creed. In that regard, one could think there might be a bit of Pelagianism in placing the renunciations before the Creed just as much as placing the promises after. In all cases, however, we respond "with God's help" without Whom we could not renounce or promise anything.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thank you again, Christopher. I am trying to think this through aesthetically as well as theologically -- I've always found the "five questions" to be a bit lumpy, unlike the splendid coda of the Apostles' Creed. But you are likely correct that reversal is not the real answer. What is really missing is the "organic" sense of the newly baptized (or in renewal, the already baptized) acting as organs of Christ. The displacement of "Christ" into the "all persons" -- while it could be an interesting twist on the notion of Christ (as God) already present even in the unsuspecting -- is more likely a misplaced reading of Matt 25, which is really about the blessing on the Gentiles who will receive Christ in the disciples who bring them the word of the Gospel. It too easily could be heard, I think, as not unlike, I salute your Buddha-nature.

I am more and more appreciating Bishop Roskam's thought from today: that we do not "serve Christ" in others, but we are the servant Christ in action serving the needs of others. I think we need very much to recover the sense of Christ as Servant, and ourselves as fellow servants. That seems to me a good antidote.

Jack Zamboni said...

I've been thinking about this simce I first read your initialpost several days ago. I haven't thought about the question of liturgical order, so won't comment on that, but i do think that the questions you are questioning have an important place in the Baptismal rite.

Its true, certainly, that the values of and actions called forth by the final two questions are not exclusively Christian -- but they are unavoidable for Christians seeking to live faithfully to God's call. As such, they have an important place in describing the Christian life that those being baptized are committing themselves to, with God's help.

And I think they (or something like them) belong in Baptism (as well, of course, as elsewhere in catechesism, mystagogy and eucharistic living) because it is important to be clear up front with catechumens and ourselves what this Christian life entails. It is, of course, initiation into the preson of Christ and the community of the Church -- but that has specific consequences for life in the world tha should not be ignored.

I've not read the relevant Prayer Book Studies, but would hazard a guess that one of the concerns of the 1979 reformers was that Baptism had become attenuated to a private religious naking ceremony for babies that something of the fullness of Christian life, in the Church and the world, needed to be named here. And for all that the Baptismal Coventant has become a touchstone for those of us who have ived deeply into the Episcopal Church in the last 30 years, I still routinely encounter the older Christendom view of Baptism as that private naming ceremony that I am very glad that the rite speaks with some explictness about the ways Baptized Christians are expected to live.

If we lived in a pre-Christendom world in which extensive catechesis was the norm, these questions might not need to be in the rite itself. But we live in an in-between world where many of the mental habits and practices of Christendom remain even as it is in practice passing away. In such a world, liturgical clarity about the nature of Christian life in this world is important -- important not only for the newly baptized, but for those of us who have been stuggling with it for a good while.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Dear Jack,
Thanks for these thoughts. I hope I've made clear that I think the content addressed in the questions is important to the moral life, Christian or otherwise. My concern is that the placement in the liturgy appears to me to place too much weight on the lex orandi.

I'm also concerned about the extent to which, as others have noted, this has led to a sort of automatic assumption that "we do this because we are baptized" rather than "because this is right." That is what I am finding unhelpful: the tendency in which the BaptCov is used as a kind of placard or pass-card. If we respect people because (in a semi-causal sense) we are baptized it suggests too many other odd counterfactuals. The real emphasis should be, "this is how baptized persons should behave, not because baptized, but because this is right and true and just.

Jack Zamboni said...

You have indeed “made clear that [you] think the content addressed in the questions is important to the moral life, Christian or otherwise. My concern is that the placement in the liturgy appears to me to place too much weight on the lex orandi.”

My concern has to do precisely with the lex orandi of baptism, the way it functioned in practice pre-1979 and, too often, still does. To me, the point of having these questions (along with the others) in the rite is to clarify the basic aspects of Christian life -- communal Eucharistic worship and spiritual formation; repentance; evangelism; love/service of neighbor; work towards Kingdom values in the world – that baptism inaugurates.

For centuries prior to 1979, this fullness of what Christian life entails was largely absent from the understanding and practice of Baptism – the sacramental place we believe Christian life begins. As I wrote previously, the older views of Baptism as religious naming ceremony and spiritual safety net are alive and well in my experience. If we are to broaden and deepen our understanding and practice of what baptismal life entails, where better than to do it in the rite?

One way of putting my point is this: its not that we need these questions in the baptismal rite in order to affirm their moral importance (the problem, as I understand it, that concerns you). Rather, we need them in the rite to affirm what Baptism itself is – the beginning of a Christian life that includes all of these ways of living.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Jack. I take your point about the situation pre-79. And I would be with you if (as perhaps the revisers were thinking with their post-Christendom talk) that we would be addressing primarily adult baptism -- where all of this, including a long catechumenate, makes very good sense. But in particular for infant baptism -- and believe me in my instructions to Godparents I lay very heavy stress on those last two questions -- it is the Sponsors one is dealing with, and they are very likely well into the Christendom model -- or they wouldn't be there! In my experience they are still living in that pre-79 world where infant baptism is the norm. And yes, they do understand the issues of love of neighbor and respect for human dignity.

I'm still having a bit of an issue with what I see as a loss of the sacramental and movement towards pedagogy. This approach would, as I have said in the past, make much more sense if we jettisoned infant baptism. One gets an inkling the Anglican Reformers might have done so but for the pressure of society. (Not unlike the suggestions to separate the civil and sacred functions of the priest in marriage --- many would do it, but for the loss of the marriages!)

I'm uncomfortable at base with anything that appears to say, "Now that you are baptized you _really_ have to love your neighbor." Perhaps it is the "covenant" aspect that is most troubling.

Thanks for contributing to what I am sure will be a continued source of reflection for me!

Fr. J said...

Tobias, I know I'm late to the party, but I can't resist making a comment here, since it is so rare that I get to be the liberal and you the raging conservative (*just kidding about the raging part-- you've never struck me as someone who "rages"*).

I'm actually fine with the covenant questions as they are, though I can see your point that they don't seem particularly to be about Baptism so much as the life after Baptism. One thing that is generally missing from our current baptismal rite is a deeper emphasis on God's action in removing sin and making it possible for us to become holy. All of the things that the Covenant calls us to are part of the good work that God brings out of us post Baptism. None of them are possible for us to do without God's grace being the primary actor. If I was going to change anything about the covenant, it would be to change the response to those questions from "I will, with God's help" to "I will by God's grace."

So then, it seems to me that the issue is not so much whether these things are particularly for Christians or not. Of course all people should strive to be just, love peace, and promote human dignity. The question is whether or not, on our own, we are able to get there. Other religions teach that we arrive at truth and love when we do these things. Christianity teaches that we are unable to do these things on our own, and that until we're able to admit that we will never do them, but that once we do admit that, through our faith, God brings those things about in our lives that we are otherwise incapable of. That is where the unique emphasis should be.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thank you, Fr. J. Your comment highlights, I think, the issue about "covenant" rather than grace at work. Even with the "with God's help" (a somewhat weak connection, no? with God as a kind of supplement rather than an essential?), it seems a bit too contractual, especially as the questions are pitched to the future (Will you...) as opposed to the rejections and adhesions posed as "Do you..."

And, of course, this does get back to the question of God's grace at work even in those who are not yet baptized. I think of St Martin as a prime example. While Baptism is a sure and certain means of grace, grace is not bounded by it. So once again I'm left with a discomfort that linking such universal commandments particularly with Baptism --- and in particular in this quasi-contractual way --- has corroded both a clear understanding of Baptism as liminal and redemptive rite, rather than as a quid pro quo agreement to behave in a certain way.

revcab said...

Thank you Tobias. While I differ with you on most of the debated issues of the day, I want to commend you for an excellent essay. While I have no problem with a Christian social witness, God's "preferential option for the poor," and so on, I have come to feel that the much celebrated "new baptismal theology" of the
Episcopal Church veers very closely to Pelagianism, in which incorporation into Christ and his salvific work is obscured. Your piece is well-stated; thank you for some real theology. -- Christopher Brown