The Baptismal Covenant: The Contract on the Episcopalians

In the agony that the slow separation of the Anglican Communion has become, one issue that has come up has been the business of the “baptismal covenant” that appears in TEC’s 1979 prayer book.  This problem was discussed in an excellent article by Peter Toon, but it seems that there are broader issues here to consider.

The first  Services for Trial Use that GC 1970 approved made no mention of this kind of covenant, but it appeared in the final prayer book.  The covenant (BCP 1979, pp. 304-5) is as follows:

Celebrant Do you believe in God the Father?

People I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.

Celebrant Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?

People I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit
and born of the Virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

Celebrant Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?

People I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.

Celebrant Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?

People I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?

People I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?

People I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?

People I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human

People I will, with God’s help.

Toon has rightly observed that such a covenant is absent from previous Anglican prayer books such as the 1662 and 1928 books which appear on this site. Toon has also observed that the earlier books assume that the covenant between God and man has already been made.  This is best illustrated by what the “priest” says during one of the earlier baptismal rites (1662, for those of “riper years”):

WELL-BELOVED, who are come hither desiring to receive holy Baptism, ye have heard how the congregation hath prayed, that our Lord Jesus Christ would vouchsafe to receive you and bless you, to release you of your sins, to give you the kingdom of heaven, and everlasting life. Ye have heard also, that our Lord Jesus Christ hath promised in his holy Word to grant all those things that we have prayed for; which promise he, for his part, will most surely keep and perform. Wherefore, after this promise made by Christ, ye must also faithfully, for your part, promise in the presence of these your Witnesses, and this whole congregation, that ye will renounce the devil and all his works, and constantly believe God’s holy Word, and obediently keep his commandments. (BCP 1662)

The covenant–or alliance, between God and man–is really a “done deal.”  (For our own presentation of that, click here.)  Not only that, God has made several promises to us, which he is faithful to keep.  From there we make some promises in response to God’s initiative and our acceptance of it.

Jesus Christ’s work on the cross is finished.  There is nothing we can add to it.  Those who participated in earlier versions of the Holy Communion (and readers of The Final Decision) well remember the following:

ALMIGHTY God, our heavenly Father, who of thy tender mercy didst give thine only Son Jesus Christ to suffer death upon the Cross for our redemption; who made there (by his one oblation of himself once offered) a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world…

Given all of this, let’s make some obervations about the BCP 1979’s “Baptismal Covenant.”

First, it is a one-way street.  God (or the church for that matter, it’s not clear who is the other party of this covenant) makes all of the demands and makes no promises in return.  And this is an improvement?  What this reflects is a very dimmed concept of what God can do.

Second, liberals make the most out of the last commitment in the covenant.  Unfortunately, the “dignity of every human being” in post-modern parlance generally bars sharing the Gospel with them, or pointing out deficiencies in their life.  This annuls the whole idea of “proclaim(ing) by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.”  So the covenant is in reality self-contradictory.  (Note: we strongly suspect that the last covenant was inspired by Peter Scholtes’ 1966 song “They’ll Know We Are Christians by Our Love,” which sings of “And we ‘ll guard each man’s dignity and save each man’s pride.”  For our part we prefer Roger Smith’sAs the Rain,” which speaks of “Breaking our pride/And making us whole.”)

Third, it represents a drift towards works salvation, if any kind of salvation is being hoped for.  (Given the PB’s recent comments along those lines, we doubt eternity is on their minds.)

Finally, it frankly “sticks in our craw” that any liberal church be so nonchalant about making demands of its members.  Wasn’t the whole idea of liberalism to free us?  But liberalism is a lie in that regard.

Towards the end of the novel Two Paths, a Frenchman has just rescued a government official in a liberal country. Debating with her about Christianity, he makes the following statement:

There are endless laws.  Everybody is guilty of something.  And, being Anglo-Saxons, they have the idea that all of these laws should be enforced…Everybody is a criminal, everybody is a suspect, because it is impossible to live there and not violate the law.  It would be great if one person could come along and take the punishment for everybody.  That, in a celestial sense, is what Jesus Christ did for us.  He came into a world where everyone was guilty and gave them the chance to be innocent…(liberals) came into an innocent world and gave everybody a chance to be guilty.

The covenant  changes the free work of God into a church life of “perpetual responsibility.”  It is in reality a “contract on the Episcopalians” and needs to be seen in that light.

The Ten Weeks Now Available

The Ten Weeks, the prequel to our fictional series The Island Chronicles, is now available.  It is set on the Island, but it is different in many ways from the Chronicles.  You can click here to find out more and to order.

Forget About the Guilt March. Just Give Them the Communion.

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York participated in a much publicised “guilt march” across the UK about the evil of slavery.

But there’s an easier and more substantial way to even the score: just let the Africans and their allies, including the descendants of slaves in the West Indies, take the lead in the Communion.

We find, however, that, Western church leaders–liberal and conservative alike–are reluctant to bow to the obvious and allow the centre of power of Christianity to shift where its people are.  The liberals are especially adverse to this process, as they are further from the Africans’ idea than their conservative counterparts.

The desperation of conservative parishes in TEC, however, has them affiliating with provinces such as Uganda and Nigeria, along with others.  They have gone past guilt.  It is time that the rest of us follow suit.

Campaign 2008: Where It Ends Depends on Where the Candidates Started

The 2008 Presidential campaign has been underway since 2004, but only now has the list of candiates begun to congeal.  So how to winnow things down?  We’ve griped about the fact that Ronald Reagan was the last President that wasn’t a product of an Ivy League school, either as an undergraduate, a graduate, or both.  So it makes sense that candidates that are have a significant advantage.  Let’s see who these might be.

The Republicans start off at a disadvantage; of the major candidates, only Mitt Romney fits the bill (as one would expect a Governor of Massachusetts to.)  Although we have grave reservations about nominating him, doing otherwise will put the party at a handicap. That includes a "ring knocker" like John McCain.

The Democrats are in a better position with Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Kerry.  (So much for the "Breck Girl!")

We need to ask why, in a country as diverse as ours it, this is so.  We believe there are two reasons for this.

The first is that the selective admission process–bolstered by the long line of people to get in–will inevitably include a disproportionate portion of high-achieving people.

The second is that the Ivy League presents to its students–especially those in law and business–a view of the world that is decidedly closed and orderly, and on top of that gives them a chance to view that world from a high perch.  Reprojecting this to the American people is actually comforting to the latter, especially with the daily uncertainties they face.

The problem with this is that the U.S.’ main power challengers–the Muslim Arabs, a "closed circle" of their own–are people who play by an entirely different set of rules.  The Cold War, a relatively set-piece business, for the most part could be managed by people with an Ivy League mentality.  This one can’t, which is why we’re stuck with two unworkable alternatives to solve our problem in Iraq and no Plan C.

Electing Ivy Leaguers is like eating "comfort food:" it tastes good and fills us up, but our health goes downhill all the same.

We hope that Ann Coulter is happy with this state of affairs.  (For a different perspective, click here.)

It’s Not About Freedom Any More

The rather plaintive letter from the Rev. Mark Lawrence trying to explain why his departure from California to take his post as the new Bishop of South Carolina is being delayed is a sad commentary both on TEC and the left-wing boomers that presently dominate its leadership.

His explanation of the process is about as clear as one could want, even for those outside of the Episcopal/Anglican world.  But there’s one remark he made that I find the most disturbing of all:

Frankly, I find it ironic that those of my generation who were so quick to trumpet the need for non-conformity when they were opposed to the "establishment" are most ungracious towards those whom they think do not conform now that they are holding the reigns of power.

That’s boomer absolutism for you.  We live in a political (and evidently ecclesiastical) environment where we think that freedom for ourselves can only be achieved when others are controlled.  For those of us (like Rev. Lawrence) who saw sixties radicals up close at the start, the hypocrisy is frankly galling.

Create Your Own Anglican Communion Network

A little over a week ago, we called for a new "instrument of unity" by suggeting that the orthodox Anglican groups put together a "new" prayer book for their own use.  In the interest of balance, this week we’re going to look a an "instrument of division" by showing how you can create your own Anglican communion network in such a way that the original one can’t do a whole lot about it.

To accomplish this, it’s best to start with a wireless router, such as an Airport (for Apple fanatics) or the like.  Most wireless routers have a control panel which enables the user to adjust various settings of the router, such as the signal strength, channel, security and the like.  The setting you need to change is the service set identifier (SSID,) which is for practical purposes the name of the network.  Depending upon the configuration of your router, you can name this "Anglican Communion" or "anglican_communion" (some routers won’t allow spaces in their SSID’s.) This is best done with the computer connected to the router in a wired way, because, once you reboot the router, any computer connected to your router wirelessly will lose their connection until it’s re-established.

Once you’ve done this, reconnect your computer to the network.  Below we show an example of what results when you’ve done this, using a program for the Mac called Mac Stumbler (Windows has a control panel to do the same thing.)

Note that your computer can pick up more than your own router.  This works both ways, and illustrates our next point: you need to set up your wireless network with whatever security you can manage, otherwise a TEC revisionist (who will be angered when they see your "Anglican communion network" in their own backyard) or other hacker could easily get into your network and create a mess or download things that you would expect a TEC revisionist to enjoy.

Note: if you are unfamiliar with using your router’s control panel, you probably don’t have any business trying this.  However, since wireless security is important,
you may want to consult with someone that does, and they should be able to deal with the SSID issue as well.

The result of all of this is that you have created your own "Anglican communion network" for you to enjoy and your neighbours to admire (well, let’s hope they admire it.)

The Passing of Briny Breezes

There has been a lot of publicity about the apparently "done deal" concerning the sale of South Florida’s most illustrious trailer park, namely Briny Breezes.  The idea that people would get $US1,000,000 for a trailer has a lot of mobile home dwellers envious.

But there are some important economic forces behind his as well that deserve mention.

The first is the obvious one: oceanfront property in Palm Beach County is expensive.  The ability to acquire 43 acres of land spreading from the ocean to the Intracoastal Waterway is one that doesn’t come along very often.  Donald Trump’s estate is illustrious in part because it’s literally "Mar-a-Lago" (from the lake to the ocean.)

As I understand it, the prospective developers want to put high rise development in Briny Breezes; otherwise, the price couldn’t be justified.  And this leads to the next factor that worked in favour of Briny Breezes’ inhabitants: many of the oceanfront communities, such as Palm Beach and neighbouring Ocean Ridge–restrict high rise development.  If this were not the case, the coast from the South Beach to Jupiter and beyond would be one solid concrete wall.  This is what basically happened to Highland Beach (between Boca Raton and Delray Beach) in the 1970’s; developers were able to exert enough influence to break up the single family dwellings and build high rises.

Since Briny Breezes is a municipality in its own right, it will be a lot simpler to authorise high rise development without having to worry about the neighbours voting it down.  Thus, Briny Breezes is valuable not only as a tract of oceanfront land but also as a free-standing municipality.

I think that the passing of a place such as Briny Breezes–which I passed through frequently going up and down A-1-A–is a sad passing of a South Florida institution which was decidedly different from the world around it.  But, as Carl Hiassen whines about frequently, development money talkes loudly in South Florida, which is one reason why it isn’t the paradise it used to be.

More Troops in Iraq? For What?

There are three good reasons why increasing troop strength in Iraq is counterproductive for U.S. interest, to say nothing of anyone else’s.

The first is the current nature of the U.S. military.  After the end of the Cold War, structural changes took place to make the U.S. military more flexible for smaller threats in more places as opposed to the set-piece nature of that conflict.  That’s why we’ve seen so much use of the reserve and National Guard units.  Our military isn’t well set up for long-term occupations to start with; increasing troop strength will only force our brave men and women to play a road game with their weakness against an enemy’s strength.  This is not good.

Second, even if there were an increase, we don’t have the stomach to allow them the rules of engagement to get the job done.  We just saw the execution of someone whose own rules of engagement were too brutal for Western sensibiities.  But his MO was consistent with six millennia of Middle Eastern practice, disgusting as it was.  We’re now seen as power holders, and effectively dealing with the challengers Middle East style is just something we won’t do.

Third, even if we did adopt Middle Eastern methods of power holding, we really don’t know which side to favour or crush.  Heartless at it sounds, for U.S. interests the current state of conflict in Iraq between Sunni and Sh’ia is probaby the best result it can obtain.  The greatest Islamic/Arab weakness is the tendency for them to fight amongst themselves, and given the West’s lack of confidence in its own civilisation and general willingness to fight for it, this is probably as good as it gets.

Americans instinctively always think they have to "do something" about every problem around them.  But Christians–who come from a faith where the most important work was done for us–need to recognise that there are problems that, the more we do, the worse it gets.  This is one of them, in the land not so far from where our Saviour walked.

The Heart of a Child

Most people who are familiar with "classic" Chinese literature would say that the great novel of the genre is Tsao Hsueh-chin and Kao Ngo’s Dream of Red Mansions. At the end of the novel, the central character Pao Yu, after the eventful course he has taken, makes the following statement:

"So you talk about ‘moral character and a firm foundation’ and the ‘sages of old.’ Don’t you know that one ancient sage taught that we ‘should not lose the heart of a child?’ What’s special about a child? Simply this: it has no knowledge, no judgement, no greed and no taboos. From our birth we sink into the quagmire of greed, anger, infatuation and love; and how can we escape from earthly entanglements? I’ve only just realised that moral men are like water weeds drifting together and then apart again. Thought the ancients spoke of this, no one seems to have awakened to the fact. If you want to talk abut character and foundation, tell me who has achieved the supreme primeval state?" (Dream of Red Mansions, translated by Yang Hsien-yi and Gladys Yang.)

The whole issue of growing up is, in some ways, the central issue of human life between birth and death. One can define the character of a society by showing how they deal with this issue.  Earlier cultures have what we call "rites of passage," where a child goes through some kind of ceremony to signify that he or she has become an adult. The best known of these in the U.S. are probably Jewish bar- and bat-mitzvahs, but there are others.  Unfortunately, things are not as clean cut as one would like.  Let’s start by considering the two extremes.

The first is to eliminate childhood altogether and go directly to adulthood. This happens in a number of ways. The most common is through economic deprivation. There’s no time to be a child; the family needs whatever income the child can generate to survive. Many people live on the earth today with that state either a past memory–which creates a void in the heart–or have to deal with as their daily life. Elevated income, however, is no guarantee that childhood will be preserved for any length of time. Many children of prosperous parents (or those who have ready access to ample credit) throw their children into an activity-crammed rat race so that their children will become compulsive achievers, leaving no time for the play and social interaction that is in reality a natural preparation for adulthood. Beyond that there are those who become adults in the cruelest way, through sexual abuse and molestation.

At the other end of the spectrum are those who attempt to make life one earth a childhood experience from start to finish. They attempt to remove from life the normal responsibilities of getting along in the world and make the whole experience a non-stop ideal where the downside risk of irresponsibility is eliminated. The highest expression of this are the "nanny states" we see in Europe, where the "cradle to grave" welfare state become the de facto parent for the entire nation (and soon continent.)  Matters are further complicated by our educational system. Formal education is now held the key to success in adult life, and for those who pursue a good deal of it they can find themselves still "children" well into their late twenties. Formal education keeps people in childhood during the years when biologically they are best suited for marriage and parenthood. People’s innate desire for adulthood is stymied by our system’s insistence on keeping them back, even in a world where the whole concept of completing our education then having a a career is becoming obsolete.

The result in the West is that we have reversed the whole process.  We start children out by pushing them into activities that require adult-like performance-based outcomes, then when they’ve finished that process we stymie their adult impulses through our risk-averse legal system and decrease their willingness to take that risk through our welfare system (and that includes our middle-class entitlements as well.)  What we end up with is confusion, which we have in abundance these days.

So let’s get back to our friend Pao-Yu.  He starts out by painting a rather idealised picture of childhood, one which most of us share in theory if not in reality.  Then he contrasts that with adulthood, with all of its struggles and difficulties.  Then he asks the question: why can’t adulthood be like childhood?  Why do we have to make it so difficult?

The answer to that is that, in the U.S. at least, we’ve tried.  Our attempts to shield people from the consequences of their adult decisions, however, have plenty of backwash.  Let’s consider the matter of our divorce rate.  People go into marriage with unrealistic (child-like) expectations.  When these expectations are not met, they break up.  Behind them frequently is the wreckage of broken lives, both of those who married and the children they brought into the world.  For the latter, childhood is severely damaged, which sets up the longing for an idyllic adulthood, which leads again to disaster and dissappointment.  And so the cycle continues.

So what is to be done?  The answer requires us to take a new (for some of us at least) look at what Christianity is all about.  Luke’s gospel records the following:

Some of the people were bringing even their babies to Jesus, for him to touch them; but, when the disciples saw it, they began to find fault with those who had brought them.

Jesus, however, called the little children to him. "Let the little children come to me," he said, "and do not hinder them; for it is to the childlike that the Kingdom of God belongs. I tell you, unless a man receives the Kingdom of God like a child, he will not enter it at all." (Luke 18:15-17)

Coming as a child…during his night meeting with Nicodemus, Jesus made a stronger statement than that:

"In truth I tell you," exclaimed Jesus, "unless a man is reborn, he cannot see the Kingdom of God."

"How can a man," asked Nicodemus, "be born when he is old? Can he be born a second time?"

"In truth I tell you," answered Jesus, "unless a man owes his birth to Water and Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God. (John 3:3-5)

The whole business of being a "born-again Christian" has been hackneyed in the secular world since the days of Jimmy Carter.  But it’s at the centre of the whole Christian experience.  Pao-Yu sees that growing up can be a rough business.  Jesus Christ responds that ultimately the problem of leaving childhood and growing up is one that is best fixed in eternity through eternal life: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that every one who believes in him may not be lost, but have Immortal Life." (John 3:16)  In the meanwhile things can be made better down here, doing things like loving our neighbour and turning away from a shame-honour careerist politics, personal and governmental.  (Letting the atheists triumph would turn us from both of these improvements, by the way.)

Pao-yu’s dilemma can be solved.  We can have the heart of a child, in this life and the life to come.

The First Step to Unity: A New Prayer Book

We noted last year that the great challenge of Orthodox Anglicans in North America was to find a way to coalesce into some kind of organic unity, which is necessary if we are serious about establishing an additional province in the Anglican Communion.

This is trickier than it looks.  Beyond the obvious problems of women’s ordination and the Anglo-Catholic/Evangelical divide, once organisations and bureaucracies are set up, getting people to come together–with the concomitant redundancies and unemployment–is difficult.  Too many purple shirts!

One thing that the various groups, such as CANA, AMiA, and the like, could be working on is a new prayer book for themselves.  We can hear the sigh of disgust from here:  "Another new prayer book…"  And, given our opinion of the 1979 production, we are sympathetic to this idea.  But there are several things that could be accomplished with a new prayer book.

  1. It would eliminate dependency upon TEC for prayer books, especially the 1979 one.  This would enhance the identity of orthodox Anglicans in North America (or "enhance denominational distinctives," as they say in some places.)
  2. It would enable the publication and use of a prayer book that incorporates the classic, Cramnerian core that it needs to be truly Anglican.  The last prayer book to do this was Canada’s in 1962.
  3. It would enable the inclusion of alternate rites–which exiles from TEC have gotten used to in the last thirty years–while excising unorthodox elements, such as the infamous Baptismal Covenant (the "Contract on Episcopalians.")
  4. It would be a real instrument of unity amongst the various orthodox groups in North America, both those who are in communion with Canterbury and those which aren’t.

Orthodox Anglicans are going to need some real, practical initiatives to further advance what they have already won on this continent.  There are enough theological brains in their midst to get the job done.  What it’s going to take is some leadership to make it happen.  But the rewards are worth the effort, both in writing the book and in getting through the ecclesiastical politics in the process.