Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Baptismal Covenant - Part 3

First, I am sorry this is so long in coming. I’ve been extraordinarily busy at work, at home, and in my church life. Thank you all for your prayers for my daughter. She has been without any pain medication since Sunday and she even returned to Church on Sunday. She is evidence of the power of prayer.

In Part 1, we learned that the Baptismal Covenant included trusting in the statements of faith in the Apostles’ Creed. This includes the Virgin Birth, the physical resurrection of Jesus (and us as well), that Jesus was human, born, died, and descended to the place of the dead (hell). Those who do not believe in the physical resurrection or the virgin birth or the Trinity have broken their baptismal covenant. An additional note is the this creed is still in “I” form. The language is first person, singular. I’ve heard priests say that the Nicene Creed (in the “We Believe” language) speaks of the faith of the Church, not necessarily the celebrants’ or speaker’s faith. To which I reply, if you don’t believe what the Church believes, then why do you seek to lead the Church in its statement of belief?

In Part 2, we promise to continue to teach and live and believe what the Apostles taught. We also promised not to split the Church. What do we do when the Church refuses to discipline itself? That is a thorny issue. But I believe that the action of splitting to find pure faith is misguided because you will not find it. We also promised to continue in the Breaking of the Bread and in the prayers. The First Promise is first for a reason. It underlies all other promises.

In this part, we will look at what we have to do when we don’t keep the First Promise. The second promise is “Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?”

This brings up two questions. First, when what is evil? How do we know what to resist? That is why the Apostles’ teaching is so important. We know what evil is by knowing what the Apostles taught about it. We know evil because of what the Church has passed on to us. To put it simply, evil is good out of proportion or twisted. Food is good. Eating too much or eating out of proportion is evil. Sex is good, too much sex or sex outside of marriage is evil. Strength is good. Using our strength to impose our will on someone else is evil. Material things are good. Acquiring material things to the detriment of prayer or charity or spending time with others is evil.

The problem is the evil has a very negative connotation. We don’t want to think of ourselves as “evil,” but we are. We, in our “natural” state, desire to be like God ourselves. We want to make the decisions and have the world revolve around us. If you doubt this just watch a small child that doesn’t get his way or watch a teenager when the latest “crisis” hits. We really believe, in our heart of hearts, that we deserve the best and are good people who should get our way. We are, all too often, self-focused.

But we promise to persevere in resisting evil. It is a struggle and we must develop the spiritual muscle to continue it. But when we fail, what then? When we realize that we have given in to evil – when we have sinned (and note, the question is not if you fall into sin, but whenever you fall into sin), what do we do? We promise to repent and return to the Lord.

This means that we have to repent. The Greek word is metanoeo and it means more than to say “I’m sorry.” It actually means to turn around – to acquire a new mind. Repentance is both a journey and an event. It requires us to turn from the evil that we are doing and to ask God to show us the way back. It can be painful because true repentance requires confession – not just to God, but to those whom we have harmed (if possible). It also involves a willingness to make restitution for the sins we’ve committed against other. At first glance, repentance is hard work – and it is if we try to attempt it ourselves with our own strength and power. But there is good news! God is there with us when we start to repent. All He needs is for us to say “I will leave this place and go to my father and say…” At that instant, God is with us, helping us to complete the statement and willing to aid us in actually leaving the far country of the younger son.

So, first we promise to continue in the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship, but we know we won’t because our second promise is to repent and return to God when we break the first promise. When we fall and God helps us back up, we are empowered more to keep our third promise, but that’s yet another post.

Phil Snyder

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