Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Baptismal Covenant - Part Two

In Part 1 on the baptismal covenant, I mentionted that the covenant was in two parts and discussed that the first part was a subscription to generally orthodox faith by answering the Apostles' Creed affirmatively. We mentioned that those who do not believe what the Apostles' Creed asserts are not living in the baptismal covenant. This includes the Virgin Birth, the physical Resurrection of Jesus and us, the Holy Spirit being fully God and the communion of saints.

The second part concerns praxis - how we live the faith we attested to in part one. This essay will talk about the first question.

Q: Will you continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread and in the prayers.
A: I will with God's help.

The question comes straight from Acts 2:42. There are four promises
1. To continue in the Apostles' teaching. We will teach and believe what the Apostles taught and believed in essentials. So, how do we know what the Apostles taught and what is essential and what isn't. First the teaching of the Apostles is contained in two sources. The first is Holy Scripture. The New Testament contains what the Apostles taught. The second is Holy Tradition. This is passed on by the successors of the Apostles - the Bishops. Today, there are thousands of bishops who exist in Apostolic Succession - the idea that bishops are made bishops by those where made bishops by bishops reaching back to the Apostles and then to Jesus Christ. So, what if bishops are in conflict? (Imagine that!) As +Rowan Williams said, only the whole Church knows the whole truth. When bishops meet in conference to decide issues of the Faith, we need to listen to them. The larger the gathering, the more we should listen. If the Bishops' voice says that this is essential, then it probably is. If it says that that is sinful, then it probably is.
2. To continue in the Apostles' fellowship. Splitting the Church is wrong. It is farily common today to say "Schism is worse than Heresy." This is true (and like all falsehoods is only partially true). Why is that? It is because Heresy is schism. Heresy causes schism. In today's Episcopal Church, we have a dilema. We have a lot of heretics teaching heresy and acting on that teaching. What they are teaching and doing is contrary to the Apostles' teaching (see #1). They are not being disciplined by the Church and that is wrong. So, is the answer to leave the Church to find a more "pure" church? No! That way leads to a Church of one because you will constantly be splitting. As witness, see the plethora of "life boat" churches (Kenya, Southern Cone, Uganda, Nigeria et. al.) that seem to be drifting further and further apart. Also witness what I call the Alphabet Soup of the Continuing Anglican movement from the 1970s and 80s. What started out as a unified witness to classical Anglicanism, devolved into a host of small, disconnected churches. I'm aware of one congregation in the Dallas area that has three bishops and a priest. I doubt that the congregation is over 2000 ASA. So splitting to find purity is not the answer? What is? Well, that's another post, but our Baptismal Covenant forbids both heresy and schism.
3. The breaking of the Bread - this is commonly (at least in sacramental Churches) considered to be Holy Communion or Eucharist. We promise that we will maintian our vital link with Jesus through his self-giving of his Body and Blood in Holy Communion.
4. The prayers. Christians are to be people of prayer. Prayer is our vital link with God and with the whole Church. All too often we take up the worlds' weapons to fight the world. We rely on political strategizing, money, power poltics, "controlling the message" (spin) and other things to win. While these are often useful tools, the most important tool for the renewal of the Church is to get people in communication with God through prayer.

In my next post on this topic, we will discuss what we do if we cannot live up to the Apostles' Creed or to pomise #1.

Phil Snyder

Part 3 here


Anonymous said...

I so agree that schism is not the answer. As long as the church is here on earth, there are going to be "tares mixed with the wheat."

You would think that if all these folks really thought TEC was in the hands of heretics, they would be all the more determined to stay, and try to rescue their brothers and sisters in Christ.

Instead they all suppose it is somehow more righteous to "head for the hills," and run away. Where is the love of Christ in this?

Jesus wants us to be one in Him.


plsdeacon said...


To be fair to our brothers and sisters who have left TEC, many of them were run out by bishops more concerned with power than with being a pastor to all the people of the diocese.

In many progressive dioceses, it is very hard to be an open conservative because many progressives cast conservatives, not as just misguided or wrong, but as evil. They berate them and call them names and don't take them seriously. Witness some of the treatment I've received at Fr. Jakes - being called a liar and a hatefilled person because I disagree with their theological position and assert what I have received from the Church.

But, having said that, schism is not the answer. Jesus never promised us "easy;" he promised us difficult, but rewarding work.

Phil Snyder

Anonymous said...

I can understand, Phil. Right now I'm attending a more progressive Episcopal church. But, I can tell you that I've not seen these really hateful, and disrespectful attitudes toward conservatives that are displayed on some of these blogs.

If I did, I would have a very hard time being part of them. My own husband, and many friends don't agree with all of my views. And, they are wonderful, caring Christian people.

I'm thinking part of the problem might be the anonomity of the net. It's alot harder to disrespect and trash people face to face than where there's an actual real life relationship, and ongoing fellowship together.

Either way, it surely doesn't show the love of Christ.


plsdeacon said...

Hi Grace,

Yes, it is easier to be nasty when you're not face to face. I've seen it on both sides of the progressive/conservative divide and you are right. It doesn't show the Church in the best light.

Another problem is that we tend to read the blogs of people we agree with. This leads to reinforcing the idea that we must be right because so many agree with us. It's almost like the NY times reporter in 1968 that can't believe that Nixon won the election - no one she knew voted for him!

So, what do we do about the heresy and schism in the Church today? Should we continue to let those who won't continue in the Apostles' teaching or in the Apostles' fellowship set the agenda?

Phil Snyder

Bryan Owen said...


I'm enjoying your series on the Baptismal Covenant and am pleased to see focused attention given to the meaning and practical implications of the promises we make - and regularly renew - in it.

I'm a bit surprised that, in addition to mentioning Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition, your answer to the question, "how do we know what the Apostles taught and what is essential and what isn't" does not include the first part of the Baptismal Covenant: the Apostles' Creed. After all, that Creed has traditionally been understood to succinctly summarize the core of the apostles' teaching. But perhaps that, too, is included within what you mean by Holy Tradition.

I think that the order of the "Questions of Promise" is very important and intentionally so. It is very significant that the first vow is about promising to "continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers." This promise forms a bridge between the first part of the Baptismal Covenant (the "Questions of Trust" in the Apostles' Creed) and the second part in the "Questions of Promise."

So in addition to the points that you make, my reading of the first "Question of Promise" is something like this: okay, we've all said we believe certain things about God and Jesus, so now we're going to solemnly promise that this is more than just saying something with our lips. We're actually going to DO something about what we said we believe. We're not only going to make the effort to learn what the apostles' teaching actually entails - we're going to act on it. And we're going to attend worship (in particular, receive the Eucharist) regularly. So showing up and being active participants in Church on Sunday mornings becomes one of the top priorities of our weekly calendar.

Given the rampant individualism and busyness of our society, this is some pretty counter-cultural stuff!


plsdeacon said...

Hi Bryan,

I'm sorry its been so long to reply to this. I think that we need Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition because the Apostles' Creed is only the "core" of the Apostles' teaching. There is nothing in any of the creeds about any sin, just about what we trust to be true about God. So, would you be willing to maintain table fellowship with a priest who taught that adultery was good and should be blessed? If not, why not? After all, the Apostles' creed does not discuss adultery.

As you say, continuing in the Apostles' teaching entails learning what the Apostles' teaching entails. This is more than reading Holy Scripture. It entails learning what the Church has said about Holy Scripture. It entails putting that pistis into practice. True orthodoxy results in orthopraxis and orthopraxis will re-inforce our orthodoxy.

Phil Snyder