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.
Part 3 here