Dangerous Baptismal Steps

One of the most profound changes in how we think as Episcopalians came about as a result of the Baptismal Covenant in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. Before then, in the former Prayer Book, we asked people to renounce the devil and all his works, with all covetous desires of the same; and renounce the sinful desires of the flesh; and we asked if they believed in Jesus Christ and desired to follow him; and if they believed in the articles of the Apostles’ Creed.

In some sense, it was a series of questions that looked from the past toward the present. We asked people to renounce certain things and to affirm that they believed what God has done for us in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The direction of how we look began to change with the current Prayer Book. The questions became more focused on the present moving toward the future. In the Baptismal Covenant, we now ask people to think more directly about how they will live out their Christian lives beyond renouncing those covetous and sinful desires. We still ask them to affirm the Apostles’ Creed, but we have added five questions that have had a huge impact on how we Episcopalians think and live as we move toward the future. Here are those questions:
  •     Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?
  •         Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
  •       Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
  •       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?

Notice the future tense of those five questions. We are asking people to commit to a new way of living in the future.  Just exactly what WILL we do? No longer can we focus on the past and be satisfied. We Christians have a calling.

What happened in the latest Prayer Book is that we now ask people to be much more conscious of seeing the risen Christ in others (“Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons?), and we ask people to be much more conscious of the actions we are called to take as Christians (“Will you proclaim by word and deed the Good News?”). In the very act of Baptism--in the way everyone enters the church--the steps we are to take to better live as Christians are to be taken seriously by every Episcopalian. “How we choose to live our lives formed by Christian ethics,” we might call it. It is a calling I want to explore in future posts.

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