Is baptism enough?

"There is much talk at present in the Anglican communion of a new covenant to bind us together. This is seen as a solution to our problems, to our disagreements about homosexuality. Some argue that we just need to agree to certain new "essentials". But many of us hesitate to embrace such a covenant because we already have a covenant: our baptismal covenant." The Rev. Canon Jane Shaw, in The Guardian, reflects on whether we need a new covenant for the Anglican Communion or if we have sufficient bonds in baptism.

For Christians, the rite of baptism brings us into the body of Christ. It is about sharing a radical equality as children of God. Paul made this clear in his letter to the Galatians: "For in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith ... There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female." This was startling in the hierarchical Roman society into which the church was born, where you might find yourself in a small room, knee to knee, sharing a meal with a man who was your social superior, or with a slave or a Roman matron, with whom you would never, in the normal conventions of the day, have mixed. It is startling today; not in the same way, not in the formal breaking of hierarchies in our apparently democratic society, but in the linking of different peoples across villages, towns, countries and the globe, through that bond of baptism. We call this a baptismal covenant.

Shaw suggests another response to the Anglican crisis.
All we really have to do in the midst of this crazy church dispute is be awake to our relationship with a loving God. And to do that, warring Anglicans simply have to recall their baptism: that moment when the waters washed over us and the heavens echoed with God's declaration about each of us - you are my beloved son, my beloved daughter, with you I am well pleased. If we remember that, really remember it, disputes might "wither like the grass and fade like the flowers" as Isaiah puts it, as we are bathed in the knowledge of God's love for each and every one of us.

The Rev Canon Dr Jane Shaw is dean of divinity, chaplain and fellow of New College, Oxford

Read it all here

Comments (5)

As an absolutely high sacramentalist and firm believer in baptismal regeneration--no, Baptism isn't enough. Baptism is a beginning; discipleship goes forward from there.

I'd invite you to reflect on the *whole* Great Commission for a second: "And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen." (Matt 28:18-20)

Too often when I hear the Great Commission quoted or discussed all I hear about is the "baptize" or "convert" part. The fact that Matthew records Jesus emphasizing teaching--and not just teaching but living according to that teaching--both before and after the command to baptize go unspoken and unheard.

Baptism is crucial, but it's a beginning and is no way an end.

Derek Olsen raises a good point about living what Jesus actually teaches after Baptism. I fear too many of us have for too long been ignoring our Lord's teaching and example in a rush to judge and a burning will to exclude others.

I'll echo Derek's comments here as well. I've been thinking a bit of late if our focus on baptism as the ur-sacrament, which it surely is, may not be inadvertently be causing us to ignore the fullness and process of life of spiritual pilgrimage.

I used to hold more strongly to baptismal regeneration than I do today - and the change is mostly because I've watched the process of sanctification play out in so many peoples lives in the parishes I've served. Baptism seems to me (based simply on observational evidence) to *begin* a process, not to bring a process to completion.

If the language of baptism could not be sufficient criteria for a "universal" Anglican covenant, what about the language of Confirmation? We all presumably mean what we say when we "reaffirm [our] renunciation of evil;" "renew [our]commitment to Jesus Christ;" and promise to "follow [Jesus] as ... Savior and Lord." We then go on to renew our Baptismal Covenant--which is a glorious statement of our Episcopal identity. This language takes us beyond baptism because it invites us repeatedly to think about our commitments to the Church. It strikes me as a characteristic via media between the sacrament of baptism alone and the sort of fundamentalist dogma that threatens to redefine the Communion.

Obviously there is nothing that will satisfy the hard line conservatives unless TEC makes an unequivocal rejection of its GLBT members. This Communion will not be big enough for TEC and the most hard line conservatives because of rigid, judgmental, and quite frankly homophobic choices; spiritual blindness can never make allowance for any sort of compromise. Consider the dwarves in Lewis's Last Battle, who, in the midst of heaven, can only see themselves in darkness because of their self-imposed blindness. A metaphor for our crisis perhaps?

Why should TEC even consider specifying language in a covenant beyond the "Bonds of Affection" already manifest in our confirmation liturgy?

From the beginning, I have been unalterably opposed to any new covenant for the Anglican Communion, no matter what it includes, no matter what the wording of the covenant.

What is lacking in what we already have that can be filled in by more words in another covenant?

We have, first and foremost, the New Covenant given us by Our Lord Jesus Christ himself, the Two Great Commandments, to love God above all and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

We have the baptismal covenant, which we affirm each time we are present at a Baptism. We have the Creeds.

What is lacking? What are the gaps to be filled in by more words which will not bring us together, but will only serve to exclude and cause worse divisions in the Anglican Communion?

Sorry. No covenant for me, beyond those we have which have.

We already have the means at our disposal to live out in actions the command of Jesus Christ to work to bring about the Kingdom of God here and now.

Baptism seems to me (based simply on observational evidence) to *begin* a process, not to bring a process to completion.

Nicholas, I agree. Of course it begins a process. It's not an end.

June Butler

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