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ONE BAPTISM

God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our only Savior, the Prince of Peace: Give us grace seriously to lay to heart the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions; take away all hatred and prejudice, and whatever else may hinder us from godly union and concord; that, as there is but one Body and one Spirit, one hope of our calling, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all, so we may be all of one heart and of one soul, united in one holy bond of truth and peace, of faith and charity, and may with one mind and one mouth glorify you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

This ancient and beautiful prayer sums it all up. There is one Body. We can’t create it. We can’t even really destroy it. But we can obscure it to our great danger. It is the one Lord who has given the one faith into which we are incorporated in baptism. We didn’t create the Church.

Our new emphasis on the centrality of baptism isn’t surely a call to some lowest common denominator vision, in much the way that some employ when they are content to say that the credal word “catholic”means “universal”. Of course it does, but in a much more profound manner than the fact that there are Christians all over the place.

If baptism draws us all into unity with God and through God with each other, if it is the means whereby God draws us together, there’s something more profound here than the old term “the brotherhood of man” meant. And more so does the meaning of baptism become profound where it exists visibly and has been achieved actually Indeed one is drawn to ask the question, “In what manner and by what authority may unity, once achieved be annulled?” Certainly “discipline” is a part of the story, but, as I read the Bible, the purpose of discipline is to restore relationships, not to destroy them. We need to be talking about restoration and not expulsion.

As I read responses to the Primates’ Communique and the proposed Anglican Covenant I despair that our much touted baptismal covenant theology seems to take back seat to nationalistic bombast about the unique nature of TEC and its form of government. One would think, two hundred years or more after the Revolution, that a more objective and less chauvinistic approach would be possible. If it is true -and I can find no one willing to name names and cite constitutions and canons -that there are provinces in the Communion with quasi RC forms of government where Primates may fire diocesan bishops and clergy, as one TEC bishop charged recently, what has that got to do with the rapture? Is it suggested that God works better through a form of government based on an 18th Century American model? Who IS in charge here?

What such a charge reflects is an obsession with government and nationalism. In fact, whatever the polity employed all orders within the Church do the vital work of the Church day by day. They pray. They show mercy. They announce and obtain forgiveness. They witness. They baptise, celebrate the Eucharist, marry, ordain, bury. They show forth Christ in homeless shelters, among the poor, the sick, the needy, prisoners and captives, the shunned, the persecuted, the starving, victims of war. Bishops pastor clergy and their families, pray with them, lead their dioceses in sound faith, peace, unity, mission and pastoral care to all. Primates pastor the bishops and speak for the whole people of God and take counsel in the wider church. Now this is the work of the Church in which all participate.

I reflect that some of the most powerful reform took place in Anglicanism when the English Convocations were not functioning. Those were the days of Whitfield and Wesley, Simeon and Wilberforce, Newman and Pusey, Maurice and more. Those were the days when we witnessed in the factories, freed the slaves and took the Gospel all over the world creating the very international family we now want to destroy.

Now does our obsession with legislative government emerge from the Bible, or the tradition of the Church, or our Anglican heritage? Certainly church government is a part of doing things decently and in order, in identifying the work of the people of God and making decent provision for order and funding. That is a part of the picture. But I believe that we have become obsessed with the process of legislation in a manner which flows from secular politics rather than from our faith. We are obsessed with order in a very unanglican manner. Worse, we are obsessed with “winning” and have the temerity to enlist the Holy Spirit as the author of our local decisions in a manner which calls into question the Spirit’s work in the rest of the Church.

The trend over the last century in TEC has not been to preserve the vision of the founders but to increase the volume of law and control at every level. We may not have a Lord Archbishop -as if titles mean much nowadays -but the job description of our PB is a far cry from that given to William White. 815 is a far cry in visibility, influence, staff and space from Samuel Seabury’s study. Of course we have grown but that is only part of the picture.

Fifty years ago a vestry called the rector and as long as the called priest wasn’t an ax murderer there was little the bishop could do to thwart the election. Vestries had title to the church property. There was no “dog and pony”show in the election of bishops. Now maybe much of the regulatory method or system which now obtains may have helped, but none points to a preservation of old freedoms. Before we start trumpeting our democracy we might take a look at where we have come from since we decided to make our PB a bureaucrat. Law and management are necessary but they are no substitute for trust and mutual dependence.

If we really believe that there is “One Lord, one faith, one baptism: one God and Father of us all” surely we must be drawn with familiar grace towards fellowship and mutual dependence? If what we become in baptism is the result of utter self-sacrifice, on the part of the one who being equal with God made himself a slave of all, how can we trumpet nationalism, or a particularism, or a determination to hold on to what we have achieved at the cost of living in baptism; and shout our allegiance to the Crucified One? If these things be of God -what ever “these things” are -then God will have His will among us as God wills and when God wills. But if we deny what has been done for us in Christ by rejecting the validity of the baptism we share on the part of others -I have no need of you – or ourselves, we say to the world that the Gospel doesn’t work, isn’t true, has no more power than any other nice fable. When we get mad, we go home!

2 Responses

  1. My inaugural address at the Great White Throne Judgment of the Dead, after I have raptured out billions! The Secret Rapture soon, by my hand!
    Read My Inaugural Address
    My Site=http://www.angelfire.com/crazy/spaceman
    Your jaw will drop!

  2. When I hear you I begin to understand that what you are talking about is what the PB is also calling us to. She is asking all of us to minister to others rather than to think first about ourselves. This does not mean that we give up any part of the care that we have for one another, but that we must be willing to go beyond this to minister to those that we have not yet heard.

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