“Anything” Doesn’t Go

Fr. Owen correctly notes that Episcopal laity are also bound by vows when it comes to our comprehension of the faith:

I’ve written before about the problem of clergy setting aside the vow to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church. And while it is true that laypersons have not taken that vow, all Episcopal Christians – lay and ordained alike – have made a promise in the Baptismal Covenant that commits us to living within the limits and boundaries of acceptable belief:

Celebrant Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship,
in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?

People I will, with God’s help.

The Book of Common Prayer, p. 304

The language about “the apostles’ teaching and fellowship” is not merely nice sounding words on paper. It entails a substantive content. And in this particular liturgy, that content is laid out in the first half of the Baptismal Covenant in response to the questions of trust that precede the five questions of promise. Those questions are:

  1. Do you believe in God the Father?
  2. Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?
  3. Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?

The answers to these questions take the form of the Apostles’ Creed. So when we promise to continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, we are making a solemn commitment to persist in adhering to the doctrinal content of the articles in the Apostles’ Creed. We are affirming that the faith of the Church articulated by this creed (and, I believe, by extension and amplification in the Nicene Creed) is the norm of belief against which our own personal, individual beliefs are measured and found more or less adequate. And we are promising to conform our believing to this creedal norm.

We really shouldn’t have to say this. Given some of the rhetoric in our church of late, however, it seems that we do.  And I’m glad Fr. Owen has.

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18 Responses to “Anything” Doesn’t Go

  1. bls says:

    I agree this is important to reiterate. And as I said over there – to not make people aware of this is actually cheating them out of a chance to make a commitment to their own faith lives and development.

  2. Huw says:

    This was one of the things that drove me into Orthodoxy – I mean the vows are so clear. Right?

    Of course, in Orthodoxy there are also people who have doubts. The vows are something we all have a life time to grow into… the race set before us, salvation is the process. And I don’t think i’ll live into the vows until I’m standing there at the throne. But I’ll keep trying.

  3. Christopher says:

    It shouldn’t need to be said, but does need to be said because we are not doing a good job of ongoing education and formation.

  4. Anastasia says:

    I had something obnoxious to say but I decided against it. I agree with you.

  5. That doesn’t surprise me… :-)

  6. There will always be doubts. We as humans will always have doubts. The things I take issue with are not doubts but out-and-out rejections of what we hold foundational. I’m thinking of some of the comments at the Cafe during the Norther Michigan bishop-elect debates that cheered the idea of tossing the creeds (and most everything else as well…).

  7. Bill Carroll says:

    I always tell people this when I catechize them in preparation for baptism or confirmation. It should go without saying. Sadly, you are correct that it doesn’t in some parts of the Episcopal Church.

  8. Luiz Coelho says:

    I think there’s a clear difference between full members and seekers, but some seem to water it down.

    When I came back to the Church, I wasn’t a credal Christian. I told my priest I wasn’t comfortable with the creeds, and chose to wait two years until I had all of it settled, before asking to be confirmed. Eventually, my beliefs became clearer, and I felt it’d be honest for me to repeat the baptismal covenant. It was truly what I believed.

    When I see people being confirmed, and even ordained, with beliefs openly against about our statements of faith, I feel a bit like a fool. I feel I was the only one who actually cared…

    I understand that people have faith crises throughout their lives. But even in those cases, I think the solution is to seek counseling, support, and prayer, and, if faith is so weak that fingers need to be crossed, step down from eventual leadership positions and go on a sabbatical or retreat. I think it’s a more honest solution.

    Meanwhile, most churches I know are seeker-friendly enough to welcome anyone with questions and faith issues.

  9. Christopher says:

    It’s my experience that seeker-friendly can become commitment-o-phobic church. By that I mean, we offer such a lite version that we never ask or expect commitment of any kind.

    We can’t go back to the high boundaries of the first few centuries, nor to the Christendom of the past sixteen. But it does seem to me that many are seeking something serious and rich, and if we aren’t willing to offer something serious and rich, they will go elsewhere. We err to confuse hospitality with concern for commitment.

  10. Christopher says:

    That should read “We err to confuse hospitality with lack of concern for commitment.”

  11. John-Julian, OJN says:

    Y’all are right on!

    I am certainly an ecclesiastical li-ber-rul, but I can only be such because I stand with both feet very firmly fixed on the rock of doctrine and vows.

    In fact, I would say that my own spiritual growth over 76 years has seemed to go beyond the “simplicities” of creed, sacrament, and vows—not in the sense of rejecting any of these fundamentals, but by discovering that they are actually arrows pointing at even deeper, more mystical realities. But those deeper dimensions can ONLY be discovered by sheer faithfulness to and long living-with the ancient formularies and commitments.

    It makes me wonder if the ancient three-year catechumenate might well be re-instituted.

  12. Toni Alvarez says:

    I second Fr. John Julian’s suggestion about the catechumenate. I think reviving it might do us a lot of good.

  13. Bill Carroll says:

    I’m not sure a three year catechumenate is necessary, though I agree with John Julian’s reasons for proposing it.

    Thorough catechesis before baptism (including adult sponsors in the case of children being baptized) and before confirmation is already required. What I would like to see is a year or more preparation for confirmation or adult baptism and several sessions over three months’ or so for parents and Godparents prior to an infant baptism. The content of this should include the Prayer Book Catechism and the Baptismal Covenant, including the Apostles’ Creed. There should also be some basic Church history and instruction about the Eucharist and the life of prayer and obligations of discipleship, most of which can come up naturally in the course of commenting on the catechism and covenant. There should also be specific instruction about the triple renunciation and what it entails.

  14. Christopher says:

    I would point out that the thre-year catechumenate was not a universal practice, and our evidence for it is localized at best. But the point of thorough catechesis before Baptism and ongoing formation thereafter are vital. We should be thinking in terms of lifelong formation. When I made my “lateral transfer” from Rome to Canterbury, we spent six months in prep reading Urban Holmes’ What is Anglicanism, reviewing the Prayer Book and its catechism. Now. That was for someone who already had some sense of the faith. I’m not sure many adult converts actually get that much.

    I like Fr. Bill’s suggestion. Maybe, some of us here could put together a curriculum and materials?

  15. Bill Carroll says:

    I’d be happy to work on a project like that. I think we’d have to think about at least five different audiences. One is parents and Godparents of infants and small children. One is Sunday school age children preparing for baptism. Another is youth preparing for confirmation or baptism (I won’t present anyone under 16 for confirmation, which was diocesan policy in Upper South Carolina when I was there). Another is young adults and college students preparing for confirmation or baptism. A final one is for adults preparing for confirmation or baptism.

    I include reaffirmation or reception under the general rubric of confirmation. I also assume that the class would be a useful course in basic Christianity as we have received it for a general parish audience.

    I would be tempted to provide lesson plans with options in exercises and modes of presentation for a number of sessions but a clear sense of the minimum topics that must be covered.

  16. bls says:

    What I would like to see is a year or more preparation for confirmation or adult baptism and several sessions over three months’ or so for parents and Godparents prior to an infant baptism. The content of this should include the Prayer Book Catechism and the Baptismal Covenant, including the Apostles’ Creed. There should also be some basic Church history and instruction about the Eucharist and the life of prayer and obligations of discipleship, most of which can come up naturally in the course of commenting on the catechism and covenant. There should also be specific instruction about the triple renunciation and what it entails.

    This would be fine, but in my experience current “teachings” are mostly couched in terms of “liturgy” – how the furniture gets positioned – and mostly in terms of what happened in the mostly-imaginary “early church.”

    I can’t remember being taught anything much about Church history that wasn’t severely biased – and whose purpose was anything other than what the rector felt like doing with the altar.

    Does anybody teach anything that has actual content anywhere? I’d really like to know, because I suppose all this could just be in my own neighborhood….

  17. Bill Carroll says:

    Hard to know what to include. At a minimum, in addition to a more general survey of Church history, I would do English Reformation and a bit of its historiography, including the question of Christianity in the British Isles before the Reformation; Puritans, Roman Catholics, and other dissenters; early apologists; Caroline divines; Wesleys; Oxford movement, ritualism, and Lux Mundi; Catholic socialism; I would also do Episcopal Church history, including the struggles of the 1950’s-1970’s. I would also talk about the parish communion movement and the liturgical renewal that issued in 1979. It would be important to talk about the role of Anglicanism in the history of mission and the ecumenical movement. All of it would be very cursory and inadequate, especially the version for young children. I would think two or three sessions would be enough to give some orientation. Hard not to have a distinct perspective on some of this, but I would try to be honest about my perspective and to acknowledge differing views.

  18. What intrigues me is that some have focused on and even mocked portions of the Baptismal Covenant as an expression of “political liberalism.” I don’t see the vows that way. Oh, I fail all of the time. I am frustrated that, after all of these years, I am not really all that advanced in loving God and my neighbor. But I am resolved, with God’s help, to keep on trying. Perhaps you will pray for my ongoing conversion. When I prepare to receive communion I look at the Baptismal Covenant as a way of examining myself. And I have awful, anguished doubts sometimes. There was a Holy Habits resolution passed at General Convention in 2003. I have it pasted in my BCP: “We affirm that we are tithing, or have adopted a plan to work toward tithing as a minimum standard for our giving; and that, if we are not already doing so, we are committed to give priority to corporate worship, personal daily prayer and study, and Sabbath time in our own lives; and we invite all members of the Episcopal Church to join us in these holy habits.” As you might guess, in terms of the Holy Habits resolution, I am not there yet either… I do believe God saves us by unmerited grace. God is merciful and loves us. Keeping the Baptismal Covenant may not be salvific in and of itself. But when we live out those vows and believe with commitment (belief isn’t just intellectual assent, but implies commitment and action) we are “worshiping God in the beauty of holiness” and “in view of God’s mercy, offering our bodies and lives as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God as a spiritual act of worship.” You are right. “Anything” doesn’t go.

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