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:
- Do you believe in God the Father?
- Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?
- 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.