Notable and Quotable

Posted by Kendall Harmon

In all my years as a parish priest, I advocated — indeed, insisted — that “it is desirable that every minister having the cure of souls shall normally administer the sacrament of Holy Baptism on Sundays at public worship when the most number of people come together” (Canon B21: Of Holy Baptism).

Yet now, in retirement, as I approach our parish church, and see the festive gathering — I wonder....

Sunday by Sunday, the faith is being sold cheap, and the opportunity for patient and welcoming pastoral teaching before Baptism (as allowed by Canon B22 (4)) is being lost. Elsewhere, evangelists may be dancing to the tune of Fresh Expressions of Church in all sorts of courageous innovations, but these popular Sunday jamborees are invitations to fresh perjury.

Perjury is a punishable offence, and yet we clergy who put the question “Do you turn to Christ?” could be accused of inciting it. It is no wonder that thoughtful members of our congregations become distressed at what they see; for solemn vows are being made, when it is often quite clear from the body language and the tone of the responses that the parents and godparents are doing no more than follow the script that has been put into their hands.

--The Rev. Ian Robins in this morning's Church Times

Filed under: * Anglican - EpiscopalAnglican ProvincesChurch of England (CoE)* Christian Life / Church LifeLiturgy, Music, WorshipParish Ministry* TheologySacramental TheologyBaptism

19 Comments
Posted February 29, 2008 at 7:09 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. Bernini wrote:

Amen, amen, a thousand times amen. As one who is in the process of crossing the Tiber, I can say that I very much appreciate the time and attention being given to we catechumens in preparation for our confirmation at the Easter Vigil. I cannot help but note that this same care and concern for the transmission of the faith is painfully lacking in most parts of TEC. Indeed, I would argue that it is in fact because of a lack of proper grounding in the fundamental tenants of our faith that TEC has gone completely off the rails. Open Communion is the brightest shining example of the kind of perjury of which Rev. Robins speaks. I’d go so far as to call it heresy. If TEC collapses, it will be it’s own fault, rotted away from the inside.

February 29, 10:22 am | [comment link]
2. Undergroundpewster wrote:

Does this mean that people are going into Baptism without counsel? Quickie conversion then immersion, I think I saw that in “Oh Brother Where Art Thou.”

February 29, 12:00 pm | [comment link]
3. Anglicanum wrote:

I was confirmed in college, after a 90-minute-long class on the morning the bishop was to due.  I had been attending the Episcopal Church for about four months at that point and really had no idea what I was getting into, but I liked the incense and also some of the hymns.

One year later, different parish, different priest: I was asked by the vicar, on the morning of the bishop’s visitation, to reaffirm my baptismal vows, because he wanted a larger group to present to the bishop.  I went through with it, because I was considering going to seminary and he told me it would really help him a lot.

Three years later, different parish, different priest: my wife and I were not given one jot of pre-marital counseling by our rector—he told us that we were ‘plenty religious already,’ and that he figured we already knew everything we needed to know about faithfulness and vows, yada yada yada.

Two years later, same parish, same priest: I wanted to go to seminary, so the rector simply announced to the parish one day that I was a postulant and then fast-tracked me through the various ministry committees, of which he was the chair.  I went to seminary a year later, got a degree, and was plunked down in a struggling parish with very little practical idea of what to do there.

Ten years later, I’m no longer an Episcopal priest.  Or an Episcopalian.  But I am still, by the grace of God, deeply in love with both Jesus and my wife (though I don’t claim to really understand either of them). 

Despite my having a Protestant ordination under my belt, though, the local Catholic bishop made me meet with my pastor for a year before allowing me to be received.  And when I stood up and affirmed before the congregation that “I believe all that the Catholic Church believes,” I meant it, by God.

Promiscuity, whether sexual or sacramental, is not a virtue.  No one is well-served by this model of ministry.  I hope my experience is atypical, but I have a feeling it’s not.

February 29, 12:59 pm | [comment link]
4. New Reformation Advocate wrote:

Bernini (#1),

I agree wholeheartedly with you that the Roman Catholic RCIA (or Rite for the Christian Initiation of Adults) is a wonderful model for incorporating new members after thorough preparation.  But I like the ancient model of the catechumenate even better, for it was even more demanding (as is above all clear from that fascinating early 3rd century document, “The Apostolic Tradition”).

The author of this article in the Church Times rightly protests that baptism is being perverted and intolerably compromised when it’s administered casually in cases where the parents aren’t dedicated Christians themselves.  Alas, this is one of the biggest problems with a state church as in England, every English citizen has the legally guarranteed RIGHT for their child to be baptized, even if the parents are complete skeptics with no intention of raising their children as believers, and the local priest CANNOT refuse them.  That’s one reason why I would never be able to stand being a priest in the C of E.  It’s the same old problem of “cheap grace” that Bonhoeffer described so well and attacked so brilliantly.

Best wishes, Bernini, as the glorious Easter Vigil approaches and you begin a new stage in your spiritual pilgrimage.

David Handy+
Passionate advocate of recovering the ancient catechumenate as the NORMATIVE model of Christian initiation

February 29, 1:30 pm | [comment link]
5. Hursley wrote:

The parish I attend has a strong tradition of deep formation for any of the sacraments, and expresses a belief in transformation in Christ rather than “pull the lever and out falls salvation.” I think this is why it has held up when others around it are faltering.

Read Bonhoeffer; cheap grace is no grace at all. In the end, only those who really “take up their cross” are worthy to be Jesus’ disciples. While only God can know the full meaning of what taking up the cross is for any one of us, a Church which does not show forth the sort of considered, thoughtful, and transformative process by which we learn our unique call to repentance and renewal will die.

February 29, 1:49 pm | [comment link]
6. Hursley wrote:

Re: the Catechumenate… that’s what our parish does. It works.

February 29, 1:50 pm | [comment link]
7. Daniel Lozier wrote:

This is not unlike the vast numbers of Episcopal clergy I meet who have come from other denominations, fallen in love with our liturgy and music, attend a non-Anglican seminary due to Biblical orthodoxy concerns and geographical necessity, get ordained, and then have absolutely no idea of what it means to be Anglican.  They then proceed to radically change our traditions into the Baptist, Congregational, or Pentecostal-type worship and music practices of their former denominations citing “relevance” and “evangelical concerns”....all a simple denial of their liturgical ignorance and insensitivity to those who love our Anglo-Catholic heritage.  And when we try to argue our case, we are accused of being old-fashioned and unwilling to compromise in order to make our worship youth-friendly…after all, we have Disneyland and the Crystal Cathedral to compete with.  Now introducing:  big screens on both sides of the Chancel wall.

Our parish is currently looking for a Children’s Pastor.  Could we possibly find one who knows what it means to be Anglo-Catholic?  One who knows the Catechism?  Not likely in Southern California.  Our new Youth Pastor is a wonderful man and does a great job relating to our youth, but he is responsible for teaching our kids what it means to be Anglican…and he doesn’t have a clue!

February 29, 2:04 pm | [comment link]
8. New Reformation Advocate wrote:

Anglicanum (#3),

While I have only anecdotal evidence to go by, i.e., no reliable statistics to confirm my hunch, I suspect that your sad experience with those three Episcopal churches you mentioned (where they prostituted the sacraments and treated them so casually) is and has long been the general rule, rather than the exception.  I’m 52 years old, I’ve been an Episcopalian/Anglicanseen for over 30 years of that time, and I regret to say I’ve that same tragic pattern all too often.

It’s part and parcel of the old “Christendom” way of thinking.  That is, there is a basic assumption in the Old Anglicanism that everyone in society is a nominal Christian already, and that it’s both appropriate and pastorally effective to have a VERY low threshold for entry into the Church.  After all, the assumption goes, people can always gradually deepen their faith, if they want to do so etc.  Regrettably, that’s been the operative, dominant pattern of church life in all the so-called “mainline” churches for hundreds of years.  Attempting to change that basic modus operandi is sort of like trying to turn around an oceanliner.  It takes lots of time and open sea to do it.

As the famous charismatic priest and teacher at St. Paul’s, Darien, CT, the Rev. Terry Fullam, loved to say:  For way too long, we’ve been “sacramentalizing people instead of evangelizing them.”  Alas, that’s all too true.

But things are beginning to change in many places.  And it’s precisely because of experiences like yours, Anglicanum, that I keep calling for a New Reformation that will lead to “High Commitment, Post-Christendom style Anglicanism.”  Ironically, whereas Roman Catholicism is usually so resistant to change in many ways, the Catholics are leaving the Protestants and us Anglicans behind in the dust when it comes to adopting the ancient catechumenal or RCIA model of Christian Initiation.  Blessings on you as you continue your journey toward fuller “life in Christ.”

David Handy+

February 29, 2:22 pm | [comment link]
9. New Reformation Advocate wrote:

Sorry everyone, I posted that last one too quickly without proofreading sufficiently.  The first paragraph should end like this.  I’m 52 and I’ve been an Anglican for over 30 years, and I’ve seen that same, self-defeating pattern all too often.

David Handy+

February 29, 2:26 pm | [comment link]
10. Nikolaus wrote:

Indeed, I would argue that it is in fact because of a lack of proper grounding in the fundamental tenants of our faith that TEC has gone completely off the rails.

No need to argue that point Bernini!  I have said for a long time that my own parish is loaded with people who, if asked why they joined, can only respond with a litany of what was wrong with the church they came from, not why they were here.

As for baptism, until the current rector, the practice of our parish was private baptism, even at home.  At my request my children were part of the few exceptions baptised during the Sunday service.  Our present rector is totally opposite, baptism is only on Sunday: one child this week, one child next week, one child the week after that.  Yes, baptism numbers are probably higher than usual for TEC (we are a nominally conservative parish).  But rather than being a celebration of new Christians, it is a real drudgery to endure these services.

February 29, 3:13 pm | [comment link]
11. libraryjim wrote:

Daniel
Boy! Am I glad that I’m not the only one who has issues with this!  We had a priest at St. Andrews who was a convert from a Baptist Church, and his first act was to replace the choir with a ‘praise band’ (of which two of his sons were members—one on drums, and the other on guitar—not very good at either, either.)  Every time we turned around he was praising how things were not done right in the Episcopal/Liturgical tradition.  I kept wondering “Why did you come here if you don’t like what we are?”

Even his sermons were ‘borrowed’ from a book of sermons.  We noticed he’d quote from famous authors without giving any citations (pulpit plagerism?).

One time we gave him a book for his birthday, by a well known Christian author.  He stated “I’ve never heard of him”.  Before she could help it, my wife blurted out “But you quoted him extensively in your sermon last week!” He just turned and walked away.

February 29, 3:29 pm | [comment link]
12. New Reformation Advocate wrote:

#10, Nikolaus,

Well, it sounds like your parish is moving in the right direction.  It takes time to institute radical changes in parish life and have them take deep root.  Of course, it must seem odd and tedious when baptisms take place so often on Sundays.

As you are probably aware, the 1979 BCP not only calls for baptisms as initiations into the Christian community to be done as part of the main Sunday service when the community gathers; it also suggests that those Sunday initiations be generally restricted to the five occasions each year when it is most liturgically appropriate: 1. Easter (baptism as a participation in the saving death and resurrection of Christ, which is especially evident when done by immersion);  2. Pentecost (baptism as a sharing in the gift of the Holy Spirit);  3.All Saint’s Sunday (baptism as entry into the whole fellowship of saints of all times and places);  4. the Feast of Our Lord’s Baptism in January (with Jesus as our model, who received the Spirit at his baptism just as we are anointed with the Spirit at ours), and finally 5., whenever the bishop comes (as chief pastor and celebrant of the mysteries of God). 

Alas, I think even after over 25 years (since 1979), it’s still common for TEC congregations to schedule baptisms whenever it’s most convenient for the families involved to get relatives and friends together.  That is of course a hangover from the past, when baptisms were treated more as affairs of the natural family celebrating the birth of a child than as acts of the Family of God, celebrating the supernatural rebirth and induction of new members.  It’s not surprising that your conservative parish is taking a long time making the adjusment.  So are many others.

Despite how ++KJS and other leaders of TEC have latched onto the new Baptismal Covenant (or actually just a small part of it, especially the part about “respecting the dignity of every human being” etc.) and how they’v tried to hijack it for their subversive purposes, I continue to think that the new baptismal liturgy in the 1979 BCP is one of the BEST and most promising features of that rather radically new book.  It represents a big step toward the recovery of an ancient, patristic understanding of Christian initiation.  But a great deal remains to be done in terms of completing the revolution in the theology and practice of Christian initiation thus begun a generation ago.

David Handy+
Passionate advocate of recovering the ancient catechumenate, with adult baptism of converts as the theological NORM for Christian initiation, as well as an advocate for the New Reformation

February 29, 4:00 pm | [comment link]
13. Nikolaus wrote:

Thanks NRA, I’m aware of the appropriate feasts for Baptism.  It would appears that my Rector is not.  We are certainly bringing in bodies, but I’m not sure thay are being formed as Episcopalians.  As I said above, we seem to be over loaded with “formers.”  Former Catholics, former Baptists, former Methodists etc.  A recent adult confirmation class was “accomplished” on one Saturday afternoon.  Our Bible Studies seem to focus on speed rather than understanding.  Stuff like the entire Bible in 8 weeks.  We used to have a rather deep educational programs but the current Rector seems to be giving in to the 15-minute attention span.

February 29, 4:55 pm | [comment link]
14. New Reformation Advocate wrote:

Nikolaus (#13),

You may be right that your current rector is blithely ignorant of the BCP rubrics.  I’ve known some who are.  But it’s more likely that he has made a conscious decision not to follow something the 1979 BCP only encourages anyway.  After all, it’s not mandatory to restrict baptism to those five annual occasions, and many families like having the whole service focus on just their family, not having to share the limelight with other families.  But that again just perpetuates the sense that baptisms (at least infant baptisms, which are still, alas, overwhelmingly the statistical norm in TEC) are primarily celebrations for the sake of the natural family, not the Family of God.

And it sounds as if this decision on his part is consistent with a generally low expectation view of what can be reasonably required of parishioners.  Hence the minimal demands for instruction before confirmation and generally low commitment forms of adult education.  I know all too many colleagues who function in exactly the same manner.  I find it deplorable.  They just see themselves as being “realistic.”

The problem is that this kind of minimalist expectation pattern so often turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy.  As the Bible says, “you reap what you sow,” and in most cases, the level of commitment you expect and require will be the level of commitment you get. 

On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 representing minimal standards of commitment, and 10 maximal standards, it sounds like your parish is perhaps a 2 or 3, which would (sad to say) put it squarely in the middle of the TEC bell curve!  On the other hand, the growing, thriving churches in this country are generally well above 5 on that low to high commitment scale.

This is one more bit of anecdotal evidence why I keep calling for a New Reformation that will create a HIGH COMMITMENT, Post-Christendom style of Anglicanism that is firmly counter cultural.  Pulling off such a radical, revolutionary change will take generations, and it will doubtless require a great deal of persistent, very determined effort.  And it is certain to provoke intense resistance.  But I regard it as absolutely necessary.  Meanwhile, I’m glad that you can act as leaven in the lump of your parish, Nikolaus.

David Handy+

February 29, 5:43 pm | [comment link]
15. Nikolaus wrote:

You hit the nail on the head with paragraph 2 especially NRA.  I generally do not name my parish but IMO we’re skating on a reputation that was built 20-30 years ago and the ice is wearing thin.  Sadly, I have voiced my concerns many times but with no success.  I have no leaven left in me.

February 29, 6:11 pm | [comment link]
16. Albany* wrote:

Exactly what is done in the RC Church with infants in need of baptism and their parents? My sense is the bar is pretty low there.

March 1, 12:31 am | [comment link]
17. Anglicanum wrote:

I’m not sure what the *usual* practice is, Albany, but I know in my parish the pastor meets with the family several times.  Has literature for them to read, etc.

March 1, 9:54 am | [comment link]
18. New Reformation Advocate wrote:

Albany* (#16),

To its credit, the Roman Catholic has struggled more openly and intensely with this issue than any of the so-called “mainline” Protestant denominations.  Ever since the post-Vatican II liturgical reforms were instituted, the RCs have had two different baptismal policies in place, with two different rites, one for infants and one for adult converts.  And the two presume very different theologies of Christian initiation and how the Church relates to society.  Time will tell how this tension is resolved.

I am a theological disciple of Aidan Kavanaugh, a beloved mentor when I was in seminary at Yale.  Fr. Kavanaugh, a Benedictine monk and liturgical expert (and ex-Episcopalian), was one of the drafters of the RCIA (Rite for the Christian Initiation of Adults) and a primary advocate that adult baptism was and should be the THEOLOGICAL NORM, even while infant baptism is tolerated as the statistical norm in many places.  One major collection of essays by a representative group of RC scholars that he edited has a title that says it all:  “Made, Not Born.”  The title alludes to a famous statement made by the early Latin theologian Tertullian around AD 200 (in his Apology, chap. 18), i.e., that Christians are made, not born.  And that is absolutely right, and theologically crucial.  We don’t baptize babies because they are already Christians by virtue of having Christian parents (as Calvin and Cranmer wrongly believed); rather we baptize them in order to thereby MAKE them Christians.

But infant baptism goes hand-in-hand with the old (obsolete) Christendom model of church life.  The RCIA reflects the earlier and more authentic Christian practice of the pre-Constantinain era.  This is a highly contentious issue that isn’t going to go away.  But at least the Catholics are courageously facing the issue and trying to deal with it.  Ex-mainline Protestants generally haven’t even woken up to the fact that this issue exists and is crucial to our future in a post-Christendom western world.

David Handy+
Ever passionate advocate of High Commitment, Post-Christendom style Anglicanism of a radical, Christ against culture variety

March 1, 11:33 am | [comment link]
19. libraryjim wrote:

Or to quote the old saying:
Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to Krispy Kreme makes you a donut
...going to a garage makes you a car
...going to a deli makes you a sandwich
...going to the sea makes you a fish
...going to the bakery makes you a bagel
...fill in your own.

March 1, 2:45 pm | [comment link]
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