Bishop Harold Miller: Reflections on personal experiences of ECUSA, six years ago

Posted by Kendall Harmon

My third observation was an emerging new theology of baptism. This was clarified for me when I was taken with members of the International Anglican Liturgical Consultation to a radical Episcopal church in San Francisco. When we entered into the liturgical space, I could see the table, which was unbounded by rails and clearly open to all. But I could not see the place of baptism. When I asked where it was, I was taken out the back, and told that it had been placed there so that baptism would not be a stumbling-block to newcomers. In other words, the idea goes, all people are welcome to the table no matter what their belief or lifestyle, as Jesus had table-fellowship with prostitutes and sinners. Baptism can be looked into later when there is time to think things through. This is, of course, a reversal of the biblical model, where baptism was the sacrament freely and always available for all who come to repentance and faith, and communion, the table fellowship of the baptized for which self-examination was necessary.

Aligned to that, I have also observed, and have seen particularly in the West Coast, an uncomfortableness with repentance and confession of sin. The theory, as I understand it goes something like this: The archetypal Eucharistic rite is focussed around the gathering, the word, the intercessions, the table and the going out. Confession is an optional extra. This was almost encouraged by the International Anglican Liturgical Consultation document on the eucharist, and by the pattern where the confession in the middle section was displaced when there was, for example a baptism, marriage, or an ordination. There has been a reclaiming of penitence in some of these rites recently, especially in the Church of England, by placing the penitential section at the beginning of the service. It is one thing to omit penitence in a church which has the expectation of personal auricular confession, but quite another to omit it in a church of the Reformation which enjoins General Confession. There is, in my view, behind this, a serious underplaying of personal sin and personal salvation.

The next element of the liturgy to be ‘downplayed’ was historic Creeds. Again, we are told that the Eucharistic prayer is creedal (a part-truth), or that Creeds are not a necessary part of worship (another part-truth), but the eventual reality which I observed was the omitting of the historic creeds altogether in the main Sunday liturgy. I was sensitized to expect something of this sort several years ago when I met a very radical Presbyterian minister from Albuquerque. I asked him did they have the historic creeds in the worship of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. His answer was this: ‘Yes. We have fourteen declarations of faith at the back of the book and they all interplay with each other’! There is a real reaction to and distancing from propositional statements of faith, even the historic ecumenical creeds - and in some cases from their central tenets and beliefs.

Sixth, and following on from the last point, there is an inclination to try to find ways of holding all faiths together as believing in a common god.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Anglican - EpiscopalEpiscopal Church (TEC)* TheologyChristologySacramental TheologyBaptism

34 Comments
Posted September 15, 2007 at 12:09 pm

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1. BCP28 wrote:

It was interesting for me to read this, especially his discussion of confession and baptism.

I am always a little skeptical of geographic pigeon-holing, but there is something to be said for the tendencies of certain regions.

September 15, 12:34 pm | [comment link]
2. Sherri wrote:

It was helpful for me to read this as it illuminated the motivations behind some changes that I had not previously understood. His conclusion is a painful summary of where we seem to be:

In so many ways, parts of the Episcopal Church have been losing deep aspects of their identity. If God is not Father, Jesus is not Lord, the Son is not unique, baptism is not necessary, the creeds are optional, repentance and sin are dated concepts and the atonement is marginalized or even rejected, where do we go from here? The faith remaining will be a very different faith from the Christian faith once delivered to the saints - and I, for one, am not going there!

Neither am I.

September 15, 12:42 pm | [comment link]
3. Br. Michael wrote:

Indeed, it’s no longer Christianity

September 15, 1:22 pm | [comment link]
4. Bob from Boone wrote:

Not in my region, i. e. my diocese, #1. Certainly not in my parish, where the baptismal font is in front of the nave and every baptism is a public one, held at a Sunday Eucharist; the whole congregation consents to support the godparents in raising the child and then welcomes the child into the congregation. Every Sunday Eucharist includes the Nicene Creed (except when there is a Baptism) and the General Confession and Absolution. Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are solemn penitential occasions. The Great Litany is chanted on the first sundays of Advent and Lent. I doubt that there are parishes in my diocese that deviate in any significant way from these practices. I would not belong to a parish that did.

Personally, I believe that different religions have different concepts and images of God, but the one and same God, who desires that all be saved, finds ways to work through different faiths to draw all men and women to himself. It is important to maintain the distinctions, but equally imporant to reach out in hospitality for mutual understanding. Christians should never avoid witnessing the love of God in Christ Jesus, but should take care not to usurp the judgment that belongs to Christ alone in pronouncing on the spiritual fate of others.

September 15, 2:41 pm | [comment link]
5. AKMA wrote:

Again I’m puzzled by the present church leadership’s enthusiasm for both a “baptismal theology” whereby all the baptized exercise spiritual gifts for participation and leadership, and “open communion” on the other, which relegates baptism to a matter of indifference. One might think one could have either, but not (coherently) both. . . .

September 15, 2:56 pm | [comment link]
6. Karen B. wrote:

Thank you Dr. Adams.
Coming from you, that statement of puzzlement carries some weight.  Many of us are wondering the same thing and seeing the same incoherence, particularly on display in the latest report by the Lawyer Bishops which focuses on ECUSA’s Baptismal covenant as its centerpiece. 

How to understand that at the same time ECUSA seems to be full speed ahead on promoting Communion Without Baptism (CWOB), thus basically denying the necessity of baptism at all.  Just bizarre.

September 15, 3:23 pm | [comment link]
7. D. C. Toedt wrote:

The Jesus portrayed in the gospels seemed somewhat less interested in whether someone had been baptized than in whether they had experienced the metanoia with which baptism is associated.

And the church’s insistence on the importance of baptism specifically in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit seems to be undermined by the fact that in Acts, Matthean Great Commission notwithstanding, the apostles are uniformly reported to have baptized in the name of Jesus alone — that is, when they baptized in anyone’s name at all.

The First Commandment requires us to face the facts as best we can — to deal with the universe as God wrought it, not as we wish it were. (My blog: The Questioning Christian)

September 15, 3:31 pm | [comment link]
8. Kendall Harmon wrote:

The important point is that we are losing touch with the center of the tradition with a capital T.  Rarely does it manifest as openly or blatantly as the former bishop of Newark’s theses, or the Olympia area Episcopal priest claiming that she can be both a Christian and a Muslim which neither faith would agree is possible.  But is has been happenly gradually over more than thirty years, and its pace seems to be increasing of late.

For me, incoherence is one of the most important words needed to describe our common life: we are the open church which is hidden, the inclusive church which excludes, the justice church which does not engage in a just process of change, either in its own province or the communion as a whole, and on and on its goes.

Anyone else notice that with the new baptismal theology the laity are claimed as the highest order of ministry (correct in my view) but in our common life does it not feel as if clericalism has ever been more rampant than it is now?

Just asking.

September 15, 3:42 pm | [comment link]
9. Kendall Harmon wrote:

D.C., I expect better from you than that.  It can be shown that in all the major early centers of Christianity baptism in the three fold name was the norm.  There is no way this would have been the case if it was seen to be at odds with the practice of Scripture.  There is an important reason why Jesus only Pentecostalism has never gone very far.

September 15, 3:44 pm | [comment link]
10. D. C. Toedt wrote:

Kendall [#9], if “in all the major early centers of Christianity baptism in the three fold name was the norm,” as you say, then I can see only two possibilities:

• Possibility 1: Acts correctly reports that the early apostles baptized in the name of Jesus alone; baptism in the three-fold name was a later development — which seems to suggest that the Matthean version of the Great Commission might have been a later editorial alteration (compare it with the Marcan version); or

• Possibility 2: Acts erroneously reports that the apostles baptized in the name of Jesus alone — which raises questions what else its putative author Luke might have gotten wrong.

Is there some other possibility I’m missing?

The First Commandment requires us to face the facts as best we can — to deal with the universe as God wrought it, not as we wish it were. (My blog: The Questioning Christian)

September 15, 3:54 pm | [comment link]
11. Karen B. wrote:

D.C., On one level, I applaud your comment about the need for spiritual transformation (metanoia), that baptism alone isn’t enough. Amen.

In fact, in a comment at StandFirm yesterday about the Lawyer Bishops’ report [http://www.standfirminfaith.com/index.php/site/article/5918/#108573] I mentioned my concern about the focus on ECUSA’s Baptismal Covenant and how that has led to a weird situation where Baptism is the “be all, end all.”  I wrote:

Baptism is the be all end all.  Once baptized no one can be denied any position of leadership.  Moral transformation and sanctification doesn’t matter.

And yet, baptism does matter.  It’s the outward sign of repentance and metanoia:

Acts 2:37,38
37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

and Here’s Article XXVII:

XXVII. Of Baptism.
Baptism is not only a sign of profession, and mark of difference, whereby Christian men are discerned from others that be not christened, but it is also a sign of Regeneration or New-Birth, whereby, as by an instrument, they that receive Baptism rightly are grafted into the Church; the promises of the forgiveness of sin, and of our adoption to be the sons of God by the Holy Ghost, are visibly signed and sealed, Faith is confirmed, and Grace increased by virtue of prayer unto God.

It seems in your rush to embrace metanoia alone you are trying to dodge the striking incoherence that Dr. Adams and others are raising.  How can on one hand ECUSA make almost an idol out of its baptismal covenant, and then on the other declare that baptism doesn’t matter, that we are all part of the family of God, all pilgrims on the same journey, and that we shouldn’t let a mere ritual exclude people from participating in the sacrament of Holy Communion?  Yet many reappraisers in ECUSA seem to do both.

September 15, 4:01 pm | [comment link]
12. Karen B. wrote:

D.C., one more thought.
On your statement that Acts only reports the Apostles baptizing in the name of the Lord Jesus,

I’m not sure there’s any passage in Acts that precludes the possibility of a Trinitarian formula being used in the earliest days of the church.  Yes, the emphasis was on Baptism into Christ Jesus (as a distinction from the Baptism of John—See Acts 19:1-5 where this is made EXPLICIT).  But emphasizing that converts were baptized in the name of Jesus Christ does not mean they were not ALSO baptized in the Name of the Father and the Holy Spirit.

September 15, 4:11 pm | [comment link]
13. D. C. Toedt wrote:

Karen B. [#11], by no means do I defend the notion that baptism should be the be-all and end-all of our theology. That would seem to put the cart before the horse. Article XXVII’s description of baptism as a sign strikes me as pretty close to the mark.

I get the impression that baptismal-covenant theology is being raised up, not so much for its merits, but as a defense against the monarchical-episcopacy invasion from Nigeria, Uganda, Rwanda, etc. Sometimes we pew-sitters tend to be unduly impressed by episcopal pageantry; in the battle for our hearts and minds, the baptismal-covenant crowd, by stressing the importance of the ministry of the laity, seem to be trying to reduce the impact of that pageantry. OCICBW.

On the other hand, I do tend to favor communion without baptism (although I don’t have strong feelings about it). The most succinct argument for CWOB seems to be that of Tobias Haller, who wrote that “the stranger must be offered the best of what we have.”

The First Commandment requires us to face the facts as best we can — to deal with the universe as God wrought it, not as we wish it were. (My blog: The Questioning Christian)

September 15, 4:18 pm | [comment link]
14. Jim the Puritan wrote:

Kendall, thanks for posting several articles today on baptism.  As some as my prior posts may have shown, I am extremely troubled by TEC’s developing “theology” about baptism, which seems to me totally contrary to any understanding of scripture.  In my own life, it has gotten to me to the stage where I really don’t know if I any longer support the position of paedo-baptism.  At least with credo-baptism (believer’s baptism) the person being baptized understands the meaning of the sacrament and that it is a symbol of repentance and desire to live as Jesus calls us to live, not an automatic “membership card” that entitles you to “all rights and privileges appertaining thereto,” including guaranteed admission into Heaven, without any inward or outward amendment of life.

Perhaps I’m not so much troubled by the theology of it as the practical consequence:  that many people are going through life thinking they have been “saved” into Heaven solely by baptism, when that is not the case at all.  That is the worst   thing the Church can do, and I certainly wouldn’t want to be facing my Maker on Judgment Day trying to explain why because of the 1979 “baptismal covenant,” I taught people they were all going to Heaven simply because they got “sprinkled” or “poured” as an infant.

September 15, 4:41 pm | [comment link]
15. Br. Michael wrote:

Now, look DC, you deny the divinity of Jesus.  You have said so over and over again.  The church from inception understood baptism as the entry into the Church and admission to the sacraments, including the body and blood of Christ.  I suspect your difficulty is that you deny orthodox Christoligy. Jesus is the Farher is the Holy Spirit is Jesus.

September 15, 4:42 pm | [comment link]
16. Nikolaus wrote:

One thing Bishop Miller’s remarks clearly, clearly demonstrate is that the problems faced by TEC are far broader than sexual issues and certainly predate 2003.

I have been baptized too!

September 15, 4:54 pm | [comment link]
17. the roman wrote:

“If God is not Father, Jesus is not Lord, the Son is not unique, baptism is not necessary, the creeds are optional, repentance and sin are dated concepts and the atonement is marginalized or even rejected, where do we go from here?”

The Rt. Rev. seems to make a good case.

September 15, 4:55 pm | [comment link]
18. Philip Bowers wrote:

You see in the comments the problem.  The Tradition really carries no weight with some of our friends.  I do not know in what sense they claim to be catholic Christians.  It is the truly Protestant past time—ignore the Tradition and the Church catholic and its teachings and dogma, after all I, as an individual, can read the Scriptures and discern better than these old historical figures what it all means.  Baptism-bapsmism, Jesus ate with sinners, let em all come to the Lord’s table.

September 15, 5:21 pm | [comment link]
19. Bob from Boone wrote:

Folks, get in touch with Paul’s theology. It becomes clear with careful reading of his letters that Baptism as the rite of initiation into the Christian community is the replacement for circumcision. We are baptised into Christ’s death, Paul says, and we are raised out of the waters of baptism into his resurrection. (Paul’s theology would be clearer if we all practiced baptism by immersion again.) Baptism makes one a member of Christ’s Body, another important theological theme for Paul. Baptism for Paul was literally a rite of passage, from death to life. While it is true that Jesus rarely if ever baptized, it is also true that “baptism” is a major concept in the NT letters.

It is clear also that the early Church took baptism a lot more seriously than so many in the Church do today. Fortunately the Church is taking it a lot more seriously in insisting that it not be a private sacramental celebration but a public one that emphasizes once again its role as the Sacrament of Initiation.

I’m troubled by what appears in some comments to be a downgrading of baptism simply because it has been made an issue in the bishops’ statement.

September 15, 8:04 pm | [comment link]
20. Revamundo wrote:

When I asked where it was, I was taken out the back, and told that it had been placed there so that baptism would not be a stumbling-block to newcomers. In other words, the idea goes, all people are welcome to the table no matter what their belief or lifestyle, as Jesus had table-fellowship with prostitutes and sinners. Baptism can be looked into later when there is time to think things through. This is, of course, a reversal of the biblical model, where baptism was the sacrament freely and always available for all who come to repentance and faith, and communion, the table fellowship of the baptized for which self-examination was necessary.
I won’t judge any persons lifestyle…not my job. That being said I’m dismayed that Baptism would be considered a stumbling-block to newcomers. At my church the font is at the entrance to the Nave. It is symbolic to our journey begins w/ baptism and when it ends we’re carried past it on the way out. Our life in Christ starts w/ baptism before communion. I don’t check people for baptism credentials at the rail and if someone expresses interest in joining the church my first question is “have you been baptized?” And we go from there. Oh, and no confirmation is not the same as baptism. And if you haven’t been baptized with/in water in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit then we’ll start over from there. I’ve had several people who were Pentecostal and “Jesus name” baptized.
Not what you’d expect from a liberal, huh! grin

Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.

September 15, 10:25 pm | [comment link]
21. Larry Morse wrote:

Increasingly, I see that baptism should be what it was to John and Jesus. This is the source, and we should hold to it. Babptism takes place when one is grown old enough to understand its significance. Is it simple minded to say that if this was good enough for Jesus and John, it should be good enough for us. Am I alone in this?

  Ah, the West Coast, the Left Coast, what shall we do with this land of the nuts and the fruits? Dare I hope that there is a fault that, when it moves, will takes the entire coast and slide it into the sea. They will disappear and it will be all their own fault. Christian-Muslim pseudo-priests and Hollywood all sink into the sea together. Cold blooded? Well perhaps, a little, but when I think of the benefits….  LM

September 15, 11:40 pm | [comment link]
22. Revamundo wrote:

Am I alone in this? I don’t know about other people but I don’t agree. IMHO no child should remember their baptism or their first communion. They should be initiated right away into the church.

Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.

September 16, 3:13 am | [comment link]
23. Larry Morse wrote:

But, #22, shouldn’t you know what you are doing, wha it means when you are baptised? Why did Christ wait so long for John to baptise him? Why should we not follow their example? I hope you will answer this question, for John and Christ are the model, aren’t they? Perhaps for children we need some other purification ceremony that is not baptism as it now is? Larry

September 16, 8:27 am | [comment link]
24. Sherri wrote:

I was baptised as an infant and confirmed as very young child. Did I really understand what it was all about? The baptism certainly not, the confirmation only as a child can understand. Would I have it to have been otherwise? No. I look around me and I have too many friends who weren’t incorporated into church life in an early age and who, in their teen years, missed it all together and left in those rebellious years. I have more friends who had no childhood experience of “church” and now, when they are hungry for faith, they don’t know how to believe. Come to the church as an adult, yes, and with eyes open and knowing what you are doing - but I think it is even better to be brought up in the church, as a part of the church, because you are brought up with a believing heart, ready to grow into a more mature faith. The saddest thing to me is a person who can’t reach Anselm’s “I believe in order that I might understand” (Probably not quoted correctly, sorry) because they think, with their adult minds, that understanding is the route to belief.

September 16, 10:14 am | [comment link]
25. MJD_NV wrote:

If God is not Father, Jesus is not Lord, the Son is not unique, baptism is not necessary, the creeds are optional, repentance and sin are dated concepts and the atonement is marginalized or even rejected, where do we go from here? The faith remaining will be a very different faith from the Christian faith once delivered to the saints - and I, for one, am not going there!

AMEN!  That’s the money quote of the whole piece!

If God is not Father, Jesus is not Lord, the Son is not unique, baptism is not necessary, the creeds are optional, repentance and sin are dated concepts and the atonement is marginalized or even rejected, where do we go from here? The faith remaining will be a very different faith from the Christian faith once delivered to the saints - and I, for one, am not going there!  ~ Bp. Miller, Church of Ireland

September 16, 10:45 am | [comment link]
26. Biff wrote:

No 2, Sherri, it’s bad form to make the cocktail party guests uncomfortable.

September 16, 10:50 am | [comment link]
27. Revamundo wrote:

23. Larry Morse…The baptism by Jesus of John was the Jewish ritual cleansing and not what we as the Christian church believe baptism to be. I also don’t agree that it is a substitution for circumsision(I can’t remember now which post that was). To be brought up with a believing heart as Sherri wrote is a loving gift from God, your parents and your church.

One of my great teachers and mentors reminded me that infants are deeply impacted by their surroundings and the way people around them treat each other. If an infant can be miserable by something they don’t understand (fighting in the home, loud voices, etc) then they can also feel peace from the loving, grace filled ceremony of baptism. They can feel peace and comfort when they enter a space where people have sworn to support them.

I do think confirmation should, in most cases, be after the age of 17 w/ a really good confirmation class first.

Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.

September 16, 1:19 pm | [comment link]
28. Ross wrote:

#21 Larry Morse says:

Ah, the West Coast, the Left Coast, what shall we do with this land of the nuts and the fruits? Dare I hope that there is a fault that, when it moves, will takes the entire coast and slide it into the sea. They will disappear and it will be all their own fault. Christian-Muslim pseudo-priests and Hollywood all sink into the sea together. Cold blooded? Well perhaps, a little, but when I think of the benefits….

Well, Larry, there are some of us who dare to hope that the fault will go the other way, and everything east of us—clearly a superfluous and unnecessary part of the country—will slide into the Atlantic.  As you say, think of the benefits…

———————————————————————-
Who am I?  Visit my web page or my blog  to find out.

September 16, 4:21 pm | [comment link]
29. dwstroudmd+ wrote:

DC, you are basing your argument on Scripture, specifically Acts?  I am impressed.  The “name of the Lord” would include all the Persons of the Trinity, would it not?

September 16, 8:45 pm | [comment link]
30. D. C. Toedt wrote:

dwstroundmd [#29]:

• Acts 2.38: “Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’ “

• Acts 8.16:  “... because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus.”

• Acts 10.48: “So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.”

• Acts 19.5: “On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus.”

(Emphasis added.)

Other references to baptism in Acts don’t specify a name in which the baptism took place; for example, Acts 8.38: “And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him.”

The First Commandment requires us to face the facts as best we can — to deal with the universe as God wrought it, not as we wish it were. (My blog: The Questioning Christian)

September 17, 7:31 am | [comment link]
31. Hursley wrote:

Great article. It illustrates well the deep failing of the extreme “innovator” movement: it lacks spiritual “sustainability” just as radical conservatism does. By opting for one side of the paradox (so-called inclusivity), TEC innovators fail to enter into the big-picture truth about humanity and redemption. Like many such movements in Church history, it feels good at first, but it cannot provide a full-enough account of Redemption, the Gospel, Christian anthropology, soteriology, &c;. to be sustained. The ideological take of the 1960’s-70’s is no more “final” than the 1870’s or the 1570’s.  I don’t see a glorious future for any Church that is so wedded to such a narrow understanding of the Mystery of Christ.

September 17, 9:36 am | [comment link]
32. nwlayman wrote:

It’s very polite of the comments to respond to DC questions, but again very important to realize DC is still BC; that is, he doesn’t write from within the Christian fold (any fold) but from outside it.  The answers on any of these topics don’t matter a bit to him.  It’s purely academic.  The life of the Church is as important to him as the life of yeast cells.  Yeast actually moreso; he can see and touch those.

September 17, 2:30 pm | [comment link]
33. D. C. Toedt wrote:

nwlayman [#32], be assured you are every bit as important to me as yeast cells. grin

The First Commandment requires us to face the facts as best we can — to deal with the universe as God wrought it, not as we wish it were. (My blog: The Questioning Christian)

September 17, 5:58 pm | [comment link]
34. Tobias wrote:

A quick correction to #13. Not sure where D.C. got that quote (I may have been quoting someone else somewhere.) I remain open to discussions of CWOB but am not in favor of it, and am opposed to the violation of canon involved in doing it at this point. I’ve written a bit on this in an article available at Review of Canonical and Rubrical….
Just to set the record straight…

September 24, 4:37 pm | [comment link]


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