Tony Clavier: A New Baptismal Theology?

Posted by Kendall Harmon

One of the arguments between Catholics and Protestants at the Reformation and until now centers on just how grace “works” in the sacraments. Is sacramental grace “invincible” in that it is offered in the sacrament whether the recipient seeks the grace or is prepared to receive the grace or not, or does the receptive state of the recipient determine whether grace abounds or not? Nothing is as simple as it sounds, and the Catholic would assert that the recipient of a sacrament should be in a “state of grace” to receive the gift, or there are consequences. Nor am I absolutely sure that a “receptionist” would want to make Jesus and His Presence entirely a matter of the receptive nature of the receiver: too much like works righteousness. I raise this question because our lawyer-bishops seem to propose that the theology of a baptismal “covenant” -but they say they are against covenants - is now divorced from any scriptural or credal teachings, among them that baptism is “for or by the remission of sins.” While “mutual ministry” doctrine is not clearly articulated in this paper, what is assumed is that all Christian ministries have their origin in baptism and that ergo all the baptized are to be included in all ministries to which the church discerns they have a calling. Certainly the unbroken teaching of the Church has been that in baptism all are incorporated into Christ and therefore into His ministry as prophet, priest and king. The source of the charisms of ministry is in the water of baptism rightly administered with the Trinitarian formula. That last caveat should be noted and remains the clear teaching of the Prayer Book and the Catechism.

An Evangelical and I would suggest an earlier Tractarian would object to bishops’ thesis in two particulars. The first is that it lacks a “moral” component. The second is that the bishops say too little rather than too much about their “discovery.” My use of the word “moral” takes us into dangerous grounds, for to most of us the word “moral” immediately suggests sex. That is a commentary on our times rather than theology. For “moral” I might propose the word suitable or apt, not perfect synonyms, but good enough for my purpose. While all the baptized may forensically be suitable or apt candidates for any form of ministry lay or ordained, it is surely obvious, even to the most sentimentally obtuse that all are not really suitable or apt candidates. I do not discount the power of grace to make up for deficiencies in talent or ability, but there would be no point in our present elaborate methods of discernment if all shall win and all take the prize.

A discernment committee is quite right to suggest that Susy’s chronic bad temper makes her a less than suitable candidate to serve as a deacon. A moral judgement is here made. But why should chronically choleric people be excluded?The fact that Frank has dreadful problems with comprehension would perhaps rule out a seminary education, although one remembers the Cure de Ars and wonders. To say to the world that persons living together in a sexual relationship outside the bounds of matrimony is a given based on their baptism asks us to suspend all moral or “suitability” judgments.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Anglican - EpiscopalEpiscopal Church (TEC)TEC BishopsTEC Conflicts* TheologySacramental TheologyBaptism

Posted September 15, 2007 at 2:45 pm

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1. Ian Montgomery wrote:

Well done Tony - trenchant, humorous and I love the analogy to Dan Brown’s method of asserting a newly (the 70;s) discovered hitherto hidden truth as well as an unwritten constitution that trumps all even if not written on golden tablets to be discovered maybe in some Celtic chapel or perhaps a New Jersey bishop’s study.

September 15, 3:28 pm | [comment link]
2. Rocks wrote:

Nice job…but it like shooting fish in a barrel….smile

There is a tendency among many shallow thinkers of our day to teach that every human act is a reflex, over which we do not exercise human control. They would rate a generous deed as no more praiseworthy than a wink, a crime as no more voluntary than a sneeze . . . such a philosophy undercuts all human dignity . . . all of us have the power of choice in action at every moment of our lives—Fulton J. Sheen

September 15, 4:56 pm | [comment link]
3. Bob from Boone wrote:

What I think the bishops were meaning, though failed to say so very well, is that the study of the ancient liturgies, incluidng baptismal liturgies, and patristic documents have led to a new articulation of the Ministry of the Baptized in our time. When I was going through a discernment process for the priesthood (early 1990s), a Roman Catholic theologian provided a thoughtful commentary on Vatican II’s re-emphasis on that ministry. Our Church sought to incorporate this notion in the revised baptismal liturgy. When I think about what I was taught about baptism as a youngster, our ministerial callings arising from baptism was not a topic I was introduced to. I think that there is a sense in which this concept was recovered in our time. I am not as dismissive of the bishop’s point as some have been.

If baptism incorporates us into the Body of Christ and each of us is given gits of ministry, then what ministries we are called for always requires discernment. Sometimes discernment is private, as when I sensed a calling to prison ministry; at other times discernment is communal, as when my rector agreed that I was called to be a Lay Reader and Eucharistic Visitor. But all of them stem from the grace given me at Baptism.

The rub here is sex, again, however much one wants to frame it otherwise. Can those called to discern rightly discern a calling to ordained ministry for one with a homosexual orientation, or even more, one in a faithful same-sex relatioinship? I don’t think this matter of the Ministry of the Baptized would be a matter of fundamental debate except for this phenomenon.

September 15, 6:07 pm | [comment link]
4. Irenaeus wrote:

From the Revisionist_Dictionary:


For Progressives, two related ideas: first, that baptism irrevocably confers good standing in the church so that neither “sinful” conduct nor heterodox belief disqualifies any baptized person from holding church office; and second, that baptized persons need not trouble themselves about “sin,” repentance, and amendment of life. “A moratorium on ordaining noncelibate homosexuals would betray our baptismal covenant.

September 15, 10:11 pm | [comment link]
5. Irenaeus wrote:

Bob [#3]: “Baptismal covenant” arguments used to support conferring church office on practicing homosexuals also support ECUSA reappraising leaders’ unwillingness to draw any meaningful line against doctrinal heterodoxy.

September 15, 10:25 pm | [comment link]
6. Br. Michael wrote:

Irenaeus, I was struck by your comment: “and second, that baptized persons need not trouble themselves about “sin,” repentance, and amendment of life.”  The OT is replete with examples of people who presumed that God had to do what they wanted Him too and were so sure of themselves as God’s chosen people that they could poke a finger in God’s eye with impunity.  They had God’s promise.  Yet they forgot that all God’s promises have express or implied conditions.
God made a promise to Aaron about the priesthood yet the actions of Eli’s sons and Eli himself caused Eli’s house to lose the priesthood.  Likewise, Israel was sent into exile regardless of the fact that they had the temple.  See 1 Samuel 2-4.
It is the height of folly to say “I have been baptized and therefor God must save me” or “I have been baptized and therefor I can do what ever I want to and believe however I want to because I have, in effect, a magic token, that God must save me.”
Grace and works are intertwined, and we are saved by grace, but the moment you make grace an entitlement that God is obligated to give then you have commined the age old mistake of trying to manipulate God.

September 16, 6:02 am | [comment link]
7. the roman wrote:

Irenaeus. I checked out your revisionist dictionary. Very funny.
Br. Michael, you bit too soon but I do share your comments, very Catholic you know. Peace.

September 16, 7:24 am | [comment link]

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