FOR CHRISTIAN LIVING:
Daniel L. Prechtel
Copyright (c) 1992 by Daniel L. Prechtel. All rights reserved.
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Lamb & Lion Spiritual Guidance Ministries
2135 Orrington Ave.
Evanston, IL 60201-2936
TABLE OF CONTENTS
2. Central Importance of Holy Baptism
3. A New Identity
4. Fully Human, Fully Alive
5. Turning to Christ
6. Share with Us in Christ's Eternal Priesthood
Appendix: Bible References
The purpose of this booklet is to highlight some parts of the baptismal rite as it reads in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer for further exploration with baptismal candidates and sponsors. This is not a full commentary on the rite, but simply an invitation to explore some dimensions of the rite as an aid in the spiritual formation of new Christians. There is an expanded treatment of the Baptismal Covenant for baptismal candidates, for newcomers to the faith, candidates for confirmation or others desiring reaffirmation of their commitment to Christ before a bishop, and for those who are wishing to reflect anew on their foundations in Christian life, in the companion work, Guidelines for Christian Living: Conscious Beginnings.
2. Central Importance of Holy Baptism
In the early life of the Church, the time when
Christians were under persecution by the Roman emperors, people would undergo
several years of testing and preparation (called the catechumenal period)
prior to admission into the full life of the Church through Holy Baptism.
One early Church document (Apostolic Tradition, Hippolytus, c. A.D.
215) describes the adult catechumens being prepared for baptism on an Easter
morning at first light, after having spent their final days and nights
in prayer, fasting, and instruction in the Gospels. After their baptism
they were given a taste of milk and honey to symbolize their entrance into
the Promised Land and then were joined by the gathered community of Christians
in receiving Holy Communion. They were then considered full members
of the Christian Church, although they would continue to be nurtured in
their new life in the light of the gospel.
Sadly, the meaning of baptism became largely shuffled off to the side of church life over the centuries. For example, in the Anglican churches (Episcopal) baptisms were often performed in private, tacked onto a Morning or Evening Prayer service in an empty church. People weren't so much thought of as "baptized" as they were "christened" and the real celebration of the infant's christening occurred in the family home after the rite was finished--often without any members of the local church invited!
There is a strong desire within our churches today to reclaim the central importance of baptism as the full initiation into the life of Christ's Body the Church, and to intend living out the radical significance of this new birth in Christ. Preparation for sponsors as well as baptismal candidates is now often expected (and required for parents and godparents of children). Baptismal dates are normally reserved to specific days of the year: Easter Vigil, Day of Pentecost, All Saints' Day or All Saints' Sunday, and the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, or when the bishop comes for visitation. The setting for baptism is now with the church congregation gathered for Holy Eucharist as the chief service on Sunday or other feast.
3. A New Identity
I remember so well at fifteen years old going
to my school classes and telling my teachers and fellow students that from
now on I was to be known as Daniel Lyon Prechtel. I had been known
by another name before then, but now the probate court had granted completion
of my adoption to Earl Prechtel and I would have a new identity.
My old sense of myself was truly transformed in this new relationship with
Earl Prechtel. I had seen his relationship to my mother change: from
co-worker, to dating, to lover, to spouse. My relationship with him
had undergone a transformation, too, as the intimacy grew deeper between
us: from the man in my mother's life, to stepfather, to adopted father.
The relationship had grown over time with depth of commitment, complete
with the real conflicts and gut-level struggles for understanding and unity
that a true relationship involves. And at age fifteen I knew that
something had happened as a product of this relationship with Earl that
would forever change my life--even as my life in relationship with him
would continue to change.
"What is Holy Baptism?" asks the Catechism in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, p. 858. The teaching is, "Holy Baptism is the sacrament by which God adopts us as his children and makes us members of Christ's Body, the Church, and inheritors of the kingdom of God." In baptism you are given a new identity--being adopted by God as a beloved child. You receive the privileges of that adoption--you are given a more intimate relationship with God than a child has to a loving parent, you are made a member of Christ's Body, the Church, and have become an inheritor of the kingdom of God. One or more baptized people, serving as your sponsor, are assisting in bringing you to this new relationship with God, and this new identity as a Christian.
This event of holy baptism is a radical event in life. Outwardly you experience water and the statement that you are baptized in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Inwardly by God's action you receive "union with Christ in his death and resurrection, birth into God's family the Church, forgiveness of sins, and new life in the Holy Spirit." (BCP, p. 858). Whether you feel differently after baptism or not, you indeed are different--and this difference is the loving gift of God.
[Some questions for baptismal candidates and sponsors to consider: What have been some life-shaping events in your life? What people have been important to you in making you the person that you are? What are some qualities that you see in yourself? Do you expect that God delights in calling you God's very own child? What is your experience of those who have filled the role of a loving mother and father? What is it like to be a child in whom the parent takes delight? How would you change or understand the parent and child baptismal imagery so that it makes sense to you if you are an adult? (After all, Jesus was an adult when he was baptized. See Matthew 3:13-17).]
4. Fully Human, Fully Alive
"Will you by your prayers and witness help
this child to grow up into the full stature of Christ?" This question
is asked of the parents and godparents of a child about to be baptized
(BCP p. 302). The image of the child's future that it holds before
us is remarkable. And yet, that is the image of each baptized person's
future--nothing less than growing into the full stature of Christ.
Our future is to become Christlike in some sense. Christ is our future
identity, and the foundation for our baptized life.
Now this is not to say that we are no longer ourselves and we so imitate Jesus Christ that we more and more become him. Rather, it is to say that as Jesus Christ was fully his deepest self, being fully and intimately connected and identified with the will of his Father, so do we have the future hope of being made our deepest, fullest self, intimately connected and identified with the desires of our Triune God. A saint of the early Church, Irenaeus, once referred to Jesus by saying, "The glory of God is a person, fully human and fully alive." To be a Christian growing into our fullest potential as a human being is the path to being fully human and fully alive. This growth is by God's grace, by the prayers and witness of others supporting us in our life, and by our free consent and willingness to respond to God's work in us.
So do not be concerned that baptism will make you something that you are not, rather it places you on the path of becoming fully your deepest, whole self--completely yourself, while bearing the unmistakable resemblance of the Head of the family! The saints of the Church are those people who retain their full personality and are fully themselves and yet have shown to a remarkable degree the guidance and shaping of God in their lives. This is your future, too.
[Some questions for baptismal candidates and sponsors to consider: In
what ways do you expect that God will change you over time, and in what
ways do you expect to remain the same? What does living a holy life
mean to you? After all, you are receiving "Holy" Baptism! Presumably,
it will aid you in having a life that is holy.]
5. Turning to Christ
In the baptismal rite you will respond to three renunciations and three affirmations. You will be responding on your own behalf if you are an adult, or will be saying them as the sponsor of a child on their behalf (while promising to see that the child is brought up in the Christian faith and life so that he or she will own the responses later in life.) In these questions you give your assent to turning from sinful forces in your life and turning to Jesus Christ as the center and foundation of your new life. This is an act of free will on your part, what some moral theologians call a "fundamental option." Others might call it a statement of "conversion" or a "decision for Christ" or the time when you are "born again." Still others may call it "repentance" or the Greek word, metanoia, being wholly transformed by God. These are pivotal responses, consciously renouncing a life purposelessly buffeted about by the spiritual powers beyond us, and taking on the Christian life.
“Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?”
The wisdom of Judaism and Christianity is not
due to its "scientific" or "empirical" approach to life. It does
not profess to an exacting description of why things happen the way they
do from an economic or political theory. The wisdom of these great
world religions speaks of the underlying spiritual forces that affect human
lives and all of creation. The language of such wisdom is mytho-poetic.
Myth is the story-language of the spiritual dimension of life, and it is
symbol-language that points to deep truths that would otherwise not be
able to be expressed. Does great drama tell the truth? Does
a poem go to a core truth that captures a whole realm of experience that
prose would miss? So too, religion needs to rely on sacred storytelling
and poetic imagery to convey spiritual truths otherwise missed by the other
ways we measure and evaluate and attempt to find meaning in life.
Satan, Lucifer, the Devil, the Evil One, the Accuser, the Adversary, the Tempter, the Dragon, Beelzebul...some of the various names given to one that in Judaism and Christianity embodies and leads the demonic spiritual forces that rebel against God. Spiritual warfare is a truth that is named in Christian life, although we may well debate endlessly about how literal are these forces. Yet the tradition does name that there exist intelligent powers of evil that are aligned against God, and produce the chaos and destructiveness that we see as byproducts of the strife. As Christians we are attempting to be true realists: we observe that all is not well with the world, or the "human condition," and it is wise to look beyond the surface of things to the realm of the spirit.
It is not wise to overlook the enemy of humanity and creation and God. Nor is it wise to give Satan more that is his due. Although the spiritual forces of wickedness rebel against God, the power of the combatants in this spiritual warfare is not equal. Unlike Zoroastrianism and certain other eastern religious beliefs, Christianity proclaims the cross of Christ as ultimate, sure, and certain defeat for the devil and all the powers of evil. The story does have a happy ending! And we need not live out our lives paralyzed or overwhelmed, despairing from the forces of wickedness. We are called to resist evil, putting on God's armor (Ephesians 6:10-17) for our protection; seeking with patience and hope God's grace to empower us in our lives. On one level, we are to live with an awareness that there is spiritual warfare going on and of our need for God's protection. On another level, we are to pay no special attention to evil--rather focusing our attention on God's grace (hidden though it may be) at work in all things and in all times.
[Some questions to consider: What are some of the difficulties that you face in accepting the concept of intelligent spiritual forces of wickedness in this time of the second millennium? Do you have a sense of a personal, intelligent Evil One? What has influenced you to arrive at this finding?]
“Do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?”
One sign of the "evil powers of this world"
is to look for the ways in which God's creation, including but certainly
not limited to humanity, is corrupted and destroyed. This is looking
at the fruit that the powers produce. Another is to see the manipulation
of people against their own will, by use of force or more subtly, and the
willful misuse of creation for self-interest without regard for long term
effects. Pollution, economic injustice and political oppression,
wars, crooked governments, physical, sexual, and emotional abuse of human
beings, unethical business practices, racism, sexual inequity...the list
can go on and on of the signs of such evil powers. Who has not been
a victim of force, coercion, manipulation, lies, or deceit to assuage someone
else's greed, lust, or desire for power?
It is not so difficult for many of us to accept that there are "evil powers of this world" at work, even if we have less clarity about "spiritual forces of wickedness." It is easier to see such evil at work in the world around us. Human evil is no stranger to us, nor is it as hidden. The question is to what extent do we have the willingness to evaluate the part that we play with such evil powers? Do we pass the evil on to others? Do we fail to object to the evil that we see? The call to Christian life is a call to fearlessly examine ourselves with humility, as well as seek the clarity to name the evil powers at work in the world. Our help does not rest with ourselves alone.
[You may wish to review the questions in the above text for your own personal responses.]
“Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God?”
Fr. Tim Kelley, a Benedictine monk and great
storyteller, once said (with a gleam in his eye), "I never committed a
sin because it was bad. I sinned because something was very good."
This renunciation has to do with desires that make you lose your Godly
perspective and balance, and destroy the harmony of things in their proper
place. Sin erects barriers that inhibit our own ability to be deeply,
fully human; or between ourselves and others; or between ourselves and
God. In any situation where I harbor desires that are sinful, I am
letting something or someone get in the way of the free flow of love between
myself and God. An imitation god has taken the place of the true
God. This is not to say that all desires are sinful--certainly not!
What is it that throws you off balance, that takes more (out) of you than
it should? What really threatens to lure you into slavery?
You are asked to begin to examine yourself, that you may be free from the lingering burden of sins. No one will tell you that you will remain sinless. But there are always appropriate ways to get free from sin when you discover that you have fallen into sin--focussed on repenting and returning to the Lord. For the time being, you are looking at renouncing all such sinful desires. This is within your power to do. You may have to renounce them again and again in your lifetime--but you have the freedom to do this now. Now is the important moment.
[Again, you may wish to review the questions in the above text for your own personal response, sharing only that which does not violate your own personal need for privacy. Are there things that you would like clarified about temptations and actual sin?]
“Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior?”
Simply to renounce "the world, the flesh, and
the devil" won't get you very far in your spiritual life. You will
have tidied yourself up nicely, but it certainly will not last very long.
Besides, there is something very positive indeed awaiting us, for Jesus
Christ came that we "may have life, and have it abundantly" (John 10:10).
This first affirmation is a recognition of our need for a greater wholeness from outside our selves. The word "savior" and "salvation" refers to the restoration or bringing of wholeness. This wholeness is a connectedness in love with our God, and a state of at-one-ment where we are free and alive with the whole of our selves (body, mind, and spirit) to the fullest of our ability. This salvation is both a state of grace given to us by Jesus Christ at this time, and is something that we look forward to receiving the fullness of in the future.
For a Christian, salvation begins with a relationship to God through the resurrected and ascended Jesus Christ. We turn to him in our recognition of need, and accept him as our savior in the fullest sense of the word. We would argue that this is both realistic, given our inability to save ourselves, and an act of true humility. (Humility=humus=from the ground; we know that we are sprung from the ground, and that our spirituality is earthy. We know that we are limited human beings, with need for a God who goes beyond ourselves or our imaginations.)
[You might think about ways in which you are in or developing a saving relationship with Christ. Are there things or ways that you can name in which you have, indeed, already been saved (made whole in body, mind, spirit) or are already being saved? Are you aware of ways in which you hope to be saved in the future?]
“Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love?”
I think that this is the big act of faith.
To place your whole trust in Jesus Christ's grace and love is not some
small thing! It is, as a particular lay preacher would say, like
taking off one set of eyeglasses and putting on a new pair. Things
begin to be seen in an entirely new way when we can put our lives in Christ's
Those of you who have been involved in a Twelve Step program will recognize that this is very similar to the Third Step, only it is clear that it is Jesus Christ that is the "higher power" in Christian understanding. This is no accident. The Rev. Sam Shumaker, an Episcopal priest, was the clergyman who helped shape the Twelve Steps into an effective program for recovering from the slavery of alcoholism. That this approach has helped free people from other addictions points to the power of placing our trust with the right Person! Jesus said (Luke 4:17-21) that he came to bring in the reign of God, and fulfill the prophet Isaiah, who wrote,
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim
release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."
[Some questions to consider: Do you think that you know enough about Jesus Christ at this time to give him this kind of trust? If so, what do you know? If not, what would you need to know? Does baptism point more to a relationship than a set of beliefs? If so, can you describe something about your relationship to God? To what extent is being a Christian about a set of beliefs?]
“Do you promise to follow and obey him as your Lord?”
Many Churches have been looking at the language
that is used in worship to see if it conveys what is intended. Indeed,
when we talk of God and Jesus we find that much more can be said beyond
the attribute "Lord." You will have many opportunities to explore
the language that is used for God and Jesus Christ. You may even
wish to do so now with your sponsor or priest or catechist. But as
you do so, do not lose track of this word, "Lord." You are making
a very serious, life-changing promise to place your complete allegiance
with Jesus Christ. You are promising to follow him and obey him--there
is a depth of commitment that is expected that seems, rightly, to call
for the word "Lord."
As Christians have been looking at ways of addressing Jesus Christ, many questioned the use of this word, "Lord." It does seem to carry some baggage with it that seems outdated or gets in the way. In America we don't commonly use the word positively.
But some African-American Christians gave a telling reason for using the word "Lord" in connection with Jesus Christ. They knew who "The Lord" was--for he had broken their bondage and given them freedom from the oppression imposed by white slave-lords! Think of "The Lord" as your advocate, the one who brings you true freedom. His path to follow and obey is the path leading to fullness of life, and richness of blessings, and respect for the dignity of every human being, for he is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
[Some questions for consideration: What does it mean to you to
follow and obey Jesus Christ as your Lord? How would that be different
than your past direction in living? If Christ could speak to you
about your life right now, what guidance would he give you to follow?
How do you know if some guidance is really from the Lord?]
6. Share with Us in Christ's Eternal Priesthood
The final exhortation of the baptismal rite
is to invite the newly baptized to "share with us in his eternal priesthood."
(BCP p. 308). You are, by your baptism, a full member of the Body
of Christ. In a very real sense, you are the Church. You have
been called to the ministry of the Body, the laity.
In the Catechism, BCP p. 855, we have the following teachings about your ministry:
Q. Who are the ministers of the Church?
A. The ministers of the Church are lay persons,
bishops, priests, and deacons.
Q. What is the ministry of the laity?
A. The ministry of lay persons is to represent
Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him
wherever they may be; and, according to the
gifts given them, to carry on Christ's work of
reconciliation in the world; and to take their
place in the life, worship, and governance of
One of the hallmarks of the Protestant Reformation of the Church was to reclaim the "priesthood of all believers." Sadly, the Church still suffers from clericalism--often our language betrays this overemphasis on ordained ministry, calling the priest "the Minister" when all who are baptized are "the ministers" of the Church. Indeed all ministry, including ordained ministry, has as its foundation the baptismal relationship with the Holy Trinity. Although the Reformation is still unfinished after four-and-a-half centuries, yet ever more of the focus on ministry is appropriately being placed on the baptized people of God. Indeed, you who are lay persons are the front line of the Church's mission and ministry to the world. It is in your ordinary lives at work, school, home, and with families and friends, that the greatest opportunities exist to "represent Christ and his Church" to the world.
[Some questions to consider: on pp. 420-421 in the Book of Common
Prayer is "A Form of Commitment to Christian Service." Using this
as a base, what would you include in an Act of Commitment to your service
of Christ in the world? Would it be desirable for you and the local
church to draft up such a statement and celebrate it as part of your baptism
or reaffirmation of baptismal promises?]
Appendix: Bible References
The following represent some significant scripture references concerning holy baptism and the baptismal rite.
Matthew 3:1-12 John the Baptist
Matthew 3:13-17; Luke 3:21-22 Jesus is baptized
John 4:1-2 Jesus' disciples baptizing
Mark 16:14-18; Matthew 28:16-20 Commission to disciples
Acts 8:4-13 Simon the Magician baptized
Acts 8:26-39 Ethiopian Eunuch baptized
Acts 9:17-22; 22:12-16 Saul (Paul) baptized
Acts 16:13-15 Lydia & household baptized
Acts 16:25-34 Jailer & household baptized
BAPTISMAL LIFE & THEOLOGY:
John 3:1-17 Dialogue with Nicodemus
Ephesians 4:4-6 Beginning words of baptismal rite
Romans 6:3-11 Share Christ's death, burial & resurrection
Colossians 2:12 Share Christ's burial & resurrection
1 Corinthians 12:12-13 Baptized into one body--Christ
Galatians 3:23-29 Children of God--one in Christ
2 Cor. 1:21-22: 1 Jn. 2:20 Oil as a symbol of baptism
1 Jn. 2:27; Lk. 4:18; Acts 4:27
1 Peter 2:5,9; Rev. 1:6; Rev. 5:10 Royal Priesthood/Eternal Priesthood
Gen. 1:2 Thanksgiving over the Water
Ex. 14:1-31, 15:1-21
Matt. 3:13-17; Luke 3:21-22
Matt. 3:4-6, 13-17
Rom. 6:3-11; Col. 2:12
Ezek. 9:4-6; 2 Cor. 1:21-22; Baptismal seal
Eph. 1:13; Eph. 4:30;
Rev. 7:3; Rev. 9:4; Rev. 14:1
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