Episco-Fact #97
June 21, 2018

What happens when we baptize someone at church?

Admittedly, this question is driven by a recent blog of Scott Gunn, Executive Director of Forward, Day by Day, over at his blog-site, "Seven Whole Days." It was his first post after making twenty-eight entries about the resolutions in the "Blue Book" for this summer's General Convention in Austin, Texas. That convention will be dealing with issues that directly affect the Church's understanding and implementation of baptism and those issues are related to the BCP, 1979.

It is unfortunate that when asked the above question, too many bishops, priests, deacons, and lay women and men do not have anything resembling an orthodox answer. What is regrettable about this state of affairs is that the BCP has a rich eco-system of the sacrament of Baptism, through which we enter the rich narrative of the Paschal Mystery (which is short hand for the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross which restores all humans in relationship to God and also heals the disorder in God's creation wrought by human rebellion).

In agreement with Fr. Gunn, it seems the liturgical (worship), ecclesiological (political structure), and soteriological (salvation) theology of the Anglican Communion and the BCP has either not been taught or learned, with an emphasis on the lack of teaching, over the past forty years. Just about the time the current BCP was approved, almost all structure and support around the deep teachings of the church were lost. There are cultural and ecclesiological reasons, at least, for this deficiency, but those reasons are too complicated for this space.

So, what does happen when we baptize someone? Well, it is important to remind ourselves that baptism is a sacrament which, according to the Catechism (teaching) on page 857 of the BCP, is outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as a sure and certain means by which we receive that grace. There are seven defined sacraments: two Dominical (of our Lord)—Baptism and Eucharist, five Rites (all may, some should, none must)—confirmation, ordination, Holy Matrimony, unction (healing oils), and reconciliation (confession and absolution).

What, then, is Baptism? It 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. "The outward and visible sign in Baptism is water, in which the person is baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." The inward and spiritual grace is "union with Christ in his death (Paschal Mystery—see above), and resurrection, birth into God's family the Church, forgiveness of sins (complicated, but at least missing the mark of God's intentions for us), and new life in the Holy Spirit. (BCP page 858).

As can be seen in the dense paragraph above, the Church believes that something important, profound, and transformative happens in Baptism. The question is do we, who practice this sacrament convey this importance? That question will be dealt with next week as this feature explores more about our relationship to Baptism.