June 28, 2018
If, as you say, baptism is a transformative moment, then what does that transformation look like?
The whole context of Baptism for Episcopalians is contained in the BCP from page 298 through 313, inclusive. And, when the term inclusive is used, it means that the sections labeled Concerning the Service and Additional Directions, along with the italicized instructions within the service (i.e. rubrics, the stuff originally printed in red ink in the first prayer book in England, published in 1549). It is in the very first paragraph of those instructions on page 298 that we are told, "(b)aptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ's Body the Church.
It is by being members of Christ's body that Christians take their identity and through which we participate in the remaining Sacraments, including baptism. That is why baptism is placed in the BCP, before the other sacraments. There are four explicitly stated special graces that Christians receive in baptism: 1) union with Christ in death and resurrection (p. 306), birth into God's family the Church (p. 298), forgiveness of our sins (p.308), and new life in the Holy Spirit (p. 306—yes, we are born again). Baptism makes us part of the priesthood of all believers who have been given a special mission.
In order to be clear, the priesthood of all believers does not allow everyone to bless or administer sacraments, even those in the Holy Orders such as presbyters (i.e. priests), have limitations and operate under delegated authority from the bishop, and their privilege is the call to serve. The priesthood of believers is, instead, a call to the promises made at the end of the statement by which we give our hearts to Jesus, in whom God exists, and in that giving, promise to practice a costly discipleship (p. 304).
Here are the promises and therefore, the signs of what transformation in baptism looks like:
- To continue in the Apostles teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread and the prayers (this is about going to church where we worship God and sustain ourselves and other Christians).
- To persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever we fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord (relationships are complicated and long-term relationships are hard—this promise is about both).
- To proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ (modeling is the highest form of proclamation, and words can help explain why we do what we do, and for whom we do it.)
- To seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves (I wrote above this was costly stuff).
- To strive for justice and peace among all people, and to respect the dignity of every human being (the costliness is great).
Fulfilling the promises is not about earning God's love, for then it would not be grace. The promises are about expressing our faithfulness, our understanding, and our love for the God of all creation. The church is not an easy place to be and it is not about self-actualization, it is about God, love, faithfulness, and self-giving.