Thursday, July 09, 2015

The New ACNA Order for Holy Baptism: An Evaluation

By Robin G. Jordan

What one first notices when one examines The Order for Holy Baptism that the College of Bishops endorsed at its most recent meeting in Vancouver is how those who compiled the rite have taken material from the 1662 Baptismal Service, made significant alterations and omissions, and employ it to serve their purposes in the rite. The rite bears only a superficial family resemblance to the 1662 Baptismal Service.

The opening acclamation and the special versicles that precede the salutation and the collect of the day are taken from the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. For the salutation “the Lord be with you: and with your spirit” has been substituted for “the Lord be with you: and also with you.” I have discussed elsewhere the particular interpretation that Anglo-Catholics give to “the Lord be with you; and with your spirit” and Archbishop Thomas Cranmer’s deliberate omission of this greeting and response from 1552 Book of Common Prayer (with the exception of the Orders for Morning and Evening Prayer) on the basis of its longstanding association with the Roman Catholic understanding of the priesthood and the sacraments.

What is labeled “the exhortation” precedes the presentation of the candidates. It is at this point the ACNA rite makes its second major departure from the 1662 Baptismal Office, the first major departure being its use of the aforementioned greeting and response, which are also omitted from the 1662 Baptismal Office. The 1662 Baptismal Office begins with an exhortation to pray for the baptismal candidate. This exhortation does not assume that the baptismal candidate, when he is baptized with water, will also be baptized with the Holy Spirit, and received in Christ’s Church and be made a living member of Christ’s Church. It only urges the congregation to pray that God will grant to the baptismal candidate “that thing which by nature he cannot have.” What is labeled “the exhortation” in the ACNA rite is not so much a exhortation to pray for the baptismal candidate but a statement of the ACNA doctrinal position on baptism, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and regeneration.
Dearly beloved, Scripture teaches that we were all dead in our sins and trespasses. Our Savior Jesus Christ said, “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God,” and he commissioned the Church to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Therefore we will ask our heavenly Father that these candidates, being baptized with water, may be filled with the Holy Spirit, born again, and received as living members of Christ’s holy Church.
From very outset the ACNA baptismal rite affirms the doctrinal position that the gift of the Holy Spirit and regeneration are conferred in water baptism—a position over which Anglicans have historically been divided with Anglo-Catholics espousing this position and Evangelicals rejecting it as contrary to Scripture. While To Be a Christian: An Anglican Catechism avoids making a connection between water baptism and regeneration, the ACNA baptismal rite does not show that hesitancy. The 1662 exhortation leaves open the possibility that the baptismal candidate may receive the Holy Spirit and the new birth (or regeneration) at a time other than at the moment he is dipped in the water in the font or the water in the font is poured over him. The so-called exhortation in the ACNA baptismal rite does not leave open this possibility. It infers that the baptismal candidate will receive the Holy Spirit and the new birth at the moment the water in the font is applied to him.

The presentation and examination of the baptismal candidates is to a large extent taken from the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. It has two alterations that distinguish it from the presentation and examination of baptismal candidates in that book. It incorporates an address to the baptismal sponsors for infants and younger children which follows the baptismal candidates’ presentation and in which the celebrant explains their duties to the baptismal sponsors. What is notable about this address is the emphasis that it places upon the baptismal candidates’ learning of “the Creeds, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer,” in other words the contents of the ACNA catechism, and the insistence that they should be presented to the bishop for confirmation in order to receive the strengthening of the Holy Spirit. The implication is that confirmation is a sacrament that operates ex opere operato: it is efficious in and of itself and confers the strengthening of the Holy Spirit to those who are rightly disposed.

This view of confirmation embodies an unreformed Catholic view of confirmation, not that of the English Reformers and the historic Anglican formularies. Their view of confirmation is that it is a catechetical rite at which those baptized in infancy make a mature profession of faith in the presence of the gathered church and receive its prayers. Whether God increases the Holy Spirit in the confirmand in response to the church’s prayers is solely in God’s hands. God is sovereign in all things.

The presentation and examination of the baptismal candidates also incorporates a prayer for the deliverance of the baptismal candidates from “the powers of darkness and evil” and the anointing of the baptismal candidates with “the Oil of Exorcism.” This prayer and anointing follows the baptismal candidates’ renunciation of the world, the flesh, and the devil (in reverse order) and is what is known as the “minor exorcism.” It is a part of the baptismal rites of the Roman Catholic Church. 

Archbishop Cranmer did away with the minor exorcism and number of other medieval Catholic ceremonies in the 1552 Baptismal Office and the minor exorcism is not a part of the 1662 Baptismal Office. Cranmer found no basis for the practice in the Holy Scriptures. Jesus himself refers to driving out evil spirits with fasting and prayer, not anointing with oil.

While the anointing with “the Oil of Exorcism” is optional in the ACNA bptismal rite, its inclusion in the rite must be considered in any evaluation of the overall doctrine of the rite.

What is also notable about the presentation and examination of the baptismal candidates is the awkwardness of the wording of the baptismal covenant. This awkwardness would be eliminated if the question and answer format was discontinued at this point and the congregation joined together with the baptismal candidates and/or their sponsors in reciting the Apostles’ Creed.

For the four prayers for grace to carry the baptismal vows into effect, the ACNA baptismal rite substitutes a single prayer adapted from the Flood Prayer. This adaptation of the Flood Prayer contains a significant omission. It omits the clause in the Flood Prayer, which refers to God, by the baptism of Jesus in the river Jordan, sanctifying or setting apart, the element of water to the mystical, or symbolic, washing away of sin. This clause is important part of the doctrine of the 1552 Baptismal Office and the 1662 Baptismal Office on which it is based. Among its implications is that since God by Jesus’ baptism has set apart the element of water for the purpose of baptism, any prayers for the sanctification of the water in the font are unnecessary. It is redundant to beseech God to set apart what he has already set apart. 

The prayer that immediately precedes the baptism of the candidate in the 1552 Baptismal Office simply entreats God to grant that the person baptized in the water in the font may receive the fullness of God’s grace and be numbered among God’s faithful and elect people for ever. The Restoration bishops, influenced by the 1637 Scottish Baptismal Office, would add a petition to this prayer entreating God to do what he had already done, set apart the element of water for the symbolic washing away of sin. The petition was entirely superfluous. Its addition, however, would set the Anglican Church on a road that led away from a Scriptural view of baptism that was solely God’s doing to a sacerdotal view of baptism in which emphasized the power of priests as mediators between God and humankind and as dispensers of sacramental grace.

Both the Bible and the primitive Catholic doctrine take the position that all that is essential for a valid baptism is the right matter—water; the right minister, which may be a lay person; the right recipient –here there is some disagreement among Christians; and the right intention—to do what Church does.

Since the twentieth century this sacerdotal view of baptism has been manifest in the omission of the Flood Prayer from baptismal rites or its alteration, the recasting of the prayer over the water in the font along the lines of a eucharistic prayer, the invocation of the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the water in the font, and the addition of ceremonies that the Cranmer and the English Reformers rejected on Scriptural grounds. The ACNA rite displays all these characteristics.

The thanksgiving over the water in the ACNAbaptismal  rite is adapted from the prayer by the same name in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. Like the 1979 thanksgiving over the water, it ties regeneration to water baptism.

The rubrics direct that celebrant immerse the candidate or pour water on the candidate three times—a ceremony that Cranmer dropped from the 1552 Baptismal Office.

The celebrant may use “the Oil of Chrism” to make the sign of the cross on the forehead of the newly-baptized.  The words accompanying the signation do not do justice to the original words in the 1552 and 1662 Baptismal Offices. They blunt the force of the original words. The rubrics permit the use of the words at the signation in the 1979 Book of Common Payer as an alternative. The revival of this practice appears largely motivated by a fascination with the 1549 Prayer Book and the pre-Reformation medieval Catholic liturgies.. Cranmer discontinued the practice in the 1552 Prayer Book as it fit into the category of what Cranmer describes as “dark and dumb ceremonies,” ceremonies that do not serve “a decent Order and godly Discipline” and do not have a “notable and special signification” by which the congregation may be edified. Rather they are apt to foster error and superstition.

The post-baptismal thanksgiving is taken from the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. The words "with your spirit" are substituted for "and also with you" in the salutation that precedes the sursum corda that introduces the prayer.Like the thanksgiving over the water in the 1979 Prayer Book, the prayer infers that the newly baptized receives the Holy Spirit and the new birth when he is baptized.

The rite concludes with the welcoming of the newly-baptized and the passing of the peace. The wording is taken from the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. The only difference is that “with your spirit” has been substituted for “and also with you” in the exchange of the peace.

The requirement in the additional directions that the font should be filled with clean water immediately before the thanksgiving over the water would appear to preclude the full immersion of the baptismal candidate and the use of lakes, rivers, and other bodies of water, including swimming pools, for baptisms. Among the optional ceremonies authorized in the additional directions are the vesting of the newly-baptized in a white garment and the giving of a lit candles to the newly-baptized.

The anointing of the baptismal candidate with the Oil of Exorcism, the anointing of the newly-baptized with the Oil of Chrism, the vesting of the newly-baptized in a white garment, and the giving of a lit candle to the newly-baptized are needless embellishments which are far from harmless. These embellishments have no clear precedent in Scripture.  They draw attention away from the central symbolism of baptism—the washing of the baptismal candidate in water—and weaken the sign value of this act. They can, in time, obscure and overshadow the act of baptism itself. They can be used to teach doctrine that is not agreeable to Scripture or compatible with its teaching.

Cranmer did away with such embellishments, retaining only prayer for the candidate, the symbolic washing of the candidate, and the signing of the newly-baptized on the forehead with the cross. The 1552 Baptismal Office is marked by simplicity and restraint, which along with close attention to the teaching of Scripture characterize the Anglican genius. The compilers of the 1789 Baptismal Office would go a step further and permit the omission of the signation.

As David Phillips point out in a 2002 Cross+Way article, “The reformed worship of 1552,” good liturgy combines “sound doctrine and the eloquent use of language.”  The ACNA baptismal rite falls short in both areas. The doctrine of the rite is unreformed Catholic. The language of the rite is awkward in a number of places and could be improved. The rite is also marred by excessive ritualism that is not characteristic of Anglican liturgy at its best.

From a conservative Evangelical perspective the ACNA baptismal rite contains texts, rubrics, and ceremonies that are objectionable to the point that an Evangelical Anglican could not in good conscience use the rite without compromising his convictions. The rite is further evidence of the direction in which the College of Bishops is taking the Anglican Church in North America and its unwillingness to comprehend in the ACNA conservative Evangelicals and other confessional Anglicans along with Anglo-Catholics and those whom Gerald Bray describes as “charismatic open evangelical ritualists” who through the influence of Robert Webber and the Ancient Future Movement are receptive to unreformed Catholic teaching and practices. The College of Bishops appears to be set on making room in the Anglican Church in North America only for those who share its unreformed Catholic doctrinal views and ritualistic proclivities. As in the case of the ACNA ordinal, eucharistic rites, and catechism, the ACNA baptismal rite points to the pressing need for a second province within the Anglican Church in North America, a province that embodies the Protestant, Reformed, and Evangelical character of the Anglican Church and which has its own liturgy as well as doctrinal foundation, constitution, canons, bishops, and synodical government.


ericfromnewyork said...

I am surprised at how rarely your posts are commented on, considering the quality and value of both your own analysis and your other links. Once again, a thoughtful and informative essay.
I know that you think a "second province" is the answer for Reformation minded Episcopalians/Anglicans in North America. And you may be right. I honestly think that will never work. We can't keep on hiving off forever into smaller and smaller, un-viable jurisdictions.
As a retired, but still active, minister who was confirmed in what was then called the PROTESTANT Episcopal Church, I have decided to just keep working where I am. Paradoxically, I think there is more hope for the Episcopal Church than for a body which is consciously and overtly rejecting the Reformation. Revival, if it comes, in TEC could actually be a full recovery of our foundational patrimony.
What is it that ACNA would recover or repair to?

Robin G. Jordan said...

What is happening in both the Anglican Church in North America and the Episcopal Church is what happens when ideologs with extreme views occupy the place of power in a denomination. One ideology may be more orthodox than the other in that it fully accepts the faith of the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds but both ideologies depart from the teaching of the Holy Scriptures and the doctrine and principles of the Anglican formularies. Both are doing the same thing—taking their respective denominations away from the historic Anglicanism of the English Reformation and the Elizabethan Settlement and entrenching their views and excluding those who do not agree.

Only God knows the future of both denominations and what he purposes to do through present events.

I personally do not believe that God would inspire a spiritual movement like the Reformation and the accompanying recovery of the gospel in the sixteenth century to allow us to undo what he has done in the twenty-first century. God is at work in the midst of present events albeit we are unable to discern what he purposes. On our part I believe that it is important to remain faithful to the gospel wherever God has placed us.

I also believe that we should keep in mind that no part of the visible Church is permanent. When one part of the visible Church grows cold or strays from his ways, God will raise up a new part.

At the same God is like the vineyard keeper in the Parable of the Barren Fig Tree. He dig around the tree and put in fertilizer and give it every opportunity to bear fruit before he cuts it down.

God may also raise up a new part of the visible Church to bring an older part to its senses or raise up a second new part when the first new part begins to stray.