Thursday, March 08, 2007

Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi - An Example

I was absolutely blown away by the precise comments of Alice Linsley regarding a posting on Midwest Conservative Journal (original article and comments here). There is nothing unusual about that – MCJ publishes excellent and frequently hysterical analyses of what’s going on in the Anglican world, and Ms. (formerly Episcopal Rev.) Linsley is one of my heroes. (I hope it’s okay for beef-eating, tofu-free, nuke’m-till-they-glow-then-shoot’em-in-the-dark, manly men to have the occasional female hero.) However, this particular post was so to-the-point that I cut and pasted it in its entirety, trusting that neither MCJ nor the most excellent Ms. Alice would object. I have added paragraph breaks not present in MCJ’s comment boxes for greater clarity.

Baptism is the mother of the sacraments of the Church. Historically, the Anglican understanding of baptism is extremely rich. However, the 1979 rite represents a pathetically impoverished theology and provides no option for the orthodox. It doesn't provide options because it is designed to enforce conformity to ECUSA’s new religion.

A comparison of the 1979 baptismal rite with the rites of 1549 and 1928 reveals that the Standing Liturgical Committee was not fond of the term “spiritual regeneration.” This term is used four times in the 1549 rite and four times in the 1928 rite, but not once in the 1979 rite. Consider the following chart showing the frequency of terms in the three Books. The terms “regeneration or “spiritual regeneration” 1549 - used 4 times 1929 - used 4 times 1979 - not used The terms “born again” or “born anew” 1549 - used once 1928 - used 4 times 1979 - used once The term “reborn” 1549 – not used 1928 – not used 1979 – used once. That the language of spiritual regeneration should be “dumbed down” when spiritual regeneration is beyond human understanding and rational explanation is the height of dumbness! As can be seen from the word frequency chart, the 1928 rite is the strongest on the doctrine of regeneration. The term “reborn” is not used in the 1549 or 1928 rites because it is neither biblical nor historical.

What is accomplished in regeneration is a birth “from above.” The Greek term is anothen and the reference is John 3:3 where Jesus tells Nicodemus: “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born from above.” It is possible to be baptized according to the 1979 rite and never have a clue that God’s intention is to give you birth from above. The problem of sin is so serious that we cannot overcome it. Drastic measures must be taken. What is needed is nothing short of spiritual death and resurrection. Jesus spoke of his death as a baptism when he asked the ambitious James and John, “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” The brothers answered, “We can,” and Jesus told them that they would indeed drink from the same cup and be baptized with the same baptism. Jesus was speaking of death and resurrection. Likewise the Apostle Paul explains: “Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin- because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.” (Romans 6:3-7, NIV)

The 1979 rite acknowledges the dying and rising aspect of baptism in these words: “We thank you, Father, for the water of Baptism. In it we are buried with Christ in his death. By it we share in his resurrection.” (p. 306) Yet the words are rendered meaningless because the rite has redefined original sin as “sinful desires” and suggests that it is possible to “renounce” them. (p. 302) If it were possible in our own power to set aside sin, we certainly would not need the drastic measures that Jesus and Paul state are necessary to be free from bondage to our sinful natures.

The 1979 Book also weakens the doctrine of incorporation by subsuming it to the Commission’s preference for initiation. The difference is significant. The biblical understanding of incorporation is that we are made a part of Christ’s Body by God’s grace. Initiation, on the other hand, involves joining a community by personal choice. If someone decides to join the Masons, he must go through the initiation process, but to join the Church, God must graft him supernaturally into the Body of Christ. In the process of initiation the joiner has control, but mystical incorporation is beyond our control. So to be a disciple of Jesus Christ we must be made a part of Him. Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) And if we ever doubted who is in control we should be reminded of these words: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will last.” (John 15:16)

The 1979 Baptismal Rite does not represent the historic Christian understanding of that sacrament. It has lost the covenant language that provides the richest context for what God is accomplishing in Baptism. It fails to take seriously the taint of original sin and the necessity for remission of sin. It has lost the biblical and historic doctrine of spiritual regeneration. It subordinates the biblical teaching on spiritual incorporation to its 20th century understanding of initiation and attempts to impose conformity to its justice agenda.

When we started attending St. Francis Episcopal (a Continuing Anglican church, not TEC), I was struck by the differences between the 1928 and 1979 prayer books. Overall, the 1928 Eucharist is not that different from the 1979 Rite 1. The little differences are very telling, however. The very first time I noticed was when I heard the birthday prayer and realized that ’79 had left out one little phrase – “Bless and guide them wherever they may be, keeping them unspotted from the world.” What a peculiar thing to omit! Could there possibly have been some ulterior purpose besides saving a little space?

Recently, I witnessed my first two Baptismal rites at St. Francis. I was stunned. Having seen many baptisms at St. Previous Church (TEC), the difference in the theological content and significance of the 1928 service was – well, I already said it, stunning.

They say you never know how poor you are until the first time you have a few bucks in your pocket. I never knew how liturgically impoverished I was until I tasted the riches of worship in a few historically faithful churches. I pray that the faithful stiil in TEC someday recover what they have surrendered to the Spirit of the Age.