Paschal Light Spiritual Foundation
Discourse 5: Clarifying Misconceptions
We now turn our attention to some common misconceptions regarding baptism.
Errors Regarding Baptism
If baptism becomes a lifeless and ineffectual rite for the recipient the fault must lie with the individual. Neither the Author nor to the administrator of the ordinance can be blamed. The simple truth is that there are two main errors made with regards to baptism. One makes everything of baptism, while the other makes nothing of it. The first one assumes that baptism is, in itself, sufficient to secure the salvation of the soul. The second regards it as only a simple external ceremony, without the slightest spiritual benefit. Both of these errors need to be corrected.
We can do this by turning to the figures or symbols which the Church has adopted from the Bible. One of these is that baptism is the planting of the seed and salvation is the harvest. Now no crop can be produced unless the seed is sown first. Then, between when the seed is sown and the ‘the final fruit’ is harvested, there must necessarily be many intermediate stages of progress. Appreciating this puts an immense weight of responsibility upon the recipient of baptism, and refutes, both of the erroneous views already mentioned.
From this it can be seen that baptism is not, by itself, sufficient to secure the salvation of the soul. It is only the beginning. It is the initiatory step, and is only a pledge and in serious need of future care and attention. It is a step, in a certain sense, necessary to salvation; or, in other words, it is the fruit of the two sacraments, which the Catechism declares to be ‘generally necessary to salvation’. As further reinforcement of this consider that of the Article of the Anglican Church which teaches that, ‘Sacraments ordained of Christ are not only badges or tokens of Christian men's profession, but rather they are certain sure witnesses, and effectual signs of grace, and God's good will toward us, by which he works invisibly in us, and they not only quicken, but also strengthen and confirm our faith in him’.
So then baptism is a foundation on which a superstructure is to be built. It is the seed being sown or the old Adam being buried and, until he is, the new man cannot rise up. As we have seen in the above text (Rom. 6:3-11) this so excellently parallels the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. However, when the new life begins training and nurturing are vital in order to bring it to maturity and perfection. Yet just as there are many ways in which a young and newly sprouted plant can be destroyed, so there are also many ways through which the new life springing up in the heart of an individual may be rooted up, and then left to perish and die.
Turning now to the second error, it is also easily apparent that baptism is not simply an external ceremony without any spiritual benefit. Both the Catechism in the BCP and the Article mentioned above indicate that Baptism is the origin of a new principle in the heart, the beginning of a new life, the seed from which the plant springs up. And the vows and promises made in baptism are a solemn pledge, that this rising plant shall not be neglected, and abandoned, and given up to ruin; but that it shall be nourished, and reared, and cherished, until enabled, through the help of divine grace, to bring forth abundant fruits of holiness.
Having clarified these points of misunderstanding it can be concluded that there would be much benefit, both to individuals and the Church, if more attention was paid to the plain and obvious teachings of the Holy Scriptures. If this were done hopefully many more will resolve, by the help of God, to pursue a course more consistent with their positive or implied obligations and more advantageous to their present growth in grace, and to their future and eternal welfare.
The vows taken at Confirmation are very serious ones and should be regarded as binding. Yet it does not take long after this initiation before a notable number start slipping and sliding. Some attend church less and less frequently before disappearing altogether, while some continue to attend the Holy Eucharist but pay little further attention to their spiritual lives. A third group gradually fall into what could best be described as a ‘spiritual monotony’ in which they feel that as long as they continue a basic spiritual routine all is and will be well.
Only a comparative few continue with the initiative to enthusiastically grow in Christ and one could ask what it is that fires this enthusiasm? Let us turn to the Catechism and the liturgy for Confirmation for an answer.
One of the questions the catechumen is asked is: ‘What did your sponsors for you in Baptism?’ and the catechumen is taught to answer: ‘They did promise and vow three things in my name: First, that I should renounce the devil and all his works, his pomps and vanity of this wicked world, and all the sinful lusts of the flesh. Secondly, that I should believe all the Articles of the Christian faith; and thirdly, that I should keep God’s Holy will and commandments, and walk in the same all the days of my life.’ Then another question is asked: ‘Dost thou not think that thou art bound to believe, and to do as they have promised for thee?’ ‘Yes, verily, and by God’s help, so I will.’
Then, during Confirmation the Bishop asks each candidate: ‘Do ye here, in the presence of God, and of this congregation, renew the solemn promise and vow that ye made, or that was made in your name, at your baptism, ratifying and confirming the same, and acknowledging yourselves bound to believe, and to do all those things which ye then undertook, or your, sponsors then undertook for you?’ To which each candidate says: ‘I do.’
There are three very important words to be found here and these are: by God’s help.
Is it not a plain acknowledgement that you are unable, of yourself, to perform these solemn obligations? And is it not an equally plain and positive promise, that you will seek the help of God?
This question is plain and simple, and without mystery. We all know what is meant by the way of God’s appointment; or, in other words, in what way he requires us to seek his help. On every page of Scripture we are taught that prayer is the great prescribed medium of our communication with God. What Jacob saw in vision, is always apparent to the eye of faith. Prayer is like the ladder standing on the earth, and reaching to Heaven; and the ascending and descending angels may be supposed to bear the petitions of humanity up to the mercy seat, and bring down the blessings of Heaven upon the petitioners.
Prayer, like the buoyant flame, or cloud of incense, will rise from the altar below; while blessings, like the drops of refreshing rain, will fall from the fountain of all good, upon the souls of humble-hearted supplicants. This may be found plainly expressed in the Saviour’s own language: Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you; for every one that asks, receives; and he that seeks, finds; and to him that knocks, it shall be opened. (Mat. 7:8) The way, then, which God has appointed to seek his help, is in prayer. It would be idle, and worse than idle, to think of any other mode of communication with our Heavenly Father; and it would be the height of presumption to expect any desired blessing at his hands, without condescending to seek it in this way.
The Catechumen, after recounting the promises made in baptism, after acknowledging his obligations to perform these promises, and after solemnly declaring his purpose to do so, by the help of God, is thus addressed in the affectionate language of the Church: ‘My good child, know this, that thou art not able to do these things of thyself, nor to walk in the commandments of God, and to serve him, without his special grace; which thou must learn at all times to call for by diligent prayer.’ And so in the language Article 28: ‘Faith is confirmed, and grace increased by virtue of prayer unto God. So, then, we learn that the Church is in perfect agreement with the Word of God, in prescribing the manner in which that help is to be sought, the lack of which is impliedly acknowledged in the baptismal promises.
May the Profound Peace and Perfect Love of God be with you always.
End of Discourse 5