Taking Baptism Seriously 1.0

There are four orders of ministers in the Church.  There are bishops, priests, deacons, and lay.  The Church spends a good bit of its resources on ensuring that the first three are up-to-snuff (whatever that might mean in the given context).  It is generally up to those three, the ordained clergy, to disciple the fourth, the laity, and ensure their up-to-snuff-ness.  Some Christians may not like that idea – they’re not “professional” Christians (ie. not clergy).  Why should they have to be involved in the Church’s ministry?  They were never ordained in the Church – what right do they have to tackle this task?

The old joke was that clergy-people were paid to be good, but that laypeople were good for nothing.  I would dispel this idea to some extent, because I’m not paid to be good.  I am not paid for services rendered.  Rather, I am afforded an allowance, a stipend, by the local church (through the diocese), to allow me to live within this geographical parish.  All of the “services rendered” are a function of the person I am, because of who and what God is continually making me.

In the same way, all Christians are called to ministry because ministry is the fulfillment of who and what God is making them.  Lay people in the Church may not generally consider themselves to have been ordained, and perhaps they weren’t ordained to the particular ministry of the priesthood in the Church, to thus maintain the order of the Church, but something like it did happen to them.  They were baptized.  You were baptized.

There are so many things to be said about baptism, but I will here only point in the directions that we’re going to go in future blog posts.  We can talk about baptism’s roots – where did this practise come from? was it an anomaly that sprung up in a void?  We can talk about the symbolism of baptism – what is signified by the water? what is the meaning inherent in the rite?  We can talk about the elements of baptism – why water? how was it instituted this way?  We can talk about the vows taken in baptism – what are they? what significance do they hold? how are they practically applied to daily living?  We can talk about covenantal relationship with God – what does it mean to be God’s people?  We can talk about taking our own baptisms seriously.

All these and more, to come.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

How do we talk about what we believe?  I ask this question in a response to a recent letter-to-the-editor in our national church newspaper.  I was surprised at the letter for a couple of reasons, but pertinent to this blog article was its request (?) that we (I suppose the Anglican Church of Canada) would refrain from adopting a liturgical change(?) which the RC Church had made.  The author shared an experience of attending RC mass at Christmas where the Apostles’ Creed was declared.  The point of contention was that it had been edited to say that Jesus descended to hell.  There was another letter placed with it, in which a bishop suggested that there were no changes in store for the Apostles’ Creed.

Now, I can’t say for sure what the deal is.  The Roman Catholic liturgical reform, of late, has changed their liturgy to use language very similar to the old Anglican Prayerbook language (ie. “And with thy spirit,” rather than, “And also with you” as a response).  I’m not clear on all of the changes, but my suspicion is that the “new” Apostles’ Creed used is the same as the old Anglican BCP one, which says that Christ descended to hell after his crucifixion and burial.  If this is the case, then the bishop’s letter which states that no changes are in the works for the Anglican liturgy can be true – but somewhat misleading.  What it might seem to say is that our version of the creed would never say what the “new” RC one does; however, the truth of the matter is that our version of the creed already does.

Regardless of how many parishes and clergy choose to ignore it, the Prayerbook of 1962 is still the standard for Anglican worship in Canada – not the Book of Alternative Services (BAS).  Here, however, is where I think the problem lies – that is, the “between” that we find ourselves in, with the rock on one side and the hard place on the other.

I suspect that some of the disgust expressed by the first writer to the idea that Christ descended to “hell” has to do with popular depictions and sentiments regarding hell.  To someone who imposes the popular image of hell onto the Bible’s use of that word (and also, then, of the Prayerbook’s use of that term), the idea could indeed be ugly.  The preference would certainly fall to the BAS language of “descended to the dead.”  So the word “hell” is a rock that we come up against, because of its popular usage and the imagery associated with that.

But if we think about what “descended to the dead” means, in popular usage, I don’t know that we find any more of a Scriptural view (or “prayerbook-ian,” for that matter) than “hell” conjures up.  Descending to the dead seems to only mean that a person isn’t physically alive – with no particulars beyond that.  I think that Scripture does suggest some particulars, and it is my suspicion that the people who were versed in Scripture to the extent that the compilers of the prayerbook were, knew of this.  At any rate, it would seem that “the dead” can be as much of a “hard place” as hell, and so I think that we get stuck between the two.  One, popularly, defines the intent incorrectly; the other, popularly, under-defines it.

The truth lies somewhere in-between, and is hinted at in Scripture.  Where did Jesus go between His crucifixion and His resurrection?  Did He go nowhere, and simply cease to be?  Was He simply beginning to rot in the tomb, with no existence beyond it?  The Bible, the canon of which has been received and accepted in the Christian Church as authoritative and sufficient, suggests otherwise.  He preached to those “in prison since the days of Noah.” (1 Peter 3:20).  The Odes of Solomon mention this same phenomenon.

The picture painted for the Church is a picture of Jesus “tasting” the fullness of death.  What would be the point of Him sacrificing Himself for us if He failed to do so?  His vicarious atonement/sacrifice, for it to be vicarious, required Him to bear the punishment of our sin, so that there is no punishment for our sin left to fall to us.  He saves us from that punishment because He took it all already.  What