Monday, September 22, 2008

Baptismal "Renunciations" - readings in James

LORD, we beseech thee, grant thy people grace to withstand the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil; and with pure hearts and minds to follow thee, the only God; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
1928 Book of Common Prayer, Collect for the XVIII Sunday after Trinity

Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
1979 Book of Common Prayer, Collect for Proper 20

The Collects appointed for this week ask God to help us turn away from old ways and to embrace the new life found in Jesus Christ.

Holy Baptism (and here I will use the '79 BCP, to bring out what Episcopal Church ideology seeks to hide) contains three "renunciations", based on our ancient awareness that "the world, the flesh and the devil" seek to enslave us while Christ is come to set us free. We are called upon to renounce our slave masters, who use us to their own selfish ends, and come under the gracious Lordship of Jesus Christ, who died to liberate us.

Along with the renunciations, I am including selections from The Epistle of James, which is read at Morning Prayer this week in the 1928 BCP lectionary and gives us insight into the slavery we must renounce.

Question Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?
Answer I renounce them.

The Baptismal liturgy is not just a church membership ceremony, despite what the Episcopal ideology says these days. It involves the rejection of unseen but real spiritual enemies, led by Satan ("the accuser"). These are fallen creatures who, envious of our freedom to return to their lost heaven, seek to enslave us in their pitiful hell. I warn those who are preparing for Baptism, "Satan doesn't deal well with rejection." And indeed, many recently Baptized people will report that they come under strange attacks of various kinds.

What does James have to say about the spiritual slave master we are to renounce?
For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. (3:15)

Satan and demonic forces seek to enslave us to raw, self-centered emotion. Without Baptismal regeneration in the Holy Spirit, we are just a higher form of animal life, driven by survival urges in various forms. James tells us that these urges are not of the Holy Spirit, who guides us in the sacrificial love of Christ. Rather, these urges are chains clamped on us by the fallen, earth-occupying demonic servants of Satan. We must renounce them.

Question Do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?
Answer I renounce them.

The Baptismal liturgy calls us to renounce worldly kingdoms and become citizens of the Kingdom of God. In his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 - 7), Jesus teaches us that Heaven's values are often the opposite of things that seem important in a worldly point of view. The broken hearted are closer to God than the self-satisfied; the meek will proliferate more than the aggressive; the persecuted and maligned are winning out over the powerful and popular. This is happening right now in Africa, China and other places, where the church is robust among people who are poor, persecuted and marginalized by worldly powers.

James has this to say: Listen to me, dear brothers and sisters. Hasn’t God chosen the poor in this world to be rich in faith? Aren’t they the ones who will inherit the Kingdom he promised to those who love him? But you dishonor the poor! Isn’t it the rich who oppress you and drag you into court? Aren’t they the ones who slander Jesus Christ, whose noble name you bear? (2:5-7)

"The world" appeals to our unregenerate, animal nature. Worldly instinct enslaves us to ideas like, "The more I have, the safer I am." Ironically, all the striving after wealth, power and approval leads toward death rather than the life offered by Christ.

This is why the Episcopalian ideology is not an adequate expression of Baptism. Episcopalianism seeks approval from worldly powers (culture elites, entertainment figures, even the United Nations). It craves property and aesthetics over people. It rejects many groups of people (men, the young, children, "blue collar" workers, the poor) in favor of a very small clique (affluent, college credentialed, gays/lesbians). And the more it clutches after earthly signs of survival, the more it shrinks in numbers, diversity and public relevance. We must renounce worldly ideology and worldly marks of "success."

Question Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God?
Answer I renounce them.

"Sinful desires" is what the traditional language calls "the flesh." Each of us has unique, ingrained ways by which we rebel against God. Nobody is immune to this - there is "original (or birth) sin."

James reminds us, God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else. Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death. (1:13b-15)

We have to renounce that most precious of all things (at least for Americans), our own "unfettered freedom." The reality is that freedom without Godly transformation is slavery. The desires that operate in our self-centered nature (the flesh) will drag us to hell if we are not made new, living to please the Holy Spirit rather than the flesh (Galatians 6:8).

But all the renouncing is just so much religion if we don't turn to the next act of the Baptismal liturgy - affirmation of Christ.

Question Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior?
Answer I do.

Question Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love?
Answer I do.

Question Do you promise to follow and obey him as your Lord?
Answer I do.

We break the chains of those who would enslave us to death, and take on the gentle yoke of obedience to the one who gives life everlasting.

James gets the last word: This letter is from James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. (1:1)


Anonymous said...

A powerful teaching, Fr. Timothy!

Alice C. Linsley said...

Father Timothy, you have accurately shown the great disparity between Christian discipleship and the cultural accomodation that is TEC's reason for existence.

You and your readers would appreciate this:

cp said...

It rejects many groups of people (men, the young, children, "blue collar" workers, the poor) in favor of a very small clique (affluent, college credentialed, gays/lesbians).

There are many young people and working-class folk in our parishes in Rapid City. Many of them are there because they are exiles from other Christian communities that apparently do not share our comittment to our baptismal convenant's call to respect the dignity of every person. That includes people that are born gay, people that politically disagree with you, and yes, people that think that women's medical care and relationship choices are not the purview of our government.

What I think is the core of an Anglican outlook: You are welcome in my church; but that doesn't mean I have to agree with you to respect your point of view. If we can look beyond our differences, we are free to serve Christ instead of our ideology. Sure, there's a place for disputation, but doing battle for The Pure Path is not what the Church I love includes as part of its raison d'etre.

Time for my lefty practice of on occasional sip of sherry before bed..


Peace be with you and yours, Father Tim.

Anonymous said...

I have no doubt but that the kind of insipid "inclusivism" that CP has just advocated once again does in fact repressent the "core" of the new ideology or "working theology" of TEC as a whole. And that is no surprise: it pervades the air we breathe in western/global north culture thesse days.

Alas, that new and false gospel that exalts supposed "toleration" as the highest of virtues and condemns "intolerance" as the worst of vices has virtually nothing in common with biblical religion, which brooks no rivals to Yahweh, or to Jesus Christ.

I join Georgia and Alice in commending you, Fr. Tim, for this fine piece on what really counts in the Baptismal Covenant. Christians are called to be "the light of the world" and "the salt of the earth," i.e., radically different from the pagan world all around us.

The baptismal liturgy is one of the clearest places where the essential truth of the authentic gospel is repeatedly placed before us, and that is this: "Those who have the Son have life. Those who have not the Son of God have not life" (1 John 5:12). It is not our solidarity with the unbelieving, disobedient world that matters.

Yes, we are all the creaatures of God, and therefore precious in the Lord's sight and infiniately valuable to him, worthy of being redeemed at the fearful cost of his Son's life.

But ONLY those who repent of their sin and rebellion and turn to Christ in faith and are "born of water and the Spirit" will enter the Kingdom of God. That divine kingdom is in the end highly exclusive, even though it includes innumerable people from every tribe, tongue, and nation.

The pre-Constantinian Church that designed the shape of the baptismal liturgy now restored in the 1979 BCP insisted that radical discipleship was an essential and non-negotiable element in becoming a true Christian. In this post-Christendom world we live in, we must relearn how to br "in the world, but not of the world," and how to stad AGAINST the world, for the sake of the world and its salvation.

Anonymous said...

CP -

Christianity without the Cross and crucifying the *inborn* as well as the acquired sinful unscriptural inclinations of the soul - the habits that were conditioned, modeled and taught us as well as the habits and hang-ups we adopted by our own sinful choices - well, that ain't Christianity - that is a cheap imitation of Christianity that isn't effective and cannot heal the soul nor tame the evils of the world, flesh and devil - it's worse than nothing.

Cheap grace isn't grace at all - it's faux grace and leads to deception, degradation, disease, destruction and eternal death.

TLF+ said...

James is an Epistle full of what we might call "social justice". This makes his message of personal, spiritual transformation all the more compelling.

Episcopalians/liberal protestants talk a good game when it comes to social justice, but they just don't build the kind of people who can make it happen. Everything they talk about comes back to the satisfaction of individual ego. They have big opinions about "issues" but tend to be a limousine liberal, wine and cheese kinda clique.

A couple of examples: For revisionists, reproduction does not point to our social/communal nature - it is degraded to private choice. Marriage is not social - it is secondary to individual gratification.

My wife and I went through some challenges in recent years, mostly around health and financial stuff. I was stunned as friends of a more liberal persuasion tended to recommend divorce - "You need to take care of YOU" - while more traditionally Christian folks prayed for me, my wife and the marriage and encouraged us to love each other sacrificially. The marriage is intact and in some much deeper ways than before the challenges.

So, I stand by what I wrote. My "inborn" qualities are all about doing what pleases me - Christ teaches me to please the Spirit (in large part by loving others). And my life is more abundant and joyful for following Him instead of the world, the flesh and the devil.