The Anglican Way of Following Jesus #2: Baptismal Promises

Of all the changes that have been made in our Anglican worship in the last three or four decades, the one I like the best is the bringing of baptism into the centre of the Sunday worshipping life of the congregation.

When I was growing up in the Church of England I rarely saw a baptism. Baptisms (or ‘Christenings’, as they were usually called) were usually done at a separate service in the middle of Sunday afternoon, and very few regular churchgoers attended. Most of the families bringing children for baptism were not regular churchgoers and had no intention of becoming such; they mouthed promises about bringing their children to church regularly even though everyone knew they had no intention of keeping them, water was splashed on their babies’ heads, and that was the last we saw of them until the next time they had a child to be ‘done’ (or perhaps until Christmas or Easter).

Not any more. Nowadays, in most Anglican churches in Canada, baptisms are performed at the main service on Sunday – often on Sundays of the year when the theme is particularly appropriate for baptism, such as the Baptism of the Lord, or Easter, or Pentecost, or All Saints’ Day. This means that the baptismal families get to interact with the regular worshipping congregation. Also, ‘drive-by baptisms’ are becoming less and less common; nowadays, perhaps the majority of those who bring children for baptism are fully intending to become part of the worshipping community (if they aren’t already part of it), and adult baptisms are more and more common, too.

All of that is good, but that’s not my favourite part. My favourite part is that the members of the whole congregation get reminded of their own baptism by participating in the service on a regular basis. And there are two sides to this.

First we get reminded of the grace of God and the miracle of new birth. Baptism is all about grace. Baptism reminds us that as Jesus heard the voice of God saying ‘You are my beloved Son; in you I take delight’ (Mark 1:11 REB), so God in his love adopts each of us into his family, long before we have done anything to deserve this honour, and God looks on us with delight as his beloved sons and daughters. And as the Spirit descended on Jesus at his baptism, so the Spirit also brings us to new birth in the family of God and takes up residence in each of us, marking us as God’s own and giving us the power to live as the sons and daughters of God.

Thus baptism reminds us of all that God has done for us, and as we participate regularly in baptism services we have the opportunity to reflect on God’s love and respond with thankfulness and joy.

The other side of the story, though, is that in baptism we take obligations on ourselves – or, in the case of those of us who were baptized as infants, our parents take obligations for us, which we accept for ourselves at our confirmation. Baptism, in fact, is the beginning of a life of discipleship, as Jesus points out in Matthew 28:19-20:

‘Go therefore to all nations and make them my disciples; baptize them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all that I have commanded you’ (REB).

The baptized person has become a disciple of Jesus, and as a disciple is committed to a life of learning to put the teaching of Jesus into practice in their daily life.

We remind ourselves of this commitment at every B.A.S. baptism service in the Anglican Church of Canada, when we are invited to ‘join with those who are committing themselves to Christ and renew our own baptismal covenant’. The covenant as set out in the B.A.S. has two parts, which might be headed ‘What Christians believe’ and ‘What Christian do’. The first part simply sets out the Apostles’ Creed in question and answer format, thus:

Do you believe in God the Father?
I believe in God, the  Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?
I believe in God the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.

The second part contains five promises which seem to me to represent the heart of what we Christians commit ourselves to when we become followers of Jesus:

Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers?
I will, with God’s help.

Will you persevere in resisting evil and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
I will, with God’s help.

Will you proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ?
I will, with God’s help.

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbour as yourself?
I will, with God’s help.

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
I will, with God’s help.

At least three times a year, our congregation gets to hear again the good news of God’s love proclaimed in baptism. At least three times a year, we get to renew the promises that represent our joyful response to this Gospel. And in our church, as in many other Anglican churches I know, it is the custom that after the baptism the water remains in the font (which  has been brought to the front for the service), so that later on, as people are making their way forward for communion, they can use the water of baptism to sign themselves with the Cross in token that they too are baptized followers of Jesus and that they want to recommit themselves to their discipleship.

Baptism speaks to us of God’s grace and of our adoption into God’s family. Baptism is the beginning of a life of following Jesus and learning to put his teaching and example into practice. Regular participation in baptismal services keeps these things on our minds. That’s one of the things I love about the Anglican way of following Jesus.

6 thoughts on “The Anglican Way of Following Jesus #2: Baptismal Promises

  1. Great post Tim, the Methodist Baptism Service is also part of the Sunday morning worship, and the church members also make promises to pray for those being baptised. My favourite part of the service comes just before the actual baptism itself when I speak these words of grace:

    *N* for you Jesus Christ came into this world
    for you he lived and showed Gods love
    for you he suffered death on the Cross
    for you he triumphed over death
    rising to newness of life;
    for you he prays at God’s right hand;
    all this for you,
    before you could know anything of it
    In your Baptism the word of Scripture is fulfilled;
    We love because God first loved us….

    For me these words chime with bucket loads of prevenient grace, and they “get me” every time!

  2. At HTAC we recently moved to the ancient rite with the font at the back of the church, turning away when renouncing evil and the forward, also the “new garments” of Christ, babe bare and got her gown after the promises. Quite effective.

  3. Pingback: The Anglican Way of Following Jesus #3: Word and Sacrament | Faith, Folk and Charity

  4. Tim, That is a great post. I agree with you about the importance of the promises themselves and the wisdom of repeating them regularly throughout the church year. Have you ever come across any post-baptismal program for assisting baptized adults in deepening their understanding of the baptismal promises? Have you ever heard of congregations offering programs to assist baptized adults integrate the promises into their lives as they discover their personal role in God’s purpose and mission? I am curious because I want to create a program like that.

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