Baptism and the Churches

Liturgists and People Who Know What They Are Talking About have worked very hard to persuade people that we should be trying dissuade people from talking about Christenings and instead talk about the sacrament of baptism. Today the Church of England appears to have let the cat out of the bag with a post that seems to suggest that no-one, least of all anyone in the Church of England’s press team has been paying the blindest bit of notice.

The post, Top 10 facts about Christenings is being comprehensively panned and rubbished on twitter by friends I know in the Church of England.

The post itself reminds me of a conversation that I had only yesterday with an American friend when I realised that what we think about baptism differs radically in different parts of the world. Like marriage, we believe baptism to be a universal thing commonly understood. And then you look at the formularies for the services or chat to someone about it and you realise that we are not always talking about the same thing.

During my trip to North America last year, I was more concious than ever that the churches over there have bought into a baptismal theology that we just don’t talk about. It is based around something called the baptismal covenant – a little catechism that is used at baptisms.

Now, we use the words here too. People will recognise them as being part of the service of baptism.

Here’s one form of it:

Do you believe in God the Creator, who made the world?
I believe.
Do you believe in God the Saviour, who redeemed humanity?
I believe.
Do you believe in God the Sanctifier, who gives life to God’s people?
I believe.

This is the faith of the Church.
This is our faith. We believe in one God, Creator, Saviour and Sanctifier.

NN., as those who will love and care for N., will you continue in the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in the prayers?
With the help of God, I will
Will you proclaim the good news by word and deed, serving Christ in all people?
With the help of God, I will.
Will you work for justice and peace, honouring God in all Creation?
With the help of God, I will.

This is the task of the Church.
This is our task: to live and work for the kingdom of God.

Now the point is, this isn’t called The Baptismal Covenant in Scotland. And in England, so far as I can get my head around the liturgy, it is entirely optional and even then only for those who have been baptised who can answer for themselves, not for babies.

Yet, my friends in the US and Canada speak about the Baptismal Covenant as though it is universally understood, always used at baptisms and as though it justifies all kinds of things.

For a lot of people over there, the questions about gay relationships, ordaining women as bishops and priests and all kinds of other issues about justice are simply answered with a shrug of the shoulders and “well, we need to do these things because of the baptismal covenant”.

I don’t think that I do well in explaining to friends from across the pond that though we may (or indeed may not) use the same words at baptisms, we don’t generally carry those ideas through into thinking that they are slam dunk answers to difficult questions that arise in other areas of church life. Indeed, they look at me as though I am bonkers. I don’t know anyone in the UK who would seriously argue in public that same-sex marriage or the ordination of women are obviously things that we should do because of anything to do with baptism yet that association is commonplace in other parts of the Anglican Communion.

I may be bonkers, of course. But I think I’m right to say that the north American churches believe that there is something going on at baptism that I think most Christians in the UK Anglican churches and indeed most Christians in all of the rest of Christendom through all the ages of the church would be bewildered and puzzled by.

I’m puzzled by it too. Though there is nothing in the Baptismal Covenant that I disagree with, it isn’t a set of promises that were either made on my behalf as a child nor was I asked to assert any of it when I was baptised.

When you travel, you discover that some things are universal. When you travel well, you realise that they are not the things that you expected to be universal.



  1. I used to try to point this out to people when I still lived in the States, to no avail (I think there’s probably something about it in my archives). While I don’t necessarily dissent from their understanding of baptism, or marriage, or justice, or whatever, I found it impossible to induce many of my co-Episcopalians that “the Baptismal Covenant” isn’t in itself a warrant when speaking to others. At best, it’s the beginning of a discussion; at worst, it’s a conversation-stopper that conveys a certain ecclesial solipsism.

  2. Erika Baker says

    If (and it’s a big if) I understand the American position correctly, it is based on all of us being received thought baptism into the Christian faith on equal terms. To block women and gay people from equal participation in the church at all levels therefore goes against the terms of the baptismal reception into our faith.

  3. Sorry — “induce many of my co-Episcopalians to realise that…”

  4. Dennis in Chicago says

    yes, ok, but it is certainly there in the NT. Baptism and Eucharist are revolutionary acts from that perspective. Perhaps we should say that if both baptism and Eucharist are what we understand them to be then we must do these things. And AKMA I remember (I was at St Lukes Evanston years ago) that you are a bit more conservative about these things. But the fact that Episcopalians have come to a generally accepted view of this that isn’t found in the UK isn’t much of an argument at all, is it? Or had I forgotten somewhere that to be true a doctrine or belief must be accepted and held somewhere in the British Isles?

    • I think the issue is more that Americans tend to think that everyone believes stuff that everyone doesn’t. It isn’t that because the Brits don’t do it, it doesn’t have value.

      Can you connect LGBT issues with baptism from a biblical point of view, Dennis?

      Or connect ordaining women to the Episcopate with baptism in the Bible?

      Or justice issues?

      What is it that is there in the NT that makes baptism revolutionary.

      I think that I might understand this if we were talking about the baptism of John the Baptist with all his stuff about vipers. However, I don’t remember hearing that passage read at many baptisms.

      • Dennis in Chicago says

        You know I am not a theologian. But perhaps the important difference lies somewhere in the understanding of the church and the understanding of the goals and purposes. Once justice is seen as part of the Kingdom of God and the church as a community to bring this about how do we not work to bring that about? Remember also that the Baptismal Covenant is not only said at every baptism but is also said by the congregation at the Easter Vigil, at ordinations, and some congregations use it during the entire season of Easter. We hear it quite often. It is used often and during important times here.

        You know, it may not be the Baptismal Covenant that divides us. Perhaps the cultural difference here has a lot to do with the role of the Episcopal Church as a community that people convert to as an escape from more conservative churches here in the US. I don’t think many Anglicans elsewhere understand this. Perhaps the sources of the differences on our side are because when many of us in ECUSA hear Anglicans in the UK sounding like the right wing churches of our childhood (that many of us escaped from) it feels like a betrayal. We don’t get that other Anglican churches don’t stand in as shelters from a childhood in cruel conservative churches. I think that is a bigger source of our differences. We have few conservatives because people escape from conservative churches (with all of the emotional baggage of refugees) to become an Episcopalian in the US.

      • Dennis in Chicago says

        And what is funny is that I think I recall hearing John the Baptist stuff read at a lot of baptisms, especially adult baptisms.

  5. Melissa Holloway says

    Yep. I realized this all about half a minute after we came back to the United States. The Baptismal covenant is used to justify only offering communion to the baptized for one. I think it dove-tails wonderfully with all that exclusive and ‘aren’t we better’ church stuff from Stanley H.

    I’ve wondered if the whole baptismal covenant thing might be a reaction to membership in the Episcopal church in the U.S. having functioned a status symbol in the earlier half of this century.

  6. Bro Dah•veed says

    I think that a misunderstanding exists here as to what we North Am Anglicans view as the Baptismal Covenant. It isn’t a liturgy or sacremantal ritual that you can point to in our prayer books, magic words or an incantation, and acknowledge that the five Anglican churches on the North Am continent use during baptism, the covenant is that intangible aspect that we acknowledge occurs between the candidate and God when one answers a call of conscious understanding to be baptized or one’s parents bring one as a child. We believe that we all, you folks the world over and ourselves, who are baptised Christians have entered the covenant, regardless of what expression of the church of God administers your baptism; Roman, Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian, etc. We acknowledge, as baptized, and so having entered the covenant, anyone who has received the intentional rite with water for salvation in the name of the trinity. (I think that most churches would have to inquire about the intention of the rite, as many Baptist traditions only baptise to bring one into membership in the church.)

    It follows hand in hand with the concept that baptism is something that happens but once and that any baptism that occurs again is conditional upon the person not having already been baptised.

    • I’m talking about the Baptismal Covenant that you certainly can point towards on, for example, page 303 of my copy of the US Book of Common Prayer. That’s what US and Canadians point me towards when they make their claims about the Baptismal Covenant. “That”, they say, “is the Baptismal Covenant and it means …..”

      I don’t know nearly enough about the Mexican church and don’t know if the same text is in the liturgies there.

      • Bro Dah•veed says

        The Mexican church, as also are the two Anglican churches in Central America, is the daughter of the US church. We were most of us once Latin American dioceses of the US church and became independent national and regional churches. We in Mexico became an autonomous church in 1995. We use the official Spanish translation of the US prayerbook.

        But I think it a misunderstanding that folks from our churches point you to the baptismal service in the prayer book as the actual covenant. The covenant is intangible. I don’t think that anyone here would try to make the case that anyone in another Anglican church doesn’t partake in the baptismal covenant because their baptismal service was different or because they were a Christian through another tradition with a more simple baptismal service. It is the fact of having been baptized, not the words used in the service.

        The covenant relates to the ministry of all the baptized as in the words of Paul, that as many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ, that is the covenant. That as members of the Body of Christ we are no longer male or female, slave or freeman, Scotsman or Mexican, gay, straight, bisexual or transgendered. We are all equal Christians having put on Christ and therefore cannot be denied any aspect of membership/ministry in the commonwealth of God.

        • Yes, I understand that is what people mean by it. My point really is that few here will understand those consequences to stem from anything to do with baptism.

          I have strong hesitations about the idea of entering into a covenant that one has not consented to. I suppose one could make an argument in favour of seeing baptismal covenant theology as stemming from circumcision but that is a bit icky and not terribly good theology for women.

        • And, cruicially, I think we are equal because we are made in the image of God, not because we’ve been baptised. Baptism makes no person more equal nor more dignified in God’s eyes than the person was the day before they were baptised.

          • Bro Dah•veed says

            “Baptism makes no person more equal nor more dignified in God’s eyes than the person was the day before they were baptized.”

            That isn’t the point. The point should be that those human distinctions should fall away with one another. In spite of the culture perhaps differentiating, Paul posits that among Christians those distinctions no longer exist.

          • Well, we are back to square one. I believe people are inherrently equal. I don’t think that has anything to do with whether someone is baptised and it doesn’t depend and isn’t enriched by any theology of baptism I’ve ever encountered.

          • Erika Baker says

            There’s no reply button after your last comment to Dah-veed, Kelvin, so I’m using this space.
            Isn’t the point that, while everyone is equal, baptism is a kind of membership ticket for Christianity? We are not arguing whether non-Christian women and gay people should be priests and bishops. So being created equal and then baptised as equal into the Christian faith and into one particular denomination, all office of that church should be open to all.

          • Well, to repeat myself, I think that all offices of the church should be open to everyone because everyone is created equal that is what is right.

            I don’t think it has anything to do with being baptised.

            I wasn’t baptised into any denomination. (I wasn’t baptised as an Anglican either). I’m pretty sure I was part of the church before I was baptised too. It wasn’t ever a membership ticket for me.

            Though I think that for practical reasons churches need some sense of who their members are, I kind of think I’m in cahoots with a God who tore up the requirements for membership of the Christian Faith.

          • Erika Baker says

            You would not say that some kind of formal commitment to Christianity should be needed to be a priest or a bishop?
            I could almost go along with that – but I don’t think that could form part of the theology of any church right now. The argument for equality has to be made from within the Christian faith, and Baptism isn’t a bad place to start.

        • Of course I would require some kind of formal commitment before someone should be a priest or a bishop. That is what ordination precisely is.

          I think Christianity (historically and biblically) is a terribly poor place to start talking about everyone being equal.

          I don’t believe that everyone is equal because I am a Christian. I believe everyone is equal anyway. That belief has consequences for how I live out my Christianity.

          • Erika Baker says

            Yes, that’s fair enough. But aren’t we talking about Americans arguing that all offices of the church should be open to all baptised people? We’re not talking about equality in a general sense, or that we should treat everyone as our equal.
            We are talking about a theological criterion for arguing that women and partnered gay people should not be barred from any office in the church.
            It’s a specific answer to a specific question.

          • What I was saying is that American and Canadian Anglicans (or maybe their clergy and seminary types and activists) talk about equality by appealing to something to do with baptism which they think is universally held and universally true. My argument is that this isn’t believed or understood by many people over here. It is one of the things that causes misunderstandings between Anglicans and is based on a theology that is neither necessary, particularly biblical nor universally held even by all Anglicans, never mind the church catholic.

            My argument remains that women and men should be equally eligable for ordination, just as partnered gay people should be if partnered straight people are but that this is for reasons other than that people who are ordained have all to be baptised.

          • Bro Dah•veed says

            “I wasn’t baptised into any denomination. (I wasn’t baptised as an Anglican either). I’m pretty sure I was part of the church before I was baptised too. It wasn’t ever a membership ticket for me.

            Though I think that for practical reasons churches need some sense of who their members are, I kind of think I’m in cahoots with a God who tore up the requirements for membership of the Christian Faith.”

            Then I am not sure that anyone in any other Anglican church has much in common with you Kelvin. With that statement you just tossed out the entire first few centuries of the primitive Christian church where there is no evidence anyone subscribed to your very ultra modern theology of human equality and “olly, olly, oxen free,” but to the contrary, a very serious developmental evolution of a sacramental understanding of baptism and who was a baptized Christian and so admitted to the sacramental communal meal and who was a catechumen and moving toward baptism and entrance to the commonweal of God.

          • Baptism seems to me to be about following Jesus and doing what he asked us to do.

            Many sacramental acts work as initation for people into life with God.

            All those people being baptised in the early centuries managed to be baptised without anyone proclaiming a Baptismal Covenant, they were baptised in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit into the life (and death) of Christ. The new association of lay ministry and justification for the ordination of women and people in same-sex relationships seems to me to be the rather novel development.

        • Erika Baker says

          Yes to the first part of your comment. Americans do not realise that their line of argument is not easily understood in other parts of the Anglican Communion because we do not have our conversations in the same way.

          But there is no one killer argument. And what convinces some people will leave others completely untouched. Our arguments and ways of looking at questions arise out of our local circumstances and out of the conversations that surround us. I would therefore not say that the TEC view is wrong, only that it is different and that it does not seem to be THE killer argument to us that it seems to be to the church there.

          • I think Melissa is onto something though when she connects it with the Stanley Hauerwas stuff about creating a moral community distinctive from the naughty world.

            I don’t buy that and am suspicious of the baptismal covenant theology because it seems to me to be made out of the same stuff.

            I’m interested in Melissa’s suggestion that this is a way of replacing exclusive membership cachets of the past. I’d throw in that I have a suspicion that it is a subconcious response to the North American churches’ issues with race and land. I was amazed at the lack of racial integration I found over there in places I would have expected to find it. Not everywhere, of course but far more than I was comfortable with.

            We have different issues about race here which are just as serious. However, they are not quite so focussed on slavery and land grabs. (They are about other bad things instead).

  7. I may be bonkers – probably – but as I understand it I was baptised into ‘The Body of Christ’ in The Church of Ireland in 1945. I don’t need any other Covenant to realise that any baptised Christian who does not accept the full inclusion of women and LGTB persons will continue to trouble my sanity and every other aspect of life in all it’s fullness. Ooh Yikes! -I had two Godfathers and one Godmother.(Two of child’s sex recommended by CofE?) One of my Godfathers was in all likelihood Gay – poor chap went bonkers. I expect he is a good prayerful influence now that he IS what he was called to be a fully joined up member of The Kingdom of Heaven.

    • Bro Dah•veed says

      No one in North American Anglicanism is talking about “another” covenant. The covenant is baptism.

  8. Augur Pearce says

    If I might move away from the ‘baptismal covenant’ debate and back to the opening section of Kelvin’s post, I think ‘baptism’ and ‘christening’ are like ‘Pentecost’ and ‘Whitsun’. The Greek-based word is in common use amongst Liturgists and People Who Know What They Are Talking About; but the English word has a ring of the folk religion of the rural parish which I find rather appealing. I use ‘baptise’ when I speak in a churchy context (though not Pentecost, since I find Whit Sunday in the Book of Common Prayer and I prefer to avoid confusion with the Jewish festival); but I should never presume to tell anyone who speaks of ‘christening’ that they are wrong. Furthermore I deprecate the decline in the expression ‘Christian name’ (=’christened name’), which was common not long ago when I was younger. (‘Not long ago’ means ‘after 1960’.)
    That is, in fact, the only grouse I have with the ‘ Top 10 facts about Christenings’. At point 4, ‘Does a christening give my baby a name?’ the website responds ‘No. Your baby’s name is given when you register the birth.’ They need to read section 13 of the Registration of Births and Deaths Act again. It is perfectly possible to register a birth with no name, for the name to be given in baptism within a year and then for it to be entered on the register on a certificate from the officiating minister. (Kelvin, compare Registration of Births Deaths and Marriages (Scotland) Act 1965, s.43(3).)
    But that apart, what is wrong with the ‘Top 10 Facts’? I hold no brief for Church House Westminster, but I see this as a well-meant and generally harmless attempt at outreach.

  9. Bro Dah•veed says

    “Baptism seems to me to be about following Jesus and doing what he asked us to do.
    All those people being baptised in the early centuries managed to be baptised without anyone proclaiming a Baptismal Covenant, they were baptised in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit into the life (and death) of Christ.”

    And I would submit that being baptized is about more than Jesus wanting folks to get wet! Immersion in water coupled with a concept that something intangible was occurring is much older than John at the Jordan. Submersing baths had been available in Judaism in private homes and synagogues for centuries. Referring to that intangible aspect of the act as a baptismal covenant may be fresh, but the Church has held the theology from the beginning.

    “Many sacramental acts work as initation for people into life with God.”

    Sorry, I don’t agree. The Church’s one sacramental act of initiation has always been baptism. This new universalism is creeping in today with folks like you promoting it. Communion without baptism is another facet of it.

    “The new association of lay ministry and justification for the ordination of women and people in same-sex relationships seems to me to be the rather novel development.”

    There isn’t anything new about it, it is but a recent pointing to what has been in the teachings of the Church from the Pauline corpus all along.

  10. Quinn says

    Hello, Kelvin! I’ve been enjoying your blog sense we met during your trip to North America last year. We met in Sewanee.

    I agree with much of what you say about the use of the Baptismal Covenant as a blunt instrument on all kinds of ecclesial and theological issues. It is used to make arguments for just about everything. The sad thing is, it keeps anyone from doing much harder theological work on important aspects of our life together. However, I’m curious what you mean when you say, “I think I’m right to say that the north American churches believe that there is something going on at baptism that I think most Christians in the UK Anglican churches and indeed most Christians in all of the rest of Christendom through all the ages of the church would be bewildered and puzzled by.”

    Could you clarify a bit?

    • Hi Quinn – yes. I think its fairly simple. I think that there is a move in the US, for example, to associate what is happening at baptism with ecclesiology – what it means to be the church. I think that the tradition is to associate baptism with the life and death of Jesus, and yes, for many to think of it as an initiation rite for the church. The theological novelty is to say that because of baptism or particularly the Baptismal Covenant then there are particular consequences that affect how we view ministry. I don’t particularly think that baptism is a sacrament which is fundamentally related to ministry. Many in Anglicanism profess to do so, some on this side of the Atlantic, particularly those searching for an affirmation of patterns of ministry and service of the whole people of God. It is the connection between baptism and ministry which I think is novel and which I think is far from universally held to be true.

      By the way, congratulations on your recent ordination.

      • Bro Dah•veed says

        “I don’t particularly think that baptism is a sacrament which is fundamentally related to ministry.
        It is the connection between baptism and ministry which I think is novel and which I think is far from universally held to be true.”

        I can’t imagine how baptism isn’t related to ministry. Baptism is the door to the Church. Everything that we do begins at baptism.

        • That is my point. Those whose faith has been formed within this Baptismal Covenant stuff really can’t imagine that baptism could mean anything other than the novel things that they say it means.

          And even then, this is really about balance. My problem is not really about connecting baptism and ministry my problem is about thinking that that is primarily what baptism is about rather than an incidental consequence of what it is about.

          • Bro Dah•veed says

            Kelvin, I have a 4 year Master of Theology degree, I did the first 2 years at a United Methodist seminary, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, TX and the final two years at an ecumenical seminary, Northwest Theological Union, Seattle, WA. And I have further taken post graduate courses at Vancouver School of Theology, Vancouver, BC, Canada, so if I was formed in this stuff, then it permeates all of Christendom in North America.

          • Yes. I’m sure it does. It is part of the seminary culture in the USA.

            It seems to me to be obvious that if so much effort has to go into teaching it is obviously not a view generally held by members of the church.

            It is to be found in other places too, for example, the relatively recent Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church, but only a few lines in an exhaustive attempt to say what baptism is about – Sections 1268-1270. (The baptism section has over seventy sections). Here again though, it is a novelty coming out of the People of God theologies arising from Vatican II. Before that, non-existant. Check the Penny Catechism, the faith that so many Roman friends were actually taught – nothing remotely like it there.

  11. Dennis in Chicago says

    You might find it interesting to see that it isn’t only Episcopalians here in the US that have use some variation of the baptismal covenant. Here is a link to the ELCA (Lutherans) ( to a Methodist service ( and to a Presbyterian use (

    It seems that not just Episcopalians but also most mainline Protestant denominations here are thinking like this. To be honest I am rather surprised to hear you claim that this is something outside of mainline thinking. Does this not go back to Aquinas? Also, is it possible that the question asked before baptism in the 1662 (“Wilt thou obediently keep God’s holy will and commandments, and walk in the same all the days of thy life?”) is pretty much in the same line of thinking?

    • It is emphasis that is out of kilter, Denis. I think it is stretching a point to say that 1662 is really similar to the Baptismal Covenant.

      As I keep trying to say, I’m not saying that it is unreasonable to hope that someone who has been baptised might live well. What is odd, very odd indeed, is to assert that because of the Baptismal Covenant, we therefore must ordain women, must ordained partnered gay people or must avert environmental disaster. We should be doing those things anyway. Ordaining women, ordaining partnered gay people and saving the planet are all wonderful things. They are moral things. The church should do these things. What just makes no sense is the argument that comes shouted out almost beligerantly from some quarters that we should do these things because of the Baptismal Covenant.

      That’s a novelty and I struggle to see that it was the business that Aquinas was in. All I’m trying to do is explain to people formed within those ideas that others just won’t see that as a way of settling those arguements. That’s because the idea of a Baptismal Covenant just isn’t that important to a lot of people and in some churches simply isn’t used at baptism.

      • Bro Dah•veed says

        No Kelvin, I’m beginning to suspect that the novelty here is that you have retained much of your formation in the Salvation Army, a religious organization that claims to be Christian, but doesn’t even practice baptism or communion.

        • Well, that is certainly a factor in my faith journey. My own journey to the faith I have now was a flight towards the sacraments. That was what I was looking for. I was baptised, I remember it! And I became a communicant. (Not in that order). And I became an Episcopalian.

          But making it personal won’t alter the fact that a lot of Christians and a lot of Anglicans will be bemused by the idea that we should ordain women, ordain gay people in relationships and save the planet because of a Covenant that they’ve not heard of, not considered much, may not hear used at baptisms and so on.
          It is that argument that I still say is novel. That the church should do those things because of the Baptismal Covenant is not an argument that will make sense to a lot a people. All I’m doing is trying to explain why.

          • Bro Dah•veed says

            I have made it personal, because I think that most of what you espouse here is you, not other Anglicans or Christians in general. I don’t think that Desmond Tutu wrote the forward to the book We Were Baptized Too, because it was a new concept to him and the Anglicans in South Africa.

            I visit a number of Anglican blogs on a daily basis from all over the globe and you are the first to express that this concept is novel and never heard of. In my experience it connects with folks the world over.

          • Dennis in Chicago says

            “a lot of Anglicans will be bemused by the idea that we should ordain women, ordain gay people in relationships and save the planet because of a Covenant that they’ve not heard of, not considered much, may not hear used at baptisms and so on.”

            Well the argument that many of us are making, at least here in the US, and I firmly believe that we are right about this, is that we should ordain women, ordain gay people in relationships and save the planet because of the demands and core truths of the faith. If they sign on to the faith than these things apply. If they don’t think that they do then they are wrong. Not mistaken but wrong. Period / full stop. Saying “because of the Baptismal Covenant” means simply “because you signed up for this.” And “this” means both Christianity in general and the things that have always been part of it but not recognized because of human error and failure. If other Anglicans don’t get that then our duty is to help them get it. Great Commission and such.

      • Dennis in Chicago says

        Well we are right in the middle of the old exegesis / eisegesis argument here. Are we reading this out of the faith or into it? I guess I have to just assert that asking, “Wilt thou obediently keep God’s holy will and commandments, and walk in the same all the days of thy life?” implies marriage equality and opening ordination to women, along with caring for the environment and supporting justice (“What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”) If you don’t find these things embedded within the idea of the Kingdom of God then there is no debating, really. But if these things are contained within ‘following the commandments and walking in the same’ then being more explicit with the promises made (both at baptism and at services such as the Great Vigil) and pointing to the Baptismal Covenant as reason and warrant is just spelling out the obvious.

        Simply put, if the promises made in the Baptismal Covenant are some new add-on and not part and parcel of Christianity, if “real” and “pure” Christianity doesn’t have within it the idea of justice and mercy and all that this contains, if the promises made at Baptism to follow God don’t entail these things, then so much the worse for Christianity and in that case it isn’t worth a damn, isn’t worth saving, and isn’t worth my time.

        • Erika Baker says

          I think Dennis and Dah-veed, you are talking cross purposes with Kelvin.
          The question is not so much whether it is reasonable to speak of a Baptismal Covenant and to draw certain theological and ecclesiological implications from that.
          The question is whether your understanding of it is one that is shared by Anglicans all over the world and understood without further explanation.
          And there Kelvin is undoubtedly right. In the whole 20 odd years since women have been priests and we have been discussing women bishops no-one has used Baptism as an argument in favour. It’s a line of thinking that is just not part of our theological conversation.
          And no-one has ever referred to Baptism when we discussed whether Jeffrey John or any other gay partnered priest should be allowed to become bishop.
          That’s not to say those arguments could not be made on the basis you’re making them.
          But it is to say that we just don’t do it.
          So when Kelvin says that North Americans assume that their theological conversation is automatically understood everywhere but that this assumption is not correct, he’s merely stating a fact.

          • Yes!

          • Dennis in Chicago says

            Oh I understand that well enough.

            Although I am not completely convinced that no one in the U.K. sees that there is a direct connection between baptism and these issues. My issue here is the claim that our position (found across so many denominations including as Kelvin pointed out the current Roman catechism) is somehow novel. It just isn’t. We may use new terms like “Baptismal Covenant” instead of calling it simply one’s Christian obligation, but the tie between baptism and the obligations of the faith on the individual and the community of believers go right through the NT. Not seeing it may be a cultural blinders issue in parts of the U.K. but the idea is not a new thing.

            Here is an interesting point to me: Brits have all sorts of funny assumptions about Americans in general with sometimes no relationship to reality in those assumption. One of those is that all Americans are hyper individualists with no interest in the community. Yet here we are with Americans (and plenty of others throughout the faith worldwide) saying that baptism is ultimately about the community and we have a voice from that side saying “oh no, it is an entirely individualistic thing with no obligations or implications whatsoever.” Odd, eh?

            Is the problems that Christianity has throughout the U.K. with equality and justice due perhaps to some sort of flawed understanding of the demands on Christians because of baptism? If it is really true that no one has tied justice and community obligations to baptism in the U.K. then we have some hint to part of the problem. There may be cultural blinders at play. Every culture has then.

          • Dennis in Chicago says

            sorry so many typing errors above. I typed that out on my phone and it is hard to edit on a little touch screen.

          • Once again, I don’t really have a problem with liturgies making the presumption that there is a hope around at baptism that the baptised person will behave nicely.

            My point remains that Anglicans from North America cannot be surprised when other people don’t understand them when they answer questions about the ordination of women and of people in gay relationships by referring to a Baptismal Covenant that those other Anglicans won’t recognise and will not understand.

            The fact is that though I guess just about everyone involved in church would want to think that baptized people ought to be nice. It does not follow from that notion that Christians throughout the world and throughout history therefore think it is fundamentally right to ordain women and bless gay relationships. They may think those things to be right or wrong for all kinds of reasons. The primary reasons that they have for doing so in many cases will have nothing to do with baptism.

          • Erika Baker says

            All I can say, Dennis, is when the last lot of “half arsed Baptism” posts swept my Facebook it all came from America and none of my British friends really knew what it meant.

            I don’t know if you followed any of our women priests debates or gay priest debates, or read any of the countless papers and discussion documents produced in their support.
            They do not mention Baptism.

            They mention justice as a core requirement of Christian faith but they do not use the Baptism as a shorthand for that.

          • “half-assed”, Erika. They use the phrase “half-assed baptism” as though it answers questions about the ordination of women or over gay issues. That’s the phrase folk over here don’t understand.

        • Erika Baker says

          Thanks, Kelvin – says a lot that I didn’t even know how to spell the phrase properly!

          • Bro Dah•veed says

            half-arsed – half-assed, it means the same doesn’t it, just the local colloquialisms.

            It comes from this sermon at the Integrity Eucharist during the TEC General Convention in Atlanta, GA, USA in 2009 by the Rt Revd Barbara Harris, the first woman consecrated as a bishop in TEC.
            “…More importantly, if indeed the church honestly believes gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender folk should not be bishops, then the church should not ordain them to the sacred order of deacons. For certainly, if one is deemed fit to be ordained a transitional deacon, then one should be deemed eligible to move into the sacred order of priests and to be elected and consecrated to the episcopate. If you don’t want GLBT folks as bishops, don’t ordain them as deacons. Better yet, be honest and say, “We don’t want you, you don’t belong here,” and don’t bestow upon them the sacrament of Baptism to begin with.

            How can you initiate someone and then treat them like they’re half-assed baptized?…”


            PS – Kelvin, it was nice when we had a Preview button to see our post before committing to it.

  12. Brian says

    In Australia we use the liturgy you describe. I can’t recall the word ‘christening’ being used by the Church in decades.

  13. I’m grateful to another American friend who works in a seminary over there who said this to me on facebook:

    Kelvin, having read the post and scanned through the comments, I think part of the confusion is that you left out the crucial question and affirmation from the American text: Q: “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?” A: “I will, with God’s help.” I think it is precisely this aspect of the 1979 BCP Baptismal Covenant that leads to the “liberal” aspect of it, whereas the focus on baptism itself leads to the “conservative” aspect of it.

    He is absolutely right. We don’t have that question. That is precisely why, as Erika acknowledges above, the arguments in favour of the ordination of women and partnered gay folk don’t in this part of the church depend on the Baptismal Covenant. No-one would ever say “We must ordain women because of the covenant we’ve all signed up for in baptism”. The reason they wouldn’t make that argument is that we don’t sign up for that at baptism here. That seems to me to be a simple argument that is difficult to refute.

    And yet…

    All anyone needs to do to prove me wrong is produce the texts that have a line like that from baptismal liturgies in Scotland, England and elsewhere. Show me where that line is in pre 1979 liturgies (the 1928 book, for example) in American Anglicanism and show me examples of people using it pre 1979 to argue for women’s ordination and justice for gay people and yes, I’ll agree with you and say, you know what, I was wrong, this wasn’t a theological novelty after all.

    Alternatively, I’ll happily admit I’m wrong if someone can show me how the Baptismal Covenant has led the Roman Catholic Church or the Orthodox Church (whose baptism we share and recognise) to so enthusiastically ordain women or bless gay couples.

    Show me either of those things and I back down straight away.

    • Daniel Lamont says

      Much of this thread has been a dialogue between two Anglicans from the other side of the Atlantic and Kelvin in Scotland. As an active British Anglican, I would like to support Kelvin and Erika’s position. The notion of a Baptismal Covenant as set out by Dennis and Bro Dah•veed is not only unknown to me but alien to me. As Erika says: ‘It’s a line of thinking that is just not part of our theological conversation.’ There is simply a difference between two Anglican traditions.


      • Rosemary Hannah says

        Yes, I would see baptism not as covenant, but as gift. As grace, if you like. On the one side, we acknowledge we are willing to respond to the gift, and on the other, we are swept up into something immeasurably larger than we are. We begin as creatures of death, but that death is transformed by water into life, and we respond with joy. Our part is to acknowledge that this new life is a much bigger thing than out old life. But acknowledgement is not covenant. The only covenant I consider myself signed into is the new one, and then, only because Somebody Else did the signing in. In as far as I am in Christ, I am in His covenant. But of a baptismal covenant I know nothing. I have worked most of my life for gender equality, for social justice, for the right of gay people to be recognised and have their relationships recognised as absolutely equal to straight ones, but I do not think of that when I think of baptism.

  14. Quinn says

    I’m still trying to get my mind around exactly what’s being argued here. I agree with a number of points I think Kelvin is making:
    – that the Baptismal Covenant is not something that’s intelligible to all Christians everywhere and is therefore one source of Anglicans on either side of the Atlantic talking past each other.
    – that baptism doesn’t make Christians morally superior to others.
    – that we should honor others not because of baptism, but because it is the right thing to do.

    The things I don’t quite understand are:
    – I get the sense (and please correct me if I’m wrong!) that Kelvin would take issue with the statement “baptism constitutes the church” – or something like that. That’s fine. However, I think it would be a stretch to say that it would be unrecognizable to most Christians. The document “Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry” holds this position throughout, and that’s hardly a North American document. Perhaps the reasons such understanding don’t show up in earlier catechisms of the Roman Catholic Church is because they were produced before the end of Christendom, or at least before the end of Christendom was widely recognized or acknowledged. If everyone in the west is, more or less, a Christian, there wouldn’t be much need to talk about what constitutes the church.
    – I don’t think that agreeing with a statement like the one above says anything about your opinion about baptism, communion, and the ordering of these sacraments. For instance, one can be supportive of communion without baptism and still be interested in moving people to the font. In fact, most if not all proponents of communing the unbaptized hold that position.

    Perhaps the things I don’t understand are positions not actually being advocated. Please let me know if I’m misreading or reading into what’s being said.

    • Quinn says

      And please excuse my horrible grammar. Coffee is still working its way through my system.

    • I’d need to think about that for a while. However, my gut reaction is that for me, Eucharist is what constitutes the church.

      Also that I believe (as the Roman Catholic Church believes) that the Eucharist is a sacrament of initiation.

      • Quinn says

        I think I mostly agree with both of those statements.

        I think it’s possible to see both Baptism and Eucharist as constituting the church because I’d agree with the Roman Catholic position that holds Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist as the rites of initiation. The ’79 BCP made a valiant (though not completely successful) attempt at putting all three back together.

      • Erika Baker says

        But Baptism is more universal, the Eucharist more church specific. Roman Catholics recognise our baptism and that of other Protestant churches but they do not admit us to Catholic Eucharists. It’s a more selective membership badge.

  15. Erika Baker says

    I think the key is that, while we generally understand the Baptism is how a person becomes a member of the Christian community, that says nothing about how that community should be structured.
    So the idea that Baptism says anything about women’s ordination or gay priests is very alien to us.

  16. Robert MacSwain says

    As that “other American friend who works at a seminary” and who posted the additional comment on Kelvin’s facebook page, let me add my two cents to the blog thread. First, as I understand it, the 1979 Baptismal Covenant IS an innovation or novelty, at least in regard to the line about respecting the dignity of every human being. Gladly subject to correction, but I don’t think that any Anglican baptismal liturgy made that explicit affirmation prior to the ’79 BCP, but really that doesn’t matter. The point is, no matter when or where it came from, it’s in there now, and has deeply shaped the ecclesiology of the Episcopal Church (USA) for the last few decades. Whatever we had before, we now have a baptismal ecclesiology with a strong bent toward explicit peace and justice advocacy. Hence the discussion above with its concomitant transatlantic incomprehensions. To respect the dignity of every human being means in part to listen to and receive their own sense of what it means to be who they are, and not to tell them who “we” think they are or should be. “They” are “we”. Second, the American BCP understands baptism as the initiation rite and the Eucharist as the completion and subsequent reaffirmation of baptism. So, according to the American BCP, baptism constitutes the church as the Body of Christ and to receive the Eucharist (the body and blood of Christ) is to participate in the community created by baptism. That’s my understanding, at any rate.

    • Thanks Rob. Yes – I agree.

      I also think that the innovation of adding the line about respecting the dignity of every human being has been a hugely successful example of liturgical formation.

      Were I in charge of writing a new baptism rite, I might want to try to include it.

      However there probably isn’t the scope for doing that to baptism here now. More chance of slipping it into services of induction for the priest and people to say as they talk about what their common vocation is going to be.

      I’m not opposed to it. (As I keep saying again and again). But it is a novelty and part of the reason that the American church found itself so isolated was the the arguments that it made over Gene Robinson made sense to so many US Episcopalians – perfect sense in fact, but did not necessarily make sense to people outside that Baptismal Covenant mentality.

  17. Bro Dah•veed says

    I apologize Kelvin, you sent me scurrying back to my library and I had never noticed that in both the 1979 US prayer BCP and in the Canadian Book of Alternative Services that the set of questions just prior to the sacrament to which you refer, are indeed called the Baptismal Covenant.

    But I have a rather complete library and I found this in the Baptismal Service of the CoE’s Common Worship, it is called the Commission;

    To the newly baptized who are able to answer for themselves, a minister may say

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

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

    Will you seek and serve Christ in all people, loving your neighbour as yourself?
    With the help of God, I will.

    Will you acknowledge Christ’s authority over human society, by prayer for the world and its leaders, by defending the weak, and by seeking peace and justice? With the help of God, I will.

    May Christ dwell in your heart(s) through faith, that you may be rooted and grounded in love and bring forth the fruit of the Spirit.

    I would hope that Christians in the CoE are being formed in this service and that these concepts would not be a novelty to them in the near future!

    • Yes – that’s right. Note that it is not used in the C of E for most baptisms as the rubrics indicate it isn’t used when a baby is baptised.

  18. Melissa Holloway says

    Of course, some of us in the U.S. live in the Baptismal Covenant Red Herrring Dioceses. That is, where I receive the Eucharist each week we are pretty much Baptismal Covenant competent, but, for example, if one of my children happened to be gay and felt called to the diaconate or priesthood, my parish/diocese could not support them in that call.

    So seems in Scotland you would get there without the Baptismal Covenant, but here down the road from the Pick’in Parlor we don’t seem to get there with it.

  19. Thanks Melissa for reminding us that the Baptismal Covenant has not led the US church to a universal practice around how to recognize and welcome LGBT people.

    Incidentally, the Pickin’ Parlor was without doubt one of the highlights of my sabbatical.

    Perhaps it is a good time to break for a song.

    Here’s the Sims family (whom I did not hear in person) at the Pickin’ Parlour itself:

  20. Gavin White says

    I thinksome of this comes from redeeming “humanity” not jsut masculinity. That word was not included by accident.

  21. Thanks Kelvin and all for the interesting discussion. As a member of the Episcopal Church in the US, I only ever used the Baptismal Covenant in an argument against the necessity of the proposed Anglican Covenant. For me, the Baptismal Covenant is an assent to the New Covenant of Jesus Christ, so I saw absolutely no need of another covenant. In fact, I don’t see the Baptismal Covenant as something different from the New Covenant.

    With respect to whether Baptism or the Eucharist is a/the sacrament of initiation, wouldn’t the answer be both? In the early church, the person was baptized and received the Eucharist during the same service.

    Also, I wonder if people from other Anglican churches are aware of the great diversity of views held by Episcopalians in the US. That all the orders of ministry should be open to all the baptized seems to me simply a matter of the justice and equality that all Christians should strive for as members of the Body of Christ.

  22. Sorry, I’m posting on Erika’s computer, but the comment above is by me, June Butler (aka Grandmère Mimi).

  23. It’s so refreshing to read a discussion where everyone’s listening and learning through that dialectical process. Here’s my tuppennyworth: the disparaging mention of magic by churchpeople always makes my hackles go up – mostly as our Christian legacy of persecution of wise healers as witches is still largely unacknowledged and certainly unatoned – but also because the RC in me hears this as a facile Protestant jibe against metaphysics (if you want my views on that buzzword look here: ) and though Vat 2 officially u-turned on slavery (yay! who says the RC church can’t change, eventually) it didn’t move away from an essentially sacramental view of Christian ministry.
    I feel that underlying this discussion may be a difference in sacramental theology. I hold the traditional view that through the creation, the incarnation and ongoing sanctification, the Spirit of God is at work metaphysically in the world and that means neither solely spiritually nor physically but betwixt and between. The RC church is just as guilty of virulent hatred of non-clerical women healers as others but the convivial nature of the relationship which sometimes occurs between Roman Catholic and ‘curandero’ (wise traditional healer) in Latin America is for me an affirmation of the ecological connections inherent in both cosmologies – though often forgotten in the RC church it must be said.
    The part of the SEC liturgy I find most alienating is ‘Lord unite us in this sign’. This speaks to me of cognition not communion. In these words I feel the lack of belief in a metaphysical reality. I feel that this discussion may have brought up a similar divide in concept about baptism: is it or is it not efficacious?

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