Jane Shaw: The bond of baptism means we have no need for a new 'essential' Anglican covenant

There is much talk at present in the Anglican communion of a new covenant to bind us together. This is seen as a solution to our problems, to our disagreements about homosexuality. Some argue that we just need to agree to certain new “essentials”. But many of us hesitate to embrace such a covenant because we already have a covenant: our baptismal covenant. That is how we are joined together and it is based on the long-established “essentials”: the historic creeds. From the very earliest days of Christianity, baptism marked that moment when men and women assented to the Christian essentials – one God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit – and came into relationship with those who shared this belief in the creator God, the risen Christ and the Spirit who sustains us daily. Baptism is therefore the foundation of our identity as Christians. With Paul’s words to the Galatians in our memories, we hesitate to assent to a covenant in which there will be a new distinction between lay and ordained by handing over decision-making power to the Anglican primates. Having made our assent to the historic creeds, we hesitate to create new “essentials” about an issue – homosexuality – that may be purely of this moment.

Let me suggest another response to the Anglican crisis. All we really have to do in the midst of this crazy church dispute is be awake to our relationship with a loving God.

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, Anglican Covenant, Baptism, Sacramental Theology, Theology

38 comments on “Jane Shaw: The bond of baptism means we have no need for a new 'essential' Anglican covenant

  1. samh says:

    The premise is sound. The devil, as they say, is in the details. People are using the same words to mean different things. Shaw says we have all that we need already, but clearly the status quo is not working. It’s insane to think that we can keep things the way they are, and keep doing the things we’re doing, and expect a different result. Who gets to decide what the baptismal covenant is? Who gets to decide what it means? Who gets to decide how much of the Creed can be eliminated or become optional?

  2. NWOhio Anglican says:

    ISTM that she’s setting up a straw person. The proposed covenant isn’t going to say anything about homosexuality per se, from what I’ve seen. But it will say a great deal about the difference between autonomy and autocephaly, and the foundation of Anglican Christianity on both God’s Word written and God’s Word Incarnate.

    More specifically, I think that it might have something to say about provinces that are asked, begged, and finally warned not to do something by the rest of the communion, which go ahead and do it anyhow.

  3. hossg says:

    [blockquote] because we already have a covenant: our baptismal covenant[/blockquote]
    This is one of the worst, of many, offenses against logic & integrity current among the reappraisers. Beyond the Apostles’ Creed there is no common text of a Baptismal Covenant amongst Anglicans.

    The 1979 BCP version of the BC is a fair contender for the root of the break between historic catholicism and the Church of General Convention.

    WILT thou then obediently keep God’s holy will and commandments, and walk in the same all the days of thy life?
    Answer. I will.[/blockquote]

    turned into five questions in 1979:
    [blockquote]Celebrant Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers ?
    People I will, with God’s help.

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

    Celebrant Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
    People I will, with God’s help.

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

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

    It is this last of which the reappraisers are so fond. Saying that telling homosexually oriented persons that they cannot be expected to live chastely out-side of Holy Matrimony is respecting their dignity, they ascribe “dignity” to fallen human nature which has by Scripture, tradition and reason only been attributable to that part of the divine image and likeness given to us before the fall and redeemed by the Cross.

  4. Virgil in Tacoma says:

    One thing that attracted me to the Episcopal Church, was that it didn’t have a “Book of Concord” that defines doctrine down to its toenails. I liked the ability to be flexible in the interpretation of doctrinal propositions. Of course, one can interpret doctrine into nonexistence, but one can also correlate ancient doctrine with modern philosophical categories keeping the essence of the ancient doctrine. while keeping the doctrinal structures current with modern thinking. This process isn’t perfect, but it has never been so.

  5. Newbie Anglican says:

    I’ve met Dr. Shaw, and she is a gracious woman. And I just so happened to attend New College’s first choral service of the term Friday and look forward to attending frequently. (Yes, the choir is sounding great!)

    But I’m afraid this letter is typical of a tendency of reappraisers to make an idol out of baptism. Forgive me if I’m slightly crass here, but as important as baptism is, getting one’s head wet does not make one faithful or orthodox and is a thin reed indeed upon which to rest Christian unity.

    And as far as saying the words of the baptismal covenant . . . well, we all know The Episcopal Church’s track record on keeping their word.

  6. Rolling Eyes says:

    “All we really have to do in the midst of this crazy church dispute is be awake to our relationship with a loving God.”

    That’s precious. But, she forgot about the part where she buys the world a Coke and teach it harmony.

    I agree with #1. What she says isn’t wrong or bad in concept. Few people would agree with her on those terms, but concepts aren’t always reality. And reality in this case is much more complicated, and is way past such naiveté.

  7. Virgil in Tacoma says:

    #3…as far as belief is concerned, Anglicanism holds that the Nicene Creed is a sufficient statement of the Christian faith. The Apostles’ Creed is not one of the universally recognized Christian creeds. It is popular in the West as a baptismal statement of faith.

    Some of the older versions of the Book of Common Prayer tend to emphasize our Calvinist heritage. As a non-Calvinist I tends to like the way the 1979 BCP puts the baptismal covenant. However, a Calvinist should be able to interpret the baptismal covenant in a Calvinist way.

  8. Jennifer says:

    Baptismal Covenant? Isn’t TEC the church where people may receive communion without having been baptized? Reappraisers play this up mightily for now, saying this is what binds us all together, but it doesn’t all bind us together if we no longer require it within our own churches. I’m afraid I just don’t get it.

  9. Adam 12 says:

    This is, of course, a golden calf that makes no demands upon us, unlike the God of Moses with his stone tablets and demand for painful obedience to the Truth. Or even the 1979 prayer book rite, which demands faithfulness to the Apostles’ teaching…Coke anyone?

  10. Philip Snyder says:

    I say that we enforce the Baptismal covenent and as soon as someone can show me where blessing same sex unions is found in Holy Scripture on the Teaching of the Apostles, then I will support it. Until that time, to bless same sex unions is to depart from the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship.

    Phil Snyder

  11. Irenaeus says:

    And the revisionist Baptismal Covenant is once again off and running!

    See Jane run. See Jane tell us to sit back and think grateful thoughts about our baptism. Sit gratefully. Think about our baptism.

    Do you want to be a priest in this diocese? Too bad you attended Trinity or Nashotah. Very bad. Don’t bother applying. Go think about your baptism.

    And you, my friend. Have you really been elected a bishop? Too bad. Too bad you question WO. Too bad you don’t fully “accept” VGR. Very bad. Go sit in the corner and think about your baptism.
    _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

    BAPTISMAL COVENANT (From the Revisionist_Dictionary)
    For Progressives, two related ideas: first, that baptism irrevocably confers good standing in the church so that neither “sinful” conduct nor heterodox belief disqualifies any baptized person from holding church office; and second, that baptized persons need not trouble themselves about “sin,” repentance, and amendment of life. “A moratorium on ordaining noncelibate homosexuals would betray our baptismal covenant.”

  12. Irenaeus says:

    “If you are walking in the light, there is no harking back, the past is transfused into the present wonder of communion with God. If you get out of the light you become a sentimental Christian and live on memories, your testimony has a hard, metallic note. Beware of trying to patch up a present refusal to walk in the light by recalling past experiences when you did walk in the light. Whenever the Spirit checks, call a halt and get the thing right, or you will go on grieving Him without knowing it.”
    —Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest (for August 13)

  13. Craig Goodrich says:

    [blockquote]”This is my daughter, my son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”[/blockquote]

    OK, so Jesus was just the First Guy to teach that God is love, exclusively and without remainder, and sin is just a state of mind. God is “well pleased” with us, permanently and irrevocably. How very, very nice.

    [blockquote]The Rev Canon Dr Jane Shaw is dean of divinity, chaplain and fellow of New College, Oxford[/blockquote]

    … and some still wonder why the Communion is having problems…

  14. azusa says:

    1. It’s strange that Dr Shaw, as an American working as a college chaplain in England, doesn’t seem to realize that tec-speak about ‘baptismal covenant’ means nothing to non-techies.
    2. Her ‘exposition’ of the meaning of baptism wholly misses the point, that baptism is first of all our incorporation into Christ on the basis of his Cross-work and our repentance. Nowhere does she recognize this primary point.

  15. Nikolaus says:

    The American Baptismal Covenant has been around for a few decades. Perhaps the Reverend Canon Doctor Jane Shaw could explain why the Baptismal Covenant didn’t prevent the train wreck in the first place. Perhaps she can also explain why so many revisionists hold the Baptismal Covenant in such high esteem that we don’t need any other covenant, yet they simultaneously debase Baptism by claiming it is exclusionary and should not be required before Holy Communion.

  16. Dave B says:

    The Rev Canon Dr. Jane Shaw misses the point that this is NOT ABOUT HOMOSEXUALS!! This is about the authority of scripture, historical Christianity, mutual respect among Primates and Bishops.

  17. D. C. Toedt says:

    One could argue that the baptismal covenant should consist, in its entirety, of a promise to follow the Summary of the Law: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Jesus himself is reported to have said that if we do this, we will live eternally, then expounded that “neighbor” means everyone who crosses our path, not just our (Luke 10.25-37).

    The 1979 BCP baptismal covenant could perhaps be read as an attempt to paraphrase the Summary of the Law for contemporary English speakers — taking into account that “love” (at least as understood in common English) is not volitional, and therefore you cannot truthfully promise to “love” God and your neighbor, whereas you can promise to conduct your life as though you loved them.

  18. Bob from Boone says:

    I’m in one of my picky moods: Paul in Gal. 3:28 DID NOT WRITE “neither male nor female”! He wrote “not ‘male and female’,” a direct reference to Genesis 1:27, whose (Septuagint) language he has used. There are implications of Paul’s deliberate reference here that hardly ever get thought through, thanks in part to this common misquotation.

    The Anglican Communion already has a Covenant. It’s called the Lambeth Quadrilateral, and in my view the AC doesn’t need any more than this. And, contrary to repeated denials, this present conflict IS about homosexuality. All one has to do is read the repeated commentary from African bishops and primates to see how obsessed they are with the matter. As central as the Baptismal Covenant is, it constitutes a pan-Christian covenant, and is not a specifically Anglican covenant.

  19. Ian Montgomery says:

    Many years ago during my college ministry a Mormon student was converted through the college ministry and wanted to become a card carrying member of the Episcopal Church, for whom I was the chaplain. Upos inquiry with the Bishop and the Canon to the Ordinary it was decided that she had been baptised in the name of the Trinity, albeit in an heretical sect, and thus could not be baptised by me. She was received into the Episcopal Church.

    My point is – who is included under a so called baptismal covenant? The TEC new revelation re baptismal covenant is not a covenant unless it is into the Apostolic Church and Faith, and then it is not a Covenant as we find in Nehemiah as between a community and thereby making a detailed commitment to and before God. We are people of the New Covenant in Jesus Christ. That does not require any quaint TEC formularies that are so subject to distortion – as we find amongst the proponent of thei new theology that has so disrupted us.

    In the end I stand by the Thirty Nine Articles under which I was ordained and to which most of the Anglican Communion subscribes. The current Covenant process is designed to help us cohere as Anglicans and to be an interdependent communion rhather than a federation. Under such a Covenant we will – God willing – not be subject to a whole province going rogue as has done TEC.

    Dream on – I have effectively now given up on the Western versions of Anglicanism. Come on the robust transforming Christianity of our Global South leaders.

  20. Br_er Rabbit says:

    If the “Bond of Baptism” is all we need, then why don’t we just chuck it all and become Baptists?

  21. AnglicanFirst says:

    Bob from Boone said
    All one has to do is read the repeated commentary from African bishops and primates to see how obsessed they are with the matter. ”

    No Bob,
    The issue of Robinson’s ordination as an Anglican bishop actively engaged in a homosexual relationship was presented to the Anglican Communion as a radical departure from “the Faith once given.”

    Robinson’s diocesan election, convention approval and consecration by the presiding bishop of ECUSA was a direct assertion by ECUSA of its autonomy in creedal, doctrinal and broad canonical matters.

    This expression of autonomy directly challenged the collegial Christian brotherhood of the bishops of the Anglican Communion.

    The orthodox bishops of the Communion are extremely concerned about the departure of affluent and self-indulgent Anglicans in the United States and Canada from the verities of “the Faith once given.”

    As has been said over and over again, homosexuality is only a presenting symptom of a deep spiritual sickness within ECUSA and the Church of Canada.

  22. chiprhys says:

    The Anglican Communion already has a Covenant. It’s called the Lambeth Quadrilateral, and in my view the AC doesn’t need any more than this.

    I beg to differ. The Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral is no covenant. It was also never intended to define Anglicanism. Instead the Quadrilateral so call was intended primarily to call fellow Christians into ecumenical dialogue.

    1. Our earnest desire that the Saviour’s prayer, “That we all may be one,” may, in its deepest and truest sense, be speedily fulfilled;

    This appeal to the Quadrilateral as a covenant is as flawed as is an appeal to the Baptismal Covenant as an Anglican covenant.

  23. BrianInDioSpfd says:

    [blockquote] Acts 2:42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. [/blockquote]

    [blockquote]Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers ?[/blockquote]
    Since some reappraisers do not appear to continue in the apostles’ teaching, perhaps it would seem that they may have renounced this baptismal covenant. What might that mean for our life together?

  24. Craig Goodrich says:

    Bre_er R #20:[blockquote]If the “Bond of Baptism” is all we need, then why don’t we just chuck it all and become Baptists?[/blockquote]

    A word from Lord Occam: If the “Bond of Baptism” is all we need, then why don’t we just chuck it all?

    After all, it’s permanent forgiveness, sin is an outdated concept, you’re forever [i]in[/i] once the water hits you, so why not sleep in on Sunday?

  25. Rocks says:

    I wonder how TEC, and Anglicanism if it follows, will continue to justify infant baptism and still adhere to this so-called baptismal covenant. Infant baptism is primarily justified as for the remission of sins, etc NOT as a confession which is what made a Confirmation necessary as a confessional covenant. A Covenant is a binding. How can an infant logically be bound. No infant, regardless of God parent representatives, can logically make a confessional covenant so there is no logical way for TEC to maintain that it is. Does TEC still do Confirmations? If they do why is one needed if their baptismal covenant is what they say it is?

  26. Libbie+ says:

    I want to respond/add to Craig Goodrich’s comments at #13 & #24. We, in the Diocese of the Rio Grande, had to meet with KJS a week and a half ago at our annual clergy conference. We understood that she would talk first and then answer questions. Instead, we began with an ‘exercise’ in which we were to consider ourselves to be ‘Beloved of God, in whom He is well-pleased’ (she said she often does this — I’m sure to reduce tension and hostility in the room). This, in contrast, she said, to thinking of ourselves as sinners. She said that this statement about being Beloved was in the baptismal service (someone reminded her that it was not), and wasn’t it so much better to think of ourselves in that way, she asked: it wouldn’t lead us to violence in language and action. Some of us felt as though we were being hypnotized with her low, ‘soothing’ voice. (And someone actually thanked her afterward for the soothing character of her voice — just what this person needed, he said.) It was an extremely painful experience — but again, the reason I include this is just to bear witness to another up-close and personal encounter with this idea of Christian identity being based on the baptismal covenant. In this I so agree with # 5/
    Newbie Anglican: your ‘crassness’ is refreshing truth. The view that places so much emphasis on baptismal covenant (it’s true: it’s a golden calf) neglects a healthy doctrine of sin, a clear, realistic view of ourselves as creatures. And we need that in order to navigate wisely in this fallen world! Sadly, neglecting sin points us directly to more and more violence in language and in action. Thinking of ourselves as sinners AND as beloved of God is what we’re called to — these are not mutually exclusive, as a couple people in the room pointed out. The PB and others who stand with her have no subtlety of thought. They bash us over the head with a baptism covenant we don’t recognize.

  27. Newbie Anglican says:

    Thanks, Libbie.

  28. rob k says:

    No. 4 – VIT – Can you provide a concrete example of your assertion that ancient doctrine can be correlated with modern philosophical categories? Not necessarily disagreeing with you, by the way. I do disagree with you that it’s OK to hold a Calvinistic doctrine of Baptism in Anglicanism, if by that you mean that Regeneration is not imparted by the Sacrament. As far as the idea of covenant goes, isn”t the Nicene Creed as understood by the undivided Catholic Church, along with the 7 Councils of the undivided Church, sufficient?

  29. Hakkatan says:

    This woman teaches in England — the 1662 BCP has no “Baptismal Covenant” as in the American 79 BCP. Does the English Book of Alternative Services have a baptismal covenant similar to the American book? I do not think that many, if any, Churches in the Anglican Communion have a covenant like that in the US.

    I like our covenant. In fact, I wrote a twelve part Bible study based on the covenant to use for confirmation preparation. The trouble is that many interpret the covenant from the perspective solely of the final question of the covenant while using a non-biblical definition of justice to frame the meaning of that last question. If you begin at the beginning, and frame the last few questions in the light of the renunciations and affirmations addressed to the candidate and the historic understanding of the Apostles Creed, you get an orthodox understanding of justice.

    Those who do not want a stated covenant for the Communion, with a clear statement of convictions about the authority and reliability of the Scriptures, for the most part do not want anything that will bind them to a historic understanding of the Christian faith.

  30. mathman says:

    Sorry. Speaking as mathman, this does not compute.
    a) There is no covenant of baptism. The New Covenant was brought into being by the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. that is why the New Testament is so named. The Old Covenant was delivered to Moses on Mount Sinai and involved the commandments on how one should live (The Law).
    b) There was no guarantee under the Old Covenant of anything. One was promised forgiveness for certain named sins, provided that certain iterated sacrifices were performed.
    c) There is no guarantee under the New Covenant. There is a promise. Repent from dead works to serve a living God, consider yourself dead to sin and alive to Christ, endure to the end, and you will be saved. And if you walk in repentance and newness of life, you will get help from the Holy Spirit.
    d) Baptism is a sign (or sacrament) in the same way that the Eucharist is a sign (or sacrament). As one can take the Eucharist unworthily (see I Cor), one can also take Baptism unworthily. You are my disciples if you do as I have commanded you, Jesus said.
    e) If this is the best that can be done these days for theology, we are sunk without a trace.

  31. Sherri says:

    We are people of the New Covenant in Jesus Christ. That does not require any quaint TEC formularies that are so subject to distortion

    Especially, as others have noted, when TEC puts all its eggs in a “baptismal covenant” then makes baptism itself optional.

    There hasn’t been a baptism at my church in a long time and I had not actually attended a baptism until a year ago in a church in another city. I found the language very weak – so I wasn’t surprised to learn that this is what revisionists seem to value most in the BCP.

    Of course, it has the revisionist hallmark as Virgil (#7) notes – limitless interpretability.

  32. Libbie+ says:

    Bravo, Mathman!! I like your solid reasoning! Makes my Reformed heart sing!!

  33. Dale Rye says:

    With all due respect, what #30(c) describes and #32 applauds is not Reformed theology (either Calvinist or non-Calvinist, Anglican or non-Anglican), because it makes salvation contingent on human action (“Repent from dead works to serve a living God, consider yourself dead to sin and alive to Christ, endure to the end, and you will be saved”). It is, certainly, a good description of the soteriology of the most popular form of Evangelical Protestantism; however, Calvin himself and the moderate Calvinists who dominated the writing of the 39 Articles would have called it salvation by works. We are saved by Divine Grace [b]alone[/b] and any meritorious service to the living God can only be a response to our predestined salvation, not its effective cause. From God’s standpoint, the saved are in fact “beloved of God” (see #26) and the fact that they were (and are in this life) also engaged in “dead works” is beside the point.

  34. John Wilkins says:

    Libby+, I don’t know if we deny that we are sinners. I do think we might have different understandings of what our depravity is. The incarnation does tend to place sin in a different place for us now (if historically Jesus did die for our sins, and it has some real consequence for the world).

    The cross revealed something about the nature of our sin. What was that again? Explain it to me in language that matters to me, today, right before I go to the gym.

  35. Rolling Eyes says:

    #34: “I don’t know if we deny that we are sinners.”

    Um, shouldn’t you? Wouldn’t that be one of the biggies you’d want to nail down one way or the other?

  36. John Wilkins says:

    Rolling eyes – please give me a break. Really. A little charity.
    Charity is what I was expressing in my response. I did not say, “Libby, you fool we reappraisers believe in Sin.”

    this is a rhetorical note: Your note is an example of how a dialogue deteriorates. A charitable inquiry might be, “how is sin real for you” instead of being satisfied with the fairly common caricatures we make of each other. I can name “Sin” Rolling Eyes, it is framed very clearly in the way you responded.

    Dr. Shaw makes some serious points, none of which are dealt with directly. I chose, alas, to confront Libby, who found some way to find the PB’s calmness infuriating.

    What I find frustrating is we keep expeting the PB to essentially offer a 300 page book on systematics to assuage our own anxieties. I submit that Libby’s anxieties about the PB are, in fact, representations of her own sin that she has to confront first, as they inhibit her from hearing the Holy Spirit. This is where Libby has it right. We are all depraved. It is possible that the PB has thought through this quite well, but has chosen to begin at a different starting point. Say, the starting point of the reality of the resurrection, which, in historical time, changed how the world has to understand and live with its sin. Otherwise, the resurrection is just one more universal “idea” that requires assent, making it just like any other religion. It changed things, or it didn’t, for believers and unbelievers alike.

    Sin is found in our hostility to one another. And in the careful ways we justify it to ourselves.
    Peace be with you. Through Jesus.

  37. Libbie+ says:

    I still don’t understand, #36/JW, what your understanding of sin and the resurrection is. It sounds vague. Could you say a little more?

  38. Libbie+ says:

    And #33/DR, you are right, of course. As I read aloud #30/Mathman’s item ‘c’ to my husband tonight, after responding earlier today, we also thought it was lacking in salvation by faith alone (God’s divine grace! — and then the generous gift/grace of the Holy Spirit) — but I give him the benefit of the doubt. I was glad to hear him talk about the covenants and distinguish them from the sacraments — as opposed to where so many reappraisers seem to be headed with their over-emphasis on baptism. You, of course, use the much tighter theological terminology of Calvinism — and I’m glad for that, too. Thank you for your comment.