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Baptism & Confirmation
The Sacrament of Baptism
A Prayer Book for Australia [pp73-82]
The Anglican Church’s sacrament of Holy Baptism, and notably the baptism of children, is a wonderful occasion during which we have a blessed opportunity to give thanks for the gift of human life and, in particular the life of each child being baptised. How precious a gift is each child; how critical it is that each child is deeply loved and valued; and that we might pray constantly for the gradual unfolding of the gifts and talents which God bestows on each and every child; and that we might pray for all who shall nurture, encourage and protect each child.
The Church’s liturgy or act of worship, in which the actions of Baptism are incorporated, might helpfully be compared to a solemn act of theatre engaging profound things of God. That is, the service of Baptism seeks to express the inexpressible; to make visible and tangible that which cannot be adequately communicated or accommodated just with words; to dare to explore the ground of God’s mysteries and his extravagant, life-breathing love for all; to participate in a multi-sensory experience which embraces the very essence of the meaning of life.For Holy Baptism names and claims, for each person being baptised, God’s gift - extravagantly wrought in love - of relationship with Jesus and God’s gift of the Holy Spirit.
The Christian Church understands that the profound relationship which is God’s gift of Jesus Christ, is one of deep and eternal healing and wholeness, it is a gift which calls us into the grace of God transforming our realities. The Biblically attested story of Jesus tells of God’s love incarnate - God in Christ doing what is necessary and going to where it takes to overwhelm that which would otherwise atrophy and demean each person, that which would destroy us - even death itself. It follows that the Baptismal Service establishes that all who participate directly should affirm their faith in Jesus Christ. The following questions are asked of the Parents and Godparents of the child to be baptised…
From A Prayer Book of Australia [p75]
The priest asks of Parents and Godparents…
Before God and this congregation, you must affirm that you turn to Christ and reject all that is evil:
Do you turn to Christ?
I turn to Christ.
Do you repent of your sins?
I repent of my sins.
Do you reject selfish living, and all that is false and unjust?
I reject them all.
Do you renounce Satan and all evil?
I renounce all that is evil.
Almighty God deliver you from the powers of darkness, and lead you in the light of Christ to his everlasting kingdom. Amen.
Holy Baptism – a theological background
From Holy Scripture, and particularly in the Book Genesis, we learn that eternal God is the creator of human life, that God saw the fruits of His creation and “it was good”, and that God gifted paradise and relationship to humankind. And the extended creation account in the Book Genesis explores the experienced reality that humankind is richly gifted by God; that humanity can readily self-delude as to self-sufficiency, capacity and wisdom; and that humanity can even play god. Humanity can abuse our relationship with God, and with self and with others - relational separation which is classically known as sin.
Sin separates humanity and Divinity. The consequence of that separation is graphically in view as we regard the vision portrayed in Genesis of paradise and intimate relationship with God – lost! The tragedy and blight upon the expectation, potential and quality of human life which is caused by our capacity to separate relationships (sin), is consistently attested in the Old Testament. And the New Testament reveals God’s saving work in Jesus Christ – relationships healed, humanity reborn, perfect unity with Jesus through faith.
God’s saving work, which is exercised under God’s sovereignty, solely according to God’s will and birthed by our loving and gracious God is fully revealed and perfected in the life and work of Jesus.
This very brief reference to God’s salvation history points to God’s unwarranted gift - Jesus Christ. God’s gift is neither imposed nor contractual nor arbitrated but gracious, incarnational and relational. That is, God does not chose to bully nor bargain nor renew a relationship at arms-length but to come amongst us, to embrace our humanity (except for our predisposition to break our relationships) and to go where it takes to overwhelm the consequences of broken relationships - even death itself which is the ultimate experience of separation from God, self and others. In crucifixion Jesus shared our dying – yet His cruelly rendered. In the gift of resurrection God overwhelmed the death of the humanity of Jesus. And critically, the crucifixion and resurrection of the human Jesus reveals and effects a dramatic, transformational change in the human condition. In resurrection, on view is humanity in Christ healed of all that would separate and destroy; humanity fully alive; humanity once again in life-breathing relationship with God and, through God, with each other. The Christian church understands that as we submit to Jesus, as we faithfully open our lives to Jesus so we are filled with God’s Spirit. When this relational unity is perfected we are fully one with Christ, sharing in the fruits of resurrection. Thus experienced the full and true meaning of human life is to be one with Jesus which is life in abundance. Holy Baptism claims this sublime meaning of life.
The first century Christian apologist Irenaeus crisply captured much of this in his classic aphorism - “The glory of God is ‘’humankind’’ fully alive.” Christian Baptism is a God moment which we dramatically make visible and honour; which is intentionally informed by the gathering of family and friends around the precious child and upon which the ministry of the Church prays the sustaining gift of God’s Holy Spirit. This is a truly an other-wordly experience worthy of the focus, time and commitment given by all who participate.
The Sacrament of Confirmation
Hopefully it is abundantly clear that Infant Baptism focuses upon the loving nature and saving work of God in Christ and the presence of a precious child for whom God’s gift of Jesus is named and claimed. It is a God moment which does not require intellectual participation by the child but does require intentional, faithful participation by significant adults in the life of the child and assent by parents and Godparents to the nature and obligations of Baptism.
Not unlike Christian marriage, the sacrament of Holy Baptism does not create God’s love but names and claims it, making that extraordinary truth at least partially visible; and solemnly invites caring adults to model, encourage and instruct their beloved child about Jesus. And we pray that the time then comes when the person baptised is able to make adult decisions about God and freely seeks to assent to a mature relationship with Jesus Christ - the relationship announced, named and claimed on the occasion of Holy Baptism.
When the time comes for a mature and baptised candidate to seek a personal relationship with Jesus, that is, to turn to Jesus in penitence and faith, to take upon himself or herself the promises made at Holy Baptism and embark upon an intentional faith journey, the Christian Church will gladly prepare the candidate for Confirmation. In that sacrament the Bishop will lead each candidate through the Service of Confirmation as published in A Prayer Book for Australia. The candidate will be invited freely, willingly and intentionally to respond to the same questions answered by Parents and Godparents at Holy Baptism. Additionally the Bishop will ask of each Confirmation candidate…
“Will you each, by God’s grace, strive to live your whole life as a disciple of Christ, loving God with all your heart, and your neighbour as yourself?”
The candidate is called to respond … “I will, with God’s help.”
Adult Baptism and Confirmation
The preceding material focuses upon the path for the young …from God’s gift of the birth of a child, to naming and claiming God’s gift of Christ in Holy Baptism, to a mature and intentional embrace of the gift of Jesus and a public expression of faith through Confirmation.
Clearly the path to Holy Baptism and Confirmation is different for an adult, that is, a person who can take responsibility for personal decisions. In these circumstances the critical dynamic is that the adult chooses freely and gladly to claim and commit to a mature relationship with Jesus with all attendant responsibilities and blessings.
Consider the Biblical background to this dynamic. In the Book Genesis we behold eternal, creator God who extravagantly and loving creates humankind and sets His beloved creation in paradise and guiless, intimate relationship. But we choose to do our own thing and defy God; to offend and breach the God-given relationship; to claim self-sufficiently and an idolatrous position which worships self and not God. And so follows, as told in the Old Testament, human history separated from God and humankind boldly taking control of its own circumstances and destiny. It may be reasonable to observe that the human condition in our own time and under our own governance and according to human precepts and wisdom is vexed, dangerous, finite and replete with acts of darkness and destruction and hopelessness.
But the burden of the New Testament transforms our possibilities through God who initiates freely and graciously. God, in the life of Christ, passionately and sacrificially chooses to participate in our dying and to overwhelm that death in the gift of new beginnings. Thus is God’s meaning for life which is and who is Jesus, crucified, resurrected, one with us even through the grave and restoring intimacy, paradise, life and relationship perfected in unity and Godly abundance which is life perfected. And here is the nub for adults in Baptism and Confirmations. God acts freely and selflessly and respectfully, lovingly yearns that we respond in the same state of freedom and selflessness!