Christian Initiation in the Anglican Communion

Article excerpt

What is common about common prayer? The question is particularly poignant with respect to the rite of baptism, the source of the unity of the church. This article begins by reviewing baptism in the Book of Common Prayer, exploring how this rite was influenced by an ecclesiology rooted in Christendom. An impoverished understanding and practice of baptism is revealed, which serves to ensure social stability rather than initiation into a new way of life. The authors point out the necessity of re-thinking the rite of baptism and baptismal ecclesiology in a post-Christendom context. They propose that a renewed conception depends upon a common liturgical shape and principles of revision, and explore the 1991 report of the IALC which sets forth such principles. Finally, the article examines recent baptismal rites, pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of these revisions. The authors conclude that a sense of community and purpose, defined by "our common baptism," continues to elude the Anglican Communion.

What is common about common prayer? Within the Anglican Communion, the question arises because the 1662 Book of Common Prayer no longer defines our unity. Over the last half-century, most provinces of the Communion have created their own prayer books- as a departure from the colonial expression of Anglicanism, but also in response to the liturgical movement, as an expression of the faith in contemporary language, and in order to address particular local needs and reflect local cultural realities.

If we recognize that our response to scripture and gospel is always conditioned by our culture and worldview, we will not be surprised to find diversity of liturgical expression across a global family of churches. Nevertheless, diversity in rites of initiation must be a matter of special concern, for, as Article XXVII says, baptism is "a sign of Regeneration or New-Birth, whereby, as by an instrument, they that receive Baptism rightly are grafted into the Church." The bishops meeting in Lambeth in 1958, recognizing that prayer book revision was taking place in different parts of the Anglican Communion, called attention "to those features in the Books of Common Prayer which are essential to the safeguarding of our unity: ie. the use of the canonical Scriptures and the Creeds, Holy Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Communion, and the Ordinal."1 Or as Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry states, "Our common baptism, which unites us to Christ in faith, is thus a basic bond of unity."2

What, then, are the criteria for "receiving baptism rightly"? What must be common in "our common baptism"? What degree of diversity in baptismal ritual and practice would impair Christian unity or foster incompatible ecclesiologies?

I. Baptism in the Era of Christendom

One of the most revealing features of the church of Christendom was its impoverished consciousness of baptism, due to the emergence of quam primum infant baptism (which was, in effect, emergency baptism3). This was not only a departure from the church's earlier ordinary practice of celebrating the baptism of both adults and infants at the Easter Vigil or at Pentecost; it was also a practice of baptism that did not initiate into the sacramental body of Christ.4 That is to say, it effectively ended the practice of catechumenal formation; it separated the water rite from the episcopal anointing that followed it ("confirmation," as it came to be called); and this eventually led to the exclusion of the newly baptized from eucharistie participation.5

However, it was more than that: the long-established practice of quam primum baptism virtually eradicated consciousness of the paschal and vocational meaning of baptism; it obliterated the link between baptism and conversion of life; and it undermined the dignity of adult initiation.

Nevertheless, quam primum baptism made sense in the world of Christendom. So long as it was politically desirable that the Christian religion constitute the foundation of the social order, it was obvious that everyone should be baptized; personal choice in the matter would be a threat to the peace. …