Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Tracing the Theological Development of the South African Baptismal Rites: The Journey to an Anglican Prayer Book 1989 and Beyond

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Tracing the Theological Development of the South African Baptismal Rites: The Journey to an Anglican Prayer Book 1989 and Beyond

Article excerpt

Over the past century-and-a-half the liturgical, ecumenical, and charismatic movements have given new dimensions of nuance to the continuing debates surrounding the sacraments of baptism and the eucharist. Almost without exception, the eucharistie rites have been the first to be revised. And yet, while baptism elicited just as much heated discussion as the eucharist, contemporary surveys of baptismal liturgies and their development are not as numerous. This essay seeks to begin filling that gap, with particular reference to the Anglican Church of Southern Africa.1 It starts by setting the liturgical scene, continues by examining some of the formative local theological statements and reports concerning baptism, and then discusses the experimental and official liturgies which emerged throughout the twentieth century, culminating in An Anglican Prayer Book 1989. The analyses and discussions show that an ambiguity in the theological understanding of baptism and confirmation rites exists in the current local liturgies and needs to be clarified in future revisions.

Southern Africas Liturgical Inheritance

When Anglicanism first encountered Southern African shores in 1749, it was for a fleeting visit in Cape Town. In that year, a British military chaplain (no doubt en route to India) conducted a 1662 Book of Common Prayer (BCP 1662) service in a local Dutch Reformed Church.2 Nearly half a century later the British occupied the Cape in 1795 on behalf of the Dutch, who worriedly watched the French blazon through their country and feared the loss of their trade routes. Similarly, in 1806 the British returned, defending the Cape for the Dutch, but this time they did not return the colony-instead, they kept it for themselves. It was during this period that a particularly evangelical strain of Anglicanism took a foothold in the Cape. The congregational-like government (sans bishop) upheld a staunch Book of Common Prayer round of Mattins and Evensong on Sundays accompanied by metrical psalms.3 Baptism of infants continued as per normal, and since Anglican missionary work had not begun, there was little need for the service of adult baptism (included for the first time in Anglican liturgies in 1662). The only problematic issue was confirmation, a rite which at that time admitted candidates to the eucharist. Confirmations could only happen sporadically when newly consecrated bishops of Calcutta passed through the Cape on their way to India. It was only in 1847 that a bishop specifically for the Cape was appointed. While the issue of confirmation was thus sorted out, the fiercely independent clergy did not take as kindly to the authority of a bishop.

The Anglican Church of Southern Africa, then called the Church of the Province of South Africa, was duly constituted as an independent church in 1870. In the constitution, which was drawn up in that year, special provision was made in Article X for revision of the Book of Common Prayer. However, all revisions were to be made in the spirit and teachings of the BCP 1662. This constitutional rider seems to have been invoked in certain circumstances, since a variety of reports concerning both baptism and eucharist mention it and are at pains to show how their reforms are within its parameters.4

The mid-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries witnessed a fermentation of new ideas about liturgy, especially in light of the rediscovery of major church orders, such as the Apostolic Tradition (found in 1848) and the Didache (found in 1873). Two other currents in worldwide Anglicanism spurred liturgical experimentation forward: the growth of the Tractarian movement, and the post-World War I concern that there was a lack of congregational involvement in the BCP 1662 rites. Despite the liturgical scholarship which was spurring churches toward reform, old traditions persisted unabated. In the realm of baptism, for example, congregational participation was largely absent. Until the mid-twentieth century in Southern Africa, the majority of baptisms were celebrated as private services for small congregations comprising family and friends after the main service of the day (which tended to be Martins) or later on a Sunday afternoon. …

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