Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

By Water and the Holy Spirit: Baptism and Confirmation in Anglicanism

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

By Water and the Holy Spirit: Baptism and Confirmation in Anglicanism

Article excerpt

The work of the Holy Spirit is expressed in widely varying ways in contemporary Anglican worship. In congregations influenced by the charismatic renewal of the late twentieth century, vivid expressions of the power of the Spirit abound-praise music with worshipers raising their hands and swaying to the music, healing and other extemporaneous intercessory prayer with laying on of hands, testimony by worshipers, speaking in tongues. At the other end of the spectrum, no special attention is given to the power of the Spirit in worship. For example, mention of the Spirit in the invocation in the eucharistic prayer is formulaic and appears unremarkable: Eucharistic Prayer A simply states, relative to the bread and wine, "sanctify them by your Holy Spirit to be for your people the Body and Blood of your Son ..... (BCP 1979, p. 363).

Yet all Christian worship is-or ought to be-Spirit-filled. It is the Spirit who inspires our praise of God and brings us into the divine life, that is, into the mystery of God revealed in Christ. The entire act of worship is empowered by the Holy Spirit, and through the Spirit, we are drawn into participation in God's triune life.1

In Anglican worship, the texts of the liturgy ensure that there is reference to the Spirit. But mention of the Spirit in the rites of baptism and confirmation did not stop Anglicans from a prolonged debate, beginning in the late nineteenth century, about how and even whether the Spirit is at work in those rites. While this may seem to be an arcane theological controversy, it has implications not only for our understanding and practice of baptism and confirmation, including the role of the bishop wn those rites, but also for decisions about who may the admitted to communion and how we approach questions of empowerment for ministry.

The Seal of the Spirit

The 1979 Book of Common Prayer makes a bold claim about baptism: "Holy Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ's Body the Church" (p. 299). The assertion that baptism is full initiation and includes the work of the Spirit was a direct response to the protracted Anglican controversy about the role of the Holy Spirit in baptism and confirmation. While the debate was engaged far more vigorously in England than on the American side of the Atlantic, the Drafting Committee on Christian Initiation was well aware of the scholarly arguments and considered them carefully as they developed a new initiatory rite for the Episcopal Church.

The "Mason-Dix line"2 made a sharp distinction between baptism of water, which provided cleansing from sin, and baptism of the Spirit, bestowed through the imposition of hands. In its most extreme form, this view insisted that the Spirit was operative not in baptism but in confirmation, the seal of the Spirit that completed Christian initiation. Gregory Dix's distinction between baptism of water and baptism of the Spirit was rebutted by Geoffrey Lampe, who argued in The Seal of the Spirit3 that the indwelling gift of the Spirit is one aspect of the Christian's participation in the resurrection life of Christ that is begun in baptism.

Though few were willing to go as far as Dix in denying any action of the Spirit in water-baptism, his two-stage understanding of initiation is evident in several publications widely used in the Episcopal Church during the 1950s and 1960s.4 Lampe's position, on the other hand, received far less attention. When in 1964 Massey Shepherd proposed a single initiatory rite, for infants or adults, with the bishop presiding, he described this as reintegrating baptism, confirmation and admission to communion, although he did not discuss the work of the Spirit in the rite.5 Leonel Mitchell, who had recently completed his doctoral dissertation on baptismal anointing, made a similar proposal.6

These and other proposals for a unified rite of initiation informed the work of the Drafting Committee on Christian Initiation from the beginning of prayer book revision in 1967, in part because Mitchell was a member of the committee throughout the process. …

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