Within the Anglican Communion we often see those on the liberal end of the theological spectrum choosing to ignore our formularies and make up their own doctrine on the run.... today though I found an example of a conservative evangelical Anglican Church doing the same thing... Their website makes the following statement:
"Baptism is a sign or a seal. It neither confers God’s grace, nor is it a precondition to receiving God’s grace (his gift of salvation)."
Now, that may seem fairly innocuous and many non Anglican evangelical Christians would have no problem with it... however if you are an Anglican Christian you cannot accept this.
Why? Because those same formularies that we as conservatives so often direct the liberals to, also reject the notion of Baptism being a mere sign with no effect.
Lets look at what those formularies say:
In the 1662 Book of Common Prayer it says in the Catechism (emphasis mine):
Question. How many Sacraments hath Christ ordained in his Church?
Hmmm…. Our friends said “…nor is it a precondition to receiving God’s grace (his gift of salvation)…” But it seems the Book of Common Prayer views it differently, making it clear that Baptism is in fact generally necessary for salvation… there will be exceptions, for example where it was impossible to baptise someone for some reason… but generally it IS necessary.
Question. What meanest thou by this word Sacrament?
The baptism is a sign, yes, but it is a sign of something that is actually happening – in fact it is the means by which that something happens. What is that something? Grace! So our friends have it wrong again when they say: “…It neither confers God’s grace,..”
Question. How many parts are there in a Sacrament?
So Baptism is actually a means by which we receive the grace of God through dying to sin, and being born anew unto righteousness. Our sinful nature is overcome, the wrath of God against us is overcome through his Grace and we are made His children.
It seems Baptism is much more than our friends at this church would have us believe. But lets look a little further shall we? Let’s examine relevant articles from The Articles of Religion – also part of the standard for doctrine in the Anglican Church of Australia - again the emphasis is mine.
XXV. Of the Sacraments.
So we see Article 25 declaring that the sacraments (including Baptism) are not mere ‘tokens’ but are in fact effectual signs of God’s grace being invisibly worked in us… in other words the baptism is the means by which the grace comes.
XXVII. Of Baptism.
Article 27 is clear also – speaking specifically about Baptism, it declares that it is not only a sign of profession, but is in fact the very instrument through which we are grafted into the church – i.e. it is through Baptism that God pours forth the grace of God to adopt us as His children.
It is clear then, from the catechism and Articles that if we are to call ourselves Anglican, that we must hold to the belief that Baptism is not merely a ‘sign or seal’, but that it is in fact an outward and visible sign of the invisible grace of God acting in the soul of the person baptised. Baptism therefore does bestow the grace of God, which leads to us dying to sin and being reborn to righteousness. We are transformed through baptism to become ‘children of grace’ rather than the children of wrath we were born as and for this reason Baptism is generally necessary for salvation.
Then of course in the Nicene Creed we declare that we "acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins"... Through baptism then, our sins are remitted - in other words we acknowledge that God has established Baptism as the primary way in which we receive the Grace of forgiveness bought for us through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. The baptism is not the thing that saves us - we are saved by the grace of God, through faith. However God has given us baptism as a means by which to receive that grace, We are called to put our faith in Jesus, that faith is enough to save us, but Jesus gave us baptism as a way to experience that saving grace in a real, tangible way.
Am I arguing then that someone can be baptised as an infant and then live a life without faith and still be saved? No. Of course not. Baptism pours out grace, the grace of forgiveness and adoption, but just as with any gift (grace means unmerited gift) we need to accept it, and we accept the gift of forgiveness and adoption given in Baptism by putting our faith in Jesus - it is the faith that actually unlocks the grace - it is the faith that saves us. So the baby is baptised in anticipation of their own faith, with promises made to raise that child in the faith of the church. If they as an adult reject the faith, the grace (unmerited gift) they have received is also rejected.
There is a lot of media attention at the moment about the appointment of The Rev Dr John Shepherd as the interim director of the Anglican Centre in Rome. The holder of the position essentially acts as an ambassador of the Anglican Communion to the Holy See - so it is a position of significant importance, and the holder of the post needs to be someone that can represent the official position of the Anglican church in ecumenical dialogue. This should be a person that can be supported by the broad spectrum of Anglican churchmanship - and also by the Vatican.
The problem is that Dr Shepherd is not such a person. Now I want to be clear I do not know Dr Shepherd personally, I do not make judgements about his general character as a man. I'm sure he is a perfectly nice guy - I can however make a judgement, based on his publicly espoused beliefs, that he should not be in this post, and in my opinion, that he should not be in Holy Orders.
Why? Because as reported in multiple places Dr Shepherd does not believe in the most fundamental of Christian doctrines - that Jesus rose from the dead. In fact he has preached this openly - during an Easter service of all places! He has also shared his view in op-ed pieces in the West Australian Newspaper. Why does that matter? Because as St Paul makes it clear in his first letter to the Corinthians:
.... if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. ... And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
Scripture then is clear - the resurrection of Jesus is absolutely fundamental to the Christian faith - and without that resurrection, the Christian faith is simply a waste of time.
So that raises some problems for Dr Shepherd. If he rejects the resurrection, he then declares Christianity and its teaching - as St Paul says useless - and the scriptures to be false.
How then can he even be in holy orders? Surely if he no longer believes the faith he vowed to uphold at his ordination (assuming he believed it then) he should stand down. Yet he doesn't stand down and instead he is rewarded for his blatant heresy, by being put into a high profile representative role.
This of course tells us a couple of things - the process for appointing someone to this significant role is very flawed, and there is also a fundamental problem within the Anglican Communion and within the Anglican Church of Australia which allows clergy who are openly espousing views in direct contradiction to their vows of ordination to not only get away with it, but get promoted into positions of authority and major significance. Dr Shepherd should not have been the Dean of Perth, and he certainly shouldn't be director of the Anglican Centre..
This is not an isolated incident, we have seen this previously with clergy in the Australian church. Rod Bower in Gosford, who as David Ould has reported, openly says Jesus didn't die for our sins, and that there is no such thing as heaven or hell, and also that God isn't a divine being was rather than being disciplined for heresy, made an Archdeacon. I could point to many more.
I have no doubt that there are many Anglican (and other) clergy out there who over time may come to have views contrary to the position of the church. Over non fundamental things this isn't really a problem, but when we find ourselves with clergy who stand up in church each Sunday and recite the Nicene Creed with their fingers crossed because they don't actually believe it, that is unacceptable.
It is unacceptable because it shows an incredible lack of integrity on behalf of the church leadership which stands by and lets these people lie to their congregations, to their colleagues and to the wider society they serve when in leadership roles. It also shows an incredible lack of integrity from those who are happy to continue to stand in front of their congregation each week, and take the stipend (salary) which is paid for through their donations, while not actually believing in, or upholding the faith they vowed to uphold when they were ordained.
To be clear, I am not asking for clergy to be perfect, and I am not asking for everyone to believe and behave identically - The Anglican tradition is broad, and we have room for evangelicals, Anglo-Catholics and Charismatics alike. I understand that there are areas within the Christian faith which are more grey than black and white, and that we can agree to disagree on those, without compromising our faith or the Gospel message. But when an ordained man or woman no longer believes in the fundamentals of the Christian faith, when they can no longer honestly recite the creeds of the church, they need to stand down - and if they won't, then the church leadership needs to deal with it - by removing them from ministry.
Daryl is a priest and chaplain living in regional New South Wales Australia. Learn more on the About page.
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are my own and do not necessarily represent the views of my church or any other organisation I am affiliated with.