There is a Latin phrase that says “lex orandi, lex credenda” which literally translates as the “law of prayer” and the “law of belief.” It is used to express the idea that we pray what we believe and that is why when people have asked me what we as Anglicans believe I say to them, “Come worship with us and you will hear what we believe.” We pray what we believe and we believe what we pray and that is why the Book of Common Prayer is so important to us. It is our theology book as well as our prayer book.
Of course the danger of having a Book of Common Prayer is that we can mouth the words without giving thought to what we are saying. But then again that can also be true of the extemporaneous “Father God we just really….” prayers. So whether or not we have our prayers written down is not the issue, rather if we are truly engaged when we pray. We need to give careful attention to what we are praying since it informs our beliefs.
In particular I am thinking today of what we pray and therefore believe in our baptismal liturgy, this being the occasion that we celebrate our Lord’s baptism. There are some very strong statements in our Prayer Book about what we believe happens here.
When we call for prayers for the baptismal candidate we say, “Let us now pray for this person who is to receive the Sacrament of new birth” p305. By saying that they are to receive the Sacrament of new birth shows that we do not believe that baptism is a symbolic response to already being saved. There is more going on here than that.
As we consecrate the water we say, “Now sanctify this water, we pray you, by the power of the Holy Spirit, that those who here are cleansed from sin and born again…” p. 307. Again you can hear that we do not believe that baptism is a response to what God has already done in the person’s life but rather it is the means that God uses to do something in their life.
And when we offer the concluding prayer we give thanks that God has “bestowed upon this your servant the forgiveness of sin and have raised him to the new life of grace.” p.308.
So we believe that through baptism the person is having a divine encounter with God that causes them to be born again, cleansed from sin and be raised to a new life of grace. Let’s be clear, it is not the mechanical act of the baptism that causes this to happen. It is God the Holy Spirit who causes this to happen based upon His promises. We are saved by grace through faith and not as a result of works; it is a gift of God. The question is how we appropriate that gift. When the people asked Peter that question on the Day of Pentecost he replied, “Repent and be baptized and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” That is what we believe and so that is what we pray.
But this presents us with a challenge. If the Sacrament of baptism is to have us be born again, cleansed from sin and raised to a new life of grace, then why was Jesus baptized? We need to be born again because we are spiritually dead in our transgressions. Jesus was not spiritually dead. We need to be cleansed from sin because all of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Jesus was the sinless Lamb of Go. We need to be raised to a new life of grace but Jesus IS the Way and the Truth and the Life. So why was He baptized as we celebrate today?
One answer in the early church that was labeled a heresy was called Adoptionism. This heresy still exists today and you can hear echoes of it in the new age religions. Adoptionism says that it was at His baptism that Jesus became the Christ, until then he was just Jesus of Nazareth, son of a carpenter. But when He was baptized and the Holy Spirit came upon Him and a voice from heaven declared Him to be God’s Son, that was when Jesus became the Son of God.
This of course has things backwards. Jesus did not become the Son of God rather the Son of God became Jesus. That is what John tells us in his Gospel. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.” What attracts folks to this heresy is the promise of being more than they are. If Jesus was a regular guy and became the Christ then if you give money to the cult or attend their meetings or learn the secret then you too can become godlike. But in reality we will always be like the moon, content to reflect God’s glory but never becoming God.
This puts us back to our original question. Why was Jesus baptized? Jesus answered that question Himself when John objected to baptizing Him. Jesus said that it must be done “to fulfill all righteousness.” An ancient hymn of the Church explained it this way. “Through his baptism our Lord was manifested to the whole world and the waters were sanctified in preparation for our baptism.” (The Hymns of St. Ephrem). Everything that Jesus did was in obedience to the Father and so He was baptized out of obedience. But in His obedience He showed the way for all who would follow Him and through the Great Commission commands that all who will follow would be baptized as He was. He initiated the sacrament of initiation.
But the importance of Jesus’ baptism does not stop there. There are a couple more results of His baptism that informs us what we should expect to be the results of our baptism as well. The two results are manifestation and ministry.
Manifestation. After the story of Jesus as a boy talking with the elders in the temple, the story of His life stops for us. We know nothing about Him until He comes on the scene at the Jordan to be baptized by John. It is here that John would point at him and declare, “Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world.” It was here that the Holy Spirit would be manifest and come to Him like a dove. It was here that the Father would speak from heaven “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” With John’s declaration and these two supernatural events there could be no doubt that this was no mere man. “Through his baptism our Lord was manifested to the world…”
Our baptism, in a similar way, manifests us to the world. When we three times renounce Satan and three times confess Christ, we are declaring to the world and to principalities and powers that we are making a stand. When we go into the waters of baptism it is like the Children of Israel crossing the Red Sea. We are leaving slavery and heading towards the Promised Land and there is no turning back. When we are raised to a new life of grace we have entered His kingdom and become citizens of heaven. Consequently we no longer live like those who are of this world.
I am studying a book with a brother and in this book the author says that we Christians should be maladjusted. I love this expression. What he means by that is that the world has become so desensitized to sin that it has become adjusted to it. But this author said, “Not all Christians are, but all Christians ought to be maladjusted to things like injustice, greed, materialism and racism.” He goes on to say that it takes courage to be maladjusted and to live differently than the culture. He say, “The only way we will ever find this courage is when we discover that we are a community of people who are rooted in another world.” Through baptism we are initiated into that community that is rooted in another world. Through our baptism we are freed to live maladjusted lives and be a testimony to the world.
The other result of Jesus’ baptism is that it launched Him into public ministry. First of course it put Him in contact with Satan, as He was forty days in the wilderness being tempted of the devil.
Over the years I have had to remind quit a few folks that this happened to Jesus because they felt after their baptism or confirmation or some very important commitment to Christ that someone had placed a target on their backs. When you manifest your commitment to Christ and especially when you dedicate yourself to spreading His kingdom then you can expect spiritual opposition. It goes with the territory but we can take comfort with the knowledge that the Scriptures declare “greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world.”
But after the 40 days in the wilderness Jesus engaged in public ministry. As God come to earth He went to the people. He didn’t sit in the temple and wait for them to come to Him. He went to their towns and villages and market places. He attended their weddings and even prevented a couple of funerals.
In a similar way our baptism should launch us into ministry. We are to look and pray for opportunities to love and to serve others. We, as the Scripture says, are to be zealous for love and good deeds.
I think that the Church is going to face some very challenging years ahead. One company that is an expert of church growth highlighted 5 disruptive trends that we will face in 2016. One disruptive trend is that people will use the live streams of worship services as their only contact with the church. I was talking with some Pentecostal preachers who are very concerned about this and I told them one advantage of being an Anglican is that until they figure out how to distribute bread and wine over the Internet we are pretty safe.
But what really got my attention was the comments of one person who said that he has grown more in discipleship and gained more friends via Facebook than he ever did going to church so he has quit going. I would imagine that he is not alone in that view because we read of all the young people who have dropped out of religion.
But what a delusion it is to think that you can be discipled through Facebook or that the people on your friend’s list are actually your friends and not just contacts. Discipleship and friendship requires that we meet with one another; it requires that we serve one another; it requires that we learn from one another, it requires that we love one another; it requires that we forgive one another. Discipleship and friendship requires washing some feet and that can’t be done sitting by yourself and gazing into a smartphone. For God so loved the world He didn’t have a twitter account. He sacrificed all and left glory behind to tabernacle with us. We must leave our comfort zones and tabernacle with others.
I truly believe that a time will come when people will wake up from their fake Internet communitiesand free themselves from slavery to their devices and long for true community. That is when the Church needs to be ready to receive them and to give them the community that they long for. And how do we build that community for them? In part by being engaged in ministry together. It is not just by attending Church; rather it is by being the Church. When we share a common vision and work together in common mission it builds up the Body of Christ. We become like the Band of Brothers who have fought and shared a foxhole together. That builds us into a community.
Billy Crain has spent years reading and studying the Bible and felt called of God to start a Bible Study for folks who are in recovery. He told me they wanted to call it Bible for Dummies because so many of them are just beginning in the faith. Already it is meeting the needs of guys who not only want to learn but want to help and support one another as they grow in the faith. Billy is an example of someone whose baptismal responsibilities have directed him toward ministry.
But doing ministry requires time and energy and effort. You don’t fall into by accident. You prepare and train and pray and practice. It requires, as Jesus showed us, that you have to live into the lives of others. That is what we are called to do.
The Roman Church has added another line to lex orandi, lex credenda. It is “lex vivendi.” They are saying by that, “As we worship, so we believe, so we live.” They are so right on that. If our worship and our beliefs are not impacting our lives then we either are doing it wrong or we have not connected the dots. Let’s take this opportunity, as we reflect on Jesus’ baptism and the implications of our own baptisms, to connect the dots between being given new life and living lives that matter. Let’s live lives that matter because they are in service to God and others. Amen.