From a Sermon on the Baptism of Our Lord.
In closing, I draw your attention to pg. 304 of the Book of Common Prayer. I will be honest. My one major, major hang up about the current prayerbook is the heading on pg. 304, which is referred to as the Baptismal Covenant. This are the promises that are made at Baptism. I say that this term is a bit of a linguistic hang up for me personally-and I usually have to grit my teeth when I am doing a baptism and we come to this part-because I believe frankly, the term "Baptismal Covenant" is wrong, or perhaps it is better to say somewhat misleading.
Most people today hear the term covenant and think of something like a Marriage covenant or a covenant that runs with land, a solemn agreement between two people to do or not to do something that is formally laid out in the wording of the covenant. That is not what baptism is about.
Baptism, according the teaching in the back of the Prayerbook, is "Holy Baptism is the sacrament by which God adopts us as his children and makes us members of Christ's Body, the Church, and inheritors of the kingdom of God. " And a Sacrament is defined as, "outward and visible sign of inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace."
Grace is a free gift from God...it is not something that is earned or deserved. It is not something that we can get by our own merit. A free gift has no strings attached. That's why it is grace and not merit.
If you look at the wording of the Baptismal Covenant, we seem to be making God's grace in baptism contingent on things we are agreeing to do, that somehow if we fail to do these things, then the Covenant of Baptism is broken or void. In other words, Baptism is contingent upon our doing these things and therefore is not a free gift from God, as if Baptism is a quid pro quo agreement. This is why I always cringe when we come to this part of the Baptismal liturgy because I fear the message we are sending is undercutting the message of God's Free Gift of Grace. Free is free. Why are we attaching strings and making grace conditional?
I always have to remember that the concept of Covenant in the Bible is also synonymous with Testament. We can always say Old Testament/New Testament or Old Covenant/New Covenant. I would argue the Book of Common Prayer should properly label these vows as the Baptismal Testament-that we are testifying to God's Grace-God's free gift by believing these things and doing these things, not that our baptism or salvation is contingent solely on what we do or believe.
In returning to my original statement of merging Epiphany and the Baptism of our Lord, I remind you of your Baptism-the free gift from God of which you testify to in your Baptismal Testament, and also to remember the story of the Three Wise Men-the story of Geography.
Racism and discrimination divide and wound the one body of Christ, the Church, a body which Christ calls to be lovingly, harmoniously unified in its rich diversity. On this feast both of the Epiphany and of the Baptism of our Lord, we’re reminded that Jesus loves everyone, and that everyone should be loved, by those who follow Jesus.
Let us now renew our Baptismal Testament, with the form on pg. 304...