Monday, July 16, 2012

The Life of the Spirit (Baptismal Covenant, part 5)

Q.3 Celebrant  Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?
People   I believe in the Holy Spirit,
    the holy catholic Church,
    the communion of saints,
    the forgiveness of sins,
    the resurrection of the body,
    and the life everlasting.

Q.4 Celebrant  Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and
  fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the
People   I will, with God’s help.

(The fifth installment in the Baptismal Covenant series)

The first two questions of the Baptismal Covenant frame the portable narrative in which everything that follows makes sense. It is true that Q.3 is the third article of the Apostles' Creed, but it breaks the narrative a bit, already making the leap from Christ's Ascension into the present, calling us to believe in the holy catholic Church, the ever-present communion of all those called by Christ living and dead, the Church's ongoing ministry of the forgiveness of sin, the future resurrection of all people, and the hope of everlasting life.

This is where the rubber hits the road, and we begin to see that the Baptized Life isn't only shaped by a narrative of what God has done in the past. We begin to see that the Baptized Life is the Life of the Spirit.

The Catechism asks how we can recognize the presence of the Holy Spirit. Its answer is succinct and helpful: "We recognize the presence of the Holy Spirit when we confess Jesus Christ as Lord and are brought into love and harmony with God, with ourselves, with our neighbors, and with all creation" (BCP 852-53). In other words, we can recognize the presence of the Holy Spirit in confession and reconciliation.

And what else but confession and reconciliation does Q. 4 of the Baptismal Covenant talk about? We are asked if we will continue in the Apostles' teaching and fellowship, the breaking of the bread, and the prayers. The Apostles' teaching, so ably summarized in the Apostles' Creed, revolves around the confession of Jesus Christ as Lord. Every week in the Eucharist, we confess this same faith in the words of the Nicene Creed. The Holy Spirit's work in our lives is more than confessing the faith of the Apostles, but it is not less.

But confessing the faith is not enough - the demons do that and tremble. No, the Catechism rightly points out that the Spirit brings us into love and harmony with God, ourselves, our neighbors, and with all creation. Faith without the work of love is dead. The Covenant asks us not only to continue in the Apostles' teaching but also in their fellowship, a fellowship constituted by the breaking of bread and the prayers. In the fellowship of the Apostles, we come to worship God rightly and practice hospitality with ourselves and others as the reconciled and reconciling priesthood of God.

Some will say that the presence of the Holy Spirit is necessarily either prophetic or ecstatic. There are many in our churches that claim the authority of the Holy Spirit to speak prophetically, that is, to speak about justice issues in the public square. There are also many who tie the presence of the Holy Spirit directly to ecstatic experience of one sort or another. Both speaking prophetically and ecstatic spiritual experience are rightly understood as a sign of the Spirit's presence, but they are not enough in themselves. Either one becomes dangerous when they are disconnected from confession and reconciliation, the very basic evidences of the Spirit's life.
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
- 1 Cor 13:1-3
What else is there left to conclude? The Life of the Baptized is the Life of the Spirit of God. When we, with God's help, live into our baptismal promises by confessing Christ as Lord and being reconciled with God, ourselves, neighbor, and the earth, we can be assured that the Spirit of God is dwelling among us.

**Photo by Jeff Miller

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