BAPTISM IN THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH
By The Rev. Canon Dr. Winfred B. Vergara
In the Episcopal Church as in most mainline churches, baptism is the required entrance into the Christian faith. It is what makes you to be called “a Christian,” a follower of Christ. Baptism is done by the priest, and in case of emergency, can be done by any baptized. The formula for baptism is the administration of water, with the words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
Emergency baptism is done when a person is in danger of death. I have officiated emergency baptism in hospitals including one in the incubator. He was so tiny I used Q-Tip to wet his forehead. Nineteen years later he was 5’9” basketball player.
It is a practice that an emergency baptism be followed by a public celebration in the church, if possible. But because baptism, whether emergency or non-emergency is an “unrepeatable act,” we want to avoid any action that might be interpreted as “re-baptism.” For this reason, the rubric from the Book of Common Prayer states “that the Baptism should be recognized at a public celebration of the Sacrament…and the person baptized under emergency conditions together with the sponsors or godparents, taking part in everything, except the administration of the water” (Book of Common Prayrer, page 314).
Baptism is a sacrament, meaning “an outward or visible sign with an inward or spiritual grace.” Water is the outward sign and the inward grace or graces are:
1. In baptism, we are united with Christ in his death and resurrection. This is aptly demonstrated in the baptism by immersion with the image that when a person is submerged in water, he virtually dies (drowned) with Christ and when he rises up from the water, he rises with Christ.
2. In baptism, we become members of God’s family, the Body of Christ, the Church. In the Episcopal Church, the sacrament of baptism is the only requirement to partake of another sacrament, the sacrament of the Holy Communion. You need not wait for Confirmation, another traditional sacrament, in order to partake of the Body and Blood of Christ. I will talk about Confirmation later, but for now, it is sufficient for you to know that when you are baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), you may already partake of the Holy Communion.
3. In baptism, we receive forgiveness of sins and new life in the Holy Spirit. In the baptismal covenant, the person being baptized renounces Satan or the Devil, the evil powers of this world and the sinful desires that draw him from God. After renunciation, he will be asked if he accept Jesus Christ as Savior and obey Him as Lord. Then he will sign on the Baptismal Covenant in which he recites the Apostle’s Creed and make vows to “persevere in resisting evil, proclaim the Good News of Christ, love neighbor, strive for justice and peace and respect the dignity of every human being.”
So baptism is a rite of passage: from death to life, from darkness to light, from old birth to new birth. Jesus said to the old Nicodemus, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh but that which is born of the Spirit is spirit”(John 3:6). Upon baptism, you are “born again”, to begin a new life in Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit as an adopted child of God.
For this reason, St. Paul said, "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20).
St. Peter also inspired the Christians with these words, “For you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9).
Nowadays, many young people pride themselves with the words, “we are spiritual but not religious.” What they mean is that they believe in God and do good things but they do not want to belong to a church. What they do not realize is that the context of new birth is tied to baptism in Christ and membership in Christ’s Body, the Church. St. Teresa De Avila aptly said, “We are not material beings with spirits; we are spiritual beings with bodies.” She further said, “Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”
The example of Jesus is worthy of our emulation. He was God incarnate but he came to John in the Jordan river and asked to be baptized. John who said he was not worthy even to untie Jesus’ sandals, tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”
Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. And as soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
Baptism sealed Jesus’ identity as the only begotten Son of God. Baptism in the name of the Holy Trinity will also seal our identity as adopted children of God and heirs of God’s eternal Kingdom.
The Rev. Canon Dr. Winfred B. Vergara is Missioner for Asiamerica Ministries of The Episcopal Church and on Sundays preaches at 10:00 A.M. at Holy Trinity Parish, 130 Jerusalem Avenue, Hicksville, NY 11801.