Baptism and the Unity of the Church

The Role and Responsibility of the Holy Catholic Church Anglican Rite

Christians of all Churches have long prayed for unity-that the Churches may become one again. Too often the prayer for unity has a secret clause - 'Unity yes: but on my terms'. Believers, especially those with a strong commitment, tend to think that the Faith as they know it provides the best basis for reuniting the Churches. What fails to register is that strongly held belief may also be a limited and partial belief, inadequate for the task in hand.

There is a need for repentance before the Churches can come together, but it is a repentance of a special kind. This is the repentance which is a change of mind and heart, a putting away of old attitudes and a receiving of a fresh vision. The Holy Catholic Church Anglican Rite has already begun to experience something of such repentance. Most members of the HCC-AR come from an Anglican or Episcopalian background. The HCC-AR has offered them "An Anglican Church restored and fulfilled by her complete acceptance of the undivided Catholic and Apostolic Church." To accept this restoration and fulfilment is the kind of repentance needed to achieve the unity of the Churches. 

In spite of all the things that hold the Churches apart, the Sacrament of Baptism remains a force for unity. Most Churches accept the Baptism administered by other Churches as true Baptism. There are, of course, exceptions to such recognition but most Churches see the sacrament as a link across the chasm of separation. There is no such thing as Roman Catholic, or Orthodox, or Protestant Baptism. Baptism is not a ceremony of initiation into a particular Christian denomination, but the beginning of New Life in Christ. 

So Baptism received in an Anglican congregation (or Holy Catholic Church Anglican Rite congregation, for that matter) does not make us mere members of that particular religious organization. We need to change our ideas about the Church. Baptism makes us 'members' of Christ himself - of his Mystical Body, the one true Church.  We are saved to eternity by receiving the New Life of the risen Christ. In Baptism we die and rise again to newness of life in and with Christ. Belonging to a particular Church congregation is secondary.

When Christians begin to think of Churches as organizations for promoting religion the troubles begin and the quarrels start. This is why we need to repent and start thinking differently of the Church. The key to a true understanding is the realization that the New Life in Christ we receive at Baptism is a shared life - shared first with Christ himself and with all others who are Baptized. Because the New Life in Christ is also Life in his Body, each of us have special responsibilities through which we enrich the other members of the Body- as they likewise enrich us. This is the new and the true way of belonging. 

Firstly we have our individual gifts, abilities, and experience to share with others. In a mere organization, people with exceptional gifts tend to dominate others, in the Body of Christ such gifts are placed at His disposal to be used as he sees best. He who would be master, must learn to be the servant of all.  Then, secondly, there are the special roles which establish the character of the Body of Christ on earth. These roles are called Orders, and Baptism admits us to the greatest of them all in size and potential, the Order of the Laity. Beyond the Order of the Laity are the three ministerial Orders of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons. The task of the three ministerial Orders is to ensure that the Church is maintained in unity, in the true Faith, in right living and in service to others. 

The standard for depicting the Sacrament, especially in Orthodox icons, the candidate stands in the water, the administrator of the Sacrament places his hand on the candidate's head. The action signifies the imparting or, better, the sharing of the Holy Spirit with the new-born Christian - who is shown as smaller in size because he is an 'infant in Christ'. At the time of the early church, Baptism and Confirmation - the Seal of the Spirit - were administered at the same time - the Baptism by the Priests and Deacons and the Confirmation by the Bishop. In the Western tradition followed by the HCC-AR the 'Laying on of hands' is still reserved to the Bishop and reminds us that the whole Christian community, of which the Bishop is the local head and focus of unity, is the Body of Christ - through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. 

The Churches on earth may look and behave like religious organizations, but the reality is quite different. The Church is the sacramental fellowship created by the Holy Spirit as the Body of Christ according to the good pleasure of the Father. The undivided Catholic Church was structured in such a way, in its sacramental life and canonical provisions, that this reality was ever present.  It is to unity in this reality which Baptism beckons the Churches. 

It is the Churches of the West, Roman Catholic and Protestant alike, which have been most affected by the notion that the Church is first and foremost a religious institution. Many of the major obstacles in the way of the reunion of the Churches have been created by this approach. This indicates that the pathway on which the HCC-AR has set out is of more than ordinary significance. It is possible to undo the mistakes of the past and to begin to enter into the mind of the undivided Catholic Church. This is the only way in which true unity will be restored, it is the way which honours the Holy Trinity and brings hope to mankind.