Gosh, nearly two months after I promised I’d start writing about Baptism, I’m finally getting around to putting some of this work online for you. Sorry about that! Expect a series of write-ups on the waters of baptism on “Thirsty Thursday” for the next several weeks, if you can stand the ridiculous play on words involved.

The Acclamation

from an analytical perspective

Ephesians 4:4-6 has been adapted as an extension to the regular or seasonal Acclamation.  This is drawn from the 1979 Book, in light of the Communion service being the liturgical context for Holy Baptism in this book.

The basic text of the liturgy calls for the Collect of the Day immediately thereafter, followed by the Lessons, but the Additional Directions permit other normal elements of the Communion service including the Penitential Order, which is particularly desirable for the retention of a formal Confession and Absolution of Sin, which otherwise will be omitted.

from a devotional perspective

The fact that Holy Baptism is to be celebrated is reflected in the opening of the Communion service in which it will be embedded.  In addition to the seasonal Acclamation are four lines of further call-and-response.  This brief phrases succinctly and effectively place the theology of Baptism into its broader biblical context: what the Nicene Creed calls “one baptism for the forgiveness of sins” the scriptures also link to unity with the Body of Christ, the gift of the Holy Spirit, the hope found in God’s calling or election, the unity of faith, and unity with the Lord God and Father.  Even in “mere” words of celebration, the depths of Baptism far beyond mere outward symbolism is proclaimed.

The Exhortation

Dearly beloved, Scripture teaches that we were all dead in our sins and trespasses, but by grace we may be saved through faith. Our Savior Jesus Christ said, “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God”; and he commissioned the Church to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Here we ask our heavenly Father that these Candidates, being baptized with water, may be filled with the Holy Spirit, born again, and received into the Church as living members of Christ’s body. Therefore, I urge you to call upon God the Father, through our Lord Jesus Christ, that of his abundant mercy he will grant to these Candidates that which by nature they cannot have.

This is a form of the opening speech that begins the Baptismal liturgy in all the Prayer Books.  It is expanded from the classical versions, adding references to the call to discipleship and mission.  Its historic core is fourfold:

  1. All are conceived and born in sin
  2. None can enter God’s Kingdom without regeneration and new birth
  3. Call upon God through Christ to give this person what by nature (s)he cannot have
  4. That (s)he may be baptized and made a lively member of the Church

It should be observed that the primary additions to the present form of this Exhortation are drawn largely from John 3 and Matthew 28, two of the Scripture lessons provided in the 1928 Prayer Book’s baptismal liturgy.

One of several classical addresses to the “Dearly beloved,” this exhortation provides a didactic introduction to Holy Baptism, contrasting yet complimenting the Ephesians 4 Acclamation at the very beginning of the liturgy.  The historic Prayer Book opening exhortation is shorter, more focused and succinct; this form is more expansive, as if to explicate the words of the Acclamation.

The first half of this Exhortation is a three-stage summary of the Gospel.  First, all are dead in sin and unable to enter the kingdom of God.  Second, salvation by grace through faith is offered to us instrumentally through being born of water and the Spirit – that is, through Holy Baptism.  Baptism is therefore not a “work” done by the candidate or even by the Church, but is God’s act of grace.  Thirdly, in that state of grace, the Church is commissioned to make disciples of all nations, offering God’s gift of Baptism to succeeding generations.

The second half of the Exhortation is the exhortation proper: inviting the people to pray for the baptismal candidates.  We pray for those approaching Baptism that they may enjoy its benefits: being filled with the Holy Spirit, receiving new birth, and being made living members of the Body of Christ.  This is an urgent call to prayer, not simply perfunctory, because none of these gifts can be possessed by nature – that is, these are blessings and gifts that can come only from God himself.

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