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Affirmation of Baptism: An Order of Service

For my final project I have chosen to construct a liturgy for the Affirmation of Baptism. While the original context for this work was inspired by discussion around the need for such a service in the UFMCC, the liturgy could be used in any emerging church setting where people from multiple denominations have come together as a single congregation.

In constructing the liturgy I have examined the liturgies of seven Christian traditions. Sections of the proposed liturgy adapted from the work of these groups with the following symbols:

  • AMEC – African Methodist Episcopal Church
  • BCP – Book of Common Prayer, Episcopal Church
  • EO – Eastern Orthodox tradition
  • RC – Roman Catholic
  • UCC – United Church of Christ
  • UMC – United Methodist Church

The Lutheran Book of Worship was also consulted; however, the liturgy for baptism contained no unique elements not found within the texts of the other liturgical traditions. Much of the flow of the service and the instruction given is adapted from the format of the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer. Scriptural adaptations are taken primarily from the NRSV with some changes in wording to enhance spoken cadence or to avoid unnecessary awkwardness around the use of the term "Lord" in reference to the God.  I have eschewed substitutions such as "Yahweh" or "Sovereign" to avoid both offense and the artificial feeling often evoked by their usage. For many, the informal use of God’s name (as represented by the Tetragrammaton in the Hebrew Scriptures) lacks proper respect, while for others, medieval conceptions of kings, lords and sovereigns obscure the metaphorical meaning of ultimate authority originally connoted by these expressions.

I have attempted to avoid language within the liturgy that might express hierarchical dualism. This has included adapting traditional passages to use non-gendered language for God, while using either inclusive or complementary terms with respect to humanity. While attempting to be sensitive to racial and ethnic issues, some elements have been left open to the discretion of the congregation (e.g., the phrase "whiter than snow" in the psalm). To automatically presume to alter language around metaphors of darkness/light and black/white without a congregational context seems patronizing, running the risk of introducing discord where none previously existed.

Proceeding from the understanding of Baptism as a sacrament that may not be repeated with the same person, special care has been taken to ensure that the wording of the liturgy does not convey any sense of rebaptism. Traditional baptismal phrases have been adapted to emphasize the remembering of what has already been done.

During the actual reaffirmation section of the liturgy, the threefold pattern for the renunciation of evil has been preserved from the Eastern Orthodox tradition. However, in place of the threefold affirmation of loyalty to Christ, a longer list of affirmations has been included, covering a range of denominational emphases.

The Affirmation of Unity is a section of the liturgy that I have written for the specific context of a congregation comprising a diversity of Christian experiences. Within it is acknowledgement of both pedo- and credobaptism, a variety of modes of baptism, and our common dependence upon the ultimate agency of God in the baptismal sacrament rather than any outward form or process. Included also are Paul’s words to the Galatians concerning the deconstruction of human categories and an affirmation of the promise of shared inheritance as children of God.

Because of the impact of actually seeing, hearing and feeling water as a part of the liturgy (White 194), the option of having all participants to come forward and touch the water is offered first. While perhaps less satisfying, aspersion is also offered as a secondary sensory avenue for experiencing the liturgy.

Finally, the Affirmation of Baptism is not intended to stand alone. Rather, it is to be incorporated within a Service of Word (and optionally also Sacrament). For this reason, a variety of passages have been provided for The Readings, allowing the preacher to choose a combination of scriptural passages for fashioning a meaningful sermon. The Affirmation ends with The Peace, leading into either the sermon or the Eucharistic celebration. A final benediction is offered, emphasizing the unity of all who are called out into the Church to proclaim the Gospel and witness to the saving acts of God.


Order of Service for the Affirmation of Baptism

Song of Gathering

The people standing as they are able, the Celebrant says

Celebrant Blessed be God who forgives all our sins;
People Your mercy endures forever.
   
Celebrant There is one Body and one Spirit;
People One Hope of our calling;
Celebrant One Head, one Faith, one Baptism;
People One God of all.
   
Celebrant Christ be with you.
People And also with you.
Celebrant Let us pray. (BCP)

After a period of silence the Celebrant continues:

Celebrant Holy God, by our baptism into the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus, you turn us from the old life of sin: Grant that we, being reborn to new life in Christ, may live in righteousness and holiness all our days; through Jesus Christ, who lives in communion with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. (BCP)

 

The Readings

Suggested First Readings:
Deuteronomy 30:15-20 (AMEC)
Jeremiah 31:31-34 (AMEC)
Ezekiel 37:1-10 (AMEC)
Jonah 2:1-10 (EO)
Zephaniah 3:12-20 (AMEC)

Suggested Second Readings:
Romans 6:3-10
Romans 12:1-8
2 Timothy 2:8-13

The people sit.

Reader A Reading from the book of ______________.

A citation giving chapter and verse may be added.  The following may be added as a preface to the reading.


Reader Listen for the Spirit.

After the Reading, the Reader may say

Reader Church, hear what the Spirit is saying.
People Thanks be to God.

Excerpts from Psalm 51 (to be used optionally between the first and second readings)

To be chanted or read responsively, breaking at the asterisk (*).

1Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;*
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.

2
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,*
and cleanse me from my sin.

6You desire truth in the inward being;*
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.

7Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;*
wash me, and I shall be whiter[1] than snow.

9Hide your face from my sins,*
and blot out all my iniquities.

10Create in me a clean heart, O God,*
and put a new and right spirit within me.

12Restore to me the joy of your salvation,*
and sustain in me a willing spirit.

13
Then I will teach transgressors your ways,*
and sinners will return to you.

14Deliver me from bloodshed, O God of my salvation,*
and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance.

15Open my lips,*
and my mouth will declare your praise.

16For you have no delight in sacrifice;*
if I were to give a burnt-offering, you would not be pleased.

17The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;*
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (NRSV adapted)

The Gospel Reading

Suggested Gospel Readings:
Matthew 3:13-17
Mark 1:4-11
John 3:1-6
John 3:22-30

The Alleluia may be spoken or sung (RC)

Reader The Gospel of Jesus Christ, according to __________. Listen for the Spirit.

After the gospel, the Reader continues

  Church, hear what the Spirit is saying.
People Thanks be to God.

The Sermon

Or the Sermon may be preached after the Peace

The Affirmation of the Baptismal Covenant

Celebrant

Brothers and sisters in Christ:

Through the Sacrament of Baptism we have been joined into Christ’s holy Church.

We share in the story of God’s mighty acts of salvation,
and we receive new birth through water and the Spirit.

These are the gifts of God, offered freely to all.

Let us renew the covenant declared at our baptism,
acknowledging what God is doing in, through, and for us,
and affirming our commitment to Christ’s holy Church. (UMC)

The people stand as they are able

The Thanksgiving over the Water

Celebrant God be with you.
People And also with you.
Celebrant Let us give thanks to God.
People It is right to give God thanks and praise.

Celebrant

Holy One, we thank you for the gift of water.
Over it your Spirit hovered at the creation of the world.
Through it you led the children of Israel out of bondage and into the Promised Land.
In the fullness of time you sent Jesus, who was nurtured in the water of Mary’s womb.
And in it Jesus was baptized and recognized as your beloved child.

With the following words, the Celebrant reaches into the water and allows it to pour back into the basin.

We thank you for the water of Baptism. In it we are buried, sharing in Christ’s death. By it we share also in Christ’s resurrection. Through it we are reborn by the power of the Holy Spirit as your sons and daughters.

With the following words, the Celebrant extends a hand over the water.

Now bless this water, we pray, by the power of your Holy Spirit. May it remind us that we have been cleansed from sin and born again into new life, that we may remain faithful until we are united with you in the life to come. Amen.

The Celebrant addresses the congregation

Celebrant Let us reaffirm the vows of our baptismal covenant.

The Celebrant continues

  Have you renounced all spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God? (BCP)
People I have renounced them.
   
Celebrant Have you renounced all the forces of evil, in whatever guise they present themselves, which corrupt and destroy the God’s good creation? (AMEC, BCP)
People I have renounced them.
   
Celebrant Have you renounced all sinful desires that seduce and draw you away from the love of God? (BCP)
People I have renounced them.
   
Celebrant Will you continue to serve Christ, in union with the Church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races? (UMC)
People I will, with God’s help.
   
Celebrant Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and communion, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers? (BCP)
People I will, with God’s help.
   
Celebrant Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord? (BCP)
People I will, with God’s help.
   
Celebrant Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ? (BCP)
People I will, with God’s help.
   
Celebrant Will you see and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? (BCP)
People I will, with God’s help.
   
Celebrant Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being? (BCP, UCC)
People I will, with God’s help.

The Affirmation of Unity

Celebrant Let us affirm the unity that comes from our baptism into Christ.

Together

We come out of many traditions.
We have confessed many understandings of Baptism:
sacrament, symbol, sign.
Some of us were baptized before we remember.
Others only later when we said, "I believe."
Whether immersed, poured upon or sprinkled,
it is your action, gracious God, that defines our baptism.

Having put off the old nature,
we have been clothed with Christ.

There is no longer Jew or Greek,
there is no longer slave or free,
there is no longer male and female.

For we all are one in Christ Jesus –
your sons and daughters through faith,
heirs to the promise.

Old things have passed away.
Behold, you make all things new.

The Celebrant may invite the congregation to move forward and touch the water. In larger congregations, the water may be visibly poured into multiple vessels to be distributed at various stations. Each participant may dip a finger in the water to be placed to the head and/or the heart with these words

Remember your baptism and be thankful. [Thanks be to God.]

Alternatively, the Celebrant may dip a palm branch in the water and asperse the congregation, repeating these words

Remember your baptism and be thankful. [Amen.]

When all participants have returned to their places the liturgy continues

Celebrant Let us pray.
Gracious God, through water and the Holy Spirit you have made us your sons and daughters, brought us into your church, filled us with your Holy Spirit, and given us your promise of eternal life. Renew in us, your children, the covenant you made with us at our baptism. Stir up in us the power of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. (AMEC)

The Peace

Celebrant The Peace of Christ be with you.
People And also with you.

[The service continues with the celebration of the Eucharist]

Benediction

Celebrant

You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of the One who called you out of darkness into marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Amen.


[1] In congregational settings where this language is deemed offensive, the word "purer" may be substituted.

Bibliography

African Methodist Episcopal Church. Commission on Worship and Liturgy. The Book of Worship of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Nashville: A. L. Henderson, 1984.

Catholic Church. International Committee on English in the Liturgy. The Rites of the Catholic Church as Revised by Decree of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council and Published by Authority of Pope Paul VI. Trans.

International Commission on English in the Liturgy. Study Edition. New York: Pueblo Publishing Company, 1983.

Episcopal Church. Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments and Other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church: together with the Psalter or Psalms of David according to the use of the Episcopal Church. New York: Seabury Press, 1979.

Lutheran Church. Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship. The Lutheran Book of Worship. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1978.

Saints Constantine and Elena Orthodox Church. "Introduction to Baptism." June 2006. Saints Constantine & Elena.13 August 2009 <http://www.saintsconstantineandelena.org/Liturgy/baptism1.htm>.

United Church of Christ. Book of Worship. New York: United Church of Christ, Office for Church Life and Leadership, 1986.

United Methodist Church (U.S.). The United Methodist Book of Worship. Nashville: United Methodist Publishing House, 1992.

White, James F.Introduction to Christian Worship. 3rd Edition. Nashville: Abingdon, 2001.

3 Responses to Affirmation of Baptism: An Order of Service

  • I would like your permission to use the "Affirmation of Unity" within the context of an Affirmation of Baptism service within our congregation. I think it is very appropriate for a congregation where the people come from diverse faith traditions and have varying understandings of baptism…

  • I find it amazing that you did not use any Lutheran materials here. Luther was the person who brought BAPTISM back into the center of the Christian life. The entire Affirmation of Baptism comes from this tradition. The Thanksgiving over the Water is a modification of the prayer LUTHER WROTE.
    And all these texts are Common Consultation texts and no one "takes them" from another as the sacramental churches all agreed on common language.
    Having vented all that, I do appreciate your creativity in making something with more inclusive and contemporary english. Nice work.

    • Dear Jan, thanks for your comment. When I wrote this I wasn’t focusing on the historical formation and who wrote what. It was a matter of the order in which I went through the resources. No slights to Luther intended. 🙂 If I were to do the project again today I would pay more attention the historical development of the various liturgical pieces.
      Peace,
      Bryce

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