Summary: In our baptismal covenant, we commit to belief in God, participating in the Church's life, resisting evil, sharing the Gospel, and ultimately doing all of this out of love.
What in the world is our baptismal covenant?
It starts with the Apostles Creed. Do you believe in God the Father? Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God? Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?
What we believe about God is the first and foundational part of our Baptismal Covenant. It is God who initiates the covenant, and it is His faithfulness, His steadfastness, and His reliability that ensures that its validity. Our participation in the Sacrament of Baptism is to accept God’s promise and then to receive His grace. He purifies our soul; He washes us from all our sins; He makes us His sons and daughters; He gives us His Holy Spirit. We cannot make or take any of these things for ourselves; it is only through God’s work and our acceptance (and that “by grace…through faith”, Eph. 2:8) that we are His people.
What we believe makes us different from others. People around the world have similar, though not identical, forms of worship. Buddhists have sacred texts, they pray and meditate, they use incense, they make offerings which are symbols of their life and labor. Certainly there are differences and some are great. But nothing is greater between religions than their beliefs about who God is, and these trickle all the way down into daily life.
We believe that God is exclusive. “The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Dt. 6:4). “You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex. 20:3). “I am the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to he Father except through me” (Jn. 14:6). There is no wiggle room around God’s word. If we accept the Bible as the divinely inspired word of God, then indeed, “small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life” (Mt. 7:14).
But the way is big enough for all men to come within. God desires the salvation of all men, not their death. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (Jn. 3:17).
“Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?” (cf. Acts 2:42).
Once we’ve received basic faith, the beginning of Christian life is our participation in the life of the Church.
We sit at the feet of the apostles and those to whom their mantle has been passed, learning about the Lord from those who have seen His body and heard His voice, who have touched Him and been touched by Him.
We fellowship with one another, bearing one another’s burdens (cf. Gal. 6:2), encouraging one another (cf. 1 Thes. 5:11). “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity” (Ps. 133:1). There are no hermitages in heaven. In paradise we will have perfect union with God, and perfect union with our neighbor.
Breaking bread each week, “we remember his death, we proclaim his resurrection, and we await his coming in glory.” In this shared meal, we have intimate union with Christ, He in us and we in Him, and we share of the one loaf with one another. Breaking bread is the tie that binds together all members of our St. Thomas family, and us to the cathedral, and the diocese to the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.
And of course we pray. While pray by ourselves, “the prayers” are the faith community’s combined action of raising one, relentless, deafening voice to the throne of mercy. When we pray we say, “Let us pray to the Lord, Lord have mercy,” and, “Lord in your mercy, Hear our prayer.” We don’t discard our individuality, but we each place it on the altar and offer it up to God, that we may become one, “So that the world may believe that [the Father has] sent [Jesus]” (Jn. 17:21).
“Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?”
After we have accepted belief in God, and walked in the safe cloisters of the Church, we must learn to live as Christians in the world. Persevere in resisting evil. Death has lost its grip over us; the Devil has no claim on our souls. But baptism is not magic; temptations don’t just disappear.
Several years back, my sister and brother-in-law were struggling with credit card debt. It was crushing their finances and, although technically the end was calculable at a decade away, it seemed an impossible burden. So I offered them my house if they would use their former rent to pay off debt. Relieved from the pressure of current burdens, they were able to resolve past obligations. And in less than two years they cut up their cards.
In Baptism, God does the reverse: He wipes out our past debts, and lets us rejoin life with Him, things we could never do on our own. But if I had a problem with arrogance, I’ll be arrogant until I open that part of my life to the Holy Spirit who is already within me and sanctify it with His help.