Sunday, January 25, 2015

A Lifetime of Covenants, Part 2

Covenants define a lot of what it means to be LDS.  As an LDS man I took mine very seriously.  As I grew up and made the covenants that defined so much of my life, I always wondered, what would I do if I ever decided the LDS religion wasn't true?  What do you do when you try to make an agreement with God but later decide it wasn't God on the other end?  Mostly you just try to move on.  I no longer feel bound by a promise to God to obey and not criticize and give my everything to the LDS church when I don't think God participated in that agreement.  But of course its more complicated than that.  The Episcopal Church doesn't require rebaptism for a situation like mine as we haven't pursued it nor have resigned from the LDS for personal reasons.  So my only baptism that I can claim is the one I got when I was 8 years old.  It is another way that I have a mixed identity- my baptismal commitment is still wrapped up in my Mormon identity, even if I now apply that understanding in another church.  Someday that may become really awkward.  Some LDS bishop in the future may decide we're dead weight on his ward numbers and decide to try to excommunicate us.  Or perhaps some ward leader in the future will decide it is time to aggressively try to save us and we'll have to resign our membership to force them to stop stalking us.  What would it be like if the only baptism you have is technically revoked or resigned by the authority that performed it?  I honestly don't know and part of me hopes it will never come to that.  There was lots of good in the way I was raised in the Mormon church and I'd prefer to honor that in my own way, even if my interpretation of what my baptism means to me changes over time.  While I appreciate the original covenant, I feel I have added to it, especially when in worship I "remake" my baptism covenant using a while new set of promises.


The Episcopal Baptism covenant is a very unique system from Mormon Baptism.  Mormon baptism, according to Mosiah 18:8-10 involves promises made, without ever saying them directly as part of the ceremony, to
  1. be "desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people"
  2. "willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light"
  3. "Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort"
  4. "stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death"
  5. "that ye will serve him and keep his commandments"
With the promised blessings:
  1. "that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life"
  2. " that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you"
The Episcopal baptismal promises involve the parents or godparents of children being baptized, the individual being baptized, and the community of worshipers in the parish.  Only a subset of what I list below are formally known as the baptismal covenant, but all these promises are made as part of the baptism ritual so I am including all of them.  The full ceremony, including the traditional phrasing for accepting these promises can be found in the online version of The Book of Common Prayer.  Altogether these promises are:
  1. "Will you be responsible for seeing that the child you present is brought up in the Christian faith and life?"
  2. "Will you by your prayers and witness help this child to grow into the full stature of Christ?"
  3. "Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?"
  4. "Do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?"
  5. "Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God?"
  6. "Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Saviour?"
  7. "Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love?"
  8. "Do you promise to follow and obey him as your Lord?"
  9. (The next one is too long to quote directly, but essentially asks for agreement with one of the creeds)
  10. "Will you who witness these vows do all in your power to support these persons in their life in Christ?"
  11. "Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and  fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?"
  12. "Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?"
  13. "Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?"
  14. "Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving  your neighbor as yourself?"
  15. "Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?"
These promises are in exchange for the blessings or benefits:
  1. " are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ's own for ever."
  2. "that those who here are cleansed from sin and born again may continue for ever in the risen life of Jesus Christ our Savior."
  3. "...those who are sealed with it may share in the royal priesthood of Jesus Christ"
The Episcopal Church allows the baptism of infants with the idea that it is a way of automatically joining the community of God- similar to the LDS concept of being "born in the covenant."  Since infants cannot be expected to be bound to commitments made on their behalf, later a confirmation ceremony is held to reaffirm these commitments.  Again the full ceremony is available online.  The following promises are made:
  1. " Do you reaffirm your renunciation of evil?"
  2. "Do you renew your commitment to Jesus Christ?"
  3.  "Will you who witness these vows do all in your power to support these persons in their life in Christ?" 

A proper comparison of the LDS covenant of Baptism wouldn't be fair without also including the LDS sacrament covenants which are almost seen as an extension of the baptismal covenant even though the sacrament covenants are actually distinct from the covenants outlined in the Book of Mosiah.  These promises as quoted from the D&C are to:
  1. "eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son"
  2. "willing to take upon them the name of thy Son"
  3. "always remember him"
  4. "keep his commandments which he has given them"
  5. "do it in remembrance of the blood of thy Son"
  6. " always remember him"
These promises are for the benefit "that they may always have his Spirit to be with them" or "that they may have his Spirit to be with them." depending on whether the bread or water prayer is being recited.  Through promise 4 those partaking are said to be remaking their baptismal covenants even though theologically there is no limit to which covenants are being remade in the ceremony.  The Epsicopal church remakes baptismal covenants during baptism services.


Though the LDS temple marriage covenant is not published by the church, those who want a refresher on what exactly is promised can find the text of the ceremony here.  The Episcopal ceremony (quoting only one gender role each since they are repetitive), which again is available online for full context, includes promises to:
  1. "will you have this man to be your husband"
  2. "to live together in the covenant of marriage"
  3. "Will you love him, comfort him, honor and keep him, in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, be faithful to him as long as you both shall live?"
  4. "Will all of you witnessing these promises do all in your power to uphold these two persons in their marriage? "
  5. "In the Name of God, I, [name], take you, [name], to be my wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until we are parted by death.  This is my solemn vow."
What may be of interest to LDS people is that Episcopalians do not have a doctrine of marriage necessarily only being till death.  While the ceremony may explicitly mention until death, it is not because the ceremony is somehow invalid in the next life.  It is because death parts people in this life who may then remarry in what would otherwise be a violation of promise to "forsake all others."  Most Christians believe that in the afterlife they will be reunited with their loved ones- because why would a loving God provide a heaven where the most meaningful relationships were denied unless they were authorized properly?  Also of interest is that the LDS ceremony has no direct analog of the gender neutral promise to forsake all others, probably because of polygamy.  Though it might strike some as odd, polygamy was a very real concept to me because of an friendship I had with a very devout roommate who was from a polygamist family but eventually joined the LDS church.  There was always that possibility that someday polygamy would be restored and that we would be assigned to it.  I knew it would likely ruin the happiness of my marriage if that happened but it was always a remote possibility.  As a result, I find the inclusion of that promise meaningful.  My wife and I will never have to worry about or wonder about another woman intruding on our marriage in this life.


For some reason, many of the wards I have lived in since coming to Utah have included people who openly discussed their fear of the sinners they expected to encounter outside of the church or even just outside of Utah.  In talks and lessons I've heard people talk about how afraid they were to visit the area where I grew up in Maryland because they thought all the bad people lived outside of the Wasatch Front, give their opinion that only in the LDS church were the basics of honesty and integrity taught, or explain how they felt that couldn't possibly have anything in common with a non LDS except experiencing the weather.  If there is one thing that my past and present have in common, its a focus on covenants where the basics of honesty and integrity, marital fidelity, empathy, and Christian identity are held strongly as important qualities.  While different religions and even atheists interpret and pursue their moral commitments differently from each other, it doesn't mean they don't still have them.  And in the case of the Episcopal and LDS churches, both define them in covenants that help define a lifetime of devotion to God.

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