Maybe you have seen by now the unfolding sacramental “scandal” unfolding in Arizona. Rev. Andres Arango has said, “WE baptize you in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” he was supposed to say “I baptize you.” That one word, that one pronoun according to Bishop Thomas Olmsted of the Diocese of Phoenix, nullifies every one of those thousand baptisms. The Bishop says, “If you were baptized using the wrong words, that means your baptism is invalid, and you are not baptized.”
As those rooted in a free church tradition, we must bristle at such pompous and really un-graceful Church platitudes and policies. We must speak and act as those who love the Church when we are convinced the Body of Christ has indeed wandered away from the God of all blessing. The Vatican’s argument is theological, that “the issue with using “we” is that it is not the community that baptizes a person, rather, it is Christ alone, and Him alone, who presides at all of the sacraments.”
I am left to wonder how we can render a baptism, a means of grace, a work of God “invalid”. I love how my colleague Judy Howard Peterson reflects in her blog: “The Church is willing to do this because of their devotion to a religious formula that is undergirded by a belief that God cares more about each piece of the formula being followed than the peace of God’s people.”
Father Arango, poor Father Arango, who never meant to make any point, and who just spent his days and years pouring out the grace of God onto human beings, is now regretful: “I sincerely apologize for any inconvenience my actions have caused and genuinely ask for your prayers, forgiveness, and understanding.” bristle too at the thought that he needs forgiving, at least for his one mis-spoken word.
The point is, I think, that our God has become way, way too small, if we are in fact to believe and declare that we can decide that whatever God decides to do is invalid, null and void, a mistake. The pastor still said, after all, to one blessed and beloved soul after another “We baptize you in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” How dare we even think we can call that invalid? Whether it be I or We, it is God’s work, and God’s love acted out for the one brought, or who comes as we say, “to the Church for the sacrament of Baptism.”
God is at work working God’s own purposes out and needs no help from us to make sure it’s all kosher. Those of us who claim to work for God — pastors, leaders, indeed all Jesus followers — we need to find humility again, and remember breath by breath that God is God, and we are not. We need to recognize our constant temptation and tendency to turn the power we have been given into something abusive to real human people.
Pastor Arango has no need to ask forgiveness for baptizing God’s beloved ones.
It is we who are the Church, all of us together, who might fall to our knees, and start again listening to the pleading words of Jesus to the Pharisees, and his disciples too: “Go and learn what this means, I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” (Matthew 9:13)
We have a long, long way to go. Let us with humility, repeatedly, say so.