The Baptismal Covenant & The General Rules
By Steve Manskar
Lent is traditionally a period the church set aside to prepare persons for baptism. For the baptized it is a time to remember and reaffirm the baptismal covenant. During the forty days leading to their celebration of Christ’s resurrection Christians pray, reflect, and re-dedicate themselves to living as persons marked as children of God and initiated into God’s household. Lent is a time to remember your baptism and re-commit to living the Baptismal Covenant.
What does the General Rules have to do with the Baptismal Covenant?
The General Rules have received much attention these days. Bishop Reuben Job’s little book Three Simple Rules certainly raised awareness among rank and file United Methodists. For that I am thankful. An even more thorough treatment of the General Rules following the publication of Three Simple Rules is Blueprint for Discipleship by Kevin Watson. Most recently, Michael Cartwright and Andrew D. Kinsey have written Watching Over One Another in Love, a wonderful devotional resources with the General Rules at its center. It is published by the Indiana Conference. You can download a free copy here: Watching Over One Another in Love: Reclaiming the Wesleyan Rule of Life for the Church's Mission
The authors of these three books all agree that the General Rules serve as the Wesleyan rule of life. Marjorie Thompson, in her book Soul Feast, writes
“A rule of life is a pattern of spiritual disciplines that provides structure and direction for growth in holiness. … It fosters gifts of the Spirit in personal life and human community, helping to form us into the persons God intends us to be.”
What this says to me is that the purpose of a rule of life is to help the community to live out its part of the Baptismal Covenant. It is provides the pattern of behavior and thinking people need if they are to fully participate in the covenant.
A rule of life, like the General Rules, tells us that none of us can live the Christian life described in the Baptismal Covenant on our own, by our own strength and thinking. We need help. The purpose of the General Rules is to teach and guide Christians in the development of holy habits that helps them to cooperate with the dynamic of grace that forms them into the persons God created them to be. A rule of life nurtures faith that lives in the heart and is visible when it our way of life is conformed to the way of Jesus in the world.
When we look at the General Rules we see that their intention is to help us obey the teachings of Jesus, summarized by him in the Great Commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40). Rules 1 & 2 guide is loving God through loving our neighbors and the world that God loves. Rule 3 gives us the basic practices for participating in God’s love in our daily life.
When we look at the General Rules through the lens of the Baptismal Covenant we see that the two are intertwined. The three questions of the covenant correspond to each of the General Rules:
"Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin? I do."
"By doing no harm, by avoiding evil of every kind, especially that which is generally practiced…"
"Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves? I do."
"By doing good; by being in every kind merciful after their power; as they have opportunity, doing good of every possible sort, and as far as possible, to all people…"
"Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord, in union with the church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races? I do."
"By attending upon all the ordinances of God; such are: the public worship of God; the ministry of the Word, either read or expounded; the Supper of the Lord; family and private prayer; searching the Scriptures; fasting or abstinence."
If the church is to take the Baptismal Covenant seriously we must do all in our power to help one another to faithfully live and witness in the world as members of the household of God, bearing the name Christian. The General Rules provide a proven and faithful rule of life that gives practical guidance for how disciples of Jesus Christ are made and equipped for ministry with Christ in the world.
Remember your baptism and be thankful.