Wednesday, January 14, 2009

That Southern Obsession With Sin

I obsessed a little more than usual over this post, so it might be a little longer than average.

At this past Sunday's 10:30 service Fr. Foss preached about Baptism. There was a Baptism that day, and the readings from Acts and Mark both related to Baptism. Charlie took as his theme the difference between the "baptism of John" and Baptizing in the name of Jesus.
Acts 19:1-7 reads,

"While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the inland regions and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples. He said to them, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?’ They replied, ‘No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.’ Then he said, ‘Into what then were you baptized?’ They answered, ‘Into John’s baptism.’ Paul said, ‘John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.’ On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied— altogether there were about twelve of them."

Compare with Mark 1:7-11,

He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’

I agree, there is a difference. But agreement ceased when once again we were treated to Charlie's view that in the South there is too much emphasis on "Sin." Baptism should be about the positives. Yes, when Paul did the baptism in Acts, it opened the door for the Spirit to come in and transform those twelve (or so) in Ephesus, but this simple pew person can't help but feel that there is still a need for the cleansing of Sin process, and you can't remove it. Our tradition speaks to this. After all, look at the language about sin we use in the liturgy of Holy Baptism (1979 BCP),
Question Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces
of wickedness that rebel against God?
Answer I renounce them.

Question Do you renounce the evil powers of this world
which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?
Answer I renounce them.

Question Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you
from the love of God?
Answer I renounce them.

And this,

Celebrant Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
People I will, with God’s help.

And this,
Leader Deliver them, O Lord, from the way of sin and death.
People Lord, hear our prayer.

And here,
Now sanctify this water, we pray you, by the power of your
Holy Spirit, that those who here are cleansed from sin and
born again may continue for ever in the risen life of Jesus
Christ our Savior.

And here,
Heavenly Father, we thank you that by water and the Holy
Spirit you have bestowed upon these your servants the
forgiveness of sin, and have raised them to the new life of

I am not sure that is "obsessing" with Sin, and I was wondering how to reconcile the three baptisms, John's, Jesus', and the Ephesians' when Kendall Harmon at T19 pointed out this nice, positive approach to a Baptism homily by Benedict XVI on Jan. 11, 2009. Here is an excerpt:
"John's baptism of repentance is certainly quite different from the one Jesus will institute. Nevertheless, at that moment, the mission of the Redeemer is glimpsed, for, when he comes out of the water, a voice from heaven resounds and the Holy Spirit descends upon him (cf. Mark 1:10). The heavenly Father proclaims him his beloved Son and publicly bears witness to his universal mission of salvation, which he will fully accomplish with his death on the cross and his resurrection. Only then, with the Paschal sacrifice, will the remission of sins be made universal and total.

With baptism we do not merely immerse ourselves in the waters of the Jordan to proclaim our commitment to conversion, but there is poured out upon us the redemptive blood of Christ that purifies us and saves us. It is the beloved Son of the Father, in whom he is well pleased, which reacquires for us the dignity and the joy of calling ourselves and truly being 'children' of God."

I guess the Ephesians, like us, might be considered "twice baptized." Washed by the water and then by the blood of Christ. Once for our renunciation of sins and once for Christ's saving remission of Sin.

I only wish that my sins, after having been washed away, would have stayed away after my baptism. I also wish that being so filled with the Spirit, I will sin no more in my new life in Christ. Unfortunately, us ordinary pewsters have to scrub behind our ears over and over again, hence all that "negative" language in the liturgy, and hence that old Southern "obsession with sin." Is that a bad thing?

(Copyright Gospel Communications International, Inc -


  1. 1 John 1:8 through 2:1 comes to mind here. Glad you obsessed over this excellent post.

  2. What is better?
    A. Negative

    B. Positive

    C. Truth

    I am the way, the truth and the life.

    What could be more positive then liberty from sin?

  3. Nicely said. Query, in the absence of sin, why was Christ's sacrifice necessary.


  4. I think that the danger is when we accept that Christ died for the sins of the world, and then we jump to the conclusion that in the world there is no longer any sin because of His sacrifice. I hope and pray that we and the world are getting to that place, but we ain't there yet.