“If the candidate proves to be without fault in these matters the bishop writes down his name; but if someone is accused of anything, nurse he is asked to leave and told: ‘Amend your life and when that is done approach the baptismal font.’” Egeria. (quoted in Robert Louis Wilken, The Spirit of Early Christian Thought: Seeking the Face of God pg 38)
One of the interesting things in reading the Patristic Fathers is seeing how people were accepted into the Early Church. Of note is the idea that the person, having made a confession of faith (having been saved), has to amend their life prior to be being baptized, and baptism is the gateway into full membership into the Church. It is only the baptized who can partake of the Eucharist, for example. And this idea of righting your life is vital.
So not only in the Didache, but also in the writing of Hippolytus (another early source for liturgy of the Church from the first half of the third century), there appears to be a definite process one undergoes before they are baptized. And this time of preparation or catechesis is not mere teaching. It is not merely learning “what” to believe, but also an examination of their life to see if they are living rightly, that is, living the life of a Christian.
And when those who are to receive baptism are chosen, let their life be examined: have they lived good lives when they were catechumans?…From the time that they were set apart, let hands be laid on them daily while they are exorcized…And if anyone is not good or not pure, let him be put aside, because he has not heard the word with faith, for it is impossible that the Alien should hide himself for ever. (Article 20)
This isn’t grounded in legalism, but out of a strong desire to demonstrate that God has indeed transformed sinners, that He has so powerfully worked in their lives; and that the Church is a body of saints, a people who think and act and love so differently from the rest of the world. And so those who desire to join the Church and be baptized are to examine their lives, walk the right path (or as the Didache says, choose the Way of Life), be exorcised from all evil, and fast in preparation for baptism.
The evangelical church gets a bad rap for doing this. “Sinners” can come and visit the church, but they can’t truly become part of the church until they get their stuff together. And when this happens, the church is accused of being judgmental, unloving and unwelcoming. And so, to counter this, the evangelical church adopts “seeker sensitive” models, and open communion because hospitality and a narrow understanding of love (largely defined by a modern notion of tolerance) is now what should define the church.
Ultimately, I think this all leads back to the central question, what is the purpose of Sunday morning worship? Is it merely a gathering, or is it a time for the body of Christ to be joined to Him, to worship Him and to be refreshed and equipped to go out and do the work of grace and love in the world?
…the random reflections on the Patristics continue…