The Baltimore Declaration

It was a Saturday evening, the 11th of May, 1991.  I had chosen to skip the final day of the annual convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland. Late that afternoon the telephone rang. At the other end was my good friend Phil Roulette. “The Diocese of Maryland has denied our Lord,” he whispered. “We must do something.” I had no idea what Phil was talking about. Apparently a resolution asking the diocese to affirm Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life had been submitted to the convention; and a majority of the delegates had rejected it.

The next three weeks were a whirlwind. Philip and I were part of a monthly clergy support group, with four other priests. We immediately got to work to compose a response to the failure of our diocese to reaffirm a central article of the Christian faith. I wrote the initial draft and then circulated it to the other members of the group. It was a collaborative effort. Within a couple of weeks we finalized the document. We entitled it “The Baltimore Declaration.” We sent it to all active bishops and priests of the Episcopal Church, as well as the senior wardens of our own diocese. Our tiny ecclesiastical world exploded.

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Throughout the history of the Christian Church, there have been times when the integrity and substance of the Gospel have come under powerful cultural, philosophical, and religious attack. At such times, it has been necessary for Christian believers, and especially for pastors and preachers, to confess clearly, unequivocally, and publicly “the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3), and to define this faith over against the heresies and theological errors infiltrating the Church. Thus the Church is led into a deeper comprehension of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the communal identity of the Church is strengthened in its mission to the world.

We, the undersigned, who are baptized members of the Episcopal Church of the United States, believe that such a time has now come upon the Church which we serve. We are now witnessing a thoroughgoing revision of the faith inconsistent with the evangelical, apostolic and catholic witness, a revision increasingly embraced by ecclesiastical leaders, both ordained and lay. In the name of inclusivity and pluralism, we are presented with a new theological paradigm which rejects, explicitly or implicitly, the doctrinal norms of the historic creeds and ecumenical councils, and which seeks to relativize, if not abolish, the formative and evangelical authority of the Holy Scriptures. This paradigm introduces into the Church a new story, a new language, a new grammar. The “revelations” of modernity, infinitely self-generating and never-ending, supplant and critique that historic revelation which God the Holy Trinity has communicated by word and deed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Israelite.

Fully aware of our own sinfulness, as well as the spiritual dangers inherent in issuing such a call, we humbly and prayerfully summon the Church to return to and remain steadfast in that Gospel entrusted to it by the Apostles of Jesus Christ. We also summon the clergy of the Church to stand up boldly and declare that Trinitarian faith which they have sworn at their ordinations to uphold and preach. We are well aware of the possible personal and professional costs of such a confession in the present situation; but we are convinced that the integrity and substance of the Gospel, that Gospel which is the only hope and salvation of the world, are at stake. The Lord is calling us to fidelity to him and to him alone.

We offer, therefore, the following Declaration of Faith. This is not a comprehensive confession. It addresses those critical theological issues which we believe to be at the heart of the present crisis.

I

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:18-20).

By the command and mandate of her risen Lord, the Church of Jesus Christ is commissioned to baptize disciples into the revealed name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This proper name faithfully identifies the Savior and Lord of the Holy Scriptures. While human linguistic formulae cannot exhaust the mystery of the ineffable Deity, the threefold appellation – given to us in the resurrection of Jesus – truly names and designates the three Persons of the Holy Trinity as disclosed in the biblical narrative, and summarizes the apostolic experience of God in Christ. To reject, disregard, or marginalize the Trinitarian naming is to cut ourselves off from that story which shapes and defines the identity of the Church; ultimately, it is to cut ourselves off from the God of Israel himself. The confession of the triune name is required in the celebration of Christian baptism, and it properly structures the liturgy and prayer of the Christian community: We rightly pray to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. As St. Basil the Great declared: “For we are bound to be baptized in the terms we have received and to profess belief in the terms in which we are baptized, and as we have professed belief in, so to give glory to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

We repudiate the false teaching that God has not definitively and uniquely named himself in Jesus Christ, that we are free to ignore or suppress the revealed name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and worship the Deity with names and images created by our fallen imaginations or supplied by secular culture, unreformed by the Gospel and the biblical revelation.

II

“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said. . .” (Gen. 1: I-3).

“Long ago you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you endure; they will all wear out like a garment. You change them like clothing, and they pass away, but you are the same, and your years have no end” (Ps. 102: 25-27).

The triune God is the holy creator who freely speaks the universe into contingent existence out of nothing (creatio ex nihilo). He is the sovereign Lord, utterly transcending his creation, yet actively immanent within it, guiding and directing it to its eschatological fulfillment in the Kingdom. As creator, God is free to act within his universe, both providentially and miraculously, to accomplish his purposes and ends.

We repudiate the false teaching of monism, which indissolubly unites deity and cosmos into an interdependent whole, the world being construed as God’s body, born of the substance of deity, and thus divine. On the other hand, we repudiate the false teaching of deism, which distances the creator from active involvement in the preservation, redemption, and consummation of his creation.

III

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people… . And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth. … From his fullness we have all received grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known” (John 1:1-4,14,16-18).

“All things have been handed over to me by my Father and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matt. 11:27).

Jesus of Nazareth is God. He is the Word made flesh, the incarnation and embodiment of the divine Son, truly God and truly human, “of one being” (homoousios) with the Father and the Spirit. In this wondrous union of deity and humanity, the triune God is perfectly and definitively revealed. In Christ, and in him alone, we are freely given true apprehension of God in his immanent reality, freely given to share in the Son’s knowledge of the Father in the Holy Spirit. The crucified and risen Lord, in all of his historical particularity, is thus the source and foundation of our knowledge of the living God. We rejoice in the triune God’s gift of himself in Jesus Christ, and declare Jesus as the eternal Word who judges all preachings, teachings, theologies, actions, prayers and rituals. We acknowledge that God is free to communicate himself in many and diverse ways to the peoples of the world; but we confess that saving and authentic knowledge of the Deity in his inner Trinitarian life is possible only in and through the incarnate Son, Jesus Christ, the God-man.

We repudiate the false teaching that Jesus Christ is only one revelation or manifestation of God, that there are other revelations and other experiences (political, ideological, cultural, or religious) to which we may look or must look to gain knowledge of the true God.

IV

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

“This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone. There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:11-12).

By his incarnation in Jesus the Israelite, the eternal Son of God has assumed to himself our human nature, cleansing and healing it by the power of the Spirit, redeeming it from sin and death by the cross of Calvary, raising it to everlasting life in his resurrection, and incorporating it into the triune life of the Godhead by his ascension to the right hand of the Father. Thus this Jesus, who is called the Christ, is the Savior of the world, the one mediator between God and humanity, in whom, by faith, repentance and baptism, we find forgiveness, rebirth in the Spirit, and eternal life in the Kingdom. While we do not presume to judge how the all-holy and all-merciful God will or will not bring to salvation those who do not hear and believe the preached Gospel, we do emphatically declare Jesus the rightful Lord and Savior of all humanity, and we embrace the Great Commission of our Lord to proclaim with evangelical fervor his Good News to the world. To deny this historic conviction in the absolute lordship of Christ Jesus and his exclusive mediation of salvation is to eviscerate the heart and vitality of the Church’s evangelistic mission.

We repudiate the false teaching that the salvation of humanity by the sovereign action and grace of God is unnecessary or that salvation may be ultimately found apart from the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We repudiate the false teaching that Jesus is merely one savior among many – the savior of Christians but not of humankind.

V

“The hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him” (John 4:21-23).

“So that you may not claim to be wiser than you are, brothers and sisters, I want you to understand this mystery: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved; … As regards the gospel they are enemies of God for your sake; but as regards election they are beloved, for the sake of their ancestors; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all” (Romans 11:25-26, 28-32).

By the call of Abraham and the covenant of Moses enacted on Mount Sinai, the triune God has gathered to himself the people of Israel to be his holy nation and royal priesthood, consecrated to his service in the redemption of the world. To them he has entrusted his Torah, Wisdom, and prophetic Word. From this people God has brought forth his Messiah, born in Bethlehem of the Virgin Mary, Jesus the Jew, the son of David, who is the fulfillment of the promises of God to Israel and the Savior of humanity and of all creation. For these majestic reasons, the Jews are to be regarded by Christians as a reverend and blessed people. Following the teaching of the New Testament, we eagerly look forward to that time when Gentile and Jew will be fully reconciled and made one people in eternal communion with the crucified and risen Messiah in the New Jerusalem.

We repudiate the false teaching that the Jews may be persecuted by Christians and we especially repudiate the repugnant and fallacious charge of “Christ-killers,” which has been used by Christians down the centuries as an excuse for hatred, bigotry, and violence against the Jews. All anti-Semitism in thought, word, or deed is vicious and is to be decried and condemned by Christians. But we also repudiate the false teaching that eternal salvation is already given to the chosen people of Israel through the covenant of Abraham and Moses, independently of the crucified Christ, and the inference that the Gospel of Jesus the Messiah need not be proclaimed to them.

VI

“But now, apart from the law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith” (Romans 3:21-25).

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God – not the result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).

The Gospel is the proclamation of the unconditional love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness of God the Father, mediated through Christ crucified, in the power of the Spirit. The Father nurtures, protects, and cares for his children like a nursing mother: he strengthens, directs, and disciplines them like a steadfast father. His love embraces all humankind equally, female and male, and is communicated to us in the preaching of the Word and the celebration of the sacraments, received by the faith granted us in the gift of the Gospel. This love cannot be earned nor bought: We are freely justified by the grace given to us through Christ in his sacrificial death and victorious resurrection, not by our religious, political, psychological, or moral works.

We repudiate the false teaching that God is male (except in the incarnate Christ) and that men are consequently superior to women, or that God has institutionalized in family, society, or the Church the authoritarian and sexist domination of women by men. We repudiate the false teaching that God the Father is the oppressor and subjugator of women, or that the divine Fatherhood is rightly construed as the psychological projection upon the Deity of the experience of human fatherhood. We therefore repudiate the false teaching that the Father of Jesus Christ is inaccessible or unavailable to contemporary women.

VII

“Do you think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets: I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished” (Matt. 5:17-18).

“All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3: 16-17).

We confess the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation. The Holy Spirit, the ultimate author of God’s Word written, was active both in the inspiration of the sinful human writers, redactors, and editors and in the process of canonization. Interpreted within the tradition and community of the Christian Church, with the use of responsible biblical criticism – always under the guidance and lordship of the Spirit – the Scriptures, in their entirety, are the reliable, trustworthy, and canonical witness to God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ, and are our primary and decisive authority in matters of faith and morals. Through the Holy Scriptures the Church hears anew every day that Word who frees us from the tyranny of the fashionable, the divine Word who renews and inspires, teaches and corrects, judges and saves.

We repudiate the false teaching that the plain testimony of the Holy Scriptures may, in whole or part, be supplanted by the images, views, philosophies, and values of secular culture. We repudiate the false teaching that only those sayings of the pre-resurrection Jesus which can be demonstrated to be certain or probable by historical criticism are authoritative for the life and mission of the Church. We repudiate the false teaching that the Old Testament is not to be interpreted in light of its messianic fulfillment in the person of Jesus Christ as witnessed in the New Testament, or that the Old and New Testaments stand hermeneutically, materially, and formally independent of each other.

Pray for the Church

The Rev. Ronald S. Fisher
The Rev. Alvin F. Kimel, Jr.
The Rev. R. Gary Mathewes-Green
The Rev. William N. McKeachie
The Rev. Frederick J. Ramsay
The Rev. Philip Burwell Roulette

The Feast of the Holy Trinity
26 May 1991

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7 Responses to The Baltimore Declaration

  1. Pingback: Morning coffee 2014-11-17 – Baltimore declaration | Mangy Dog

  2. chalcedon451 says:

    There is a level at which it is astounding that this needed saying – but given what has happened since, it seems prophetic.

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  3. This is my favorite theological blog, and I have no quarrel with the Baltimore Declaration, but the reading of the situation that prompted it is not easy for me to follow. Normally, I suppose that–

    (a) A diocesan convention performs administrative tasks.
    (b) Nobody knows who is elected to it; those elected are well-meaning but unlearned; their election is far from being intended by the electors as a theological statement.
    (c) By both long-established custom and common sense, the opinion of a body is not inferred from its inaction.
    (d) Because orthodoxy is counter-intuitive, most people are not self-reflective, and some are offended that the truth is beyond their intellectual capacity– by privative evil, that is, even apart from moral evil– the majority in any church, however visibly perfect, are inevitably somewhat less than fully orthodox.
    (e) Church bodies modeled on civil legislatures are by nature prone to error since their representative purpose obliges them to give proportional expression to folly and ignorance.
    (f) Because of (d) and (e), bad voting etc will occur from time to time, even in the parliaments of impeccably orthodox churches, so that one cannot infer the heterodoxy of a church from the foolishness and ignorance of its elected trustees, nor can one infer the orthodoxy of a church from the absence of bad voting where representative voting is not permitted in the first place.
    (g) All of this is as it has ever been and will ever be until the end of time. Our age, in which people innocently expect to see progress in everything, is differs from other ages mainly in that (1) they do not see why religion would not also progress with everything else, and (2) they do not know where to find progressive guidance.
    (h) Orthodoxy is best promoted by (1) preaching the gospel, (2) denying the authority in matters of doctrine of those merely elected, and (3) acknowledging more credible authority than legislatures wherever God is pleased to put it.

    Thus, had I received Phil Roulette’s phone call, I would have rolled my eyes and thanked the Lord God Almighty for Article XXI. I would not have read anything at all into the non-passage of any resolution. Not considering a mere diocesan convention to be a doctrinal authority even for its own diocese, I certainly would not have seen it as an heretical synod. If, however, I found that there were many who did seriously believe that the Creator of heaven and earth had spoken through the vote of a weekend parliament of Maryland Episcopalians, then I would have pondered ways of correcting that curious misunderstanding. Most likely, I would have pointed to Anglicans and others with greater intrinsic authority for life and faith. In that, I would be following the example of, say, ordinary folk in Moscow or Thessaloniki who respect their hierarchs, albeit with a healthy suspicion, but who actually follow holy men and women with tested charisma.

    I worry sometimes that those I respect most in theological matters have misread the predicament of America’s most deeply Institutional churches. These have a design flaw that better doctrine alone cannot fix: they recognize ‘representative bodies’ as legitimate trustees, but not believing in any institutionalized spiritual authority, they recognize no more-than-administrative spiritual authority, tacitly requiring their members to respect the void that they have intentionally left for God. Into that void, however, those in administrative roles as prelates or conventioneers have from time to time stepped, pretending to greater importance than their traditions allow them to have. Those who call them on doctrinal weakness, but not their pretense of having a doctrinal role, seem to be making mistakes, both of substance and of strategy.

    What is to be done about these transgressions? The void is a matter of faith that God leads his church, so it cannot be filled. Protests against transgressions of the void are unavoidable, but can seem to validate the pretensions of the transgressors in the eyes of their followers. American Christians need to cultivate sophisticated narratives of due suspicion of institutions and charismata more like those of the Greeks and the Russians. These limit the harm of extravagant administrators (eg Lucaris, Nikon, Jefferts-Schori), and reserve the void for a provisional and charismatic authority organic to their traditions and tested by their canons. In our era of ‘nones’ and those ‘spiritual but not religious,’ this less institutional vision of spiritual authority may be our best chance of rescuing lost churches.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Thank you, Bowman, for your comment.

      Context here is decisive. The Baltimore Declaration must be understood not only in light of the rejection by the Convention of the Diocese of Maryland of the proposition that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life, but also in light of the theological debates that were occurring at the time in the Episcopal Church. After that vote a vigorous protest seemed absolutely imperative.

      Also keep in mind that our small little group represented an interesting spectrum of Anglicanism–from Anglo-Catholic to broad church to evangelical to charismatic.

      As the subsequent history of the Episcopal Church has demonstrated, the BD had little to no impact. Life went on as normal. But the Declaration did generate an interested collection of essays, edited by Ephraim Radner and George Sumner: Reclaiming Faith.

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      • No, thank you for such a consistently excellent blog. I hope that this reply repays you for many hours of happy reading.

        That your “little band” acted from conscience, transcended differences in churchmanship, and spoke with such cogency and eloquence was an occasion of hope. The question is: why was this hope not more broadly contagious? Episcopalians seem to read events in their church through a political lens in which doctrinal revision is read, not as a failure to maintain tradition at the center, but as more personal freedom for somebody somewhere.

        People who do not necessarily like the revisions themselves do not feel that they have the moral right to deny them to others. Thus a Maryland conventioneer could have believed the resolution offered, but disbelieved in her right to demand other Episcopalians submit to it. That libertarian dynamic explains why no ‘middle’ rises up to defend the ‘right’ from the ‘left’ in cases of extreme change. Polity, rather than theology, is shaping the self-understanding of churches like The Episcopal Church. Nevertheless, nobody has ever believed anything just because it was duly passed by weekend conventioneers, and only campaigners pushing for change are happy with these outcomes. A church whose changes flow from obvious factionalism inspires little resilient conviction.

        In societies with master narratives of progress, democracy, evolution, etc churches are under a benign pressure to very promptly adapt the expression of received doctrine to emerging conditions. This pressure seeks an organ that credibly understands both ancient tradition and present emergence. Absent such an organ, this pressure instead drives ecclesiastical simulacra of civil politics that privilege the logic of representation over both tradition and adaptation. The actual renewers of churches are not legislators, but saints.

        If this diversion of pressure from responsible adaptation to factional politics is in fact what happens, then many purely theological analyses of what went wrong in the Episcopal Church of the late C20 (and perhaps the Presbyterian Church of a century ago) are misleading us. However, strong proof of this requires a case in which a non-papal church has an authoritative adaptor that effectively pre-empts the use of ordinary factional politics to “fix things.” The adaptors we really need are saints.

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  4. Wow! I had no idea that the church of my baptism, confirmation and marriage had strayed so far from the teachings I absorbed as a youngster. I was raised Episcopalian, attended Sunday school, sang in the children’s choir for ten years, and, although I withdrew my membership shortly after I married, I always felt the basic Christian faith and doctrine was practiced there. I attended services once or twice over the decades with my mother, but I never sought to rejoin the congregation. I am astonished that any doicese of the Episcopal Church would deny the Trinity or that Jesus Christ was the savior and messiah. I take it that this was the issue that lead you to leave the Episcopal denomination for the Roman Catholic Church and ultimately propelled you into the Orthodox ministry.

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  5. frmatthewthurman says:

    I remember being an Episcopal layman when this came out. I was bewildered as to why so many clergy had issue with it when it essentially articulated what I understood about the Christan faith as historically given by the Church. Re-reading it today, it states what I have found as normative within the Orthodox Church.

    I was baptized as an adult in the Episcopal Church in 1989. How this document was received a mere three years later gave me the first hint that the faith I had understood historic, credal Christianity was to be found elsewhere.

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