Article IX: Of Original or Birth Sin
This post is part of a Lenten series on the 39 Articles.
Article IX: Of Original or Birth Sin
Original sin standeth not in the following of Adam (as the Pelagians do vainly talk), but it is the fault and corruption of the nature of every man that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam, whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to evil, so that the flesh lusteth always contrary to the spirit; and therefore in every person born into this world, it deserveth God’s wrath and damnation. And this infection of nature doth remain, yea, in them that are regenerated, whereby the lust of the flesh, called in Greek phronema sarkos (which some do expound the wisdom, some sensuality, some the affection, some the desire of the flesh), is not subject to the law of God. And although there is no condemnation for them that believe and are baptized, yet the Apostle doth confess that concupiscence and lust hath itself the nature of sin.
Talk of sin isn’t very fashionable these days in the Episcopal Church. Quite often when we do hear talk of sin, it is about other people’s sin. But of course, we are all sinners. The newspapers prove this. As one friend told me, one of his mentors used to say that the only Christian doctrine which can be objectively proven is the depravity of humanity.
This Article is keen to assert the fallen nature of humanity, against any Pelagian or other attempts to suggest that perhaps humans aren’t completely fallen. In fact, the reformers only “kinda sorta” believed in baptismal regeneration, since they thought we weren’t quite all the way regenerated in the font. Subtleties of this ilk can be sorted out by professional theologians, methinks. I can agree with the Article that we are sinners, depending on Christ alone for our redemption.
Many modern Anglicans prefer to soften this talk of original sin and the fallen nature of humanity. But I think the 15th century poet who wrote Adam lay ybounden was on to something.
Blessed be the time
That apple taken was,
Therefore we moun singen.
You see, the sin of Adman and Eve was a necessary part of our salvation through Christ. (Our decision whether to participate in that salvation is covered in the next Article.) Plucking a piece of fruit in an ancient garden was a part of God’s beautiful plan of redemption as surely as the cross and empty tomb.
We modern Anglicans would do well to talk about sin more often. I’m not talking about the “sinners in the hands of an angry God” variety of preaching. I’m talking about the kind of preaching that points out not just other people’s sin, but points to our own need of Christ’s saving embrace. Depending on which church you enter, you might hear about evil politicians, homophobes, heretics, peaceniks, greedy poor people, warmongers, greedy rich people, or whatever the issue of the day happens to be. Usually, in my experience, there won’t be too many of “them” in the congregation.
I suspect that if we confessed our own sins more often, we might be healthier as a denomination. We might talk about our failure to share the faith that is in us, as the Ash Wednesday confession beautifully reminds us. We might talk about our own greed, and our failure to share more of our abundance with God. We might talk about why we spend more of our budgets on our buildings than on feeding the hungry. We might talk about any number of things.
To be sure, we need to hear the proclamation of grace as well — and that message needs to be louder than the proclamation of our sins. But Episcopalians these days — and many other denominations — too readily preach “I’m OK, you’re OK, they’re not OK”. Let us get it right.
1. We were created OK. Totally OK, in fact.
2. We messed up, and now we are all sinners.
3. Jesus offers us redemption.
4. By God’s grace, we can have eternal life.
5. Eternal life begins now, not when we die. Let’s get started!
Don’t stop talking about sin when Lent is over. Our world and our church needs to hear the message: we are all sinners, but there is another way. Once we hear the bad news, we are equipped to hear the Good News.
Here are some questions for pondering or meditation:
- Is it hard to reconcile “original sin” and “made in God’s image”? Should it be?
- Do we talk about sin too much, or too little? Whose sin do we talk about?
- Our baptismal rite (1979) is ambiguous about whether original sin remains after baptism. What would it mean to say that baptism washes us completely clean of our sins and even of original sin? What would it mean to say that we are still marked by sin after baptism?
- Read the Baptismal Covenant in the 1979 prayer book. What does our baptismal rite have to say about sin and redemption? Does our Church proclaim this message?
Almighty God, by our baptism into the death and resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ, you turn us from the old life of sin: Grant that we, being reborn to new life in him, may live in righteousness and holiness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Image from flickr user elobofoto.