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Vol I No. 1

Belonging to Christ: Name-Giving

by President Fr. Gavin Dumbar

Question. What is your Name? Answer. N. or N. N.

Question. Who gave you this Name? Answer. My Sponsors in Baptism; wherein I was made a member of Christ, the child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven.

The Importance of Names

“With whom am I speaking?” That’s a phrase from old-school manuals of telephone etiquette. Now we say to the unidentified text messenger, “who is this?” The name represents the person, and by a name we may know and enter into relationship with another. Now we may remember how important a role names play in the Bible – as when God names himself to Moses (Exodus 3:13-15), or the apostles proclaim the gospel in the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 3:6, 16): the name is God’s disclosing himself to us, in his power to save and bless, that we may know him and enter into relationship with him, and receive that salvation and blessing. And we may remember how the Lord gives new names to certain individuals – Abraham to Abram, or Israel to Jacob, or Peter to Simon – as a sign of a new calling from God. Names not only tell us who we are, they open the door to new relationships, new callings, and new futures. When Jesus in the garden of his tomb calls out “Mary”, that one word called her from shadows of grief and despair into joy beyond hope (John 20). The first question of the Prayer Book Catechism asks “What is your name?”, and in that question we know that the Catechism is not just “information” which may or may not interest us: it concerns us as individual persons, both in ourselves, and in relationship with others, and especially in relationship with God. “Thus saith the LORD … I have called thee by name, thou art mine” (Isaiah 43:1).

So much is evident in the second question and answer: “Who gave you this name? Answer. My Sponsors in Baptism; wherein I was made a member of Christ, the child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven.” The giving of a name at baptism – a given name, a Christian name, as we say – calls us into relationship with God, with Christ, with his Church, in which (like Abraham, or Jacob, or Peter) we have an identity and a calling we did not have before.

Names and Identity

Who and what I am is something that is given, something I receive, in and through the community which God has established in relationship with himself. “My Sponsors in Baptism”, my godparents, represent and speak for the spiritual family of the Church into which I am reborn by Baptism; but Baptism not only brings me into relationship with a human community, but with the God who acts through it: “wherein I was made a member of Christ, the child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven”. To know myself, therefore, I must know God, and the Catechism’s instruction is designed to help me do so. It is a manual of instruction in what it means to be what God has made in Baptism, “a member of Christ, the child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven.”

In our culture, it is commonly held that identity, meaning, and purpose in life are not something we receive from outside ourselves, but something we construct for ourselves, something we choose for ourselves; and it is held necessary that we be emancipated from every kind of constraint in order that we may engage in this construction. The only limit set upon this freedom is that we should not constrain the freedom of any other to do exactly the same. One may question whether this emancipation from cultural or social pressure is really what takes place: although some cultural or social constraints may be removed, other ones are subtly imposed. For example, we may be emancipated from an older sexual morality, but there is intense pressure to conform to new sexual mores. One may also question the kindness of demanding that persons choose and construct an identity for themselves, without giving them criteria for making good choices. If in the end there are no criteria, then not only all choices in the spiritual shopping mall are equally “valid”, but they are also equally meaningless and pointless. Moreover, if there is no objective frame of reference by which to measure our choices, and we are left to make them solely for ourselves, then even the most altruistic choices are in fact selfish.

Losing Our Selves to Find Them

C. S. Lewis has this profound comment on this question of receiving one’s identity from Christ.

“It is no good trying to ‘be myself ’ without Him. The more I resist Him and try to live on my own, the more I become dominated by my own heredity and upbringing and surroundings and natural desires. In fact what I so proudly call ‘Myself ’ becomes merely the meeting place for trains of events which I never started and which I cannot stop. What I call ‘My wishes’ become merely the desires thrown up by my physical organism or pumped into me by other men’s thoughts or even suggested to me by devils. (…) I am not, in my natural state, nearly so much of a person as I like to believe: most of what I call ‘me’ can be very easily explained. It is when I turn to Christ, when I give myself up to His Personality, that I first begin to have a real personality of my own. (…) There are no real personalities anywhere else [than in God]. Until you have given up your self to Him you will not have a real self.”

What we may think of as our self is, Lewis points out, often just a “false self ”. The true self is the one that is given to us in Christ. And therefore, he says, “there must be a real giving up of self ”:

Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favourite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will be really ours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.

In his love for us, God in Baptism has given us both a name, and a place of for us in the Body of Christ, in the Family of God, in the Kingdom of Heaven. Now we must become what we are! The purpose of the Catechism is to equip us to become everything that God has made us to be – truly ourselves.

The full text of the book of Catechesis “I am His” (from which this article is excerpted) is available to download from the anglicanway.org website.