Mystical Washing & Spiritual Regeneration
Infant Baptism and the Renewal of the Anglican Way in America
by Peter Toon
Preservation Press of the Prayer Book Society of the U.S.A., 2007
1. Baptism Really Matters
2. The Anglican Doctrine of Baptism
3. Why Baptize Infants?
4. A Personal Covenant With God?
5. Christian Initiation
Appendix: Liturgical Texts for Baptism & Confirmation (BCP, 1662)
Chapter One – Baptism Really Matters
The Churches of the Anglican Way, beginning with Ecclesia Anglicana [the Church of England], have always baptized adult converts, together with the infants of baptized Christians. In so doing, they have held that they were obeying the will of Christ, whose mind and attitude we may see expressed in three well-known passages:
Jesus came and said to the disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth is given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Sun and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18–20, ESV)
Jesus said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:16)
And they were bringing children to Jesus that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands upon them. (Mark 10:13–16)
Here we are met by the Lord Jesus, who welcomes children, and also commands his disciples to go into the whole world to make disciples of all nations, to baptize them, and to teach them.
Regrettably, in the North American scene, the doctrine of baptism no longer seems to have the depth and significance of meaning that it once had. For while much is made of evangelism and church growth, little is made of Baptism and of the intimate connection between believing the Gospel, being baptized and beginning the Christian life in the fellowship of God’s people — despite the fact that in Matthew 28:20 the specific presence of Christ [“I am with you always...”] is promised to the church as it makes disciples and baptizes them.
There is general agreement today that the Anglican Way in North America is in crisis. The many branches, jurisdictions, and forms of Anglicanism that now exist in this now old, but dysfunctional, religious Way in North America are all affected by this crisis, whether they intend to be so or not. The crisis, and with it the disintegration of the Anglican Way, began in the 1970s when The Episcopal Church intensified its policy of innovation and identity-change. It got so bad by 2000, and had so many implications, that now virtually all the leadership within the Anglican Communion of Churches is involved in it, one way or another. (See further my Anglican Identity, Keeping the Global Family Together, 2006.)
In this painful context, I want to advance, and in later chapters lay the groundwork for, this thesis:
that the way in which contemporary Anglicans (=Episcopalians) in the U.S.A. handle the Sacrament of Baptism, and in particular, Infant Baptism and its follow-up, is already determining, and will determine to a very large degree, whether or not they will be successful in recovering and re-establishing a viable, orthodox and biblically-based Anglican Way in the Americas.
Although this may appear to be a strange thesis, I invite my readers to consider it. I hope that they will see, as we proceed, that it does have merit and may even be correct!
At the present time, much is being said by those who are leaving, or have left The Episcopal Church, or form a distinct, separated group within it, about the need for evangelization, mission, church growth and sound teaching in the work of creating the basis for a new Anglican Province in North America — to replace The Episcopal Church and perhaps also The Anglican Church of Canada. Accordingly, there is much emphasis upon “the Great Commission” of Jesus (Matthew 28:16ff.) and there is an abundance of conferences and workshops up and down the U.S.A. and in Canada on how to engage in successful church growth.
We all agree that the preaching of the Gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit, and with clarity and warmth, is absolutely necessary. So also is the vocation of the church to be “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” in American society and culture, and for devoted Christians to engage in good works, which bring glory to God and help mankind. Yet, sooner or later, we have to face the question of Baptism, which, by the institution of the Lord Jesus Christ, is the one and Only means of entry into the kingdom of God and the family of God, bringing with it the promise of everlasting life and the forgiveness of sins. In the Creed, said each day in the Daily Office, we declare: “I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sin.”
Thus how we present, explain, and administer Baptism within fulfilling the Great Commission is crucial for it is God’s Sacrament and God’s Way of admitting (a) those who repent of sin and believe the Gospel, and (b) the infant children of baptized Christians, into his kingdom and family. Over the centuries the Church has not taught that Baptism is a human act or good work of dedication offered to God; but, rather that it is a gracious, Fatherly act of God upon and in a human being, who humbly receives it in trust and thankfulness. Therefore, if we neglect, dumb-down, or wrongly use this unique Sacrament, then we affect not only the full work of evangelization and catechesis, but also the beginnings and developing of the life of sanctification and service of Christians within the local church. And, if we make mistakes on a large scale, then attempting to renew the Anglican Way in the Americas will be severely disturbed and endangered.
Just to remind ourselves, the immense significance and depth of meaning attached to Baptism is well illustrated in the many doctrinal statements of the apostle Paul. For example,
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:3–4)
For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body — Jews or Greeks, slaves or free — and all were made to drink of one Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:13)
For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither male nor female, for you ore all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:27–8)
Having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God... (Colossians 2:12)
He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit. (Titus 3:5)
Here we notice a close identification of Baptism with union with Christ, who died, was buried and rose again, with the gift of the Spirit, and with being born into a new family, communion and age.
Perhaps it is the passage in John 3:1–8 which has had, and continues to have, the greatest influence on the meaning of Baptism for most people. In conversation with Nicodemus, a devout Jewish leader, Jesus said these memorable words:
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God... Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
In the Church over the centuries this has been seen as stating clearly that Baptism is with water but is also by the Holy Spirit, who causes a new birth into the kingdom of God, which is spiritual regeneration.
Right now in North America, if we observe aright, there seems to be — to put it mildly — a general lack of clarity concerning Baptism within the energetic and sincere church planting and church expansion activity by enthusiastic Anglicans. In fact, there appears to be more than a little confusion about the practice and doctrine of Infant Baptism generally today within Evangelical, Charismatic and High-Church Anglicanism. Some of the reasons for this will emerge at various points in the chapters below, as the attempt is made to establish how crucial is Infant Baptism for the complete life of the church and its growth in maturity and numbers.
In the following chapters, I shall attempt carefully to explain and note:
A. What the Formularies of the Anglican Way teach concerning Baptism.
B. Why the Church affirms that Infant Baptism is “most agreeable with the Institution of Christ” and how we can best explain it today.
C. What kind of covenantal language is appropriate in relation to the Services of Baptism.
D. What is the standard form of Christian Initiation in the Anglican Way.
Further, I shall provide a contemporary language form of the traditional Anglican Services of Baptism for Infants and Confirmation for young persons in The Book of Common Prayer (1662). I do this so that it can be clearly seen, especially by those who only use services addressing God as “You,” what the Anglican Way has believed, taught, confessed and done with regard to Holy Baptism and its follow-up.
Finally, I need to state that this essay is based upon the doctrine of Baptism presented in the Anglican Formularies inside The Book of Common Prayer (1662), which is by far the most widely used Prayer Book in the 75 million strong Anglican world, especially in Africa. However, the same doctrine is also found in other editions of this Prayer Book as adapted for use in various countries — e.g., 1789/1892/1928 for use in the U.S.A., and 1918/1962 for use in Canada. We need to be aware that new liturgies since the 1970s sometimes have a modified or different doctrine. If any reader has been used to these modern liturgies, then it may be a good idea before reading any more of this Essay for him/her to go to the Appendix and read the contemporary language form of the classic, Anglican Service of Infant Baptism first in order to orientate himself/herself to the doctrinal mindset expressed here.
[Two useful books for general background reading are G.R. Beasley-Murray, Baptism in the New Testament, 1962, and G.W.H. Lampe, The Seal of the Spirit: Baptism and Confirmation in the New Testament and the Fathers, 2nd ed. 1976.]
Chapter Two – The Anglican Doctrine of Baptism
The Reformed Catholic Doctrine of the Church of England and of The Anglican Way concerning Baptism is stated in (a) The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion; (b) The Baptismal Services within The Book of Common Prayer of 1662, and (c) The Catechism, found also within the Prayer Book. It is also assumed in other places, e.g., the Collect for Christmas, and it is explained in various of the printed Homilies in the two Books of Homilies, referred to in Article 35. In all these sources, the assumption is that it is biblical theology which is being stated as church teaching, even if it is not always in Scriptural terminology. So the authority for the doctrine is in fact the Holy Scriptures.
To appreciate this Reformed Catholic teaching, it will be helpful briefly and simply to state what was the teaching in the late medieval western Catholic Church and as clarified by the Roman Catholic Council of Trent (1546–7), concerning Infant Baptism. The Sacrament, as God’s work of grace, was believed to give at the time of administration to the Infant the forgiveness of (original) sin, regeneration (birth into the kingdom and family of God) and justification (the beginning of the process of being made righteous). Thus what is received is in reality both regeneration and a measure of renovation/sanctification. Faith and repentance were supplied vicariously by the godparents but the emphasis was really on God “acting through the act performed,” not on vicarious faith. (The phrase ex opere operato was used from the thirteenth century to express the conviction that the Sacraments operate objectively, that is, independently of the subjective attitude or feelings of the minister and the recipient. Thus the assertion that a Sacrament confers grace ex opere operato means that, as an instrument of Christ and the Holy Spirit, and by the express will of God the Father a Sacrament — here Infant Baptism — achieves its intended purpose simply by virtue of being rightly performed. In such a context, the charge that human repentance and saving faith are neglected begins to have weight — especially so in the early sixteenth century context where the Sacrament of the Altar was excessively emphasized and the Sacrament of the Font was undervalued theologically and pastorally.)
The Articles of Religion
First of all, there is the general statement made concerning Sacraments in Article 25:
The sacraments prescribed by Christ are badges and tokens of our profession as Christians, and, more particularly, they are trustworthy witnesses and effectual signs of God’s grace and good will to us. By them God works invisibly in us, both arousing and also strengthening and confirming our faith in him....Christ our Lord has ordained two gospel sacraments, namely baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
In the second place, here is what is said specifically concerning Baptism in Article 27:
Baptism is a sign of the faith we profess and a mark that differentiates Christian persons from those who are unbaptized; and it is also a sign of regeneration or new birth by which, as by an instrument, those who receive baptism rightly are grafted into the Church, the promises of forgiveness of sin and of our adoption to be the sons of God are visibly signified and sealed, and faith is confirmed and grace increased by virtue of prayer to God. The baptism of young children is under all circumstances to be retained in the Church as a practice fully agreeable with the institution of Christ.
Thus the Sacrament of Baptism as it applies in the first place to adults, and secondly to infants, is to be understood this way.
1. God the Father works invisibly and truly by the Holy Spirit in those receiving Baptism, which is a Sacrament instituted and ordained by Christ the Lord, the Incarnate Son of God.
2. Baptism is an outward and visible declaration and badge of belonging to God in Christ the Lord and is thus a means of separating the children of God from others.
3. Baptism points to spiritual regeneration or new birth and is the means by which God the Father by the Holy Spirit and for Christ’s sake declares his good will, places the baptized in his Church, grants the forgiveness of sin, adopts them as his sons/children, communicates his grace, and strengthens their faith in him.
4. Baptism is not only to be administered to adults who believe the Gospel, but also to young children/infants as well, for this is the will of the Lord Jesus Christ as known from Holy Scripture.
Article 16 teaches that there is the possibility and availability of forgiveness of sin by God after the initial spiritual washing and cleansing of Baptism, if, and only if, the baptized sinner is repentant and seeks God’s forgiveness. And the teaching here, of course, assumes the great importance — even necessity — of Baptism as the divinely-appointed entry into a right relation with God, the spiritual washing of the soul and the beginning of the Christian life.
In order to get the full context of Baptism within Reformed Catholic Faith, we must also bear in mind the teaching of other Articles as providing the doctrinal context in which to read those on Sacraments. Article 9 is entitled “Of Original or Birth-sin” and is essential as background for what is declared to be “washed” and “forgiven” in Baptism. Article 11 is entitled “Of the Justification of Man” and is essential as background for the emphasis upon repentance for sin and faith in the Lord Jesus as a condition for Baptism and for a right relation with God unto salvation. And Article 17 is entitled “Of Predestination and Election” and is essential for understanding the emphasis upon the sovereignty and priority of the mercy, grace and action of God in Baptism, and as one of the ways to begin to understand why not all the baptized persevere unto the end in faith, hope and charity.
The Services of Baptism in the BCP (1662)
For both infants and adults, the Services begin from the assumption that “all men are conceived and born in sin.” What has been called “original sin” or “birth sin” refers to the belief that each and every human being has within its human nature a built-in bias towards selfishness and disobedience of God’s will. This doctrine as expounded in the eleventh Article is found in western theology in an explicit way from the time of St Augustine of Hippo. Because of this original sin, no person can by himself place himself in a right relation with God and know him as his Father.
Thus there is prayer to God that he will “mercifully look upon this child/person,” wash and sanctify him with the Holy Spirit, that being delivered from the wrath of God against sin, he may be received into the Ark of Christ’s Church, and so pass successfully through the obstacles of this world that he may finally come to “the land of everlasting life” and final redemption. We may say that this prayer asks for what in theology are called regeneration and sanctification, that is, for both the entry into and the perseverance unto the end of the Christian life in the fellowship of God’s Church. Baptism, itself, is the entry not the journey; it is the birth not the developing life after birth.
In a further prayer before the Gospel reading, what is being specifically asked for in the Services is stated in these words to Almighty God: “that he coming to thy holy Baptism may receive remission of his sins by spiritual regeneration,” and that he “may enjoy the everlasting benediction of thy heavenly washing” in order that “he may come to the eternal kingdom which thou hast promised by Christ our Lord.” What is specifically being requested from the heavenly Father are forgiveness/cleansing, new birth and entry into the way that leads into the fullness of the kingdom of God. In the case of infants, it is the washing away of original sin that is primarily in view, but in adults it is all sin, original and actual, and sins of omission and commission.
For infants the Gospel text [Mark 10:13–16], and the Exhortation following it, proclaim the total good will of the Lord Jesus to the infants brought to him in this Sacrament of Baptism. “By his outward gesture and deed, he [Christ] declared his good will toward them; for he embraced them in his arms, he laid his hands upon them, and blessed them.” Then prayer is made to the Father, “Give thy Holy Spirit to this Infant, that he may be born again, and made an heir of everlasting salvation.” So the birth is a spiritual birth into a spiritual, supernatural reality, the kingdom of God.
With adults the Gospel text [John 3:1–8], and the Exhortation following, also proclaim the good will of the Father and the Son to the person coming for Baptism. And the prayer following also requests the gift of the Holy Spirit, new birth and becoming an heir of eternal salvation.
What God the Father looks for and requires in all who are baptized in the Name of the Trinity are repentance for sin and belief in the promises of salvation centered on the Lord Jesus Christ. In the case of adults, this means that the candidate for Baptism must first publicly renounce the devil and all his works, the vain pomp and glory of this world, with all covetous and carnal desires. Then he must profess the Faith of the Church in the Apostles’ Creed and commit to a life of obedience to God, his will and commandments.
In the case of Infants, the conditions of repentance and faith are not cancelled or minimized but they are kept fully in place and the infant fulfills them at this stage through willing and committed Godfathers and Godmothers (along with parents) who promise and make commitment in the name of, and in the stead of the infant. The idea is that the Infant, by divine appointment and grace, is in a special relation to those who, under and for God, become his spiritual parents to ensure that he is given every help and opportunity to make his own, as soon as possible, what they now do for him. So before the Godparents actually vicariously take on for the infant the renunciation of the devil and sin, and embrace the Faith, they are addressed by the priest. After recalling what had been declared already in the Service in terms of the purpose and meaning of Baptism, he says: “Wherefore this Infant must also faithfully for his part, promise by you that are his sureties (until he come of age to take it upon himself) that he will renounce the devil and all his works and constantly believe God’s holy Word and obediently keep his commandments.”
We may note that the use of Godparents or sponsors has its biblical basis in two sources — the Law and the Gospel, Deuteronomy 27 & 28, and Matthew 8:5–13. The first is the use of witnesses at the ratification of a covenant and the second is the recognition by Jesus of the faith of one person, the Centurion, on behalf of another, his servant.
Then immediately before the Baptism are four short prayers asking God to cause the regeneration of the Infant and make this truly and really the beginning of a life of holiness. Then a prayer at the Font over the water follows. This prayer brings together several important themes and so it is important to read it as a whole:
Almighty, ever-living God, whose most dearly beloved Son, for the forgiveness of our sins, did shed out of his most precious side both water and blood; and gave commandment to his disciples, that they should go teach all nations, and baptize them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Regard, we beseech thee, the supplications of thy Congregation; sanctify this Water to the mystical washing away of sin; and grant that this Child, now to be baptized therein, may receive the fullness of thy grace, and ever remain in the number of thy faithful and elect children; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Here we have the recalling of the full identity of Jesus as the Savior, of his atoning death on the Cross for our sins, and of the Commission he gave his apostles after his resurrection to teach and baptize in the Triune Name. And we have a request that the Water, set apart for holy use, will be the outward and effective sign of internal, spiritual washing by the Holy Spirit and of entry into the beginnings of life as a child of God in the family of God. “Mystical” points, in the words of The Oxford English Dictionary, to “having a spiritual, symbolic significance that transcends human understanding.” The water that is set apart for holy use does not contain the energy or presence of the Holy Spirit as such, but it is used in the sacramental act of God by the Holy Spirit as the outward and visible sign and seal of inward, spiritual washing.
The preferred way of baptizing, if the infant is not weak or sick, is dipping or immersion (medieval fonts were large enough for this). But pouring water over the head of the child has also been a common practice. (We recall that Jesus himself was probably baptized by John as he stood in the water and John poured water over him — thus symbolizing for us that the Holy Spirit descended upon him and enclosed him.)
The words used by the Priest in Baptism are non-negotiable and pregnant with meaning: “[Name of Child] I baptize thee in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.” First of all, “in the Name” points to the reception of the baptized into a covenant relation with God himself. “The Name” points to the unique Name revealed by God to Moses (Exodus 3) and known by the Hebrew letters, YHWH, and in old English books as “Jehovah.” So the baptized is placed in a right relation with the God of Abraham and Moses, that is the God known under the old covenant; but this is not the whole story for, after the Incarnation of the Son and the fuller revelation of God’s true identity by him, “The Name” is expanded as into “the Father, together with his Only-Begotten Son and his Holy Spirit.” Baptism is into God the Holy Trinity, Three Persons and One Godhead. And it is God doing this through his Minister. He has established his covenant of grace and he places repentant, believing sinners within it to enjoy its blessings and privileges. To be in this covenant is to know the Father through the Son and by the Holy Spirit. Thus Baptism is not a human act of dedication but a divine act of incorporation.
Following Baptism, the Priest makes the sign of the Cross upon the child’s forehead as he prays: “We receive this Child into the Congregation of Christ’s flock, and do sign him with the sign of the Cross, in token that hereafter he shall not be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified...” Here it is assumed that the Child has entered, or been born into, the way of the Lord Jesus and that the Christian life for him is now ahead of him and it is to follow the same crucified and exalted Christ for the rest of his life.
Before the saying of the Lord’s Prayer, the prayer of the adopted children of God, the Priest declares to the congregation:
Seeing now, dearly beloved brethren, that this Child is regenerate and grafted into the body of Christ’s Church, let us give thanks unto Almighty God for these benefits, and with one accord make our prayers unto him, that this Child may lead the rest of his life according to this beginning.
Once again a distinction is made between the entry into life and the life to be lived after entry. Two metaphors are used, that of birth — being born into a new family — and that of grafting — being attached to the already existing Tree of Life, the Church of God, for life in the Body of Christ.
The benefits, blessings and privileges bestowed by the Holy Trinity through the Sacrament of Baptism are once more declared in the prayer of thanksgiving and petition after the Lord’s Prayer. “We yield thee hearty thanks, most merciful Father, that it hath pleased thee to regenerate this Infant with thy Holy Spirit, to receive him for thine own by adoption, and to incorporate him into thy holy Church...” Here are three metaphors to describe entry into a new sphere and existence — new birth, adoption as God’s child, and incorporation, that is made a member of God’s Church. In the rest of this Prayer, petition is made that what Baptism symbolizes in terms of full identification with the Lord Jesus Christ will be realized in life, and that the baptized infant will truly inherit the promises of salvation and redemption.
And because the Godparents have such an important place under God in the covenant of grace on behalf of the child and his salvation (as his sureties), and because the child under their care and that of his parents needs to be brought to the place where he repents of sin and consciously embraces the Gospel, the Godfathers and Godmothers have a most important ministry, and of this they are reminded in a final Exhortation. This is captured in the sentence: “Ye must remember that it is your parts and duties to see that this Infant be taught, as soon as he shall be able to learn, what a solemn vow, promise and profession he hath made here by you.” Also they are urged to make sure that the maturing child, who repents and believes, is also taught the Church Catechism and brought to the Bishop for Confirmation at the appropriate time.
To summarize, the teaching of the Services is that in Baptism, by the action of God, the infant/adult receives the forgiveness of sins, is born again, that is, born into the family and kingdom of God, made a member of the covenant of grace, and placed on the highway of holiness that leads to final redemption in the heavenly Jerusalem of the age to come. Baptism is God’s way of placing repentant believing sinners at the beginning of the authentic Christian life, pilgrimage and service as a disciple of Jesus Christ and a member of the Christian Church.
The admittance of the child of baptized Christians into the full communion and membership of the Church usually has four steps — Baptism; nurture and instruction; Confirmation and First Communion. Baptism is by the local Priest; the nurture is provided by Godparents, parents and the local church, while instruction, given in home and church, is summarized in The Catechism; Confirmation is by the Bishop and First Communion follows this.
Let us focus on The Catechism to see what it assumes and teaches about Infant Baptism.
The first question asks the catechumen for his Name and the second asks who gave it to him/her. Here is the answer to the second:
My Godfathers and Godmothers in my Baptism; wherein I was made a member of Christ, the child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven.
The meaning here seems reasonably clear. “I was made” points to action by someone other than the infant and that Someone is obviously (from the whole context) God the Father, though the words do not actually clearly say so. To be “a member of Christ” is to be in “The Body of Christ;” to be “the child of God” is to be adopted by God the Father into his Family and Household; and to be “an inheritor of the kingdom of God” is to have the promise of everlasting, future life in and future life in the heavenly Jerusalem.
The natural meaning of “I was made” here is that which is found in such a statement as, “I was made a Captain” pointing to a new rank, status and membership. So it points to the Infant being given a new status, that of an adopted child of God through Jesus Christ. It could also be taken to mean “I was made anew” as a child of God.
However, in Anglican expositions of baptismal doctrine the expression, “I was made,” has been understood, generally speaking, in three ways.
(1) “I became” suggesting, “I did not resist and God infused into my soul his grace by his Spirit and I was born again really and truly then and there into the kingdom of God even though I could not exercise repentance for sin and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; and I shall remain regenerate.”
(2) “I was considered” suggesting, “Since the conditions of repentance and faith were present (through my Godparents) and since Baptism conveys the gift of God, God began to reckon me as his Child and, as soon as I am mature and able, I must personally repent and believe the Gospel promises, in order for the gifts and grace of God truly to be mine forever.”
(3) “I was put into a new relation to Jesus Christ” suggesting, “Since the conditions of repentance and faith were present (through my Godparents) I was born into the new sphere of God’s covenant of grace and thus into the beginnings of the enjoyment of all the blessings of the covenant.”
Of these the content of numbers 2 and 3 seem to be more in line with the other place in The Catechism where the Sacraments are defined and the necessity of faith in relation to them by the receiver is emphasized.
“Baptismal Regeneration” was not an expression used by the first Reformed Catholics but they did accept that regeneration occurred at Baptism, but only because of the Gospel from God received by faith. For them the Rite in and of itself and rightly performed did not, in and of itself, automatically produce spiritual regeneration (as in the medieval opus operatum theory and as suggested in (1) above). Rather the Rite/Sacrament as God’s ordinance caused regeneration where there was active repentance for sin and belief in the Gospel as in adults, or vicarious repentance and faith by Godparents for infants, until they were able to exercise these spiritual virtues personally and consciously. [Note that since the nineteenth century “baptismal regeneration” has carried the general Roman Catholic and strong Anglo-Catholic meaning that Baptism rightly performed automatically causes regeneration, unless the recipient actively resists it. In contrast to this, the Reformed Catholic understanding of “baptismal regeneration” is emphatically related to the conjunction of God’s action and gift in Baptism on the one side, and man’s reception in repentance and by faith on the other. After all, one great doctrine of the Reformation was “Justification by Faith” and this does not stand apart from the doctrine of Baptism.]
The third question asks what the Godparents did for the Infant at his Baptism. The answer is clear:
They did promise and vow three things in my name. First, that I should renounce the devil and all his works, the pomp and vanity of this wicked world, and all the sinful lusts of the flesh. Secondly, that I should believe all the articles of the Christian faith. And thirdly, that I should keep God’s holy will and commandments, and walk in the same all the days of my life.
So in and on behalf of the child, who was not yet able to act for himself, the Godparents solemnly promised to God (a) renunciation of the devil, evil world and sinful desires; (b) belief of the doctrines in the Creed, and (c) living daily in faithful obedience to God. The form and tense of the verb used of the commitment to be made by the infant is important — “that I should renounce...believe...keep...” The “I should” is just the grammatically correct subjunctive in speech reporting a promise. The subjunctive was/is ordinarily used for uncertainties, but not here. Perhaps the nearest equivalent in modern English would be “must” but could possibly be the American English “will.” The “should” points to a promise leading to obligation and duty, and as coming into effect from the very first moment in the future when the child is able to respond to God as his Father through Jesus Christ — a response which is his duty and privilege as a baptized person, by divine promise.
So, from the moment of his Baptism, the infant child of Christian parents is reckoned to be, and is to be treated as, a child of God, with all appropriate nurture, instruction and discipline, so that what God has made over to him he comes to see is his, but only by grace through faith. This places great responsibility upon the parents, Godparents and local church as the ministers of heaven to this growing child, even as it also celebrates the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ revealed in the covenant of grace in its New Testament administration through this Sacrament, instituted by Jesus the Christ.
Perhaps a few further comments on the place of Godparents is necessary. In the West in the twenty-first century, it is extremely difficult to ensure that a baptized infant is truly cared for as a Christian by either Godparents or parents. In part the difficulties arise through such realities as (a) great mobility of people, taking Godparents to distant parts; (b) a general lack of sustained commitment by people in modern, western society; (c) the rampant individualism which fills western culture; (d) the isolation of the nuclear family and the presence of the one-parent family; (e) the impact of divorce and break-up of families; (f) emphasis upon supposed rights of children not to be indoctrinated, and (g) lack of teaching and support in churches which practice Infant Baptism. These difficulties place a huge responsibility on the local churches where parents with baptized children attend. Somehow these churches — possibly with the help of grandparents — have to make up the deficit caused by the minimal or non-participation of Godparents and of one or both parents. Put another way, the local church has to provide real Godparents by one way or another! For they are truly ministers of the Lord in the Body of Christ unto children!
Though the doctrines of Regeneration and Baptism are most clearly presumed and taught by the Anglican Formularies, as being closely, indeed inextricably, united in God’s covenantal grace, the same cannot be said of the later seventeenth-century Presbyterian Confessions of Faith produced in Britain, or the later mindset of Evangelicalism from the eighteenth century onwards.
In the high Calvinist and Puritan Westminster Catechisms and Confession of Faith from the 1640s, there is the beginning of, but certainly nowhere near a total, separating of Regeneration from Baptism; however, in the preaching of George Whitefield, John Wesley and the many Evangelicals who followed them, this separation was completed, so that the separation is part of the fixed “orthodoxy” of Evangelicalism in the twenty-first century. In fact, following the example of the young Billy Graham, many evangelists preach on the duty of being born again (“Ye must be born again”) as if it were something that man can do in and of himself, for and before God. They equate being born again with making a decision for Christ. Others, accepting that regeneration is a work of God in and upon us, preach that it occurs in relation to our believing the Gospel and is in no way necessarily by divine purpose connected to Baptism. There is no doubt but that Anglicans of an Evangelical sympathy or mindset have been profoundly affected by the Evangelical tradition of separating regeneration from Baptism, and that many assume that this separation is specifically what is taught by the Holy Scriptures and assumed by the Anglican Reformers. To change this perception and mindset is a massive undertaking!
Returning to Whitefield and Wesley, we may reflect that they would have done far better for the unity of truth if they had taken their model for their preaching from the Prophets of Israel who called the people of Israel as God’s people back to the LORD from their apostasy and faithlessness. These evangelists preached to “nominal Christians” as if they were heathen, as if they were not baptized in the Triune Name. Thus frequently they preached, “Ye must be born again,” and equated the new birth, regeneration, with both an internal renewal and an Outward conversion, available there and then. They assumed that the people were not regenerate but needed to be born again in the extended sense of full conversion, and this meant that — without necessarily thinking about it — they actually undermined or denied the doctrine of the Baptismal Services. For all practical purposes, they separated the grace and mercy of God in regeneration from the Sacrament of Baptism and made Baptism to be merely and only an outward sign, with no accompanying internal regenerating work by the Holy Spirit. And thereby they set in motion what has become a massive pastoral and doctrinal problem for those Churches which today baptize the Infants of baptized Church members as pleasing to the Lord.
Where we are in 2007, and what are our problems in America, stand in stark contrast to evangelization in the Early Church where evangelism led people to desire to become a child of God and disciple of Jesus, but this was not seen as fully realized until, after instruction and exorcism, Baptism was administered. It was proclaimed that in Baptism regeneration took place (as the believer was adopted by God into his covenant and family) and afterwards the new Christian, as a family member, for the first time prayed, “Our Father...”. As in ancient Israel where boys of 8 days were circumcised, and as converts to Judaism be they male or female, old or young, were “washed” (baptized), so in the administration of the new covenant, inaugurated by the sacrifice of Jesus himself, God places male and female, old and young, through Baptism into that covenant, which makes all the baptized into the children of God. They are born into a new and everlasting Family. Once within this covenant of grace they are called to live as “God’s elect,” true followers of the Lord Jesus Christ.
This said, to hold the full doctrine of, and to administer rightly, Infant Baptism in local churches, where many claim to be “born again” and see not the slightest relation of this to Baptism, are difficult, if not impossible today! Many choose to take the easy way out and reduce Infant Baptism to a service of dedication or suchlike. And they make no assumption that the one baptized becomes thereby through God’s grace actually and really a Christian, to be nurtured and instructed as such until he is sufficiently mature to recognize and accept to whom he belongs! In general, it is assumed that both the baptized and the un-baptized, are to be evangelized whenever possible and to be encouraged to make a decision for Christ so that they may then be “born again.” And with this mindset and activity, we ditch the pastoral mind and practice of the Church over many centuries and involve ourselves in many problems!
[See further my book, Born Again. A Biblical and Theological Study of Regeneration (Grand Rapids, 1987, Part Two), and Ray R. Sutton, Signed, Sealed and Delivered. A Study of Holy Baptism (Houston, 2001. chapter 4). In my Evangelical Theology, 1833–1856 (London, 1979), I have described the controversies in the nineteenth century concerning the relation of regeneration to Baptism.]
Chapter Three – Why Baptize Infants?
The only hint in the Anglican Formularies that the practice of Infant Baptism was being rejected by anyone in the mid-sixteenth century is the sentence at the end of Article 27. This states: “The Baptism of young children is in any wise to be retained in the Church, as most agreeable with the institution of Christ.” In the earlier version of this Article the wording was: “The custom of the Church to christen young children is to be commended, and in any wise retained in the Church.” This sentence and teaching were inserted because of the existence of a very small group of radical reformers called “Anabaptists,” who insisted on rebaptizing those already baptized as infants, because they held that baptizing infants, who did not openly profess faith, was wrong.
Everywhere else in the Formularies the practice and custom of baptizing infants is taken for granted, especially in specific services for baptizing children in church and, in emergency, in houses. So let us place ourselves in the sixteenth century, within the mindset of the English Reformers, and ask how it was that they could say that Infant Baptism is “most agreeable with the institution of Christ,” that is, agreeable to his commission in Matthew 28:19–20 and Mark 16:14–20 to make disciples, baptize and teach.
What to hold in mind
The first thing that we need to bear in mind is that the Reformers looked at the Bible as One Canon in Two Testaments, not as two separate Testaments joined into one Canon. Today where we start from is different. In a University Faculty or Seminary there is a department of Old and another of New Testament Studies, usually with little contact between them, and each looks to its own professional groupings and societies. Thus modern reading of the Bible tends to begin from treating the Testaments separately and then seeing connections between the two.
While the distinction between the Hebrew Bible and the Greek New Testament was very clear to the Reformers, their first thought was not the difference and distinction but the unity of the two, because both are inspired by God – “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16–17). The first homily in the First Book of Homilies (1547) of the Church of England, “A Fruitful Exhortation to the Reading of Holy Scripture,” moves from Old to New Testament and back again with a freedom that moderns would find hard to emulate.
The second thing to bear in mind is that the Reformers understood the unity of Scripture, not only in that each part and the whole are inspired by the Holy Spirit, but also in that both Testaments declare and explain the one covenant of grace, established and given to mankind by the Holy Trinity. This covenant was made known originally to Abraham (see Genesis 17) and, as St Paul explained in his Epistle to Galatia, was then focused via the Mosaic covenant between God and the tribes of Israel until the birth of the Messiah, and then it reached its primary expression in the “new covenant” established by the Lord Jesus Christ (see the Epistle to the Hebrews). Jesus came to fulfill not to destroy the Law and the Prophets of the Mosaic Covenant. So in the Daily Lectionary the Reformers read and meditated upon the One Bible, using both the Old and New Testaments at both Morning and Evening Prayer and they did so on the old doctrine that “The New is in the Old concealed; the Old is by the New revealed.” So, for example, the “Man” of Psalm 1 is in the first place the righteous, godly Hebrew husband and father, but in the whole scope of Scripture, he is the new Adam, the Son of Man, the Messiah, who, for all men, Jew and Gentile, obeyed the law of the Lord and made atonement for mankind’s sin.
The third thing to bear in mind is that the Reformers were very much influenced by the Fathers of the Early Church in the way they read the Old Testament and this meant that they used what we call typology naturally and often. One has only to read the two Books of Homilies, which they wrote to be read on Sundays in parishes, to be made aware of how much they read and depended upon the commentaries and sermons on the Bible by the Fathers, notably Chrysostom and Augustine. And one has only to look at the Service of Public Baptism for Infants in The Book of Common Prayer to see their commitment to typology as a way of reading the whole Bible as One Canon. In the first sentence of the first prayer the Minister prays:
Almighty and everlasting God, who of thy great mercy didst save Noah and his family in the Ark from perishing by water; and also didst safely lead the children of Israel thy people through the Red Sea, figuring thereby thy holy Baptism...
“Figuring” may be rendered “representing” or “typifying.”
The fourth thing to hold in mind is that what we know and experience in contemporary western society as individualism did not exist then. The American experience, especially, has been to exalt individualism (it is central to the Constitution and legal system of the U.S.A.), and, having this fundamental mindset, modern readers of the Bible are worlds apart from the Early Fathers and the sixteenth-century Reformers as they read the Bible. Put simply, the normal way for an American in 2007 to read the Bible is from the perspective of each human being as “an individual.” In contrast, in other societies both in the present and very much so in the past, the Bible is/was read by “a person in relation to others, to the created order and to God.” Certainly it was read and heard personally by individual persons, but those persons did not consider themselves as “individuals” with only self-chosen connections with others, but as a necessarily connected person, defined by having relatives and belonging to others. There is no individualism in the classic Anglican Formularies (The Book of Common Prayer, The Thirty-Nine Articles and The Ordinal) or in The [Two Books of] Homilies of the Church of England. In contrast, the literature, preaching and context of the emerging and growing “Baptist” churches over the last century and more in America, especially, cannot be explained without the rising presence of individualism in culture and society. It is as if the local church is a community of individuals and Baptism is the self-chosen act of witness by an individual who claims to believe.
One effect of the conditioning factors described above is that the early Fathers and the Reformers took it for certain that Jesus, his disciples, and Gentiles who came into the Church after being Jewish proselytes, naturally thought of the infant children of both Jews and Christians as rightful heirs of God’s covenant of grace. This did not remove the duty of all human persons — man, woman and children — to be faithful servants of the LORD God, but it did declare with certainty their standing in terms of the Covenant. God had chosen them and they were to respond appropriately! From this perspective, the Baptism of infant children of baptized Christian parents, already potentially in the covenant of grace, was “most agreeable with the institution of Christ.” And it was also, from this perspective, clearly seen as assumed or presented in the whole Canon of Scripture, even though there is not a simple command anywhere which says, “Baptize infants,” or a simple description anywhere of the actual Baptism of an infant.
The fact of the matter is that what exactly one sees — either in the words of a document or on the faces of a crowd of people — much depends on the spectacles one wears as one looks, and the mindset or mental frame of reference one employs as one thinks. Using the lens of modern individualism, one can only see the baptism of the self-conscious “individual” who has decided for himself/herself to be baptized, and, on these terms, to baptize an infant is nonsense, although to dedicate an infant to God does make sense as an act of free people.
Within the approach of the Early Fathers and Reformers to the whole Bible, one sees the appropriateness, rightfulness and evidence of/for Infant Baptism in the following types of consideration and reflection:
1. The death of Jesus upon the Cross at Calvary which was “a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world.” As the Second Adam, the New Man and New Israel, Jesus represented all mankind and died not for his own sins but as the Representative and Substitute of sinful mankind, including all new born infants. Thus we may say that all children belong to Christ, for he has made atonement for them, and so they are, in the right context and under the right conditions, the appropriate recipients of the sign and seal of that redemption, which is Baptism.
2. Children have a divinely-given and divinely-required place in the Abrahamic covenant of grace. This is made clear by the word of the Lord God heard by Abram in Genesis 17:9–14, after a series of encounters recorded in Genesis 15 and 16, where God establishes his covenant of grace with Abram and his offspring. The Lord told Abraham:
You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised... Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall he cut off from my people; he has broken my covenant.
In the person of Abraham circumcision was the sign and seal of an existing faith in the Lord God (see Paul’s comment in Romans 4:11); hut with respect to infant boys it is the pledge and seal of the covenant status and blessings promised to them. Though administered by man, it presents the movement of God to man, the bringing of the very young man into a covenant relation. But what of the status of women and girls for whom there was in their human body no specific sign and seal of covenant membership given? The covenant which requires male circumcision operates on the principle of the unity of the head of the household/family with its members and so the family is included in the head, which is the male, who is the husband and father. Thus females are certainly in the covenant of grace and are required, along with males, to trust, love, obey and serve the LORD God, walking in his ways and keeping his commandments (see the account of the covenant ceremony in Deuteronomy 29 where the presence of women and children is recorded in verses 10–12). What circumcision points to, prefigures and typifies, as a sign and seal of the Abrahamic covenant of grace, is Baptism in the “new covenant” administered to adults and infants, but now also both to males and females, because this final, complete and everlasting phase of the historical administration of the covenant of grace is the clearest and richest, and so the covenant blessings are made over specifically and really and personally to all the elect of God.
In Colossians 2:11–14, St Paul makes an explicit connection between spiritual circumcision and Christian baptism. In the Old Testament circumcision had been spiritualized as circumcision of the heart and the equivalent of both repentance by man (Leviticus 26:41; Deuteronomy 10:16; Jeremiah 4:4 & 9:26; Ezekiel 44:7, 9) and cleansing of the heart by God (Deuteronomy 30:6). It is the latter, God regenerating the heart of man, which texts in the New Testament link to Christian Baptism (see John 3:5 & Titus 3:5). The apostle connects spiritual circumcision and Baptism when he writes to Colossae:
In Christ you were circumcised with a circumcision without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands.
While this specific teaching of the Apostle to the Gentiles does not prove the existence of baptized infants in the Church at Colossae, it does underline the connections within the one Covenant of Grace in terms of admission and the work of God in the hearts of those admitted.
3. Before the ministry of John the Baptist, and during the period of the Ministry of Jesus of Nazareth, Gentiles who wished to become God-fearers, members of the Jewish synagogue and eventually fully-initiated Jews, began their conversion by going through a ceremony of cleansing by water, in order to wash away all the ceremonial uncleanness accrued by living as a Gentile outside the Torah. This proselyte baptism was administered to all members of the household, the father and husband, the wife and mother, and all the children of both sexes, for the simple reason that all had lived in the Gentile world and were ceremonially unclean. After Baptism only the males were circumcised. However, the existence and knowledge of these household baptisms of Gentiles may well have influenced the way in which the families of heads of households were baptized along with the head himself (see below No’s 5 & No 6).
4. The attitude and words of Jesus in relation to children support and underline their place in the covenant of grace. In the Service of Baptism for Infants in The Book of Common Prayer, the Gospel reading is Mark 10:13–16. We read these words of Jesus: “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” Then we learn that “he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.” Following this Gospel-reading there is a very short exhortation upon it by the Minister. In this he declares: “Doubt ye not, therefore, but earnestly believe that Christ will likewise favorably receive this Infant; that he will embrace him with the arms of his mercy; that he will give unto him the blessing of eternal life, and make him partaker of his everlasting kingdom.” Little children are certainly capable of receiving the blessings of the covenant of grace. Perhaps it is appropriate to add that Christ’s words about, and blessing of, children do not prove that he had their Baptism in view; but it does prove that he has a unique love for little children, and it pleased him greatly that they were brought to him in every way possible during his itinerant Ministry. And, we may add, that Baptism is the unique way, and in the case of infants the only way, in which they can be visibly brought to him now for his new covenant blessings.
5. It is most likely that in one or more or all of the baptisms of the members of a household recorded in the New Testament small children were included (as they were in Baptism of Gentile families becoming Jews). There is first of all the baptism of the God-fearer Cornelius in Acts 10:12, 46–48 & 11:14. Then in Acts 16:14–15 is the record of the Baptism of Lydia and her household, and in verses 25–34 is the account of the jailor in Philippi being baptized, “he and all his family.” Acts 18:8 refers to the Jew Crispus and his family being baptized and St Paul states: “I baptized the household of Stephanus” (1 Corinthians 1:16). With the head of the household are baptized all its members. It is difficult to believe that there was not one small child in their number! And it is difficult to imagine the infants and small children were left in their cradles while everyone else, servants and all, were baptized.
6. The way that St Paul writes to children in his Epistles assumes that they are members of the household of God, “in Christ” and thus baptized. In Colossians 3:20–21 he addresses both children and their parents, presuming both are in church membership. “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.” Then in Ephesians 6:1–4 he writes: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother (this is the first commandment with a promise), that you may live long in the land. Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
7. Psalm 22 points to a relation of trust and faith in God by a child: “You [God] are he who took me from the womb; you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts. On you was I cast from my birth and from my mother’s womb you have been my God” (verses 9–10). Perhaps not all children within the covenant of grace but certainly some appear to know God and trust him even when very small. However, the principle of vicarious faith, as that exercised by Godparents, is provided by Jesus in what he said at the healing of the paralytic man at Capernaum. His friends brought him to where Jesus was and laid him before Jesus, who, Mark records, “saw their faith, and said to the paralytic, ‘My son your sins are forgiven’.” And the man was wonderfully healed (Mark 2:1–12). Vicarious faith is also, and possibly more clearly, illustrated by the Roman centurion (Luke 7:1–10 and Matthew 8:5–13) who assuredly believed that Jesus could heal his servant who was at home grievously sick.
Those who want absolutely clear proof of “beyond all reasonable doubt,” that is, of the kind needed in a modern American court in a criminal trial, that Infant Baptism took place in the apostolic age, will never find it. Relatively speaking, we have few documents from the second century and for such proof they need to wait until the mid-to-late second century, when specific references to it begin to appear.
[For serious discussion of the evidence from the Early Church see Joachim Jeremias, Infant Baptism in the First Four Centuries (1960), the response by Kurt Aland, Did the Early Church Baptize Infants? (1963), and the reply from Jeremias, The Origins of Infant Baptism (1965).]
Explaining Infant Baptism through the use of the analogies
In the modern world, where individualism is such an influential factor in how we understand and behave, finding good, contemporary analogies for the rightness of Infant Baptism is difficult. Here are two, one of which can be stated briefly and the other takes a little more time.
The first is based on the early life of King Henry VI (1421–1471) of England, Ireland and France, who succeeded his father in 1422, when he was an infant. He was crowned king as a child and made his vows obviously by proxy. His coronation confirmed him to be what he was born to be. That is, he really was king, though not aware of it and though he gave no actual consent himself. Then he was brought up as king (regrettably not too successfully) and then he consciously took kingship upon him. He could have abdicated, though this option was rarely taken by medieval kings, and he often lamented his hard calling. Henry was nevertheless aware that he had been made king (by God, he thought) and that his duty was to accept what had been done.
So the child of Christian parents is born to become a Christian and he is baptized as an Infant (with sureties) to be what God wills him to be. He is brought up as a Christian and on reaching maturity personally affirms and accepts who he always has been and is before God.
The second analogy is based on the legal concept of escrow and in its usage in English rather than in American law. In North America lawyers commonly talk of holding funds “in escrow,” but that is not the English use in which an escrow is a document sealed and delivered by the first party (e.g., a rich uncle) to a third party (e.g., a lawyer) to be held by him until certain conditions (e.g., reaching a certain age or getting married) are performed, and then to be delivered by him to the other (the second ) party (e.g., a nephew of the uncle) to take effect as a deed. If the conditions are not performed, the document never becomes a deed. If the conditions are performed, then the delivered deed takes effect from the original execution and delivery of the deed to the third party, not from the date of delivery to the second party, following performance of the condition. In other words, the effect of the deed relates back.
Here from the pen of Dr. H.C.G. Moule, Bishop of Durham (1841–1920), a noted scholar and a leading Evangelical Churchman of his time, is an explanation of Infant Baptism using the analogy of escrow from English law:
Christian Baptism is an ordinance of the New Covenant. It is an ordinance of entrance into Covenant. It initiates the receiver of it into the new, better, and everlasting Covenant. It does this after the manner of a rite. It does it formally — ceremonially. It gives new birth, new life, forgiveness, the Spirit, grace and glory. But it gives as a deed gives — not as an electric wire gives. It gives a title. It conveys to the right recipient such possession as now after conveyance only demands his actual entering in and using to he complete.
There are legal documents called escrows. These are deeds of conveyance which speak in the present tense, and do a present act of gift and transfer, but they carry with them a condition to be fulfilled before the effect is actualized. Till that condition is fulfilled the present giving does not become actual possession. The receiver of the title-deed does not actually enter on the property given in it. He has it in title, but he has it not yet in act and use. He has something at once. He received a beneficial title, right and pledge, the possession of which conceivably at once entitles him to special care, attention, and privileges.
So Baptism, at once and literally, in the sense of title, makes an infant a member of the Church — a member of Christ, the child of God, and an inheritor of the Kingdom of Heaven. In the sense of title, he is at once regenerate. He receives at once in that respect the acceptance of an adopted child of God in Christ, and the new life, which is wrought in man by the Holy Ghost. But in the ordinary law of God’s working revealed in His Word, these precious things, in their possession, await the humble claim of repentance and faith...” [Cited by Charles Neil and J.M. Willoughby, The Tutorial Prayer Book, London 1913, p 375, but no precise source is given.]
It is easy to see why Bishop Moule wrote as he did, referring to a deed giving title, and to subsequent entry and use. Anticipating the content of the next chapter on “Covenant” it will be useful to note here that the language of covenant is closely linked to the law of deeds since the operative terms of a deed are called “covenants” and the grantor “covenants” (verb) with the grantee. So, use of escrow terms might re-enforce the idea of a one-sided covenant in Baptism between God and the baptized, but loosely used it might also re-enforce the idea of a two-sided arrangement. Moule understood this aspect of the matter rightly. In a deed, there might be mutual covenants, but in a straight grant of title which is the analogy he uses, the deed is a one-sided affair — as is the Covenant of Grace, as will be shown below in the next chapter.
Moule’s explanation proclaims that in the Sacrament God has freely given everything needful for both eternal salvation and sanctification to the Infant Child of Christian believers; it also assumes that (a) Godparents will do their holy work of making sure that the growing child is given Christian nurture and instruction; (b) the child is surrounded by the worship, prayer and means of grace of the Church of God; and (c) the maturing child, as a young person, will personally embrace the Gospel in repentance and faith and enjoy that which has been his by divine gift from the beginning.
Thus for parents in the Reformed Catholic Faith of the Anglican Way the Baptism of their child is a wonderful occasion, for it is the moment when the Holy Trinity receives their Infant and makes him by great mercy and amazing grace into what he could never be by human wisdom, choice or action, a child of the heavenly Father and a member of the heavenly kingdom of God.
[To appreciate the nature and impact of “Individualism” on American thought and life, and thus be able to reflect on its impact on the theology and practice of Baptism, I suggest as a starter Peter Augustine Lawler, Stuck with Virtue: The American Individual and our Biotechnological Future, 2005; Mary Ann Glendon, “Looking for ‘Persons’ in the Law,” First Things, December 2006, No. 168; and Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self, The Making of Modern Identity, 1991.]
Chapter Four – A Personal Covenant with God?
In what sense, if at all, is there a Baptismal Covenant, that is, a covenant offered or made in Baptism between God and the person baptized or between the baptized and God? In contemporary Anglicanism, especially in The Episcopal Church of the U.S.A., much is made of “the Baptismal Covenant” and this expression as a major heading occurs in the Service of Baptism in the Prayer Book of 1979.
We recall that Jesus himself established what both he and his apostles called the new covenant by his atoning sacrifice of himself on the Cross. The new covenant (the contrast is with the Mosaic or old covenant which was fulfilled at the same Cross) is made between God the Father and his Incarnate Son, with the latter acting as Representative Man, the new Adam and the new Israel. God the Father made this covenant of grace with Christ Jesus, his Incarnate Son, and therefore with all from Jews and Gentiles who would be (through the preaching of the Gospel) united to Christ, that is “in Christ” as members of his Body (as St Paul states) for everlasting salvation and eternal life.
This new covenant, the covenant of grace, is the essential background for the legitimacy and efficacy of the preaching of the Gospel, the Administration of the Gospel Sacraments, and the response of repentant, believing sinners to the Gospel message. In Baptism, God the Father acts in the Name of Christ and by the Holy Spirit to regenerate sinners, that is to place them within the covenant of grace and thus name them as his children, as they begin life in and with Christ. As with the initial response to the preaching of the Gospel, so in the Sacrament that follows, God the Father graciously and freely gives his salvation, but he only gives where there is readiness to receive and a heart to be filled. And such readiness is only possible and present where, through the activity of the Holy Spirit as illuminator, inspirer and energizer, there is personal repentance for sin and belief in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Savior.
So it may — indeed must — be said that there are conditions for entry into the covenant, the covenant which is already established and complete in itself through, in and with Christ, who its mediator and guarantor. And these conditions are faith in the Lord Jesus and repentance for sin. Almighty God, the heavenly Father, opens the gate of his kingdom and proceeds with adoption into his family when a person turns from sin and embraces the promises of salvation through and in Christ Jesus.
However — and this is very important — divinely-required conditions for entry are not conditions which actually constitute the human side of a making or ratifying a contract or covenant between the human person and the Lord God, the Holy Trinity. The covenant is between the Father and the Incarnate Son, and we, human beings, are only covenant partners in that we are made members of Christ, grafted into the True Vine, and walking with the Lord.
Further, we may and must say that the kingdom of God, the heavenly Jerusalem, exists with all its covenant blessings and that only the repentant and believing sinner is allowed to enter and, in entering, is most warmly welcomed. So by repenting and believing (or, in fact, by doing anything else to or for God) none of us is entering into, making, or closing a personal covenant with God; but rather, we are being made a member of Christ and thus in, through, and with him, we are placed in an eternal relation within the covenant of grace with the Father, through the Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, by the invisible ministration of the Holy Spirit, working as the Spirit of Christ.
A personal covenant?
Though the Liturgy for Baptism in The Book of Common Prayer (1662) does not use the word “covenant”, some commentators have used the word, assuming that a baptismal covenant is presupposed in the text of the Services. For example in the often reprinted commentary by Evan Daniel, we read:
It will be observed that as soon as the introductory collects are ended, the Church sets forth the Baptismal Covenant into which the child is to enter. God’s part in the Covenant is declared in the Gospel and the Address; the child’s part in the promises made by the sponsors. (The Prayer Book, 1915, page 419)
And in The Prayer Book Dictionary (1925) on page 84 we read:
“Baptism involves a covenant between God and man. Man promises faith and obedience — a belief in the Christian religion, and a life in accordance with God’s commandments. God on his part covenants that, if man keeps his promises, he shall obtain everlasting life. The promises are made in response to the priest’s Questions...
Here we seem to have the old, middle of the way, English approach, which is affected by Pelagianism and Arminianism, and supposes that human free will and response must be present and articulated, and that therefore there is an agreement in operation which may be called a covenant. So it posits a personal covenant made between God the Father through Christ with each baptized person and supposes that this agreement with conditions is inside the primary covenant of grace, the “new covenant.”
I suggest that there are great spiritual dangers in thinking and teaching that there is a Baptismal Covenant between God and “the individual [person]” as the front end, as it were, of the covenantal themes within the Service of Baptism. And nowhere is this more evident than in the life of The Episcopal Church since the 1960s! We need to shout from the housetops, as it were, that God does not make a covenant with me and I do not make a covenant with God in holy Baptism. If he does not then what occurs in covenant terms in Baptism? By grace, and by grace alone, I enter through Christ the Mediator into the New Covenant, which is corporate in nature and therein I am, again by grace alone, made one of the elect of God, and a child of God. In Baptism I make promises and vows to God, but I do not thereby seal a covenant with God for only Christ, the God-Man, can (and has done) that! I may recall from time to time these promises and vows but in so doing I am not renewing any covenant. I am simply remembering effectually the promises and vows I made when God in Christ by the Holy Spirit regenerated me in Holy Baptism!
God the Holy Trinity has established his covenant of grace and he places regenerate sinners in this covenant. God does not actively make a contract with each and every person who accepts his Gospel as if God is the supreme “Individual” and the human being is one “individual.” For a biblically-based and sensible approach to the relation of the covenant of grace to the act of Baptism, I commend to my reader the exposition of Article 27 by Bishop E.A. Browne in his very widely read, and often reprinted, An Exposition of The Thirty-Nine Articles first published in the late nineteenth century. While emphasizing the theme of covenant he avoids all suggestion of a personal covenant operative in and after Baptism.
Covenant in the 1979 Prayer Book
In the current Prayer Book of the Episcopal Church, there is, as we would expect, a service of Holy Baptism. If you come to it, having been used to the services in the traditional Book of Prayer, you may be able to read it as if it were simply an updating of these. Further, if you examine the layout of this service, you notice that there are several types of sub-headings within the text. Those in the largest type are obviously intended to indicate the important nature and content of the material that follows and there are three of these: “Presentation and Examination of the Candidates,” “The Baptismal Covenant,” and “The Baptism.” It is here that you may begin to suspect that it is more than simple updating that has occurred here.
Immediately underneath “The Baptismal Covenant” without any headings in smaller type there are two sections — the Creed in the form of Questions and Replies, and five questions concerning commitment and consecration to Christian life and service. Then there is a sub-heading in small bold print, “Prayers for the Candidates,” which is followed by two further sub-headings in small bold print — “Thanksgiving over the Water,” and “Consecration of the Chrism.”
It would appear that “The Baptismal Covenant” ends where the sub-heading, “Prayers for the Candidates” begins, and that the reason why the first heading is in much larger print than the second is that it is deemed to be of primary or greater importance.
On the basis of this evidence one is able to say first that “The Baptismal Covenant” is taken to be very important, and, secondly, how it is understood by The Episcopal Church. The Covenant on pages 304–305 of the 1979 Prayer Book appears to be the commitments and promises that those about to be baptized make to God. It is the human dedication and consecration to the God, who is proclaimed in the Apostles’ Creed. What is promised (to this God and/or to his Church) is regular attendance at Christian worship, resistance of evil, repentance for sin, a Christian life that commends the Gospel, seeking and serving Christ in the neighbor, striving for peace and justice among all people and respecting the dignity of every human being.
Earlier as part of the Examination of the Candidates they are asked to make certain renunciations — of Satan, evil powers and sinful desires — and to accept Jesus Christ as Savior, to trust in him and to follow him. But these vows are not part of “The Baptismal Covenant” but preparatory to it. So we can sharpen the definition of the meaning of this Covenant and say that it is the human commitments and promises of those who have already made certain specific vows and are about to be baptized. Now a covenant is relational, with at least two parties. Obviously God is the other party here but there is no specific and clear statement of what God’s commitments and obligations are, though one perhaps can deduce what they are by what is said here and there in this service. In “An Outline of Faith” in the same Prayer Book a covenant with God is defined thus: “A covenant is a relationship initiated by God, to which a body of people responds in faith.” And the New Covenant is said to be “the new relationship with God given by Jesus Christ, the Messiah, to the apostles; and, through them, to all who believe in him.”
So what we learn from the Service itself and from “An Outline” is that God as the senior Partner in the agreement/covenant/contract sets things in motion — initiates — and the human being as the junior partner accepts certain beliefs and conditions. (In terms of the beliefs and conditions, it would appear that the Episcopal liturgists actually created the terms of the contract of what they deemed God required in the modern world. And they used Scripture, Tradition and “Experience”. In doing this, they innovated in their placing in the contract the requirement of striving for “peace and justice” in the world, and “respecting the dignity” of each and every person, themes which most agree come from the late 1960s when the Service was first planned.)
Recently a female theologian of The Episcopal Church, Frederica H. Thompsett, deeply committed to “The Baptismal Covenant” gave great emphasis to it in an essay entitled, “Baptismal Living: Steadfast Covenant of Hope.” In the first sentence she writes:
Baptism is deeply grounded in the generosity of God. Like all other biblical covenants, whether the Hebrew covenants of Abraham and Sarah, Moses, Jeremiah, or the new covenant proclaimed by Paul and others, baptism is a response to God’s initiating love. (Anglican Theological Review, 2004)
This is quite amazing. She equates the baptismal covenant with the new covenant in terms of importance, but as somehow different from it! And in this equation she apparently speaks for many in The Episcopal Church.
What was made clear in Columbus, Ohio, at the 75th General Convention of The Episcopal Church in June 2006, where I was present, was that there is a very clear connection and route from the content of its innovative 1979 Prayer Book to its major innovation in the secular areas of self-worth, human rights and freedoms, especially sexual. And that connection is specifically through the constant use of part of the text of the “Service of Holy Baptism” (1979, pp. 299ff.), specifically “The Baptismal Covenant.” Overseas journalists present at the Convention were mystified by the constant references in Committees, the Houses of Deputies and the House of Bishops to “The Baptismal Covenant” as the apparent basis of Episcopal religion. One journalist, who knows well the Church of England General Synod and its favorite themes, admitted on his Blog that he could not understand why Baptism was mentioned so often in an American Anglican Synod. At this stage he had not yet seen — the penny had not yet dropped — that this Covenant is the foundation of the progressive, liberal agenda.
In The Episcopal Church in 2007, Baptism seems to be widely understood as the ritual entrance into a community (a community in modern terms is the coming together of “individuals” for a common purpose). But what kind of community? This is presented within “The Baptismal Covenant”. Though there is a promise to be committed to certain traditional things such as church attendance, resisting of evil and proclaiming the Gospel, the innovation is in two questions which require an affirmative reply: “Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?” And, “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being?” Then these themes cast their shadow backwards over the topics that went before them so that, for example, proclaiming the Gospel becomes proclaiming what would be called in political terms, a radical, progressive agenda of human affirmation. (All these new explanations of old themes are possible because for many God is no longer perceived in terms of classical Trinitarian Theism but, at best, in terms of panentheism and, at worst, in terms of pantheism; and thus God’s being and the being of the world are seen to be intimately related and so concern for the things of God is necessarily this-worldly, of this cosmos!)
Anyone who has followed the debates and resolutions of the General Convention from the 1960s through to 2006 will have no doubt of the great importance attached to these innovative, radical commitments to “God” based on “The Baptismal Covenant,” which provided not a few General Conventions with their titles and themes. What these commitments mean — if we listen to the General Convention and the Executive Council — is a virtually total dedication to the expanding agenda of civil and human rights and the support of all moves to affirm self-worth and human dignity. Thus anyone making these commitments within the context of the Episcopal Church is virtually committing himself to all the innovations introduced by the General Convention since the 1960s, from the right to divorce and remarriage in church, through a variety of women’s and minority rights, to the rights of homosexual persons to be true to their orientation. To see what “peace and justice” mean the place to go is to the work of the “Peace and Justice Commission” of the Episcopal Church since the 1970s, and to see what “dignity of persons” is all about the place to go is the General Convention and its resolutions arising from acceptance by this Church of most of the agenda of the LesBiGay and Feminist lobbies.
It is also important to note that the new Presiding Bishop, Katherine Jefferts Schori, at her installation in The National Cathedral in Washington D.C. on November 4–5, 2006, made “The Baptismal Covenant” central on both days, and also had the ceremony of sprinkling the congregations with “baptismal water” as a sign of their commitment to and renewal of this covenant. Both her sermons presented the Christian Gospel in terms of a commitment to bringing into being a better world for the poor, needy, outcasts and sick. She presented what seemed to be an updated version of the old liberal doctrine of the realization of the kingdom of God on earth as that to which The Baptismal Covenant commits both God and the people of God. Nine years earlier, Frank Griswold had also made this Covenant the center of his understanding of where he was and intended to go, and where The Episcopal Church was all about and going.
There seems to be little doubt but that in the mind of Bishop Katherine and many in the leadership of The Episcopal Church in 2007, Baptism is closely connected with secular notions of human rights, dignity, equality, and opportunity, and given a Christian reference by the use of biblical pictures and divine names. And since Baptism is administered to all kinds and types of infants, children, young people and adults (but, of course, mostly to infants), and since the so-called “orientation” and “potentialities” of these persons is not (usually) known when they are baptized, the point is made that God accepts all whoever they are and whatever their inner personal identity. They are accepted “just as they are” and they are placed within “the community of faith” and become “the children of God” on terms set out in “The Baptismal Covenant.” They are to be treated with full “human dignity” and with equality of opportunity and treatment. Further, and importantly, based on the radical doctrine of equality, and for the sake of peace and justice, every baptized person, whatever his/her sex, “gender,” “orientation,” marital state, race, ethnicity, ability and maturity, is potentially a candidate for every office and position of leadership within the “community of faith.” To bar anyone from anything simply and solely on grounds of sex, “gender,” “orientation,” and so forth is understood to deny “The Baptismal Covenant” and to destroy the whole basis of “the community of faith.” Of course, not all can be a presiding bishop or even a deacon (the laity are needed to pay the bills and make up the congregations!) and so there have to be democratic processes for the election of candidates; but this is to be within and not opposed to the general commitment to equality and dignity of the baptized. So the view taken in this new religion is that to close any church office to a baptized person is to deny the very basis and content of the Sacrament of Baptism. Thus dioceses like Fort Worth which do not admit women into the ordination process are seen as denying the very basis of Episcopal religion, and rejecting human rights.
One hardly needs to make the point that the notion that to everyone baptized is given in principle or in seed, as it were, a call to all ministries is not only an innovatory doctrine but is also a simple and effective way of closing debate on the ordination of women and of persons in same-sex partnerships. If in Baptism God gives to a person a mission in and with his Church, and it is a blank check to cover any form of ministry in mission, then all the old debates as to a call to, and eligibility for, ordained and lay ministries are redundant. Baptism is full initiation into all opportunities and possibilities. To doubt this and oppose it is to show that one needs therapy to help clear one’s mind of confusions.
Apart from changing the doctrine of Baptism, and through it the doctrine of ordained Ministry, this doctrinal innovation of a personal one-on-One covenant has implications on a wide set of fronts. It changes the doctrine of the Eucharist which becomes the celebration of the rights and privileges of the local “community of faith” where the “passing of the peace” is in effect the “sacramental sign” of this “peace and justice” community. It changes the ethics or moral theology of the Church for it fosters the development of basing moral theology on the modern doctrine of rights — natural, civil and human. It changes the “Gospel” of the Church, which ceases to be the message from God the Father concerning his Incarnate Son who died for our sins and rose again far our justification to place us in a right covenant relation with God for eternity, and becomes instead a message about “peace and justice” for all peoples, here and now, and usually only here and now, and only for this present world. In short, two great words of the Christian tradition — Baptism and Covenant which both point to the merciful action of the holy, transcendent God for and in helpless and hopeless sinners are used to advance a religion wherein historical, biblically-based Christianity is set aside in favor of humanist agendas and themes drawn from contemporary secular society, which emphasize commitment to the improvement of the human lot in and around the world. Here the Church is not only in the world and for the world — as it ought to be — but also of the world in terms of its ethos and agenda, and thus its role as “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” is lost.
[To gain the flavor of the theology of the Primate of The Episcopal Church, Mrs Katherine Jefferts Schori, see her book, A Wing and a Prayer, February 2007.]
Chapter Five – Christian Initiation
Since the middle of the twentieth-century, there has been much study and debate of Christian initiation both in the World Council of Churches and in the Roman Catholic Church. Naturally, the Anglican Way, especially in the West, has been affected by this and there have been attempts to modify or reform the received method of Christian initiation within the Anglican Way. None has been more obvious and radical — as perhaps we would expect — than the approach taken by The Episcopal Church. Let us begin our brief study with an overview of the traditional Anglican method.
Initiation in The BCP (1662)
The last words spoken by the Priest in the Service of Infant Baptism in The Book of Common Prayer (1662) are these:
Ye [Godfathers and Godmothers] are to take care that this Child be brought to the Bishop to be confirmed by him, so soon as he can say the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments in the vulgar tongue [English], and be further instructed in the Church Catechism set forth for that purpose.
Here we note the normal method of Christian initiation with respect to children that was uniformly in place in the Church of England and the Anglican Family of Churches from the sixteenth century through to the latter part of the twentieth century, and is still in place in much of the Anglican Communion of Churches. Baptism leads on to Christian nurture and instruction, which leads on to Confirmation and then to the joy and discipline of receiving Holy Communion. In many parishes classes in preparation for Confirmation have been a major means of helping young persons realize what God has given to them as baptized Christians and what, as such, the Lord Jesus calls them to be and do.
To appreciate the Anglican method we need to hear in mind that the Anglican Reformers, in the middle of the sixteenth century, took what had been the standard practice of Initiation in Ecclesia Anglicana for a long time and made modifications to it, arising from a very major conviction that they held — that the gracious blessings and privileges given by God in Infant Baptism are only truly and fully received personally by the baptized when he consciously exercises repentance for sin and belief in the promises of God centered on the Lord Jesus Christ. So they raised the recommended age for Confirmation, the age that had been in place for several centuries, from about eight to about twelve years, and did so because they wanted to provide opportunity for the young person knowingly and consciously to embrace the Faith which his Godparents had held and believed vicariously in his stead. (In England, the ruling of the Council of Lambeth in 1281, convened by Archbishop Peckham, was that first Communion would normally follow Confirmation and this would be at the age of seven or eight. This canon entered the directions within the Latin Sarum Liturgy. In other countries, First Communion occurred a year or so before Confirmation.)
Thus the English Order for Confirmation begins with this explanatory Preface read by the Bishop or a Minister appointed by him;
To the end that Confirmation may be ministered to the more edifying of such as shall receive it, the Church hath thought good to order, That none hereafter shall be confirmed, but such as can say the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments; and can also answer to such other Questions, as in the short Catechism are contained: which order is very convenient to be observed; to the end that children being now come to the years of discretion, and having learned what their Godfathers and Godmothers promised for them in Baptism, they may themselves, with their own mouth and consent, openly before the Church, ratify and confirm the same; and also promise, that by the grace of God they will evermore endeavour themselves faithfully to observe such things, as they by their own confession have assented to.
And immediately after the Preface the Bishop asks the young persons this question:
Do you here, in the presence of God, and of this Congregation, renew the solemn promise and vow that was made in your name at your Baptism; ratifying and confirming the same in your own person, and acknowledging yourselves bound to believe and to do all those things, which your Godfathers and Godmothers then undertook for you?
To this each one is to say clearly, “I do.”
So we note that the vicarious faith exercised by the Godparents for the infant suffices before God in the covenant of grace until the child, in the process of maturing, has come to “the years of discretion.” At this point he can, as a young person, with understanding and commitment, embrace that to which, in and through Godparents, he is already committed. That is, as a twelve-year old, he now publicly confesses the Faith of Christ and commits himself to be a true follower of Jesus Christ.
Having publicly made his own what had been held in trust for him by his Godparents, the baptized young person is ready to receive the ministry of the Bishop, the Father-in-God of the congregation of Christ’s flock, to pray for him and to lay hands upon him. And following this Confirmation he is ready, as a repentant sinner and Christian believer, to approach the Table of the Lord, to receive the heavenly food. It has been rightly stated that:
The Reformers moved Confirmation to the early teens, so that those baptized as infants could receive elementary Christian instruction and could then make the baptismal professions of faith and repentance in their own persons, immediately before being admitted to Communion. Although the Reformers used Confirmation for a new purpose, it was a purpose in general harmony with the New Testament and the primitive Church, one which gave a renewed emphasis to repentance and faith, and completed what had been begun at Baptism. (The Water and Wine, p. 76)
So generations within the Anglican Way have been taught that Confirmation is the completion of Baptism and that receiving Holy Communion normally follows Confirmation.
Initiation in The Episcopal Church
Until the 1970s, the method of Initiation in the Protestant Episcopal Church followed that laid out in The Book of Common Prayer (1928) which is the same as that in the earlier 1662 edition (which had been used in the original thirteen colonies). Then, under the influence of what has been called “the liturgical renewal movement” and taking into account the developing doctrine of rights for children and other factors, The Episcopal Church approved in its General Conventions of 1976 and 1979 a new doctrine of Initiation. The first words in the introduction to the Baptismal Rite summarize the new doctrine: “Holy Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body the Church. The bond which God establishes in Baptism is indissoluble.”
This claim is based upon what occurred in the Early Church in and from the third century and what still is the practice in The Orthodox Churches. However, it has not been the practice in the Catholic Church of the West since the late patristic period. In the Early Church, there was great variety — indeed a bewildering diversity — of approaches and forms, but in general the way in which an adult convert was received into the Church involved, in one complex ceremony, Renunciation of the Devil, Profession of Faith, Baptism in Water, Anointing with oil (chrism), Laying on of hands by the Bishop and receiving Holy Communion. In the Orthodox Churches today the Baptism of Infants follows this general outline, but without the presence of the Bishop. The parish priest baptizes, anoints with oil (blessed by the Bishop) and then gives Holy Communion (a tiny amount by intinction using a spoon or using his finger) to the Infant.
So the novel practice of The Episcopal Church is like that of The Orthodox Churches but without the rich doctrinal, liturgical, historical and disciplinary context of Orthodoxy. As we have noted above the Episcopal Service contains a Renunciation and “The Baptismal Covenant” before the Thanksgiving over the Water and the Blessing by the Bishop (if present) of the Chrism. Then follow the Baptism and the marking with the sign of the Cross (where Chrism is used), the Welcome of the baptized into the congregation and then Holy Communion. In the normal parish, it seems, infants, children, young people and adults are all invited and urged to receive Holy Communion as often as it is provided.
There is a certain untidiness in the Episcopal Rites in the 1979 Prayer Book because — under pressure from Bishops whose visits to parishes have usually been only for “Confirmation” — a service of Confirmation is retained. However, it is not retained as the completion of Baptism as in the traditional Anglican Way, but rather as a kind of recognition that the baptized communicant is taking up the responsibilities of church membership and Christian living.
Perhaps here is the place to note why, from the standpoint of the Reformed Catholic Faith of the Anglican Formularies, the giving of Holy Communion weekly to infants and young children, as in The Episcopal Church, is unwise, indeed probably an erroneous practice. The apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 10–11 has much of importance to teach us about “discerning the Lord’s Body.” Here we are warned of the consequences of partaking of the bread and the cup without keeping Christ’s death in mind. A person doing so is guilty of profaning the Lord’s broken body and shed blood. Therefore, self-examination is a necessary preparation before coming to the Table of the Lord. For to partake without “discerning the body of the Lord” draws God’s judgment upon the communicant. Thus,
We may surely conclude then that, as infants and small children can neither rigorously examine themselves nor discern the significance of the sacramental bread and wine, it is better that they should not communicate but rather wait until the “years of discretion” (at least 12) for this privilege. (The Water and the Wine, p. 38)
Of course, one can add all kinds of practical points to this theological and spiritual reason why it is better for children to wait until they are fully aware of what kind of holy and unique Table it is to which they go. And one can also supply a variety of reasons why in the modern format of services on Sundays in Anglican Churches (e.g. many “Family Communion Services” with very few Morning Prayer Services) there is great pressure to allow small children to communicate — for receiving a blessing does not seem to satisfy children who are used to having their rights respected and their felt desires satisfied by their parents and relatives. Further, especially in The Episcopal Church, with its strong doctrines of inclusivism and comnmunitarianism, from which none of any age or orientation is to be excluded, the full inclusion of children sacramentally is not doubted or questioned but is morally required. In fact partaking of the communal, symbolic meal is seen as expressing loyalty to the local community of faith and thus attendance without partaking is usually regarded as suspect behavior and to be challenged (in contrast to former days when not receiving was seen as a very personal decision and not open to investigation or discussion).
While the practice of Infant Communion has gained ground in the (numerically declining) Anglican Churches of the West — but not very much in the Church of England — it has not had much success in the greater part of the (numerically growing) Anglican Family of Churches of the Global South. Wherever there is strong Evangelical Faith, then the call for repentance and faith is primary and this acts as a supporter of traditional, Anglican initiation. And wherever there is strong Anglo-Catholic Faith this also can act as a supporter because Confirmation is treated as a “full Sacrament,” one of the Seven, which is related to, but separate from Baptism, and which may be judged to be best received before becoming a regular communicant (although Roman Catholic practice is to admit a child of seven to Communion and give Confirmation later when a teenager).
It would appear to be the case that if there is to be a genuine revival of The Anglican Way in the West, firmly based on the Bible, the historic Formularies, and tried and tested Anglican practice, then a return to the traditional form of Initiation will be required, for it is probably the only way in the new millennium under present crisis conditions to keep in its primary place the Gospel call for genuine repentance for sin and saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. In this Revival there will be much greater use of the public services of Morning and Evening Prayer with Litany, and thus less use of Eucharistic Services as the sole diet for Sundays. Certainly Eucharistic Services will not be used as “evangelistic tools.” And where there is a Service of Holy Communion, then provision will be made for those not yet confirmed to leave after the Ministry of the Word in order to receive suitable instruction in the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer and the Commandments, and other suitable topics. Thereby pressure to give Communion to those not prepared, or not able fully to prepare, will be avoided.
[For further reading and a (rare) substantial defense and commendation of the traditional Anglican way of Initiation see, The Water and the Wine. A Contribution to the Debate on Children and Holy Communion, by R. Beckwith and A. Daunton-Fear, Latimer Studies 61, The Latimer Trust, London, 2005, www.latimertrust.org See also J.D.C. Fisher, Christian Initiation: The Reformation Period, London, 1970.]
Chapter Six – Epilogue
The content of the Service of Infant Baptism in The Book of Common Prayer (editions of 1662, 1928 & 1962) presents a sober but very biblical view of the human condition and of each person in terms of separation from God and sinfulness — see the Appendix below for the 1662 Service in contemporary English. This traditional Anglican Service also presents a very exalted view of the human condition when the grace of God enters the situation to bring regeneration at Baptism — a person is no longer a child of the devil but an adopted child of God; no longer a condemned sinner but a forgiven servant of the Lord Jesus; no longer deserving divine wrath but an inheritor of the kingdom of God and everlasting life; no longer bound to the old creation but within the new creation, which is ever new and thus eternal.
Yet, though God’s grace is more than sufficient, the responsibility of parents, God-parents and local church in the ensuring that the baptized child actually and really is placed within “the narrow way that leads to eternal life” is both extremely important and truly necessary. This dimension of the work of God through human ministers is crucial but is much neglected today, as, regrettably, it has often been in the past. It is impossible to tell how many baptized persons have slipped away from their baptismal Faith into some kind of apostasy because of the failure to care for them fully and graciously by those appointed as God’s ministers to them.
We may say that Infant Baptism is crucial in the renewal and re-uniting of the Anglican Way in North America because, when it is truly being administered rightly and followed up appropriately, this is a very good indication that the local church is functioning according to its doctrinal and pastoral heritage, as biblical and catholic, evangelical and Anglican. Yet we must be honest and say that, on the basis of experience, not all who are baptized as infants will come to full personal faith and commitment to Christ Jesus as teenagers. There will he many complex reasons for this, but this fact should not allow the local church, Godparents and parents to cease to care for the baptized (but as yet not committed) person, even when he reaches years of discretion and personal accountability. “Whatever will be, will be” is not a Christian approach.
As we have noted, intimately related to the administration of Infant Baptism are such important themes as the following:
1. The Gospel of the Father concerning the Son for human salvation.
2. The reality and content of the New Covenant, the final phase of the Covenant of Grace.
3. The unity of the Old and New Testaments as One Canon of Scripture.
4. The place of typology in reading the Old Testament as a Christian.
5. The importance of the Sacraments as signs and seals of God’s action and grace.
6. The Church universal — and the local church — as the family of God and body of Christ, with nurturing and instructional duties to children.
7. The promise of God unto children born into Christian families that his salvation is for them, now.
8. Baptism as the actual start and beginning of, and entry into, the Christian life and of a true relation to the Holy Trinity — Three Persons, One God.
9. Godparents as the provision of the grace of God the Father in order to cause his will for infants to be done through sanctified human agency.
10. The fellowship to which the local church is called as a place of welcome and nurture for children (and adults).
11. The valuing of children in imitation of how Jesus viewed them (Mark 10:13–16), and thus the importance of family, relatives, and home.
12. Methods of outreach, evangelism and church growth/church planting which take into account the important place of children in the Covenant of Grace.
Further, we have noted or may note here that Infant Baptism rightly understood and practiced will help drive from the membership of the local church such things as:
(a) Slackness and half-heartedness in terms of the upbringing of children;
(b) Incorporating human rights for children into Christian initiation;
(c) Making Baptism into mere Dedication and a human-towards-God event only;
(d) Creating a contract for a this-worldly political and social action between “free humans” and God as the real purpose of Baptism;
(e) Expressive individualism, where a person is perceived as complete in himself and not needing relations as a primary aspect of his identity and life;
(f) Church growth theories which, in order to work quickly and well, assume that all potential converts are “individuals” and will stay such;
(g) Interpreting fellowship and communion as communitarianism — a collection of individuals with a common purpose;
(h) Acceptance of abortion on demand as an individual’s right of choice; and
(i) Sexual acts as primarily for recreation rather than for procreation.
Infant Baptism, in contrast to infant dedication, is certainly anti-cultural in the West today because it actually represents a set of biblical principles which are rejected by a culture that is fed and watered from the wells of individualism, materialism, utilitarianism, relativism and pragmatism. Therefore, rightly to administer it, and genuinely to follow up on it, are high and difficult vocations for the Anglican churches today, but unless they are done, and done rightly and graciously, there will be no genuine renewal of the Anglican Way in North America.
Appendix – The Public Baptism of Infants
This service is normally to be used within Morning or Evening Prayer (after the second Lesson) or within Holy Communion (after the Epistle). It may be used for the Baptism of one of more infants. Each infant boy should have two male and one female Godparents and each infant girl two female and one male Godparents.
The Minister will normally be a priest but a deacon may take this service when necessary.
Italics indicates an instruction or rubric, bold type a response by the congregation or members thereof, and regular type what the Minister says.
Dearly beloved in Christ, the Sacrament of Baptism is administered because our Lord Jesus Christ taught us that we cannot enter the kingdom of God unless we are born of water and the Holy Spirit. This new birth is necessary because all human beings have both a natural disposition toward evil and also commit sin. They cannot save themselves. Therefore, I urge you to call upon God the Father, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that in his great mercy he will grant new birth to this child; and that he may be baptized with water and the Holy Spirit, and received into Christ’s holy Church and made a living member.
Let us pray.
Almighty and everlasting God, who in great mercy saved Noah and his family in the Ark from perishing in the flood, who safely led the children of Israel, your people, through the Red Sea, symbolizing thereby holy Baptism, and who by the Baptism in the river Jordan of your Son, Jesus Christ, sanctified water to the mystical washing away of sin; in your infinite mercy look on this Child, wash and sanctify him by the Holy Spirit, we pray, in order that, being delivered from your wrath, he may be received into the Ark of Christ’s Church. Make him to be steadfast in faith, joyful through hope, and rooted in love, so that passing through the difficulties caused by the world, he may finally come to the land of everlasting life, there to reign with you forever; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Almighty and immortal God, who gives aid to the needy, strength to the helpless, and everlasting life in a resurrected body to those who believe, we pray for this Infant, who is coming to your holy Baptism that he may receive forgiveness of his sins by spiritual regeneration. Receive him as you have promised by your Beloved Son in the Gospel, that he may enjoy the blessing of your heavenly washing, and may come to the eternal kingdom, which you have promised by Christ our Lord. Amen.
Let us hear the words of our Lord Jesus Christ from the Gospel according to St Mark (10:13–16)
“And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the children come to me, do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.’ And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.”
Beloved in Christ, you hear in this Gospel the words of our Savior Christ commanding the children to be brought to him. You see how, after rebuking those who tried to prevent him, and commending the example provided by a child, he declared his good will towards the children as he took them in his arms, and blessed them. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today and for ever. Do not doubt, therefore, but earnestly believe, that he loves this Child, that he approves our bringing of him to holy Baptism, that he is ready to receive him with the arms of his mercy, and to give him the blessing of eternal life. And so being persuaded of the good will of our heavenly Father towards this Infant, declared by his Son Jesus Christ, let us faithfully and devoutly give thanks to him, and say together,
Almighty and everlasting God, heavenly Father, we humbly thank you for having called us to the knowledge of your grace and to faith in you. Increase this knowledge and confirm this faith in us forever. Give your Holy Spirit to this Infant, that he may be born again, and be made an heir of everlasting salvation; through our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.
Here the parents and Godparents stand and the Minister says to them,
Beloved in Christ, you have brought this Child to be baptized in this place, you have prayed that our Lord Jesus Christ would be pleased to receive, to cleanse, to sanctify, and to make him an heir of the kingdom of heaven and everlasting life. You have heard that our Lord Jesus Christ has promised in the Gospel all these things and we know that he keeps his promises. Since this Child is not yet able to answer for himself, you must on your part, as the ones taking responsibility, undertake on behalf of this Infant three things: first, that he will renounce the devil and all his works; secondly, that he will constantly believe God’s holy Word; and thirdly, that he will obediently keep God’s commandments.
I ask you therefore,
Do you, in the name of this Child, renounce the devil and all his works, the vain show and glory of this evil world, with all the its covetousness, and the sinful desires of human nature, so that you will not follow nor be led by them?
I renounce them all.
Do you in the name of this Child believe the Christian Faith?
I believe in God the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth. And I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From there he shall come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. Amen.
Do you in the name of this Child desire Baptism?
That is my desire.
Do you in the name of this Child promise obedience to God’s holy will and commandments and to walk in them all the days of your life?
I do so promise, with God’s help.
Will you pray for this child and seek to ensure that he may learn and do all these things?
I will, with God’s help.
Then shall the Minister make the following supplications:
Merciful God, grant that the sinful Adam in this Child may be so buried that the new Adam may rise up in him. Amen.
Grant that all sinful desires may die in him, and that all things belonging to the Spirit may live and grow in him. Amen.
Grant that he may have power and strength by faith to have victory and to triumph against the devil, the world and sinful human nature. Amen.
Grant that whoever here is dedicated to you by our office and ministry may also be endued with heavenly virtues, and everlastingly rewarded, through your mercy, Blessed Lord God, who live and govern all things, for ever and ever. Amen.
The Minister moves to the font with the Godparents and Parents.
Almighty, everlasting God, whose most dearly beloved Son, for the forgiveness of our sins, shed from his most precious side at the Cross both water and blood; and later gave commandment to his disciples, that they should go teach all nations and baptize them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Hear, we implore you, the prayer of your people; sanctify this Water to the mystical washing away of sin; and grant, that this Child, now to be baptized in it, may receive the fullness of your grace, and ever remain in the number of your faithful and elect children; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Minister takes the Child into his arms, or by the hand, and says to the Godparents,
Name this Child.
And then, repeating the name of the Child after them, the Minister dips him in the water or pours water upon him, saying,
N, I baptize you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Then the Priest shall say (as he makes the sign of the Cross on the forehead of the baptized Child),
We receive this Child into the congregation of Christ’s flock, and sign him with the sign of the Cross, to represent that from this time forward he shall not be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified and courageously to fight under his banner against sin, the world and the devil; and to continue Christ’s faithful soldier and servant until the end of his life. Amen.
And he shall continue,
Beloved in Christ, now that this Child is born again and grafted into the body of Christ’s Church, let us give thanks unto Almighty God for these benefits; and with one accord make our prayers unto him, that this Child may lead the rest of his Christian life according to this good beginning.
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. Amen.
We truly thank you, most merciful Father, that it has pleased you to regenerate this Infant with your Holy Spirit, to receive him as your own Child by adoption, and to make him a member of your holy Church. Amen.
We humbly implore you to grant that being buried with Christ by baptism into his death, he may also be made partaker of his resurrection; so that, serving you on earth in newness of life, he may finally, with the rest of your holy Church, be an inheritor of your everlasting kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Here the Minister shall address the Parents and Godparents concerning their responsibilities and duties through an appropriate sermon or address, or through the reading of the following exhortation.
This Child has promised by you, who have stood in his place, to renounce the devil and all his deeds, to believe in God, and to serve him. It is your duty before God to see that he shall be taught, as soon as he can understand, what a solemn vow, promises and profession he has made through you. Also it is your duty to urge him to hear Christian teaching and sermons, to learn the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments, together with all other things that a Christian ought to know and believe for the salvation of his soul and body. Further, you must seek to ensure that he is brought up to lead a godly and Christian life, always remembering that Baptism represents to us our profession as Christians. This is to follow the example of our Savior Christ, and to be made like unto him; that as he died and rose again for us, so we, who are baptized, should die to sin and rise again unto righteousness, continually putting to death all our evil and corrupt affections, and daily advancing in all virtue and godly living.
Finally, it is your duty to see that he is brought to the Bishop to be confirmed by him after he has been instructed in the Church Catechism and has learned the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments.
Here the Service of Morning or Evening Prayer, or of Holy Communion, will resume.
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The Order of Confirmation or Laying on of Hands upon those that are baptized and have come to years of Discretion
All who are to be confirmed stand before the Bishop. He or some other Minister reads this Preface:
The Church in its wisdom has ruled that no baptized young person shall be confirmed unless he can both say the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments and also answer questions taken from the short Catechism. By this rule, what Godfathers and Godmothers promised for Infants at their Baptism can be personally accepted and confessed by the same persons, who have now come to maturity as young persons. Also they can promise faithfully to observe all things belonging to the profession of the Christian Faith.
Here the Bishop may direct that there shall be read, in order to show the Apostolic use of the laying on of hands, these portions of Holy Scripture: Acts 8:14–17 and 19:1–7.
Then the Bishop asks those who have come to Confirmation:
Do you here, in the presence of God and this congregation, renew the solemn promise and vow made in your name at your Baptism; and do you personally ratify and confirm the same, acknowledging yourselves bound to believe and to do all those things, which your Godfathers and Godmothers then undertook on your behalf?
Every one shall reply,
Then the Bishop says:
Our help is in the name of the Lord.
Answer: Who has made heaven and earth.
Blessed be the Name of the Lord.
Answer: Always and forever.
Lord, hear our prayer.
Answer: And let our cry come unto you.
The Bishop continues in prayer:
Let us pray.
Almighty and ever-living God, by whose grace these your servants have been born again of water and the Spirit, and have received forgiveness of all their sins; confirm and strengthen them with the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, and daily increase in them your plentiful gifts of grace; the spirit of wisdom and understanding; the spirit of guidance and strength; the spirit of knowledge and true godliness; and fill them, Lord, with the spirit of your holy fear, both now and for ever. Amen.
Those to be confirmed kneel before the Bishop who lays his hands upon the head of each one saying,
Defend, Lord, this your servant N with your heavenly grace, that he may continue to be your child for ever; and grant that he may daily increase in the fruit of your Holy Spirit until he comes to your everlasting kingdom. Amen.
Then the Bishop shall say,
The Lord be with you.
Answer: And with your spirit.
Let us pray,
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. Amen.
Almighty and ever-living God, who make us both to will and to do those things that are good and acceptable unto you, the majestic Lord; we humbly pray for these your servants upon whom, after the example of your holy apostles, we have now laid our hands, to assure them, by this sign, of your favor and gracious goodness towards them. Let your fatherly hand, we ask, ever be over them; let your Holy Spirit ever be with them; and so lead them in the knowledge and obedience of your Word, that in the end they may obtain everlasting life; through our Lord Jesus Christ, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Almighty and everlasting God, be pleased, we pray, to direct, sanctify, and govern our hearts and bodies so that we will keep your laws and obey your commandments; and grant that through your most mighty protection we may be preserved in body and soul, both here and forever, through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
The Blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be upon you, and remain with you, forever. Amen.
All those who have received Confirmation should prepare themselves to receive Holy Communion.
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