Last week in The Curate, we took a look at what Anglicans have to say about the meaning and number of “sacrament/s” in general. This week, let’s take a closer look at what Anglicans believe about the first of the two “sacraments of the Gospel,” Baptism!
Article 27: Of Baptism
Baptism is not only a sign of profession, and mark of difference, whereby Christian men are discerned from others that be not christened, but it is also a sign of Regeneration or New-Birth, whereby, as by an instrument, they that receive Baptism rightly are grafted into the Church; the promises of the forgiveness of sin, and of our adoption to be the sons of God by the Holy Ghost, are visibly signed and sealed, Faith is confirmed, and Grace increased by virtue of prayer unto God.
The Baptism of young Children is in any wise to be retained in the Church, as most agreeable with the institution of Christ.
Let’s unpack this article just a bit.
Yes, Baptism is an outward sign that one is a Christian
Article 27 doesn’t say “Baptism is NOT a sign of profession, and mark of difference.” Instead, it says that “Baptism is not ONLY…” This means that Anglicans clearly consider Baptism to be a public sign that one is a Christian, a member of Christ’s church.
In the 1662 Book of Common Prayer’s Baptism service for infants, the godfathers and godmothers are exhorted to make sure that the child is brought up in the Christian faith and taught to live a godly life,
“…remembring alwayes that baptism doth represent unto us our profession, which is, to follow the example of our Saviour Christ, and to be made like unto him; that as he died and rose again for us; so should we who are baptized, die from sin, and rise again unto righteousness, continually mortifying all our evil and corrupt affections, and daily proceeding in all vertue and godliness of living.”
But Baptism is ALSO an effectual sign of new birth
Remember from our previous discussion of Article 25 that, although Anglicans readily view the sacraments as “badges or tokens of Christian men’s profession,” they also believe that they are “certain sure witnesses, and effectual signs of grace, and God’s good will towards us, by the which he doth work invisibly in us, and doth not only quicken, but also strengthen and confirm our faith in him” (Article 25).
Something similar is going on here in Article 27 with Baptism. Yes, Baptism is a visible sign that one is a Christian, but Baptism is ALSO
“a sign of Regeneration or New-Birth, whereby, as by an instrument, they that receive Baptism rightly are grafted into the Church; the promises of the forgiveness of sin, and of our adoption to be the sons of God by the Holy Ghost, are visibly signed and sealed, Faith is confirmed, and Grace increased by virtue of prayer unto God.”
Baptism is the instrument, the means that God uses to graft people into his church. When we’re grafted into the church, we receive:
- Regeneration/New Birth
- Forgiveness of sin
The connection between Baptism and the church is extremely important. Peter Leithart is absolutely right to remind us in his excellent new book on Baptism that “nearly all errors and confusions about baptism are errors and confusions about the church” (4). In response to those who might be worried that Martin Luther and others attribute too much power to Baptism, Leithart maintains:
“If the church is what the New Testament says it is and if baptism is the doorway to the church, then certain things necessarily follow: baptism is adoption into the Father’s family, union with Christ in his body, installation as a living stone in the temple of the Spirit. If the church is what the New Testament claims, baptism gives us a share in the resurrection life of the Son and his Spirit. If the church is as the New Testament describes it, baptism is the gift of a future, propelling us toward the unending joys of a new heaven and a new earth. It is indeed, a ‘saving flood’ (7).”
Baptismal regeneration? Really?
Yes, really! Consider John 3:5:
“Jesus answered, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.’”
And Titus 3:5:
“…he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.”
Nevertheless, isn’t it just patently obvious that many people who get baptized are not truly regenerate? (*Gestures broadly at the world.*)
This has been a matter of dispute within Anglicanism. As Martin Davie reminds us, the context for the famous “Gorham Case” in 1847 and the years following was the “controversy between High Church Anglicans on the one hand and Evangelicals on the other. The former insisted that the language of the Bible and Prayer Book meant that those who were baptized were born again in Christ, while the latter were unwilling to say that someone who had been baptized, but showed no sign of Christian faith could be truly said to be born again” (Our Inheritance of Faith, 492).
What does “regeneration” mean?
When it comes to controversies about baptismal regeneration, I think it is important to recognize that the word “regeneration” can be used in different senses. When “regeneration” is used in an expansive sense to include conversion, sanctification, and the transformed Christian life, then no, baptism obviously does not regenerate everyone.
However, “regeneration” can also be used in a more restricted sense to refer to God’s gift of new birth, a gift that must be received in order to result in a transformed Christian life.
E.H. Browne puts it well in his commentary on the 39 Articles:
“We may therefore define the internal grace of baptism to consist rather in the assured presence of the Renovator, then in the actual renovation of the heart. The latter is indeed the natural result of the influence of the former; but it requires also another element, namely, the yielding of the will of the recipient to the previous influences of the Sanctifier” (622).
W.H. Griffith Thomas puts it this way:
“Baptism introduces us into a new and special relation to Christ. It provides and guarantees a spiritual change in the condition of the recipient, but we must carefully distinguish between a change of spiritual relationship and a change of moral disposition. The words “new birth” suggest that Baptism introduced us into a new relation and new circumstances with the assurance of new power. But it is important to distinguish between this relation itself, which is regeneration, and the result of the relation, which is sanctification” (376).
By the grace of God, Baptism, rightly received, does indeed impart new birth. God also uses Baptism to confirm our faith and give us grace (Article 27). But the full results of that new birth (sanctification) are not thereby guaranteed if God’s gift of new birth is rejected by the baptized.
What’s required for people to receive Baptism “rightly”?
Answer (from the 1662 BCP Catechism): “Repentance, whereby they forsake sin; and faith, whereby they stedfastly believe the promises of God, made to them in that Sacrament.”
But WAIT, why baptize babies, then?
After all, surely babies can’t repent or have faith, right?
Article 27 simply alludes to the long history of infant baptism within the church:
“The Baptism of young Children is in any wise to be retained in the Church, as most agreeable with the institution of Christ.”
Here’s how the 1662 BCP Catechism handles the issue:
“Question. Why then are infants baptized, when by reason of their tender age they cannot perform them [i.e., repentance and faith]?
Answer. Because they promise them both by their sureties [sponsors; godparents]: which promise, when they come to age, themselves are bound to perform.”
Nowell’s Catechism (published in 1570) goes into even more detail, clarifying that the repentance and faith requirements apply to adults in a different way than they do to infants/children.
Master: “Sith infants cannot by age perform those things that thou speakest of, why are they baptized?”
Student: “That faith and repentance go before baptism, is required only in persons so grown in years, that by age they are capable of both. But to infants the promise made to the Church by Christ, in whose faith they are baptized, shall for the present time be sufficient ; and then afterward, when they are grown to years, they must needs themselves acknowledge the truth of their baptism, and have the force thereof to be lively in their souls, and to be represented in their life and behaviours” (209).
The other main arguments for infant baptism are:
- Viewing baptism as the New Covenant counterpart to circumcision (see Colossians 2:11–15).
- The significance of the family/household, and not just the individual, when it comes to faith, salvation, and baptism (e.g., Acts 2:39; 11:14; 16:15; 16:33).
Want to learn more?
To learn more about baptism in general, I highly recommend Peter Leithart’s Baptism: A Guide to Life from Death book, published by Lexham Press in their Christian Essentials series. Sure, he’s not an Anglican, but it’s a fantastic and brief biblical/theological overview of Baptism!
For much more on infant baptism, I refer you to the following Anglican Compass blog posts:
- “Why Do We Baptize Babies if They Cannot Make a Profession of Faith?”
- “Infant Baptism: Why Do We Baptize Babies?”
- “Getting Over the Hurdle of Infant Baptism: An Atonement Argument”
- “A Baptismal Affront”
(You REALLY should also read Scot McKnight’s book about infant baptism, It Takes a Church to Baptize!)
📨 I get mail: “Commonly called” an overstatement!
I got a great question from a reader after the last issue of The Curate. Chris asks:
I read “Those five, commonly [here “commonly” means “mistakenly”] called sacraments…” Please could you explain why “commonly” means “mistakenly” in your view, when the same Prayer Book offers me “The Nativity of our Lord, or the birth-day of Christ commonly called Christmas Day” – “commonly” here clearly meaning “usuallly”?
Point taken. I picked up that view from W.H. Griffith Thomas and Martin Davie, I believe. But, after further review, I agree that “mistakenly” is too strong to explain every use of “commonly called” in the Prayer Book. Nevertheless, here in Article 25 (and I did say “here”), the disagreement doesn’t just hang on the phrase “commonly called.” The article explicitly distinguishes the 5 “commonly called sacraments” from the 2 proper sacraments of the Gospel, so I think that the sense of “commonly [yet mistakenly] called” is appropriate. But “commonly”=“mistakenly” was indeed putting it too strong.
Help me make “The Curate” even better!
At the risk of a swamped inbox, I’m sincerely asking all 10,460 of you: (How) are you enjoying The Curate?
The more specific feedback you can give, the better!
- Do you have any topics/questions that you would really like The Curate to address?
- What do you enjoy/want more of?
- What do you not enjoy/want less of?
Also, please feel free to let me know who you are! Layperson? Clergy? Anglican? Not Anglican? I’m trying to better understand this community so that I can serve you better!
~Josh Steele, Managing Editor of Anglican Compass
(P.S. If you’re looking for some great deals on Bible commentary sets, you should really check all these March Madness deals out from Logos. Maybe let your pastor know about these deals?)