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What is Christian Baptism?
The best way to introduce the meaning of baptism is to assert that both the sacraments of the gospel are essentially sacraments of grace, that is, sacraments of divine initiative, not of human activity. The clearest evidence of this in the case of baptism is that, in the New Testament, the candidate never baptizes himself, but always submits to being baptized by another. In his baptism, he is a passive recipient of something that is done to him. The Articles of Religion are quite clear about this. For instance, Articles twenty-five, twenty-seven and twenty-eight all begin with the statement that a sacrament is a sign not of what we do or are, but of what God has done, or does.
Baptism signifies the following crucial New Testament principles:
At the end of Article twenty-five there is the general statement that ‘in such only as worthily receive the same they have a wholesome effect or operation…’ Similarly, in Article twenty-seven, it is ‘they that receive baptism rightly’ who are grafted into the Church, and to whom God’s promises are visibly signed and sealed. If we ask what is meant by a ‘right’ or ‘worthy’ reception, Article twenty-eight explains ‘insomuch that to such as rightly, worthily and with faith receive the same, the Bread which we break is a partaking of the Body of Christ…’ A right and worthy reception of the sacraments is a believing reception; without faith the sacraments have no wholesome operation or effect; rather the reverse.
Why do Anglicans baptize infants?
The Covenant view of baptism is founded upon God’s covenant of grace, and regards baptism as essentially the God-appointed sign that seals the blessings of the covenant to the individual Christian believer. Pierre Marcel writes that ‘the doctrine of the Covenant is the germ, the root, the pith of all revelation, and consequently of all theology; it is the clue to the whole history of redemption’ (The Biblical Doctrine of Infant Baptism, p 72). Hooker wrote that ‘baptism implieth a covenant or league between God and man’ (Ecclesiastical Polity, V, Ixiv, 4).
We cannot stop to argue that the so-called New Covenant (mediated by Jesus and ratified by his blood) was new only in relation to the Covenant of Sinai. In itself it was not New (as Paul argues in Galatians), but the fulfillment of God’s covenant with Abraham, so that those who are Christ’s are Abraham’s seed, heirs according to promise (Gal 3:29). To quote John Calvin, the continental reformer, ‘the covenant is the same, the reason for confirming it is the same. Only the mode of confirming is different; for to them it was confirmed by circumcision, which among us is succeeded by baptism.’1 That is, baptism has replaced circumcision as the Covenant sign.
But the receiving of the sign and seal, and the receiving of the blessings signified, are not necessarily (or even normally) simultaneous. To truly believing adults the covenant sign of baptism (like circumcision to Abraham when he was ninety-nine years old) signifies and seals a grace which has already been received by faith. To the infant seed of believing parents, the covenant sign of baptism (like circumcision to Isaac at the age of eight days) is administered because they are born into the covenant and are thereby ‘holy’ in status (1 Cor 7:14), but it signifies and seals to them graces which they still need to receive later by faith.
This is the case also with adults who are baptized in unbelief and later believe. We do not re-baptize them. Their baptism conveyed to them a title to the blessings of the New Covenant; they have now ‘claimed their inheritance by faith’. This point was established in the early centuries of the Church in the case of the fictus, the person baptized in a state of unworthiness. He was not re-baptized, because a distinction was drawn between the title or character of baptism, which was always conferred on the recipient, and the grace of baptism which depended on ‘worthiness’, i.e. repentance and faith.
At Church of the Redeemer, we set apart the following dates for Christian Baptism:
If you (or a family member) is interested in Christian Baptism, I would be very grateful if you could fill out the form below.
The Rev. Canon Alan J. Hawkins
Church of the Redeemer Parish