Friday, November 29, 2013

Laymen's guide to the Thirty-nine Articles

Article XXVII - Of Baptism
Baptism is not only a sign of profession and a 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 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 to the institution of Christ.

De Baptismo

Baptismus non est tantum professionis signum ac discriminis nota qua Christiani a non Christianis discernantur, sed etiam est signum regenerationis, per quod, tanquam per instrumentum, recte baptismum suscipientes Ecclesiae inseruntur; promissiones de remissione peccatorum atque adoptione nostra in filios Dei per Spiritum Sanctum visibiliter obsignantur; fides confirmatur, et vi divinae invocationis gratia augetur. Baptismus parvulorum omnino in Ecclesia retinendus est, ut qui cum Christi institutione optime congruat.

Archbishop Peter Robinson

The obvious basis of this Article is the equivalent article in the Confession of Augsberg. Lutherans and Anglicans alike were very traditional in their attitude to baptism, wishing to maintain the traditional doctrine of Baptism insofar as it conforms to Scripture. The obvious passage to reference is John 3.5
"Except a man be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God"

This occurs as part of Christ's dialogue with Nicodemus in the which the latter professes his bemusement at the concept of being born again - "Can a man enter a second time into the womb and be born again?" Jesus' explanation refers Nicodemus to being born again of water and the Spirit - i.e. the baptism which he was to institute at the time of his ascension. (Matt 28.19)

And this should be followed by Mark 16.16
"He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned

This is the Biblical basis, along with other passages, for the Catechisms assertion that "Baptism and the Lord's Supper are generally necessary for salvation."

The same point is also made by Acts 2.38,
"Then Peter said unto them, Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost."

These texts establish the repentance-baptism-holy Spirit linkage, and certainly suggests that the sacrament conveys grace objectively. That is to say that the person repents, receives baptism, and by that sacrament receives the forgiveness of sins, regeneration and the Holy Ghost, and is incorporated into the Church, the Body of Christ. This runs contrary to the beliefs of many Christians today, who, under the influence of Revivalism seem to hold that the proper order is repentance-profession of faith/regeneration-baptism. This order of priorities was absorbed from the Baptist movement as part of the individualisation of Christian experience in the 17th century. This tendency had already been condemned in the 16th century by the Confession of Augsburg, and also in the 42 Articles of 1553 which document was compiled when memories of the Anabaptist Crisis were still strong.

The subjectivity of the Revivalist/Baptist view should be contrasted with what the Articles say in general about the Sacraments. The Articles of Religion make no secret of the fact that, for Anglicans, the sacraments convey grace and have an objective value or reality of their own. However, this should not be confused with the cruder versions of ex opus operato pedalled by some. The teaching that the sacraments are "effectual signs" is essentially Biblical in character, and had the consensus of the Early Fathers behind it. Article XXV states that

"Sacraments ordained of Christ be not only badges or tokens of Christian men's profession, but they be certain sure witnesses, and effectual signs of grace, and of 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."

Within this framework room was found for substantial disagreement between those who saw the Sacraments as conveying the potential for regeneration - the charitable presumption theory beloved of moderate Calvinists such as J. C. Ryle; and the Old High Churchmen who taught that Baptism conveyed regeneration, imprinted a definite character on the soul, and the potential for salvation dependent of the "follow through" from the individual. The final point, concerning what some vulgarly describe as "follow through" is what led High Churchmen such as Edward Churton, and Tractarians, such as E. B. Pusey, to lay much emphasis on the seriousness of post baptismal sin as marring the image of God imprinted on our souls by baptism. 

Before leaving the subject, I think it might be worth looking at the passages that talk about Baptismal Regeneration in the New Testament. W. H. Griffith-Thomas points out that many of the references to baptism use the word 'eis' usually translated into/for/unto. He postulates that the translation of "eis" should really be 'with a view to.' This would tend to favour the notion of Baptism having a covenantal aspect making it easier to to explain why the Church approves of the practice of infant baptism. 

My own impression of the reason behind Credo-baptism is that in a sense it removes the sacramental aspect from Baptism as surely as the doctrine of transubstantiation overthrows the sacramental character of Communion. In this case, the error is not asserting too much (i.e. abolishing the sign) but negating the thing signified (that is, regeneration). Now allowing for the fact that Acts was not written as a theological text book, the order in which repentance, baptism and regeneration are placed tells us that the Apostles saw Baptism as the Sacrament of Regeneration, whereas the cruder expression of credo-baptist theology invert the order somewhat by making Baptism into simply a public profession of faith. Their order is closer to Repentance - Regeneration - Baptism. The sacrament is a seal of a pre-existing state. Once you adopt this line of attack infant baptism becomes illogical because they cannot make the required verbal profession of faith. 

Leaving aside emotive appeals to Jesus' instructions to His disciples to let the little children come unto Him, it seems to me that a rigid Credo-Baptist position runs into difficulties when one examines the accounts of the Baptism of the Centurion's Household (Acts 10, 47-48) and that of the Philippian gaoler (Acts 16, 27-34.) Both imply that the household was baptized on the surety (to borrow the BCP's word) of the head of the household's faith. Furthermore, it is a reasonable inference that both households contained children under the age of reason. These incidents, along with the unbroken practice of the Church, suggest that, at the very least, the baptism of infants on the understanding that they be brought up in the faith of the New Covenant is a doctrine agreeable to Scripture. On the other hand, it seems to be bordering on 'mumbo-jumbo' to indiscriminately baptize infants on the off-chance that they might come to faith later, even though their family circle has no connection at all with the Church. It seems to me that Art. XXVII's very moderate statement that

"The baptism of young children is in any wise to be retained in the Church as most agreeable with the institution of Christ

as being both sensible and moderate in that it allows the full range of Baptismal practice as we see it in the Early Church. 

Now then, let us see if I can draw the various rabbit trails together into something we can use. 

It seems to me that Article XXVII specifically excludes the Zwinglian and Modern Baptist position that Baptism is simply a mark of profession. This seems reductionist when set against the witness of Scripture. This leaves us with two possible understandings. 

The first, which I would loosely characterize as being the 'Old High Church' position, is that Baptism conveys regeneration in the absence of a positive will not to receive the grace of the sacrament. The BCP acknowledges that "young children" cannot form that positive will to reject the grace offered. The understanding is that the child will be brought up in the faith, receive confirmation, and Communion, and grow in Grace and in faithfulness to Christ. This point of view crops up in one of the surviving prayers of Jane Austen-not surprising given that she was the daughter of an Oxford educated clergyman. 

To put it into crude terms. The second, alternative, point of view is that, like circumcision, Baptism creates a covenant relationship between the child and Christ incorporating them into the Church, so that, if the child by the call and election of God comes to faith, he/she will be truly regenerate. The sign of infant baptism further emphasizes that the salvation is a gift of God, not a work of man. As a result of this understanding of Baptism, Episcopal/Anglican Evangelicals often turned confirmation into 'a rite of conversion' in which the person being confirmed made their profession of faith. Interestingly, Episcopal Evangelicals in the 19th century were not all that hung up on 'the conversion experience.' One of their leaders, the Rt. Rev Gregory Bedell, professed that he had not consciously had a conversion experience, but had from his earliest memories always been conscious of God's love.

Fr. Robert Hart
Once again it is evident that the faith of the Church of England needed to be defended from all sides. One person I know described the Articles as “Thirty-nine reasons why we are not Roman Catholics.” But, in fact, the Articles often address commonly held errors of the time in which they were composed, and they remain relevant because they set forth, in Anglican terms and plain language, catholic truth. Some of the errors of the time were simply inherited from the Medieval period, some were openly taught at the time by the Church of Rome, and some came from other sources altogether. In this case, the errors addressed came from the Anabaptists. The correction and defense set forth in Article XXVII  remains relevant as long as Revivalists denounce the baptism of infants and young children.
            When the first missionary Bishop of Minnesota was asked by a child why he had baptized him in infancy, Bishop Henry B. Whipple replied that it would have been wrong to withhold from the child regeneration, and his adoption by God in Christ.1 This was a good answer to a child who was being raised in the Episcopal Church in the 1860s. How do we answer the detractors of our own time? Since the Baptists and other Revivalists of today, as the Anabaptists in the past, claim to believe in the Divine Inspiration of Scripture, as we also believe, it is fitting to answer their objection from Scripture:

“Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call (Acts 2:38,39).”

To the Jewish people of that time, there can be no reasonable doubt as to the clear meaning of the words, “every one of you,” nor to the meaning of, “For the promise is unto you and to your children…”
            What many fail to understand is the simple truth expressed above by Archbishop Robinson: “The sacrament conveys grace objectively.” That is what is taught in the words, “…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 sons of God by the Holy Ghost are visibly signed and sealed.”
            As I have told my congregation in sermons, I baptize, but it is God who does the actual work. That is, the sign is visible when a man uses water and says the words Christ commanded. But the real work is done by God, who regenerates and gives life. It is clear that the ultimate salvation of the individual, as that child grows and lives life, requires faith. But the objective reality of what takes place in the sacrament is taught clearly in Scripture, especially in the sixth chapter of Romans. If one's death, burial and resurrection with Christ is not a regeneration, pray tell, what is it? The meaning of new life in Christ, regeneration and being born again from above (taking it from the top, as the Greek word implies) is inescapable as St. Paul the Apostle explains it so clearly in that chapter.

In the book of the prophet Jeremiah, we see the manifold grace that is given in the New Covenant.

"Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more (Jer. 31:31-34)."

It is with these gifts in view that we baptize. The grace given, as we see in the prophet's words, includes one's entrance into Christ, and therefore into the New Covenant He established in His blood. Having God's Law written on one's heart, becoming one of God's people (one of His elect and beloved), knowing God and receiving the forgiveness of sins, are all part of the grace given in baptism. We dare believe it. Teaching baptized people about all of these things is not so that they may choose to receive them separately. Rather, it is to teach them what they have been given by being in Christ, made a part of His Body the Church in baptism.      

1. Rt. Rev. H.B. Whipple, Lights and Shadows of a Long Episcopate, New York, 1902


Anonymous said...

It is worth noting that where the English has "signed and sealed" the Latin has one verb, "obsignatur" (one of those examples of "coupling together synonymous or nearly synonymous words" which Lewis discusses interestingly in his OHEL volume (pp. 217-18)?).

Also notable is that "by virtue" corresponds to "vi", Where we might tend to think of "by virtue" as simply equivalent to 'by means', the Latin text here might (I venture under correction) be rendered something like, 'by the inherent effective power of Divine invocation, Grace is augmented'. (In discussing the Corpus Areopagiticum in The Discarded Image, Lewis says of "Virtues" (p. 72), "This does not mean moral excellences but rather 'efficacies', as when we speak about the 'virtues' of a magic ring or a medicinal herb.")

So far as I can see, Hooker's discussion of who may administer baptism systematically answers Calvin's in the Institutes (without explicitly saying so): what is the current Continuing explanation (for example, by laymen, including women, but not by the unbaptized, apostates, etc.?)?


Fr. Robert Hart said...

If the baptism was administered with water using the Trinitarian Name, then it is valid.

Jackie said...

As I was taught many years ago, baptism is one of the Sacraments that doesn't require an ordained minister to administer it (the other, as I was taught, was marriage-the church is there to bless and witness the promises made by the man and woman before God)