An Anglican Priest

"Protestant and Reformed according to the principles of the ancient Catholic Church." Bishop John Cosin (d. 1672)

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Anglican understanding of Baptism.

Over on Stand Firm (which I do not frequent often, unless someone else mentions something of note) there is a "debate" about infant Baptism. To which I say, "You must be joking, right?"

From time to time, in such contexts, I hear the well-worn and inaccurate phrase that the Reformed Episcopal Church "rejected baptismal regeneration." Suffice it to say that it is largely an inaccurate statement on historical and theological grounds. The doctrine of the Articles of Religion was not the matter of debate (how the Articles define "regeneration"); what was in question was 1) did regeneration mean being "born again" in a modern evangelical sense? and 2) Could regeneration come to a believer apart from the Sacrament?

The answer to the first question, for Bishop Cheney was "no," being baptized did not mean one would immediately feel "an ardent desire after God and elevated affections," "born again" in the way many use the term. As to the second question, Cheney believed one could have these things apart from the Sacrament. So, we have 1) both parties (High Church and Evangelical) misusing the term, hence Cheney's rejection of it (whereas the Free Church of England--the REC of England--continued the use of the term but clarified what it meant, i.e., read the Article on Baptism), and there being some insistence that if you said one could have any sort of regeneration apart from the Sacrament you were rejecting its efficacy. Below is a quote from Richard Hooker that should clarify the debate somewhat.

I'm sure Cheney would have agreed wholeheartedly with Master Hooker on this issue:

"A few statements will make clear the kind of necessity involved in baptism. First, we must understand what is meant by necessity, and then we must see in what sense baptism is necessary. Those things are called necessary which are either the source of some great good or the means of avoiding some grievous evil. If regeneration were not in this sense necessary for eternal life, would Christ have said to Nicodemus, "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God"? [Jn. 3. 3.] Christ’s next words are, "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." [Jn. 3. 5.] By these words he shows us that the Spirit is as necessary for regeneration as regeneration is necessary for eternal life.

These words also prove to us that just as the Spirit is the inward cause of our regeneration, so water is the outward means of our regeneration. If baptism by water were not in some sense necessary, why is our new birth spoken of as "of water" as well as "of the Spirit"? [Ibid.] Why is it that we are taught that God sanctifies and cleanses his Church "with the washing of water by the word"? [Eph. 5. 26.] Why does one Apostle of Christ call baptism "the washing of regeneration" [Tit. 3. 5.] and another advise men to receive outward baptism "in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of Sins"? [Acts 2. 38.]

There is a kind of necessity about baptism, but it is not an absolute necessity. That would only be true if baptism were a condition without which regeneration could not come to be. In that case baptism would have such natural or supernatural power in itself that regeneration would not take place without it, and then nobody would ever receive grace before baptism. If you do not first have the cause, you do not have the results that necessarily spring from it. Thus, if baptism were absolutely necessary for the reception of grace, no man would receive grace without it. In many cases we know that this is not so, but in other cases, although we do not make baptism the necessary cause of grace, yet we do recognize that grace given in baptism has a dependence on the outward sacrament. God wishes us to use the outward sacrament not only as a sign or token of what we receive, but also as an instrument or means by which we receive grace. Baptism is a sacrament instituted by God in his Church as a means of incorporating us into Christ; and thus by his most precious merit we obtain that grace which takes away all former guiltiness, and that divine virtue of the Holy Spirit which gives to the powers of the soul their first inclination to a future newness of life."

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