Monday, May 9, 2011


BAPTISM This word is Greek, and signifies prop. dipping, a ceremonial washing with water, and is the name of one of the two Sacraments ordained by Christ. It is of equal importance with the other Sacrament, for both are "generally necessary to salvation." By Baptism persons are admitted into the visible Church. Baptism of a certain kind, as well as circumcision, was practised by the Jews of our Lord’s time for the admission of proselytes to Judaism, and, it is said, of their families, into the Jewish congregation, and was used by the Baptist under divine direction "unto repentance for the remission of sins." But Christian Baptism was ordained by Christ just before His Ascension (Matt. xxviii. 19). According to His words on that occasion, the essentials of the ordinance are the application of water whether by immersion or by affusion in the name of the Trinity. This is laid down in the rubric at the end of the office for private Baptism. The sign of the Cross is therefore not essential, though it is an expressive symbol enjoined by the Church of England. Baptism is valid, even if thus administered by a lay person or a schismatic or a heretic. But the rubric in the office for private Baptism limits the performance of that rite to "the minister of the parish, or in his absence any other lawful minister." There is certainly no authority for the re-baptism of those who have been thus baptized in another Communion. When, however, after inquiry it may be doubtful whether it has been properly administered, a conditional form is supplied at the end of the office for private Baptism. But in both the Prayer Books of Edward VI. and in Elizabeth’s it was ordered that "one of those present" should baptize the child. The present rubric dates from the Hampton Court Conference. The Church of Rome (C. Trent, sess. iv. c. 11) anathematises any one affirming that Baptism administered even by a heretic, with the intention of doing what the Church does, is not true Baptism. The third article of the Creed of Pope Pius IV. also declares that Baptism, Confirmation, Orders cannot be reiterated without sacrilege. Nevertheless Roman priests re-baptize Protestants and thus incur the charge of sacrilege. It is asserted, however, that such baptism is performed only conditionally on the supposition that the persons have not been baptized. The condition is, however, in most cases not openly stated. There are other contradictions in which the Church of Rome is involved on this subject. As she asserts the absolute necessity of Baptism (C. Trent, sess. vi. c. 4), her theologians are forced to discuss such questions as whether infants can be baptized before birth through their mothers, whether abortions should be baptized, and the like.These questions are affirmatively answered by Dens and Benedict IV. But this is surely to limit the sovereignty of God by tying His grace to His own ordinances, and seems designed to increase the power of the priesthood.

As to the effects of Baptism there is a marked contrast between the doctrine of Rome and that of the Church of England. The Church of Rome teaches that "Everything which has the true and proper nature of sin is in Baptism taken away, and that not only is its condemnation remitted, but that concupiscence, called sin by St. Paul because it inclines to sin, is removed" (see C. Trent, sess. v. 5). This makes Baptism, not faith, the means of justification. "The point" (says Bishop Harold Browne on Article IX.) on "which these canons differed from the ninth Article of our Church is in the entire cancelling of original sin in Baptism. The Council of Trent determined that in Baptism the soul was restored pure into the state of innocency, though the punishments which follow sin be not removed." Our Reformers, on the contrary, maintained that the tendency to sin is a symptom of spiritual disease, and is itself sin. Article IX. declares that "the infection of nature doth remain, yea in them that are regenerated," and that "concupiscence and lust hath of itself the nature of sin." Article XV. adds that "all we the rest, although baptized and born again in Christ, yet offend in many things." All this agrees, not only with experience, but the teaching of God’s Word e.g. Romans vii.; 1 John i. 9, 10; St. James 1. 14, 15.

The language of the baptismal offices, in which the baptized, whether adult or infant, is declared regenerate, is understood by many of our best divines as that of charitable assumption, and of faith in God’s promises, nor is it any where asserted in the Prayer Book that every baptized person is changed in heart and nature. Repentance and faith, which are prayed for in the Baptismal Service for Infants, are absolutely necessary to the realisation of the full benefits of Baptism. This view is well expressed by Bishop Harold Browne (Article XXVII.). He wrote: "If a person has been baptized, but still remains with his carnal nature unrenewed, we are not to conclude that God was unfaithful though the man has been unfaithful. But we are still to look upon that person as practically unregenerated, and we ought to try to bring him to conversion of heart, to a real change of soul and spirit. We may in deed still hope that God’s Spirit promised in Baptism will be ever ready to aid him, when he does not continue obstinately to resist Him." In this he fully agrees with Article XXVII., which defines Baptism as " a sign of regeneration or new birth, whereby as by an instrument" (i.e. a legal deed of conveyance), "they that receive Baptism rightly are grafted into the Church, the promises of forgiveness of sins 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." On the other hand, the Council of Trent (sess. vii. ch. 8) anathematises those who deny that grace is given by the Sacraments of the new law ex opere operato. But it is evident, from such cases as those of St. John the Baptist and of the penitent thief, that it is possible to receive the Holy Spirit and the forgiveness of sins without Baptism, or previous to it; and also, from the case of Simon Magus (Acts viii. 13-23), that a person may be baptized and remain unrenewed. The new birth is spoken of sixteen times at least in the New Testament, but only once is water connected with it (John iii. 5). Once regeneration is associated with washing or the bath (1 Peter iii. 21), and there it is expressly added that it is “not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” Twice believers are said to be born of the "Word of God," or the "Word of truth" (James i. 18; 1 Peter i. 23). Augustine’s language on this point is very clear. "Outward Baptism," he says," may be administered where inward conversion of the heart is wanting, and, on the other hand, inward conversion of the heart may exist where outward Baptism has never been received " (Treatise on Adoption). Again he wrote, "the laver of regeneration is common to all who are baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost; but the grace itself of which they (?) are the sacraments and by which the members of the Body of Christ are regenerated is not common to all" (On Psalm lxxvii.).

So, according to Bishop Harold Browne, Augustine taught that Baptism is not in itself conversion of heart, and of adults he says that a person may be baptized with water and not born of the Spirit. In infants he also says that the sacrament of regeneration precedes conversion of heart. As regards the Baptismal Services for infants, whilst their language is so strong and apparently absolute, it should be interpreted by that of Articles XXV. and XXVII. It clearly presupposes the existence of repentance and faith in adults, and in the case of infants relies on the virtue of the prayers of faith offered on their behalf, as answered according to St. John’s assurance (1 John v. 14, 15) and our Lord’s loving declaration that "of such is the Kingdom of Heaven." Such views were in the Gorham case pronounced by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council to be consistent with subscription to the Prayer Book, and they are in harmony with the doctrine of Holy Scripture and the Articles. See Mozley, Baptismal Regeneration; See GORHAM DECISION.

Rev. William Burnet, M.A., Ex-Scholar of Trinity College, Dublin; Vicar of Childerditch.

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