Latest posts by Greg Goebel (see all)
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- Week of the Sunday from June 5 to June 11: A Collect Reflection - June 9, 2018
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Christians should trust their baptism. That is, if they believe that Baptism is something God does in and for us, and not something we do. And that is exactly how the early Church and the reformers saw this sacrament. God brings people to the water of baptism. He sends his Holy Spirit into their lives through the waters of baptism. Christ is the one who baptizes. The recipients should receive baptism as from Christ himself. The one who baptizes is baptizing in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit and not in his own name. This “baptismal formula” which invokes the name of the Holy Trinity was given to the Apostles by Christ, and makes it very clear from the beginning of the Church that baptism is no mere ceremony. It is God working in his people to add a new member to Christ’s Body.
Article XXVII explains it this way:
Baptism is not only a sign of profession and mark of difference whereby Christian men are discerned from other that be not christened, but 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.
Baptism is, in the Church, accepted as the initiation into the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. It is the actual instrument (or means) God uses to bring people into the Body of Christ. Paul writes this in his letter to the Colossians:
having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.
To the Romans, Paul explained that baptism is how we are buried with Christ:
We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
Jesus says that we enter the Kingdom of Heaven “though water and the spirit.” St Peter expands on this, preaching a baptism for the forgiveness of sin, which gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit:
Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38)
Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ… (I Peter 3:21)
Because of this, our liturgy of Baptism mentions with regeneration, with the adoption as sons of God, with the new birth, and is the sign and seal of the Holy Spirit.
The Church was given baptism as the way in which Christ commanded us to bring in new Christians. Therefore, Anglicans accept a baptized person as a Christian and a member of the Church of Jesus Christ.
This can be confusing, in that it sounds as if Anglicans believe that the act of Baptism gives the Church or the priest the power to save people. And yet Anglicans believe with the rest of the Christian Church that only God saves. It can seem as if this church believes that the water of baptism is magical salvation water, which if poured, provides a kind of “fire insurance” for salvation in which the baptized now have a claim on God’s grace that he is forced to honor. That’s where the last line in Article XXVII comes into play. In Baptism, faith is not created, it is confirmed. In baptism, grace is not created, but increased by prayer. This demonstrates that while we, the Church, are to welcome new Christians through baptism, and to treat baptized people as Christians, even to associate regeneration and forgiveness with it, we do so while at the same time leaving the origin or presence of faith and grace in God’s hands. When we baptize, we trust in the mercy and grace of God and his promise of forgiveness of sins.
One way to understand this is to separate being “born again” and receiving the Holy Spirit and the forgiveness of sins with “conversion.” Conversion of heart is a highly personal experience that is real and important. Conversion may be a one time moment or a lifetime of conversions. Baptism does not necessarily convert our hearts and minds to Christ. We are called to seek the Holy Spirit. Some evangelicals hear our baptismal rite, and think we are suggesting that their is no need for personal conversion, because many evangelicals associate the term “born again” with personal conversion. However, in order to be as biblical as possible, we believe that it is at baptism that a person is born again. Yet we believe that personal conversion is also a work of God that we are to seek after and find by his grace.
The theology behind baptism supports this nuanced but simple view of baptism. The Anglican view is Reformational in the assertion that the foundation of baptism is the New Covenant that God has established with his people through Christ. Paul tells us that his is a covenant of grace, a freely given, and unmerited gift of God to man in which God assures us that he has provided for our salvation and will apply that salvation to those who have faith in Christ. He gives the gift of faith, turning hearts toward himself. In order to provide an objective, shared, and powerfully significant assurance of this reality, God gives us a sign, which is the water of baptism. Paul tells us that this sign parallels the sign of the Old Covenant with Israel, circumcision (Colossians 2:11-13). Just as the Hebrew baby boys were circumcised, so new Christians are baptized. This theology explains why baptism is effectual in bringing about what it signifies, but not by the power or will of the person or community, rather by the sure grace of God in Christ.
In Baptism, the believer is to trust that God has given him the sign and seal of the Holy Spirit, has forgiven him, has assured him of his love. God has stamped his name upon his life. He has marked the believer as his own, and publicly confirmed faith. We are bound by our baptism as his servants, his people, his friends. We are given this grace, we do not take it upon ourselves. So baptism is a comfort to the people of God. It is the assurance, and objective surety, that God has expressed his love through his new covenant. We are to trust in our baptism, to believe that God gave it to us, and to renew our faith in him often.