Monday, November 06, 2006

Baptism and the Covenant [of Grace]: The BCP editions of 1662 & 1928

Baptism is a Sacrament instituted by the Lord Jesus and is intimately related to the proclamation and the reception of the Gospel of the Father concerning the same Lord Jesus. “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt.28:18-20). Therefore, The Book of Common Prayer provides both for the Baptism of the infant children of baptized, believing parents as well as of adult converts to Christ.

While the two editions have the same doctrine of Baptism, they do not have identical provision of Services, and this is due in major part to the different time and social contexts in which they were created and approved. In 1662 there is one service for infants and another “for those of riper years,” while in 1928 there is one service for all, with provision for infants and adults within it. And, importantly, in both editions it is assumed that in the case of both infants and adults, Baptism is to be followed by Confirmation, either immediately in the case of adults or when reaching maturity in terms of infants.

Basic doctrines in the Services

Perhaps it would be useful to state briefly what are the basic doctrines which are either presupposed or set forth in these Services in order that their shape and structure can be the more easily appreciated.

1. Each and every child born into the world as a descendant of Adam is already a sinner before God’s tribunal because of the presence of original sin in the soul—that is an inborn bias towards evil and self-centeredness.
2. Each child also commits actual sin throughout his life.
3. Jesus Christ, as the New and Second Adam, offered himself as a sacrifice and atonement for the sins of the world and this offering was accepted by God the Father.
4. In order to receive forgiveness and cleansing both for original and actual sin, each human being needs to be baptized both with water and the Holy Spirit.
5. That is he needs to be born again (regenerated in soul) by the Holy Spirit and to be baptized in water as he (or his sponsors) believes the Gospel of the Father concerning his Son and commits himself to the service of Christ Jesus.
6. Baptism is the outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.
7. Infants with Christian parents (who are within the covenant of grace – Acts 2:39) are baptized only if Christian sponsors (godfathers and god-mothers) stand in their place (and nurture them) until they reach an age whereby they can appropriate and make the Faith truly their own.
8. In and by Baptism “in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” a believer is made a member of the congregation of Christ’s flock and becomes a soldier in the army of Christ to fight against the devil and all evil.
9. Baptism is completed in Confirmation, where by the laying on of the hands of the Bishop, the baptized believer is strengthened by the reception of gifts from the ascended Lord Jesus through the presence of the Holy Spirit.
10. Infant Baptism only makes sense if (a) the child is from baptized Christian parents, and (b) he is “virtuously brought up to lead a godly and a Christian life” at home and in the local Church—thus provision of the Catechism in both editions and “The Offices of Instruction” in the 1928.
11. The relation established with God by Baptism in terms of internal regeneration and outward faith and commitment “to confess the faith of Christ crucified and manfully to fight under his banner against sin, the world and the devil” is not a covenant where God is the senior partner. The baptized believer has no rights only wonderful privileges and daily duties in the service of the Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Father almighty, within the fellowship of the Church and in the world. In the covenant of grace, God establishes both the covenant itself and its terms; therefore human beings are called into it on terms that already exist and which they accept willingly as forgiven sinners.
12. Normally, but not absolutely, First Communion for the baptized will be after Confirmation. (On this, see the important study by Roger Beckwith & Andrew Daunton-Fear, The Water and the Wine, The Latimer Trust, 2006— )

Comparison with 1979 prayer book of The Episcopal Church, USA

Those who created the 1979 prayer book rejected the doctrine and shape of the Baptismal Services in the classic Common Prayer Tradition in the editions of 1662, 1928 and Canada 1962. First of all, they claimed to follow the ancient Church of the East (rather than of the West) and insisted that “Initiation is complete in Baptism” and that Confirmation as a ceremony is not to be used as the completion of Baptism but, where desired, as a kind of public reception into church membership. Secondly, they downplayed the traditional doctrines of sin, Satan and the evil world, together with regeneration, in order to exalt the doctrine of human freedom and co-operation with God. Thus they created “The Baptismal Covenant” as the centerpiece. This they present as the human side of the agreement made with God in Baptism; and it is a commitment, amongst other things, by the covenant partners to radical social action to improve God’s world for him with peace and justice. (To the latter the new PB of the ECUSA is deeply committed, at least in word as her sermons in the National Cathedral on Nov. 4 & 5 demonstrated.)

Faithful Episcopalians need to return immediately to the Baptismal Services in one of the classic editions of the one Book of Common Prayer and avoid the service in the 1979 book.

The Revd Dr. Peter Toon M.A., D.Phil (Oxford)

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