Sunday, March 25, 2007

Baptismal Regeneration & Justification by Faith alone.

Peter Toon

For too long Anglicans (& others) have believed that it is impossible to have within one coherent system of Christian thought and pastoral practice the doctrine that Regeneration occurs at Baptism and the related doctrine that sinners are justified before God the Father by faith alone.

Yet if we examine two of the Formularies of The Anglican Way—The Articles of Religion and The Book of Common Prayer (editions of 1662, 1928 USA & 1962 Canada)—then we find that both doctrines are clearly taught and with no sense of contradiction.

First of all in Article XI, "Of the Justification of Man," of The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, there is the expression "by faith only" based on the Latin, sola fide. "That we are justified by faith only is a most wholesome doctrine."

In answer to the question: "What does God look for in a guilty sinner in order to declare him a forgiven sinner and place him in Christ within the covenant of grace?", the answer is faith—faith in the promises of the Father concerning his Son, Jesus Christ. In other words, a guilty sinner is to believe the Good News; and with open hands and heart he is to receive what God offers and gives, and he is to do so in pure receptivity and thankfulness. There is nothing that he has to offer to God to deserve or to pay for the gift of membership of the covenant of grace; all he brings is the genuine desire to be forgiven and accepted (and even this is created in him by the Spirit of the Lord).

The fact that God the Father justifies the guilty sinner by faith alone does not in any way whatsoever negate (a) that God acts in mercy and grace for the sake of Jesus Christ; and (b) that God looks for and actually creates in the soul other virtues to exist along with saving faith—e.g., hope and love. It means that in order for salvation from sin and into the kingdom of God to be by God's mercy and grace alone, it must be received by faith alone, where faith is trust and humble receptivity. Certainly he who is justified by faith alone is called by God to a life of practical righteousness. In Christ he is reckoned and declared to be righteous before God, in Christ by the work of the Holy Spirit he is being made righteous (= being sanctified) as he obeys and serves the Lord Jesus in this life, and in Christ at the Last Day he will be made righteous in soul and body as he is fully redeemed in his resurrection body of glory.

The doctrine of Justification by Faith alone is presupposed in the Services of Baptism in The Book of Common Prayer (1662). And it is united to the doctrine of Regeneration at Baptism. Two things are made exceedingly clear by the Services: first, that no-one is to be baptized who is not repenting of sin and believing the promises of the Gospel of the Father concerning his Son, the Lord Jesus (in the case of infants repentance and faith are present in a substitutionary way in the Godparents and parents); secondly, that in relation to the Dominical Sacrament of Baptism, God the Father places the baptized by new birth in the Body of Christ, the Church, and in his kingdom, and also he adopts him into his Family and grants him the forgiveness of sins. Here the language and doctrine of justification is understood in the references to the baptized being united in Baptism with Christ in his death, burial and resurrection of Christ (see how St Paul explains it in Romans 6, where he is expounding Justification by faith).

There is an abundance of terminology used in the New Testament (and developed in Christian Tradition) to convey what happens as a result of the preaching of the Gospel and the acceptance of its message by sinners in repentance and by faith. In and by Christ and through the work of the Holy Spirit the sinner is saved, justified, sanctified, redeemed, reconciled, born again, adopted as a child of God, made a member of the Church of God, brought under the sovereign, gracious rule of God, and so on. In Baptism God the Father acts upon and within believing sinners in the Name of Jesus and by the Holy Spirit; and the result is that they are born into his kingdom, family and church and are by him forgiven and reckoned as righteous in his sight; and all this is a beginning of a life of consecration to his Son and his way.

The baptized may cry out: " I am forgiven and I am justified by faith because God the Father has placed me in Christ, his Incarnate Son, who died and rose again that I may be saved, sanctified and redeemed."

And we may say, in the words of the traditional Catechism: "A Sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace given unto us, ordained by Christ himself, as a means whereby we receive the same, and a pledge to assure us thereof." Further of Baptism we may say that the inward and spiritual grace is: "A death unto sin, and a new birth unto righteousness; for being by nature born in sin, and the children of wrath, we are hereby made the children of grace." So let us, as the Baptized, heed the words of the apostle
Paul: "You must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus" (Romans 6:11).

[ In a very recent Essay in a 64 page booklet entitled, "Mystical Washing and Spiritual Regeneration," I have sought to explain the critical importance of Baptism, especially of Infant Baptism, at this time of crisis in The Anglican Way. I invite my readers to take a look at it --- or call 1-800-727-1928 for multiple copies at special rates. Some experienced people have commented that it is an important contribution to the subject of Christian Initiation and Church Growth in the remaking of the dysfunctional Anglican Way in North America.] Lent IV 2007

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