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 Issues | Doctrine | The Doctrine of Baptism


Why baptize?

In the first instance because Jesus commanded it: Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28.19)

Baptism did not begin with Jesus, it was something which marked out the ministry of John the Baptist (as his name implies) and which was used before the time of Jesus too.  Jesus did not baptize anyone himself (see John 4.2) but his disciples did.

Is baptism necessary?

Yes, because Jesus commanded it.  Also ordinarily baptism is part of the way in which God works to redeem his people.  So Jesus taught In Mark
He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.  (Mark 16.16)

Neither this verse nor the rest of the Bible teaches that baptism is absolutely necessary for salvation. The thief on the cross (see Luke 23.43) was clearly saved, but there is no reason to think he had been baptized.

Does baptism do anything?

In Anglican teaching the two sacraments (Baptism and the Lord's Supper) are more than just signs or symbols.  Rather they are sure witnesses and effectual signs of God's grace and good will towards us.  Through them he works invisibly within us, both bringing to life and also strengthening and confirming our faith in him.  (Article 25).

Does it always do something?

However Anglicans do not teach an ex-opera ex-operato view of the Sacraments as the Church of Rome does.  This latter view is that sacraments have power in an of themselves.  Rather the sacraments are only effective in those that receive them worthily.

What is necessary for baptism to be effective?

Article 25 teaches that baptism must be received worthily.  The Articles do not expand on this.  However, the baptism service does in that the congregation are exhorted to pray that God will receive 'these present persons, truly repenting, and coming unto him by faith'.

The condition for baptism to be effective is that it is accompanied by repentance and faith.

Why baptize children?

Children are baptized on the same basis.  The Anglican church like all the mainstream reformers retained infant baptism as being something which was consistent with Scripture (though not directly taught in it) and an ancient practice.

In the Book of Common Prayer it is the child who is expected in due course to repent and believe and the child's godparents make promises on the child's behalf.

‘Wherefore, after this promise made by Christ, this infant must also faithfully, for his part, promise by you that are his sureties (until he come of age to take it upon himself,) that he will renounce... believe... obey...’

Because those being saved are predestined from before the foundation of the world it is not a problem for God to know whether at baptism the promises made are genuine, whether they be made by an adult or by a godparent on behalf of a child.  Undoubtedly, infant baptism is a difficult idea for many.

Other reformed Christians focus particulary on the covenantal view of baptiism; that children of believing parents are baptiised believing them to be children of the covenant.  This view is consistent with the Anglican formularies but is not explicitly taught in them.

From the anglican formularies we are compelled to say that if a child is baptized but does not come to real repentance in due course then they did not receive the sacrament ' worthily'. Instead the sacrament acts to confirm that they are not of the elect:  they that receive them unworthily purchase to themselves damnation, as Saint Paul saith (Article 25).

See J Stafford Wright : The Child's Right to Baptism

What does baptism do or signify?

It is the sign of belonging to Christ, becoming part of His body.   Thus the believer is baptized into Christ (see Rom 6.3).  Baptism is thus the sign of belonging to the covenant people of God.  It is therefore similar to the sign of circumcision although by no means the same since baptism is not an enduring physical sign and circumcision was only performed on boys and men.

Baptism is about repentance.  All four Gospels record that John the Baptism preached ‘a baptism of repentance for the remission (forgiveness) of sins’.  On the day of pentecost Peter preached : Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call. (Acts 2.38,39)

Ordinarily baptism is not simply the sign, but part of the way in which God acts to remit sins for those who truly repent and believe.

The quotation from Acts also shows a link between baptism and the giving of the Holy Spirit.

Baptism is about dying to sin and rising to new life.  The Apostle Paul writes

buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.
Colossians 2.12

Notice here that though baptism is spoken of it is also through faith.  Confirming the fact that baptism is only effective when accompanied by genuine saving faith.

Some of these things are brought together in Romans 6.3-10.

In the Book of Common Prayer the congregation are urged to pray for those baptised and to believe that God will

grant them remission of their sins, and bestow upon them the Holy Ghost; that he will give them the blessing of eternal life, and make them partakers of his everlasting kingdom.

This is a sovereign work of God, we pray that He will do it, but in the sovereign purposes of God He has given baptism as a sign and as a means by which he works.

Publications relevant to this issue available to buy.


See Also


Articles relevant to this issue

Infant Baptism. Cross†Way article (2013) by Lee Gatiss.

Revising the Baptism Services. Cross†Way article (2011) by David Phillips.

The Evangelical Doctrine of Baptism. Churchman article by John Stott (112/1 1998) 

Baptism: A Sacrament of the Covenant of Grace. Churchman article by J. I. Packer (1955).

The Doctrine of Baptism. Churchman article by Donald Robinson (1962).

Regeneration and Baptism. Church Association Tract by J. C. Ryle.

The Unity of the Testaments and its Significance for Infant Baptism. Churchman article (1951) by W. Leathem.

Why Baptise Infants? Cross†Way article by Richard Sherratt (2007).

Circumcision and Baptism. Churchman article (1956) by J. A. Motyer.

The Elizabethan Puritans and Indiscriminate Baptism. Churchman article by G. W. Bromiley (1948).

Two Reformers and Baptism. Churchman article by G. W. Bromiley (1941).

The Doctrine of the Sacraments in the Thirty-Nine Articles. Churchman article (1991) by Roger Beckwith.

Tyndale's Use of the Blood of Christ in the Meaning of Baptism. Churchman article by Ralph Werrell.

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