Skip to content

Thoughts on Baptism

In August 2007 I wrote this post, and since the subject of baptism generates more controversy in Anglicanism than I had realized, I am creating this page to make the content more accessible, perhaps.

A few days ago I asked the following question in a post:

A child is baptized at infancy in an Anglican church according to the service in the Prayer Book. But he does not show any signs of regenerate behavior, becoming a hardened sinner, with no redeeming behavior.

At age 40 he hears the Word of God preached to him and repents of his sins, turning to Christ and trusting in Him. If one takes a classical Anglican position on baptism (I realize there may be several of these), what role did this man’s baptism as an infant play in his turning to God at age 40, and how does one account for the interval between baptism and regenerate behavior?

After thinking about this question for several days and reading several authors, including Hooker, I think the answer to this has to consider not only what baptism does, but what it does not do. In addition, we also run into aspects such as predestination and conversion.

For one thing, it is possible to say that at baptism we are regenerated, and made members of the Church, sharing in the covenant between God and His people. All who are baptized partake of the grace of God. But it is clear from Paul’s writings such as 1 Corinthians 10 that not all who enter into the covenant will enter the Kingdom:

For I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 and all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. (1 Corinthians 10:1-5)

Note that the Apostle says that ALL of the fathers of Israel were “baptized into Moses in the cloud and the sea.” Yet he also says that “with most of them God was not pleased.” Clearly baptism does not irrevocably guarantee entry into the Kingdom. I begin to think that the answer to this lies in the concepts of baptismal efficacy, predestination, and “the invisible church.”

Part of this lies in the great Richard Hooker’s position on baptismal efficacy: that it is efficacious for those who are members of the “mystical church” (what I suppose I have heard called the “invisible church”). There would be those who are in the “visible church” that DO partake of the grace of God to some extent, like the Hebrews who are mentioned in Paul’s writings, but fall away and never come into the Kingdom. This also allows a doctrine of predestination and election that harmonizes very well with the Thirty-Nine Articles, specifically Article XVII.  If I am reading Hooker’s Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, Book III, correctly, this is what he is saying in those pages, although I will quote T.P. Boultbee’s summary of Hooker’s position:

It is known to God alone who are indeed His elect. He has not permitted us to judge. Hence we may, by the rule of charity, presume that any particular infant is one of the elect, and speak of it accordingly. If it be one of the elect (and not otherwise), it is in Baptism made a participant of Christ and receives the first fruits of the Spirit, from which all needful graces, and ultimately the glorified state, will in due time “infallibly ensue;” and it will be preserved from final apostasy as long as it lives by the eternal life of Christ, the Head.

Boultbee goes on to note about Hooker:

In his language about the sacraments it will be found, on a careful consideration, that this distinction is always tacitly assumed: the Church visible owes the duty of careful administration, the members of the Church mystical (and these alone) receive, and “infallibly receive,” all the grace which Sacraments are meant to convey. (Boultbee quotes come from page 246 of his Commentary on the Thirty-Nine Articles.)

I suppose to some extent this post so far has answered a different question than the one I originally asked; what I have written thus far actually deals with the question of why some who are baptized never show signs of having come to a saving faith, and may even turn against the truth of the Gospel. It is my belief that Scripture’s answer (and Hooker’s) would be that although they were indeed partakers of the grace of baptism they were not among those members of the “mystical church” and hence their baptism was not fully efficacious.

But, about the original question: the man who was baptized in infancy, yet does not exhibit any signs of a saving faith until age 40 when he hears the Gospel and repents. I am now inclined to say the answer may be twofold: first, that baptismal efficacy is not necessarily limited to any one point in time, and hence what we might call his conversion at age 40 was the work of the Spirit flowing from his baptism as an infant. And, it is also the case that, as the Belgic Confession states, “baptism is profitable not only when the water is on us and when we receive it but throughout our entire lives.” (my emphasis)

Anyway, these are my thoughts on this now that I have had a few days to ponder it. I owe a great debt to someone who I will not identify who pointed me to the 1 Corinthians 10 reference, among other things. But any flaws in this post and its reasoning are mine, not his.  I do think Hooker shows a way (perhaps the way) to harmonize the doctrines of baptism, regeneration, and election.

21 Comments leave one →
  1. March 23, 2008 2:09 pm

    Hi Will,

    I enjoyed your article, and agree with many things you have said about the Eucharist which I personally refer to as the Lord’ Supper or Communion. I am not Catholic, Protestant, or Jewish, but consider myself as un-denominational. In other word, I am in search of the early church, and have tried to pick up where Paul left off as it were.

    I personally take the Supper every Saturday night( I am not a Sabbatarian) which I consider the beginning of the first day of the week. Acts 20:7-and following verses in the Living Bible and Good News for Modern Man even say that they were meeting on Saturday night on our calendar according to Jewish reckoning, and for the main purpose of partaking in the Lord’s Supper. How often did they do this? I think the implication is that they did it the next first day of the week, and the one after that, and so on etc..

    Mark 16:16 says that he who believes and is baptized shall be saved. My problem with infant baptism here is that an infant has no capacity for belief at this point, so I don’t think he or she would be held accountable at this tender age. My own belief is around the age of twelve, because Jesus at that age knew that he must be about his Father’s business ( implying accountability). I know some people are more inclined than others at that age, and could possibly wait a year longer.

    Acts 2:38 says that baptism if for the remission of sins, so it is essential to salvation, and not just necessary or important. Even Luke 3:3 says that Johns baptism was for repentance unto the remission of sins, so if it was for the forgiveness of sins before the Cross, it certainly would be after the Cross. After someone has submitted to scriptural baptism he is born again, and has received the gift of the Holy Spirit. He or she is automatically added to the body of Christ, and there is no need to join any denomination. Placing membership somewhere is a different matter.

    Some churches take the Supper three or four times a year, and some take it every week. As often as we take it we are remembering Him…why not remember Him every week, and not just the few times a year.

    For more information on the true church, and scriptural salvation, please read Blessings to all,

    Brother Paul

  2. Iva Lee Gunder Andersen permalink
    July 15, 2009 9:55 pm

    1. Being baptized won’t get you into Heaven…it symbolizes Jesus’s death and resurrection,…we become changed when we change (repent) our behavior…that is, from worldliness to Christianity.
    (not to religion)
    2. Because sin entered the world thru Adam and Eve, a child is born “worldly”…christening is the parents’ way of saying they will bring the child up in the church; the age of accountability is 12 or 13 years of age. Then they are baptized and thru this act, they are telling the world they prefer to follow Christ’s way. And they do this by faith. Baptism will not get you into heaven. There is only one way…faith and belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. rejecting the Holy Sprit is the unforgiveable sin.
    All these high falluting ways of expressing what a human being is at birth is a waste of time…The child comes out a human being, period. Apparently, someone is trying to justify abortion standards.

    Thanks for listening.

    • Iva Lee Gunder Andersen permalink
      July 15, 2009 9:58 pm

      I think I missed the point…altho’ what I did say, I believe, is correct if you want to consider that point…

    • August 14, 2014 3:14 am

      “Baptism now saves you.” 1st Peter

  3. David Russell permalink
    February 14, 2010 1:55 am

    I just discovered this site, and may be back again. I currently attend a Sacramental church with my wife and family where the current pastor is quite central in the Sacrament of baptism almost to an extreme and cringe week after week when I hear its regenrative powers seemingly promoted. I am refreshed to hear you balance this issue with what it does, and what it doesn’t do. Just wanted to thank you for broaching this subject.

    • February 14, 2010 2:14 am


      Thanks for your kind comment. I know you already realize there are major disagreements among Christians of all stripes on this subject; however, I can tell you I am not the only Anglican who holds the position I have stated.

      You mention you are a member of a sacramental church; whether or not you are Anglican I would commend the works of Richard Hooker, probably the greatest of Anglican theologians, on this subject – specifically his Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, Book III. The nineteenth century Anglican scholar, T. P. Boultbee, whom I quoted, is also helpful, and his text can be read here:

      Boultbee on the Thirty-Nine Articles

      If you have any further questions please let me know.

  4. March 10, 2011 12:31 am

    Hi Will
    Recently I have been in researching the Anglican Catholic Church in an attempt to find some sort of continuity. Overtly their Statement of St Louis seems inocuous enough but when you go further and read what is written about their beliefs elsewhere it becomes quite clear that they hold to baptismal regeneration which is held by many within the Anglican tradition. This a very difficult area of truth to cover as we have so little information about methods and details. Bray in his book – ‘The Faith We Confess” on page 155 says quite clearly ‘What baptism cannot do is bring about real regeneration if it could there would be no need to preach the gospel

    • March 10, 2011 2:28 am


      You have very well summed up one problem I have with the idea that baptism is always efficacious and that the ritual itself brings about regeneration ex opere operato: that if this were so, there would seemingly be no need to preach the gospel. I do think Hooker had the right idea about all this, and that Anglicans everywhere need to turn to Scripture first, and then heed what Hooker had to say interpreting Scripture in this matter.

  5. Andrew Nixon permalink
    April 6, 2013 5:06 pm

    Here is a link to PDF Files of Boultbee’s Exposition of the Thirty-nine Articles that I have downloaded to my laptop and tablet.

  6. Andrew Nixon permalink
    April 6, 2013 5:15 pm

    Here is a link to PDF Files of Boultbee’s Exposition of the Thirty-nine Articles that I have downloaded to my laptop and tablet.

    • April 6, 2013 5:25 pm

      Hey, thanks – your files are actually smaller (being broken up into four parts) and may well be easier for some people to download. I appreciate this.

  7. Jereme Bernier permalink
    March 25, 2015 10:56 am

    Just a quick note. Bray, of whom I am not familiar, stated (per Ed Weston): ‘What baptism cannot do is bring about real regeneration. If it could there would be no need to preach the gospel.’

    I would suggest this is a false dichotomy. I would further suggest that the Gospel is woven into Baptism, and it is the faith we have in the saving works of Christ, delivered to us in Baptism, that our faith is able to objectively cling to. One might say, “We are saved by Christ, or the Gospel of Christ, and not Baptism.” Other than bringing up 1 Peter 3 I would simply reply that we can have the Gospel without Baptism but we cannot have Baptism without The Gospel. How do I know the Gospel is for me? I have been Baptized! Therefore I have the remission of sins, the Holy Spirit, and Christ’s promise of forgiveness and resurrection.

    This is coming from a Lutheran perspective though, in which one daily seeks after repentance and daily needs The Gospel of Christ. Yes, The Gospel is for the regenerate too. Lutheran theologians teach that the regenerate can apostatize, which may or may not conflict with Anglican theology. I wasn’t able notice any teaching either way on this subject when going through the 39 Articles. If this is antithetical to Anglican teaching than my argument will slightly miss the point I suppose, although I still believe the statement by Bray is not careful (to put it in a positive construction).

    Anyway, I’m starting to research Anglicanism and hope to make use of the links to the right. I figure I’m pretty much Lutheran but sometimes you better know what you are by knowing what you are not. So, thanks for the website, may God bless it and you!

    • March 25, 2015 11:21 am

      Thank you for your comment. You are very much right about knowing what you are by knowing what you are not.
      As for baptism, my take on it is something like yours: I do see baptism and the gospel as related. If one is elect in God and is baptized, I see the preaching of the Gospel as being involved in completing that baptism. Preaching is indeed very much for the regenerate as for the unregenerate.
      Regarding the issue of whether the regenerate can apostatize, I think Anglicans hold a variety of positions on that – it would depend on where one falls on a Reformed to Arminian scale, I suppose. Article 17 of the 39 Articles speaks of “Predestination to Life” but the Articles are silent on what is known as “double predestination”. In some respects Article 17 might harmonize quite well with Lutheran theology!
      Thank you so much for your comment. God bless you!

  8. Richard Russell permalink
    April 23, 2018 10:22 pm

    Baptism, like the Eucharist, depends much on the hearts and minds of participants. If parents and/or Godparents/Sponsors do not strive to bring the child up in The Way of Our Lord the child may well become a “prodigal son/daughter.” Or alternatively become a fine Christian who loves God and Neighbor as Commanded by Christ. The Holy Spirit is present at the Baptism and afterward shut out or greatly encouraged by the “family.” Of course there may be other intervening events, both negative and positive. Even the “too much religion” syndrome can be fed by classmates at school. The Christian Community must nurture the development and maturing of the young by teaching and example.
    I was baptized 74 years ago by a pastor named Samuel McPherson Glasgow. Draw what conclusions you will from that but my influences included devout parents and Sunday School teachers ranging from the wives of local merchants to a shell-shocked Marine veteran of WWII become university professor. Good people all who made a difference. I feel great affinity to Type-I protestants of all stripes and Presbyterian, Episcopal, Methodist, and Lutheran parishes where I celebrated the joy of being a Christian.

  9. Will Miller permalink
    August 13, 2021 7:22 pm

    From one Will to another:

    Excellent article. As a former Presbyterian, I think Westminster Confession of Faith 28.6 is quite instructive on this point. Basically, the grace offered in baptism is not necessarily tied to the moment it is administered. In the case of the 40 year old man, some would contend that he has had a “spark” of faith or something along those lines throughout his life; I do not speculate. All I know is that God works sovereignly in diverse ways to bring His elect to grace. I think a lot depends on exactly what we mean by “grace” as well: grace, being understood as God’s favor toward us, is most definitely manifested to a baptized infant as a frame of reference and hopefully as the beginning of a new way of life shaped by Christian influence. Nevertheless, God can (and I think often does) work saving faith in the hearts of those baptized as infants later in life, though I certainly hold to the possibility that such an infant may be in fact regenerated before or at the time baptism is administered; I try not to be too dogmatic in any case.

    • August 13, 2021 7:40 pm

      Thanks, Will. I think you and I are pretty much in agreement. Thanks for the WCF reference…I will have to go look that up!


  1. Another Thought on Baptism « Prydain
  2. From The North American Anglican: “Confirmation in Classical Anglicanism” | Prydain

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: