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.