Article XXVII: Of Baptism

This post is part of a Lenten series on the 39 Articles.

Article XXVII: Of Baptism
Baptism is not only a sign of profession and mark of difference whereby Christian men are discerned from other that be not christened, but is also a sign of regeneration or new birth, whereby, as by an instrument, they that receive baptism rightly are grafted into the Church; the promises of the forgiveness of sin, and of our adoption to be the sons of God, by the Holy Ghost are visibly signed and sealed; faith is confirmed, and grace increased by virtue of prayer unto God. The baptism of young children is in any wise to be retained in the Church as most agreeable with the institution of Christ.

Are you born again? If you’re an Anglican, then this Article says your answer should be “yes”. In baptism, we are regenerated — grafted into the Body of Christ. You can also read about baptism in Article XVI, which deals with whether or not we can fall from grace after we are baptized. The theology expressed here is quite like what we read in the 1979 prayer book, though today we tend not to talk about a “sign of profession and mark of difference”.

One might point out a theological quagmire of sorts here. The Article says that in baptism, “grace [is] increased by virtue of prayer unto God”. Of course, that sounds remarkably like works-righteousness, which is rightly condemned in a series of Articles (see X and XII especially). The language is quite lovely, and one can see why it might have been expressed this way. A more theologically precise formulation would be “through God’s gracious will, we make use of this sacrament to manifest God’s grace increasing…” or some such thing. In other words, baptism itself does not increase God’s grace. Humans would not, in traditional theology, be able to influence God that much!

It is also worth noting that the Article supports infant baptism as if the question were perfectly settled in scripture. While Anglicanism (and I would argue, ancient Christianity) has good reason for favoring baptism of all ages, it seems to me that those who advocate believer baptism are also able to articulate a pretty persuasive scriptural argument. This is another time when we need to acknowledge that the scriptures don’t always have a “plain meaning” and we are left to make hermeneutic choices.

These, however, are quibbles. We would do well to share the teaching of this article with parents who bring their children for baptism. Too often parents want the baptism “done” — and the church service is 50% of the “event” along with a party at home in the afternoon. Fruitful conversation could be had with families about what it means to be grafted into the church and adopted as children of God.

Here are some questions for pondering or meditation:

  • Is it easy for us to talk about being “born again”? Why? (cf. John 3)
  • Grab a concordance or run a search before you answer this one: What does the bible teach about baptism?
  • What aspects of baptism do we emphasize today? Why?
  • What aspects do we downplay? Why?

Almighty God, by our baptism into the death and resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ, you turn us from the old life of sin: Grant that we, being reborn to new life in him, may live in righteousness and holiness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Image courtesy of flickr user Leo Reynolds.

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Next: Article XXVIII: Of the Lord’s Supper