Ask an Anglican: Baptismal Regeneration

St. Mary's Episcopal Cathedral in Memphis, Tennessee

St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral in Memphis, Tennessee

Kevin writes:

As I understand you, we receive saving faith at our baptism when we are regenerated by God’s grace. This all fits together nicely in the case of infant baptism, but could you clarify what Anglicanism teaches about adult converts? How is it that they come to receive the sacrament of Baptism? I understand that the Holy Spirit would have to call them, but is their response to this calling considered “faith”? If not, what is it? If it is faith, how is it that their faith comes at baptism?

This is a great question because it gives us the opportunity to sort out some common confusion surrounding the topic of the doctrine of Baptismal regeneration. Though the prayer book is filled with references to our being regenerated by our baptism, by the early nineteenth century many Anglicans had abandoned the doctrine of baptismal regeneration in large measure due to misunderstanding. The Scriptures speak repeatedly of our being regenerated in our baptism. In Titus 3:5, for instance, Paul says that God “saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit.” But what does that mean? Does it imply that we are saved through Baptism even if we never come to faith? Just what is the relationship between Baptism and faith? All of these things become intertwined and terribly difficult to sort out if we do not first figure out what it means to be “regenerated.”

Rescue Me

If we imagine God’s gracious action towards us in Christ to be like that of a person in a helicopter seeking to pull a drowning man out of the water, the drowning man has only two options, one active and one passive. He can choose not to trust that the person saving him has his best interests in mind. This will cause him to flail around, fighting off his rescuer, which will ultimately result in his drowning. Or he can trust that his rescuer really does intend to rescue him, in which case he will relax and allow the rescuer to do his job unimpeded. Faith represents the second of these options. Faith is not so much an action as it is a disposition. Having faith means no longer fighting God off. But there is a problem inherent in this scenario: How do we know our rescuer? Sin enslaves us. On our own, our hearts are incapable of making the choice to have faith in Christ because sin has dulled our senses. It has made us incapable of recognizing either the goodness of God or the evil of death that has us trapped. To you and I as drowning sinners, the one who reaches out a hand to rescue us appears to be some kind of monster. Would you take the hand of a monster or bat it away? Suppose that you do not even fully believe that you are drowning. Why accept the hand of someone who will rescue you when you are perfectly self sufficient and in need of no rescue at all?

New Birth

In John 3, Jesus confuses Nicodemus, who has come to Him under the cover of night, by telling him that he must be born again (or born from above, as the Greek word can mean either). Nicodemus mistakenly takes Jesus literally, as if what Jesus is telling him is that he has to crawl back into his mother’s womb and come out a second time. But Jesus ignores this absurdity and restates his premise, saying that “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). The early Church universally understood this to be a reference to Holy Baptism. It is in the waters of Baptism that we are born again because it is in the waters of Baptism that the Holy Spirit is given to us to unite us with Christ. Baptism is God’s action of reaching out to us, grabbing hold of us, and drawing us into Himself. Regeneration is God’s action, within our Baptism, by which He opens our hearts and unstops our ears that we might be made one with Him. It enables us to have faith because it is the bond which makes the fullness of faith possible. To be regenerated is not to be given faith per se, but to be given the possibility of actually being capable of having faith. Baptism is not something that just happens in a single moment. Baptism is something that is sealed in a single moment, but that then works upon us throughout our lives to change our hearts, to renew our faith, and to make us holy. Our sins are drowned daily in our baptism and we are daily raised to new life.

Some Things are Better Together

So what does that mean for the person who comes to faith prior to coming to the font? Perhaps the best analogy for all of this is that of love and marriage. There are many different ways that a man and a woman might come together and decide to be wed. In modern western culture, men and women date before getting married, coming to know one another, and usually coming to a genuine affection for one another beforehand. In other societies and cultures, this has not always been the case. Sometimes marriages are arranged for socio-economic reasons. Nevertheless, many people in these marriages also come to love each other over time. Even in marriages that are borne out of love, most people who have been married for more than five minutes will tell you that the love they had when they got married is not the same as the love they have once they have been married for awhile. So what caused what? Does love cause marriage or does marriage cause love? The answer is yes to both. We get married because we fall in love and we love because we are married. The same is true of the relationship between Baptism and faith. We get baptized because we have come to faith and we come to faith because we have been baptized.

The Holy Spirit works upon people in different ways. Some people first come to know Jesus through the example of a friend or a relative, or through the words of a preacher or an evangelist, or through encountering liturgy. For the person who was baptized as an infant, these other things act as a catalyst for the gift that has already been given. It deepens the relationship that has already been forged in Baptism. For the person who has not yet been baptized, these other things stir up a desire to be baptized and thereby to enter into that kind of closeness in relationship with God. Baptism gives us faith in the same way that marriage gives us love. Our mistake with both faith and love is to assume that either one of those precious gifts can only be given to us in a single infusion, as if we go from complete doubt to complete faith or from complete indifference to complete love in the span of a moment. When two people fall in love and get married, the vows they make on their wedding day establish a bond that allows their love to grow and to be made stronger, better, more like the perfect and holy love of God. When we come to faith and then come to the font, the grace we receive there will continuously regenerate our hearts, so that each day, as Christ drowns our sins anew, we will be able to trust in Him anew, and that trust will become deeper over time.

Further Reading

There are some great passages on Baptism that help to further illuminate all of this in the work of Jeremy Taylor, but for a more modern classical Anglican perspective, I recommend reading Bishop Ray Sutton’s book, Signed, Sealed, and Delivered. Bishop Sutton is a bishop in the Reformed Episcopal Church. While some of what he says about the REC’s “Declaration of Principles” is problematic, the majority of what is in this book is very good. The connections he draws are helpful for anyone who wants to sort out the biblical material on this question while keeping an eye on the classical Anglican doctrine expressed in our formularies.

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54 Responses to Ask an Anglican: Baptismal Regeneration

  1. Peter Ould says:

    “The early Church universally understood this [John 3:5] to be a reference to Holy Baptism.”

    Can you demonstrate this?

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      I suppose that “universally” is always a dangerous word. There may have been those who understood otherwise, as there is almost always a minority opinion, but I have yet to come across it. Many fathers make reference to this verse in their discussions of Baptism. Augustine and Chrysostom are the most eloquent. Chrysostom says, for instance:

      In Baptism are fulfilled the pledges of our covenant with God; burial and death, resurrection and life; and these take place all at once. For when we immerse our heads in the water, the old man is buried as in a tomb below, and wholly sunk forever; then as we raise them again, the new man rises in its stead. As it is easy for us to dip and to lift our heads again, so it is easy for God to bury the old man, and to show forth the new. And this is done thrice, that you may learn that the power of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost fulfills all this.

      He then goes on to connect this with Paul’s discussion of Baptism in Romans 6. All of this in a homily in which Chrysostom is explicating a single verse, John 3:5. The man was brilliant. No wonder Cranmer was so fond of him.

      Here’s the whole text of that:

      There’s also a lot of helpful material in Thomas Aquinas’ Catena Aurea. Granted, Saint Thomas arranges the quotes to fit his argument. But it is a useful starting place for following some of the strands that we find in the Fathers:

  2. andrewrnixon says:

    Brother Jonathan I have problems with this in so many ways that I never had our three sons baptized as infants and I and my wife although baptized as infants rejected that as meaningless and were baptized b full immersion as Believing Born Again adults.

    If baptism is so important why would Rabbi Paul have so little interest in it as to say:

    ” For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel,” 1Cor. 1:17.

    Faith does not come through baptism but through God’s Word preached and believed by the individual sinner:

    “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” Romans 10:17.

    That Faith and regeneration IS instantaneous like stepping through a door from death unto life when we are justifed, but our sanctification is a lifelong process not complete before death.

    “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.” John 5:24

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      Hi Andrew,

      The discussion here about baptismal regeneration comes amidst the context of a much larger and wider discussion about baptism that has happened over the years on this site. I recommend clicking on the “baptism” tag and checking some of that out.

      In brief, while I appreciate your desire to adhere to the teaching of Holy Scripture, I would point you to a number of very important passages that you may have overlooked. In particular, since you mention Paul, his writing in Romans 6 is crucial to understanding just what Baptism is and what it is for. Check out the link to John Chrysostom’s homily above if you want to see some really great exegesis of that passage. “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” says Paul. “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4). Baptism is not a thing we do to show Jesus that we believe in Him. Baptism is Jesus giving Himself to us, joining us to Him in both His crucifixion and His resurrection.

      There are many other passages that point us to this same reality, such as the Titus passage and the passage in John that I mention in the article above. And, of course, there’s also the words of Saint Peter, who said, “Baptism now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21).

      This, it should be added, is not a separate reality from the Word which brings faith. Baptism is the Word. Into the waters of Baptism is spoken the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That same Word is active in the preaching of the Holy Scriptures. Faith comes through hearing. Regeneration comes through Holy Baptism, which makes it possible for us both to hear and to believe.

      • andrewrnixon says:

        Thank you Brother Jonathan for your reply. I think that the order of things in Salvation (ordo salutis) is the issue here as always. The usual Reformed formula is :

        Foreknowledge, Predestination, Election, Evangelism, Faith, Repentance, Justification, Regeneration, Conversion, Perseverance, Sanctification and Glorification.

        How we understand these issues will colour our Baptismal position.

        The Council of Trent (1545-63) stated that while Christ “merited for us justification by His most holy passion…the instrumental cause [of justification/regeneration] is the sacrament of baptism….If anyone says that baptism is…not necessary for salvation, let him be anathema.” Vatican II (1962-65) reconfirms all of Trent and reiterates the necessity of baptism for salvation, as does the universal Catechism of the Catholic Church released by the Vatican in 1993: “Baptism is necessary for salvation…the Church does not know of any [other] means…that assures entry into eternal beatitude….”

        Trent anathematizes all who deny that “the merit of Jesus Christ is applied…to infants by the sacrament of baptism” or who deny that by baptism “the guilt of original sin is remitted….” Today’s Code of Canon Law (Canon 849) declares that those baptized are thereby “freed from their sins, are reborn as children of God and… incorporated in the Church.” Canon 204 states, “The Christian faithful are those who…have been incorporated in Christ through baptism” and are thereby members of the one, true Catholic Church.

        Contrarywise Scripture ALWAYS places Faith and Repentance BEFORE baptism in response to the preaching of the Word of God:

        The 3,000 on Pentecost in Acts 2
        Philip in Acts 8
        Cornelius and his household in Acts 10

        Romans:6:4 states, “[W]e are buried with [Christ] by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead…even so we also should walk in newness of life.” That Rabbi Paul is not speaking of water baptism, however, but of the spiritual reality it symbolizes, is clear, for he says that through baptism “our old man [sinful nature] is crucified with him [Christ], that the body of sin might be destroyed.” As a consequence, he urges believers to “reckon” themselves “to be dead indeed unto sin….[L]et not sin therefore reign in your mortal body” (vv 6-13).

        Rabbi Paul uses similar language concerning himself when he says, “I am crucified with Christ” (Gal:2:20). He is obviously speaking of that same spiritual “baptism” by which we have been placed in Christ and have thus passed with Him through death into resurrection life. If we were literally dead to sin, then we wouldn’t need to “reckon” it true or live the new life by faith; we would automatically never sin again. That a Christian may and does in fact sin shows that water baptism doesn’t effect a literal crucifixion with Christ. It portrays a spiritual baptism into Christ which the believer must live by faith.

        In that context, then, we can understand Peter’s declaration, “The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us…by the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Pt 3:21). He is no more saying that the physical act of baptism literally saves us than Paul is saying that it literally makes us dead to sin. The few difficult, isolated verses such as these cannot contradict the overwhelming number of other scriptures which are crystal clear. Water baptism, says Peter, is a ” figure ” or symbolization of a spiritual baptism into Christ effected by the Holy Spirit and which is settled forever in heaven but which must be lived out by faith while we are here upon earth, that is our progressive Sanctification.

        Significantly, though Rabbi Paul baptized a few, Christ never baptized anyone (Jn:4:2)—very odd if baptism saves. The Savior of the world must have deliberately avoided baptizing to make it clear that baptism has no part in salvation. Yes, Christ said we must be “born [again] of water and of the Spirit” to be saved (Jn:3:5), but it is unwarranted to assume that “water” here means baptism. To do so would contradict the wealth of Scripture we have seen which proves salvation is not by baptism.

        Jesus was speaking to Nicodemus, a rabbi to whom “water” would not mean baptism (which was unknown in Jewish law) but the ceremonial cleansing of someone who had been defiled (Ex 30, 40; Lev 13, 15, etc.). And that is what Christ meant. His death would make it possible to “sanctify and cleanse [His church] with the washing of water by the word [of the gospel]” (Eph:5:25-27). Christ said, “Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken” (Jn:15:3). Like Christ, Paul put water and the Spirit together, referring to the “washing of regeneration” and linking it with the “renewing of the Holy Ghost” (Titus:3:5). We are born again by the Holy Spirit and by the Word or gospel of God, which is sometimes called “water” because of its cleansing power. As Peter said, we are “born again…by the word of God” (1 Pt 1:23).

        It was obviously this figure of Old Testament ceremonial cleansing which Peter communicated to his Jewish audience in his Pentecost sermon: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (Acts:2:38). It is clear from the many other scriptures we’ve given that Peter wasn’t saying that baptism saves, but that it offered a ceremonial cleansing uniquely applicable to his Jewish hearers. To be baptized was to be identified before the fanatical Jews of Jerusalem with this hated Jesus Christ as one’s personal Saviour. Baptism cost family and friends and endangered one’s life, as it still does in Israel and Muslim countries. Those who are afraid to take this public stand in such cultures are even today not considered to be true believers. Thus for a Jew to be publicly baptized at that time in that culture was, in a sense, to “wash away [his] sins” (Acts:22:16), as Ananias told Saul.

        I hope this helps to clarify my position Brother Jonathan.

      • Fr. Jonathan says:

        Hi Andrew,

        I apologize that I don’t have the time right now to go through every part of your argument in detail. But given how different our perspectives are, I doubt that would be a fruitful exercise anyway.

        I will make just one observation, which you can take or leave I suppose. And that is to say that you seem to have to go to an awful lot of trouble to make Scripture say what you want it to say. Granted, context matters, and sometimes context can change dramatically how we read something which seems simple at first but turns out to be much more complex. But the Bible’s teaching on Holy Baptism is actually fairly simple and straightforward, especially when addressed in the context of the rest of what Scripture says. A plain reading of Romans 6, 1 Peter 3, and John 3 points us to the power of God in binding us to the sacrifice of Christ on the cross through the waters of Baptism. It seems to take an astounding amount of work to make “Baptism now saves you” say something more like “Baptism doesn’t save you at all and is of no real value.”

        The classical Anglican position is that Baptism saves not in the place of faith but in concert with faith. They are both instrumental in how God takes the gift of Christ’s victory over sin and death and gives it to us sinners. Ultimately, all of this is shorthand for saying that Christ alone saves us, by and through the means that He has chosen. This view of Baptism was upheld universally in the Church until the late sixteenth century and it is still upheld by the overwhelming majority of Christians in the world today (Roman Catholics, Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran, Old Catholic, etc.). As a general rule, one of the primary theological conceits of classical Anglicanism is that when the whole Church throughout history interprets the Scriptures in one particular way, and you interpret them radically differently, the safest course is to submit to the Church’s universal and unbroken teaching. This is done not in the sense of submitting to the Church as an entity that has power over Scripture, but because the Church has been given the Holy Spirit to enable her to live under the authority of Scripture.

    • Phil James says:

      A doctor doesn’t deny the importance of medication, when he points out that he is glad to leave the dispensing to a pharmacist. There are patients to see.

      That tells us something about the primary role the Doctor sees himself playing (and perhaps gives some insight into why this might need be the case); but If we wish to find out the Doctor’s opinion about the efficacy/importance of the medicine, then we’d need to look elsewhere. Same with St. Paul.

      Paul ministry is to confront the powers with the announcement that Christ is now in charge. His statement refocused the issue where it belonged- the clash between the gospel of Christ vs the wisdom of the world. ‘Let’s talk about that,’ he says; ‘not least regarding this making disciples for oneself business.’

      • andrewrnixon says:

        A useful and relevant analogy there Phil.

      • philjames says:

        Andrew, thank you for your kind comment; but it makes me wonder if you’ve misunderstood me. :-)

        A few brief thoughts on your comments to Fr. Jonathon:

        1) According to our Lord, children are the model for salvation; all baptisms are infant baptisms.

        2) Flipping this on its head strikes me as a compromise to the world’s vision of community in which the weakest, most dependent, costly and immature are justifiably excluded. The gospel has another vision, and the church’s enacted practice of that gospel is a needed counter to that of the dehumanizing kingdoms of this world.

        3) You assume that infants haven’t faith.

        4) Your vision of salvation is individualistic and legal; but if the proper paradigm is communal and relational, then expectations about what receiving God’s gracious gift looks like, go in the direction of catholic practice.

        5) Why don’t you sound like the apostles? It’s been my experience that for all the laudable appeals to scripture, those traditions that embrace innovative visions and practices about baptism (in relation to the clear and received catholic faith), are completely unable to unequivocally speak about baptism as scripture and the apostles do. Any use of actual apostolic language is cause for immediate back peddling or censure. That strikes me as problematic.

  3. Lawrence says:

    Another book that will be helpful for Anglicans as well as others is Harold Browne’s Exposition of the 39 Articles.
    “Regeneration” as the early Fathers expressed it, is not what those of us on this side of the 19th century usually think it means. This book clarified the issue for me when I was ferreting it all out.

  4. Joshua Bovis says:

    Hi Jonathan,

    I have not read other’s responses to your post, but my understanding of the Lord Jesus’ response to Nicodemus in John 3.
    The question I think Jesus response raises is this:
    Is Jesus referring to the water of physical birth, or the sacrament of baptism or both?
    I think he is referring to neither, but is talking about spiritual rebirth and but most likely the Lord Jesus is referring to Ezekiel 36:25-27
    Back in Ezekiel 36:25-27, God makes an amazing promise 600 hundred years earlier to his covenant people:

    “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanness, and from all your idols will I cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

    God was promising that there will come a time when people will approach Him, not externally, not through rules, or ceremonies, or through outward cleansing, but God himself will enable people to approach him through what God will do to people internally! God will transform people, give them new hearts, a new spirit, and this transformation is all of God. It is all his doing. He initiates, he regenerates, he justifies, he transforms, and we are the recipients. And Jesus is saying to Nicodemus, (and to us), that this time has come.

    Through the Lord Jesus Christ, God will transform people, give them new hearts, a new spirit; a transformation of the heart, of the mind and of the spirit. As Jesus puts it, being born again, or born from above. And without this transformation, this inward transformation, no-one will see, let alone enter the Kingdom of God.

    To say that the Lord Jesus is saying that in the waters of Baptism that we are born again ‘because it is in the waters of Baptism that the Holy Spirit is given to us to unite us with him’, I think is an exegetical stretch that is too long. To put it bluntly – the sacrament of baptism does not save people – though there were certainly people in the early church who believed this (i.e Augustine).

    One could go to the Apostle Peter’s words in 1 Peter 3:18-22 where he draws a comparison between salvation in the ark and baptism. Now Noah and his family were believers, those whom Peter writes to were believers, Noah and his family were in the minority, those whom Peter writes to were in the minority. Those in the ark were saved through the waters of judgement, those whom Peter writes to were also saved through judgement and their baptism was a sign of or a portrayal of their salvation.

    We know that this is the case because if you look with me at v.21 the Apostle Peter states in v.21:
    21And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ

    Baptism saves in that it symbolises or represents inward faith in Christ, it does not actually do anything. As Peter states, not as removal of dirt from the body. Baptism saves because it represents inward faith as evidenced by one’s appeal to God for a good conscience, or in other words, by one’s plea for the forgiveness of one’s sins through Christ alone. A plea that is grounded in the resurrection of Christ. Baptism is a visual representation of sign of the fact that Christians are clothed with the righteousness of Christ. It is an outward sign of the internal reality of regeneration which is the result of the Holy Spirit, the latter being what Jesus was talking about in the first place in John 3 with Nicodemus.

    The 39 Articles also back this up in XXVII of Baptism:
    Baptism is not only a sign of profession, and mark of difference, whereby Christian men are discerned from others 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 agreeablewith the institution of Christ.

    What baptism cannot do is bring about real regeneration. If it could there would be no need to preach the Gospel at all, since it would be just enough to pour water over everybody who comes along. If baptism could make people Christians, then there would be millions of people in the world who would be Christians without realising it, and often in spite of denying it. (i.e Bertrand Russell, Staline, Hitler).

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      Hi Joshua,

      My last response to Andrew above applies here as well. You quote from Exodus where an obvious allusion to what God will do in Holy Baptism is made and then suggest that this is scriptural evidence to deny Baptism’s power and place. You quote Peter’s words that “Baptism now saves you,” but then argue that by saying this, Peter is actually telling us that Baptism has nothing to do with our salvation. You quote the very words of the 39 Articles which emphasize the regenerative power of Baptism and then say that this somehow means that Baptism isn’t regenerative at all. Given that your hermeneutic is making each text say exactly the opposite of what it says, I think the problem lies with your hermeneutic and not with classical Anglican teaching that Baptism regenerates us by uniting us with Christ.

      You said, “What baptism cannot do is bring about real regeneration. If it could there would be no need to preach the Gospel at all, since it would be just enough to pour water over everybody who comes along.” I would invite you to reread what I wrote in the article regarding the misunderstanding that many modern people have about regeneration. To say that we are regenerated in Baptism is not the same as saying that we are most certainly going to be saved, even if we never hear the Gospel preached or outright reject it. This misunderstanding has done a great deal to divide Christians needlessly. To go back to the marriage analogy I used above, your argument would be, “What marriage cannot do is bring about real love. If it could there would be no need for men and women who are into each other to relate to one another at all since it would be enough to just marry every couple that comes along.” Let the absurdity of that sink in. Jesus tells us to make disciples of all nations by baptizing them and teaching them, not by doing one or the other (Matthew 28). The person who has been baptized can take comfort in their baptism only if they have faith. If they reject faith, they mock their Baptism and thereby mock Christ, rejecting the free gift of salvation that He has given them there.

      • Joshua Bovis says:


        I was actually referring to Ezekiel. I think you are wrong.

        I also think you are wrong about John 3. You are reading your understanding of baptism back into the text.

        The reason I quote the Apostle Peter is because this is a pericope that Anglicans who hold to baptismal regeneration eisegete to justify their position.

        As for the Articles emphasize the regenerative power of Baptism, this is nonsense! The articles make the point very clearly that it is the inward spiritual reality which baptism signifies (notice the word signifies?) that is the essence of the sacrament of baptism. ti is a ‘sign’ of regeneration or new birth.

        I am no certain Jonathan that your interpretation of Matthew 28, Jesus command is correct. Jesus tells us to make disciple of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, etc. I do not see how Jesus words suggest that we make disciples ‘by’ baptising them, rather we make disciples, then we baptise them.

    • Charlie says:

      I think you are misunderstanding the Articles on this point. Article XXVII says that Baptism “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…” First, notice the phrase “as by an instrument.” This points to the fact that Baptism is the “instrument” that brings about all these things.

      Second, I think you misunderstand what the Articles mean by the word “sign.” It does not mean merely a symbol or illustration of something. Look at Article XXV “On the Sacraments.” It says that Sacraments are “not only badges or tokens of Christian men’s profession, but rather they be certain sure witnesses, and effectual signs of grace, and God’s good will towards us, by the which he doth work invisibly in us…” When the Articles speak of the Sacraments as “signs” they speak of them as “effectual signs.” When you say that Baptism “does not actually do anything,” you are outrightly disagreeing with the Articles which refer to the Sacraments (such as Baptism) as “effectual signs” (signs that effect what they signify) and which clearly say that by the Sacraments God “doth work invisibly in us.” When you see the word “sign” in light of Article XXV, you begin to read Article XXVII in the way that it was written, mainly to say that Baptism is not just a public symbol of regeneration, it is a visible sign that effects the new birth and makes one “a member of Christ, the child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven.” (This last part is what the Catechism in the BCP says about Baptism)

      • Joshua Bovis says:

        Baptism does not do anything – I meant this in regards to our justification. Cranmer understood baptism this way:
        The baptised person is grafted into the church
        The promise of forgiveness and adoption are visible signed and sealed
        Faith (where it exists) is confirmed
        Grace is increased through prayer

        But as I said previously, baptism cannot bring about real regeneration. It cannot make people Christians. If it could we would not need to preach the gospel, simply just baptise everyone.

        In short, baptism is a sign of regeneration that occurs when a person receives the gospel BY FAITH; the rite itself cannot cause regeneration. To my knowledge this is still the official position of the C of E in spite of the attempts of a Anglican bishop in the 1800’s who tried to make it so (Bishop Henry Philpotts, bishop of Exeter).


      • Brandon says:


        You are interpreting the verses on baptism outside of the Tradition of the Fathers. If you can show me two or more Fathers who reject baptismal regeneration, I will say your view has some Credence. If you cannot, than you already have a major problem. Anglicans affirm the necessity of the Tradition of the Church in Scriptural interpretation. That tradition affirms regeneration.

        Regeneration=Justification? It does not.
        “The baptized person is grafted into the Church.” And who is saved outside/apart from the Church? No one. For the Church is like the ark, anyone outside it will drown in judgment.
        “Visible, signed, and sealed,” I disagree with your understanding of a a sacramental sign, but can you tell me what you think is meant by the word “sealed” here?
        “Faith where it exists is confirmed,” so what is the point of confirmation?
        It is increased through prayer. It is also increased through the sacraments.

        This is from the 1549 BCP Baptismal Rite, so back to our very roots. Note, I kept the variant spellings.

        “DEARE beloved, forasmuche as all men bee conceyved and borne in sinne, and that no manne borne in synne, can entre into the kingdom of God (except he be regenerate, and borne anewe of water, and the holy ghost) I beseche you to call upon God the father through our Lord Jesus Christ, that of his bounteouse mercy he wil graunt to these children that thing, which by nature they cannot have, that is to saye, they may be baptised with the holy ghost, and receyved into Christes holy Church, and be made lyvely membres of the same.”

        “We beseche thee (for thy infinite mercies) that thou wilt mercifully looke upon these children, and sanctifie them with thy holy gost, that by this holesome laver [=water] of regeneracion, whatsoever synne is in them, may be washed cleane away, that they, being delivered from thy wrathe, may be received into tharke [the ark] of Christes churche, and so saved from peryshyng:”
        etc., etc. Baptismal regeneration is inherently Anglican. I am sorry you were led to believe otherwise.

        Note, preaching the Gospel does not cause regeneration either, only the Holy Spirit. For people are not regenerated every time they hear the Gospel, or evangelism would be much, much easier. Regeneration is only the work of the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit uses instruments (as God has always done) to do His work. Both the receiving of the Gospel and the washing of baptism must take place, not necessarily in that order.

        “The rite itself cannot cause regeneration,” preaching by itself cannot cause regeneration. It is a work of the Spirit through our preaching, just as it is His work through the rite of baptism. If baptism is not regenerative, than it is not a sacrament; for sacrament means “mystery” and there is no mystery in the baptism you are arguing for.

        If this baptism is the official teaching of the current C of E than they have strayed fro the Anglican tradition in yet another theological facet. (I do not think this is the official teaching of the C of E by the way).

    • philjames says:

      Hello Joshua.

      You’ve played baptism against faith a number of times- as if one makes the other unnecessary. That is a misunderstanding. Baptism is God’s declaration about us. It is his word to us, and it calls for our response. We spend the rest of our lives either believing it or not.

      Are we who God says we are; or are we who the world’s advertisements, our darkened conscience’s or our abusive parents etc. say that we are?

      Regarding baptism and justification: here is a beginning (by a Presbyterian no less), if you are interested.

      • Joshua Bovis says:

        Have I?!

        I do not think so. I am a big fan of baptism, as an Anglican priest I certainly believe it is perfunctory. I just don’t believe that the Scriptures support nor the articles support baptismal regeneration. I am certainly not out there in this, many Anglican priests who are conservative reformed evangelical say the same.

      • philjames says:

        Joshua said: ‘….It cannot make people Christians. If it could we would not need to preach the gospel, simply just baptise everyone.’

        ‘….If it could there would be no need to preach the Gospel at all, since it would be just enough to pour water over everybody who comes along….’

        This seems to me to be baptism as the application of water without and distinct from the attending word. This seem to me to be baptism assumed to be untethered from the faith it requires, justifies, creates and grows. Neither are Xian baptism.

  5. Anglicans historically held to baptismal regeneration for which there is much Scriptural support, more than for our belief that the Body and Blood are Christ’s true Body and Blood. The erosion of this position is evident in how Baptism is presented in the Book of Common Prayer and the Green Book (1979).

    A comparison of the 1979 rite with the 1549 and 1928 Baptismal rite shows how “spiritual regeneration” was set aside. The term is used four times in the 1549 and the 1928 rite, but not once in the 1979 rite. Consider the following frequency of term in the three Books.

    The terms “regeneration or “spiritual regeneration”
    1549 – used 4 times
    1929 – used 4 times
    1979 – not used

    The terms “born again” or “born anew”
    1549 – used once
    1928 – used 4 times
    1979 – used once

    The term “reborn”
    1549 – not used
    1928 – not used
    1979 – used once

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      Hi Alice,

      I’ve never really looked at that evolution of terms before. That is interesting. Nonetheless, while I would agree that the older Baptismal rite has more clarity about it, I don’t think the new one denies baptismal regeneration. The prayer said by the priest over the water in the 1979 rite states pretty clearly what we believe: “We thank you, Father, for the water of Baptism. In it we are buried with Christ in his death. By it we share in his resurrection. Through it we are reborn by the Holy Spirit.”

      • Of course, the 1979 book uses the term “reborn” which lends itself to beliefs that are not Christian – transmigration of the soul and reincarnation, as examples.

  6. Charlie says:

    Bishop Sutton’s book is quite good. Another great book on the subject is M.F. Sadler’s “The Second Adam and the New Birth.”

  7. Christopher says:

    Fr. Jonathan, a few of us looking in on your recent post are wondering where exactly you take issue with Bp. Sutton’s book. Thanks in advance!

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      Most of what he has to say is very good. But his explanation of how he can believe in baptismal regeneration while upholding the REC’s Declaration of Principles which explicitly deny baptismal regeneration strikes me as fairly weak. He gets around it by arguing that the regeneration which the DoP is denying is not the same as the regeneration which is taught in Holy Scripture. There’s a small amount of truth in that, in as much as just about all parties to the theological controversies of the nineteenth century had a distorted view of regeneration. But DoP makes no distinction, nor does it strike me as very likely that those who wrote it would have acquiesced to the biblical view had it been presented to them. That’s speculative, of course, but it’s based on what many in the REC of that era were writing and saying on the topic. And even if we give the framers of the DoP the benefit of the doubt, that still doesn’t explain why members of the REC today would have to live bound by its mistakes. The REC has a lot of good stuff going for it right now from what I can tell, but the DoP continues to be an albatross around their necks. The best thing they could do would be to quietly abandon it.

  8. CarterS says:

    Hi Fr. Jonathan,

    I appreciate your blog, as always. This is an issue I have been trying to think through as of late, and so I greatly appreciate your posts addressing the issue. My question is one of a pastoral nature, that came up in a discussion with a friend of mine. He is baptist, I am Anglican, and while discussing why my wife and I baptized our son, he was asking why such a thing was even necessary. I was trying (poorly, I suspect), to explain much what you have explained, that baptism is a means by which God affects His will to save. So his question was, “is my daughter not saved then, since she has not received baptism?” I was inclined to say no, partly because I think the onus is on the parent to obey, not the child, and that the exception does not negate the rule.

    What are your thoughts? How would you answer the question regarding whether the child should be considered “saved” (recognizing how loaded that term is) or not?

  9. andrewrnixon says:

    Here is a Text from 1851 by Rev Samuel Hobson LLB “What Mean Ye By This Service” and is a dream of a Trial of Heresy against George Herbert, Richard Hooker, Charles Simeon, Reginald Heber and Thomas Scott on the charge that they deny the Episcopal Churches plain teaching and belief in Baptismal Regeneration. All the arguments are legally addressed in this most interesting and entertaining read:

  10. Fr. Jonathan,

    Please help me understand this. You wrote: “As a general rule, one of the primary theological conceits of classical Anglicanism is that when the whole Church throughout history interprets the Scriptures in one particular way, and you interpret them radically differently, the safest course is to submit to the Church’s universal and unbroken teaching. This is done not in the sense of submitting to the Church as an entity that has power over Scripture, but because the Church has been given the Holy Spirit to enable her to live under the authority of Scripture.”

    What do you mean by “conceit” in this context. Safest, so as to save face or to avoid dispute?

    The Church Fathers are not in agreement on everything in the Scriptures. St. John Chrysostom’s sermons contain statements, for example, that no other Father has made and which the Church therefore tends to ignore, yet which are exceptional insights. If you have read Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, you are aware that many discoveries are made by individuals who hold a view quite apart from the group. These people should be considered, not dismissed. I have always admired the Anglican willing to weigh statements for their own merit, using Scripture and the Received Tradition as a measuring rod.

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      I meant merely that it this is a bedrock principle of classical Anglicanism, the role with which the universal teaching of the Church plays in the understanding of Holy Scripture. That’s actually the thesis that lies behind my whole project with this blog, because I think that’s what makes Anglicanism unique among the traditions formed out of the Reformation. You’re correct, of course, that the Fathers do not always agree with one another on every point. There are, however, many things that they found universal agreement on. Those things have been codified in church councils, creeds, and our liturgical heritage. It is always possible, of course, for the minority voice to be the right one, especially on a topic for which there was considerable disagreement. But for Anglicans, the very strong presumption is upon the teaching of the Church as we have received it being correct, to the point that a novel view with no precedent at all in Church history must be set aside.

  11. philjames says:

    ‘We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.’

    That just plain vanilla Xianity.

    I wonder if those who have a problem affirming that simple catholic confession in a straightforward, clear, and unequivocal way have ever sounded like the apostles when speaking of baptism?

    Have they ever answered the seeker (or 3000 of them) ‘repent and be baptized for the remission of sins?

    Have they ever directed someone to ‘arise, be baptized and wash away your sins?

    Have they ever explained that all who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ or that baptism unites us to his death and resurrection?

    Etc, etc

    If not, why not?

    Truly asking. Why are these not the most natural of expressions? If someone were to use them, would they need to be admonished? Since the apostle’s did use them, was it because they didn’t know as much as we; or because they didn’t care for the souls of those they pastored as much as we? Were the apostles ignorant or just sloppy?

    Of course it seems to me that there is an obvious third option.

  12. Rich says:

    Two things bother me about this discussion:

    1) Focus on individuality — It is the American curse. If it is not about me, then it does not matter. I think the early community thought more in terms of the corporate (or corporal) community. The family\community came to Christ. Concern in the Scripture about division in a family spoke to the oddity; not the norm. A child could be baptized and grow in their faith because the family came to Christ. Infant baptism was justified because the parents were committed to ingrain faith just like they ingrained language. My parents did this; I think in english and I know Christ…even though I was baptized as an infant.

    2) If I am correct (per my education), the concept of baptism as rebirth or ‘born again’ was not stressed until the 4th Century. The original concept of baptism was death! When one entered the water they died and when then came forth from the water it was Resurrection! Baptism was about dying to self and rising to Christ. The experience is beyond my adult understanding (not only more than a child could understand). The core of Christian philosophy is ‘death and resurrection’ but it is often over simplified to the point baptismal water is now somehow new amniotic fluid.

    Why do we attempt to understand how God works? Can’t we leave the efficacy of it all as a mystery?

    • Brandon says:

      1) agreed

      2) agreed, Although, one cannot be raised until they are dead. Without death in baptism we cannot be regenerated/resurrected with Christ because we have not yet died to sin in baptism.

      It would be great to leave how baptism is effective a mystery;however, that baptism is effectual must be defended. It is also important to defend the baptism of infants, for there is only one baptism in the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

  13. apologies for swearing…you deleted my comment so i wanted to reiterate myself a little more cleanly…

    you seem to be saying…
    faith is not required for infants. for adults, it is impossible for them to know their saviour apart from baptism. and so baptism is to be administered to them if they enter into church one day if it is found they have not been baptised. this is an accurate understanding of what you are saying.

    even though it is impossible for them to know their saviour, adults must seek baptism.

    i think the problem with baptismal regeneration is attaching sinful behaviour to adults all the while telling them this sinful behaviour makes them unable to comprehend.

    i haven’t been baptised and i understand god quite fully. he’s a monster. am i a drowning sinner? maybe. i’ll say no though. why? because if i am, it is because your god willed me to be unbaptised at an earlier age and so i’m stuck here, in a sea, allegedly drowning. how am i to understand god other than as a monster? even if i was baptised and born again, i still would perceive god as a monster for allowing me to be drowning so long. now what do you have to say about that?

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      Hmm. I’m not entirely sure that this comment isn’t just trolling, but on the chance that it’s genuine, let me try to respond, though I must admit I’m not totally sure I follow.

      You said:

      you seem to be saying…
      faith is not required for infants. for adults, it is impossible for them to know their saviour apart from baptism. and so baptism is to be administered to them if they enter into church one day if it is found they have not been baptised. this is an accurate understanding of what you are saying.

      No on both counts. First, faith is required for infants. Faith is required for everybody because faith is the mechanism by which we are justified according to Scripture. No one without faith is saved. But faith is not an intellectual process. Faith is trust in God by trusting in the promises of Jesus. Infants aren’t any less capable of that than adults.

      But the problem for both infants and adults is that because of sin, we are unable to have faith in Christ. This is one of the saddest parts of living in a world in which sin has taken over. It means that by nature we are enemies of God, not by His choice but by our own. We don’t have the ability to choose to trust in God on our own. So before we can have faith, God must first make it possible for us to do so. This is what regeneration is about. Regeneration isn’t salvation. Regeneration is God’s gracious act by which it becomes possible for us to have faith in Him. And what Scripture tells us is that the normative way in which that grace comes to us is through Holy Baptism. That doesn’t mean that God was not involved in people’s lives prior to them coming to be baptized. Certainly, He is the one who moves the hearts of those who present themselves to be baptized. Every time His Word is spoken, grace is given. But Baptism is a normative part of that process.

      You said:

      i haven’t been baptised and i understand god quite fully. he’s a monster. am i a drowning sinner? maybe. i’ll say no though. why? because if i am, it is because your god willed me to be unbaptised at an earlier age and so i’m stuck here, in a sea, allegedly drowning. how am i to understand god other than as a monster? even if i was baptised and born again, i still would perceive god as a monster for allowing me to be drowning so long. now what do you have to say about that?

      Forgive me, but this is where I lose the thread of what you are saying. Why is God a monster? Because you are a sinner? But God has given Himself for you to save you from that sin. In Jesus Christ, God has taken your sin upon Himself and paid the full price for you. God has sacrificed Himself for you. God’s love for you is boundless. God’s desire is for all people to be saved. God’s love for you isn’t dependent on you doing anything for Him, even being baptized. Baptism isn’t God testing you. It’s God reaching out His hand to you and seeking to give you all the loving grace He has won for you on the cross.

      • so god loves me without baptism? you make absolutely no sense! whatsoever!

        first, you say that i need baptism in order to stop perceiving god as a monster because i’m not born again then you say that i don’t need baptism in order to stop perceiving god as a monster?!?

        christianity–most confusing religion ever. hence why i’m agnostic.

  14. hygelac says:

    A short caetena of opinions on baptismal regeneration, ranging from the time of the Henrician reforms to that of the English Reformers and Elizabethan divines.

    Wurtemburg Confession 1538 (agreed upon by Anglican and Lutheran divines)

    “In baptism remission of sins and the grace of Christ is offered to infants and adults…because the promise of grace and life eternal extends not only to adults but also to infants…Howbeit the corruption of nature or concupiscience remains in this life, although it begins to be healed, because the Holy Spirit, even in infants, is efficacious and cleanses them.”

    The King’s Book, 1543

    “Infants by the Sacrament of baptism recieve remission of sins, the grace and favor of God, and be made thereby very sons and children of God…that if they die in the state of their infancy, they shall thereby undoubtedly be saved.”

    Cranmer’s Catechism (from the Lutheran Justus Jonas) 1548

    “‘Without the Word of God water is water, and not baptism; but when the word of the living God is joined to the water, then it is baptism, and water of wonderful wholesomeness, and the bath of regeneration, as St. Paul writeth…We ought not have an eye only to the water, but to God rather, which did ordain the baptism of water and commanded it to be done in His name. For He is almighty, and able to work in us by baptism, forgiveness of our sins, and all those wonderful effects and operations for the which He ordained the same, though man’s reason is not able to concieve the same. Therefore, consider, good childern, the great treasures and benefits whereof God maketh us partakers, when we are baptized, which be these. The first is, that in baptism our sins be forgiven us, as St. Peter witnesseth. Let everyone of you be baptized for the forgiveness of his sins. The second is, that the Holy Ghost is given us…according to this saying of St. Peter, let everyone of you be baptized in the name of Christ, and then ye shall recieve the Holy Ghost. The third is, that by baptism the whole of Christ’s righteousness is given us…Fourthly, by baptism we die with Christ…The second birth is by water of baptism, which Paul calls the bath of regeneration, because our sins be forgiven us in baptism, and the Holy Ghost is poured into us as God’s beloved children…He that is baptized may assuredly say thus, I am not now in the wavering opinion that I only suppose myself to be a Christian man, but I am in a sure belief that I am made a Christian man; for I know for a surety that I am baptized, and I am sure also that baptism was ordained of God…and the Holy Ghost doth witness that he which is baptized hath put on him Christ.”

    Bp. Ridley

    “The water in baptism is sacramentally changed into the fountain of regeneration; the water in baptism hath grace promised, and by that grace the Holy Spirit is given; not that the grace is included in the water, but that grace cometh by water.”

    From Cranmer’s response to Bp Gardiner taken from his Treatise on the True Catholic doctrine of the Lord’s Supper (written when he was imprisoned by order of Mary Tudor)

    “As in baptism we must think that, as the priest putteth his hand to the child outwardly, and washeth him with water; so must we think that God putteth to His hand inwardly, and washeth the infant with His Holy spirit, and moreover, that Christ Hmiself cometh down upon the child, and apparelleth him with his own self.”

    “The Homily of Salvation” from the ist Book of Homilies

    “Infants being baptized and dying in their infancy, are by this sacrifice (the cross of Christ) washed from their sins, brought to God’s favor, and made His children, and inheritors of His Kingdom of heaven…we must trust only in God’s mercy and the sacrifice offered on the cross, to obtain thereby God’s grace and remission, as well of our original sin in baptism, as of all actual sin committed after our baptism, if we truly repent.”

    Bp. Jewel’s Apology

    “We assert that Christ exhibits himself truly in his sacraments: in baptism, that we may put him on…baptism is the sacrament of remission of sins, and of our washing in the blood of Christ.”

    From the 2nd Book of Homilies

    “Of Common Prayer and Sacraments”
    As for the number of them, if they should be considered according to the exact signification of a Sacrament, namely for visible signs, expressly commanded in the New Teastament, whereunto is annexed the promise of free forgiveness of our sins, and of our holiness and joining in Christ, there be but two: namely, baptism and the supper of the Lord.”

    “Homily of the Passion”

    “We be therefore washed in our baptism from the filthiness of sin, that we should live afterward in the pureness of life.”

    Nowell’s Catechism

    M. “What is the hidden and spiritual grace in baptism?”
    A. “It is twofold: namely, remission of sins and regeneration.”
    M. “You seem to make the water only a certain figure of Divine things?”
    A. “A figure indeed it is, but by no means empty and fallacious; but such, thaqt to it the verity of the things themselves is joined and tied. For, as God truly offers to us in baptism pardon of sins and newness of life, so are they certainly recieved by us. Far be it from me to suppose that God would mock us with vain images!”
    M. “Do we then recieve remission of sins by mere outward washing and sprinkling?”
    A. “By no means! For Christ alone washes off the stain of our sins with His own blood. It were impious to attribute this honor to an outward element.”

  15. hygelac says:

    Your’e most welcome. I posted this caetena to demonstrate the rock-solid belief of Cranmer, Ridley and the Settlement divines in the reality of sacramental grace in general-for these men, whenever the church administers the sacraments, Christ, by the power of the Holy Ghost joins or “annexesess” the hidden grace of the sacraments to the physical element-and baptismal regeneration in particular. Thus do all the uncanny promises found in the baptismal rite of the BCP, especially spiritual regeneration, seamlessly comport with the theological opinions of the the CoE’s first divines.

  16. hygelac says:

    Thanks to the efforts of men such as the Rev. Dr. Robert Crouse and Basil Hall, Cranmer is getting more recognition these days for his knowledge of patristics and for a sacramentalism which may not be quite as Swiss as Peter Newman Brooks thought it was. In any case, there is no doubting Cranmer’s astounding ability as a liturgical artist. May I recommend to you the web page for the Anglican Parishes of Petite Riviere? It is a treasure trove of classical Anglican Prayer Book theology and piety. Ditto “The Recollected Pastor”; the web page of the late, lamented Dr. Robert D. Crouse. There you will find food for your Anglican soul.

    • hygelac says:

      Thanks for the link, Alice. We indeed lost a giant at the passing of Dr. Crouse (considering that his death followed those of Louis Tarsitano and Peter Toon within only several years, the magnitude of our loss is all the greater). Nevertheless, the theological principles which they advocated are being carried on here at Fr. Jonathan’s blog, and at other online venues; particualrly “The Continuum Blogspot” of Fr. Robert Hart.

      • Dr. Toon was my mentor when I was studied the Book of Common Prayer. I am very grateful for his work! May he, and all God’s faithful ones, rest in peace and rise in glory.

  17. hygelac says:

    The Recollected Pastor

  18. hygelac says:

    And while we’re at it, here are the thoughts of Dr. Crouse on the Biblical and Patristic foundations of Anglican sacramentalism:

  19. hygelac says:

    And, finally, for those who are unfamiliar with the name of M. F. Sadler (one of the CoE’s finest Victorian era theologians) here are his views on baptismal grace in Ebook form:

  20. Pingback: Edward Pusey and the Oxford Movement | Anglican Pastor

  21. Danny says:

    Interesting poet. I was discussing this topic with my partner who is Catholic, while I am Anglican (brethren background) in terms of salvation, do Anglicanism believe that we are required to be baptised before we are saved? We were discussing this because we know someone who hasn’t have much time left from cancer, my thoughts were Scripture says the condition for salvation is confession of the mouth & believe in the heart that Jesus is Lord. However my Catholic partner believes that baptism is needed. What are your thoughts?

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