There are three baptismal orders in the Prayer Book: 'The Ministration of Public Baptism of Infants to be used in the Church', 'The Ministration of Private Baptism of Children in Houses', and 'The Ministration of Baptism to such as are of Riper Years and Able to Answer for Themselves'. In addition, there is a Catechism and an order for Confirmation. Private baptism is only meant to be conducted in emergencies, and so this order contains the provision for such baptisms to be ratified later in a public service. The order for the baptism of those able to answer for themselves mainly differs from the order for infant baptism only in the Bible readings and exhortations.

Each service assumes that baptism should normally be administered in a public context. The rubric before the first service says that this should be 'when the most number of people come together', and advises how to incorporate Baptism into Morning or Evening Prayer.

Two related reasons are given for this:

  • so that 'the congregation there present may testify the receiving of them that be newly baptized into the number of Christ's Church', 
  • because in the Baptism of Infants 'every man present may be put in remembrance of his own profession to God made in his Baptism'. 
When ministers choose to administer baptism at other times, they need to consider how these two aims can be fulfilled.

This horizontal or congregational aspect of baptism is identified in Article 27, when it is stated that baptism is 'a sign of profession, and mark of difference, whereby Christian men are discerned from others that be not christened'.

In the Prayer Book services, this is particularly expresse

  • when the vows are made before the congregation, 
  • when the teaching of the Creed is affirmed, 
  • when the person baptized is marked with the sign of the cross and received 'into the congregation of Christ's flock'.

Baptism is a testimony to the faith and commitment of the person being baptized or, in the case of infant baptism, a testimony to the faith and commitment of the sponsors.

Much discussion has taken place about the role of godparents in the baptism of infants. The genuineness of their commitment to Christ in bringing their godchild to baptism is assumed when the service asks them to make the vows 'in the name of this child'.

There are biblical reasons for suggesting that parents should actually be the sponsors and believing relatives or friends their supporters in this role. The covenantal promise to families in Acts 2:38-39 ('for you and your children') anticipates the practice of baptizing households in Acts 16:15, 31-3; 18:8. Believing parents can grasp the promises of the gospel for their children and make vows for them on the basis of their own faith and determination to bring up their children 'in the discipline and instruction of the Lord' (Ephesians 6:4).

Article 27 goes on to explain how baptism is a God-given sign of the new birth that is made possible because of the saving work of the Lord Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit: 'as by an instrument, they that receive Baptism rightly are grafted into the Church; the promises of 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.'

Just as the Lord's Supper must be received with faith and repentance if it is to be a genuine assurance of our relationship with God, so baptism is only 'an instrument' of salvation if it is rightly received. The vertical dimension of baptism is God's offer of the benefits of the gospel in symbolic form, to invite and confirm saving faith.

Consequently, in the Prayer Book services there is a great emphasis on congregational prayer for the persons being baptized.

The opening exhortation expresses the need to pray for their regeneration by the Holy Spirit and a genuine participation in Christ's Church. In the conservative revision in An Australian Prayer Book (1978), the invitation is:

Let us then pray that God will grant to this person that which by nature he cannot have, that he may be baptized with water and the Holy Spirit, and received into Christ's holy Church, and be made a living member of his body.

Various prayers then take up this challenge, adding the perspective that the candidates may be washed clean from sin and delivered from its power. Thus, the water of baptism is taken to represent the washing of forgiveness and the new life of the Spirit. The congregation is invited to give thanks to God for calling them to know his grace and have faith in him. God is asked to 'increase this knowledge and confirm this faith in us evermore', and to give his Holy Spirit to those seeking baptism, 'that they may be born again, and be made heirs of everlasting salvation'.

Just before the baptism, there is a prayer asking God to 'sanctify this water to the mystical washing away of sin', so that those baptized therein may receive the fullness of God's grace and ever remain in the number of his faithful and elect children. This can best be understood by comparison with the Prayer of Consecration in the Communion Service:

  • There, the bread and wine are set apart or consecrated for a special use with words recalling what Jesus said at the Last Supper. 
  • Here, the water is set apart to represent the washing from sin and regeneration by the Spirit that Jesus associated with the making of disciples (Matthew 28:19-20; John 3:1-8; Titus 3:5). 
A change is indicated in the use and purpose of the thing consecrated, not in the thing itself. 'Mystical' in this context means 'spiritual' or 'transcending human comprehension', not 'magical'.

 

It is surprising that modern rites and locally-constructed services tend to reduce the petitionary element. This tends to put the focus on the human activity of making promises and downplays the need for God to act in the lives of the candidates. It suggests that baptism is merely 'a sign of profession, and mark of difference', and not an effectual sign of grace.

On this view, the baptism of infants is hardly more than a dedication to God, and the baptism of adults merely a confirmation of their commitment to Christ. However, Article 27 insists that the promises of the gospel are visibly 'signed and sealed' in baptism, faith is confirmed and grace increased 'by virtue of prayer unto God'.

The Prayer Book expresses confidence that God has answered the prayers of his people in a way that many have found uncomfortable. After the baptism, an exhortation to give thanks to God and pray for the candidates to lead the rest of their life 'according to this beginning' is preceded by the claim that they are 'regenerate and grafted into the body of Christ's Church'. This confidence is reflected in the prayer that follows, and it becomes the basis for vigorous petitions about dying to sin and living to righteousness, so that finally they may inherit God's everlasting kingdom. But is such confidence appropriate in the case of infant baptism?

Various explanations have been offered for this teaching, but the one that fits best takes account of the instruction to godparents that follows. They are to teach children about the vows made on their behalf and encourage them to lead a godly and Christian life, 'remembering always, that Baptism doth represent unto us our profession: which is to follow the example of our Saviour Christ, and to be made like unto him'. Regeneration is offered to children in baptism and prayed for with faith. Those baptised should be nurtured with the confidence that God will answer such prayer.

In An Australian Prayer Book, a pastorally helpful alternative is provided, with a more general expression of praise reflecting 1 Peter 1:3, and a request for God to finish the work of salvation begun in the candidates reflecting Philippians 1:6:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus for birth from above and for the remission of sins. May almighty God, according to his gracious promise, finish the work of salvation begun in you, bringing you to the joyful resurrection and to the fulfilment of his eternal kingdom.

The service concludes with further prayer for the candidates and their sponsors. The reality that baptism represents 'washing from sin and regeneration by the Spirit' needs to be grasped by faith and its implications passed on to children as they come to understand what has been promised on their behalf and received in their name.

The Prayer Book service entitled 'The Thanksgiving of Women after Child-Birth, commonly called the Churching of Women' was adapted in An Australian Prayer Book and published as 'Thanksgiving for the Birth of a Child, before the Baptism'. This is often offered to parents who do not attend church and are unwilling to make the more specific baptismal promises, or to engage in the period of preparation expected by the minister before making such promises.

Inserting this brief service into the regular Sunday gathering can be a way of encouraging such parents to seek Christ for themselves and their child. It should be made clear, that this is not an alternative to baptism, and that baptism for the child following acceptable preparation is a desirable goal for the parents to pursue.

ServiceBuilder

Copyright © 2017 Better Gatherings. All Right Reserved.
Powered By Joomla Perfect