Baptism

If someone comes to faith in Christ, that person should prayerfully consider the sacrament of baptism as one of the first steps in identifying with and following Jesus.

For Anglicans, it’s not all about the mode of baptism. Traditionally, Anglicans baptize by affusion, that is, pouring water over the head of the baptismal candidate. Historically, this was based on matters of practicality. For one, infants aren’t too keen on being immersed, and to find a warm-water pool for such immersions was difficult for your average parish. Typically, your best bet was to find the nearest river, which, for those living in Europe, was ice cold at least nine months out of the year. “Yeah, let’s pour some lukewarm water over that child’s head instead.” Makes sense. Today, most Anglicans are completely fine with baptizing folks by immersion—especially adults. 

Infant Baptism. This is really the heart of the matter. Many churches do a baby dedication, but in the Anglican stream, we believe this is more honoring and symbolic, not to mention historic. To make sense of these two different approaches—that of only baptizing those who profess, and that of also baptizing infants—we need to talk about two different narratives of salvation.

For the believer’s baptism tradition, the salvation narrative goes something like this: for part of your life, you live separated from God, even if unknowingly at first, and then there’s a growing awareness of your sinfulness. This leads to a dramatic conversion experience in which you put your trust in Christ, and then baptism becomes the appropriate act to symbolize what Christ has done for you.

As far as an infant, baptism becomes a sign that God’s grace already rests on them. Before that child even knows who God is, God so loved them. Baptism for the infant, then, is adoption by the Spirit into the church by virtue of the parents’ faith. That child, God willing, will continue to grow in the faith he has always held.

Anglicans do not believe that baptism means instant salvation. When a baptized person expresses a mature commitment of faith, the church offers the rite of confirmation to receive strength from the Spirit through the prayer and laying on of hands by a bishop. Again, confirmation doesn’t save, but it does provide an important marker indicating God’s continuing work in a person’s life.

Anglicans do view baptism, like Communion, as more than a symbol; it is a sacrament. That is, God actually does something. In baptism, God’s Spirit adopts a person into the church family. A sacrament is a gift, a place where God promises to meet his people. It’s not magic; it’s not a guarantee of ultimate salvation. It’s an encounter with God in the physicality of this world.

The Anglican tradition takes seriously the biblical language that salvation is not a commodity received at a one-time event in the past, but is rather a reality you enter into and continue to grow in. As the Apostle Paul teaches, you were saved (Eph 2:8), you are being saved (1 Cor 15:2), and you will be saved (Rom 13:11). The Anglican view of baptism fits this view of salvation much more comfortably than those who reduce salvation to a one-time event. If salvation is a process, then baptism, the continual nourishment received from the Lord’s Supper, confirmation, ongoing growth in the faith, and ultimately perseverance are all aspects of this mysterious and yet wonderful gift of God to save us both from our sins and also for his work in the world.

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