Sacraments ordained of Christ be 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, and doth not only quicken, but also strengthen and confirm our Faith in him.  (Article XXV)

The Prayer Book clearly affirms this idea that the sacraments in general, and baptism in particular, are effectual, work in us, and not only represent or show something but also actually give spiritual life (‘quicken’) and then preserve and increase that life (‘strengthen and confirm’). 

The affirmation of the real effectiveness of the sacraments, as opposed to a merely symbolic meaning for them as bare signs or mere tokens, can be found in the Prayer Book Order for the Ministration of Baptism (pp. 273-82).  The Prayer Book teaches the doctrine of baptism regeneration.  Since no one ‘can enter into the kingdom of God, except he be regenerate and born anew of Water and the Holy Ghost’ (273), baptism is generally necessary.  Baptism brings ‘remission of sin, by spiritual regeneration’ (274): not just remission of particular sins, but remission of sin, meaning rebirth and deliverance from the state of sinfulness which affects all people.  The baptized person is ‘born again…’[a]nd made an heir of everlasting salvation’ (276).  By baptism we ‘die to sin and rise to newness of life’ (278), and we are made ‘regenerate, and grafted into the body of Christ’s Church…incorporate[d]…into [God’s] holy Church.’ (280)

Regeneration means rebirth.  Are you born again?  Have you been saved?  If you have been baptized, the answer is, ‘Yes and yes.’  We might say that we are ‘saved but not safe’, in the sense that we can reject the grace and life given by God through baptism.  But coming to heaven is a matter of accepting and living out what we already have been given by baptism.

Note that baptism makes me ‘an heir of everlasting salvation’ (280).  The Catechism is even stronger about the effect of baptism:   at baptism ‘I was made a member of Christ, the child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven.’ (577)  An heir is someone who is named in a will, someone who expects to inherit something.  Baptism means that we are named in the New Testament or New Will of God, made out in our favor by Christ’s Incarnation, Passion, Cross, Resurrection, and Ascension.  We are God’s heirs and expect to inherit his mercies by grace.  So says the Order for baptism.  But in the Catechism I learn that by baptism I am already ‘an inheritor’, which is to say someone who already has received the inheritance that an heir merely expects and hopes for.  By baptism we are already ‘members of Christ’:  that is, parts of his Body.  I am, therefore, by baptism already ‘the child of God’ by virtue of being a true member of the Body of God’s Son.  And I am in possession of my inheritance, which is remission of sins and incorporation into the Body and life of God the Son.

In a sense, then, everything is given to us already at baptism.  In my beginning is my end.  The regeneration contains the essential whole new life.  But persons grafted into Christ’s body can be broken off or divided from that body.  Therefore, one of the ceremonies of baptism added in many churches enjoins the newly baptized person to ‘See that you keep the grace of your baptism.’  And the Prayer Book signs the new Christian with the cross and prays that he may manfully fight under Christ’s banner and ‘continue Christ’s faithful soldier and servant unto his life’s end.’ (280)   The sacrament actually does something real and effective, but it is not magic.  We can frustrate the effectual working which baptism normally has by refusing to fight under Christ’s banner, by breaking off from his Body, and by embracing that which at baptism we renounced, namely ‘the devil, the world, and the flesh’ (278).

An acorn and an oak are genetically the same, and in a sense the oak is implicit and present in the acorn.  Yet the acorn, if it lives, needs to germinate, grow constantly, and then to propagate itself.  Christians are no different.  In baptism we are given the kingdom of God and all that it contains.  But we must nurture that gift, grow as Christians, and then propagate ourselves by evangelizing others.

[An old parish newsletter article.]


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