Friday, January 26, 2007

Baptismal Regeneration

I believe in baptismal regeneration. I have to -- I'm Anglican. Our liturgies for baptism presuppose baptism is a means of grace.

The problem is that when I say I believe this it disturbs some folks. I understand why it does. Those who are disturbed assume I believe that when someone gets wet in the context of baptism the water magically makes them born again apart from the baptismal candidates own faith. Most evangelicals define regeneration/new birth as an experience that happens at a moment in time that makes one saved -- and if the particular person in question has a baptistic view -- saved forever no matter what. So these folks assume I mean the one baptized -- a baby for instance -- is now magically born again and saved forever because I poured water over her int he Triune name.

But the word regeneration is more fluid than that. In the N.T. there is no place where new birth/regeneration is defined as a moment in time conversion experience. I recognize that the metaphor of birth connotes a moment in time. But the way the metaphor is used does not demand this connotation. New birth/regeneration also has an eshcatological dimension. Mt. 19:28 and 1 Peter 1 both used new birth/regeneration language to speak of the new creation in the coming age.

Regeneration is also used differently by the reformational authors of the Anglican liturgies (and other reformers) than it is used by post 2ND Great Awakening North American Evangelicals. The reformers never make as tight a distinction between regeneration and sanctification as post 2ND Great Awakening North American Evangelicals do.

Another important point is that belief in baptismal regeneration is not belief in magic. Baptism does not cause regeneration. The Holy Spirit causes regeneration. The doctrine means that God sets forth and presents his grace to the one who is baptized -- both at the moment of baptism and throughout the baptized person's life. The grace in and with baptism is only beneficial if one receives it by faith. But our need for faith does not change what God the Holy Spirit does in baptism.

This is why when a baby is baptized we declare her regenerate. Along with her status as a member of the God's covenant community -- the church -- she also has in her life the grace of new birth/regeneration/new creation, etc. The job of her parents and godparents is to help continually respond in faith to what God has done in baptism that she might endure in faith until she appears before the Lord.

I write all that to make this point. Baptism is the sacrament of new birth and regeneration that inaugurates a journey into new life in Christ. For that journey to continue one must continually receive what God has done in baptism by faith. There is no guarantee that one will receive and benefit the grace given in baptism. But the grace is there because God is there. He promised he would be. He never breaks his promises.

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