Baptism is one of the two Sacraments universally recognized among Christians as instituted by the Lord and necessary to salvation. “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” This was Christ’s command to the Apostles.
The nature of Christian baptism is patterned somewhat after Christ’s own baptism by John the Baptizer. Its nature is described clearly and concisely in Jesus’ own words in his conversation with Nicodemus: “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God.” In baptism, then, by the Lord’s own definition, a person is born again, is recreated, is re-generated.
By baptism, a person is made a child of God, becomes a member of Christ’s Body, is cleansed and reborn in the Spirit. He is not “converted” at that moment, does not become by a conscious act of human will a follower of Christ. What he does get is a clean slate and access to God’s grace, to use or not as he himself determines from that moment forward. He may choose not to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, but he has been given the key to that kingdom at that moment, to use if he will.
The Anglican Church is insistent, of course, on the need for baptism as means of regeneration and a mark of reception into Christ’s Church – not any particular Church, but theChurch at large. On the other hand, Anglicanism is very tolerant to age and procedure. It allows both infant and adult baptism, and it allows for aspersion (or “sprinkling”), pouring or immersion. Anglicans, however, very seldom user immersion. Naturally, the Church is insistent on the key points of Christ’s command – the use of water and the invocation of the Trinity.
Baptism is, in a sense, a covenant between God and the person being baptized. Man agrees to renounce the Devil and all his works, to believe in God and serve Him. For His part, God wipes out all sin – whether natural or original; He bestows grace and He accepts the person as His child. An infant, to be sure, cannot speak, nor reason, nor make promises. Therefore, sponsors or godparents speak for him. By this act, they take on the responsibility of seeing to it that in later years the infant is brought to the Bishop for confirmation and thereby comes to a realization of his part in the covenant.
Normally, a priest in the church in the presence of the congregation administers baptism. However, in case of emergency or special circumstance presenting urgent need, any baptized Christian can validly baptize any person wishing or needing it. It may be noted in passing that Baptism and Matrimony are the only two sacramental acts in which the lay Christian can participate as a minister.
Baptism is solemn and joyous. It is intensely personal, and yet it is an act intimately affecting the corporate Christian community. It is essential for the Christian, but its effectiveness depends upon the free will of the individual being baptized.
There are three primary obligations of any Christian who calls himself Anglican. The first, of course, is to be baptized with water in the Name of the Trinity. The second is to be confirmed. The third is to receive the Holy Communion regularly. The present discussion concerns the second of these three obligations, Confirmation.
The Order of Confirmation, as found on page 296 of the Book of Common Prayer, is a mixture of Scripture, prayers, questions, vows and actions, derived from different sources. One or two minor details are as recent as the 1928 revision or the Prayer book. Some were added by the Episcopal Church in its first Prayer Book of 1789. Some go back to the pre-Reformation Sarum Rite of the Church of England. The great prayer in which the Bishop invokes the bestowal of the seven-fold gifts of the Holy Ghost (page 297) can be traced in substance to at least the early third century. Taken as a whole, the Order of Confirmation stands squarely in the most ancient traditions of the Christian Church. The Scripture reading prescribed (page 296), being the words of Saint Luke in the eighth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, described the actions of Peter and John in Samaria where they laid there hands on the baptized converts so that these new Christians might receive the Holy Ghost. Thus, Confirmation rests upon a sure Scriptural foundation and is entitled to be considered one of the seven Sacraments of the Christian Church, even as the Articles of Religion put it, five of them were not directly “ordained of Christ,” as were Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
The Rite consists essentially of two parts. In one, the candidate “confirms” his baptismal vows. In the second, God “confirms” or strengthens the candidate by the bestowal of the seven great gifts of the Holy Ghost – wisdom, counsel, “ghostly” or spiritual strength, knowledge, godliness and holy fear.
In the Anglican tradition, only a bishop, as the successor of the Apostles, can lay hands upon a person in Confirmation. Anglicanism also holds that no one should be admitted to the Holy Communion until he is prepared for this great act of union with Christ by being confirmed. Baptism and Confirmation were originally joined together in one ceremony, as a general rule. Some parts of the Catholic Church still conjoin them. However, Anglican practice has always been to separate them in time, again as a general rule: baptism takes place in infancy, Confirmation when the child has reached some years of discretion and understanding.
Confirmation is not an act which by some magic turns a person into a good and obedient Christian and child of God. It is an act, like Baptism and Holy Communion, in which God reaches out to us, ready and eager to help us. But unless we reach back and accept and use what we are offered, there is no helpful and beneficial contact. In Confirmation, we are offered the great presence and gifts of God the Holy Ghost. They are ever thereafter at our disposal, sources of strength in all our efforts to be perfect, “even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”
Do This: The Primacy of Holy Communion in the Church’s Worship
“Do This,” commanded our Lord at The Last Supper; “Do this”, and “as oft as ye shall drink it”. Howoften has been a question which has long caused some confusion and difference of opinion among Christians.
Many Anglicans and Episcopalians, ever since the days of the great Puritan influence in the Church of England in the 17th century, have been accustomed to attending the service of Mattins, or Morning Prayer, and / or Evensong, or Evening Prayer, instead of the Holy Communion. They have been accustomed to receiving the Holy Communion only at intervals of two weeks, or a month, or even less often. This primacy of Morning Prayer probably has developed originally out of excessive reaction against “Romanism” and also because the Mass – the old name for the Lord’s Supper, or Holy Communion, or Eucharist – had become overly encrusted with elaborate ritual and with rather mysterious secret pronouncements and acts by the priest, to the point where it seemed almost a kind of hocus-pocus.
In this case, however, over-reaction in the seventeenth century became error. Consider, first of all, that it was our Lord Himself who instituted the Holy Communion, directly and in so many words. It is His service, in which we receive His Body and Blood, and thus are united intimately and directly to Him. By and through this Sacrament, we receive a constant access of strength and grace from the Son of God. If anything in this practice of religion has and should have primacy, it must be this Sacrament, this Rite, this service, this Holy Liturgy. If anything has the power of God’s grace and favor, the power of salvation, it is this. If anything can give us comfort and joy and renewed faith and strength, it is this constant renewal in Jesus Christ at the altar.The Church has always known and taught this, even though frequently lax in practicing what it has taught! Morning and Evening Prayer are beautiful Offices, but they are Offices, not sacraments. They are designed for daily use; their very title in the Book of Common Prayer show this, as do the daily reading from Scripture which are specified in that Book.
The first, last and most fundamental thing to remember about Holy Matrimony is that it is a Christian Sacrament. It is a sacred act, blessed by Christ and His church. It signifies the conferral and indwelling of God’s grace on and in the man and woman thereby united. It is of a divine making and it is forever. Its nature and sacramental character rest upon Christ’s words as reported in the Gospel according to Saint Luke (X, 8-9), “And they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder”.
Marriage is certainly a joyous event – joyous and holy at the same time. It is not, as it may often seem, just a happy and social occasion. It takes place (or should take place) at God’s altar, in the presence of God and his priest and his people. Like Baptism and Confirmation, it is a one time Sacrament – not repeatable like Holy Communion or Penance. It must therefore be entered into with the most solemn sense of responsibility and dedication.
It is sometimes asserted – canonically or otherwise – that a man and woman desiring to be joined in Holy Matrimony should first sign a declaration confirming their understanding of the nature of marriage. However, such a declaration can add nothing to the sacramental and binding effect of the marriage vows themselves, made to and before God.
It is, of course, highly desirable that the marriage ceremony should be conducted by a priest. But the fact that a minister officiates is not what gives the act its sacramental character.
The character arises from the fact that the vows are taken before God and in the context of Christ’s description of the nature of marriage. The priest is, in fact, not really the minister in this case. Rather, the man and woman taking the vows are the ministers. Holy Matrimony thus differs in this respect from all the other Sacraments except for Baptism under unusual circumstances (when any baptized layman may perform the act).
In spite of the sacramental character of the act, in spite of it being rooted in the very words of Jesus quoted above, in spite of its solemn, holy and Christian context, marriage is under the most extreme and non-Christian attack in our society today. Its binding and permanent nature, the importance of one of its purposes as being the procreation of children to be brought into the Christian family, the primary importance of a stable and solid family as the basis for a stable and solid society – all of these function are flouted and ridiculed today by that very large sector of society which would turn marriage into a kind of sexual game of musical chairs. Christians above all must resist and fight against these attacks on one of God’s great Sacraments of grace.
(By the way of footnotes, it should be remembered that both parties to a Christian marriage should have previously been baptized. Also, marriages should not be performed in Advent or Lent, except by special dispensation of the bishop. These are traditional rules developed by the Church and they grew out of the Christian nature of the Sacrament and the penitential nature of Advent and Lent.)
This page is part of a series of Anglican teaching leaflets originally written by Perry Lankhuff and offered by Christ Church Anglican.