Paschal Light Spiritual Foundation
Discourse 2: Biblical Foundation For Baptism
We turn now to look at the underlying theme of the whole Bible.
Scheme of Salvation
It is now generally accepted that the story of the Garden of Eden and of exile, told in the opening chapters of Genesis, is a symbolic one. What we learn from it, however, is that humanity fell into a state of separation from God but that nevertheless God gave assurance that deliverance would come at the appropriate time and it would be worked out through the practice of righteousness. Now the meaning of this short description may not be all that clear but what it speaks of will become clearer as we continue. Before doing so, however, it is necessary to point out that there are a number of terms used both in the Bible and in the history of the Church which today seem quite strong and inappropriate. They may even be considered as abusive by some. However do not simply reject them and turn away, instead ask how the concepts they represent could be expressed in modern terms. Some of these will become apparent in the following considerations and where some are not directly explained a little thought should make their meaning clearer.
Throughout the Old Testament references are made to the deliverance promised by God and in the Gospels we see the fulfilment of that promise in the life, crucifixion, and death of Jesus. Yet it is obvious that this by itself did not complete the work of redemption.
What he did was that he paid a ransom with his blood for humanity’s deliverance. In other words, he set a sign, a seal, a pledge and assurance to fallen humanity of the sacred nature of what God has established for humanity. He instituted the ways and the means to securing that redemption promised by God. These institutions are baptism, by which one enters into fellowship with Christ and his Church and the other is the Holy Eucharist which provides spiritual food and nourishment.
The next thing that needs to be examined is what being ‘regenerate and born anew of water and of the Holy Spirit’ means and in what way Baptism brings about this regeneration. This is because both the words ‘regenerate’ and ‘regeneration’ are frequently used not only in the baptismal service but also in other offices and standards of the Church.
Now the Greek word paliggenesua is found only twice in the New Testament and it means to restore a thing to its pristine condition or to regenerate. The first text in which it is found is Matthew 19:28 where it obviously refers to the resurrection:
Peter said to Jesus: ‘Behold, we have forsaken all and followed You! What shall we have therefore?’ And Jesus said to them, ‘truly I say to you, that you which have followed me, in the regeneration, when the Son of Man shall sit in the throne of his glory, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel’.
In this text regeneration relates to resurrection or new birth from the grave and this is not the subject of our current discussion. The other instance where it is found, however, is the one that needs to be considered here.
Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy, he saved us by the washing of regeneration, and, renewing of the Holy Spirit, which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour. (Titus 3:5)
Yet although these are the only instances in which the word ‘regeneration’ occurs, there are, nevertheless, several cases where other terms are used to express the same thing. For example, where such words are found as the new birth, or born anew, or born again. Then there is the well-known conversation of the Saviour with Nicodemus, when Jesus declared to this learned Pharisee: Unless a man is born again, (or born from above,) he cannot see the kingdom of God. And when in answer to the inquiries of Nicodemus, he added, by way of explanation: Unless a man is born of water, and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. (John 3:3,5)
It was the same as if he had said, ‘you must be regenerated and born anew of water and the Holy Spirit.’ What did Jesus mean by this? After he had stated, in general terms, the necessity of the new birth, why did he enter into these details? In would appear that by connecting the element of water with the Holy Spirit, he intended to explain to his learned and distinguished pupil that the application of water had a higher and more significant purpose than found in the ablutions of the Jewish Church. Namely, that it was to be used, not only as an outward and visible sign, but as a sign of something inward and spiritual; a sign of the renewal of the heart; a sign of that inward change and renovation, without which no one could enter into the kingdom of Heaven.
Two Agents of Conversion
The Apostle Paul, in the above text cited from his epistle to Titus, confirms this meaning. He clearly points out the two agents necessary for the work of conversion. The application of water, he terms the washing of regeneration; and the application of the Spirit to the heart, the renewing of the Holy Spirit; and he combines the two together, one as the outward sign, and the other as the inward and spiritual grace. And this clearly explains what Jesus said to Nicodemus, you must be born again—you must be born from above—you must be born of water and of the Spirit. Unless a man is born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
If this, then, is the true scriptural meaning of ‘regeneration’, or ‘new birth’, we may be sure that the Church intends to attach the same meaning when using this term. So we find that in the general instructions with regard to the two main sacraments (Baptism and the Holy Eucharist), she teaches that the word sacrament means ‘an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace’; and that there are, necessarily, two parts in a sacrament: ‘the outward visible sign, and the inward spiritual grace’. Also in her particular instructions, with regard to Baptism, she teaches that water and the Holy Spirit are these two parts, or elements, through which, that change, which is called ‘regeneration’ or ‘new birth’ is brought about. It is also apparent that this must be a change, not only of the state and condition, but of the character and nature of the sinner. For if this was not so, this teaching would not agree with the scriptural views already explained; and if the Church were to depart in the slightest degree from the instructions of the Bible, her teaching would be utterly worthless.
How Baptism Brings About Regeneration
Having now come an understanding of the term ‘regeneration’ we now need to ask how Baptism brings about this regeneration.
This is a very important question; and in pursuing it, we shall doubtless find it necessary to examine every part of the Baptismal Service in considerable detail, with other corresponding offices and standards of the Church. Here (and in other discourses) we will return to some texts from the Bible or quotes from the BCP which have previously been cited. This is because the intervening discussion has allowed us to gain further insights into understanding particular texts.
Now in addition to the liturgies (or rites), the psalms and other information the BCP also lists thirty-nine Articles of Religion which state various aspects of Anglican teaching. We will be referring to some of these.
The 25th Article says: ‘Baptism is a sign of regeneration, or new birth, whereby, as by an instrument, they that receive Baptism rightly, are grafted into the Church; the promises of the forgiveness of sin and of our adoption to be the sons of God, by the Holy Spirit, are visibly signed and sealed.’ This teaching of the article is acknowledged throughout the Baptismal Service.
An example of this is in the first statement of the liturgy where the people are directed to pray that the persons or children presented for Baptism, may receive ‘that which by nature they cannot have,’ and that they ‘may be baptized with water, and the Holy Spirit, and be received into Christ's holy Church, and be made living members of the same.’ This teaching seems to quite clearly indicate the way in which regeneration is effected by Baptism. It implies that the baptized are brought into a new state, or condition; that they are transferred from a state of sin and condemnation, where they had no promises of help or pardon, to a state of grace, where the promises are sealed to them by the power and authority of the Holy Spirit. It also implies a new character in the recipients. From being without they are received into fellowship with, and are made living members of, Christ’s Holy Church. Finally it implies a new nature, for they receive what by nature they cannot have, the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, with all its quickening and renovating powers.
In other prayers in the Baptismal Service, the same lessons are conveyed. For example the Church prays that in the same way that God saved Noah and his family from perishing by the flood, he may also rescue the sinner, by receiving him or her into the Church, which is appropriately compared to the Ark.
Referring also to the baptism of Jesus Christ in the river Jordan, which is considered to be the sanctification of the element of water to the mystical washing away of sin, the Church prays that the person or child presented for Baptism, may be washed and sanctified by the Holy Spirit, delivered from the anger of God, received into the Ark of Christ’s Church, and, after a life of faith, hope, and charity, may come to the land of everlasting life. Again, that the child or person coming to Holy Baptism, may receive remission of sin, by spiritual regeneration, and may enjoy the everlasting benediction of heavenly washing, and come to God’s eternal kingdom.
All these expressions indicate a newness, not only of condition and character, but also of nature. Then the same ideas are conveyed in the exhortation that follows the Gospel, where the people are instructed to pray that the Holy Spirit may be given to the child or person presented for Baptism, that he or she may be born again, and made an heir of everlasting salvation. Yet this change and newness of condition, character and nature, are perhaps even more distinctly indicated in the short petitions which follow the promises of the sponsors. In the figures (or symbols) used, that the old Adam in the child or person, may be so buried, that the new man may be raised up; and that all sinful affections may die in them, and all things belonging to the Spirit may live and grow in them, we have a lively representation of the same change; and finally, in the consecrating prayer, where God is solemnly invoked to sanctify the water to the mystical washing away of sin, that the child or person to be baptized in it, may receive the fullness of his grace, and ever remain in the number of his faithful children, we are prepared for her grateful thanksgiving, that God has been graciously pleased to regenerate such baptized child with his Holy Spirit, to receive him for his own child by adoption, and to incorporate him into his Holy Church.
In the same way that this teaching of the Article is implemented in the Baptismal Service, it is also found in the catechetical instruction of the Church. The Catechumen (one who is being prepared for Conformation) is not only taught to say that in Baptism he or she ‘was made a member of Christ, the child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of Heaven,’ but he is also taught, that while water is ‘the outward visible sign’, the ‘inward and spiritual grace’ is ‘a death unto sin, and a new birth unto righteousness’; for, ‘being by nature born in sin, and the children of wrath, we are hereby made the children of grace’.
It has therefore become evident that the Church, in all her doctrines and liturgies for worship, conforms to the scriptural meaning of the term ‘regeneration’, or new birth; and we should now have gained an understanding of the sense in which she believes that Baptism effects this regeneration.
May the Profound Peace and Perfect Love of God be with you always.
End of Discourse 2