Saturday, July 11, 2015

A Gospel-Shaped Baptismal Service for Infants and Children

By Robin G. Jordan

In this two article series I am going to examine the services of baptism from Common Prayer: Resources for Gospel-Shaped Gatherings. These two services were developed by the Archbishop of Sydney’s Liturgical Panel as part of a development and expansion of Sunday Services 2001. They show that it is possible not only to compile a baptismal rite that uses wording and ceremonies that are acceptable to Evangelical Anglicans but also to produce a rite that embodies the simplicity and restraint that is the mark of the Anglican genius. In this article I look at the service of baptism for infants and children. In the second article I look at the service of baptism for those able to answer for themselves.

For educational purposes only I have reproduced the service of baptism for infants and children below:


1. The minister welcomes those who have come for baptism and their sponsors and addresses the congregation. The passages of Scripture may be read in the indicated places.

God is the source of everything that is good. Children are his gift and he entrusts parents with the privilege and responsibility of nurturing them in his way. God wants our children to experience a loving home, to gain wisdom, to live generously for the good of all, to grow in faith, and to come at last to share in his eternal kingdom.

[Jesus said: ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’]

Without Christ, we humans are far gone from God and mired in sin. Through the gospel, God addresses each one of us and calls us back to himself, resulting in a profound change. The act of baptism is about that change.

[We follow the direction of Jesus, who said, ‘Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.’]

Ordinary water is used to point to the extraordinary work of God in cleansing us from sin and giving us a new heart to trust and serve him, through the death and resurrection of his Son. Baptism provides a public opportunity to turn to Christ and express a personal trust in him and what he has done for us, and to ask for the renewing work of the Holy Spirit.

[Jesus taught that none can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. ‘Flesh gives birth to flesh,’ he said, ‘but the Spirit gives birth to spirit’.]

So let us pray to God the Father through our Lord Jesus Christ that he will grant to these children what they cannot have by nature, that they may be born again by the Holy Spirit and be made living members of Christ’s Church.

2. The congregation and sponsors join the minister in praying

Heavenly Father,
we thank you that in your great love
you have called us to know you
and to trust you.
Increase this knowledge and strengthen our faith.
Grant that these children
may be born again by the Holy Spirit,
cleansed from all sin,
and inherit your eternal kingdom;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

3. If the baptism does not take place within the context of another service, suitable passages from Scripture should be read and a sermon given at this point.

4. The minister invites the sponsors to stand with those who are to be baptised and says to them

God promises forgiveness and the gift of the Holy Spirit to all who turn to him in Christ. This promise also embraces the children of God’s people, whom we bring to him in faith. Children must themselves express faith in Christ when they are able to do so. They must turn away from sin and put their trust in him. In due course, they should come to reaffirm these promises and receive prayer for strengthening in confirmation.

Those of you who already trust in Christ, and are willing to teach and encourage them in the same faith, are invited to make the baptismal promises on their behalf. Therefore, I ask you,

Are you yourself a follower of Jesus Christ, trusting the gracious promises of God?
I am.

Are you willing to sponsor these children, answering for them now and accepting responsibility for their Christian upbringing in the life of the Church?
I am willing.

5. The minister continues

I now ask to answer on behalf of these children

Do you turn to Christ?
I turn to Christ.

Do you repent of your sins?
I repent of my sins.

Do you reject selfish living and all that is false and unjust?
I reject them all.

Do you renounce Satan and all evil?
I renounce all that is evil.

Almighty God deliver you from the powers of darkness, and lead you in the light of Christ to his everlasting kingdom. Amen.

6. The minister continues

These children have been brought here for baptism. Let us all affirm the faith into which they are to be baptised.

I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord, who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father;
from there he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

7. The minister says to the sponsors

I ask you to answer on behalf of these children

Do you affirm this faith as yours?
I do.

Will you follow Jesus faithfully, and obey his commands throughout your life?
With God’s help, I intend to do so.

Do you ask for baptism in the faith you have affirmed ?
I do.

8. Standing at the font with the candidates and their sponsors, the minister says

Let us pray.

Merciful God, for Jesus Christ’s sake, grant that these children whom we baptise in this water, may be saved through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. May they die to sin and rise again to righteousness. May your Spirit live and work in them, that they may be yours forever; through Jesus Christ our Lord who died and rose again for us. Amen.

9. The minister says to the sponsors of each child

Name this child.

10. Then the minister dips each child in the water or pours water on each one, saying

N, I baptise you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

11. After all the children have been baptised the minister and congregation address them

God has called you into his church.
We therefore receive and welcome you
as a fellow member of the body of Christ,
as a child of the same heavenly Father,
and as an inheritor with us of the kingdom of God.

12. The minister makes a sign of the cross on each child’s forehead and says

I sign you with the sign of the cross
to show that you are to be true to Christ crucified
and that you are not to be ashamed
to confess your faith in him.
Fight bravely under his banner
against sin, the world and the devil,
and continue Christ’s faithful soldier and servant
to your life’s end.

13. The minister continues

God has called you out of darkness into his marvellous light
Shine as a light in the world to the glory of God the Father

14. The minister continues with these prayers.

Gracious God, we thank you that through the death and resurrection of your Son, you have brought us from death to life. Enable us by your Spirit to resist the power of sin and give ourselves to you as a living sacrifice. May we not be conformed to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of our mind, so that we serve and please you in every way. Amen.

Heavenly Father, we pray for the parents and godparents of these children. Give them the spirit of wisdom and love, that they may teach these children by word and example to fulfil the promises made in their name. In our homes, give us the joy that comes from being faithful followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

15. If it is not used elsewhere in the service, the Lord’s Prayer may be said together here.

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours
now and for ever. Amen.

16. The service may conclude with these words

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
and the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit
be with us all evermore. Amen.

The Archbishop of Sydney’s Liturgical Panel followed the example that Archbishop Thomas Cranmer set in the 1552 Baptismal Office and developed a rite which has as its principle elements prayers for the candidates, the symbolic washing of the candidates with water, and the signing of the cross upon the foreheads of the newly baptized. When this rite is compared with the Anglican Church in North America’s The Order for Holy Baptism, one cannot help but note the differences between the two rite both in their teaching and practices.

The Sydney rite emphasizes the work of the Holy Spirit in the spiritual life of the Christian.  It reflects the understanding that water and washing are used in the Bible to describe the work of the Holy Spirit. It contains no prayer for the sanctifying of the element of water for use for baptism, implicitly recognizing that God by Jesus’ baptism in the river Jordan has set apart the element of water for that use and such a prayer is redundant, asking God to do what he has already done. It acknowledges what J. I. Packer points out in Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs, “the outward sign does not automatically or magically convey the inward blessings that it signifies…” [p.213]. It does not exclude the possibility that the candidate will receive the Holy Spirit and the new birth at a time separate from the moment of the administration of the water. In this regard the rite reflects the whole counsel of God and not one or two texts interpreted without regard to context or what is said elsewhere in Scripture. Absent from this rite is the sacerdotal characteristics evident in the ACNA baptismal rite. It also avoids the use of sacramentals such as the Oil of Exorcism and the Oil of Chrism and other practices that the English Reformers rejected in the sixteenth century.

Without the unnecessary embellishments that clutter the ACNA baptismal rite, the Sydney rite is ideally suited for the mission field. It is a rite that a small house church congregation can use in the living room of a private home as well as a large congregation can use in its own worship center. It is also a rite that lends itself to both indoor and outdoor use.

The rite to which the College of Bishops gave final shape and which it endorsed, on the other hand, embodies the unreformed Catholic doctrinal views and ritualistic proclivities of a number of its members. The only recognition that the College of Bishops gave to the diversity of opinion represented in the Anglican Church in North America was to make optional the use of sacramentals such as the Oil of Exorcism and the use of ceremonies such as the vesting of the newly-baptized in a white garment and their presentation with a lit candle—a minor concession to congregations and clergy unaccustomed to these additions from the unreformed baptismal liturgies of the Roman Catholic Church. It is not a rite suited for the wide range of non-traditional settings in which many Anglican congregations presently gather in North America and are likely to gather for the foreseeable future.

As can be seen from this brief comparison of the two rites, the need for a second province within the Anglican Church in North America, an orthodox Anglican province that is fully aligned with the teaching of the Bible and the doctrine and principles of the Anglican formularies, including the two Books of Homilies, is self-evident. The existing denominational organs do not have the will to make the liturgies of the denomination comprehensive to the point where they are acceptable to all schools of Anglican thought represented in the denomination. Those occupying the place of power in the denomination show no inclination to make room doctrinally and liturgically for orthodox Anglicans who fully accept the teaching of the Bible and the doctrine and principles of the Anglican formularies. They only want to make room for congregations and clergy who are willing to go along with how they are seeking to shape the denomination’s identity. In this regard they are not too different from the liberals occupying the place of power in the Episcopal Church, entrenching their own views and excluding those who do not agree.

The second Anglican Church in North America is not the first ecclesial body in which those whom Douglas Bess describes as the “Catholic Revivalists’ in his history of the Continuing Anglican Movement have done this sort of thing. They did it in the several jurisdictions into which the first Anglican Church in North America fragmented. They gave greater weight to the traditions of men than to the Word of God and replaced the gospel of the New Testament with a gospel of human contriving. Needless to say the jurisdictions in which they occupied the place of power have failed to flourish. Like the second Anglican Church in North America, these jurisdictions experienced a short-lived initial growth spurt and then went into a long, slow decline. They limited the population base of these jurisdictions, causing the jurisdictions to shrink as that population base aged and died.

As the saying goes, those who do not learn from past mistakes are bound to repeat them. 

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