Order of Holy Baptism
This is the collection of Fr. Dunbar’s series of short papers on the Order of Holy Baptism, as set forth in its historic and normative Anglican form in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and 1928 American Prayer Book. We are certain you will enjoy his in-depth examination of baptism – the sacrament of regeneration. You may also wish to download a PDF version of this essay.
The Bible is not one book, but many, as the word “Bible” indicates; for it comes from the Greek, ta biblia, ‘the books’; a book of many books, which tells a story of many stories. In simplest terms it is the story of the creation, uncreation, and new creation, a story that runs from one man’s disobedience at the tree of paradise, to another man’s obedience at the tree of the cross. This is the story that the church by ancient tradition begins to read on Septuagesima, three Sundays before Lent, and which comes to its climax in Easter, in the feast of Christ’s death and resurrection, where the powers of uncreation – of sin and death – were defeated, uncreation itself was put in reverse, and the new creation began.
But is that story also our story? We become part of Adam’s story by birth and natural generation; we start where he left off, alienated from the Creator and at odds with the created order. To become part of Christ’s new story we must be born again, by spiritual regeneration. That is where baptism comes in – the sacrament of regeneration, of new birth and new creation, by union with Christ in his redemptive death. We begin here a series of short papers on the Order of Holy Baptism, as set forth in its historic and normative Anglican form in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, and also (with some abbreviation), in the 1928 American Prayer Book.
First a note on the overall structure. As with other Prayer Book services, its basic logic is that of the gospel itself, the Pauline triad of “guilt, grace, and gratitude”: guilt, which elicits repentance; grace, which elicits faith; and gratitude, moving us to good works. This triad is arranged around the elements of word and sacrament, by which the grace of Christ is promised and conferred. It starts with an acknowledgement of our sin and need for regeneration (guilt); then comes the proclamation of the word of the gospel (grace). Third, at the heart of the service, are the promises of the sponsors or godparents on behalf of the child (faith). Fourth comes the sacrament, the effectual sign of grace promised in the word. In the prayers after baptism, gratitude finds expression in prayers for the fulfilment of baptism in life, and beyond death.
The core of the service therefore is a covenant (a binding agreement) initiated by God, in the promise of Christ in the gospel; accepted in the godparents’ promises of faith, made on the child’s behalf; and sealed in the sacrament. This covenant is nothing other than the new and eternal covenant (or testament) between God and his elect people, ratified in the blood of Christ’s death. God puts himself under obligation to us; and we put ourselves under obligation to him. It is not merely a legal contract, a transaction: it establishes a permanent relationship, communion between the Christian and Christ, whereby “my beloved is mine, and I am his”. It is “the mystical union betwixt Christ and his Church” (Ephesians 5:22-33), wherein, by the wedding ring of faith, Christ the bridegroom is united to the Church his bride. Christ takes what is ours – a dowry of sin and death; judgment and hell – and in exchange gives us what is his – righteousness for sin, life for death, favor for wrath, and heaven for hell.