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Baptismal Regeneration

re-jen-er-a’-shun: As indicated in the general articles on BAPTISM and SACRAMENTS, the doctrine ordinarily held by Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Baptists, Methodists, and also by Low-Church Episcopalians, differs from that of the Roman and Greek churches, and of High-Church Anglicans, in its rejection of the idea that baptism is the instrumental cause of regeneration, and that the grace of regeneration is effectually conveyed through the administration of that rite wherever duly performed. The teaching of Scripture on this subject is held to be that salvation is immediately dependent on faith, which, as a fruit of the operation of the Spirit of God in the soul, already, in its reception of Christ, implies the regenerating action of that Spirit, and is itself one evidence of it. To faith in Christ is attached the promise of forgiveness, and of all other blessings. Baptism is administered to those who already possess (at least profess) this faith, and symbolizes the dying to sin and rising to righteousness implicit in the act of faith (Ro 6). It is the symbol of a cleansing from sin and renewal by God’s Spirit, but not the agency effecting that renewal, even instrumentally. Baptism is not, indeed, to be regarded as a bare symbol. It may be expected that its believing reception will be accompanied by fresh measures of grace, strengthening and fitting for the new life. This, however, as the life is already there, has nothing to do with the idea of baptism as an opus operatum, working a spiritual change in virtue of its mere administration. In Scripture the agency with which regeneration is specially connected is the Divine "word" (compare 1Pe 1:23). Without living faith, in those capable of its exercise, the outward rite can avail nothing. The supposed "regeneration" may be received--in multitudes of instances is received--without the least apparent change in heart or life.

The above, naturally, applies to adults; the case of children, born and growing up within the Christian community, is on a different footing. Those who recognize the right of such to baptism hold that in the normal Christian development children of believing parents should be the subjects of Divine grace from the commencement (Eph 6:4); they therefore properly receive the initiatory rite of the Christian church. The faith of the parent, in presenting his child for baptism, lays hold on God’s promise to be a God to him and to his children; and he is entitled to hope for that which baptism pledges to him. But this, again, has no relation to the idea of regeneration through baptism.

James Orr


Regeneration, the initial gift of life in Christ, is, in the church’s normal system, associated with the sacrament of baptism. The basis for this teaching and practice of the church is found primarily in our Lord’s discourse to Nicodemus (Joh 3:1-8) wherein the new birth is associated not only with the quickening Spirit but with the element of water. The Saviour’s words, literally translated, are as follows: "Except one be born (out) of water and Spirit (ex hudatos kai pneumatos gennaomai), he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." (That it is the impersonal aspect of the Divine Spirit, i.e. as equivalent to "spiritual life" which is here presented, is indicated by the absence of the article in the Greek of Joh 3:5.) Entrance into the kingdom of God implies entrance into the church as the outward and visible embodiment of that kingdom. our Lord, in the passage above cited, does not limit the possibility or the need of "new birth" to those who have arrived at adult age, or "years of discretion," but uses the general pronoun tis, "anyone." The Anglican church does not, however, teach that baptism is unconditionally necessary, but only that it is "generally" necessary to salvation (compare the language of the Church Catechism with the qualification mentioned in the Prayer-Book "Office for the Baptism of Those of Riper Years," "Whereby ye may perceive the great necessity of this Sacrament, where it may be had"). It is not taught that the grace of God is absolutely or unconditionally bound to the external means, but only that these sacramental agencies are the ordinary and normal channels of Divine grace.

The typical form of baptism is that appropriate to the initiation of adults into the Christian body. Justin Martyr in his First Apology (chapter lxi) no doubt testifies to what was the general view of Christians in the 2nd century (circa 150 AD): "As many as are persuaded and believe that the things taught and said by us are true, and, moreover, take upon them to live accordingly, are taught to pray and ask of God with fasting for forgiveness of their former sins; .... and then they are brought to a place of water, and there regenerated after the same manner with ourselves; for they are washed in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit." For the due administration of this sacrament, personal faith and repentance on the part of the candidate are prerequisite conditions. However, "the baptism of young children" (i.e. of infants) "is in any wise to be retained in the Church, as most agreeable to the institution of Christ" (XXXIX Articles, Art. XXVII, sub fin.). In the service "For the Baptism of Infants," repentance and faith are promised for the children by their "sureties" (ordinarily known as "sponsors" or "godparents"), "which promise, when they come to age (the children) themselves are bound to perform."

The person, whether adult or infant, receives in his baptism a real forgiveness; a washing away of all sins, whether original or actual. He also receives, at least in germ, the beginnings of new life in Christ; which life, however, must be developed and brought to perfection through his personal cooperation with the grace of God. But regeneration, as such, is not conversion; it is not even faith or love, strictly speaking. These latter, while they are conditions, or effects, or evidences of regeneration, are not regeneration itself, which is purely the work of God, operating by His creative power, through the Holy Ghost. The moral test of the existence of spiritual life is the presence in heart and conduct of the love of God and of obedience to His commandments (see 1 Joh passim).

It may be added that the bestowment of the gifts of spiritual strength--of the manifold graces and of the fullness of the Holy Spirit--is primarily associated with the laying on of hands (confirmation) rather than with baptism proper; the rite of confirmation was, however, originally connected with the baptismal service, as an adjunct to it. The newly-made Christian is not to rest content with the initial gift of life; he is bound to strive forward unto perfection. Confirmation is, in a sense, the completion of baptism. "The doctrine of laying on of hands" is accordingly connected with "the doctrine of baptisms," and both are reckoned by the author of the Epistle to the He as among "the first principles of Christ" (Heb 6:1,2 the King James Version).


For the Anglican doctrine on the subject of regeneration in baptism the following authorities may be consulted: Hooker, Ecclesiastical Polity, V, lix, lx; Waterland, The Doct. Use of Christian Sacraments; Regeneration; Wall, Infant Baptism; R. I. Wilberforce, The Doctrine of Holy Baptism; Darwell Stone, Holy Baptism, in "The Oxford Library of Practical Theology"; A. J. Mason, The Faith of the Gospel. For patristic teaching on this subject, compare Tertullian, De Baptismo.

William Samuel Bishop


1. Definition of Terms:

See BAPTISM (I), I, 6.

2. Scriptural Basis of This Doctrine:

3. Faith in Baptism:

Baptism does not produce salutary effects ex opere operato, i.e. by the mere external performance of the baptismal action. No instrument with which Divine grace works does. Even the preaching of the gospel is void of saving results if not "mixed with faith" (Heb 4:2 the King James Version). Luther correctly describes the working of baptism thus: "How can water do such great things? It is not the water indeed that does them, but the Word of God which is in and with the water (God’s giving hand), and faith which trusts such word of God in the water (man’s receiving hand)." But this faith, which is required for a salutary use of the gospel and baptism, is wrought by these as instruments which the Holy Spirit employs to produce faith; not by imparting to them a magical power but by uniting His Divine power with them (Ro 10:17; 2Co 4:6; Eph 5:26).

4. Infants and Adults: