09 June 2005

post-baptismal prayer

From the 1552 edition forward, the Anglican Book of Common Prayer has followed the baptism of a child with this prayer:

Seeing now, dearly beloved brethren that this child be regenerate and grafted into the body of Christ's congregation, let us give thanks unto God for these benefits, and with one accord make our prayers unto almighty God, that he may lead the rest of his life according to this beginning.

English Calvinists, including the Puritans, accepted this prayer of thankgiving for the regeneration of the baptized child, despite their predestinarian doctrine that allowed that only the elect were ever truly regenerate in the strictest sense of the term. This prayer was accepted despite the fact that the English Puritans raised a number of other objections to the Book of Common Prayer, including to the baptismal rite (particularly the use of the sign of the cross).

There are several reasons why no objection was raised to this prayer -- a prayer, incidently, for which we find close parallels in other Reformed rites, such as that of Bucer. First, Reformed theologians generally accepted that the baptized were all regenerate in at least a conditional and sacramental sense.

Second, and more importantly, Reformed theologians believed that the baptism of a child entitled the church to make a judgment of charity, regarding the child to be in reality everything that was signified in baptism sacramentally.

One should note, moreover, that the "judgment of charity" is not, as it is sometimes understood, a kind of begrudging admission that, after all, we can hope that maybe our baptized children have Christ's benefits. Rather, it is a loving hope and judgment, founded on the covenant promises of God, that what God has signified in baptism is true indeed.

Thus the Puritan divine George Downame writes, "We are to distinguish between the judgment of charity and the judgment of certainty. For although in general we know not that every one that is baptized is justified or shall be saved, yet, when we come to speak of particulars, we are to judge of them that are baptized that they are regenerated and justified, and that they shall be saved, until they shall discover themselves not to be such."

Along similar lines, George Carleton, head of the British delegation to the Synod of Dort writes, "All that receive baptism are called the children of God, regenerate, justified, for to us they must be taken for such in charity until they show themselves other."

One more quotation. Cornelius Burges, member of and assessor to the Westminster Assembly, states the following:

Our church excludes none from participation of the inward grace of the sacrament; but knowing for certain that all the elect do partake of it, and not knowing at all that this or that particular infant is not elected, suffers not any of her children to speak or judge of any particular infant that he doth not receive the inward grace; no more than she permits him to say that such a particular is not elected. For "who hath known the mind of the Lord?" and, "who are thou that judgest another man’s servant?" Howbeit, our church knows very well, that in respect of election, they are not all Israel that are of Israel; and that of those many that be called but a few be chosen. But who those be, she will not determine, yet thus much she doth determine, that any particular infant rightly baptized is to be taken and held in the judgment of charity for a member of the true invisible elected, sanctified church of Christ, and that he is regenerated.

In any case, the judgment of charity was seen as a sufficient basis for thanking God for the regeneration of the baptized. It would also have implications, I would think, for the Christian nurture of covenant children.