Engaging with the BCP Baptism Service
Mark Pickles book will be released soon. Here he talks about how this book came about.
Currently I am the Director of the North West Gospel Partnership, a group which seeks to train, plant, encourage and guard the gospel in North West England and North Wales. Prior to that I have been an Anglican minister for 22 years, serving in the dioceses of Chester and Derby. From 2014-2018 I was the Director of Anglican Training at Oak Hill Theological College. It was a great joy to help train gospel-hearted ordinands and encourage them to be convictional Anglicans.
Part of the reason for writing this booklet is found in ‘Canon A5’, which declares that “the doctrine of the Church of England is grounded in the Holy Scriptures, and in such teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to the said Scriptures. In particular such doctrine is to be found in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, The Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordinal.”
In our present context in which we seek to both evangelise the nation and contend for the faith within our denomination, I think there are two dangers we face:
That we ignore our theological heritage and our doctrinal distinctives expressed in the Articles and the Prayer Book or are selective concerning those distinctives.
That we fail to communicate and apply those truths afresh in our present context and culture.
One of the strengths of Common Worship is the provision of a Prayer Book Communion service in contemporary English. Sadly, however there is no such provision for the Prayer Book Baptism service. My sense is that some evangelical Anglicans are not too troubled by that because they are either not convinced about the biblical rationale for baptising children of believers, or view the Prayer Book Baptism service with a deal of suspicion because of certain ‘dodgy’ phrases!
This booklet is written to engage with those two concerns. I believe that it would be a great benefit for us to have a Prayer Book Baptism service in contemporary English, but there also needs to be a recognition that our present day context of ministry is very different from that of the 16th or 17th Centuries.
It would not do therefore, simply to update the language, we also need to reflect that ‘Christendom’ has gone and so the majority of those who come to us for baptism, first need to be evangelised not presumed to be Christians. Many evangelical Anglican ministers find themselves in the curious position of seeking to persuade believers that they ought to have their children baptised and to persuade unbelievers that they ought not! There needs to be a gracious, warm welcome to any who enquire about baptism, as it can provide an important moment of contact but there also needs to be a clear explanation of what baptism entails and why it is only appropriately to infants who are children of believers. To that end it is vital to have an accessible, gospel-centred baptism liturgy.
The title for the booklet comes from words found within the Prayer Book Baptism service itself, “Doubt not….but Earnestly Believe”. It beautifully encapsulates a biblical understanding of infant baptism, in which the emphasis is not primarily put on our efforts to be godly and prayerful parents (important though that is) but upon God, his grace and his covenantal promises. A sacrament is an ‘outward sign of invisible grace’ – we need to be careful not to turn it into an ‘outward sign of our works’. It is a tremendous encouragement for Christian parents to have an expectant (but not presumptuous) faith that “the promise of God is for you and your children” (Acts 2:39).
The booklet is my attempt to engage with the theology of the Prayer Book Baptism service, clarifying some misconceptions and presenting an argument as to why and how a service in contemporary English would be of benefit for evangelism and nurture in local Anglican churches today.