ST MICHAEL & All ANGELS CHURCH
(Church of England)
St Michael's Green,
Entering into a new relationship with God
1. The new relationship God offers to us.
Baptism and confirmation are part of the wider picture of God's saving activity.
According to the witness of the New Testament the
plan of God the Father is to unite all things in heaven and earth to Himself
through His Son Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:10). This does not mean that we
will become absorbed into God and lose our personal identity. What it means
instead is that God the Father wants us to have the same kind of relationship
of love with Him that Christ has, the kind of relationship that we find described
for us in the four gospels.
However, we have a problem. In our own strength we
are incapable of living as part of God's new family. This is because we are
all affected by a bias towards evil (what the Bible calls 'sin') that means
that we are unable to have the kind of loving relationships with God and
other human beings that being part of God's family involves. We love
ourselves and the things we want for ourselves more than we love God or other
people (Romans 1:18-3:20).
· First, He declared the
possibility of living as part of God's new family by accepting God's forgiveness,
turning our back on sin, and becoming a follower of Christ, living in
obedience to His teaching (Luke 15: 11-32, Mark 1:14-20, Matthew 7:21-27).
· Secondly, He showed in
His own life what living as part of this new family meant in practice by living
a life that was based on total trust and obedience to God, was free from
ambition or a desire for material possessions, and was marked by a
self-giving and sacrificial love that was shown to everyone, including those
who we were the outcasts of society. (John 1:14, 5:19, Matthew 8:20, 9:9-13).
· Thirdly, He identified Himself with the plight of human beings trapped by sin and, by means of this identification, transformed their situation from the inside.
At His baptism in the Jordan by John the Baptist, Christ identified Himself with the sinners who came to be baptised by John (Mt 4:13-17) and this identification reached its culmination on the cross on which Christ voluntarily took upon Himself the physical death and spiritual separation from God that are the result of sin (Mk 15:33-39). He did this so that our old human nature dominated by sin might perish in His dying and be replaced by a new form of human nature free from sin and death. This new nature was manifested when on the third day Christ rose from the dead (Rom 4:25, 6:5-11, 2 Cor 5:14-15).
· First, by understanding
and accepting what God the Father has done for us through Christ, and
embracing the promise of a new life in the Spirit that He offers to us (John
3:16, Romans 4:23-25). This is what Christians means when they talk about
· Secondly, by being
willing to confess publicly our commitment to Jesus and our willingness to
follow Him (Romans 10:9-10).
· Thirdly, by being willing
to turn away from our old life of sin and to enter into the new life that
Christ offers by being baptised in the name of the Father, the Son and the
Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19 Acts 2:38). There are two biblical images for
baptism that help us to understand its significance. One is the image of
going under water and rising out of it again. This image points us to the way
in which in baptism we die to our old self and rise to a new life (Romans
6:1-4). The other is the image of being cleansed by water. This image points
to the way in which through baptism we are given a new start cleansed from
sin (Titus 3:5-6).
· Fourthly, by taking part in Holy Communion (also known as the Eucharist, the Mass, or the Lord's Supper), the family meal which Christ instituted for His followers. At this meal they recall what He did for them on the cross, are fed spiritually by Him as they receive His body and blood through the bread and wine, grow in unity with Him and all those who belong to Him, and look forward to being with Him for ever in God's new creation (something which the Bible describes in terms of a great feast or banquet) (Luke 22:14-20, John 6:53-58, 1 Corinthians 10:17).
3. Patterns of response in the history of the
· First, infant baptism
became the norm. The pattern described above was on the basis that those who
wished to become Christians were adults who were able to answer for
themselves. However, as the Christian faith became more established and
widely accepted the practice of Christian parents bringing infants to baptism
(a practice which seems to have existed from the very earliest days of the
Church) continued to grow until a situation developed where the majority of
those who were baptised were infants rather than adults. This meant that the
traditional pattern of catechesis prior to baptism and personal confession of
faith at baptism ceased to be viable in the case of most of those who were
being baptised. The pattern that replaced it was one in which the personal
confession of faith and commitment at baptism was undertaken by parents and
godparents on behalf of infants on the understanding that these infants would
receive catechetical instruction as they grew up and would then be able to
confess the faith for themselves.
· Secondly, in the West the
growth of infant baptism lead to a breaking of the direct link between
baptism and admission to the Eucharist. Admission to Communion was postponed
until the infants who had been baptised were old enough to receive with a
proper degree of understanding.
Thirdly, as the Church grew both geographically and
numerically, it became increasingly difficult for the bishop to be present at
all baptisms and so in the
At the Reformation the Church of England retained
with some changes this later Western pattern of initiation. As a result the
standard pattern of Christian initiation in the Church of England until very
recently has been one in which people have been baptised as infants on the
understanding that they will then be brought up as Christians, receive instruction
on the Christian faith, confess the faith for themselves when they are
confirmed in their early teens and then be admitted to Holy Communion.
· First, infant baptism is
a practice that goes back to the very earliest days of the Church and is
therefore something that the Church of England does not feel free to discard.
· Secondly, the Church of England
believes that God's merciful love, what Christians call God's 'grace', always
precedes our human response and enables it. Personal confession of faith
following on from and responding to the grace of God received in infant
baptism is consistent with this fact.
· Thirdly, we read in the
gospels that Christ welcomed and blessed those infants that were brought to
Him (Mark 10:13-15) and the Church of England believes that infant baptism is
a way He continues to do this today.
· Fourthly, the Bible as a whole tells us that the children of believers are themselves part of God's family and therefore The Church of England feels that it is right that they should have the sign of belonging to the family just as Jewish children in the Old Testament had the sign of circumcision (Genesis 17:9-14, Acts 2:39, 16:31, 1 Corinthians 7:14).
4. Patterns of initiation in the Church of England
· First, in most dioceses
provision now exists, subject to agreement by the bishop, the parish priest
and the congregation or the Parochial Church Council, for children who have
not been confirmed to receive Holy Communion after appropriate instruction
provided that this is in the context of a programme of continuing nurture
leading to confirmation.
· Secondly, increasing
numbers of people who have been baptised as infants are not being confirmed
as teenagers but are being confirmed later as adults, often either as part of
a journey to Christian faith or as part of a return to it.
· Thirdly, increasing numbers of people are not being baptised as infants, but are being baptised when they come to faith when they are older. In this case provision is made for a return to the older Western pattern with baptism, confirmation and receiving the Eucharist taking place in the same service.
What this means is that there are now a number of different patterns of Christian initiation in the Church of England. The important fact is, however, that they all contain the four essential elements for entering into the life of God's family that we noted earlier in this introduction.