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The Symbolism of baptism
Correspondence in Church of England newspaper April 2010 showing how some can live with credo and paedobaptism!

Sir, Mr Bartley (Letters: April 1, 2010), has clearly done some significant trawling through my blog, to find a piece of my doctrinal understanding which he sees as inconsistent.

He cites my views on infant baptism which I wrote about in 2007. I admit fully that my views on this subject are not dogmatic. I have not yet come to a final view. The reason for my apparent indecision actually strengthens my assertion that (despite being a woman) I take my doctrine from the Bible alone.

The reason I neither support or condemn Infant Baptism outright, is because the Bible is not clear oil the subject. I understand the Covenant theology argument often favoured by evangelical Anglicans, I also understand the Baptist argument. However, neither are completely proven by scripture. For me this poses a problem... scripture guides my theology, NOT reason. Therefore, if reason is all I have to make a choice then I cannot be dogmatic.

Baptism is a symbolic act, which reminds us of dying to sin and rising in Christ. It is the 'symbolising' of these crucial biblical doctrines that is clear, not the timing of the event. Therefore I have to stress to Mr Bartley that it is doctrine and reasoned argu­ment based on Biblical text that determines my teaching. When the Bible is unclear I am reluctant to be dogmatic because I am not infallible and cannot fill in the gaps which I may perceive to be there. That would be resorting to a more Liberal approach, surely?

In closing, I do not retreat from the idea that the leadership of the church has a 'body of authoritative knowledge which it knows, teaches and defends against error', as Mr Bartley asserts the church has done. I fully support the idea that church leadership must teach sure truth with authority, as long as that authoritative knowledge is based on sure scriptural principles and nothing else.

Gill Scanning,


BI Committee felt this was worth encouragement and the following was published.

How refreshing to read Mrs Scanning’s integrityThe reason I neither support nor condemn Infant Baptism outright, is because the Bible is not clear on the subject”.   Not for nothing was a seminal book on the subject entitled “the water that divides”.    

In Baptismal Integrity (BI) we seek to maintain in loving tension Committee and Council members holding views at either end of this spectrum but united, as with Gill Scanning, in the importance of the symbolism and the preparationj.  What however is VITAL is that the administration of the sacrament is carried out with integrity, and in accordance with Canon Law.   Too often a position is so lightly held that the essentials of proper preparation and commitment and ongoing pastoral care are totally ignored.  

In passing, we do strongly encourage the Service of Thanksgiving for the Gift of a Child as an alternative for the children of believers and others alike.  When you have heard teenagers thank their parents for NOT having them baptized as infants, it really does more strongly emphasise the “symbolism”.  One Rector who practiced Infant Baptism once told me “the full symbolism of baptism cannot be seen until the person has personal faith”.

Roger Godin

Vice Chair Baptismal Integrity

However not all were so supportive!
Sir. In her remarkable letter of April 9 Gill Stanning overlooks one thing, she is effectively denying the Sufficiency of Scripture regarding a sacrament (Thirty-nine Articles, Article 6: Of the Sufficiency of Holy Scripture).  

Though she is soon to be ordained, by her own confession, she will be unable to inform her future parishioners as  to whether their duty is to baptise their infants or not.  

She knows both sides but concludes no one can really know as the Bible is unclear on this point

Her position is completely different to the convinced Baptist or Paedobaptist for whom the Bible is clear and is a sufficient rule of faith and practice.  

Should she care to apply the precaution­ary principle she must in practice become a Baptist. She cannot assure her parish­ioners that infant baptism is Christ's will. For her it might not be and so it could be an innovation, no baptism at all and therefore best avoided. On the other hand, she must clearly believe that it is rightly done when applied to unbaptised believers answering for themselves. So invoking the precaution­ary principle, rather than risk sacrilege, she must advise believers' baptism and that alone.  

However this raises the important question.  If for people like Gill Stanning, the Bible cannot answer such basic questions — what are we to do? Either the Bible is a sufficient rule of faith and practice and does clearly teach us our duty regarding the sacra­ments or not. If not, we must have some other rule, we must have some living voice within the Church such an Ecumenical Council or consensus of Bishops either that or some individual such as the Pope or the local Bishop. Is this what she wants or should we abandon all pretence to order and simply allow everyone do what seems right to themselves?  

How different was classic evangelical Anglican thinking! Those who founded the Church Missionary Society did in the con­viction that our Bible-based principles of 

To Gill, her inability to explain the Scriptural duty of baptism is proof of her integri­ty of submitting to the Bible alone. To me it is simply proof that she is unsure of a foundational doctrine of Christi’s religion.

So no matter how much she boasts of her ability to exegete Scripture, her lack of clarity on this basic principle of our Faith must question her suitability for ordination —not because she is a woman but because it would similarly raise a question in the case of a man holding similar views.

Alan Bartley, Greenford, Middlesex.



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