Baptism is one of the treasures of the Church which Jesus gave as part of our mission to call all people to discipleship (Mat. 28:19). This means that the way baptism is understood by the Church, and watching world, has significant repercussions for the effectiveness of our evangelism and mission.
Therefore the fact that the House of Bishops of the Church of England has used its ‘Reaffirmation of Baptism Service’ as the basis to ‘recognize liturgically a person’s gender transition’ will undermine the mission Jesus calls us all to promote. The understanding of baptism itself is necessarily changed by stating that it can be reaffirmed in the context of affirming gender transition. That this is the case is recognised in the Guidance itself by the observation that if a person has not been baptised, the ‘recognition of gender transition’ could then take place ‘in the context of baptism.’
The Free Church of England is an Anglican family of churches which for over 170 years has continued to stand by the historic understanding of baptism as the sacrament of entry into the universal church and an essential part of the mission we are called to embrace.
Our Catechism defines a sacrament as ‘a celebration of redemption, in a manner commanded by Christ, in which material things become signs and pledges of God’s grace, and outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace which we receive when we receive the sacrament in faith.’ The particular inward and spiritual grace in baptism is ‘Union with Christ in his death and resurrection (Romans 6:3-4), the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38), and a new birth into righteousness (John 3:5) within the royal priesthood of God’s people, the Church (1 Peter 2:5, 9; 1 Corinthians 12:13).’ The candidate is required to bring ‘Repentance, whereby they forsake sin; and faith (Mark 16:16), whereby they steadfastly believe the promises of God made to them in that Sacrament (Acts 2:38-39; 1 Peter 3:21).’
It is difficult to see how this once-for-all sacrament can legitimately be adapted to bear another set of meanings which the House of Bishops seems to be imposing upon it.
Of course the Church must show pastoral care to those who experience gender dysphoria, but linking baptism with gender transition runs the risk of blurring the radical nature of the Gospel and so undermining the Church’s mission to our world.
+ John Fenwick