An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church

Baptismal Regeneration

The doctrine that at baptism the candidates are not only initiated into the Christian community but are also “born again.” That is, the Holy Spirit pours upon them the gift of new life. The doctrine is rooted in the NT. The Fourth Gospel states that “no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit . . . You must be born from above (or, born again)” (Jn 3:5-7). According to the BCP, candidates for Holy Baptism “receive the Sacrament of new birth” (p. 305), and are declared to have been “raised . . . to the new life of grace” (p. 308). 

Like the transformation of bread into the body of Christ at the eucharist, baptismal new life is “spiritually” discerned. The transformation of the baptized persons into participants in the risen life of Christ is not seen with ordinary vision. This transformation is seen with eyes opened by the Spirit. Baptismal regeneration, however, does not immediately or necessarily result in moral betterment. Confusion on this point accounts for numerous controversies on this subject which have occurred in the history of the church. The Rev. Charles E. Cheney, rector of Christ Church, Chicago, refused to use the word “regeneration” in the baptismal service. He was brought to trial in 1869 and subsequently deposed from the ordained ministry. The Rt. Rev. George D. Cummins, Assistant Bishop of Kentucky, also opposed the use of the term. This was the main theological issue in the formation of the Reformed Episcopal Church.

Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from “An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians,” Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.