Confirmation, Discipline and Reform

George Crowder

1.0 Making Disciples

1.1 Church and covenant

In his treatise, Confirmation and Restauration, Richard Baxter wrote the following about a person entering church membership:

The whole society among whom such a person is entered, do owe him much duty and brotherly assistance… they are not only to love him and relieve him as a man, but as one of Christ’s little ones… They must have church union and communion with him, as one body, and must pray with him, rejoice with him in God’s praises, and the Lord’s Supper, and watch over him, and admonish and reprove him in sin, for his recovery; and avoid him if he walk disorderly, and be impenitent in scandalous sin.[1]

The mission of the church is to make disciples, but in Baxter’s estimation the bond between disciples in a local church is of most vital effect in that work of discipleship. That bond reflects the love of God; the bond of grace that he showed in his Son. It is a covenant bond, and Christians are covenant members through the blood of Christ.

Baxter was concerned to establish the foundational significance of God’s overarching covenant of grace from the outset.[2] He explains it in Christian Ecclesiastics. The matter of the covenant on God’s part is that he will be our God.[3] He is our owner, our king and our benefactor, who will do all things that belong to a creator to preserve us, will save us from our sins and sanctify us.[4] He will defend us, govern us and make us happy forever. [5] The matter of the covenant on our part is that we forsake the world the flesh and the devil and take the Lord as God. [6] We take God as Father, owner, governor and benefactor, Christ as redeemer, saviour and mediator, and the Holy Spirit as regenerator. [7] For someone entering the church, Baptism is “the signification and solemnisation of the holy covenant, in which as a penitent believer (or the seed of such) he giveth himself up (or by a parent is given up)… and is solemnly entered a visible member of Christ and his church”.[8]

Initiation into the visible church signified by baptism corresponds to initiation into the invisible church when the baptism is received by faith. Baxter thus urges Christians to understand how being baptised expresses their unity with Christ in the covenant of grace. He explains:

The essential union is that relation of a head and members, which is between Christ and all the visible members of his church: the foundation of it is the mutual covenant between Christ and them considered on their part as made externally, whether sincerely or not: this is usually done in baptism.[9]

In other words, covenantal membership of the invisible church in Christ, when the visible sign of baptism is received by faith, is intended to be coterminous with covenantal membership of the visible church. In this sense he holds that, “the baptismal covenant doth constitute us as members of the visible church”[10].

Having made a commitment to the covenant of grace, then, members of the visible church are expected to keep it. Covenant-breakers pollute the assembly, and profane the other essential covenantal ordinance, the Lord’s Supper. As Baptism is the sacrament of birth, so Holy Communion is the sacrament of nourishment and growth.[11] Baxter correspondingly understood Holy Communion as sacramental covenant renewal.[12] He discerns,

The covenant made, solemnised by baptism, owned at age, must frequently be renewed through the course of your lives… virtually renewed in every act of worship before God, actually in prayer and meditation, especially after a fall, and the Lord’s Supper is instituted for this very end.[13]

Thus it is clear why he was most concerned about the integrity of the local church. Church discipline, as often understood in Anglican ecclesiology, is the direct consequence of a right administration of the sacraments.

1.2 The membership challenge

Granted what Richard Baxter later wrote of his covenantal understanding of the visible church, when he returned to the Parish of Kidderminster, in 1647, he was confronted, somewhat severely, with the need for reform.[14] William Black recounts the “endemic lack of church discipline and the resulting profanation of the Lord’s Supper”.[15] Compounding these problems, the increasingly popular reaction was separatism, which was dividing an already compromised church membership against one another.[16]

Although Baxter strongly related to the critique of the separatists, he deplored their response.[17] The right response was the consistent exercise of discipline with the purpose of restoration. So to reform the local church Baxter needed to find a way of enforcing it justly and effectively. He believed that discipline should be focussed on keeping the terms of the covenant, sealed by baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Covenant keeping involves hearing and obeying God’s Word, united by faith with Christ, the saviour and mediator.[18] When members of the church persistently sinned without repentance, yet still shared in Holy Communion, they violated the covenant they entered in baptism. The wrong response was to separate from the whole church into small and sanctimonious cliques.[19] Such was merely forsaking God’s gracious covenant in another way, by forsaking his covenant people.[20]

To be able to exercise church discipline in this way, Baxter needed to delineate the church’s membership. The parish boundary was arbitrary,[21] but the church attendance was also misleading. He had three particular problems to contend with. First, he had to deal with children of non-Christians, who, though baptised, had grown up with little or no contact with the church.[22] Second, he needed a basis for disciplining unrepentant sinners who nevertheless attended, and thought it their right to partake in the Lord’s Supper.[23] Third, there were those who were baptised members of the church but “admitted irregularly”,[24] who were neither acquainted with, nor equipped to deal with, the rigours of pastoral discipline.[25] In a very helpful reflection on his catechising activities, he remarks:

Had I not set upon the duty of personal instruction, I should never have known the state of the people… if all these are fit to go for Christians, then we must make a new kind of Christianity, and a new gospel and a new Christ. And if all these are fit to be church members, then we must make a new kind of church.[26]

Needless to say Baxter was keen to get back to the original kind of church.

2.0 The Confirmation Revolution

2.1 A means of restoration

Baxter needed a programme of reform to implement the covenant of grace in the church community. More specifically he needed a new way to define the church membership in an Anglican church. For this he turned to a spirited revitalisation of the ancient practise of confirmation.

Baxter held that confirmation is not a means to receive grace that wasn’t there before, but he laboured to underline its significance.[27] He states, “Confirmation is no full and proper sacrament, as baptism is, but a particular subsequent investiture in some of the fruits of the baptism itself, in the season of them.”[28] By this he seems to be implying that it is a necessary step to declare a true faith, having been baptised in infancy and raised to an age of discretion in a covenant family. He builds a very positive case for the ritual laying on of hands,[29] but only seeks to establish that using this sign is “lawful, convenient and traditional.[30]

Insofar as it is, for church members, a renewal of baptismal promises made in their name, Baxter actually affirms confirmation to be a covenant ordinance of God.[31] Moreover, he stands by it as the most eminent and only formal means of the necessary and solemn transition from infant into adult membership of the church.[32] He summarises his position concisely in Christian Ecclesiastics:

Having been entered in your infancy into the covenant of God by your parents, you must, at years of discretion, review the covenant which by them you made, and renew it personally yourselves; and this with as great seriousness and resolution as if you were now first to enter and subscribe it… For your infant baptismal covenanting will save none of you that live to years of discretion, and do not as heartily own it in their persons, as if they had now been baptised.[33]

It comes down to his belief that there needed to be a distinction between adult members, who were directly subject to the pastor’s discipline, and infant members who were not.[34] For Baxter, adult membership was not different in the nature of the act but the agency.[35] In Cases of Conscience, he retains that church membership is the same in infants and adults, but asserts, “Though an infant be devoted acceptably to God by his parents will, yet when he is at age it must be done by his own will.”[36] Concerning the role of the Spirit and the role of parents, he is unequivocal on the parents’ duty to instruct their child in Christian teaching.[37] On one hand, he is forced to derive that if the parents fall away, the child will, by implication, forfeit the covenant.[38] On the other, he contends that as children grow in will, they are bound by it.[39]

He believed that the church had become corrupt through neglect of this solemn and meet transition. Thus he believed that the way to reform was to enforce it.[40] The three major problems identified earlier are solved. First, baptised infants of unbelievers do not automatically continue as members of the covenant community without growing up in the faith and professing it at age. Second, the basis of membership is clearly reinforced, thus defining a visible framework for a covenant community within which covenant breakers can be disciplined and ultimately excluded, but with the intention of restoration. So the Lord’s Supper need no longer be profaned by unrepentant sinning communicants. Third, those who are not ready for discipline can be given time and instruction, in order to allow them to fully subscribe to it.[41]

Baxter took this time and instruction very seriously. He is justifiably famous for devoting so much time to catechising families and instructing people personally. His motivation was to confirm church members, to establish a visible covenantal community. Catechising was path to confirmation. Confirmation defined the bond between members of the covenant community. And that bond was the life blood of discipleship.

Confirmation and Restauration is the book in which Baxter proposes confirmation as the means of restoration. [42] The title gives it away. He devotes most of his argument to one central matter, which is that of public, verbal profession and consent.

2.2 Verbal profession

Baxter used confirmation to establish adult church membership on the basis of two things: verbal profession of faith and submission to the authority of the pastor.[43] He did not deny membership rights to infants but he believed the infant title to be insufficient for adult communion.[44] The fact that God accepted infants on birth privileges does not mean he will accept adults without faith.[45] Baxter thus concluded on the need for a profession: “If Christians have no visible note, by which they must be known from infidels, then either the church is not visible, or infidels may be the visible church, without so much as disowning their infidelity”.[46] Excepting, of course, those that do not have the natural capacity, he determines, “he that, being engaged to God the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, in his infancy, doth make no profession of actual faith at full age, is ordinarily to be taken for an apostate”.[47]

Baxter taught that a verbal profession of faith was necessary for a transition to increased responsibilities and privileges. Spiritual development in a growing child is obviously gradual, but Baxter insists that the step must be taken at the most appropriate opportunity.[48] He compares the state of infant church members and the state of mature adult members to highlight the difference that must be acknowledged at that point.[49] He describes infants as having the “honour of inheritance in right… obliged to pay certain rent and homage when he comes to age, and in the mean time to have provisions from the estate he hath title to.”[50] Conversely, there are many adult privileges which are denied infants because of their capacity.[51] Baxter here refers to exercise of “Holy Graces” such as communion with God, the peace and joy of believing, everlasting hope, communion with the church in hearing, praying, praises and, notably, receiving the Lord’s Supper.[52] Such adult privileges, he reflects, are a “continuation in the thing begun, but completed”.[53]

It is one thing to say that infant members cannot automatically continue as adult members without a profession of faith, but another to keep infant members from the table. Baxter’s logic is that until of age the minister is not in direct spiritual oversight of the children, and the parents alone are responsible for disciplining the child.[54] It could be argued that parents, as they deem appropriate, simply include their children in their participation in the Supper while they have such jurisdiction. Baxter does not seem to address this perspective.[55]

With privilege comes responsibility. We began with Baxter’s call to Christians to the duty of meeting, sharing and praying together, and, pertinently, of being known to each other and watching over one another, admonishing sin, and avoiding the impenitent when they are excommunicated.[56] Corporate commitment to frequent meetings and loving fellowship with all existing members must be extended to new members who are added to the number. Baxter’s concern here is that they understand this, and add their own approval to the public profession and consent given by a new member, and consent fully to hold communion with him or her.[57] He believed confirmation should be used to set the benchmark for mutual discipling.

The privileges and responsibilities of discipleship go a long way in determining the content of the verbal profession. It must be a profession of true and biblical faith. And it must be a profession of consent to fellowship with a community of other faithful believers. Baxter himself drafted a Form of Profession as a guideline, which was an amplified version of the Apostles’ Creed, arranged in parallel with the original.[58] In this document, consent to fellowship is framed in terms of submission to the authority of the pastor.[59]

The role of the Pastor is critical. In that most contentious and precipitous matter of judging the expediency of a profession of faith, Baxter judiciously asserts pastoral authority.[60] He considers it to belong to the exercise of the keys of the kingdom bestowed upon the pastoral office,[61] though it is also a significant burden.[62] He asserts that it is necessary from a pragmatic covenantal perspective too. Without at least someone to try professions, heathens would crowd into the church, confident in their own profession.[63] Who better qualified, who more adequately placed to do it than a minister of Christ?[64] This is hardly a distant cold encounter with an external assessor. This is the pastor who teaches them week on week, listens to them and tends to their spiritual needs.

It is the pastors’ decision, but they are, “bound by the laws of Christ, and if they break these laws and wrong the church, the magistrate or the people should correct them”.[65] Church members are correspondingly bound to exercise their own “judgement of discretion”.[66] Baxter wisely encourages the pastor to consult with mature laypeople.[67]

Baxter is acutely aware of potential pitfalls and sets forth clear and workable criteria for a profession of faith appropriate to a covenantal understanding of the church community. He demands only what God has made necessary by his word, which is no more than a credible profession of faith in the true gospel, [68] appropriate to the individual. [69] He requires it to be serious, understanding, willing, and not subsequently contradicted by word or deed.[70]

If a profession is not forthcoming a long time after a child has the use of reason, then he advises suspicion.[71] In his view, use of reason commonly comes between around 16-18 years.[72]

He also distinguishes that although unbaptised adults may be received for baptism by profession alone, baptised adults may not be received for confirmation without inquiring after their lives.[73] They are already in a covenant with God, and this must be required of them before they are granted further privileges.[74]

The most helpful perspective Baxter gives is the nature of the church members’ relationship with the pastor. In Christian Ecclesiastics he extols the biblical requirement, pastoral need and multiple benefits of oversight by a wise and faithful pastor, and the great duty that he has.[75] So it is incumbent upon members of a local church to know their pastors and teachers, and to know what they owe them, to obey them, assist them and support them.[76] The pastor must be sure that expectants are given to repentance, and, most importantly, will consent to discipline.[77] Baxter warns, “if you would undo men’s souls by discipline, which they cannot bear, let them stay in the seminary of expectants, till they are ripe for it.”[78] It is not surprising then, when he says, “no man can… put upon them [the ministers] so great a duty as the relation doth require, against their wills, without their consent, and contrary to their judgement and their consciences”.[79] Consent to submit to the authority of the pastor actually implies consent on both sides, and is dependant on the credibility of the profession.[80]

Should the pastor deem the state of the expectant to be in any of these ways inadequate, Baxter simply directs recourse to further catechising.[81] He is not unaware of the objection that this will exasperate them. He answers, “those not admitted hear with hope”, whereas “those wrongly admitted and disciplined become hopeless”.[82] Discipline, he explains, is for curing from particular sins, not conversion from a state of wickedness.[83]

Baxter put great emphasis on the profession being made publicly.[84] If excommunication is done in public, so should admission.[85] He is nonetheless sensitive to those who may be unable to do this,[86] and leaves it open to the minister to decide on the format.[87]

As for his own practice, he reveals in Christian Concord that he encourages members to write their names in a Church Book.[88] There is one column for the infant members and one for the adult members,[89] namely those under his authority and willingly subject to Christ’s discipline.

2.3 The process of reform

How to implement all of this is another matter. Baxter holds his hands up; “I am persuaded that if we exercise Christ’s discipline according to scripture rule, upon all the parishes in England, it would endanger a rebellion”.[90]

In Confirmation and Restauration, he directs pastors to explain the faith and discipline of the church, call all members to re-subscribe, meet with them all individually, and redesignate those admitted to church irregularly as catechumens.[91] In Christian Concord, he indicates his expectation that all would be called to a public profession “at the first reforming of our present congregations”.[92] This basically amounts to the same process.

In no way does Baxter propose reform to be an easy ride, but he sees no other option. In Reformed Pastor he laments how “the duty ceaseth to be a duty to us, because the hurt that would follow would be greater than the good”.[93] Nevertheless, he contends, these reasons are valid against Christianity itself, and, further, “we will also be hated for plain preaching… and should we stop doing that?”[94]

2.4 Exercise of the Keys

The linchpin of Baxter’s model was the responsibility vested in the pastor. In that conspicuous yet lonely task of the one “who determineth who shall be Members of the Church and partake of its Commission, and exerciseth other acts of Spiritual Discipline”,[95] the keys to the kingdom would seem to hang heavy around the neck. In Baxter’s view many church leaders had cast them jangling into the dust, and leant on the staff of proclamation alone.

Baxter upheld that watching over souls, admonishing and rebuking in the local church not only required authority to teach, but also authority to exercise discipline.[96] Excommunication, he argued, is still a matter of words applied to the conscience, and as such can hardly be strained apart in essence from preaching.[97] He explains, “in our admonitions and reproofs, of the greatest sinners, we can do no more but shew them God’s law, which they have broken”.[98]

This inalienable connection underpins Baxter’s great critique of making the diocesan bishop alone responsible for discipline. He contended that pastors in charge of churches are denied full use of the keys, and discipline is impossible because one man is responsible for so many.[99]

The Restoration Settlement of 1662 sided with the Bishops, and the Church of England has inherited the hierarchical prelacy which Baxter rejected. Final authority for both confirmation and discipline rests with the diocesan bishop.[100] Responsibility for parochial discipline is neglected, set aside and forgotten about,[101] just as Baxter predicted it would be:

The main reason that turneth my heart against the English Prelacy is because it did destroy Church discipline and almost destroy the church through want of it.[102]

But he had a vision for reform:

Yet if they would but set up one bishop with his assistant presbyters in every corporation and great town, with the neighbour villages, according to the ancient practice, from the middle of the third century and for many following; so that true discipline might but be made possible to them that had a heart to practice it, I should greatly rejoice in such a reformation; much more, if every parish pastor were restored to all the points of his Office, though he exercised all under the government of bishops.[103]

In 1653 there was no functioning episcopate,[104] so Baxter formed voluntary associations of pastors as a platform for agreement and accountability. They ensured the task of discipline without dividing the power of the keys.

3.0 The Association of Pastors

3.1 The Motivation

Baxter’s initial inspiration for the Worcestershire Association was a developing burden for peace and unity between warring denominations.[105] But he was too paralysed by despair to make an attempt for some years.[106]

Something else spurred him into action: “the state of my own congregation, and the necessity of my Duty, constrained me to make some attempt”.[107] He recollects, “I thought, if all the ministers did accord together in one way, the People would much more easily submit, than to the way of any minister that was singular.”[108]

William Black reveals Baxter’s astute opportunism in appropriating the popular combination lectures as a vehicle for deepening ministerial association and collegiality.[109] He already met with local pastors on a regular basis, as there would often be a time of conference for them following the public lecture.[110] He recounts the next move:

According to their desire I drew up some Articles for our Consent[111] which might engage us to the most effectual practice of so much Discipline as might reduce the Churches to order, and satisfie Ministers in administering the Sacraments, and stop the more religious People from Separation, to which the unreformedness of the Churches through want of Discipline inclined them…[112]

3.2 The Meetings

Meetings were held monthly, and Baxter deliberately held his own parochial meeting the day before.[113] Those who refused the final exhortations and appeals to repent from the members of the parochial committee were given audience with the Association.[114]

It is notable that this process, without compromising the pastor’s responsibility for discipline, makes him transparently accountable for his decision in the judgement of his contemporaries. Such is a comfort and help to congregation and pastor alike, and is the logical outcome of Baxter’s determination for the nearest concord on biblical terms.[115] In practice, the Association Meeting was also a forum for consultation as much as consent,[116] and the pastor could make himself accountable at an earlier stage of any given disciplinary case and seek the advice of the association accordingly. It stands to reason that if a pastor faces difficulty or opposition when judging professions of faith for membership, particularly in the early stages of reform, the Association should also be consulted, and the Agreement accounted for this.[117] Difficult matters could even be raised at a quarterly meeting of all the local associations in Worcester.[118]

The first business of each meeting was not actually discipline, or even the wider field of “Church business”, as Baxter puts it.[119] It was time of encouragement and edification, and began with a meal followed by a sermon and a disputation on a theological topic.[120] This format was clearly aimed at harnessing differences of opinion to bring greater understanding rather than conflict, and “proved of exceeding great benefit and comfort”.[121]

Baxter had established a foundation, a forum, and a fellowship where he was encouraged, supported and accountable in the work of promoting parish reform.[122] He could not have been happier and writes,

I must confess this was the comfortablest time of all my Life, through the great delight I had in the Company of that Society of honest, sincere, laborious, humble Ministers of Christ.[123]

3.3 The President

Leadership of the Worcestershire Association naturally fell to Baxter, who defined the role with some precision in testimony to the maelstrom of contention about church government. He believed that nothing more elaborate than the nearest concord of local churches by “messengers, letters and synods” was jure divino,[124] so he judicously adopted the title president.[125] He saw no problem with holding the office for life, so long as the individual chosen remained “most able and fit”.[126]

He ascribed no more power to it than he considered necessary for good order and unity.[127] Essentially this entailed the authority to call the meetings, chair the debates, and be the focus of all communication.[128] Further to this, he grants the following:

power only to take notice of the state of things and gravely to admonish the pastors where they are negligent, and exhort the people, and provoke them to Holiness, Reformation and Unity, only by the perswasions of the Word of God, which is no more then any minister may do that hath opportunity[129]

A faithful and gracious discipline of pastors was hence made accessible, but without compromise to the integrity of the pastoral office. It was merely one pastor’s ministry to another. Though the President was in a position to receive and investigate complaints he could not, of course, censure without full consensus of the association.[130]

Baxter considered the presidency of an Association of pastors to have “greater resemblance to the ancient episcopacy than any of the rest”.[131] It is a simple observation that in the absence of a functioning episcopate Baxter did not simply abandon episcopacy, but took opportunity to re-assert it in what he believed was its authentic form. Rather than leap gleefully over the fence to graze in the pastures of some newer, greener polity he only had it in his heart to re-cultivate a true and primitive episcopacy.

Many other successful associations sprang up around the country, all following Baxter’s model. By 1657 there were associations in 14 Counties.[132] Nevertheless, his consistent priority for discipline meant that when reinstatement of diocesan bishops was at bay, Baxter opted to push for countrywide implementation of Archbishop James Usher’s model.

Baxter met with Usher in 1655,[133] and they agreed on church government in “less than half an hour’s debate”.[134] Usher’s model was simpler, but vitally, it traded on structures and terms familiar to the Church of England. Baxter himself remarks that Usher’s model was not “the same in all points that we could wish”, but it was “the best that they could hope to offer”.[135] The Restoration Settlement in 1662 nevertheless shattered that hope. Baxter was subsequently ousted from his post and went live in Acton.

4.0 Conclusion and Summary

The voluntary consociation of local churches and the association of like-minded pastors have been practised as worthy ventures in themselves in one form or another throughout history. But for Baxter it was the final piece in the puzzle. He wanted to make disciples who were devoted to each other. Thus he sought to achieve unity and growth in the local church by asserting the integrity of the covenant community. Thus he reinvigorated the ancient practice of confirmation to distinguish the privileges and responsibilities of adult church membership. Thus he rejoined the responsibility for teaching the Word with the responsibility for judging professions of faith and for discipline. And so he formed the association of ministers to provide the necessary support and accountability for the task in the face of human weakness and rebellion.

[1] Richard Baxter, “Confirmation and Restauration, the necessary means of Reformation and Reconciliation,” in The Practical Works of Richard Baxter Vol. 4: The Reformed Pastor. 1648 (Ed. J.I. Packer; London: George Virtue. 1846), 313.

[2] Which is clearly in evidence in the Baptism Service in his Reformed Liturgy. See, Richard Baxter, “The Reformed Liturgy” Pp. 922-944 in The Practical Works of Richard Baxter Vol. 1: A Christian Directory. 1673 (ed. J.I. Packer. London: George Virtue. 1846. Morgan, PA.: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 2000), 934-936.

[3] From Richard Baxter “Christian Ecclesiastics.” Pp. 547-626 in The Practical Works of Richard Baxter Vol. 1: A Christian Directory. 1673 (ed. J.I. Packer. London: George Virtue. 1846. Morgan, PA.: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 2000), 560.

[4] Baxter, Christian Ecclesiastics, 560.

[5] Baxter, Christian Ecclesiastics, 560.

[6] Baxter, Christian Ecclesiastics, 560.

[7] Baxter, Christian Ecclesiastics, 560.

[8] Baxter, Christian Ecclesiastics, 561.

[9] Baxter, Christian Ecclesiastics, 596.

[10] Baxter, Christian Ecclesiastics, 596.

[11] Timothy Bradshaw, The Olive Branch: An Evangelical Anglican Doctrine of the Church (Carlisle: Paternoster, 1992), 192.

[12] Baxter, Christian Ecclesiastics, 618.

[13] Baxter, Christian Ecclesiastics, 562.

[14] J W Black, Reformation Pastors: Richard Baxter and the Ideal of the Reformed Pastor (Carlisle: Paternoster, 2004), 143.

[15] Black, Reformation Pastors, 146.

[16] Black, Reformation Pastors, 146.

[17] Black, Reformation Pastors, 147.

[18] Baxter, Christian Ecclesiastics, 560.

[19] Baxter holds forth at length on the evils and necessary avoidance of unjustified schism in chapter 8 of Christian Ecclesiastics, 595-616.

[20] Black, Reformation Pastors, 147.

[21] Richard Baxter, “An Explication of some Passages in the Propositions,” in Christian Concord or the Agreement of the Associated Pastors and Churches of Worcestershire (London: Thomas Underhill, 1653), 12.

[22] Baxter, Confirmation and Restauration, 315.

[23] Baxter, Confirmation and Restauration, 299.

[24] Baxter, Confirmation and Restauration, 336.

[25] Baxter, Confirmation and Restauration, 318.

[26] Baxter, Confirmation and Restauration, 316-317.

[27] Baxter, Confirmation and Restauration, 309.

[28] Baxter, Confirmation and Restauration, 309.

[29] Referring, somewhat comprehensively, to an overwhelming OT heritage, he makes the connection to instances in the NT such as Peter and John in Acts 8:15-17 and Paul in Acts 19:5. See, Baxter, Confirmation and Restauration, 309-310.

[30] Baxter, Confirmation and Restauration, 306.

[31] Baxter, Confirmation and Restauration, 306.

[32] Baxter, Confirmation and Restauration, 315.

[33] Baxter, Christian Ecclesiastics, 562.

[34] Black considers that Baxter here follows Bucer, who also discerned the importance of this distinction to preserve “both the integrity of the parish system and the validity of infant baptism”. Black, From Bucer to Baxter, 663.

[35] Baxter, Confirmation and Restauration, 293.

[36] Richard Baxter, “Cases of Conscience about Matters Ecclesiastical,” in The Practical Works of Richard Baxter Vol. 1: A Christian Directory. 1673 (ed. J.I. Packer. London: George Virtue. 1846. Morgan, PA.: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 2000), Question 51, (664).

[37] Baxter, Cases of Conscience, Question 43, (660-662). Notably, his Reformed Liturgy for baptism writes large the responsibility of the parents for the infant in respect of the covenant. The pastor too has a responsibility to oversee the catechising of families, to acquaint them with the “substance of the Christian faith”. See Baxter, Reformed Liturgy, 936-937.

[38] Baxter, Cases of Conscience, Question 43, (660-662).

[39] Baxter, Cases of Conscience, Question 43, (660-662).

[40] Baxter, Confirmation and Restauration, 315.

[41] See Rule 8 of proposition XIX in, Richard Baxter, Propositions, B3.

[42] Baxter, Confirmation and Restauration.

[43] Baxter, Confirmation and Restauration, 348-349.

[44] Baxter, Confirmation and Restauration, 343.

[45] Baxter, Confirmation and Restauration, 343.

[46] Baxter, Confirmation and Restauration, 343.

[47] Baxter, Confirmation and Restauration, 343. Note that this is an almost identical statement to the turning point in Rich Lusk’s argument in Paedofaith. See Rich Lusk, Paedofaith (Monroe, Louisiana: Athanasius Press, 2005), 61.

[48] See Rule 7 of Proposition XIX, in Baxter, Propositions, B2.

[49] In his list of infant privileges are forgiveness from original sin, being adopted as sons, heirs and members of Christ, and being members of the church under special care and protection and prayers of the church. Baxter, Confirmation and Restauration, 292.

[50] Baxter, Confirmation and Restauration, 292.

[51] By disallowing adult communion without a credible profession of faith, does Baxter derogate the efficacy of baptism? It is fair to say, on the contrary, that he fully expects those born of Christian parents and thus baptised in infancy to grow into mature faith as covenant members. Nevertheless, there are those born of non-Christian parents who have nonetheless been baptised, and those church families, or just those children of church families who inexplicably fall away. To promote a covenant community amenable for discipline, especially in the context of lamentable corruption, he needed a way of addressing this.

[52] Baxter, Confirmation and Restauration, 292.

[53] Baxter, Confirmation and Restauration, 292.

[54] Deuteronomy 6:7; Ephesians 6:1-4. Needless to say that if the pastor has reason to believe that the children are not being adequately disciplined he can raise it with the parents. This is an incredibly difficult call to make, and it is easy to see that, from a pragmatic point of view, keeping children from the table makes things simple. I do not think it is right for pastors to leapfrog parents and discipline children.

[55] This issue will not be addressed here either. At present, according to the Admission of Baptised Children to Holy Communion Regulations 2006, it is broadly at the discretion of the Bishop. See, The Archibishops Council, Admission of Baptised Children to Holy Communion Regulations 2006, n.p. [Cited 16 May 2007]. Online. For a case against paedocommunion, see, R Beckwith and A Daunton Fear, The Water and the Wine, (London: Latimer Trust, 2005). For a case for it, see, G Strawbridge, ed. The Case for Covenant Communion, (Monroe, Los Angeles: Athanasius Press, 2006).

[56] Baxter, Confirmation and Restauration, 313.

[57] Baxter, Confirmation and Restauration, 313.

[58] Richard Baxter, “The Profession of the Association Church in Worcestershire and the Adjacent Parts, Agreed on in Order to Further Reformation and Exercise of Christ’s Discipline,” in Christian Concord or the Agreement of the Associated Pastors and Churches of Worcestershire (London: Thomas Underhill, 1653), C2-C3.

[59] Baxter, Profession, C4.

[60] Proposition 7 in, Baxter, Confirmation and Restauration, 299.

[61] Baxter, Confirmation and Restauration, 299.

[62] Baxter, Confirmation and Restauration, 300; see also, Objection 6 in Baxter, Confirmation and Restauration, 330-331.

[63] Baxter, Confirmation and Restauration, 299.

[64] Baxter, Confirmation and Restauration, 301.

[65] Baxter, Confirmation and Restauration, 303.

[66] Baxter, Confirmation and Restauration, 313.

[67] Baxter, Confirmation and Restauration, 337.

[68] Baxter, Confirmation and Restauration, 297-298.

[69] Guarding against the two extremes of being too loose on the one hand, and too rigid on the other, see Baxter, Confirmation and Restauration, 336, 350-352.

[70] Baxter, Confirmation and Restauration, 297-298. Note that Baxter does not provide any Reformed Liturgy for a confirmation service, as he was uncertain whether it would be continued in the Restoration. But it is mentioned as the ordinary means of transition to adult membership. See Baxter, Reformed Liturgy, 937.

[71] Baxter, Confirmation and Restauration, 332.

[72] Baxter, Confirmation and Restauration, 332.

[73] Baxter, Confirmation and Restauration, 312.

[74] He argues, “most, or too many, that we are to receive to the privileges of adult members, have violated their baptismal covenant, and proved ungodly after baptism, and that by open notorious scandals… require of these an open confession of sin, for they need an absolution, not a mere confirmation”, Baxter, Confirmation and Restauration, 296, 312.

[75] Baxter, Christian Ecclesiastics, 583-589.

[76] Baxter, Christian Ecclesiastics, 583-589.

[77] Proposition 18 in Baxter, Propositions, B2.

[78] Baxter, Confirmation and Restauration, 320.

[79] Baxter, Confirmation and Restauration, 300.

[80] Baxter, Confirmation and Restauration, 300.

[81] See Rule 8 of Proposition 19, in Baxter, Propositions, B3.

[82] Baxter, Confirmation and Restauration, 321.

[83] Baxter, Confirmation and Restauration, 321.

[84] Although he does not provide liturgy for a Confirmation Service in his Reformed Liturgy. He merely underlines the importance of a profession of faith, and that confirmation is the most appropriate means, if it is continued. See Baxter, Reformed Liturgy, 937.

[85] He relates, “it is the highest representation of the judgement to come, if anyone so offend, as that he be discharged, or banished from the communion of prayer and of the assembly, and of all the holy commerce, or fellowship.” Baxter, Confirmation and Restauration, 314.

[86] Baxter, Confirmation and Restauration, 312, 314.

[87] In relation to the propositions of the Worcestershire Association he suggests public profession is not tied to the use of any one particular sign, subscribing names, lifting the hand or speaking consent. What we require, he continues, is some expression of consent, “but how to express it, we leave to the prudence of the Pastors who are to guide their own congregations. For my part I intend to have all the Names of the all the Members in Church Book (the Adult in one Colume and the Infants in another) and that the members shall either write their own names in it, or consent that I write them, this profession being prefixed to be subscribed”. It is left open whether the profession is said individually, all together, repeated or only consented to on minister’s recital. The most important thing is that it is not rushed so as to frustrate its intent. See Baxter, Explication, 10-11.

[88] Or he writes it in for them, Baxter, Explication, 10.

[89] Baxter, Explication, 10.

[90] Baxter, Confirmation and Restauration, 319.

[91] Baxter, Confirmation and Restauration, 336: those already admitted to communion should not be called to confirmation, but all those who have neither been admitted nor made a profession should be called, whether they are young or old. What about those admitted irregularly?

  1. Acquaint them with Christianity, the church, the office of the pastor and their duty to him and one another.
  2. “Tell them… you are going to proceed according to these rules in the govt of your flock, and to exercise this discipline. Tell them plainly both what are the benefits of a church state and discipline, and what are the difficulties that unprepared men are likely to grudge at…” explain how difficult it will be for those who are unprepared not to be allowed “to rest in sin, and openly reproved and cast out… if they will not be penitent and reform.” Give opportunity for those who think they have slipped into church membership without understanding Christianity to forgo the privileges of the church till they are better prepared.
  3. Give notice that all who own their church membership, and want to have communion with the church are to give their names to the clerk or to you.
  4. Gather information, then meet with them all individually, and if any are in scandalous sin advise them to wait till they are prepared, because otherwise you must exercise discipline, which they are not ready for.
  5. All that disown their membership, may be taught as catechumens, and do not need church discipline, which will enrage them and which they are unfit to bear.
  6. All that are found to be tolerable are to be noted and called “solemnly to own their relation publicly; their names being read, that all may know with whom they are to hold communion. And if there be need, you may justly require them there openly to renew their profession and covenant with God.”
  7. There is no longer any need to call them to self-examination before sacraments.
  8. New members, if unconfirmed should be confirmed. If confirmed in another church, they should only renew their profession, since they have already been admitted into the universal church, and need only be admitted to communion of particular church.

[92] Baxter, Explication, 14, 27.

[93] Baxter, Reformed Pastor, 169.

[94] Baxter, Reformed Pastor, 170.

[95] Richard Baxter, A Treatise of Episcopacy; confuting by Scripture, Reason, and the Churches Testimony, that sort of Diocesan Churches, Prelacy, and Government, Which casteth out The Primitive Church-Species, (London: Nevil Simmons, 1681), 6.

[96] Baxter, Treatise of Episcopacy, 35.

[97] Baxter, Treatise of Episcopacy, 148.

[98] Baxter, Treatise of Episcopacy, 148.

[99] Baxter, Treatise of Episcopacy, 39, 151.

[100] As described in Baxter, Treatise of Episcopacy, 6-10. Further developments, and the current situation will be discussed in section 3.4, below.

[101] Despite the words of Canon B16 and the charge to Diocesan Bishops to “correct and punish all such as be unquiet, disobedient or criminous, in his diocese”. See, The Archbishop’s Council, The Canons of The Church of England, 6th Edition, incorporating first supplement (London: Church House Publishing, 2000), 104. A more detailed consideration of the possibilities follows in Section 3.4, below.

[102] Richard Baxter, Five Disputations of Church Government, and Worship (London: Nevil Simmons, 1659), Preface to the Second Disputation.

[103] Baxter, Treatise of Episcopacy, 41.

[104] W Lamont, Puritanism and Historical Controversy (London: UCL Press, 1996), 48.

[105] Richard Baxter, Reliquiae Baxterianae (ed. Mathew Sylvester; London: T Parkhurst, J Robinson, J Lawrence and J Dunton, 1696), Part II, 139-146, especially §10, (141) and §16, (144).

[106] Baxter, Reliquiae Baxterianae, II §24, (146).

[107] Baxter, Reliquiae Baxterianae, II §28, (148).

[108] Baxter, Reliquiae Baxterianae, II §28, (148).

[109] J William Black, Reformation Pastors (Carlisle: Paternoster, 2004), 149-153

[110] Black, Reformation Pastors, 149

[111] These articles were published together with a supporting “Explication” under the title, Christian Concord or the Agreement of the Associated Pastors and Churches of Worcestershire. (London: Thomas Underhill, 1653)

[112] Baxter, Reliquiae Baxterianae, II §28, (148).

[113] Baxter, Reliquiae Baxterianae, II §31, (149-150).

[114] Baxter, Reliquiae Baxterianae, II §31, (150).

[115] Baxter, Explication, 95-106; Baxter, Cases of Conscience, Question 56, (666-668).

[116] Baxter, Reliquiae Baxterianae, II §31, 149.

[117] Christian Concord or the Agreement of the Associated Pastors and Churches of Worcestershire. (London: Thomas Underhill, 1653), Prop. XIX, Rule 11, (B3).

[118] Baxter, Reliquiae Baxterianae, II §31, (150).

[119] Baxter, Reliquiae Baxterianae, II §32, (150).

[120] Baxter, Reliquiae Baxterianae, II §32, (150).

[121] Baxter, Reliquiae Baxterianae, II §32, (150).

[122] See Black, Reformation Pastors, 157

[123] Baxter, Reliquiae Baxterianae, II §32, (150).

[124] Baxter, Cases of Conscience, Question 56, (666-668). Baxter, Treatise of Episcopacy, 98.

[125] Baxter, Five Disputations, 299.

[126] Baxter, Five Disputations, 299.

[127] Baxter, Five Disputations, 298.

[128] He also included a power to ordain in mitigating circumstances, and with the full approval of the Association. See Baxter, Five Disputations, 301-302.

[129] Baxter, Five Disputations, 334-335.

[130] Baxter, Christian Concord, Prop. I, A3, and Prop XX, Rule 9, (B4); See also, Baxter, Explication, 1-2, 109-110.

[131] Baxter, Treatise of Episcopacy, 291. This was in context with a background of rhetoric against Diocesan Prelacy in which he categorised twelve different kinds of bishop, with varying levels of approval (Baxter, Five Disputations, 14-21). The twelve kinds are as follows (with Baxter’s judgement):

  1. The overseer or ruler of the people of one particular church, and not of church rulers, “that ruleth the flock and not the shepherds” (approved)
  2. Joint rulers with others of a particular church. (approved)
  3. President in such eldership, who withal take a negative voice in the govt, so that nothing shall be done without them in such affairs’ (admissible but not desirable)
  4. Sole Pastor of particular church with many curates under him, who only teach and otherwise officiate in obedience to him. (problematic unless curates are regarded as true governors of flock)
  5. Fixed presidents of a Classis of the Pastors of many Particular Churches… in use only while the Classis sitteth, and have only a power of moderating and ordering things… but no Negative voice, which maketh a Power equal with all the rest.’ (‘easily consent to these for order and peace’)
  6. Heads of such Classes, having a negative voice, so that the rest can do nothing without them (not agreeable, but acceptable for the peace of the church)
  7. Presidents of Provinces of Dioceses containing many Classes, which have only a Moderating power…’ etc. (orderly and convenient)
  8. Bishops of cities with all rural parts near it, who assume power of governing the diocese to themselves alone without the Presbyters of the particular churches (intolerable and destructive)
  9. City Bishops who don’t take rule of the people, but only of the Pastors. (“…consequently taking to himself the sole or chief Power of Ordination, but leaving Censures and Absolution to them, except in the case of Appeal to himself; I must say that this sort of Episcopacy is very ancient, and hath been for many ages of very common reception… but I must also say that I can see as yet no Divine institution of such a Bp taken for a fixed limited officer… yet I think it incomparably more tolerable than the eighth sort…”)
  10. Archbishops, Metropolitans. Primates and Patriarchs – “who assume the power of governing all below them… who assume no governing power over other bishops…” etc. (against them in proportion to their jurisdiction)
  11. Fixed general Pastors – itinerant, such as the Apostles were (satisfied that the Apostles could have such successors)
  12. The one who claims power of governing the whole universal church as its head. “the Judas that goes under the name of St Peter’s Successor…”

[132] Wood, Church Unity, 103.

[133] Wood, Church Unity, 106.

[134] G F Nuttall, Richard Baxter (London: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1965), 86.

[135] Baxter, Reliquiae Baxterianae, II §99, (241).