The Episcopal Doctrine of Salvation

Perhaps some people imagine that a mainline denomination like The Episcopal Church posits that a person is "saved" through one's baptism as an infant. Though the Anglican tradition is steeped in the historic catholic (not Roman Catholic but catholic or universal) theology of the early to medieval Church fathers, the tradition is also steeped in the Reformed tradition, a tradition that insists that the salvation of God, from the very wrath of God, is experienced by an individual by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ. No one is "saved" by baptism.

But what do we mean by "saved"? The concept of salvation is, like the atonement, multi-faceted: the doctrine of salvation incorporates various ideas and realities rendering the term impossible to summarize simply or briefly. From what does one need saving? We can answer that by stating: we need saving from our sins and from our self-destructive natures. A more proper question asks: From Whom does one need saving? The apostle John writes: "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but must endure God's wrath." (Jn 3:36) To what does God's "wrath" refer while considering God's love?

God hates sin, wickedness, evil: He despises the effects of sin, which include taint, ruination and destruction. Sin is not merely an affront to the holiness, righteousness and justice of God, but sin destroys the good creation of God. Even for the believer, sin, as explained by Samuel Wells, arises from "ignorance, immaturity, foolishness, lack of insight, clumsiness, hastiness, laziness, and a host of shortcomings that could eventually be ameliorated through thoughtfulness, [spiritual] formation, [Christian] education, wisdom [gleaned from the scriptures], and patience [developed by the Holy Spirit]."1 Sin must be dealt a crushing blow; but we are not permitted to think of sin in the abstract: sin does not exist as an entity.

Sin is an act, either of commission or omission, that begins in the mind or the heart. All of our actions derive from our feelings that are derived from our mind or heart. How we think affects how we feel and that effects how we behave. Sin, then, is a problem of the mind or heart -- a disposition that desires to disobey rather than obey the good commands of God's law. The love of God intersects with His hatred of sin -- our disposition to disobey His good law -- by providing a means of correcting that disposition and, one day, eradicating that perpetual tendency altogether. This means of correction is referred to as salvation.

Salvation, then, is the "axis of the Christian faith [in] how God enters the disorder of human life in such a way that not only humanity but also the whole creation is redeemed."2 All of humanity could potentially be redeemed and saved (cf. Ezek. 18:36; 33:11; John 1:29; 1 Tim. 2:4, 6; 2 Pet. 3:9; 1 John 2:2) -- God is not standing in the way of the salvation of anyone -- as all of creation will one day be redeemed and saved (Rom. 8:19-21). Wells notes that this redemption
has several aspects: the nature of humanity, and the character of its flaws; the way in which Christ's life, death, and resurrection transforms human potential and reality; how this transformation is received; the nature of human flourishing in the power of the Spirit; humankind's ultimate destiny and the question of whether and to what extent [the fullest extent] Jesus of Nazareth is the single, central, or indispensable part of this process.3
So, in the Garden, God had established a perfect social order for the first couple to experience. They enjoyed free will, an unsullied or good relationship with their Creator, and enjoyed the presence and relationship with each other. Once they chose to disobey God's one and only command, regarding eating the fruit from a particular tree He commanded they not eat, all relationships turned sour: the man and the woman's relationship to God; the man and woman's relationship to each other; and the man and the woman's relationship to Creation. If God's social order is to be redeemed then He would have to not only take the initiative in mending the wrongs that we had done but also enable us toward trusting in the provision that He rendered in and through the vicarious and atoning work of Jesus Christ.

Salvation is the healing of the whole being: body, mind, and spirit. God cares about every component of our reality -- physical and metaphysical. How does Jesus save us? Samuel Wells lists five ways of perceiving salvation from an Episcopal perspective: 1) Jesus reverses what Adam and Eve did in the Garden; 2) Jesus' perfect obedience to the Father is imputed to our account, as though we too perfectly obeyed the Father, even though we have not; 3) Jesus suffered for us and bought us back, or ransomed us to God, alleviating our guilt; 4) Jesus suffered in our place and as our substitute for all the sins we would commit; 5) Jesus was raised victoriously from the dead so that we could, by grace, be justified in the view of God. So, then, why the salvific language regarding the baptism liturgy?

When an infant of a believer is baptized into the Church, and into the Faith, he or she is granted all the promises of God in which he or she will be raised by their parents and the covenant members of that local parish. Salvation is not necessarily granted to the individual, as though the spirit is then regenerated, but is promised to the little one by the grace of God and experienced in time when the individual professes faith in Jesus Christ. Baptism, after all, is the sign of the covenant promises of God under the New Covenant just as Circumcision was the sign of the covenant promises of God under the Old Covenant. We name the salvific language of the Prayer Book regarding baptism as liturgical language -- language that incorporates the promises of God that are yet to be applied by grace through faith.

Salvation is also directly tied to the doctrine of regeneration -- the "making alive" of one's spirit that was deadened in relationship to God due to the Fall. (cf. Eph. 2:1, 2; Titus 3:5) Jesus states emphatically that, unless one is regenerated (born again, born from above), such a one will never see or experience the kingdom of God (John 3:3, 5). This awakening of the spirit occurs when (or during or upon the very moment when) one trusts in Christ for salvation by the gracious inner activity of the Holy Spirit (John 1:12, 13; 3:3, 5, 8; 7:39; 16:8-11; Col. 2:13). Such a one is re-created on the inside. Suddenly, this regenerate believer desires to experience the spiritual realities of God in Christ, and seeks to live one's life according to the principles set forth by God's Spirit in the Word of God. By a continued faith in Christ, sustained by the ministry of the Holy Spirit, this person has experienced, is experiencing, and will experience the salvation of God in Christ by the Spirit.


1 Samuel Wells, What Episcopalians Believe: An Introduction (New York: Morehouse Publishing, 2011), 22.

2 Ibid., 20.

3 Ibid.


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My name is William Birch and I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition but converted, if you will, to Anglicanism in 2012. I am gay, affirming, and take very seriously matters of social justice, religion and politics in the church and the state.