The following are statements from the Catechism found in the Book of Common Prayer, which was used for centuries by Anglicans around the world.
Catechist. What do you mean by the word Sacrament?
Answer. I mean an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace, given to us by Christ himself, as a means whereby we receive this grace, and a pledge to assure us thereof.
Catechist. What is the inward and spiritual grace in Baptism?
Answer. A death unto sin and a new birth unto righteousness; for being by nature born into man’s sinful state, we are hereby made the children of grace by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Catechist, What is required of persons to be baptized?
Answer. Repentance; whereby they forsake sin, which separates them from God; and faith; whereby they steadfastly believe the promises of God made to them in that Sacrament.
Catechist. Why then are infants baptized?
Answer. Infants are baptized so that, being received into Christ’s Church, they may grow in grace and be trained in the household of faith.
There is much truth in these words written by Thomas Cranmer more than 500 years ago. And I do believe that many Anglicans down through the centuries did repent and were born again.
I also believe that a great many were not – including myself. And I do not believe that those who experienced a new birth did so as a result of the outward sign of baptism. There is much in Anglicanism that is good and beneficial, I remember especially the emphasis on reading the Scriptures in every service. But the teaching that the sacraments are a means of grace has let many people down.
I agree fully that the sacraments are an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. But it is confusion to teach that these inward and spiritual graces are received by means of the sacraments. I was baptized, confirmed, became an altar boy, took communion often, and never experienced the inward and spiritual graces that the catechism promised.
I abandoned the Anglican Church and the whole idea of there being any meaning in church and Christianity. Some years later, not having found satisfactory answers to the questions of life elsewhere, I began again to read the Bible. Finally, the Holy Spirit let me see my sinfulness; I repented and was born again.
A few years later I was baptized and became a member of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite, which teaches that the inward and spiritual grace is the qualification for baptism. Likewise, spiritual unity in a congregation is the qualification for communion. Outward signs can produce neither spiritual life nor spiritual unity.
This is the historic position of the Anabaptists. The inward and spiritual graces are essential to being a Christian and must precede the outward and visible signs.