ACR Journal

The Sign of the Cross in Baptism

12. The minister makes a sign of the cross on each candidate’s forehead and says

I sign you with the sign of the cross to show that you are to be true to Christ crucified and that you are not to be ashamed to confess your faith in him.

Fight bravely under his banner against sin, the world and the devil, and continue as Christ’s faithful soldier and servant to your life’s end.[1]

Why do Sydney Anglicans sign the forehead of children with the sign of the cross at their baptism? Similar questions have been asked since the time of the English Reformation. Discussion of this aspect of the service played a part in Archbishop Cranmer’s liturgical development from the 1549 to the 1552 Book of Common Prayer. Half a century later, when King James I came to the throne of England and Scotland in 1603, the more progressive puritans wanted to have it removed from the services (they also rejected wedding rings, confirmation, and the surplice). However, mainstream puritans and Anglicans prevailed, simply because a practice that was not found explicitly in Scripture did not imply the error of the practice. What would be later called the ‘Regulative Principle of Worship’ was, and is, not the practice of Anglicans.

Thus, we use the sign of the cross in the baptism of children according to church order and for the edification of the congregation.[2] In so doing, we declare to the congregation that this child is a member of Christ’s army, who needs to be unashamed of confessing Christ, and who needs to fight bravely under Christ’s mighty banner against sin, the world, and the devil until their life’s end. With such a weighty responsibility, we then rightly turn to prayer and ask God to help the child, and its parents and godparents to disciple their children in all wisdom and godliness.

The below articles (‘The Sign of the Cross in Baptism’ and ‘Tokens’) were written as a single piece by Broughton Knox in 1992. They were produced to assist the Church of England in South Africa (CESA, now known as REACH-SA) who were in the process of liturgical revision and some had asked about the reason for the practice of signing with the sign of the cross. These pieces represent some of Broughton Knox’s mature sacramental and ecclesiological thoughts. For some who consider Knox to be against the practice of water baptism, or against any connection between baptism and the church, these short thoughts may present some stimulation. -Ed.

The Sign of the Cross in Baptism

  1. A sign is a visible word, if the meaning of the sign is known. The meaning of the sign of the cross in baptism is explained concurrently with the action in B.C.P. so making clear to all the members of the congregation that this visible word vividly expresses the prayers already offered in the service.
  2. Canon 30 of the Canons of 1604 explains the innocuousness of the sign of the cross in baptism and why it is included in the service of baptism. This canon is a canon of the CESA. The canon states that parents make clear that they “dedicate their children by this badge to Christ’s service.” The words which accompany the sign in the B.C.P. also make this clear. The Canon goes on to state that the Reformers of Edward VI’s reign approved of this use of the sign of the cross in the baptismal service, many of whom were martyred or went into exile during Mary I’s reign. It also states that the child has been admitted into Christ’s church “as a perfect member” before the signing with the sign of the cross so that this adds nothing to the baptism. “The sign of the cross in baptism is no part of the substance of the sacrament.”
  3. “The church has power to decree … ceremonies … not … contrary to God’s word written.” Article 20 of the 39 Articles.
  4. “The 39 articles and the B.C.P. control the doctrine of CESA according to para- graph” one of the Declaration of the constitution of CESA. In asmuchas the cross in baptism with the words that accompany it explaining it, is part of the doctrine of the B.C.P., it is part of the fundamental Declaration of the CESA.
  5. At their ordination, clergy of CESA promise to use the B.C.P. except as allowed by lawful authority. Consequently they ought not to have any scruples about the baptismal service in B.C.P.
  6. The sign of the cross is required to be given to the baptised child in the first form of Public Baptism of children in “Worship ‘85” of the Church of England in South Africa on Page 58.


A word is a token of your thoughts.

Baptism is a token of your repentance towards God and your faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ.

It is not repentance and faith but is a token of it. It is no substitute for repentance or faith and it is only a token of it if it is there.

The giving of a ring in marriage is a token of the vows the husband has made to his wife. It is not these vows but the token of them.

The cross in baptism is a token that child is a member of Christ’s flock, as the minister has just announced. That this is the meaning of the sign is made clear by the words that accompany the sign. It is not the enrolling in Christ’s army but a token that this has taken place and that the child will be a faithful member.

The tracing of a fish on the forehead would be an equivalent token. Would this be objectionable? The tracing of the cross is a very ancient token.[3]

[1] Common Prayer: Resources for Gospel-Shaped Gatherings (Sydney: Anglican Press Australia, 2012), 95.

[2] For a wider discussion of infant baptism in Anglicanism, see Rev. Peter Blair, https://www.

[3] ‘Papers of D.B. Knox’, Donald Robinson Library, Moore Theological College.