Infant Baptism

The Presbyterian Church, a part of the body of Christ, recognizes two Sacraments: Baptism and the Lord's Supper. Baptism is a sign and seal of God's incorporation of believers into the body of Christ and of their inclusion in God's grace and covenant with the church. God is at work during the observance of the Sacrament and, through the Holy Spirit, binds Christians in covenant to him.

Presbyterian doctrine holds that children of believers are also included in God's covenant community just as the children of Old Testament Israel were. Consequently, they are eligible to receive the sign and seal of baptism. The service of infant baptism witnesses to the truth that God's love claims people even before they are able to respond in faith. Thus, the Sacrament of baptism is a testimony to God's promises in the Gospel. These promises from God hold irrespective of the age of the recipient. They are made to us and our children. The cleansing and forgiveness symbolized in baptism is the result of work accomplished by God in the cross and resurrection prior to anything done by those who benefit from it. Indeed, one aspect of the Sacrament of infant baptism is our claim of God's promises to carry out his divine will for the child through the work of the Holy Spirit.

Infant baptism is not a public naming ceremony, or christening, as the term has recently come to mean to many persons. Also, the baptism of an infant does not guarantee the ultimate salvation of the child. The child must eventually come to a personal decision of faith in our risen Lord and Savior, a prerequisite for salvation, that no one else can make for the child. But we, the parents, the pastor and the congregation should be instruments of the Holy Spirit in nurturing the child toward a profession of faith in Jesus Christ. Consequently, in the Presbyterian Church the service of infant baptism includes a public expression of Christian commitment on the part of the parents and the congregation. The parents, or at least one of the parents, must profess their faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior and declare their intention to provide for Christian nurture of their child. Specifically, the parents publicly respond to the following three questions asked by the pastor as part of the infant baptism service:

Q. Who is your Lord and Savior?

A. Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior.

Q. Do you trust in him?

A. I do.

Q. Do you intend your child to be his disciple, to obey his word and to show his love?

A. I do.

The third vow is difficult to fulfill. But, parents must realize that they are a vital part of the process. Unless the child is brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, then the probability of the child ever confirming the vows taken on the child's behalf will be greatly reduced. Through teaching, prayer and by examples of Godliness and piety in the home, Christian parents have a profound impact on the development of faith in the child. It is essential that parents be active participants in the life of the church. The child learns by observing the parents and the child's loyalty to the church will be greatly influenced by the loyalty of the parents. The child should be brought to church on a regular basis in order to receive the Christian nurturing of the fellowship of believers. Although the child is born into the covenant, it is the responsibility of the parents to see that the child remains there and grows there. The Session of Faith Church feels strongly that it is the parents who are primarily responsible for the Christian nurture of the child. Consequently, requests for infant baptism at Faith Church can be initiated only by the parents or by the legal guardians of a child.

But, the parents are not alone in this endeavor. The congregation can and does provide leadership and programs to help the parents in shouldering this task. It is important to understand this vital role that the congregation plays in the Christian nurture of the child. During the service of infant baptism the congregation professes its faith in Jesus Christ by saying the Apostle's Creed and declares its intention to help provide for the Christian nurture of the baptized child. The congregation starts the process by publicly making the following vow:

Q. Our Lord Jesus Christ ordered us to teach those who are baptized. Do you, the people of the church, promise to tell this child the good news of the gospel, to help him/her know all that Christ commands, and, by your fellowship, to strengthen his/her family ties with the household of God?

A. We do.

In making this vow, the congregation reaffirms its understanding that the child is already a part of the covenant family of the church and needs to be nurtured in the Christian faith to the end that the child will one day publicly proclaim Jesus Christ as his, or her, Lord and Savior. The people at Faith Church have, over the years, taken very seriously this vow they make at each infant baptism. They tell the child about Jesus Christ and God's love and mercy as revealed in scriptures in several ways such as Sunday School, Daily Vacation Bible School, Children's Choir, Youth Group and Confirmation Class. It is also done informally simply through association by the child with committed Christians at worship and other church functions. Consequently, it is extremely important that the parent(s) be active members of Faith Church at the time the child is baptized. If the child is not brought to church on a regular basis, then the congregation can not keep its vows to help in the Christian nurture of the child.

The covenant relationship between the parents, the congregation, the pastor, the child and God that is ratified at the baptism service is so important that the Session of Faith Church encourages parents to have their children baptized at their home church. However, the Presbyterian Church does allow exceptions to this general policy, provided that the parents are active members of another congregation, and that the two Sessions involved are in communication about the matter. But, the Session feels that this exception can be made only under very unusual circumstances. For, although the child is being baptized into the universal church, vows taken at Faith Church by proxy for another church should not be made unless reasonable assurance exists that the child already is part of another congregation which is ready to carry out the vows taken on their behalf by Faith Church.

The Session has appointed some Elders to be available to meet with parents concerning the Session's policies and responsibilities on infant baptism and to make recommendations to the Session.


REFERENCES

  • The Westminster Confession ofFaith
  • The Book of Order
  • The Worshipbook
  • The Baptism of a Child, Westminster Press
  • Children of Promise, G. W. Bromiley; Win. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
  • Baptism: Decision and Growth, ed. David Willis; Office of the General Assembly
  • Baptism: Its Purpose, Practice and Power, Michael Green; Intervarsity Press