The Sacrament of Baptism is a joyous event in which we celebrate God’s love and grace. This page is written to provide you with some answers about this sacred event. It is designed especially for those who desire the sacrament for themselves or their children, who might have the following questions:
WHAT IS A SACRAMENT?
In Christianity, a sacrament is an action that reveals God’s grace and enables us to recognize the reality of God’s presence and activity in our midst. While God’s word is written in the Bible and proclaimed in sermons, God’s word is also experienced in the sacraments. Sacraments employ our senses—seeing, touching, feeling, hearing, tasting—uniting our physical world with our spiritual world.
One wonderful way of describing a sacrament is to say that it is “a visible sign of an invisible grace.” The Presbyterian Church recognizes and celebrates two sacraments: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, which is sometimes called “Holy Communion” or “The Eucharist.”
THE SACRAMENT OF BAPTISM
In Baptism we recognize and accept God’s grace that already exists in a person’s life. The Book of Order, a part of the Constitution of The Presbyterian Church (USA), states: “Baptism is the sign and seal of incorporation into Jesus Christ” (Book of Order, W-2.3001). Baptism allows us to see that person as God’s child, to know the gift of God’s grace, and to celebrate God’s presence in human life, cleansed of sin, and given a new life in Jesus Christ.
Baptism signifies beginning a new life in Christ, symbolically dying and rising again as Jesus did. The Bible declares: “We were buried with him [Jesus] by Baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4). The Book of Order explains: “In Baptism we participate in Jesus’ death and resurrection. In Baptism we die to what separates us from God and are raised to newness of life in Christ. Baptism points us back to the grace of God expressed in Jesus Christ, who died for us and who was raised for us. Baptism points us forward to that same Christ who will fulfill God’s purpose in God’s promised future” (W- 2.3002).
In the Sacrament of Baptism, a person is also welcomed into the family of faith. The Bible proclaims, “In love God predestined us for adoption…through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will” (Ephesians 1:5). The person now belongs to a community of brothers and sisters around the world, a family composed of all people who profess faith in Jesus Christ as Lord. “This body of Christ is one, and Baptism is the bond of unity in Christ. As they are united with Christ through faith, Baptism unites the people of God with each other and with the church of every time and place. Barriers of race, gender, status, and age are to be transcended. Barriers of nationality, history, and practice are to be overcome” (W-2.3005).
We also remember that “Baptism gives the church identity and commissions the church for ministry to the world” (W-2.3006). Jesus was baptized just before he began his earthly ministry of proclaiming God’s kingdom in word and deed. Entering the family of God also entails entering the “family business” of becoming and making disciples of Jesus Christ (see Matthew 28:19-20).
Presbyterians believe that the Sacrament of Baptism may be received only once: “There is one body and one Spirit…one Lord, one faith, one Baptism” (Ephesians 4:4-5). For this reason, Presbyterians recognize as fully valid the Baptism of all Christian denominations. While we believe that Baptism is received only once, “the efficacy of Baptism is not tied to the moment it is administered, for Baptism signifies the beginning of life in Christ, not its completion. God’s grace works steadily, calling to repentance and newness of life” (W- 2.3007).
WHO MAY BE BAPTIZED?
Presbyterians baptize adults, children and infants. There is no age requirement, since “The promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (Acts 2:39). The Baptism of children and infants “witnesses to the truth that God’s love claims people before they are able to respond in faith” (W2.3008b). The Presbyterian Book of Confessions states, “Since both redemption from sin through the blood of Christ and the gift of faith from the Holy Spirit are promised to these children no less than their parents, infants are also by baptism, as a sign of the covenant, to be incorporated into the Christ church” (Heidelberg Catechism Q. 74). For this reason, infant baptism is the standard in Presbyterian churches.
As to adult Baptism, the only requirement is to trust in Jesus Christ as one’s Savior and Lord. Taking Jesus as “Savior” means that we recognize that we are sinners in need of saving, and we trust that our sins are forgiven because of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Taking Jesus as “Lord” (or “master”) means we recognize Jesus as the rightful King of the cosmos and of our lives, so we pledge to follow his ways, trusting his ways lead to abundant life now and eternal life forever. To be baptized, you are not required to pass a theology test or to live a perfect life. You simply must recognize your need for God’s grace, and trust in Jesus Christ.
When the sacrament of Baptism is celebrated, vows and promises are made by adults on their own behalf or by parents/guardians on behalf of infants and children. These vows and commitments are clearly stated in The Book of Order. Those desiring Baptism must:
profess their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior,
renounce evil and affirm their reliance on God’s grace,
declare their intention to participate actively and responsibly in the worship and mission of Christ’s church,
and, in the case of infant or child Baptism, pledge to provide for the Christian nurture of their child. (W-3.3603)
WHY IS WATER USED IN BAPTISM?
Water is necessary for life. Water also cleanses and refreshes the physical body. Presbyterians affirm that the water of Baptism is a sign of God’s cleansing power, symbolically washing away the sin of the past and providing for a new and fresh beginning. We believe that human beings are born with the propensity to sin. The cleansing that takes place in Baptism symbolizes and affirms our secure relationship with God, and it provides the strength we will need to seek repentance and reaffirm our relationship with God. The symbolic waters of Baptism break the chains which otherwise would enslave us to sin and leave us free to live lives in which God’s mercy, forgiveness, and the promise of renewal are always available.
MUST I BE A MEMBER TO HAVE MY CHILD BAPTIZED?
Baptism is the sign of entry into God’s family. This is why one of the Baptismal vows is to participate in Christ’s family, the Church. One should normally be baptized in the local church in which one expects to live out his or her Baptismal vows. In infant or child Baptism, at least one parent or guardian must normally be an active member of this congregation. Exceptions to this rule may be made in specific circumstances; however, at least one parent or guardian must be an active member of a Christian church. (W- 2.3014). These requirements are not put in place to make it difficult to baptize a child, but rather to maintain the integrity of the sacrament and ensure the fulfillment of the vows taken by the parents and the church.
MUST I HAVE MY CHILD BAPTIZED?
Having your children baptized is not a requirement of membership. However, all members are encouraged to have children baptized “without undue delay, but without undue haste” (Book of Order W-2.3008), since God’s grace is available to all. We do respect the wishes of parents who prefer not to have their children baptized until they are able to remember the Sacrament, but we clearly teach that baptism signifies God’s welcome into the covenant people and not merely an individual’s choice.
WHEN MAY BAPTISM OCCUR?
Baptism is celebrated during the corporate worship service. At First Presbyterian Church, Baptisms normally occur on the second Sunday of the month, but other arrangements can be made.
Corporate worship is the center of our Christian lives where worshippers join voices, thoughts, and expressions in a unison act of praise to God. Moreover, because the Sacrament of Baptism is an act of the whole community of faith, the congregation also makes promises at the time of Baptism on behalf of that particular congregation, as well as the Church Universal. The church family does this by:
professing its faith,
voicing support for the baptized,
expressing its willingness to take responsibility to nurture the one being baptized.
During the celebration of the Sacrament of Baptism, all who are present are invited to remember their own Baptismal vows and to renew their own faith.
HOW DOES ONE PREPARE FOR BAPTISM?
For parents/guardians. The first step is to be an active member of the congregation, and actively growing in your Christian faith. You cannot pass on what you do not possess! When you discern that it is time for your child(ren) to be baptized, complete the form, “Request for the Celebration of the Sacrament of Baptism” included with this booklet. Return the form to the church office. Your request is then forwarded to the Session (our ruling body) which has the responsibility of approving all Baptisms. The minister will work with you to choose a convenient date and service when no other special congregational activities are scheduled, often the second Sunday of the month. Sometimes there may be more than one Baptism celebrated at the same service.
After the Baptism is approved by the Session, the officiating minister will meet with the family. Home visits can be arranged, or you may attend a Baptismal preparation class. During that meeting, you will have an opportunity to discuss any other questions about Baptism which you might have.
For adults desiring to be baptized. First, speak with a minister who will talk with you more about the significance of being baptized. You are also urged to participate in the worship life of the church and then attend a newcomers’ class. This class is an opportunity for all who are considering uniting with our church to learn more about what it means not only to be a member of First Presbyterian Church, but a Christian in today’s world. After this brief period of instruction, you will meet with the Session (our ruling elders) to share your faith journey with them and profess your faith. The Session will authorize your Baptism, and you will then schedule the date of your Baptism with the minister.
ON THE DAY OF THE BAPTISM
The celebration of the Sacrament of Baptism normally takes place after the sermon, though some infants are baptized before the sermon. During the celebration of the sacrament you (and other members of your immediate family, if you so desire) will be invited to join the minister and an elder around the Baptismal font. You will be asked to respond to the vows, and the minister will offer a prayer. An adult being baptized may be asked to kneel, if able. The minister normally holds the child being baptized. The Christian names (given names, not the surname) will be pronounced. The minister will take water from the font and place it on the head of the one being baptized, using the words of the ancient Triune formula, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:20). Another prayer is offered, and the newly baptized is introduced to the church as a member of the family of faith.
A word about pictures: While Baptism is an event to be remembered, it is celebrated during a worship service. Taking pictures during the service is distracting to many and therefore taking pictures during the service is not permitted. The minister who celebrates the sacrament will be happy to join you and your family at the Baptismal font after the service to take pictures. You are permitted to photograph or videotape the service from behind the last row of pews. Please ask the officiating minister for guidelines concerning this possibility.
Baptism marks the beginning of one’s spiritual journey, not its end. Parents bear a significant responsibility to fulfill the vows they take to provide for the Christian nurture of a baptized child. This includes teaching about God’s love and the biblical story, praying with and for the child, and actively participating in the life of the church.
First Presbyterian Church seeks to help individuals live out the baptismal vows with a wide range of educational, fellowship, and service opportunities to grow our Christian journey. (Of course, all are welcome, baptized or not.) Baptized children are welcome to participate in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper if their parents believe that they have appropriate understanding (given their age) and if the child appreciates that this is a sacred experience in the life of the church. The church offers Communion Preparation classes from time to time; ask the Director of Christian Education. Youth in eighth grade or older are invited to participate in Confirmation Class, to understand the content of the baptismal vows, to articulate their own faith, and to become full active members of the church.