What is Baptism?
Baptism is a sacrament. The Westminster Confession of Faith defines sacrament as a “holy ordinance instituted by Christ, wherein, by sensible signs, Christ and the benefits of the new covenant are represented, sealed, and applied to believers.” Presbyterians recognize two sacraments – Baptism and the Lord’s Supper (also called Communion or the Eucharist).
Both sacraments are signs of God’s initiative, not ours. In them God in Christ takes the first step toward us. The sacraments are signs of God’s reaching out to us in the past and of God’s ongoing concern for us now. The most important aspect of Baptism is not what we do, but what God does. The sacraments are the tangible, concrete “seals” of the promises of forgiveness, freedom, and new life offered in the gospel. In Baptism we are reminded especially of God’s promise: “I will be your God and you shall be my people.”
Baptism is a beginning. It follows a period of preparation, in which a candidate (or his/her parents) learn about the sacrament, the baptismal questions, and the promises of God. Baptism is the start of a life of Christian nurture and service, lived in the context of community. In the Presbyterian tradition, both believers and their children may be baptized, because people of all ages are included in God’s covenant of love. As the PC(USA) Directory of Worship reminds us, “the baptism of our young children witnesses to the truth that God claims people in love even before they are able to respond in faith.”
When a person is baptized, the congregation makes a promise, too: “to guide and nurture the newly baptized by word and deed, with love and prayer.” When an adult or older child is baptized upon profession of faith, he or she automatically becomes a full member of the congregation. When a young child is baptized, he or she remains a “baptized member” of the congregation, until he or she is old enough to make a profession of faith, normally during confirmation. Because baptism involves a promise on the part of the congregation to guide and care for the newly baptized, when young children are presented for baptism their parents must be active members of this or another congregation.
To discuss your or your child’s baptism, please call the church office, 850-222-4504.