WEEKLY COMMENTARY: What Is The Purpose Of Baptism?

September 16, 2019

      From time to time we baptize a person at one of our Central Church Sunday worship services.  Usually, the “person” is an infant, often too young even to be speaking.  For the occasion, the whole family turns out, and folks come from out of town to witness and support this event called “Baptism”.

      At CPC’s last Baptism ceremony, I realized that  although I was familiar with the Baptism ritual, the purpose was not so clear to me.  Later, I did a little research on the “purpose” question.  Here’s what I learned –

          – For Presbyterians, Baptism is chronologically and logically the first of the two Presbyterian Sacraments, and is preparation for the other Sacrament (The Lord’s Supper, or Communion).

          – The act of baptizing always includes causing water to flow upon the body of the baptized person while the person who administers it states that it is being done in obedience to divine command and in the name of each of the persons of the Trinity.

          – Basically, the stains of Original Sin are symbolically being washed away.  The person receiving the ritual, usually being an infant, is thus “cleansed” of sin, permitting that person to be united with the “Body of Christ,” – that worldwide fellowship of Jesus’ followers.

          – Baptism in Scripture always has the prerequisite of repentance and faith, which are impossible for an infant.  Infants cannot outwardly express faith.  But, in effect the Baptism ritual makes a baptized person fit to receive the further aids of God’s Grace, later in his or her life.

          -Baptism is also a commitment by the infant’s adult family and friends to cause a growing faith in Jesus, as the baptized infant matures into adulthood.

      The Service of Baptism is usually also a “Christening,” where the child receives for the first time his or her Christian name, identifying the child as a unique individual in the family, the society of the church and in the world.

      Baptism and Communion (the only two Sacraments practiced by Presbyterians) are connected practices, not independent acts.  Baptism begins a lifelong journey of discipleship, and Communion sustains us on that journey.  The role and purpose of the two Sacraments are grounded in the belief that these Sacraments regularly connect us to Christ through the presence in us of the Holy Spirit.  With the Spirit’s blessing in the Baptism waters, we seek to develop an emergent new identity for the child as a follower of Jesus Christ.

        Family are gathered around the Baptism Font, and the Congregation is sitting in the pews.  Everybody makes promises that they will help the new baby learn about Jesus  However, Baptism is but the beginning of a lifelong process of formation in the faith.  God loved this baby even before the baby was baptized.  Baptism proclaims that God reaches out to us with a joyous, free gift of love and mercy before we can do anything to merit God’s favor.  The ritual of Baptism is a time to recognize that love and show it our loud.

        In Baptism we are brought together as a community, a new family defined by the Baptism, and not merely by blood relationship.  By participating in the Baptism, we profess that our faith in Jesus Christ transcends any interpersonal family differences.

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These words are brought to you by the CPC Adult Spiritual Development Team, hoping to encourage your spiritual growth in the coming months.

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