What is Baptism?

People were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them; and when the disciples saw it, they sternly ordered them not to do it.  But Jesus called for them and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.  Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”

(Luke 18:15-17)

Perhaps we should begin by stating what Baptism is not! Baptism is not a magical incantation which makes God love your child. According to everything that we Christians believe, your child was created by God and is already loved by God, no matter what you decide about his/her Baptism.

Baptism does not provide a set of guarantees for your child.  God loves your child and wants only the best for him or her.  God wants all children to experience and be aware of that love, not unlike the love that we exhibit towards our children as parents.  Baptism is a visible and public sign of what God has done in giving a child life, and that God’s love is a gift offered to all.  Eventually, all of us decide for ourselves whether to accept that gift.  That’s a decision which your child will someday make for him/herself.  For now, Baptism is a celebration of what is already true, no matter what you do:  God knows your child.  God loves your child.  God wishes to welcome your child as a part of God’s family.

Baptism is also an acknowledgment that, no matter how much God loves our children, how much they experience the benefits of that love depends on us.  We know that children are entrusted, by God and by society, to the care of their parents.  There may be lots of good food for our children, but we decide what they eat.  There may be lots of good books available to them, but we decide what they read.  This control diminishes as they grow older, but we cannot deny the responsibility which belongs to all of us who are parents.

In Baptism, we acknowledge that our responsibility includes the spiritual nurture and development of our children.  They will learn about God only if we share our faith with them through family devotions and by taking them to Church and Sunday School.  No matter how much God loves them, we decide how much they will benefit from the love of God.

Therefore, Baptism is first and foremost an opportunity for Christian parents to make certain promises which are vital to the spiritual well-being of our children.

Baptism is a partnership of God and parents working together for the sake of the child.  There is also another partner — the congregation!  According to the Bible and the learning of Christian history through the ages, the grace of God is experienced in community.  Jesus said that we would feel His presence ‘when two or more gather together.’ The Holy Spirit was received by the first disciples when ‘they were together in one place.’ Like it or not, Christianity is based on an experience of God which happens when people get together.

For us, the community is the local church.  Accordingly, the Service of Baptism provides for promises to be made by both the parents and the congregation.  While the parents promise to provide a Christian home where the child will experience the love of God on a daily basis through their care and the example of their faith, the congregation promises to provide a community in which the child is safe and where he/she will experience the love of God through the leadership and example of every church member.

As parents and as members of the congregation, we may not always keep these promises, but they are nevertheless made with solemn intention because we know that the spiritual health and happiness of our children depends on us!  For their sake, we must be willing to work together, to support each other, and to hold each other accountable for the promises which we have made.