Presbyterians are sometimes accused
of holding the doctrine of infant baptism with a bad conscience.
This couldn't be further from the
truth, though our Christian young people are sometimes swayed by others
into questioning the validity of their baptism, seeking to persuade them,
that, should they not be baptised as adults on profession of faith, they
are being disobedient to the clear command of Christ.
This is sad, because, on the
contrary, young and old alike may have full confidence in Baptism
as practised in the Presbyterian Church in Ireland - once its Biblical
basis is understood.
In the sacrament of Baptism, as with
the Lord's Supper, we believe that what matters most is what God is
doing to us and for us - and not what we do -
although our participation is important. i.e. We are at the
receiving end of his activity.
Baptism, in the Presbyterian Church
is firmly based on the Covenant, established in the Old Testament and
renewed in the New Testament i.e. the relationship into which God enters
with his people, expressed in the words "I will be your God and you
will be my people".
1. The Promise
In the Old Testament the idea of
covenant is paramount. This speaks of a relationship into which God
enters with His people, first through Abraham. The covenant was to be
forever, and include both believing adults and also their children
(Genesis 17:7, 10).
Believers are in a covenant
relationship with God (c.f. Hebrews 6:13-18). The covenant was given a
newness in Christ, but the special relationship still applies.
Logically, as in Abraham's, day,
children are still included in the covenant. "They will be
blessed" says the Psalmist in Psalm 37:26. In a very special way they
are holy too, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7:14. To exclude children from
the blessings of the new Covenant (as some would seek to do) would not
only place children of believers in a less favourable position in
God's eyes after Christ had come than they were before; but
it would also suggest serious inconsistencies between the benefits
of the Old and New Covenants.
2. The Sign
In Old Testament times, the
spiritual promise was sealed with a physical sign - circumcision. Genesis
17:10ff. God placed his emphasis not on the outward rite, but on
the inward reality. Romans 2:28,29. Circumcision, then, was the
sign and seal of that Covenant relationship. There was only one Covenant;
but there was a change in its form after Christ, and this led to a change
in its sign - from circumcision to baptism. We believe that baptism (in
the New Covenant) took over from circumcision (in the Old Covenant),
stated in Colossians 2:11, 12.
Circumcision was applied to the male
children of believers in the Old and early New Testament times, while
today baptism is applied to all infant children of believers Ð both
to boys and girls. Gal. 3:28. Both sacraments, then, are rooted in the
covenant: - the Lord's Supper taking the place of the Passover. 1
- Baptism taking the place of Circumcision. Colossians 2:11,12.
3. The Practice
Believing, then, that the promise is
for us and for our children. (Acts 2:38, 39) we confidently seek
for our children the sign of the covenant - baptism.
As in the Old Covenant only
believers and their children received the sign of circumcision, so too,
under the New Covenant, only believers and their children receive the sign
- now baptism. Adults, who have not been baptised in infancy, also are
baptised on profession of their faith.
At a baptismal service, parents are
asked these two questions by the minister:-
- In presenting this child for
baptism, do you profess your faith in God as your heavenly
Father, in Jesus Christ as your Saviour and Lord, and in the Holy Spirit
as your Sanctifier and Guide?
One or both parents must be able to say "I do."
- Will you, by God's help,
provide a Christian home, and bring up this child in the worship and
teaching of the Church, so that your child may come to know Jesus Christ
as Lord and Saviour?
One or both parents must be able to say, "I will."
Just as water makes us clean, so
baptism pictures how God, through Jesus Christ, can make our whole
lives clean, forgiving our sins and giving us new life in the Holy
4. The Significance
- Cleaning up sin in our lives.
This comes from the use of water and the idea of washing associated with
baptism. Read Acts 22:16 and note the link between baptism and cleansing
- Being united with Christ.
Paul reminds the Christians both in Rome and in Colossae that they are
joined to Jesus through baptism. (Romans 6:4; Col. 2:11-12).
- Admission to the Church.
Baptism symbolises becoming a member of the church, the body of Christ.
1 Cor. 12:13.
- Covenant of grace. In
Colossians 2:11-12, Paul says that Christians have been circumcised by
Christ and baptised into Christ.
- i.e. it is the one covenant expressed
in two ways.
5. The Method
Presbyterians do not believe that
immersion is necessary for baptism. We believe that dipping of the
person into the water is not necessary - but that baptism is rightly
administered by pouring or sprinkling water on the person.
The Greek words for baptise
do not mean exclusively to immerse in the New Testament. Cases which
appear to prove immersion are inconclusive.
Pouring is an apt symbol of the
coming of God's Spirit upon a person. Sprinkling was the main Old
Testament mode of ceremonial purification and the Greek word for baptism
is used to describe this in the New Testament (Hebrews 9:10).
6. The purpose
We need always to remember that
baptism is an outward sign pointing to a work of God which happens
in the heart and life of the individual.
Does baptism make a child a
Christian? No, baptism doesn't confer anything on anyone. It is a sign to
demonstrate a work of the grace of God. The status of the covenant
child is not of one who is automatically a Christian because of the
covenant but rather of one to whom the promise of salvation is
What is offered in grace must be
received personally by faith. Infant baptism, then, anticipates a time
when the child will receive Christ as Lord and Saviour by personal
The plan of salvation in the Bible
is a covenant of grace which begins in the Old Testament,
and finds its fulfilment in the New Testament in Jesus Christ.
Properly understood, baptism as practised within the Presbyterian Church
in Ireland, is a witness to the love and grace of God, and brings great
comfort and reassurance to Christian people concerning that which Almighty
God is doing both in their lives and in the lives of their children.