Sunday, January 29, 2006
Téah's getting Baptized today! Thanks to being allowed to use computers I can share part of my ordination exam answers with you. Here's what I wrote on the Reformed understanding of baptism. Remember I was trying to sound very Reformed to pass the test, but I think I agree with everything I wrote. This was a great learning experience for me, at least this part of the testing.
Again we focus our attention on the five purposes that Calvin has underlined in his Institutes of the Christian Religion.
1. Sacraments are a physical sign of a spiritual reality
2. Sacraments represent a covenant or promise from God
3. Sacraments nourish and strengthen those who follow Christ
4. Sacraments set the Christian Church apart as God’s chosen people
5. Sacraments send us into the world to partake in the ministry of Jesus Christ
The Presbyterian Church simply baptizes in the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit. The action of the Trinitarian God in our lives is the focus of a Reformed baptism.
Within our current modern culture it has been popular for Christians to focus on the importance of making a decision for Christ. This decision is focused on the act of the person toward God. Many churches and denominations have understood baptism as the decision of an individual to allow God’s cleansing water upon their lives. This theology places salvation in the hands of the one making the decision. Many of these churches do not have infant baptism because infants cannot choose to follow Christ.
Infant baptism looks forward to the future day when the child will claim their baptism and acknowledge that Jesus Christ has saved them. At this time the child will place his or her trust in this reality of this promise. At no point in ones life does the child or adult have to doubt that the grace of God is sufficient for salvation. Baptism symbolizes this eternal promise.
Reformed theology of baptism locates purpose in the action of God. In the Presbyterian Church infants are baptized as a way of acknowledging that God has chosen us. The decision is not left in our hands, rather it is in the hands of Jesus and his grace.
The water of baptism symbolizes the cleansing away of sin through the grace and forgiveness of Jesus Christ. This is an outward sign of an inward reality. Through baptism the congregation and family celebrate that Jesus is washing away the sin of the one being baptized and in fact all who have been baptized. Though baptism only occurs once, it represents a reality that is constantly happening in our lives. The congregation can claim the waters of their own baptism each time a person is baptized. And so Calvin’s third point is not only for the one being baptized, but all who have ever been baptized. Each time we experience the baptism of an infant or new believer we are nourished and strengthened unto union with Christ.
Baptism also symbolizes the movement from death unto life. An infant or an adult who is immersed in water or sprinkled by water experiences the reality that they are dead to sin. The congregation is also reminded of this fact. During the early church there was strong symbolism of death for those being baptized as they were immersed in the water. As the new believer was brought out of the water their first breath symbolized the new life that they now had in Christ Jesus. Today we draw upon these same themes as we celebrate baptism. We acknowledge that we are immersed in sin. Every aspect of our being is wet with sin. Yet the grace of Jesus Christ draws us out of our sin and into new life in Him.
Through this symbol we accept that we are drawn into a new life, which belongs to God. Like Jesus we must be willing to die to our sinful nature every day. Just as Jesus was willing to die for our sins, so we must be willing to give our whole being to God so that we may be transformed and renewed. Baptism symbolizes that we are willing to die for the sake of Jesus, both spiritually, and physically if need be.
In the Presbyterian Church adults are also baptized. Adults who have proclaimed faith in Christ are baptized. For them the symbolism is the same as for the child, except the adult can claim Christ’s grace and acknowledge that it was Christ who chose him. Adults are baptized after acknowledging that they are saved by the grace of God. An adult is never forced into baptism.
The Presbyterian Church, according to the Book of Order, is to baptize within the context of worship and as a response to the proclaimed Word of God. Baptism is our response to the Word. Baptism is to occur in community. As discussed above, it is not only for the sake of the one being baptized, but the whole congregation too. There may be exception when a child or a sick person is baptized in a hospital or in another setting for extenuating circumstances, but there should be an elder present. The church community participates in every baptism.
The Congregation also promises, with the promise of God, to nurture the future spiritual formation of the new member of the family of God. Therefore the congregation is spurred on to further spiritual development and sent into further ministry with this child and in the world.
Baptism is only experienced once. This is a powerful symbol that God’s grace is not contingent on our ability to follow in his ways. Through baptism we believe that God makes known to us that the death of Jesus is good enough for salvation. We are made into new creature through baptism, never again to be in the way of the sinful world. This does not mean that we cease to sin. Christians continually struggle to claim their baptism and claim the reality that they are a new creation. Yet baptism is a one time thing, once we are saved by the grace of God we are always saved by the grace of God.