Infant Baptism

In the Diocese of Western Canada and Alaska of the

Reformed Episcopal Church



Baptism is the means of entrance into membership in the Church of Jesus Christ for either an infant or an adult. At infant baptism, believing parents make vows and promises on behalf of their child, and take on the responsibility to raise their baptised child in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, so that at an age of understanding, they themselves may come forth at a Confirmation Service, to take on the promises made for them at their Baptism. Article 27 of the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion includes the statement The Baptism of young children is in any-wise to be retained in this Church, as most agreeable with the institution of Christ.

Jesus Christ makes it very clear in Scripture the things that are necessary for entrance into His kingdom. I tell you the truth, no-one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and of the Spirit. In Acts 2, Peter preaches a great sermon and everyone responds, What must we do to be saved?  To which Peter responds that we must repent, believe in Jesus, be baptized and receive the Holy Spirit.
 
Through the ages different mainstreams of Christianity have required their adherents to follow these requirements but in different order. In the REC and other similar denominations there is one order for infants and another order for those who have come to believe as an adult. The norm for infants would be to be baptized, and then at a later time to come to believe in Jesus, repent of their sins and receive the Holy Spirit. As an adult the norm would likely be to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, to repent of sins, to be Baptized and then receive the Holy Spirit.
 
The following is a brief explanation of the four steps.

  1.  Be Baptized

    Baptism means to sprinkle/pour or immerse/saturate into water. The Book of Romans gives one of the most vivid descriptions of Baptism. Jesus dies on a cross and was resurrected. This took place in a particular time and place in history. This is the objective, historical factual reality of our faith. The way we identify with and participate into this reality is by Baptism. We are baptized into His death, buried with Him, and resurrected as new creature in Him.
  2.  Believe in Jesus

    This is more than merely intellectual assent. To those who believed and received He gave the right to become children of God. (John 1:12) Believe involves a total trust and commitment of our lives to Jesus.
  3.  Repent

    This means to turn around, to change. This involves recognition, confession, decision, focus, renewal of mind, association, change of behaviour, action. Many Christians struggle with issues in their life because they are not led through real repentance at an early stage.
  4. Receive the Holy Spirit

    Be baptized/immersed into the Holy Spirit. If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from him. (John 7:37) Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift of My Father promised, which you have heard Me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit. (Acts 1:4,5)


The Church has historically treated the baptism of infants in the following ways:-

 

  1. Children were admitted into the Old Testament Church.

    God's Covenant with Abraham was normative for the people of God in the Old Testament. Isaac was born into the covenant community, and he received the seal of circumcision long before he could make any response to God's grace. Genesis 17:10-14 has strong words on this matter. It tells us that the child born into a believing home has the right to the mark of belonging, even when he is too young to fulfill the conditions on which the covenant was made in the first place. It tells us that this position for children is an express part of the will of God. It tells us that to refuse to give to infants born within the covenant the sign of that covenant is a very serious fault. In his sermon following Pentecost, Peter says:- The promise is to you and to your children when he challenges his hearers to baptism. So those who received his word were baptised. This must have included the children who were present, as this would have been in keeping with the standard practice of the Jewish people in their relationship with God.

  2. The whole family was baptised when proselytes came over to Judaism.  

    When a family came over to Judaism from some pagan background, three things took place.  

    • The head of the family gave sacrifices.
    • The males in the family were circumcised.
    • And everybody - but everybody - was baptised.

    They sat in a bath and baptised themselves, 'washing away the Gentile impurities'. And there is no doubt that proselyte baptism influenced Christian baptism, despite the enormous difference between the two. When Jesus, the fulfiller of Judaism, came to a people who for thousands of years had been admitting Jewish children into the covenant at the express command of God to Abraham, their founding father, and when for a long time they had been admitting the children of Gentile converts by baptising them along with the rest of the family, then any argument that it is not specifically stated in Scripture becomes insupportable. If Jesus had intended to change this age-old procedure, he surely would have given some sort of command that children in the future should be treated differently! If this were so, the Great Commission would read, Go and make disciples of all nations, but make sure that you baptise only adult believers in the Name of the father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. He did not do that!!

  3. Whole families were baptised in New Testament days .

    We read of Lydia's household being baptised (Acts 16:15)., of the Philippian jailers household being baptised (Acts 16:33), of Cornelius' household (Acts 11:140), and of Stephanus' household being baptised (I Cor 1:16) Surely these families were not all of adult age!! In the ancient world, when the head of the family acted, he did so for the whole family, and they followed suit. Perhaps it is only the head of the family who expresses faith, but the whole family receives the mark of belonging.

  4. Jesus accepted and blessed children too young to respond .

    See Mark 10:2-16. How did Jesus act towards little children?? Three things become plain in this passage. First:- Jesus loves tiny children. He welcomes them to Himself, and he blames those who would keep them away. Second - Jesus is willing to bless them even when they are far too young to understand. Third:- Tiny children are capable of receiving a blessing at the hands of Jesus. It is worth noting that not only did Jesus bless the children, but he made them a model for all believers. You have to become a child, a trusting defenseless child, lying in the arms of Jesus, if you are to profit by the day of Atonement and enter into the Kingdom of God.

  5. The church down its history has baptised children .

    See the comments that I made earlier. In AD215 the Roman theologian Hippolytus, in a document called The Apostles ' Tradition , refers in the most natural way to the baptism of children. First, you should baptise the little ones. All who can speak for themselves should speak. But for those who cannot speak, their parents should speak, or another who belongs to their family. Then the grown men were baptised, and finally the women.  Hippolytus' order of service for baptism had wide circulation, was translated into various languages, and set the standard.

  6. Infant Baptism stresses the purpose of the Gospel.

    It points to the solid achievement of Christ crucified and risen, whether we respond to it or not. Baptism is the sacrament of our adoption, our acquittal, our justification. It is the standing demonstration that our salvation does not depend on our very own very fallible faith; it depends on what God has done for us. Infant baptism reminds us that we are not saved because of our faith, but through the gracious action of God on our behalf, which stands, whatever might befall us, be it good or bad. Martin Luther had many moments of doubt in his life. But at such times, he did not say, I have believed. He was too unsure of his faith to do that. He said, I have been baptised. Luther was baptised as an infant, and it was in this baptism that he stood. Baptism stood for what God had done for him to make him accepted in Christ.

  7. Finally, Infant Baptism stresses the initiative of God in salvation .

    Baptism is the seal on the covenant between God's grace and our response. A response is important, vitally important. Room is made for that in the form of Confirmation. But, supremely, baptism is the mark of God's prior love to us, which antedates our response, and calls it forth.


Pastoral Practice

The sacrament of Baptism should not be something entered into lightly by the Church, in order to satisfy a family member's fond desires or in order to get the child done, or because the teenager is now old enough. The step of Baptism is a very serious part of any Christian's journey of faith, whether that person is an infant or an adult. To ensure the proper intent and useage in our Diocese we should endeavour to adhere to the following guidelines:-
 

  1. Indiscriminate Infant Baptism for should not be acceptable. There needs to be a faith response be at least one parent, and all god-parents involved in order to prevent cheap grace. (Bonnhoeffer)
  2. Baptism should normally take place within the context of a public service, to show that the person is being baptized into the Body of Christ. Exceptional circumstances can be allowed at the discretion of the Pastor.
  3. Baptism of infants is the standard policy of the REC., however, at the request of the parent(s), and at the discretion of the Presbyter, thanksgiving for the birth of an infant may be given at a public service.



Note:- A book for recommended reading is Baptism. Its purpose, practice and power. by Michael Green