COME TO THE WATER
Baptism at Church of the Redeemer
Baptism is a very important and vital symbol of our life in Christ.
Water is a powerful symbol in the Scriptures. We encounter water in the creation, in the protection of Noah and his family through the flood, and the deliverance of God’s people from slavery through the waters of the Red Sea. John the Baptist used water to symbolize repentance, and Jesus told his followers to preach the good news, baptizing believers in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28).
Church of the Redeemer is committed to the practice of baptism that is biblically based, historically centered, and theologically informed.
Since creation God has been making for Himself a people. And as we come into relationship with God and God’s community—the church—there are important actions that accompany, signify and participate in those relationships. We call them Sacraments, including Baptism and Eucharist (Holy Communion).
Baptism identifies us with the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and signifies that we are His—that we belong to Him.
In baptism God unites the believer to Christ by faith. In John 3: 5-10 Jesus says that we are born again, by faith, through water and the spirit. The Apostle Paul shares in Romans 6 and Colossians 2 that we experience Jesus’ death and resurrection in baptism, and adds in Galatians 3 that as many as have been baptized into Christ have actually put on Christ, by faith, in baptism. We also enter into God’s promise in baptism (Acts 2:38) that is offered to us and our children, and all that God will call. So even though Christians may have different ideas about how to baptize, or who should be baptized, or when to baptize, we understand that it is essential, and plays a role in initiating our life in Christ as we respond to the Lord’s invitation to follow Him.
In Baptism God places us into covenant relationship with Himself.
He promises to complete the work he has begun in us as we live out that relationship in faithful community. Baptism releases the work of grace in our lives and calls upon the people of God to make a sacred commitment to nurture in the Christian faith the one being baptized. It is not a private act, but draws on the life of the whole community to mark it, guard it, and remember it as a holy moment of beginning in the life of the one who is baptized.
At Church of the Redeemer we baptize those who are committed to the Christian faith and their children, provided they have not been baptized before.
We believe that in this way we are participating in the sacrament of baptism as it was practiced in the New Testament, the early church, and throughout the history of God’s people in Jesus Christ.
Church of the Redeemer baptizes infants and children. Why is that?
This is probably not the most important question, but one that comes up quite often, since a variety of approaches to who should be baptized have developed in the church.
Important in answering this question is the idea of covenant relationship with God—that God is making a people for Himself. God initiates the invitation, and we respond. He reaches out with His embrace, and we reach back. Baptism is primarily God’s action carried out in the church. In the earlier expression of the covenant relationship (in the Old Testament), this was signified by circumcision, administered on the 8th day of life. Children were not excluded from the Covenant relationship with God, but were very much a part of His ‘people’. Likewise, Jesus invited the children to come to Him, and pointed to them as a picture of the Kingdom itself. In fact, He rebuked those who would erect a barrier between Himself and the children.
There appear to be a number of examples in the New Testament where children were likely included in baptism, on the occasion of the baptizing of whole ‘households’ (Acts 11:14, Acts 16:15, Acts 16:33, Acts 18:8, I Cor. 1:16, 2 Tim. 1:16). While children were not mentioned specifically, it would be unusual for children not to be a part of at least one or more of those ‘households.’
We know that infant baptism was also practiced in the early church following the New Testament period as believing families brought their children to Christ and raised them in the faith. In the third century Origen, an influential teacher, wrote that ‘the Church has received a tradition from the Apostles to give baptism even to little children.’ Justin Martyr, living even closer to the time of the Apostles, referred to ‘many men and women of the age of sixty and seventy years who have been disciples (or ‘were made disciples’) of Christ from childhood.’ Given the church’s understanding of discipleship, especially at that time, it would be hard to think of this statement apart from the practice of baptism.
Most of the Reformers in the 16th century continued the practice of infant baptism even as they re-shaped much of the church’s teaching and practice. In the 39 Articles of Religion, to which our church subscribes, Article 27 states that the baptism of young children should be retained in the church, ‘as most agreeable with the institution of Christ.’
Of course, this presupposes that they are brought to baptism by families that are committed Christians, who pledge to raise them in the faith and lead them to a love and knowledge of the Lord that will ultimately find its expression in mature Christian faith.
We believe the sacrament of baptism is important in placing our children into covenant relationship with God, calling on the Holy Spirit to do the work of salvation in their lives as they grow and mature in faith, and in marking the role of God’s people in the life of our children.
What about “Believer’s Baptism”—isn’t personal faith required to be baptized?
Faith is very important. In fact, without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11). But we also must see baptism primarily as something that God does for us, within the context of the believing community. A new believer, prepared in the foundations of the faith, entering the waters of baptism, is a beautiful and powerful event. Our goal is to see many adult baptisms as people give their lives to Christ in faith and join His family. But baptism is not primarily a sign or witness of our faith, but of God’s salvation, and of our identification with Christ. This may seem a subtle difference, but it is important that we have the emphasis in the proper place.
”Believer’s Baptism’, as it came to be practiced in the years following the Reformation, was a reaction against the abuses of infant baptism divorced from consistent spiritual formation and discipleship, and also against the relationship of infant baptism to political citizenship. In the revival and evangelism movements of the last one hundred years or so baptism came to be associated with personal repentance and witness, and the emphasis shifted from God’s action to our decision. The link to the idea of God’s covenant people was diminished, and faith became individualized and often isolated from others.
At Church of the Redeemer we certainly desire to baptize adult believers as our primary method of baptism, but this does not require that we exclude the children of committed, believing families, who have as a primary understanding their role in leading their children to personal faith in Jesus Christ.
What about the practice of ‘baby dedication’ at Church of the Redeemer?
We are all on a journey, and one of the beautiful things about our church is that people are coming from many different backgrounds, both inside and outside of the Christian Church. Because of that, a variety of traditions is represented among our members, and this is particularly true when it comes to how we deal with our children and their growth in the Lord. Among evangelical churches the practice of ‘dedicating’ children to the Lord has been popular as an alternative to infant baptism, because of the concerns cited above regarding “believer’s baptism”. Because of our view of covenant and our understanding that children have status in that covenant, we practice baptism as the primary way of welcoming children into our community, and acknowledging that there is something in what the Apostle Paul says in I Corinthians 7:14, that our children, as part of the faithful community, ‘are holy’. On occasion, when parents have not yet been able to affirm our practice of baptism, but desire to commit to our fellowship and acknowledge the gift of children, we have offered a service of ‘thanksgiving’ for a child. But it is seen as separate from and not reflective of the act of baptism.
More about baptism at Church of the Redeemer is offered in our Discover Redeemer course, offered several times each year.
For further reading:
Baptism, Christ’s Act in the Church, Lawrence Hull Stookey, Abingdon Press
The Divine Embrace, Robert E. Webber, Baker Books
The Water That Divides, Donald Bridges and David Phypers, InterVarsity Press