ten questions about baptism - Uniting Presbyterian Church in

and answers
for parents
Ayanda and Joe meet the minister one afternoon. “We want to
have our baby christened,” they say. “Will you do the
christening for us?”
“Let’s plan to meet and talk about it first,” he says.
Perhaps that makes them wonder: Why does the minister
want to talk about it first? Is he hesitating to baptize our
baby? Would he not want all babies to be baptized? Shouldn’t
all babies be baptized?
This leaflet seeks to answer these and other questions about
baptism that parents may wonder about.
1. What is the difference between “baptism” and
There is no difference. To “baptize” means to “immerse in, or
wash with, water” in a religious rite. To “christen” is a term
some people use: it means to do the same thing to a person
in the name of Christ. But the word the Bible uses is baptism.
2. Where does the practice come from?
Long before Jesus’ time Jews used to bathe or wash in water
as a religious rite. This was to make them clean, not just outwardly but in a ritual or religious sense, so that they could
take part in acts of worship.
Then, probably by Jesus’ time, Gentiles who became Jews also
underwent a special bathing. First a man and his sons were
circumcised to mark them as adopted children of Abraham and
so members of the chosen people. Then the whole family
(both the parents and their children) all bathed in water, in a
ritual act to wash away their unclean heathen past.
When John the Baptist came on the scene, he went about declaring to the Jews: Even though you are Abraham’s descendants, in God’s eyes you are sinners just like the heathen. You
too, like them, need to confess your sins, be baptized and
mend your ways. Do so now, because God’s reign is at hand
(Matthew 3:1-12, Luke 3:1-9.)
3. What does Christian baptism signify?
From the Baptist Jesus and his disciples took over the practice
of baptism (John 4:1-2). But Christian baptism is different
from John’s in that it is “into Christ Jesus”, in whom we are
truly forgiven and washed clean of all our sin (Acts 2:38,
22:16, I Corinthians 6:11, Galatians 3:27, Ephesians 5:26, I
Peter 3:21).
Indeed the New Testament states that through baptism God
 baptizes us with his Spirit (Mark 1:8, John 1:33, Acts 2:38,
 washes away our sin and sets us free from our old selves;
 raises us to new life with the risen Christ (Romans 6:1-14,
Colossians 2:12-13), giving us new birth as children of God
(John 3:5, Titus 3:5);
 incorporates us into the Body of Christ, the Church, the
community of the new covenant (I Corinthians 12:13);
 declares us free from the power of death, from which God
will raise to life with Christ (Romans 6:3-11).
4. Does the rite of baptism itself accomplish all this?
No. Baptism is just a sign; in itself it can do nothing. But when
we believe in the gospel and understand the sign as a visible
expression of the gospel, then God uses it to do what it
signifies. It ceases to be just a sign and becomes a sacrament.
That is, when we respond to the Word and baptism with faith
in Jesus Christ, God uses them to apply to us all that Jesus did
for us in dying and being raised for us.
This means that a person coming to be baptized must come
with faith in Jesus Christ. That is why any adult who applies to
be baptized must first be asked, and answer, the question:
Have you truly opened your heart to Jesus Christ, put your
faith, your trust, in him and, turning away from sin, surrendered your life to him as Lord?
5. But what about children?
But babies or very little children cannot understand all this and
are too young to have faith. So why do we baptize them?
Many of those who ask this question have been led to think of
baptism as merely a person’s own act of confessing that he or
she has come to conversion and faith. But we are not the chief
actors in baptism: God is.
God’s action began already with the covenant made with
Abraham and his children: “I will take you to be my people
and I will be your God” (Genesis 17:7,13, Exodus 6:7, Leviticus 26:12, Jeremiah 11:4 etc.). This was “an everlasting
covenant”; Jesus did not replace it, but renewed it (I Corinthians 11:25). In its new form all Christian believers are
adopted as Abraham’s children and so as God’s people (Gala-
tians 3:6-9). And baptism, the baptism of both sexes, replaces
male circumcision as the sign of the covenant (Colossians
2:11-12, Gal. 3:27-29).
God’s covenant was with all of Abraham’s offspring who would
keep the covenant, and applied already from their infancy
(Genesis 17:7-14). The new covenant does not disadvantage
children because they were born after Christ: it too includes
the children of believers. The apostle Peter declared,
Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of
Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will
receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for
you and for your children…. (Acts 2:38-39).
(He could not have meant “your children when they grow up
in years to come”, because he thought that “the last days” had
come—see Acts 2:17). Similarly Paul declared that through
the faith of even one parent a child is included among the
saints (1 Corinthians 7:14). Hence the Epistles address the
children of Christian families as already “in the Lord” and
members of the Christian community (Ephesians 6:1-3, Colossians 3:20).
True, the New Testament reports no example of an individual
child being baptized. But it does report the baptism of whole
“households”. This term embraced everyone living in a house,
including the children (e.g. Genesis 7:1, Joshua 7:14, I Samuel 22:16,19, Acts 11:14, 16:15,31-34, I Corinthians 1:16).
Nor did Jesus exclude the children. He specifically stated that
the Kingdom of heaven belongs to little children (Matthew
19:14, Mark 10:15, Luke 18:16); indeed “whoever does not
receive the kingdom of God like a little child shall not enter it”
(Mark 10:15, Luke 18:17 cf. Matthew 18:3f.). How paradoxical, then, that whereas Jesus wanted adults to become like
children to enter into the Kingdom, some Christians insist on
children becoming adults before they can be baptized! If children are citizens of the Kingdom and indeed models for those
wishing to enter the Kingdom, how can we deny them baptism
as members of the covenant community? How can children be
citizens or heirs of the Kingdom and be excluded from being
full members of the Church?
6. How then does baptism apply to a little child?
We need to understand that the effect of baptism is not limited
to the day it happens. A Jewish boy receives circumcision only
a week after being born, even though it too is an outward sign
of an inward spiritual change (Deuteronomy 30:6, Jeremiah
4:4, Romans 2:28f.). This is because it has all his future life in
view. Likewise infant baptism has the baby’s whole future in
mind. Baptism works for the whole of one’s life: past, present
and future. It washes us clean from all our sins, whether past
or future—so long as we grow up to be faithful to Christ and
do not turn away from him.
Thus baptism does not save the child automatically. It offers
and promises salvation to the child by bringing him or her
within the covenant. But the promise is subject to the child’s
appropriating that salvation by coming to personal faith. Mere
outward circumcision did not make one a true Jew: one had to
have a circumcised heart (Romans 2:28f.). Likewise a child
who is baptized needs to come to faith and live out that faith
in obedience to Christ as Lord and Saviour. If that fails to
happen, the baptism is not validated. It then accomplishes
nothing, just as the baptism of an adult who is not really a
believer accomplishes nothing—unless and until he or she
comes to faith.
7. Does baptism need to be right under water?
“To baptize” transliterates a special form of a Greek word that
meant “to dip in, or under”. The special form of the word
meant “to immerse, bathe, drench or wash” as a religious act.
Does baptism then require a person to be plunged under water?
The washing with water is, as we said earlier, a sign of what
happens in a person spiritually. So long as it does clearly signify a spiritual washing, therefore, the amount of water does
not really matter. It is like Holy Communion: no one thinks
that to be a true sacrament Communion has to be a full meal,
as it was at first (I Corinthians 11:21-22).
Clear written and archaeological evidence already from the
end of the 1st century or the beginning of the 2nd shows that
the Church baptized by pouring water as an alternative to
immersion. But even in the New Testament it is difficult to
imagine every baptism as a full immersion. Where in the jail
at Philippi would Paul have found a pool big enough to immerse the jailer and his family (Acts 16:33)?
8. Where can baptism take place?
Part of what baptism means is acceptance into the covenant
community, the family of God, the Church. Through it, Paul
says, people of every race and class are united together into
one body (I Corinthians 12:13, Galatians 3:26-29, Colossians
3:11). To symbolize this, baptism takes place in the congregation. This also enables the members of the congregation to
welcome the new member and offer friendship and support to
the parents, especially in teaching their child about Jesus.
Only in special circumstances will a minister baptize a child at
home instead of in church. Even then, other members of the
congregation should be present, to symbolize that the child is
being baptized into the Church.
9. What actual vows you need to take?
During the service three solemn questions are put to the parents:
 Do you believe and trust in Jesus Christ as your Lord and
Saviour, in God as your Father, and in the Holy Spirit as
your Helper? (The Apostles’ Creed is then said.)
 Do you undertake to continue faithfully in the apostles’
teaching and the fellowship, in the breaking of bread and
the prayers?
 In bringing your children for baptism, do you promise to
teach them the gospel and what their baptism means
and by your teaching, your prayers and your own example bring them up in the knowledge and love of God, so
that they may put their trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and
Saviour and in due time make their own confession of
It is with parents who can sincerely declare “I do” to all these
questions that the baptism of their children can go ahead.
10. What about Godparents?
By their faith parents (or those at the head of the household in
which a child actually lives) link a child to the family of God.
So they must confess their own faith at their child’s baptism
and promise to bring up the child in the faith.
At the same time the parents may invite others to stand with
them at the baptism as “godparents”. Godparents are meant
to help the parents bring up the child in the Christian faith and
way of life. So they too should be not just good friends but
believing, practising Christians. Godparents can take a vow
that they will help the parents in this way.
And so...
All this means that parents bringing a child for baptism must
ask themselves whether they can take the vows sincerely.
That is, they must seriously ask themselves:
 Have we yet taken the step of opening our own hearts to
Jesus Christ and letting him become our Lord and Saviour?
 Are we baptized, faithful, practising members of the Church
 Can we sincerely promise to bring up our child in the Christian faith and way of life by our teaching and our own example?
For only on this basis can children come to be baptized and be
brought up in that faith and practice.
These are the questions the minister needs to help you think
through. Can you honestly say “Yes” to them? If you cannot
yet, it is important for you to wait until you can. For only
when your own relation with God as parents is right, can your
child’s baptism mean what it should mean. But the minister,
the Elders and other Christians are there to help you find your
way to God and come into that relationship with him. (They
would love to share their faith with you.)
What if you do not come into this relationship with God, however? It would then be better for the baptism to wait. For a
baptism on the basis of vows taken insincerely will mean little
in the meantime. Indeed it may well disadvantage your child
by leading him or her to think of Christianity as something one
need not be serious about. In any case be assured: the fact
that your child is not baptized will not mean that God loves
him or her any the less. God loves all children!
On the other hand for those who can say a sincere Yes to all
the necessary questions here is a model prayer they can use:
O God, thank you that through the death and resurrection
of Jesus Christ you forgive us our sins.
Thank you that through the Holy Spirit
and our own baptism and faith
you have made us your children.
Thank you also for the gift of our child.
Help us to share our faith with him/her,
so that he/she will come to know and love Jesus,
learn how to serve him in the world
and live with him forever.
In Jesus’ name.
Approved UPCSA General Assembly 2010
Revised 2012/2013