What do you remember about your baptism? Do you know the date of your baptism and do you celebrate that date every year? What does baptism mean to you? Do you know what our church, the Presbyterian Church (USA), professes about baptism?
This morning I am going to talk about baptism, what it is, what it symbolizes, and the significance of it for all Christians.
I’m going to begin first with the 2nd Helvetic Confession composed by Heinrich Bullinger in 1561. It was adopted by the churches of Switzerland as their confession of faith in 1566 and soon found wide acceptance throughout Europe and beyond.
The Second Helvetic Confession
Of Holy Baptism
THE INSTITUTION OF BAPTISM. Baptism was instituted and consecrated by God. First John baptized, who dipped Christ in the water in Jordan. From him it came to the apostles, who also baptized with water. The Lord expressly commanded them to preach the Gospel and to baptize “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19). And in The Acts, Peter said to the Jews who inquired what they ought to do: “Be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:37 f.). Hence by some baptism is called a sign of initiation for God’s people, since by it the elect of God are consecrated to God.
ONE BAPTISM. There is but one baptism in the Church of God; and it is sufficient to be once baptized or consecrated unto God. For baptism once received continues for all of life, and is a perpetual sealing of our adoption.
WHAT IT MEANS TO BE BAPTIZED. Now to be baptized in the name of Christ is to be enrolled, entered, and received into the covenant and family, and so into the inheritance of the sons of God; yes, and in this life to be called after the name of God; that is to say, to be called a son of God; to be cleansed also from the filthiness of sins, and to be granted the manifold grace of God, in order to lead a new and innocent life. Baptism, therefore, calls to mind and renews the great favor God has shown to the race of mortal men. For we are all born in the pollution of sin and are the children of wrath. But God, who is rich in mercy, freely cleanses us from our sins by the blood of his Son, and in him adopts us to be his sons, and by a holy covenant joins us to himself, and enriches us with various gifts, that we might live a new life. All these things are assured by baptism. For inwardly we are regenerated, purified, and renewed by God through the Holy Spirit; and outwardly we receive the assurance of the greatest gifts in the water, by which also those great benefits are represented, and, as it were, set before our eyes to be beheld.
WE ARE BAPTIZED WITH WATER. And therefore we are baptized, that is, washed or sprinkled with visible water. For the water washes dirt away, and cools and refreshes hot and tired bodies. And the grace of God performs these things for souls, and does so invisibly or spiritually.
THE OBLIGATION OF BAPTISM. Moreover, God also separates us from all strange religions and peoples by the symbol of baptism, and consecrates us to himself as his property. We, therefore, confess our faith when we are baptized, and obligate ourselves to God for obedience, mortification of the flesh, and newness of life. Hence, we are enlisted in the holy military service of Christ that all our life long we should fight against the world, Satan, and our own flesh. Moreover, we are baptized into one body of the Church, that with all members of the Church we might beautifully concur in the one religion and in mutual services.
THE FORM OF BAPTISM. We believe that the most perfect form of baptism is that by which Christ was baptized, and by which the apostles baptized… For we believe that one baptism of the Church has been sanctified in God’s first institution, and that it is consecrated by the Word and is also effectual today in virtue of God’s first blessing.
The Confession of 1967 was approved by the United Presbyterian Church of the United States of America and was the first new confession of faith in three centuries. The turbulent decade of the 1960’s challenged churches everywhere to restate their faith.
In the second part of this confession, the mission of and the equipment of the church, we find this explanation of Baptism.
THE CONFESSION OF 1967-9.51
By humble submission to John’s baptism, Christ joined himself to men in their need and entered upon his ministry of reconciliation in the power of the Spirit. Christian baptism marks the receiving of the same Spirit by all his people. Baptism with water represents not only cleansing from sin, but a dying with Christ and a joyful rising with him to new life. It commits all Christians to die each day to sin and to live for righteousness. In baptism, the church celebrates the renewal of the covenant with which God has bound his people to himself. By baptism, individuals are publicly received into the church to share in its life and ministry, and the church becomes responsible for their training and support in Christian discipleship. When those baptized are infants, the congregation, as well as the parents, has a special obligation to nurture them in the Christian life, leading them to make, by a public profession, a personal response to the love of God shown forth in their baptism.
To understand the sacrament of Baptism further we can go to The Book of Order, The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). In the section called the Directory For Worship we find these words.
PCUSA Book of Order, W-1.3033-The early church, following Jesus, took three primary material elements of life—water, bread, and wine—to become basic symbols of offering life to God as Jesus had offered his life. Being washed in the water of Baptism, Christians received new life in Christ and presented their bodies to be living sacrifices to God... Through the Sacraments, God seals believers in redemption, renews their identity as the people of God, and marks them for service. W-2.3001, Baptism-Baptism is the sign and seal of incorporation into Christ. Jesus through his own baptism identified himself with sinners in order to fulfill all righteousness. Jesus in his own baptism was attested Son by the Father and was anointed with the Holy Spirit to undertake the way of the servant manifested in his sufferings, death, and resurrection. Jesus the risen Lord assured his followers of his continuing presence and power and commissioned them “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Sprit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:19, NRSV). The disciples were empowered by the outpouring of the Spirit to undertake a life of service and to be an inclusive worshiping community, sharing life in which love, justice, and mercy abounded.
W-2.3002-In Baptism, we participate in Jesus’ death and resurrection. In Baptism, we die to what separates us from God and are raised to newness of life in Christ. Baptism points us back to the grace of God expressed in Jesus Christ, who died for us and who was raised for us. Baptism points us forward to that same Christ who will fulfill God’s purpose in God’s promised future.
W-2.3003-In Baptism, the Holy Spirit binds the Church in covenant to its Creator and Lord. The water of Baptism symbolizes the waters of Creation, of the Flood, and of the Exodus from Egypt. Thus, the water of Baptism links us to the goodness of God’s creation and to the grace of God’s covenants with Noah and Israel. Prophets of Israel, amidst the failure of their generation to honor God’s covenant, called for justice to roll down like waters and righteousness like an everflowing stream. (Amos 5:24). They envisioned a fresh expression of God’s grace and of creation’s goodness—a new covenant accompanied by the sprinkling of cleansing water. In his ministry, Jesus offered the gift of living water. So, Baptism is the sign and seal of God’s grace and covenant in Christ.
As circumcision was the sign and symbol of inclusion in God’s grace and covenant with Israel, so Baptism is the sign and symbol of inclusion in God’s grace and covenant with the Church. As an identifying mark, Baptism signifies
a. the faithfulness of God,
b. the washing away of sin,
d. putting on the fresh garment of Christ,
e. being sealed by God’s Spirit,
f. adoption into the covenant family of the Church,
g. resurrection and illumination in Christ.
The body of Christ is one, and Baptism is the bond of unity in Christ. As they are united with Christ through faith, Baptism unites the people of God with each other and with the church of every time and place. Barriers of race, gender, status, and age are to be transcended. Barriers of nationality, history, and practice are to be overcome.
Baptism enacts and seals what the Word proclaims: God’s redeeming grace offered to all people. Baptism is God’s gift of grace and also God’s summons to respond to that grace. Baptism calls to repentance, to faithfulness, and to discipleship. Baptism gives the church its identity and commissions the church for ministry to the world.
God’s faithfulness signified in Baptism is constant and sure, even when human faithfulness to God is not. Baptism is received only once. The efficacy of Baptism is not tied to the moment when it is administered, for Baptism signifies the beginning of life in Christ, not its completion. God’s grace works steadily, calling to repentance and newness of life. God’s faithfulness needs no renewal. Human faithfulness to God needs repeated renewal. Baptism calls for decision at every subsequent stage of life’s way, both for those whose Baptism attends their profession of faith and for those who are nurtured from childhood within the family of faith. Both believers and their children are included in God’s covenant love. Children of believers are to be baptized without undue delay, but without undue haste. Baptism, whether administered to those who profess their faith or to those presented for Baptism as children, is one and the same Sacrament.
b. The Baptism of children witnesses to the truth that God’s love claims people before they are able to respond in faith.
c. The Baptism of those who enter the covenant upon their own profession of faith witnesses to the truth that God’s gift of grace calls for fulfillment in a response of faithfulness.
Baptism is received only once. There are many times in worship, however, when believers acknowledge the grace of God continually at work. As they participate in the celebration of another’s Baptism, as they experience the sustaining nurture of the Lord’s Supper, and as they reaffirm the commitments made at Baptism, they confess their ongoing need of God’s grace and pledge anew their obedience to God’s covenant in Christ.
As there is one body, there is one Baptism. (Eph. 4:4–6) The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) recognizes all Baptisms with water in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit administered by other Christian churches.
The water used for Baptism should be common to the location, and shall be applied to the person by pouring, sprinkling, or immersion. By whatever mode, the water should be applied visibly and generously.
Our Baptism is something that was and is very important to our lives as God’s chosen children. That’s why the font is filled with water every Sunday and the water remains in the font throughout the week. It is here to remind us of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.
Because of God’s great love for us we are forgiven for our sins and made clean in the cleansing blood of Jesus.
Today we’re going to remember and celebrate the January baptisms of some our church family. They are: Janie Walter, January 1, 1959, Jay Nielsen, January 12, 1969, Brandi Walter, Seth Griffith, and Kane Griffith on January 13, 1991, Kelsey Helms on January 27, 1991, Tori Sievers, January 27, 2002, and Trista Sievers, January 23, 2005.
Thanks be to God for the grace of the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ. Amen.