In every household there are many significant and meaningful events and days
that stand out from all the rest: birthdays, Christmas, Thanksgiving Day! So life, with the passage of the swift years, becomes a
treasure house of memories. Happy is the child who has a great store of them.
Blessed is that family that has its own" great occasions," its own holidays and
The day of a baby's Baptism is one of these great occasions. Friends and
relatives gather to participate in the occasion. But Baptism is more than family
jubilation. In this, as in all life's deepest experiences, we reach out hands of
faith toward God and seek his blessing. Here is dedication, bringing the child
to the very altar of God. It is more than a significant event; it is a
The covenant-keeping God of our fathers, who is our God, is the God of our
children also, "to thousands." God, our Heavenly Father, claims our children as
his children, and Baptism is a divinely appointed ordinance of recognition of
that fact. "I will establish my covenant between me and you and your descendants
after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God
to you and to your descendants after you."
So for long centuries it has been the Christian practice to present little
children in dedication to God in this holy rite. Sometimes this is done as
perfunctory duty, just a custom; but Baptism is intended to be meaningful in the
highest possible measure. It is an ordinance that under a simple form has a deep
spiritual significance; it is a true sacrament.
We are thinking, not of magic, but of a profound experience, when we affirm
this. It has been tried and proved by scores of Christian generations.
Parents who desire the best for their children (and who does not?) bend their
efforts to make that best possible. More lasting than toys are memories. As the years pass,
men and women fmd themselves living by the things that their fathers and mothers
did even more than by what their fathers and mothers said. Baptism is a
sacramental symbol of the many hopes and spiritual ambitions entertained by
parents for their children. Water, indispensable to life; water, the symbol of
cleansing, is used in this sacrament even as bread and wine are used in the
Lord's Supper. The outward form is important because it is symbolic, not because
it is magical. Christian growth is a lifelong process. But its natural and
resolute beginnings are undertaken on behalf of the child by his parents in this
solemn and joyous act of holy Baptism, in which Christian ideals and standards
are recognized as of supreme value.
II. WHAT BAPTISM MEANS
1. A Recognition of a Covenant Relationship
We have all known of babies, born in a foreign land, who are Americans just the
same, simply because their parents are Americans. These children are not aliens but "fellow
citizens." Thus it is with the children of Christian believers. Since they are
children of believing parents, they are born members of God's family.
Baptism is our recognition of this fact that our children are God's children,
and that he claims them as his own. We become children of God, not by our own
act or choice, but by his. He has made a covenant with us to be our God as he
was our father's God. His promises are "to us and to our children." Hence,
children of believers are regarded and treated as within the pale of the visible
Church and are properly consecrated to God in Baptism.
The Sacrament of Baptism-“is usually to be administered in the church, in the
presence of the congregation." The officiating minister addresses the
congregation, saying: "This Child is now received into Christ's Church: And you
the people of this congregation in receiving this Child promise with God's help
to be his sponsor to the end that he may confess Christ as his Lord and Savior
and come at last to His eternal Kingdom. Jesus said, 'Whoso shall receive one
such little child in My name receiveth Me.'" The Church thus has a special
concern and responsibility in that all baptized persons are members of the
Church and under its watch and care.
The child is, of course, not yet a "communicant member," and will not be one
until he arrives at "the years of discretion" when he is admitted by the session
to communicant Church membership upon profession of his faith. His name,
however, is at once recorded in the church's records as a baptized person. He is
subject to and the beneficiary of the church's discipline and fellowship.
If the parents are granted a letter of dismissal to another church, the names of
the baptized children are recorded on the back of the church letter. Thus these
children are transferred with their parents to the care of the new church.
2. An Expression of Thanksgiving
Baptism is an expression of gratitude to God for the gift of new life; it is
praise for all the lovely hopes that cluster around birth--reverence for the
mystery of our being and the wonder of life, thanksgiving to God, in whom "we
live and move and have our being."
A young woman who had lost her faith in God came, with the advent of her first
baby, into a rapture of joy. She said that she must find God again, if only to
say, "Thank you." God comes near to us in new blessings. Through Baptism we look
up to him in humble gratitude.
3. A Symbol of Cleansing
Baptism is also the seal of cleansing. It implies human frailty. "Our nature
must be renewed in order to have entrance into the Kingdom of God." Children do
not become sons of God through this sacrament, but through the redemptive grace
and power of God. Baptism is the outward sign of God's cleansing, regenerating,
and renewing grace.
4. Acknowledgment of an Obligation
All normal parents feel new responsibilities asserting themselves as they face
the obligations and privileges involved in the rearing of children.
"Heaven lies about us in our infancy!" That is poetry--and near kin to religion.
Moreover, it expresses our feelings when we take a baby in our arms. Responding
to this natural and lovely emotion, we recognize that the training of a child is
serious business, and that our poor best needs reinforcement. We need God.
Conscious of that need, we engage in this God-given rite, by which publicly and
in a way that is hallowed by long custom we say that we accept all our God-given
responsibilities. Gladly, in God's presence, we pledge ourselves to such
self-discipline and devotion as will make our lives a real example to our
children, and dedicate ourselves to such Christian activities as will help them
in their Christian living.
5. An Act of Dedication
In Baptism we dedicate our child to God. We consciously and willingly consecrate
him to His will and purpose. The child belongs first of all to God. So we
present him to God to be employed as God pleases as a part of his great plan.
But Baptism means more than consecrating our child. In it we dedicate ourselves
to all the high and holy duties of parenthOL~. We affirm our desire to live, by
God's grace and help, at our very best, for our children's sake and for Christ's
sake. We pledge ourselves to perform "with pure and steadfast affection" those
things which, maintained through the years, will make our family a center for
spiritual development, a real Christian home. In this service we register before
God and in the fellowship of Christ's Church our resolution and purpose to be
God's agents in creating a home that will become the dwelling place for Christ's
III. THE PARENTS' PART
Infant Baptism is primarily an act of faith on the part of the parents. In it we
claim all the riches of God for our child. We recognize that apart from God the
child cannot enter into his spiritual heritage and become a "child of the
covenant." We declare our faith in the redeeming grace of Christ and acknowledge
our own need of his salvation and a like need in the life of our children. So we
present the child to God as a recipient of his grace.
But how is the child to enter into his Christian heritage? It must be mediated
to him primarily through his father and mother. This is the reason why only the
children of believing parents may properly be presented for Baptism. A child, if
he is to have the largest opportunity for spiritual growth, needs the influence
and example of both a Christian mother and a Christian father. In and through the exercise and the expression of the parents' faith the
child is afforded the greatest help to a Christian faith of his own.
In this rite of Christian Baptism the parents accept for their child, and accept
anew for themselves, the covenant of God. Then they promise, according to the
words of the baptismal service, "in dependence on the grace of God," to bring up
their child "in the nurture and admonition of the Lord." In other words, in
presenting a child for Baptism, parents take upon themselves consciously and
deliberately the obligations of their high privilege in training their children
as God's children in the way of Christian faith and life.
This means that we will, by precept and example, give expression to our own
Christian faith and will realize that our example will count even more than our
Earnest parents will teach their children to pray, by praying with them and for
them, by saying grace at the table. They will read aloud the Bible, that great
source of wisdom and of knowledge, to their children. They will take them to
church and to the Sunday church school. They will thus maintain their own
covenant with God and his Church, and fulfill their promise to teach their
children after them.
With grateful hearts we will say to ourselves in the words of John Calvin, "how
unjust shall we be if we drive away from Christ those whom he invites to
himself, if we deprive them of the gifts with which he adorns them; if we
exclude those whom he graciously admits!" We will in turn avail ourselves of the
rite which expressed the faith of our fathers, which they believed and we
believe to have them divinely instituted, this sacrament of Christian Baptism.
We too will keep and transmit the faith and avail ourselves of Christian Baptism
as a means to that end.
"Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain." BOARD OF CHRISTIAN EDUCATION
"He will feed his flock like a shepherd, he will gather the lambs in his arms.
he will carry them in his bosom."
"These words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart; and you
shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you
sit in your house, . . . and when you rise."
"Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child
shall not enter it.”
THE UNITED PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH U.S.A. Witherspoon Building, Philadelphia 7, Pa.