What Baptism Is
Baptism is a sacrament of Christ’s church. The Lord himself commanded the application of water in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19).
What Baptism Gives
A. In baptism the Holy Spirit conveys the benefits of Christ’s redemption. These benefits are the same as those proclaimed by the Gospel and received in faith. According to the New Testament baptism gives:
B. God in Christ acts both in the church and the world through the Holy Spirit. In baptism, the Holy Spirit is both gift and agent (1 Cor. 12:13; Acts 2:38 cf. 41; 9:17, 18; 19:2, 3). The Spirit is the seal God promised as a guarantee of the future inheritance (Eph. 1:13; 4:3; 2 Cor. 1:21, 22).
The Spirit also creates the faith which receives the gift of baptism. This faith is not a product of human decision and commitment.
It should be noted that the reception of the Spirit after a lapse of time and subsequent to a Christian baptism without the Spirit (cf. Acts 8) is obviously not the norm (Acts 8:16). Baptism is the complete act of Christian initiation which requires no supplementary rite or ceremony.
C. Baptism creates new life. Christians can trace the beginning of their new life in Christ to their baptism (Rom. 6:4).
Baptism nurtures a life of discipleship which begins in baptism and which continues through the life of the baptised through instruction in all that Christ has commanded his church to teach (Matt. 28:19).
The people of God are motivated and empowered by their baptism to struggle against sin (Rom. 6:1-11), to witness in church and world to Christ’s resurrection, to love God and their neighbour, to serve, help, encourage and comfort all people and to do everything else that the new life in Christ involves. People who have been reborn as God’s sons and daughters are prompted to live righteously (1 John 2:29), and members of Christ’s body are prompted to use their charismatic gifts for the common good and the edification of all other members of Christ in love (1 Cor. 12-14). As those who have been enlightened, they shine as lights in this dark world to the glory of God, the Lord of their baptism.
If Christians lapse from the faith (and it seems that many do) and the Holy Spirit leads them back again to repentance, they must not be baptised again. Baptism maintains the Christian’s status of being joined once and for all to Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. The very nature of baptism excludes the practice of re-baptism.
What Baptism Demonstrates
Baptism, especially when infants are baptised, demonstrates that Christians are justified by faith apart from human efforts to fulfil what God’s law requires. Baptism itself works faith (Col. 2:12) also in children who are baptised because they, too, are part of ‘all nations’ whom the Lord commissioned the church to baptise. Infants are also part of sinful humanity and need to be reborn, as well as adults, of water and the Spirit. Our Lord clearly regarded his kingdom as received by children, even infants (Luke 18:15).
What Baptism Recalls
Baptism recalls three events of salvation-history: Christ’s baptism in the river Jordan (Mark 1:9-11; Matt. e:13-17; Luke 3:21-22); the Lord’s death on the cross and his resurrection (Luke 12:50; cf Col. 2:9-15; 1 Peter 3:18-22); and the gift of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost (Acts 2:1-3,38; cf John 1:31,32; Acts 10:44-48). These events teach the baptised that Christ is the ‘Head’ of his body, the church, and that the baptised people of God receive in the sacrament of baptism a unique participation in the benefits of his life, suffering, death, resurrection (Rom.6) and ascension, which includes the gift of the Holy Spirit.
What Baptism Demands
Baptism demands that the church remembers the command of Christ (Matt. 28:19) and that water be used. The word ‘baptism’ requires the use of water. These two aspects – the triune name and water – are essential to every baptism. The quantity of water is of relatively minor importance. Water may be sprinkled or poured, or the candidate may be immersed in water. Since our two churches call and ordain pastors or ministers to proclaim the Word of God and to administer the blessed sacraments, it is the practice, except in exceptional circumstances, that those ordained administer baptism.
Agreed Statement on Baptism
Baptism takes place, in normal circumstances, in the presence of the people assembled for worship, and our churches provide forms of worship or orders of service for use in congregations. The current liturgies of our churches have the following elements in common:
Invocation (or Call to Worship)
Confession and Absolution (or Declaration of Forgiveness)
Readings from Scripture
Affirmation of Faith (the Creed)
Exhortation, which includes references to the baptismal command and its promises
Reading of Scripture passages relevant to the candidate(s) for baptism and to those who are about to witness the administration of the sacrament, e.g. Matt. 28:18-20; Romans 6:3-4
Address to the candidates for baptism which includes the renunciation of evil, and the confession of faith on the part of the candidate(s) to be baptised
Prayer and/or the ‘Invocation of the Holy Spirit’
The Baptism with Water in the Name of the Triune God
The Sign of the Cross (the moment for this differs in the liturgies of the two churches)
Various ‘Auxiliary Acts’, e.g. the gift of a baptismal candle
Prayers and Benediction.