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THE SACRAMENT OF BAPTISM

The First Congregational Church of Portland

United Church of Christ

 

Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are the two sacraments recognized by the United Church of Christ. A sacrament can be defined as “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.” It is a public symbol that God reaches out to us in love.

 

BIBLICAL BACKGROUND

 

It is believed that baptism, or immersion in water, was practiced by the Jews even before the time of Christ. However, it was probably nothing more than a rite of purification.  John the Baptist used this ancient ceremony, giving it a new and more significant meaning as a symbol of confession and repentance of sins.  He also foretold the coming of Jesus Christ, who would baptize with the “Holy Spirit and fire.”  When John baptized Jesus in the River Jordan, the Bible says that “the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.”  Water, as used in baptism, is a symbol of cleansing and the washing away of sins, and the dove symbolizes the Spirit of God descending on the one being baptized.  Water also symbolizes spiritual life, as told in the story of the Samaritan woman at the well, to whom Jesus promised “a spring which will provide living water, giving eternal life.”  Jesus himself never baptized anyone, but after his resurrection he told the disciples, “Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

 

HISTORY

As the early Church became organized, various New Testament practices became formalized in the sacrament of baptism-confirmation. The baptized, having been immersed in water, was led to the Bishop, who laid his hands upon the person.

The baptized then was anointed with oil and the Bishop invoked God’s mercy upon the person. Thus, baptism in the first two centuries consisted of two parts: the remission of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit.  In the beginning, water baptism was the usual practice. When the church moved north into colder climates, sprinkling was adopted and soon became the predominate practice.

The laying on of hands was a form of blessing that came from Old Testament times. Practiced by Jesus and the church, the laying on of hands was used in healing, Jesus’ blessing of the children, in baptism-confirmation, and in ordaining persons and commissioning them for Christ’s service.  As the number of people being baptized-confirmed increased, the Roman Church separated baptism and confirmation—often by a considerable period of time.  In the eastern Orthodox churches, baptism, confirmation and Holy Communion were all given to infants.

 

WHAT IS BAPTISM?

Baptism is the sacrament by which one is initiated into membership in the Christian church. In the baptismal ceremony, which usually takes place before the congregation, a person is initiated into the church family—the community of faith.  It is a time of joyous celebration of new birth, even if the person is older. It signifies that God has given us the gifts necessary for a  meaningful life.  An adult says in effect, “I accept the fact that I have been accepted by God,” and his or her answer to God’s gift is to join the church.  Forgiveness and understanding are part of adult baptism. However for a child, God’s love and the promise of a Christian upbringing are sufficient.  Baptism clearly shows that Gods loves us even before we can ask or earn our way into God’s family. God’s acceptance is a free, undeserved gift!  When children are baptized, their parents answer for them until they can speak for themselves at a later date.  At confirmation, the young person confirms what was promised earlier on his or her behalf and thus personally completes the baptismal promises.  The church’s response to both adults and children is the same: we receive you into the household of God and promise to fulfill our responsibility to you as fellow Christians.

 

AT WHAT AGE?

Baptism may occur at any time of life. Children may be baptized at any time the parents desire; however, it is customary that it is done in the first few months.  Baptism will take place for young people seeking confirmation who have not been baptized.

 

PREPARING FOR BAPTISM

If you are a parent seeking baptism for your child, you should understand its meaning for the child and your own responsibility toward your child and the church.  A parent should provide a home that nurtures the child in the faith. This could include teaching, Bible reading, example, prayer, and taking your child to church. The parent should also participate in the life of the church so that he/she can grow as a responsible Christian.

 

WHERE?

Ideally, baptisms take place in the sanctuary during a regular worship service. Since baptism means that the candidate is being received into the household of God, baptism during the worship service establishes a mutual bond between the congregation and the individual.  In the case of infants, it offers the congregation an opportunity to share in the joy of the family on the occasion of the birth of the child.  Any baptism, which because of unusual circumstances is not held during the regular worship service, should include a representative of the congregation—usually a deacon.

 

SPONSORS AND GODPARENTS

The Christian church is the true sponsor of the baptismal candidate. The congregation assists in leading your child into an understanding of the Christian faith.  Sometimes parents will choose special people to stand with them as godparents. While this is not necessary, it can have meaning for the family. By their close friendship or family ties, godparents represent one of the special ways by which the congregation fulfills its pledge.  However, their presence in no way nullifies the church’s responsibility or sponsorship. If you choose to have individual sponsors or godparents, they too should be instructed in the meaning of baptism so they will fully understand their responsibility.

 

BAPTISMAL PROMISES

Pastor to the Parents & Godparents:

Baptism is a means of grace, yet God’s grace works through the things and people of this world. It is your responsibility therefore, to allow God to work through you in the life of this child. In presenting this child for baptism, do you promise with God's help, by your life and your teaching, to lead _____________ toward an understanding of the Christian gospel, and into the service of Jesus Christ?

If so, say I do.

Parents and Godparents: I do.

 

Will you endeavor, God being your helper; to guide and instruct _________ that he/she may be led to the confession of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of the world, to the communion of the Lord's Table, and to confirmation into responsible membership in Christ's church? If so, say I will.

Parents and Godparents: I will.

 

 

 

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BAPTISMAL PROMISES (Godparent’s copy)

 

Pastor to the Parents & Godparents:

Baptism is a means of grace, yet God’s grace works through the things and people of this world. It is your responsibility therefore, to allow God to work through you in the life of this child. In presenting this child for baptism, do you promise with God's help, by your life and your teaching, to lead _____________ toward an understanding of the Christian gospel, and into the service of Jesus Christ?

If so, say I do.

Parents and Godparents: I do.

 

Will you endeavor, God being your helper; to guide and instruct _________ that he/she may be led to the confession of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of the world, to the communion of the Lord's Table, and to confirmation into responsible membership in Christ's church? If so, say I will.

Parents and Godparents: I will.