So often we receive our identity from others, from the expectations of friends and colleagues, from the labels society puts upon us, from the media, and even from the influence of family.
To become Christian is to receive a new identity. You no longer allow others to tell you who you are. God now claims you and Christ instructs you. Baptism celebrates becoming that new person.
This is why the church’s ritual begins with putting off the old, renouncing sin and the evil powers of the world, and pledging our loyalty to Christ’s way of compassion and peace.
The word ‘covenant’ is a biblical word describing God’s initiative in choosing Israel to be a people with a special mission in the world, and Israel’s response in a life of faithfulness. The baptismal covenant calls us to a similar vocation.
Christians have also understood the baptismal covenant in light of Jesus’ baptism. At Jesus’ baptism, God said, “This is my son.” While Jesus’ relation to God as Son is unique, for Christians baptism means that God has also chosen us as daughters and sons, and knows us intimately as a parent.
So the most important things about us, our true identity, is that we are now sons and daughters of God.
From the beginning, baptism has been the door through which one enters the church. It was inconceivable to many that one could respond to God’s grace by reciting the renunciations, affirming one’s faith in Christ and loyalty to the Kingdom, without joining the fellowship of those who are committed to mature in that faith. As the “Body of Christ” in the world, baptism commissions us to use our gifts to strengthen the church and to transform the world.
From the earliest times, children and infants were baptized and included in the church. As scriptural authority for this ancient tradition, some scholars cite Jesus’ words, “Let the little children come to me…for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs” (Mark 10:14). However, another view is that baptism, as a means of grace, signifies God’s initiative in the process of salvation. The baptism of children and their inclusion in the church before they can respond with their own confirmation of faith is a vivid and compelling witness to God’s grace.
Baptism is the beginning, not the end. You might have heard people say, “I was baptized Catholic,” or “I was baptized Presbyterian,” which could mean that in baptism they got their ‘identity papers’ and that was the end of it. But baptism is not the end. It is the beginning of a lifelong journey of faith. It makes no difference whether you were baptized as an adult or as a child; we all start on that journey at baptism. For the child, the journey begins in the nurturing community of the church, where he or she learns what it means that God loves you. At the appropriate time, the child will make his or her first confession of faith in the ritual the church traditionally calls confirmation. Most often, this is at adolescence or at the time when the person begins to take responsibility for his or her own decisions.
The word ‘sacrament’ is the Latin translation of the Greek word mysterion. From the early days of the church, baptism was associated with the mystery that surrounds God’s action in our lives. That means that at best our words can only circumscribe what happens, but not define it. That is the most sacred and unfathomable mystery of all. We can experience God’s grace at any time and in any place, but in the sacrament of baptism we routinely experience that amazing grace.
If you would like to discuss baptism for your child or for yourself, please contact the office and we will be happy to answer any questions you might have and share more information with you.