Baptism -- IV. Baptismal Practice
A. Baptism of Believers and Infants
B11. While the possibility that infant baptism was also practised in the apostolic
age cannot be excluded, baptism upon personal profession of faith is the most
clearly attested pattern in the New Testament documents.
In the course of history, the practice of baptism has developed in a variety
of forms. Some churches baptize infants brought by parents or guardians who
are ready, in and with the Church, to bring up the children in the Christian
faith. Other churches practise exclusively the baptism of believers who are
able to make a personal confession of faith. Some of these churches encourage
infants or children to be presented and blessed in a service which usually involves
thanksgiving for the gift of the child and also the commitment of the mother
and father to Christian parenthood.
All churches baptize believers coming from other religions or from unbelief
who accept the Christian faith and participate in catechetical instruction.
B12. Both the baptism of believers and the baptism of infants take place in
the Church as the community of faith. When one who can answer for himself or
herself is baptized, a personal confession of faith will be an integral part
of the baptismal service. When an infant is baptized, the personal response
will be offered at a later moment in life. In both cases, the baptized person
ill have to grow in the understanding of faith. For those baptized upon their
own confession of faith, there is always the constant requirement of a continuing
growth of personal response in faith. In the case of infants, personal confession
is expected later, and Christian nurture is directed to the eliciting of this
confession. All baptism is rooted in and declares Christ's faithfulness unto
death. It has its setting within the life and faith of the Church and, through
the witness of the whole Church, points to the faithfulness of God, the ground
of all life in faith. At every baptism the whole congregation reaffirms its
faith in God and pledges itself to provide an environment of witness and service.
Baptism should, therefore, always be celebrated and developed in the setting
of the Christian community.
When the expressions "infant baptism" and "believers' baptism" are used, it
is necessary to keep in mind that the real distinction is between those who
baptize people at any age and those who baptize only those able to make a
confession of faith for themselves. The differences between infant and believers'
baptism become less sharp when it is recognized that both forms of baptism
embody Cod's own initiative in Christ and express a response of faith made
within the believing community.
The practice of infant baptism emphasizes the corporate faith and the faith
which the child shares with its parents. The infant is born into a broken
world and shares in its brokenness. Through baptism, the promise and claim
of the Gospel are laid upon the child. The personal faith of the recipient
of baptism and faithful participation in the life of the Church are essential
for the full fruit of baptism.
The practice of believers' baptism emphasizes the explicit confession of the person who responds to the grace of God in and through the community of faith and who seeks baptism.
Both forms of baptism require a similar and responsible attitude towards
Christian nurture. A rediscovery of the continuing character of Christian
nurture may facilitate the mutual acceptance of different initiation practices.
In some churches which unite both infant-baptist and believer-baptist traditions,
it has been possible to regard as equivalent alternatives for entry into the
Church both a pattern whereby baptism in infancy is followed by later profession
of faith and a pattern whereby believers' baptism follows upon a presentation
and blessing in infancy. This example invites other churches to decide whether
they, too, could not recognize equivalent alternatives in their reciprocal
relationships and in church union negotiations.
B13.Baptism is an unrepeatable act. Any practice which might be interpreted
as "re-baptism" must be avoided.
Churches which have insisted on a particular form of baptism or which have
had serious questions about the authenticity of other churches' sacraments
and ministries have at times required persons coming from other church traditions
to be baptized before being received into full communicant membership. As
the churches come to fuller mutual understanding and acceptance of one another
and enter into closer relationships in witness and service, they will want
to refrain from any practice which might call into question the sacramental
integrity of other churches or which might diminish the unrepeatability of
the sacrament of baptism.
B14. In God's work of salvation, the paschal mystery of Christ's death and
resurrection is inseparably linked with the pentecostal gift of the Holy Spirit.
Similarly, participation in Christ's death and resurrection is inseparably linked
with the receiving of the Spirit. Baptism in its full meaning signifies and
Christians differ in their understanding as to where the sign of the gift of
the Spirit is to be found.. Different actions have become associated with the
giving of the Spirit. For some it is the water rite itself For others, it is
the anointing with chrism and/or the imposition of hands, which many churches
call confirmation. For still others it is all three, as they see the Spirit
operative throughout the rite. All agree that Christian baptism is in water
and the Holy Spirit.
- Within some traditions it is explained that as baptism conforms us to Christ
crucified, buried and risen, so through chrismation Christians receive the
gift of the pentecostal Spirit from the anointed Son.
- If baptism, as incorporation into the body of Christ, points by its very
nature to the eucharistic sharing of Christ's body and blood, the question
arises as to how a further and separate rite can be interposed between baptism
and admission to communion. Those churches which baptize children but refuse
them a share in the eucharist before such a rite may wish to ponder whether
they have fully appreciated and accepted the consequences of baptism.
- Baptism needs to be constantly reaffirmed. The most obvious form of such
reaffirmation is the celebration of the eucharist. The renewal of baptismal
vows may also take place during such occasions as the annual celebration of
the paschal mystery or during the baptism of others.
C. Towards Mutual Recognition of Baptism
B15. Churches are increasingly recognizing one another's baptism as the one
baptism into Christ when Jesus Christ has been confessed as Lord by the candidate
or, in the case of infant baptism, when confession has been made by the church
(parents, guardians, godparents and congregation) and affirmed later by personal
faith and commitment. Mutual recognition of baptism is acknowledged as an important
sign and means of expressing the baptismal unity given in Christ. Wherever possible,
mutual recognition should be expressed explicitly by the churches.
B16. In order to overcome their differences, believer
baptists and those who practise infant baptism should reconsider certain aspects
of their practices. The first may seek to express more visibly the fact that
children are placed under the protection of God's grace. The latter must guard
themselves against the practice of apparently indiscriminate baptism and take
more seriously their responsibility for the nurture of baptized children to
mature commitment to Christ.