One of the “deal breakers” when planting a Presbyterian Church in Oklahoma City is infant baptism. Though this is a scriptural practice, Oklahoma has the highest percentage of Southern Baptist churches in the world. Most Oklahomans have never seen an infant baptism. In fact, this is one thing that continually gets lumped with dry, liturgical tradition that is a carry over from the Roman Catholic Church and something the Reformers did not have enough Scriptural grounding to change both the mode and recipients of this sacrament.
I remember the first time I witnessed this. It was at Heritage Presbyterian Church in Edmond, OK. The pastor, Chuck Garriott, connected this practice to the Scriptures by making connections between God’s work through families in the Old Testament and in Acts. It was seamless to me, presented winsomely and done in a way where you realized you were witnessing something special. Something sacred. And it helped change my perspective.
In our church plant, we have never shied from our Presbyterianism (we baptized NINE people, infants through age 23 in our first preview service with 250 people present!), but we recognize where our practices are not the norm in our context. It is different than Pennsylvania, Missouri, the UK, or Europe where infant baptism is much more common. So our task, in this moment, is to present the truth but in a way that engages the baptistic folks in the room, the non-Christians, those wandering from the faith and those who are with “us” hook, line and sinker. So, to follow Simon Sinek’s advice, we approach this portion of the liturgy not to answer only “what” we are doing, but also “why” we are doing it. We do this because it is easy to assume everyone holds our opinion, but that is not true. We must present our believes in a persuasive way that shows we believe this to be an important moment in the service, that it matters and is true. We strive to make this a happy, joyful and sacred time during our service and we do not shy away from this or treat it like a wet dedication because this matters. Thankfully, we’ve baptized around 30 folks in the past two years. God is good.
So, below are the words I recently used during a service where we baptized two children: an infant and a four year old.
Friends, it is our privilege to share in the sacrament of Baptism. This may seem unusual in Oklahoma, to baptize babies and young children, but did you know that over 90% of professing Christians throughout the world – that’s two billion – baptize infants. And when we look throughout Church history that percentage gets even higher. But that’s not why we baptize babies.
We baptize them because God told Abraham in Genesis 17 that his promises were to he and his offspring.
We baptize them because God always included children in the number of his people throughout the Old and New Testament. And, intuitively, we count children. That’s why we pray with them and teach them the Bible and treat them differently.
We baptize them because Jesus said “Suffer little children to come to me, because such is the Kingdom of God” and he blessed them.
We baptize them because Peter said that God’s promises are “to you and your children” and throughout Acts the entire households of Lydia, the Philippian jailer and others were baptized.
We baptize them because the Apostle Paul declared that children with one believing parent are holy before the Lord. Paul also said that baptism has replaced circumcision and so the sign of God’s Old Testament people has been replaced with baptism and we see the Gospel as the cleansing agent of water is applied actively to a passive recipient just as the washing of God’s redemption comes through the power of his Holy Spirit.
God our Father, who has redeemed us by the sacrifice of Christ, is also the God and Father of our Children. They belong, with us who believe, to the membership of the Church through the covenant made in Christ, and confirmed to us by God in the Sacrament, which is a sign and seal of our cleaning, of our engrafting into Christ, and of our welcome in the household of God. And in a moment like tonight, I ask all of us who are baptized to remember your baptism. Remember that you have been set apart to follow Christ and have been visible identified with his work, his mission and his kingdom. Baptism calls all of us to love God and love our neighbor and cling to Christ’s work by faith.
So here the promises of God from Scripture.
For to you is the promise, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call unto him. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your seed after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto you and to your seed after you. Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.
To the parents of those to be baptized, I want to ask you these questions:
Do you acknowledge your child’s need of the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ, and the renewing grace of the Holy Spirit?
Do you claim God’s covenant promises in (his/her/their) behalf, and do you look in faith to the Lord Jesus Christ for (his/her/their) salvation, as you do for your own?
Do you now unreservedly dedicate your child to God, and promise, in humble reliance upon divine grace, that you will endeavor to set before (him/her/them) a godly example, that you will pray with and for (his/her/them), that you will teach (him/her/them) the doctrines of our holy religion, and that you will strive, by all the means of God’s appointment, to bring (him/her/them) up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord?
Do you as a congregation undertake the responsibility of assisting the parents in the Christian nurture of this child?
Let us pray: Most merciful and loving Father, we thank you for the Church of your dear Son, the ministry of your Word and the Sacraments of your grace. We praise you for the promises you have given concerning our children – that you declare they belong to you. That you call them to you and mark them with this Sacrament as a token and pledge of your love. Set apart this water from a common to a sacred use and grant that what we now do on earth may be confirmed in be confirmed in heaven. In humble faith we present these children to you, receive them and may your Holy Spirit keep them ever as yours through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.