Service for Baptism (1991, approved 1994)

Service for Baptism (1991, approved 1994)

A. Introductory Notes

  1. Baptism is one of two sacraments accepted by Reformed denominations because it was commanded and instituted by Christ himself (Matt. 28:18-20). In the Reformed confessions and theological writings about baptism, as well as in contemporary ecumenical documents such as Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (1982), the following themes are prominent:

a. Baptism means participation in Christ's death and resurrection.
b. Baptism involves conversion, pardoning, and cleansing from sin.
c. Baptism signifies anointing by and life with the Spirit.
d. Baptism is a symbol of incorporation into the body of Christ.
e. Baptism is a sign of the covenant and kingdom of God.

  1. The history of baptism in the Christian church exhibits a rich array of biblical images, a variety of liturgical forms and practices, and some consistently evident features or elements that characterize this Christian sacrament:

a. The proclamation of biblical text(s) referring to baptism.
b. An invocation of the Holy Spirit.
c. A renunciation of evil and profession of faith in God.
d. The use of water (either immersion, pouring, or sprinkling).
e. A statement about new identity in Christ and about church membership.

  1. In formulating this baptism liturgy, the CRC Worship Committee kept three basic considerations in mind: tradition and ecumenicity, flexibility, and brevity. Regarding tradition and ecumenicity, we have reviewed the baptism forms of several major denominations and have chosen to include such traditional elements as a prayer of thanksgiving and the renunciation of evil (in the case of adult baptism). Regarding flexibility, we have included many alternatives. Congregations may exercise considerable freedom in choosing alternate texts and even in rewording certain statements. Regarding brevity, we have shortened the form, especially the segment formerly called "The Meaning of Baptism," which was a long, didactic statement in older Reformed forms. Please note that the form is indeed shorter, even though the many options make it look longer on paper.

Synod 1991 also encouraged "the churches to adapt as needed all denominational liturgical forms for the spiritual nurture of their people" (Acts of Synod 1991, p. 707). It should be kept in mind, however, that a uniform practice of baptism in the CRC is desirable and that certain essential thoughts and symbols need to be conveyed in any baptismal service. Even when liturgical freedom is being exercised, certain essential words and elements should always be included:

a. The scriptural words of institution.
b. A confession about the meaning of baptism (entitled "God's Covenant Promises" in the form).
c. Confession of faith and vow.
d. The act of baptism with water in the name of the Trinity.

Other elements could possibly be eliminated or certainly adapted. We also suggest that if the section "God's Covenant Promises" is adapted, the essential themes to be communicated are those given above in A, 1, a-e.

  1. Outline of the service of holy baptism

Words of Institution
The Covenant of Baptism
God's Covenant Promises
Prayer of Thanksgiving
Our Covenant Promises
The Baptism
The Blessing
The Welcome

B. The service of holy baptism

Words of Institution
Hear the words of Jesus:
"All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matt. 28:18-20)

[One or more of the following words from Scripture may be added:]

Genesis 17:7
John 1:12-13
Acts 2:39
Romans 6:3-4
Galatians 3:27-28
Ephesians 4:4-6
1 Peter 2:9-10

The Covenant of Baptism

God's Covenant Promises
[The minister may choose one of the four alternatives offered here or devise another one, taking great care to maintain the essential themes of baptism outlined above in A, 1, a-e.]

  1. [First alternative]

Our gracious God has always desired
to hold his people in a covenant embrace.
He declares over and over,
"I will be their God, and they shall be my people."
Pursuing this deep desire,
God called Abraham and Sarah to trust in him
and gave a covenant sign to show that they belonged to him.
In baptism God now claims us in Christ
marks us as his own people,
and seals our membership in God's covenant community, the church.
Baptism is the covenant sign that God frees us
from the power of sin and death,
uniting us with Jesus Christ in his death and resurrection.
By water and the Holy Spirit we are washed clean from sin.
God's grace in baptism calls us to give ourselves to him
in trust, love, and obedience.

[optional at the baptism of infants]
From the beginning,
God graciously has included our children in his covenant.
All his promises are for them as well as for us.
We are to teach them that they have been set apart by baptism
as God's own children
so that as they grow older they may respond to him
in personal faith and commitment.

  1. [Second alternative]

In the sacrament of baptism God gives us a new identity as his people.
In a world that has turned away from its Creator,
where anonymity and rootlessness threaten our existence,
God calls a people into covenant embrace.
God called Abraham and Sarah, gave them new names,
and promised to make of them a new nation
through which he would bless all the families of the world.
God cut a covenant into Israel's flesh, carving out a people for himself.
They would light the path home for all humanity.
In the fullness of time, God sent his only Son, Jesus, to be our Savior.
In his death on the cross our old self is dead and buried;
in his resurrection we rise to a new life and look forward to a new creation.
When we are baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,
the triune God seals our adoption as his children
and writes his name invisibly on our foreheads.

"You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood,
a holy nation, a people belonging to God . . . .
Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of
God." (1 Pet. 2:9-10)

By baptism we have a new identity in Jesus Christ.

  1. [Third alternative]
    By baptism God assures us that he will be with us always.

When, in the beginning,
the deep dark waters churned,
God's Spirit hovered over them.
When, in Noah's day,
the waters engulfed everything and destroyed the world, 
God saved his faithful people, whom he loved.
When, in Egypt,
Pharaoh's army hotly pursued Israel to the sea,
God parted the waters and led his people through to safety.
When, in the dead of night on Galilee's raging sea, 
Jesus' disciples feared for their lives, 
he called, "It is I; do not fear."

Time and again, God saved our drowning ancestors,
and he promises also to rescue us.
For Christ, our Savior,
went down into the depths of hell
and rose up victorious from them.

Therefore, we receive God's baptismal promise,
trusting that he will rescue us from the dark depths of sin and death
and bring us to safe shore and firm ground.

4. [Fourth alternative]
[The answer of each Q&A is for communal response.]
[The first Q&A is optional.]

Sacraments are holy signs and seals for us to see. They were instituted by God so that by our use of them he might make us understand more clearly the promise of the gospel, and might put a seal on that promise.

Q. And what is God's gospel promise?
A. To forgive our sins and give us eternal life
     by grace alone
     because of Christ's one sacrifice
     finished on the cross.

Q. How does baptism remind you and assure you that Christ's one sacrifice on the cross is for you personally?

A. In this way:

Christ instituted this outward washing
and with it gave the promise that,
as surely as water washes away dirt from the body,
so certainly his blood and his Spirit
wash away my soul's impurity,
in other words, all my sins.

Q. What does it mean to be washed with Christ's blood and Spirit?
A. To be washed with Christ's blood means:

that God, by grace, has forgiven my sins
because of Christ's blood
poured out for me in his sacrifice on the cross.
To be washed by Christ's Spirit means
that the Holy Spirit has renewed me
and set me apart to be a member of Christ
so that more and more I become dead to sin
and increasingly live a holy and blameless life.

[When infants are baptized, the following should be added.]

Q. Should infants, too, be baptized?
A. Yes.

Infants as well as adults
are in God's covenant and are his people.
They, no less than adults, are promised
the forgiveness of sins through Christ's blood
and the Holy Spirit who produces faith.
Therefore, by baptism, the mark of the covenant,
infants should be received into the Christian church
and should be distinguished from the children of unbelievers.
This was done in the Old Testament by circumcision,
which was replaced in the New Testament by baptism.
(from Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 66, 69-70, 74)

The Prayer of Thanksgiving

Let us now remember our baptism
and give thanks to God
as we celebrate this sacrament of grace today.

[Water may be poured into the font at this time or at the beginning of The Baptism (below).]

[The following ancient prayer may be spoken in unison by the congregation or by the worship leader, or a similar prayer may be used.]

We thank you, O God,
for our baptism into Christ's death and resurrection.
In the beginning your Spirit moved over the waters,
and you created everything that is, seen and unseen.
In the time of Noah,
you destroyed evil in the water of the flood;
and by your saving ark, you gave a new beginning.
In the night of trouble
you led Israel through the sea,
out of slavery into the freedom of the promised land.
In the water of the Jordan,
our Lord was baptized by John and anointed by your Spirit.
In the baptism of Christ's death and resurrection,
you have set us free from sin and death
and opened up the way to eternal life.

May Christ, who sank deep into death
and was raised Lord of life,
keep us and our little ones in the grip of his hand.
May your Spirit separate us from sin
and mark us with a faith
that can stand the light of day and endure the dark of night.

To you be all honor and glory, dominion and power,
now and forever,
through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Our Covenant Promises

[Proceed to either the Baptism of Infants or the Baptism of Older Children or Adults.]

Covenant for the Baptism of Infants
Since you have presented these children for baptism, we ask you the following questions before God and his people.

Do you profess your faith in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior and affirm the promises of God made to you and your children in his Word?

We (I) do.

Do you promise to instruct these children by word and example, with the help of the Christian community,in the truth of God's Word,and in the way of salvation through Jesus Christ?

Do you promise to pray for them and teach them to pray?

Do you promise to nurture them within the body of believers, as citizens of Christ's kingdom?

We (I) do, God helping us (me).

[Proceed to The Creed (below).]

Covenant for the Baptism of Older Children or Adults [This covenant statement may also be adapted for the baptism of infants. The first sentence would then read, "Since you have presented these children for baptism, we ask you, before God . . . ."]

Since you have responded by God's grace
to the call of the gospel to believe and be baptized,
we ask you, before God and his people,
to reject sin
and to profess your faith in Jesus Christ.
Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of evil
that rebel against God?

I renounce them!

Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God?

I renounce them!

Do you turn to Jesus Christ?

Yes! I trust in him as my Lord and Savior.

Do you intend to be Christ's faithful disciple,
trusting his promises,
obeying his word,
honoring his church,
and showing his love,
as long as you live?

Yes! God helping me.

The Creed
[The Apostles' Creed may be recited in unison; sung, using Psalter Hymnal 518 or 519; or spoken responsively, using the following question-and-answer form.]

With all God's people throughout time and history,
and gathered in this place today,
we ask you to profess your faith in the triune God.
Do you believe in God the Father?

I believe in God, the Father Almighty . . .
Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son?

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord . . .

Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?

I believe in the Holy Spirit . . .

[All may then sing a hymn of faith (for example, Psalter Hymnal 285, 273, 274, 271, 269).] The Baptism

[If not done earlier, the water may be poured into the font at this time.]

[At the baptism of children, the minister may say, "Our Lord said, 'Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these'" (Mark 10:14).]

[At the baptism of children, minister may turn to the parent(s) of each child and ask, "What is the name of this child?"] (name) ,
I baptize you in the name of the Father,
and of the Son,
and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The Blessing

[The minister may place a hand on the head of each person baptized or make a sign of the cross on each one's forehead, saying,]

(name) , child of the covenant,
in baptism you are sealed with the Holy Spirit
and marked as Christ's own. Amen.

[and, or]

[The minister may place a hand on the head of the baptized person(s) and offer the following (or a similar) prayer.]

Let us pray.

Gracious God and heavenly Father,
we thank you that you make us new persons in Jesus Christ
through grace alone.
We pray for name(s) .
Bless and strengthen them daily
with the gift of your Holy Spirit.
Unfold to them the riches of your love.
Deepen their faith.
Keep them from the power of evil.
Enable them to live a holy and blameless life
until your kingdom comes.

[At the baptism of children, the minister, upon removing his hand from each child, may say,]

Look with kindness on these parents.
Let them always rejoice in the gift you have given them.
Grant them the presence of your Holy Spirit,
that they may bring up these children
to know you, love you, and serve you and their neighbor,
through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

The Welcome
Brothers and sisters,
We now receive name(s) into Christ's church.
I charge you to nurture and love them
and to assist them to be Christ's faithful disciple(s).

[The congregation responds.]

With joy and thanksgiving,
we now welcome you into Christ's church;
for we are all one in Christ.
We promise to love, encourage, and support you
and to help you know and follow Christ.

     [or,]

Brothers and sisters,
We now receive name(s) into Christ's church.
Do you welcome them in love,
and do you promise to pray for, encourage,
and help nurture them in the faith?
We do, God helping us.

Hymn

[A baptism hymn or Bible song may be sung.]

C. Notes on Administering the Sacrament of Baptism

  1. Because baptism is a sacrament, it is important that it appeal to the senses of the congregation. The water should not be poured in the font prior to the service but should be visibly and audibly poured during the baptismal liturgy. We suggest pouring the water into the font from a suitable vessel or pitcher at one of two moments in the liturgy (during The Prayer of Thanksgiving or at the beginning of The Baptism). This act needs no verbal interpretation; let the water "speak" for itself. Instead of using a small baptismal font, churches ought to consider using something much larger to accommodate a more generous use of water.
  2. For the same reason, we also suggest that the water of baptism be applied as generously as possible. A few nearly hidden drops do not speak as eloquently as water poured from a vessel over a person's head or applied generously from a cupped palm. Indeed, since one of the things that baptism symbolizes is our dying and rising with Christ, even full immersion would not be out of place. It may be thoughtful to have a towel ready to wipe away excess water, but use it only after the entire baptism liturgy is over.
  3. The minister may want to memorize parts of the form in order to speak freely and directly to the congregation without departing from the meanings conveyed in the liturgical text.
  4. It is certainly appropriate to include personal testimonies and other statements of faith (such as the Contemporary Testimony) in the baptism ceremony, especially when adults are being baptized. The best place for these is probably just prior to the actual administration of baptism. However, since the sacrament of baptism marks the reception of an individual into the community of believers, it is advisable for any such personal confession to be complemented by a communal confession. Because it is the historic, ecumenical baptismal creed of the Christian church, the Apostles' Creed is particularly suited to this purpose, and its use is strongly recommended.