The sacrament of baptism reminds and assures us that “as surely as water washes away dirt from the body, so certainly [Christ’s] blood and his Spirit wash away . . . all [our] sins” (Heidelberg Catechism, Q. and A. 69). And because “infants as well as adults are in God’s covenant and are his people,” they, “no less than adults, are promised the forgiveness of sin” and thus “by baptism . . . should be received into the Christian church. . . . This was done in the Old Testament by circumcision, which was replaced in the New Testament by baptism” (Heidelberg Catechism, Q. and A. 74).
In the Christian Reformed Church, baptism is performed by an ordained minister of the Word or commissioned pastor. The usual method of baptism is by the sprinkling of water on the forehead of the person to be baptized, but other methods (such as immersion) may also be used. The CRC employs infant baptism (for children of believing parents) as well as adult baptism (for adults who join but have not previously been baptized in a Christian church); an adult who is baptized is also called upon to make a public profession of his or her faith in Christ.
The latest guidelines and forms for baptism in the CRC were approved by Synods 1994 and 2013. In response to an overture, Synod 2000 appointed a committee to study baptism regarding questions that arise about infant baptism as a result of the CRC’s efforts to become more multiethnic and evangelical. Because excellent studies on this subject already exist, synod proposed first that such resources be made more accessible and well-known as an aid to discussions about baptism. Synod 2011 endorsed a document presented by its study committee on faith formation (appointed in 2007), titled “Affirming Baptism and Forming Faith,” as “a guiding document for the work of denominational agencies and congregations in the area of faith formation” (Acts of Synod 2011, p. 829). In 2011 synod also affirmed a “principle regarding infant dedication to guide the continuing work of the committee” (p. 831). Synod 2012 reaffirmed that principle and commended to the churches a report titled “Infant Dedication and the Christian Reformed Church,” submitted by the committee, which completed its work in 2013. The baptism form approved by Synod 2013 is closely based on a form adopted in 1994 for use in the Reformed Church in America.
In response to recommendations by the Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations Committee, based on dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church, Synod 2011 approved a “Common Agreement on the Mutual Recognition of Baptism,” encouraged CRC congregations to use the language of a common “Certificate of Baptism” in all future baptismal certificates, and received “These Living Waters” as an ecumenical document on baptism, recommending it “to the churches for further study and reflection” (Acts of Synod 2011, p. 822).