Considering baptism of your child in church?

The following is a booklet used in church.

A time for thanksgiving

It is a joy to be a parent. In an ancient song recorded in the Bible, we read that “children are a gift from the LORD.”[1] The birth of a child is a time of wonder at the miraculous handiwork and incredible generosity of our maker, a wonder that can only overflow in grateful celebration.

At St Bartholomew’s and St James the Less we are delighted to share in this sense of celebration, and offer two options through which it might be expressed:

1. Baptism is the badge of belonging to the community of God’s people, the church. Children belong to this community because of the committed Christian faith held by at least one parent. This service therefore involves parent(s) (and godparents) publicly declaring their own commitment to Christ and promising that their child will be brought up in the Christian faith and as a member of one of our church families.
2. Thanksgivings are offered to those who do not yet feel able to make such strong declarations with integrity. This service is one of joyful thanks and prayer to God for your child, and still provides the wonderful opportunity for parent(s), family and friends to celebrate together. Moreover having a thanksgiving for your child in no way excludes the possibility of baptism at a later date.

Many who enquire about baptism are unaware of the declarations involved or of the alternative open to them. This leaflet therefore explains these things in some depth so that you can start to consider whether a service of baptism or thanksgiving is, at this time, most appropriate for you. Either way, we look forward to sharing in your joy at the child the Lord God has given you.

Baptisms and thanksgivings usually take place at one of our All Age Services on the first Sunday of the month.

Jon Hobbs

Rector of Maresfield
Vicar of Nutley
About baptism

The key symbol in baptism is water, which cleanses and sustains life. So children are baptised as a sign and pledge to them of God’s promise to spiritually cleanse and give everlasting life to all who trust and live for Christ.

The Bible teaches that as human beings we have all in some way rejected God’s loving authority over our lives. We believe only what we choose to believe about him and behave only as we decide to behave. We therefore fall short of the perfect goodness God created us for, and this is what the Bible means by the word sin. The evidence of sin is painfully apparent both in our world and in our own lives. In the light of this, the water of baptism speaks of two types of cleansing from God:

1. A cleansing from the guilt of sin: It matters to God that he is rejected and lives are therefore ruined. Our rebellion rightly offends and angers him, and he won’t let it go on forever. This means that even we should face the punishment beyond death that our own sin deserves. Fortunately however, God has not totally abandoned us. In his great love he sent his Son Jesus to die as a way of bearing that punishment on our behalf. So those who turn from their sin and follow Jesus can be totally forgiven and no longer counted guilty by God.

2. A cleansing from the grip of sin: Jesus actually came back to life from the dead. This proved that he is God’s ruler and judge and so able to grant us this forgiveness, and with it an everlasting life beyond death. This will be a perfect life, utterly free from sin in a new and perfect world. Yet Christians taste something of this life and freedom even now as God’s Spirit enables them to start again with God and begin living to please him.

Peter, one of Jesus’ closest followers and a leader in the early church put it this way in the New Testament of the Bible:

“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off - for all whom the Lord our God will call.”[2]

About children

It is important to recognise that Children do not receive these things simply because they have been baptised. The water is an outward symbol of what we pray will be an inward reality. As Peter makes clear (above), the spiritual benefits of baptism are received by responding personally to what baptism speaks of:

1. by faith - trusting that Jesus is God’s Son and ruler who has done everything necessary for us to be forgiven and so receive everlasting life.
2. by repentance - demonstrating that trust by turning away from our wrong belief and behaviour to live with Jesus in charge of our lives.

In this respect a child born to a Christian parent is hugely privileged. Being too young to articulate this response to Christ, the child is represented before God by its Christian Mum or Dad. If their parent(s) are sincere in their repentance and faith, the child is therefore treated by God as a Christian.[3]

God promises wonderful blessings to such children.[4] And on this basis we trust that he begins a work in them.

Yet this trust must not lead us to complacency about our children’s spiritual needs. Just as every seed needs watering and nurturing to grow, so truly Christian parent(s) recognise that they are to be God’s means of growing faith within their children.

It is for these reasons that the Bible reserves baptism for those with one or more committed Christian parents, and stresses the responsibility of the parent(s) to teach and model the truths of the Bible to their child and to attend church with them.[5]

About parents

The Church of England reflects all this in requiring at least one parent bringing a child for baptism to be able to publicly declare three particular things:

1. That you will actively help your child grow in the Christian faith by encouragement and example:

In the service the minister says to the parent(s):

Parents and godparents, the Church receives this child with joy. You speak for them today as we all trust God for their growth in faith.

Will you pray for them,
Draw them by your example into the community of faith
and walk with them in the way of Christ?

Answer: With the help of God, we will.

Will you care for them,
and help them to take their place
within the life and worship of Christ’s Church?

Answer: With the help of God, we will.

Here you declare that you will pray for your child and set an example in both regular church attendance and a desire to deepen in your own commitment to Christ. You also declare that you will care for your child, not least by encouraging them in these things too, and by teaching the Christian faith to them.

2. That you have actually committed yourself to Jesus in repentance and in faith:

The minister goes on to say:

As it is your duty to teach this child to fight against evil and follow Christ, I must ask these questions, which you must answer for yourselves and for them:

Do you reject the devil and renounce all evil?

Answer: I reject the devil and renounce all evil.

Do you repent of your sins and all rebellion against God?

Answer: I repent of them.

Do you turn to Christ as Saviour?

Answer: I turn to Christ as Saviour.

Do you submit to Christ as Lord?

Answer: I submit to Christ as Lord.

Do you come to Christ, the way, the truth and the life?

Answer: I come to Christ, the way, the truth and the life.

The Bible describes turning to Christ as an acceptance of him as Lord. This means turning away from what is wrong to live our whole lives for him and so according to the book he sanctioned, the Bible. Here you commit yourself to Jesus in this way.

3. That you do personally believe the Christian faith and will raise your child in it:

The minister goes on to say:

You must now declare before God and His Church the Christian faith into which this child is to be baptised and in which you will help them to grow.

Do you believe and trust in God the Father,
source of all being and life,
the one for whom we exist?

Answer: I believe and trust in him.

Here you declare that you do actually believe and trust in the God of the Bible, who created everything and whom all should acknowledge and serve. With the following declarations you also state that you believe and trust that this one God exists as a trinity of three persons - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Do you believe and trust in his Son,
who took our human nature,
died for our sins and rose again?

Answer: I believe and trust in him.

Here you declare that you believe and trust that God the Son actually became a man in Jesus, and at the cost of his own death has enabled you to be forgiven your sin by God and so freed from its punishment and power (see page 4). You also declare that you believe and trust that Jesus rose bodily from the dead confirming who he is and that forgiveness and eternal life is truly on offer.

Do you believe and trust in God the Holy Spirit, who gives life to the people of God and makes Christ known in the world?

Answer: I believe and trust in him.

Here you declare that you believe and trust that God the Holy Spirit is currently active in our world bringing people to repentance and faith (see page 5), enabling them to live God’s way, and eventually raising them also from death to an everlasting life.
About godparents

You may already be pondering who to ask to be godparents. It is therefore worth considering the Church of England’s requirements for godparents too.

You will need three godparents, two of the same sex as the child and at least one of the opposite sex. Their role is of course to be God-parents, providing extra prayer and care for the child and an extra example of what it is to follow Jesus.

What is often not realised is that godparents are therefore also required to be baptised and committed Christians who are able to make the same declarations as parents (see pages 6 and 7).[6] This will obviously be a governing factor in who you choose to ask, and you may find that you struggle to find suitable candidates. In such cases only one godparent of each sex is needed. As one of these can be a parent, then in exceptional circumstances you actually only need ask one person.
About thanksgivings

Some people may not be fully able to make the declarations required in the baptism service, yet still want to acknowledge their thankfulness to God for their child. The Service of Thanksgiving enables them to do so without asking them to compromise their integrity.

The Service of Thanksgiving is designed to be a simple service at which parent(s), the wider family and friends can come together to acknowledge their joy at the new arrival. There are no strings attached and no promises to make, but opportunities are given to express gratitude to God for the child’s life and pray for his/her future. Family and friends also publicly declare their commitment to supporting the parent(s) in their new role.

At a key point in the service, the minister says to the parent(s), family, friends, and wider congregation:

Do you thank God for the birth of this child?

Answer: We do.

Do you receive this child as a gift from God?

Answer: We do.

The minister then addresses the family, friends, and wider congregation only, asking:

Will you do all that you can to help and support N and N in the bringing up of this child?

Answer: With the help of God we will.

For those who do not yet feel able to make the commitments assumed by the baptism service, the service of thanksgiving provides a wonderful opportunity for family and friends to join with parent(s) in celebrating God’s incredible gift of their child.
The way ahead

We do hope you have found this leaflet helpful, and that the various requirements for baptism don’t seem too constraining. We highlight them from the start so that no-one opts for baptism only to find themselves having to publicly declare what they do not mean.

Because baptism is an important sign of Christian commitment, we ask parents (and godparents wherever possible) to attend a preparation course lasting two evenings which will enable them to think through the issues involved. The Church of England actually specifies that this kind of instruction must take place before your child is baptised.[7]

If you would rather not attend this course, or feel having done so that you still cannot in all conscience make the baptismal commitments as they are explained above, we ask that you hold back on baptism until you feel you can.

There are currently therefore three options for you:

1. You feel able to make the baptismal commitments as outlined, and so would like to proceed with baptism and enrol on the preparation course for it.

2. You are not yet sure you can make these commitments, but would like to enrol on the course in order to think them through further before then deciding on whether to have a baptism or thanksgiving.

3. You would like to proceed with a thanksgiving for now, and perhaps enrol on the course at a later date to consider baptism.

Your next step, when you are ready, is to call me (Jon Hobbs - 01825 762192) to ask any questions and let me know how you would like to proceed. For now, can I say again how delighted I would be to hold a baptism or thanksgiving for you? You are always very welcome at our services (see the back page), and will, we hope, find a home amongst us.

[1] Psalm 127 verse 3

[2] Acts chapter 2 verses 38-39

[3] 1 Corinthians 7:14

[4] Genesis 17:5-8; Deuteronomy 4:5-10; 30:6, Psalm 102:28; 103:17-18; Isaiah 65:23; Ezekiel 37:25; Acts 2:39

[5] Genesis 18:18; Deuteronomy 4:9; 4-9; Joshua 24:15; Matthew 19:13-14; Ephesians 6:4

[6] These requirements for parents and godparents are outlined in Canons B22-B23: The canons of the Church of England, (London, Church House Publishing, 2000)
[7] Canon B22: The canons of the Church of England, (London, Church House Publishing, 2000)