Baptismal Records (continued)

In our last article we stated that Article 60 of the Church Order requires the recording of four things in connection with baptism. These are: (1) the name of the one baptized, (2) the names of the parents, (3) the birth date of the one baptized and, (4) the date of baptism. We also gave the reasons, according to Rev. G.M. Ophoff, that the recording of this data is important. To these reasons we will now add a few others. 

During the post-reformation years prior to the nineteenth century the church kept these records not only for itself but also to assist the civil government. The relation between church and state was very close during this time and since the government kept no birth records it depended upon the church to furnish these whenever occasion arose that one needed a verification of his birth date or parentage. It was in part, therefore, to aid the government that Article 60 of our Church Order was enacted. 

But the church also needs these records for her own use. She must know who her members are for she must know which persons are under her jurisdiction and care. She must have the names of the parents (or in previous times the names of the sponsors in baptism) in order that she may know whom to hold responsible for the training and instruction of the children that are baptized. The date of birth and baptism are important to the church because those children who have received baptism and do not seek admission to the Table of the Lord when they reach the years of discretion have to be admonished and labored with by the church. To do this the officebearers must have accessible to them the ages of non-professing members of the church and this information will always be available if proper baptismal records are kept. Then, too, when a family leaves a congregation and moves into another community, all of this information should be transferred to the church with which they there affiliate. This certification is necessary and could not possibly take place unless good records are kept by the church. 

To this may be added that these records of the church are also of significance for the individual members of the church. This significance is not to be found in the fact that these records are available and, therefore, as occasion may require they can be used by individuals to receive a certification of their date of birth, baptism, etc. Sometimes this is done when one makes application for a certain job and has no birth certificate. An official statement by the church will usually suffice. And, of course, such use of the records is also proper but it is not what we have in mind. We are thinking now of the parents of the children whose baptism is recorded by the church. Article 60 of the Church Order is meaningful to them and that because: 

First of all it is the parents who make request at the consistory for the baptism of their children. This means that they desire that their children are received as members of the church through baptism and that this membership is recorded. 

In the second place, as the Form for Baptism stresses, baptism is not a mere custom or superstition but an ordinance of God to seal unto us and our seed His covenant. This is very serious. Parents request and express the desire that this holy ordinance of God be administered to their children. This, too, is recorded. What we mean by this is that the recording of the baptism data does not simply mean that on a certain date certain children of certain parents were received into the church through a mere custom but that they received the sign and seal of the covenant of grace upon request of their parents and according to, the ordinance of God! 

Therefore, in the third place, that parents may evidence that they are thus minded they are asked upon the occasion of baptism to answer in the hearing of the church certain important questions. Our readers are undoubtedly acquainted with these questions and since our purpose is not to discuss these questions at this time we will not quote them. We want only to point out that when the baptism is recorded by the church, this official recording is also the record before God of the vows the parents speak when they present their children for baptism. Although we are prone to forget what we have solemnly confessed and promised before God and His church after the ceremony is finished, there is a permanent record between us and God, preserved in the church, and for which we are accountable. No action on our part can erase this responsibility as some seem to think. The record stands as soon as the baptism has been administered and that record does not simply intend to register the name, birth date, and baptism date of the child together with the names of the parents but it expresses that the parents, whose names are recorded, on the date recorded, promise and oblige themselves to fulfill to the utmost of their power all the baptismal obligations with respect to the child whose name and birth date are also recorded on this record. 

In light of this we would digress a moment to point out a serious sin of no small consequences. I refer to the sin of parents who promise before God and His church “to instruct and bring up their children in the aforesaid doctrine (which is taught in the Protestant Reformed Churches) or help or cause them to be instructed therein to the utmost of their power,” and refuse to cooperate in the establishment of Protestant Reformed Christian Schools where possible and when such schools are established, refuse to have their children instructed in them. There can be no justification for such a breach of promise and if any of our readers are of a different mind, I would like to hear how such conduct can be made to harmonize with the recorded vow of baptism. Whatever reasons may be given must be so cogent that they would compel God Himself to release us from the obligation of our promise which we have seriously made in the hearing of His church. 

Of equally serious consequence is the sin of parents who make confession of their faith, subscribe to the doctrines of Holy Writ as taught in the church, and without ever protesting or attempting to show that their confession was made on the basis of misinformation concerning those doctrines, they will at a later date forsake the church (for fleshly and material reasons) and have their children baptized in a church that teaches diametrically opposite doctrines. This leads to the most glaring inconsistency where parents oblige themselves to teach their children and rear them according to doctrines which they themselves do not believe. Or it must bring us to the inevitable conclusion that such people do not believe what they themselves confess. This is trifling with holy things. With God, however, we cannot do this with impunity. Our sins always find us out. God visits the iniquity of the fathers upon the children in generations. He who requires integrity of heart, truth in the inward parts, honesty in all our confession and life, cannot be mocked. 

The matter, therefore, of baptism must be taken in all its seriousness. It is not a matter of a day or an hour or a ceremony. It is a matter of permanent record and responsibility. When then we inscribe our vows upon that record and assume that responsibility we must answer—not to men—but to God! 

Several other matters of a sundry nature are sometimes discussed in connection with Article 60. Two of these we shall mention here. Firstly there is the matter of the naming of the children, and, secondly, the question whether only the given, name or both the given and family name should be mentioned in baptism? 

Concerning the first we are agreed with the comments found in The Church Order Commentary. We quote from page 248. 

“The naming of a child has rightly always been left to the parents. It is their privilege to name their children and not that of the state or the church or any other agency. But this does not mean that Christian parents are not prevented by the very Christianity which they profess from giving certain names to their children. For example, no child should be called by the names of God. In the past some parents have used names as follows: Divine, Jesus, Immanuel. No one should consent to baptize a child by one of these names. Parents should also be discouraged from naming their children after angels inasmuch as these names are borrowed from a sinless domain, the sacredness of which would not be enhanced in our estimation and thought if its names were given to sinful beings. Nor would a Christian parent think of calling his child Cain, Judas, Jezebel, etc. 

“Years ago, particularly among the Puritans of New England, many parents named their children after Bible characters such as Abraham, Daniel, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Paul, etc., or after certain Christian virtues as Charity, Love, Grace, Temperance, Hope. Some of these names are still very common. Selecting names from the Bible is certainly a great deal better than the choosing of names from present day novels or even from among movie stars as many are inclined to do in our day. It is also far better to name our children after Bible characters than to name them after outstanding men of unbelief such as Darwin, Marx, etc. For the rest the Bible permits parents to choose names as they see fit. Many New Testament believers had pagan names but the Bible nowhere urges these converts to adopt new names. We should never become overly scrupulous on this score.” 

Concerning the second question we may say that the common practice of using only the given name in baptism stems from the historical fact that years ago people had no family names. When family names were introduced this custom continued. Again we concur in the opinion of the Church Order Commentary when it states, “But we know of no serious argument by reason of which the complete name should not be pronounced at the time of baptism.” In favor of this practice is this that, especially in larger churches, the entire congregation then knows the parents of the children who are being baptized. Another way of attaining this same objective, however, is to have the minister announce the names of the parents who are presenting their children for baptism just before the Form is read. If more than one child is to receive baptism, he would do this in the order they are to be baptized. We are of the opinion that whichever method is followed has little if any bearing upon the significance of the sacrament. 

—G.v.d.B.