In concluding our discussion of the Form for the Administration of Holy Baptism, there are yet a few matters of practical interest concerning which we must still make a few comments. These matters deal with the actual ceremony of baptism, which in our churches is strikingly devoid of pomp and is characteristically simple. This is proper and we must not give in to the clamor that is sometimes heard to make of this holy institution a “sensational show.” Let us remember that the simplicity of the ceremony greatly enhances its solemnity, and any added fringes would only serve to distract the attention of the congregation from that which is essential and meaningful in this rite. With regard to baptism also we may say with our Confession¹, “Therefore we reject all mixtures and damnable inventions, which men have added unto, and blended with the sacraments, as profanations of them: and affirm that we ought to rest satisfied with the ordinance which Christ and his apostles have taught us.” It is certainly to be preferred to have a simple, unimpressive ceremony in which the truths of God’s Word are forcefully conveyed than to have an elaborate, impressive, and gaudy show that is shallow and empty. The latter may appeal to superstitious minds, as it evidently does in Roman Catholic spheres, but it has no appeal to the simplicity of faith in the children of God.
In former years in the Reformed Churches the reading of the Baptism Form was followed by and the Baptism Ceremony was preceded by a short address by the minister in which an attempt was made to put some life into what seemingly was a boring and dead ceremony. Now there may be nothing wrong in the minister speaking a few words on this occasion; but if the Form for Baptism is seriously attended to and understood, there will be no need for this addition. And the danger of such an innovation is apparent, for immediately it tends to distract from the essential things in baptism and divert attention to the incidentals. Concerning this practice Rev. H. Hoeksema wrote,² “The questions of baptism are followed certainly not by a free address on the minister’s part, as was often done in former years. Many ministers thought that the Form for Baptism was rather dry, and that the people would fall asleep when this form was read. And so they thought that they would put a little pep into the form by adding their own emotional address. This, however, is certainly not the purpose of the form or of any form that is to be used by the church. Besides, the Baptism Form is beautiful in its contents, and cannot very well be improved by any emotional speech by the minister.” To this might be added that we may indeed be grateful that this practice has been abolished, and we ought to give diligence to see to it that it is not again reinstituted.
In connection with the ceremony itself, one of the first questions that is asked is: “Who should hold the child during the baptism”? Now it is true that our Church Order in Article 57 states that “the father shall present his child for baptism,” but it is stretching the point pretty far to say that this means the same as saying that the father must hold the child during the ceremony of baptism. The Church Order is speaking of the request of the parents before the Consistory to have the sacrament of baptism administered to their child; and then it is certainly proper that the father, as the head of the family, makes this request. However, as to holding the child while baptism is administered, we may say that it does not matter essentially whether this is done by the father, mother or someone else, although, for sake of the symbolism, it is preferred that this role is filled by the father of the child. From the parents’ point of view, the important thing here is the answering of the questions in connection with the baptismal vow and not the holding of the child. To lay stress on this matter is to inject superstitions into the baptism rite and this we must avoid. Beside, if it were mandatory that the father hold the child in baptism, what would be done in those cases where the father is not a member of the church or where the father has died?
The question of immersion, sprinkling, or pouring we have discussed previously and will not repeat here, except to note that in the Romish Church it is deemed necessary that the sprinkling be done three times. The sprinkling is repeated with the mentioning of each of the Persons of the Trinity in, the baptism formula. Although this practice is not to be condemned, it may be said against it that there is a danger by so doing that the impression is left that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are separately active in baptism; and this is wrong. Baptism, denoting the whole work of salvation, is the work of the Triune God as One. With one sprinkling and so baptizing in the Name of the Triune God, the impression is left that God as One effects our salvation; and this is better.
Important it is that the baptism be performed in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Reformed Churches have always followed the rule to acknowledge all baptism as valid that is administered by an authorized person and according to the Trinitarian formula. In the past this was not always done, and the sacrament of baptism was corrupted. Especially when the church became modern, many ministers began to baptize in the name of faith, hope, and love, or the sun, moon, and stars; and other ridiculous formulas were invented. This corruption, of course, cannot be countenanced; and such baptisms cannot be recognized. But perhaps the most serious objection of all is the fact that such inventions are in direct conflict with the command of Christ which is found in Matthew 28:19, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”
Another matter of minor significance that is often contested in connection with the baptism of children is the question as to whether the minister should mention just the first name of the child or the full name. Rev. H. Hoeksema claims that the former is proper for he writes: “The first name of the child is supposed to be mentioned, and not the family name. The individual child is baptized, and certainly not the family, This is also evidently the purpose, as recorded in the Form for Baptism, because it simply uses the one singular ‘N.'”² With this position we cannot wholly agree. We have no serious objection to mentioning only the first name in baptism, but we fail to see that it is improper to use the full name. The reasoning that this would imply baptism of the family we fail to see. We agree that it is the individual child that is baptized, and the identity of that child is not to be disassociated from the family to which it belongs. Conceivably in a large church there could be a half-dozen babies baptized on a given Sunday. Of these six children two of them might bear the name “John.” If the first name is mentioned, those members of the congregation who are sitting in the rear of the sanctuary would not know which baby is being baptized when the name “John” is mentioned. But if the full name is mentioned, there is no question as to the identity of the child. The family name is as much a part of the child’s name as his or her first name. That the Form simply uses the singular “N” (denoting the Latin ‘Nomen’ which means ‘Name’) is of no special significance here. The Name of the child is to be mentioned and the question then is, what is the child’s name? Is it just “John,” or is his proper name “John Smith,” or perhaps more specifically yet “John Henry Smith.” Our preference here is to mention the full name since by that name the specific child that receives baptism is identified.
Our concluding remark concerning baptism has to do with the proper place in the order of worship for the administration of the sacrament. Ideally, since the sacraments are inseparably related to the preaching of the Word, the sacrament of baptism should be administered after the preaching of the sermon. This is the way it is with the administration of the Lord’s Supper. But for practical reasons baptism is generally placed early in the service; and to this there are no objections, provided it is understood that the Word always has prominence, and the sacraments are dependent upon it for their meaning.
In our liturgy we have a brief form that is appended to our Baptism Form and that is used for the baptism of adult persons. Since most of the members of the church are baptized when they are infants, this form is not used very often; and undoubtedly it is not as familiar to us as the one we have been discussing. The Form itself is very brief. Apart from the prayers and the questions asked of the one to be baptized, it merely contains a description of the Scriptural basis for the baptism of adults, showing that only those adults are to be baptized who “are come to years of discretion . . . . . and make confession both of their repentance and faith in Christ.”³
Children of believers are baptized by virtue of the covenant which God establishes with believers and their seed. Adults (those who are believers and have reached the years of discretion, but have not been baptized) are to be baptized by virtue of their confession of faith. They are admitted into the Christian church as “believers,” not as “children.” In the church there are only two kinds of members. There are “believers” and their “children.” One does not become a member of the church when they make confession of faith. It is not correct, as is often done, to speak of joining the church when confession of faith is made. Rather, “baptized members” become “believing members” at this time; and when unbaptized adults make confession of faith and are baptized, they are received into the church as “believing members.” Thus, in the case of adults, baptism and confession always go together. And since the Form for Adult Baptism is rather brief, we will quote it in its entirety so that this point of truth may be established confessionally in our minds and hearts.
“However children of Christian parents (although they understand not this mystery) must be baptized by virtue of the covenant; yet it is not lawful to baptize those who are come to years of discretion, except they first be sensible of their sins, and make confession both of their repentance and faith in Christ. For this cause did not only John the Baptist preach (according to the command of God) the baptism of repentance, and baptized, for the remission of sins, those who confessed their sins (Mark 1 and Luke 3) but our Lord Jesus Christ also commanded his disciples to teach all nations, and then to baptize them, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost (Matt. 28,Mark 16), adding this promise: ‘He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.’ According to which rule, the Apostles, as appeareth from Acts 2, 10, 16, baptized none who were of years of discretion, but such as made confession of their faith and repentance. Therefore it is not lawful now to baptize any other adult person, than such as have been taught the mysteries of holy baptism, by the preaching of the gospel, and are able to give an account of their faith by the confession of the mouth.”³
A very interesting and perhaps somewhat difficult question in some cases arises in this connection. The question is, “When does a child become an adult?” It stands to reason that one cannot arbitrarily set an age limit, and from that point determine whether a person is to receive infant baptism or adult baptism, since all children do not mature, physically or spiritually, at the same pace. This can create a real practical problem. Let us hypothetically consider three individuals, all of the same age. The first of these is able to give a very intelligent account of his faith and can be baptized as an adult at once. The second is one who is not able to do so and is in need of further catechetical instruction before he is ready to be admitted into the church as a believing member. The third is one who is brought into the church through his parents, recently converted and having received baptism as adults. In this last case the child would likely receive baptism as an infant. Each case is different and many factors and circumstances enter in so that each case becomes a matter for the Consistory to decide on its own merits. No hard and fast rule can be established here; but the elders of the church, who are men endowed with the Spirit, are to examine each case and make a determination of the matter according to their best judgment.
¹ Belgic Confession, Article 35
² Liturgies, Page 8
³ Baptism for Adult Persons Form