“These stones shall be a memorial unto the children of Israel forever.”—Joshua 4:7c
During its sessions the Synod treated four distinct matters relating to the administration of the sacrament of baptism.
Baptism in the Dutch East Indies
Synod met during the Dutch Golden Age. The Dutch had established a merchant colony in the East Indies. Dutch families who moved there had adopted or enslaved some of the native children. At session 18 (December 1, 1618), the delegates from North Holland (the province from which ships were ready to sail) asked whether these children could be baptized if the ones bringing them for baptism promised to raise them according to the Christian faith.
On December 3 (session 19), Synod answered that baptism should be administered only to those children who have been instructed in the faith and have made profession of faith. Often the Dutch had not instructed these children: many of these children did not understand the Dutch language, and some Dutchmen may have been concerned more with their own earthly interests than with teaching the gospel to such children.
An overture to Synod requested that it require consistency in the churches regarding how baptism is administered. The Dutch already had the Form for Infant Baptism that we use. Synod required the churches to use this Form (session 162, May 16, 1619). At the same session it also decided to draw up the Form to be used for adult baptism. This Form was adopted on May 25 (session 175). Synod expressed this same requirement that all Reformed churches use the same Form when it adopted its Church Order (Art. 58).
Baptism non-Reformed ministers
What if one had been baptized by a Romish priest or an Anabaptist, and then came to the Reformed faith? Should such be baptized again?
At session 162 (May 16, 1619), Synod said that such baptisms must not be repeated if the baptism had the form and essence of Christian baptism. (Although the Acts does not spell this out, the point is that one was baptized with water, in the name of the triune God.)
Baptism outside the public worship service
Synod also faced the question whether sick people may be baptized outside the public worship service if they cannot come to the worship service. At session 163 (May 17), Synod answered in three points: 1) only in instances of “great need” could such baptisms be administered; 2) such administrations must be with the knowledge of and in presence of the consistory; and 3) only with advice of classis could such baptism be administered to a condemned criminal.