Rev. Cammenga is pastor of Southwest Protestant Reformed Church in Grandville, Michigan.
In the ceremony of baptism, both of children and of adults, the minister shall use respective forms drawn up for the administration of this sacrament.
Church Order, Article 58
Adults are through baptism incorporated into the Christian church, and are accepted as members of the church, and are therefore obliged also to partake of the Lord’s Supper, which they shall promises to do at their baptism.
Church Order, Article 59
The names of those baptized, together with those of the parents, and likewise the date of birth and baptism, shall be recorded.
Church Order, Article 60
Articles 58-60 conclude the section of the Church Order which deals with the administration of the sacrament of baptism. These articles concern certain details connected to the administration of the sacrament: use of the adopted forms for baptism, adult baptism, and maintaining accurate records of those who have been baptized.
Article 58 makes the use of the forms for baptism obligatory in the churches. Consistories and ministers are not at liberty to introduce their own forms. Neither is it permitted that changes be made in the forms, or liberties taken in the use of the forms, at the time of baptism. The forms have been approved by the churches in common. The use of them in the liturgy of the churches is an important expression of our unity.
Strictly speaking there are not separate “Forms” in use in our churches, but one “Form for the Administration of Baptism.” This form has two parts, the first “To Infants of Believers” and the second “To Adult Persons.” The first part of the “Form” is the same whether an infant or an adult is being baptized.
Our “Form” can be traced to the Reformed churches of the Lowlands. Already the Synod of Wezel, 1568, made reference to a baptism form that had been drawn up by Peter Datheen and Caspar VanDerHeyden. Because of the multiplication of forms, the Synod of Dordrecht, 1574, urged the churches to make use of the same form. Although the Synod of Dordrecht, 1618-19, approved certain revisions of the existing baptism form, those revisions were never published and therefore never incorporated into the liturgy. Our present form reflects the work of the well-known Dutch Reformed theologians Dr. F. L. Rutgers, Dr. H. Bavinck, and Dr. A. Kuyper. They cooperated in a revision of the existing form, taking into account the changes that had been approved by the Synod of Dordrecht. Their revision was published in 1897. It was an English translation of this form, with a few corrections and changes, that was approved by the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church in 1912 and remains the form used today in our Protestant Reformed Churches.
The part of the form which deals with the baptism of adults also can be traced to the Synod of Dordrecht, 1618-19. At that time at least two forms were being used in the churches on the occasion of adult baptism. Dordt approved a single form and urged its use upon the churches. It is really this form that has become the second part of our form, “To Adult Persons.”
There is good reason for the use of the “Form for Baptism” at the time of the administration of the sacrament. As with our other forms, so this form arises out of the conviction of the Reformed churches that the sacraments are a means of grace to believers only, in connection with the preaching of the Word. Hence, there must be an understanding of the meaning of the sacrament on the part of the members of the church. This is the purpose served by the form. It explains the Reformed conception of baptism, defends the practice of infant baptism, and from the Scriptures binds upon those presenting their children for baptism, as well as those who are baptized, their calling before God. It is a very beautiful and fitting form that our churches ought to continue to treasure.
When in the worship service should the form be read? This is not prescribed by the Church Order but is left to the discretion of the individual consistory. In some congregations the form is read at the conclusion of the service, after the preaching of the Word. In most of our congregations the form is read prior to the sermon, with the concluding prayer of the form used as the lead-in to the congregational prayer.
Article 59 teaches that through baptism adults are received as members of the church and are therefore obliged to partake of the Lord’s Supper.
Adult baptisms are rare in our churches. This is not surprising. In the sphere of the covenant, infant baptism is the rule. Adult baptisms are also infrequent because in our nominally Christian country it is common practice, even for parents who do not take their professed Christianity seriously, to have their children baptized. Rarely is it the case that those who join our churches from outside have not been baptized. Nevertheless, occasionally our congregations are privileged to witness an adult baptism. Such an event, I have found, leaves a very deep impression on the congregation. What is rare in our established congregations is more frequent in the foreign mission work in which the Lord has privileged us to be involved in the last several years.
By “church” in Article 59 is meant “local congregation.” Baptism is the means by which one becomes a member of the instituted church, whether baptized as an infant or as an adult. This stands on the foreground in Article 59. The original Dutch of the article speaks not of “kerk” (that is, “church”) but of “gemeente,” which is “congregation.”
By virtue of their membership in the congregation as adults, those who receive adult baptism are entitled to all of the privileges and responsibilities of adult members.
Adult baptism involves confession of faith. It is not the case that after one has been baptized as an adult he must also make confession of faith, the “Form for Public Confession of Faith” also being read. Only the “Form for Baptism” is read, which form itself makes plain that adult baptism is confession of faith.
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 (“Form for the Administration of Baptism, To Adult Persons”).
Since adult baptism is confession of faith, it is required of those who receive adult baptism that they partake of the Lord’s Supper. The “Form for Baptism” specifies this. The fourth promise that is made by those who are baptized as adults is:
Dost thou assent to all the articles of the Christian religion, as they are taught here, in this Christian Church, arcording to the Word of God; and purpose steadfastly to continue in the same doctrine to the end of thy life; and also dost thou reject all heresies and schisms, repugnant to this doctrine, and promise to persevere in the communion of the Christian Church, not only in the hearing of the Word, but also in the use of the Lord’s Supper? (“Form for the Administration of Baptism, To Adult Persons”).
Article 59 of the Church Order was really the answer of the Synod of Dordrecht, 1618-19, to a controversy that was being carried on in the churches at that time. The debate concerned whether or not those who made public confession of faith should be required to partake of the Lord’s Supper. There were those who took the position that this requirement should not be made, so that one might very well make confession of faith but for a number of years refrain from partaking of the Lord’s Supper. Article 59 makes clear which view prevailed at the Synod.
The fact that those who receive adult baptism are required to partake of the Lord’s Supper means that only those who are competent to celebrate the Lord’s Supper may be baptized as adults. There has been much discussion regarding the cut-off between infant baptism and adult baptism. At what age is it no longer possible to baptize someone as an infant? How young can one be to receive adult baptism? Early synods faced questions regarding the baptism of adolescents of 13-15 years of age. Although it would be a mistake to set a definite age, and although each case must be judged individually, the general principle that must be remembered is that those who are baptized as adults must be able responsibly to approach the Lord’s Table.
Article 60 enjoins upon consistories the keeping of accurate records of births and baptisms. All our consistories maintain a membership file or record book. Besides date of birth and baptism, a record is also kept of date of confession of faith and marriage.
When Article 60 was written, the government relied upon the churches for the keeping of accurate records on its behalf. No longer is this the situation. Nevertheless, decency and good order within the church require the keeping of good records. Even in our day the civil government honors ecclesiastical records of births and baptisms.
If the keeping of accurate membership records is important, it follows that when members transfer from one congregation to another their membership records should also be transferred. The record of the date of birth, baptism, confession of faith, and marriage should follow the member wherever his membership goes. This is not always done when membership transfer papers are filled out. The clerks of our consistories should routinely see that this is done.
Those joining our churches from outside should also produce membership records. Usually this presents no difficulty. Occasionally, however, such records have been lost or destroyed. It has happened that one seeking to join a church is unable to produce proof of having been baptized as an infant. In this case, a consistory should be satisfied with an attestation concerning baptism by the parents, relatives, or former church officers.
Since Article 60 speaks of registering the names of those who are baptized, the question arises concerning the names that Reformed believers give to their children.
Certainly the naming of their children is the prerogative of the parents. This liberty ought not to be infringed upon. Nevertheless, the Reformed church of the past took seriously this matter of naming covenant children, and exhorted parents to take this calling seriously. The following question was put to the National Synod of Middelburg, 1581:
Whether children who are to be baptized may be given all sorts of names? Answer: It is optional, but diligent care should be taken that such names are not taken which belong to God or Christ, such as Emmanuel or Savior, also of certain offices, such as Baptist, Angel, or those which are pagan.
Certainly parents ought not to use the names of notoriously wicked men and women mentioned in the Bible: Cain, Judas, Jezebel, or Sapphira. Divine names must be avoided. Pagan names ought also to be avoided, although we know from the New Testament that there were converts who retained their pagan names even after conversion, such as Apollos, Hermes, and Fortunatus. Parents ought also to avoid naming their children after ungodly movie stars, entertainers, or sports figures: This does not mean that only biblical names ought to be given to our children, although this properly remains common among us. But it does mean that parents ought to be spiritually sensitive in the naming of their sons and daughters.
It is customary that at the time of baptism the minister uses only the personal name and not the surname of the child being baptized. Certainly this dates to a time when there were no surnames. But the continuance of this practice is to be recommended. By mentioning only the given name, the personal significance of baptism stands on the foreground. By virtue of baptism this individual is now received as a member of the church.