The Baptism of Adopted Children

Is it proper for the church to administer the sacrament of baptism to children that have been adopted? Quite naturally this question should be preceded by another. Is it proper to adopt and to give out children for adoption? 

Both of these questions have come before the Synod of our churches so that we have an official pronouncement by our churches on this subject. The latter question appeared first. In 1951 two protests were brought to the Synod against a Consistory that was involved in an adoption case. In brief the position of the consistory was that: (a) It is not principally wrong to give out children for adoption, (b) Although not principally wrong, it may not be done unless the parents or parent have the assurance that the child will be placed in a covenant home, be baptized and receive covenant training; (c) If at all possible the parent or parents should keep their children and bring them up themselves in the fear of the Lord. But since there is no principle involved, and if the parent is motivated by a sincere desire for the welfare of the child, and has the assurance mentioned above, the possibility or impossibility must be left to the conscience of the parent. 

The protestants, on the other hand, took the position that there is a principle involved here and that under all circumstances it is wrong for covenant parents to give out their children for adoption and, consequently, it would also be wrong to adopt children. All the written material of this case is too lengthy to produce here but it may be found in the printed Acts of 1951 and 1952. The Synod appointed a committee to study the question and then in 1952 made the following decision. We insert in the quotation only the positive decision and omit defeated motions and amendments. In this way we can see clearly just what Synod decided. 

“A. In all normal circumstances, that is, in such circumstances in which the father or mother or both, of the child can assume full responsibility for the child and its training, the position that it is always the calling and responsibility of parents to train the children that God has given them, is correct. (Synod added three grounds here.) 

“B. The normal position being clear, the question arises whether Scripture allows abnormal, that is, such circumstances as make it inadvisable or impossible for father or mother or both to assume responsibility for the child and its training, circumstances to affect the above rule and whether Scripture allows the possibility of the rule being abrogated in certain abnormal circumstances. We believe that. Scripture makes this allowance. (Synod adopted one ground here.) 

“C. Conclusion: (1) We believe it has been established that, in certain abnormal circumstances, Scripture allows an abrogation of the normal, direct responsibility of parents to train their children. 

“(2) The right or wrong of giving out of children for adoption is to be judged by the Scriptural principles adopted under A and B; initially by the parents or parent involved, and if called into question, by the proper ecclesiastical processes.” 

We may sum up the decision of Synod by saying that the Synod saw and warned against several grave dangers and real, possible sins involved in the adoption matter but also allowed, under certain circumstances, the possibility of the giving of children for adoption. Although not expressly stated, this position of Synod would certainly imply that it is therefore not wrong as such to adopt a child. 

This brings us before the question whether such children as are received through the processes of adoption should also be baptized. Although this question, in its direct form, has not been before our Synod, a matter very closely related to it was introduced to the Synod of 1959 and decided only last year. The question there was, “When should adopted children receive baptism?” In treating this matter it appears that the Synod proceeded on the assumption that such baptism was proper and that the only matter of concern had to do with the time of its administration. In 1960 the following decision was reached: 

“Adopted children shall be baptized only when their legal adoption shall have been made final. Grounds: 

“1. It is altogether desirable that our churches have a uniform policy in matters of this nature. The immediate baptism of these children is often a tender matter with the couples involved. It is not good that the privilege is granted in one church while it is denied in another. 

“2. If people were to know beforehand that the child was to be in their home for only a year, they would not think of requesting baptism. That such is not actually the case is not really determined until the adoption has been made final. 

“3. The third of the baptism questions cannot properly be answered in the affirmative until the adoption has been completed. ‘When come to years of discretion.’ There is no legal assurance that the couple will still have the child when that time comes. ‘Whereof you are either parent or witness.’ Strictly speaking, they are not the parents as yet. The agency assures us that really these children belong to the courts during this probation period. 

“4. There can be no reasonable objection to waiting a year, while there are strong objections to immediate baptism. 

“5. This is the position of the Christian Reformed Churches, as appears from their 1949 decision: ‘Synod declares that no adopted child should be baptized until the probation period is over and the adoption made final, because adoption results only when the final step is taken and parents must be sure the child is theirs before they can assume the baptismal vows’.” 

Insofar as this decision of Synod makes the practice of baptizing adopted children uniform in all our churches, we feel it is a good decision. What is valid in one church in the denomination should be valid in all the churches. However, with regard to the questionwhether adopted children should be baptized before they come to years, there has been considerable difference of opinion in the past. 

Rev. Ophoff expresses the view that “they may be, if the parents were believers, otherwise not.” Monsma and Van Dellen state, “Consequently, the present writers believe it is better to postpone the baptism of adopted children in question. until they manifest themselves as Christians” (p. 234, Church Order Commentary). The same authors refer to Dr. Bouwman’s Gereformeerde Kerkrecht and add, “It may also be said that the recent or present clay leaders of the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands are, as far as we know, all opposed to the practice of baptizing children of non-Christian parentage, though adopted into Christian homes.” In the same commentary it is pointed out that the great Synod of Dordt already faced this question in connection with children of pagan origin who came from the Dutch East Indies and were adopted in Christian homes. Monsma and Van Dellen say that, “The Synod judged that these children should not be baptized until they in due season should make profession of faith.” Then they quote the following part of the Synod’s decision: “Concerning children of pagans which, because of their youth, or because they cannot understand the language, have not been able to receive instruction from the Christians, although they may have been incorporated into the homes of Christians by adoption, it was also judged by majority vote that these should not be baptized before they have come to such years that they can be instructed in the first principles of the Christian religion according to the measure of their understanding, and after such has also taken place.”

Prof. W. Heyns, however, in his “Handbook For Elders and Deacons” judges that those who do not favor the, baptism of adopted children of non-Christian birth cannot appeal to the Synod of Dordt. His claim is that the question did not concern adopted children but rather children who were brought into Christian homes as slaves and occasionally were later removed from these families and fell back again among the heathen. Such children were not to receive baptism. The literal wording of the synod’s decision, however, appears to disprove this contention of Heyns. 

In the Christian Reformed Church this question has appeared on more than one synod. In 1910 the Synod left the matter of the baptism of non-baptism of adopted children of non-Christian parentage to the judgment of each consistory. However, twenty years later the Synod answered this question in the affirmative. Against this decision of 1930 various protests were brought with the result that this question was referred to a study committee. This committee reported in 1936. The committee was composed of nine members. Four submitted a majority report. Three members delivered a minority report. Two members offered a third report. After consideration of these reports the Synod decided: “That there is not sufficient ground to reverse the decision of the Synod of 1930 upholding the permissibility of the baptism of children born outside of the covenant circle and adopted by believing parents.” To this the Synod then added: “That this 1930 decision in no way justified the molestation of anyone who, whether as church member or in the specific capacity of officebearer, may have conscientious scruples against the administration of the sacrament of baptism to such children.” Just what this means is not clear. Does it, for example, mean that a church member or officebearer who might adopt such a child and is of the opinion that it should not be baptized until maturity may not be troubled about the earlier baptism of the child? Or does it mean that a minister who holds the position that such baptism is improper may not be coerced to administer the sacrament if the occasion presented itself? The meaning is not plain. 

Finally, in 1949 the Christian Reformed Synod took the position that we referred to earlier and that is similar to that taken by our last Synod. 

We do not know why our Synod did not enter into the question of the propriety of baptizing all adopted children. Our position now is that it is proper to baptize all of them as long as they are legally adopted. Whether this position is wholly correct is subject to debate but we will have to wait until next time to present some arguments which Monsma and Van Dellen raise against this practice. 

—G.V.d.B.