The Sacraments

Beginning with Article 56, our Church Order devotes nine articles to the subject of the Sacraments. The first five, Articles 56 to 60 inclusive, deal with various questions relating to the sacrament of Holy Baptism and the last four, Articles 61 to 64 inclusive, treat the subject of the Lord’s Supper. In our discussion of this subject, we are not to treat the doctrinal aspect of the sacraments. This belongs to another department in ourStandard Bearer and, therefore, our discussion must be limited to questions of order that relate to Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. 

Before introducing these questions to our readers, it may be of interest to see what changes the Christian Reformed Church makes in these articles in their proposed revision of the Church Order. In this revision two articles are devoted to the sacrament of Baptism and two articles deal with the Lord’s Supper. One article is devoted to the treatment of the sacraments in general. We will quote these articles and insert in parentheses for purposes of comparison those parts of our own Church Order that relate to these revisions. In this way we can readily see what changes are made in the formulation. 

Article 62 of the revision reads: “The administration of the sacraments shall take place only upon the authority of the consistory, with the use of the ecclesiastical forms, and in a public gathering of believers.” 

This article deals with the sacraments in general. In our Church Order there is no specific statement to the effect that the sacraments are to be administered only upon the authority of the consistory. This is obviously taken for granted. The composers of our Church Order felt no need to express this since no Reformed person would question the validity of this statement. The very nature of the sacraments themselves is indicative of the fact that they cannot be administered anywhere besides in the instituted church and such administration would naturally fall under the authority or jurisdiction of the consistory. However, in our day of general ignorance regarding Reformed principles, it may not be superfluous to express this. What could obviously be assumed in a period when Reformed theology flourished is not so evident any more today. 

Our Church Order does specify that both the sacraments are to be administered with the “respective forms drawn up for their administration” (Arts. 58 and 62). Likewise does our Church Order provide that the sacraments are to be administered only “in the public assembly where the Word of God is preached” (Art. 56) or “where there is supervision of elders, according to the ecclesiastical order and in a public gathering of the congregation” (Art. 64). 

Articles 63 and 64 of the proposed revision deal with Baptism. These articles read: 

“The Sacrament of Baptism shall be administered to children of communicant members, (unto the children of Christians) in the public assembly of the congregation when the Word is preached. Consistories shall urge parents not to postpone the baptism of their children needlessly (as soon as the administration thereof is feasible). If parents are prevented by lingering sickness or death, or for some other valid reason, from presenting their child for baptism, others shall present such a child for baptism in the capacity of sponsors. Only such sponsors shall be approved by consistories as are in a position to take upon themselves the baptismal promises. (Our Church Order makes no provision for sponsors in baptism.) Baptisms administered by other Christian denominations, or in groups of believers by one authorized by such groups, shall be acknowledged as valid if it can be ascertained that the parties concerned were baptized in the Name of the Triune God.” (Our Church Order is also silent on this matter, the recognition of baptisms by other groups.) 

“The Sacrament of Baptism shall be administered, upon a proper profession of faith, to adults who have not been baptized previously. When such adults are baptized, they are by that fact admitted to all privileges of the church. (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 promise to do at their baptism.)” Of interest in this connection is the fact that the revision speaks of membership “privileges” while our Church Order uses the term denoting “obligations.” 

Articles 57 and 60 of our Church Order are omitted from the revision. The former provides that “The ministers shall do their utmost to the end that the father present his child for baptism.” The latter deals with the recording of “the names of those baptized, together with those of the parents, and likewise the date of birth and baptism.” 

In the proposed revision Articles 65 and 67 deal with the Lord’s Supper. The 66th article of this revision treats another matter which is of no concern to us in this connection. Concerning the Lord’s Supper the aforementioned articles have this to say:

“Members by baptism shall be admitted to the Lord’s Supper and all membership privileges after they have made profession of the Reformed faith and have manifested their faith by a godly conduct.” This article corresponds to our 61st Article which reads: “None shall be admitted to the Lord’s Supper except those who according to the usage of the church with which they unite themselves have made a confession of the Reformed religion, besides being reputed to be of a godly walk, without which those who come from other churches shall not be admitted.” 

Article 67 of the revision: “The Lord’s Supper shall be administered at least every two or three months. (This is the same as our Article 63.) Every church shall administer it in such a manner as it shall judge most conducive to edification, provided, however, that the outward ceremonies as prescribed in God’s Word are not changed, and all superstition is avoided. At the conclusion of the sermon and the usual prayers, the form for the Lord’s Supper, together with the prayers incorporated in that form (the prayers for that purpose), shall be read. (The same as our Art. 62.) Each administration of the Lord’s Supper shall be preceded by a preparatory sermon and followed by an applicatory sermon. This last provision is not included in our Church Order but it is found in the questions asked of each consistory by the church visitors. Nothing of the four articles found in our Church Order and dealing with the Lord’s Supper is omitted in the proposed revision. The content of these articles is condensed into two articles with the one addition mentioned above. With the exception of that addition, one would wonder why a revision is desired or necessary. Is this a case of desiring a change just for the sake of change? Is the formulation of these articles in the proposed form such a big improvement? We fail to see that it is and would, therefore, also fail to find any reason that Articles 61 through 64 cannot remain as they are in our present Church Order. 

Infant Baptism 

“The covenant of God shall be sealed unto the children of Christians by baptism, as soon as the administration thereof is feasible, in the public assembly when the Word of God is preached” (Art. 56, D.K.O.). 

It is tempting, to say the least, to commence our discussion of this article by treating the matter of the covenant, the seal of the covenant which is baptism, and questions relating to the validity of the practice of infant baptism. To do so, however, would be to intrude into the department of doctrine. Interesting and important though these doctrines are, we will not introduce them here but rather limit ourselves in the consideration of this article of the Church Order to these questions: 

1. At what time should children be baptized? 

2. Which children are to receive the sacrament of baptism? 

3. By whom is baptism to be administered? 

4. Where must the sacrament be administered? 

Time of Baptism

Our Church Order states that baptism should be administered “as soon as feasible.” Rev. Ophoff points out in his Church Right that the original reading of this article was a little different. It read: “as soon as possible.” That these two are not the same is plain. The latter expression points to an earlier baptism since what is possible may not always be feasible and if, therefore, feasibility is to determine the time of baptism, it could easily be postponed for a matter of weeks. The main objection that Rev. Ophoff brings against this substitution of words, however, is that according to Scripture baptism was always administered just as soon as possible. Especially the book of Acts testifies to this for without exception adults and their families were baptized immediately upon their conversion to Christ. 

The Reformed fathers always advocated early baptisms. Guido de Bres, author of our Belgic Confession, is said to have had his child baptized on the day of its birth. It was not an uncommon practice in Reformed churches that children were baptized on the first Sunday after their birth and in some instances baptism was even administered during the week-day services. Time was not given to the mother to recover her strength after child-birth. She was not present at the baptism. The father, as the head of the family, presented the child for baptism. It must be remembered that the Reformed fathers did not advocate early baptisms for the same reason that the Roman Catholic Church does. This practice of Rome, according to Monsma and Van Dellen, “rests on her belief that baptism imparts regeneration, and that if an infant die’s unbaptized it cannot be saved. Its soul, if it dies prior to baptism, goes neither to heaven nor to hell, but to a special place indicated by the Latin term ‘limbus infantum.’ In this abode of infants the souls of these children are ever doomed to continue in an intermediate state, experiencing neither joy nor sorrow without ever being able to escape.” Our fathers repudiated that theory but nevertheless advocated early baptisms mainly for the following reasons: 

1. Baptism is the token of the covenant and children, therefore, who are born in the historic line of the covenant ought to receive that sign as soon as possible. 

2. Circumcision in the Old Testament was administered eight days after birth. Seven days, pointing to sin and impurity, had to be fulfilled before circumcision could take place but for the New Testament believers this ceremonial barricade has been removed and, therefore, the sign of the covenant should be administered as soon as possible. 

3. It would be a sign of ingratitude to postpone baptism for our children. 

4. The examples of Scripture point to early baptisms. 

Perhaps the original position of the fathers was a bit severe and extreme but it is far better than the opposite position of fixing the time of baptism according to personal convenience and often postponing it for all kinds of trivial reasons. Perhaps the parents desire a certain minister, the baby needs certain new clothes, friends or relatives from a distance must be present who cannot make it at an earlier date, etc. We do not now mean that there are no legitimate reasons to postpone baptism, as for example, the sickness of the child, but that is something else. To use baptism as a superstitious custom or an emotional ritual is to play lightly with the holy ordinances of God and this is no small sin. Then our fathers’ position of insisting that baptism be administered as soon as possible is to be preferred. There is, however, no violation in the practice that is current in our churches to have the child presented in baptism as soon as the father and mother are able to do so together. 

—G.V.d.B.