This Day in Presbyterian History:
Have You Been Improving Your Baptism?
Without a meaningful Presbyterian topic on this November 10th, we close our out confession and catechism study on Baptism by noting Larger Catechism question and answer 167. It deals with a needful but much neglected duty of improving our baptism. It states, “The needful but much neglected duty of improving our baptism, is to be performed by us all our life long, especially in the time of temptation, and when we are present at the administration of it to others; by serious and thankful consideration of the nature of it, and of the ends for which Christ instituted it, the privilege and benefits conferred and sealed thereby, and our solemn vow made therein; by being humbled for our sinful defilement, our falling short of, and walking contrary to, the grace of baptism, and our engagements; by growing up to assurance of pardon of sin, and of all other blessings sealed to us in that sacrament; by drawing strength from the death and resurrection of Christ, into whom we are baptized, for the mortifying of sin, and quickening of grace; and by endeavoring to live by faith, to have our conversation in holiness and righteousness, as those that have therein given up their names to Christ; and to walk in brotherly love, as being baptized by the same Spirit into one body.”
Neither one of the other creedal statements in the Confession or Shorter Catechism make reference to this duty of improving our baptism. There is one phrase in the Confession which leads into it however. It is when our confessional fathers state in chapter 28, section 6, that “the efficacy of Baptism is not tied to that moment of time, wherein it is administered.” Frankly, this false concept that we Presbyterians tie the efficacy of Baptism to the exact time the infant or adult is baptized, is one of the reasons why people oppose this sacrament. But we believe that baptism is not tied to the time it is initiated in a person’s life, but that baptism applies to the whole life of the baptized person. We are to improve our baptism, that is experience its meaning and work out its application to our spiritual lives. The fact that this is misunderstood so much shows in the Fathers making reference to “the needful but much neglected duty of improving our baptism.” It was needful and much neglected duty back in the seventeenth century, as it continues to be today in the twenty-first century.
Especially are we to fulfil this duty when we are in times of temptation and/or present when the vows are taken at baptism of others, including infants. In the first case, when we are tempted by sin, we need to remember that we are God’s people, not only in name, but also in practice. We have covenanted, or our parents have covenanted for us, that we are to live godly and righteous in this world. The other occasion of improving our baptism is when the sacrament takes place, and we hear the questions charged to either parents or adults, overhearing their affirmative answers. We can reflect on our answers taken in the past, indeed, we can reaffirm our covenant vows at that time again with respect to ourselves or our children.
The rest of the catechism answer deals with several ways of improving our baptism. It speaks of being humbled for the remnant of the sin nature still within us. It describes our growing more and more in the realization of pardon of sin. We are to be constantly drawing strength from the atonement of Christ, to put sin to death and not have it reign over us, as well as saving and sanctifying grace being realized more and more. We are to conduct ourselves in holiness and righteousness as we live by faith and for faith. And one last point is given. We are to walk in brotherly love, understanding that we are one body.
Also this day:
Words to live by: It is very possible that you as a baptism person did not know that there was to be improvement in your baptism. Well, now you do! Let it be said of you that this improvement of your baptism is to be no longer a neglected duty in your spiritual life. Indeed, let it be a needful duty for you, your family, and your friends.
Through the Scriptures: Acts 1, 2
Through the Standards: Mode of baptism
“Dipping of the person into the water is not necessary; but Baptism is rightly administered by pouring, or sprinkling water upon the person.”