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This Day in Presbyterian History:

The Subjects of Baptism

With no subjects of Presbyterianism available to this writer, we conclude our look at baptism by noting the question and answer of Shorter Catechism 95, which deals with the subject of baptism. It asks, “To whom is Baptism to be administered?” And our Confessional Fathers answer that “Baptism is not to be administered to any that are out of the visible Church, till they profess their faith in Christ, and obedience to him; but the infants of such as are members of the visible Church, are to be baptized.”  In other words, both adult baptism and infant baptism are to be practiced by Bible-believing Presbyterians.

Adult baptism is to be administered to those who have confessed their faith in Jesus Christ and joined an evangelical and/or Reformed congregation. Further, they should be those who are walking in the life of that profession in an obedient manner.

This catechism reminds us that church membership is necessary, either before the baptism or after the baptism.  That usually includes a series of membership classes in which the faith and life of the local congregation is taught to prospective members.  After their appearance before the Session of Elders, in which their profession of faith in given, they, upon certain membership vows, are received into the church.  Usually a public profession before the congregation on a Lord’s Day is also presented.  This is a happy occasion in the life of any church when God adds to His church in numerical strength.

The second half of this catechism is on a topic which has divided the visible church, namely, that of infant baptism.  We do not have the space here to show completely its biblical basis.  For that, the reader is invited to ask his/her pastor for this grounds.  Suffice it to say, “the infants of such as are members of the visible church, are to be baptized,” is the teaching of all Presbyterian and Reformed churches.

In the book of Acts, where we have the inspired history of the New Testament church, there is no doubt in any one’s mind that we have instances of believer’s baptisms in the inspired record.  Cornelius and Crispus in Acts 10 and Acts 18 are clearly a case where the adults believed in the Lord first as Lord and Savior, and were baptized as a result of their profession.

There should likewise be no doubt that infant baptism is clearly taught in Acts 16:14, 15 and in Acts 16:33, 34 where both Lydia and the unnamed jailor believed (and this verb is singular in number in both instances), yet their household was baptized.  Paul would not have baptized unsaved adults.  But he did baptize some children or infants both upon Lydia’s and the jailor’s saving faith. Surely the Holy Spirit who is the author of this word “believed” may not be charged with carelessness in the exact use of the singular and the plural verb of believe.  She believed, he believed, and yet the household was baptized.

Words to live by:  There is no greater joy in a pastor’s heart to see believing parents, or even one believing parent, come before the church to take vows regarding the rearing of that child or children in the fear and admonition of the Lord, and then enter into the sacrament of baptism for their children. They clearly anticipate the time when these children will recognize their need for a Savior and openly profess Christ as Lord and Savior, thus answering the outward sign and seal taken by their parents long before that time. Pastors will do well to contact the young man or young woman at some point in their physical growth to challenge them to profess faith in Christ, telling them that their parents baptized them in their earlier life with just that in their minds and hearts.

Through the Scriptures:  Mark 7 – 10

Through the Standards: Proof Texts of Communion of Saints

1 John 1:3
“that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you; so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” (ESV)

1 Thessalonians 5:11
“Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” (ESV)

Galatians 6:10
“As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.” (KJV)

Hebrews 10:24
“And let us consider and give attentive, continuous care to watching over one another, studying how we may stir up (stimulate and incite) to love and helpful deeds and noble activities.” (Amplified)

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

A Key Doctrine of the Presbyterian Church

The visitor was sincere in his offer to the pastor.  He could agree with every doctrine held by the Presbyterian church, except . . . except their teaching on Baptism in both the mode and the subjects of baptism.  But other than that small exception (his expression, not the pastor’s words),  he was prepared to be the best office that the church up to this point has seen.  He seemed most disappointed when the pastor turned him down. When urged to study it in the light of the whole counsel of God, he turned the pastor’s  offer down and stopped attending the church.

What is baptism?  We deal with this catechism answer as we find no historical person or incident in Presbyterianism for this October 23 date.  Question and answer 94 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism reads, “Baptism is a Sacrament, wherein the washing with water, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, does signify and seal our ingrafting into Christ, and partaking of the benefits of the covenant of grace, and our engagement to be the Lord’s.”

There are two sacraments instituted by Christ, of which this one of baptism is the first one in the order of holy ordinances.  The action which constitutes baptism is said by our Confessional Fathers to be that of “washing with water, in the name of” the Triune God — Father, Son, and Holy Ghost or Spirit.” You notice that our catechism does not explicitly state that the “washing with water” is by sprinkling, pouring, or immersion. Any one of these modes constitute baptism. One who comes into our Presbyterian and Reformed churches who have been baptized by any of these three modes in the name of the Triune God are considered baptized, and not in need of being baptized again.

The meaning of baptism are found in those words in the latter part of the answer which read, “does signify and seal our ingrafting into Christ, and partaking of the benefits of the covenant of grace, and our engagement to be the Lord’s.”

Baptism signifies union with Christ generally, and specifically, all of the spiritual benefits which Christ the Redeemer brings to His people.  It is a sign, a badge, an emblem of admission  into the visible church. (See Larger Catechism 165)

It speaks of “ingrafting” or being brought into a vital union with Christ, receiving all the spiritual nourishment and spiritual strength which is there for sons and daughters of God by faith alone.  Think of a twig being grafted into a tree, and allowed to become a branch of that tree, producing whatever fruit the farmer wishes to pick on that tree.

There is also a promise by the one baptized that he/she will, in the words of the Larger Catechism, profess “an open engagement to be wholly and only the Lord’s.”  This is essentially the meaning of the word “sacrament.”  While not a biblical word, it speaks of the pledge made by a soldier to be faithful to his commander-in-chief.  In baptism, we promise that we, as Christian soldiers,  will live as it becomes a follower of Christ.

For further study, see the Baptism section on the topical resource page, at the PCA Historical Center’s web site.

Words to live by:  One of the older writers (Thomas Vincent – 1674) tells us that, being engaged to be the Lord’s, speaks first of being wholly engaged, soul and body, with all or our faculties and members being used as instruments of righteousness and new obedience, and second, being wholly engaged as only the Lord’s and therefore renouncing  the service of that unholy trinity of  world, the flesh, and the devil, and fighting under Christ’s banner against these enemies of our souls, and His church.  This exhortation is just as applicable today in the twenty-first century as it was back in the seventeenth century.

Through the Scriptures:  Mark 1 – 3

Through the Standards:  Benefits of communion with Christ in glory on the day of judgment

WLC 90 — “What shall be done to the righteous at the day of judgment?
A.  At the day of judgment, the righteous, being caught up to Christ in the clouds, shall be set on his right hand, and there openly acknowledged and acquitted, shall join with him in the judging of reprobate angels and men, and shall be received into heaven, where they shall be fully and for ever freed from all sin and misery; filled with inconceivable joys, made perfectly holy and happy both in body and soul, in the company of innumerable saints and holy angels, but especially in the immediate vision and fruition of God the Father, of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of the  Holy Spirit, to all eternity.  And this is the perfect and full communion, which the members of the invisible church shall enjoy with Christ in glory, at the resurrection and day of judgment.”Z


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