“Are You Really Baptized?”
Rev. John Carl Swanson
Union Congregational Church, Wollaston, MA
January 13, 2008
Text – Matthew 3:13-17
Are you really baptized? My two best friends, both Baptist ministers, Rob
Killeffer and John Odams, would say no, unless you have been baptized as an adult by
full immersion. I would say no, if you haven’t, in your heart, consciously and
deliberately affirmed the baptismal vows you made if you were baptized as an adult or
were made for you if you were baptized as a child. One can only affirm these vows if
they fully and consciously accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.
There are three views of baptism in church.
ONE is the view that baptism is in and of itself salvific. That is the act of the
priest pouring water on ones head, either an infant or adult in and of itself guarantees
salvation. This is the traditional teaching of Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy and
some Anglican/Episcopal churches. If you ever go to a Catholic Funeral Mass (and some
Episcopal Funeral Services), the priest will greet the casket at the door of the church,
sprinkle the casket with water and say, “By his/her baptism, so and so put on Jesus and
was baptized into eternal life.”
I remember as a college chaplain pulling the body of a young man who had been
murdered out of the harbor and my colleague, a Catholic priest, anointing the forehead of
the boy and saying the same words. The young man had gone AWOL, gotten drunk and
had gotten involved in a barroom brawl. He was chased, beaten and thrown into the
harbor. I remember staring at his lifeless form as the priest said “By his baptism he put
on Jesus Christ and was born to eternal life.”
I remember being wet, shivering in the cold, and thinking, “I sure hope so.”
THE SECOND VIEW OF BAPTISM is baptism as a sign of one’s conscious
commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Baptism is a reenactment of Jesus’
baptism by John by full immersion. Rev. Odams and Rev. Killeffer are Baptist ministers
because they baptize, not sprinkle but baptize by full immersion, adults.
THE THIRD VIEW OR PRACTICE OF BAPTISM is the Reformed Protestant
view. Congregationalists, Presbyterians, and Lutherans are Reformed churches. We
trace our history from the Reformation, hence the name reformed. The Reformation was
when the primacy of the Bible was recovered. Like Catholic and Orthodox Christians,
we view baptism as a sacrament which is an outward and visible sign of an inward and
invisible grace. In fact, the Roman Catholic Church recognizes and accepts as equal and
valid our baptisms.
However, unlike the Roman Catholics, we do not view baptism as salvific. In
other words, it has no validity without a confession of faith. In this we are closely
aligned with the Baptists.
So why do we baptize infants? Good question. And this is where Reformed
churches can appear murky in doctrine and ministers can get into trouble.
No infant should be baptized in a Reformed church if the parents (at least one,
anyway), are not members of the church.
A little family story here. Back in 1976 my niece was refused baptism in our
family church because my sister was not a member. As you can imagine, we were all
quite upset. How could the minister refuse to baptize a cute little baby girl? Well, if he
had taken the time to explain and had shown a modicum of pastoral skill he could have.
First of all, he was correct, absolutely correct, in theory. It makes absolutely no
sense to baptize an infant whose parent or guardian is not a professing Christian, that is, a
part of the faith community. And, it makes no sense whatsoever, for a congregation to
affirm the baptismal promises made for the child by the parent or guardian if the
congregation does not know the people and will never see them again. In fact, the
baptism of infants of people who are not part of the Christian community can lead to a
false and dangerous sense of spiritual security and an attitude that the baby has somehow
received some sort of spiritual blessing.
FOR CATHOLICS baptism is a sacrament that is necessary and is salvific in and
of itself. You can baptize anybody and you should baptize everybody.
For Protestants, baptism is not salvific and is only a SIGN of salvation, not a
means of salvation.
Back to my childhood pastor. Roger was correct in theory and practice. But he
could have shown a modicum of pastoral sense. My sister was not off the street. She had
gone there for years and had been married there. She was at worship weekly and simply
had never formally joined the church. She would have if she had been asked, but the
pastor, in his abrupt refusal to baptize hers daughter, came across as having thrown down
a spiritual gauntlet and my sister didn’t feel like a fight. Beth was baptized at another
church, Quincy Point Cong and a few years later by sister joined First Presbyterian.
In a similar situation, I would have baptized Beth. HOWEVER, I would have
baptized her only because of her mother’s attendance at worship, her faith in Jesus Christ
and her stated commitment to raise the child in the church of Jesus Christ.
We live today in a post-Christian age. I will baptize most infants, but only after
an in depth meeting with the parents. I make it very clear, “If I baptize your baby and
you don’t bring him/her up in the church, all I’ve done is get the baby’s head wet.”
Reformed churches are COVENANT CHURCHES. We baptize babies because
we want to invite them at the earliest possible age to be part of the covenant.
THE COVENANT is our faith based relationship and way of life as a community
of Jesus Christ. That is why in the baptisms that we do here, there is always a part where
the members of the church rise and affirm the faith of the church and make a vow to
support the family of the infant in raising the child to be a Christian.
The Reformed view of baptism as a covenant with the parents and child is the
only biblically based reason for the baptism of infants.
What about adults? It’s interesting that in the 1957 Pilgrim Hymnal, (the one we
use here), there is no service order for the baptism of adults. There is one for infants but
not one for adults. This is not the case with the previous addition of the hymnal in use in
this church, the 1937, 1917, and 1900. All of these editions have such a service order.
The 1957 does not. (Interestingly, the New Century Hymnal, which came out several
years ago, much the derision of conservatives like me, does nave a service for adults).
In the late 1950’s, churches like this were packed out and there wasn’t a perceived
need for evangelism. Today, there is. In today’s post Christian age, the need for
evangelism and outreach to the unchurched, always an issue to be addressed, is even
Today’s Gospel text is the story of Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan River. It
is the model text for all Christian baptism and all Christian baptism, whether infants or
adults, in some sense reenacts it.
John’s baptism was a baptism for the remission of sis. Jesus did not sin, yet He
bore the penalty for our sin on the cross. Jesus’ baptism was His great self-identification
Are we identified with Him? Are we really baptized? By that I mean, are we
living out our baptism vows, either made by us or made for us?
The symbolism of the water in baptism is that water cleanses. By the blood of
Christ and only by the blood of Christ can our sins be cleansed from us. Water is the
symbol of this. Have your sins been washed away by the blood of the Lamb?
The Lamb of God Jesus sacrificed for our sin. Whether one was sprinkled as a
child or immersed as an adult, the plain reality is that we are all sinners whose only hope
of salvation is Jesus Christ.
f you truly baptized, you will be in a relationship with Him. His Holy Spirit will
dwell in you and you will have a peace that passes understanding, a purpose for living
and a final, a glorious destination at the end of their life.
Are you really baptized? Amen.