Baptism is a wonderful sacrament given to us by God. Before a child is baptized, a minister asks the child’s parents several questions. If the person is old enough to answer for themselves, then they are asked directly:
- Do you acknowledge your child’s need of the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ, and the renewing grace of the Holy Spirit?
- Do you claim God’s covenant promises in her behalf, and do you look in faith to the Lord Jesus Christ for her salvation, as you do for your own?
- Do you now unreservedly dedicate your child to God, and promise, in humble reliance upon divine grace, that you will endeavor to set before her a godly example, that you will pray with and for her, that you will teach her the doctrines of our holy religion, and that you will strive, by all the means of God’s appointment, to bring her up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord?
And then the minister asks the congregation:
- Do you as a congregation undertake the responsibility of assisting the parents in the Christian nurture of this child?
The child’s parents (or the person receiving baptism themselves) and the congregation witness together the application of this seal to another person, this seal that dedicates someone to God. They behold together a sign of God’s comforting promises to never leave or forsake us.
Baptism isn’t only for the one being baptized. The congregation is there for more than merely answering the minister’s final question. The Westminster Larger Catechism even calls reflection on baptism (a practice referred to as “improving” one’s baptism) a “needful but much neglected duty,” and witnessing a baptism is the perfect time to do that.
I count thirteen ways baptism can be “improved” (and thus used to express and form our faith beyond its initial application) each time we see it or contemplate it:
Q. 167. How is our baptism to be improved by us?
A. 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; (1) by serious and thankful consideration of the nature of it, and (2) of the ends for which Christ instituted it, (3) the privileges and benefits conferred and sealed thereby, and (4) our solemn vow made therein; (5) by being humbled for our sinful defilement, our falling short of, and walking contrary to, the grace of baptism, and our engagements; (6) by growing up to assurance of pardon of sin, and (7) of all other blessings sealed to us in that sacrament; (8) by drawing strength from the death and resurrection of Christ, into whom we are baptized, (9) for the mortifying of sin, and (10) quickening of grace; and (11) by endeavoring to live by faith, (12) to have our conversation in holiness and righteousness, as those that have therein given up their names to Christ; and (13) to walk in brotherly love, as being baptized by the same Spirit into one body.
Just as receiving and witnessing a baptism aren’t individual endeavors but require the community of the Church, so too is improvement upon one’s own baptism a communal work. Don’t think that you’re left alone to “grow up to assurance of pardon of sin,” for example. Let’s preach to one another, in word and deed, in faith working through love (Galatians 5:6), what that means. Let’s help one another improve upon our baptisms and so walk all the more readily and happily in brotherly love, “as being baptized by the same Spirit into one body.”