Baptism / Confirmation 101
(Copyright by the Rev. John Gishler, 2011)
This Course is intended for parents, Godparents, sponsors and adult candidates preparing for Baptism, Confirmation or the Re-affirmation of Christian faith. When done with a facilitator the reading and discussions should take 8 to 10 hours in total. The Course is based on the order in which questions that are asked during the service and designed to give participants an opportunity to read, reflect on and discuss related Scripture well before the actual service.
Baptism is a sacrament whereby an individual enters a covenant agreement with God. This covenant is more serious than a contract. It is like a marriage where two people make a covenant of personal loyalty until death. The penalty for breaking the baptismal covenant can be spiritual death.
The Baptismal questions summarize what the Baptized person is required to do to keep the covenant. This is the outward and visible part of the sacrament. There is also an invisible and inner part in the sacrament which is what God will do as His part of the covenant. It is important that everyone making these promises understands how serious they are and what they mean. The Anglican Church believes in the baptism of children on the (sometimes gracious) assumption that the Parents and Godparents or sponsors will continue as active members of the church community and be responsible for teaching and modeling the Christian Faith. If parents know they cannot keep these promises we suggest postponing baptism until this can be done with integrity. We do not teach that un-baptized children cannot go to heaven. (Assignment: Read and discuss Mark 1:1-13, John 3:3-8 and Romans 6:1-14)
The Examination Questions
The Examination questions define what the candidate is expected to do. These questions test the readiness of the candidate for baptism and are asked of the candidate or candidate's parents / sponsors / godparents at the beginning of the Baptism Service.
1. Promise to nurture in the Christian Community?
The first question parents are asked in the examination of child candidates in the Baptism Service is will they be responsible for nurturing the infant or child in the Christian Community. This includes:
• Bringing the child to church regularly
• Modelling Christian lifestyle in home
• Teaching the meaning of the Apostles Creed and Lord’s Prayer
• Making following covenant promises on behalf of infant or child:
(Assignment: Read and discuss Acts 2:42-47)
2. Promise to pray and witness?
“Will you by your prayers and witness help this child to grow into the full stature of Christ? Parents, Godparents and sponsors are asked to personally praying for the child and witnessing to a Christian lifestyle in the family home. (Assignment: Read and discuss Ephesians 4:1-16)
3. Do you renounce Satan and the spiritual forces of evil?
This can be a real shocker to people who have drifted into liberal theology that does not take Satan and the spiritual battle described in the Bible seriously. It is the basic loyalty oath of every Christian. There are consequences. Satan and the spiritual forces of evil are unfortunately real and do afflict serious Christians. (Assignment: Read and discuss Luke 4:1-12
4. Do you renounce sinful desires?
This is a challenge to take spiritual authority over your self-centered, human nature. Baptism is always into a relationship with a God who is holy. God can not be in the presence of sin and un-holiness. (Assignment: Read and discuss Romans 7:14-25
5. Do you turn to Jesus as your Saviour?
It requires great humility and spiritual wisdom to realize you cannot earn salvation. Many people value the moral teachings of Jesus but remain stuck in the heresy that you can earn your way into heaven by being a good person. The Bible teaches us that everyone has sinned, needs a way to forgiveness and that Jesus is the only way to forgiveness. (Assignment: Read and discuss John 3:1-16)
6. Do you put your whole trust in His grace and love?
This tests whether there has been a real and life changing choice to believe in the God of the Bible and Jesus. (Assignment: Read and discuss 1 Corinthians 13:1-13)
7. “Do you promise to obey Him as Lord?”
“Lord” is not a word we use often in modern times. It refers to a pre-democracy time when local lords totally controlled he lives of their peasant farmers. Obedience included free labour, respect, loyalty and military service. In modern times it means doing it Jesus’ way as opposed to ‘my way’. (Assignment: Read and discuss Deuteronomy 5:1-21)
The Baptismal Covenant - The Apostles Creed
Following the examination the priest blesses the water and invites the candidates, parents and sponsors to recite the Apostles Creed in response to questions about what they believe about:
- God the Father, (Assignment: Read Genesis 1:1 to 2:3 and Exodus 12:21-28 and discuss “What does I believe in God mean to you?”)
- God the Son (Assignment: Read Mathew 1:18-23; John 6:37-40 and 19:16-20:9 and discuss “What does I believe in Jesus Christ mean to you?”
- God the Holy Spirit. (Assignment: Read Acts 1:1-8; 2:1-18 and 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 and discuss “What does I believe in God the Holy Spirit mean to you?”
The Promises to keep the Baptismal Covenant
The Baptismal promises define our obligations in living out the Faith as defined in the Apostles Creed in very simple and clear words:
1. Will you continue in the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers? (Reading and discussion: Matthew 26:17-28; John 6:47-56)
2. Will you persevere in resisting evil and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord? (Reading and discussion: Matthew 4:1-11; John 20:21-23; James 5:13-16)
3. Will you proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ? (Reading for discussion: Luke 4:16-21. Question: How can we proclaim the word?
4. Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbour as yourself? Reading for discussion: John 13:1-17; 34-35; Question: Everyone is invited to think of and share a small example of serving others from their own life.
5. Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being? Reading for discussion: 1 Corinthians13.1-13. Question: What does this tell us about Christian love for others?
The Baptism: What the priest does
1. Water baptism symbolizes washing away of past sin and guilt
People were coming to John because they wanted a deeper spiritual life and felt a need to repent from past sins and make a new beginning. This is what we might call the baptism of John. We are following in the footsteps of Jesus who validated Johns’ baptismal ministry. Baptism by total immersion symbolizes the physical death of the old child and the raising to new spiritual life.
2. Signing with a Cross seals as belonging to God in Christ
Signing and sealing are ancient spiritual practices that have been largely lost in our scientific age. The spiritual meaning is to claim ownership of the soul by Jesus in the ongoing spiritual battle with Satan. Unfortunately many people believe this is all that is required for salvation and forget the strong commitment they have made in the examination promises. The good news is that baptism enables a person who repents to come back to Jesus for forgiveness and the hope of salvation.
3. Anointing with oil symbolizes the coming of the Holy Spirit
Until recently baptism was treated as a two part process. When children were considered old enough to make the promises on their own they were anointed with oil and confirmed by a bishop and allowed to receive the bread and wine. In the 1980s the bishops decided baptism, including infant baptism, should be considered as full membership in the Church and children should be allowed to receive Communion under parental supervision. This is why the instruction normally given to Confirmation candidates should now be given to parents and sponsors before baptism. The Anglican Church still offers the option of Confirmation by a Bishop. This ceremony is now called “Confirmation / Re-affirmation of Faith” and is also offered to individuals who have had a spiritual awakening and wish to re-affirm their Baptismal Faith. Candidates are anointed with special Oil of Chrism to symbolize the invisible coming and strengthening of the Holy Spirit.
The Baptism: What God Does (the invisible part)
All of the above describes what we do as our part of the Baptismal Covenant. If we keep our part of the Covenant God will do three wonderful things:
1. God covenants to Includes us in the Church
The Church is the spiritual body of Christ. Our weekly worship and the Eucharist: re-energized our Covenant, joins us spiritually to the sacrificial death and Resurrection of Jesus, enables forgiveness of past and future sins when we repent and ask in faith and covers us with spiritual protection.
2. God covenants to give us eternal spiritual life
This is the good news that when we die in faith like Jesus, we will be raised to a new and different form of life as Jesus was.
3. God covenants to give us the gifts of the Holy Spirit
As we are washed by the water of Baptism and forgiven by our repentance an faith in Jesus we are spiritually cleansed and our bodies become a temple of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit can come and live in us, guiding us, energizing us and healing us. The gifts of the Holy Spirit we receive include love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, healing, wisdom, knowledge, faith, prophecy, tongues and interpretation of tongues.