by Interim Pastor Doug Marshall
Baptism is a sacrament, wherein the washing with water, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, doth 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.
The Shorter Catechism, Question 94
The Scots Confession – Baptism
Johnny was four years-old when his parents had him baptized. After the service, as his family walked to their car to drive home, Johnny started sobbing. His dad asked him what was wrong. At first Johnny couldn’t get it out through his tears. Finally he said, “The pastor said he wanted me to be brought up in a Christian home, but I want to stay with you guys.”
Baptism has caused problems in the church for years, though not usually like the one Johnny had. As we recite a portion of the Scots Confession in a few moments that will become very obvious. The confession says that we “condemn the error of the Anabaptists.” Harsh words. Before we talk about baptism let me share with you a bit about the Scots Confession. To do that I need to remind you a little bit about the Reformation.
There were four types of churches that came out of the Reformation. There were Lutheran churches, mostly in Germany and the Scandinavian countries. In England there was the Anglican Church. In the United States we call it the Episcopal church. The Anabaptists were scattered in small pockets all over Europe. The Reformed churches, which includes Presbyterians, were in Switzerland, where John Calvin was a pastor, along with Holland and parts of France.
A Scottish pastor named John Knox went to Geneva, Switzerland to study under Calvin. Then he took Calvin’s ideas back to Scotland. Most of the churches in Scotland became Reformed. In 1560 the Scottish nobility was able to get England to recognize Scotland as a separate country. The Scottish parliament declared itself a Protestant nation. They asked six pastors, including John Knox, to write a statement of faith – the Scots Confession. All six pastors had the first name John, so this confession is sometimes called “John’s Confession.”
If you read the Scots Confession two things are likely to stand out. First, it is longer than the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed, though it is shorter than most of our other confessions. The Scots Confession is only 14 pages. The Westminster Confession is 53 pages. Second, you might notice that it is harsh in its attacks of both the Roman Catholic Church and the Anabaptists. Historically, Presbyterians have tried to be in the middle, between two extremes. The culture of Europe during much of the Reformation was very tense with political and religious debates. Most of the confessions from that era don’t have the tolerance for different ideas that is part of our culture.
The Scots Confession starts with five chapters about the Triune God, who created the world. They talk about how humans have sinned against God. The next six chapters are about Jesus – his incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension, and how through Jesus we are forgiven. There are several chapters about the Holy Spirit and several more about the Kirk. That is the Scottish word for the Church. Then there are three chapters about the Sacraments, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
The Celtic Cross is the white cross with the circle. It is a common cross in Presbyterian churches. The circle is probably a halo, symbolizing the divinity of Christ.
The ship is a symbol for the church. This confession has a strong doctrine of the church. Notice that there is water underneath the ship, which suggests that to get on to the ship, to enter the church, we go through the waters of baptism.
The Bible and sword are symbols of the Scriptures. The confession has a strong affirmation of the authority of the Scriptures over the church. It is not the pope who has ultimate authority, but God’s Word.
At the bottom is the burning bush that Moses saw on Mt. Sinai. To be honest, I have no idea what the connection is with the Scots Confession. The notes on the banners say something about this being a sign of God’s presence and the call to go into the world.
Presbyterians have a different understanding of baptism than either Roman Catholics or Anabaptists. We don’t believe that baptism is a magical act that automatically gives salvation, whether a person wants it or not. At the same time we believe baptism is more than just what we do to show our faith in Jesus. God actually does something in the sacrament. We are called to respond to God’s grace, but our salvation is God’s work in our lives.
When I first started thinking about becoming a pastor, one of the topics I had to wrestle with was infant baptism. I was baptized as a baby and raised as a Presbyterian. Many of my friends were from a more Anabaptist background that did not believe in infant baptism. I had to decide what I believed – should infants be baptized? The Scots Confession helped me with this.
When we read the Scots Confession in a few minutes you will notice that it connects baptism with circumcision. Both are rites of initiation into God’s people. Circumcision is usually done when a Jewish boy is 8 days old. Our passage from Acts tells us that the promise of God’s love includes children, so we baptize children. They are part of God’s family.
Michael Lindvall tells the story of two infant baptisms that happened in his church, only a few months after he started there as pastor. Angus MacDowell was one of the elders in his church. Angus had a son named Larry who lived in another part of the state. On the Sunday before Thanksgiving Angus told Pastor Lindvall that Larry and his wife would be visiting the next Sunday, bringing with them their new baby. Angus wanted the pastor to “do the baby” while they were there. Doing the baby meant baptism.
Pastor Lindvall talked with Angus about the integrity of the sacrament of Baptism, the need for parents to be growing in their faith and the importance of a child being baptized in its own church family. He talked about the need for Larry and his wife to join a church and have their child baptized there. Angus listened politely, thanked Pastor Lindvall, then walked out. He went and talked to all the other members of the session. They called Pastor Lindvall over to their meeting and said that they had voted 9-0 to approve the baptism for the following Sunday.
The following Sunday Pastor Lindvall baptized Angus’s grandson. In that church they have a tradition that is similar to having Godparents. They ask a question, “Who stands with this child?” Then the extended family stands up and stays standing for the rest of the ceremony. When the question was asked, “Who stands with this child?” Angus and his wife, Minnie, stood up. So did several other family members. Then Pastor Lindvall continued with the baptism.
After worship that day, when most of the people had left, Mildred Cory came and talked to Pastor Lindvall. Mildred came to the church at times but wasn’t very involved. She usually came in late, sat in the back and left early. She was very nervous as she went up to Pastor Lindvall. Finally, she said that her daughter, Tina, had just had a baby and thought that it should be baptized.
Pastor Lindvall told Mildred to have Tina and her husband contact him and they could talk about a baptism. Mildred hesitated, and then said, “Tina’s got no husband; She’s just eighteen and was confirmed in this church four years ago. She used to come out for the Senior High Fellowship, but then she started to see this older boy out of high school. Then she got pregnant and decided to keep the baby and wants to have it baptized here in her own church, but she’s nervous to come talk to you, Reverend.” Pastor Lindvall said that he would talk to the session.
At the session meeting he started to explain what everyone already knew. Tina was a member of the church and an unwed mother. He didn’t know who the father was. All of the session members knew who it was, Jimmy Hawthorne who just left town to join the army. Tina’s family was not active in the church, so Pastor Lindvall expected some opposition to the baptism but no one said anything and they approved it for the Sunday before Christmas. The question every wondered, but didn’t ask, was who would stand up with Tina when the congregation was asked “Who stands with this child?”
The day of the baptism came and the church was full, as it usually is the Sunday before Christmas. The clerk of session read the words of presentation: “Tina Cory presents her son for baptism.” He wouldn’t even look at Tina as she walked down the aisle, carrying little Jimmy. Everyone was uncomfortable, knowing that Tina was all by herself. Pastor Lindvall asked the congregation, “Who stands with this child?” Mildred, Tina’s mom, normally sat in the back of the church. Today she was sitting in the front pew. Pastor Lindvall had to motion for her to stand up. Slowly, she rose to her feet. Pastor Lindvall looked back to his notes and was about to ask Tina the questions of the parents’, when he heard a movement in the pews. Angus MacDowell stood up. So did Minnie. Then a couple of other elders stood up, along with the sixth-grade Sunday school teacher, a new young couple in the church. Soon the whole church was standing.
Today we baptized three children. Brenna might have some understanding of what it is all about, but the other two have no idea. Parenting has never been an easy job, and in this day and age it is harder than ever. Parents have the primary responsibility to pass on the faith to their children. But they need help; help with teaching Sunday school or staying in the nursery, help with words of encouragement, help with resources to learn how to be a better parent, help with babysitting so that they can have time together as a couple.
We’ve had a number of young families come to this church recently and several babies born in the last year. If we want this church to be a place with lots of young families, a place that is known as a good place to bring your family, a place where children learn about Jesus, we must all work together to support our families. Who will stand with these children?
I invite all of you to stand, and affirm our support of these children and their parents, and affirm our faith in Jesus Christ, by reciting together this portion of the Scots Confession
The Scots Confession
The Book of Confessions; G – 3.21, 23
As the fathers under the Law, besides the reality of the sacrifices, had two chief sacraments, that is, circumcision and the Passover; so do we acknowledge and confess that now in the time of the gospel we have two chief sacraments, which alone were instituted by the Lord Jesus and commanded to be used by all who will be counted members of his body, that is, Baptism and the Supper or Table of the Lord Jesus, also called the Communion of His Body and Blood.
These sacraments were instituted by God not only to make a visible distinction between his people and those who were without the Covenant, but also to exercise the faith of his children and, by participation of these sacraments, to seal in their hearts the assurance of his promise, and of that most blessed conjunction, union, and society, which the chosen have with their Head, Christ Jesus. We assuredly believe that by Baptism we are engrafted into Christ Jesus, to be made partakers of his righteousness, by which our sins are covered and remitted.
We hold that baptism applies as much to the children of the faithful as to those who are of age and discretion, and so we condemn the error of the Anabaptists, who deny that children should be baptized before they have faith and understanding.