They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. -(Acts 2:42).
THE MEANING OF BAPTISM IN A PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH
The Directory for the Service of God, which is a part of the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (USA), notes the following about the Sacrament of Baptism in the Presbyterian and Biblical tradition:
Baptism, as ordained by Christ, is the Word made visible. It sets forth the grace of God in Jesus Christ and affirms that believers and their children are heirs of the covenant of grace. It is a consecration to the new life in Christ, which means faithful service, obedience, and participation in the joy and victory of the resurrection. Baptism is both God’s act and the people’s response. In it God proclaims again the gospel and reassures the community of faith of the judging, forgiving, and redeeming love in Christ. By the work of the Holy Spirit, God marks as adopted children those who are baptized, enabling them to accept forgiveness through repentance, to affirm their new identity as members of Christ’s body, and to show themselves to be the Lord’s in ministry to others.
The Sacrament is a means of testifying to and receiving the reality of God’s grace, and also a means by which all faithful members of the church show forth publicly their own faith and trust in God. It heralds a new beginning of participation in the ministry of Christ for all who are baptized. Such participation initiated in Baptism then becomes an ever-expanding process, setting Christians on a journey which lasts the whole course of their lives. As the baptism of Jesus anticipated the whole course of His obedience, so the meaning of one’s own baptism becomes apparent only through the subsequent course of one’s life as one practices what it means to be the Lord’s in changing situations and in new relationships.
Baptism is a sign that we are part of the community of the universal church. Thus, no single tradition of the baptismal form can exhaust the great variety and depth of the meaning of Baptism. Baptism signals our membership in the universal church, and since its reality does not depend upon the tradition or form in which it was administered, it shall be administered only once to each person. A congregation is enriched by the administration of Baptism both to infants and to consenting believers upon public confession of faith. These complementary emphases of both practices exhibit the meaning of Baptism more fully and with less misunderstanding than if either is exclusively observed.
Baptism is an act of the whole church and a sign of entrance into it. Therefore, it regularly should be administered in the presence of the worshiping congregation. Since the Sacrament cannot be separated from the Word, it ordinarily is administered at a service at which the written Word has been expounded, setting forth the promises and benefits the Sacrament proclaims. All those present are to recall their dependence on God’s grace and the common need in which they all stand, praying that God will fulfill the promises sealed to the persons being baptized, that they will be enabled to walk in newness of life, exercise the gifts of the Spirit, and be drawn closer to one another through their common acknowledgement of the need in which they stand.
Christian parents have the right to present their infant children for baptism as a sign and seal of God’s promise to them as heirs of the covenant. In presenting a child for baptism parents affirm in public their duty to bring up the child to love and serve God. The congregation, too, promises to surround the child with their love and concern in Christ, that the child may continue in the community of the church, confess Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, and live in God’s eternal Kingdom.
The Session ordinarily shall take appropriate action to authorize and approve the baptism of children. Ordinarily, the Session shall instruct and discuss with the parents, guardian, or others exercising parental responsibility, acquainting them with the significance of what God is doing in this act and with the responsibility it lays upon them. They should be instructed that baptism of infants is not to be practiced out of fear for the condition of the soul of an unbaptised child, and that the aim and goal of baptism includes the personal confession of faith and commitment to be the Lord’s and that baptism of infants places special responsibilities on parents and congregations for education and witness in the life of the church. The parents, or the persons rightly exercising parental authority, should be reminded of their obligation for the Christian nurture of the child, including instruction in the Bible, the church’s doctrine, the Christian life, and the church’s mission.