Dear Church family –
As you know, baptism is one of two sacraments – “signs and seals of the covenant of grace…instituted by God to represent Christ and His benefits [and] to confirm our position with and in Him.” (Westminster Confession 27.1)
At Signal Pres, our normal mode of baptism is by sprinkling with water during one of our two worship services in the Sanctuary on Sunday mornings. But we also hold a service annual where we baptize by immersion. Undoubtedly, that raises some questions for many of you: we tried to anticipate the most Frequently Asked Questions below.
How did our Session arrive at this decision?
Throughout the winter and spring of 2015, Andy Cornett (pastor for family ministries) had some extensive discussion with a handful of families and students in our church who were going through Disciple class and very interested in baptism by immersion (they had not been baptized as children). That led Andy to do some more serious studying and looking at our church’s context regarding baptism. In 2016, he brought a proposal to the Session asking that we form a study group to take a close look at how our beliefs about baptism inform our practice of baptism – especially how our beliefs and practice connect to our context of being an evangelical church with people from all kinds of church or non-churched backgrounds. So over fall 2016/spring 2017, at the instruction of the Session, a small group of Mike Webb, Joe Ferguson, Ralph Mohney, Glenn Baird, Tom Hayslett, Taylor and Beth Rowlett, and Andy met multiple times with input from the other pastors. We hashed through issues of theology, history, and our Signal Mountain context. We ultimately concluded – and proposed to our Session, who agreed – that we could strengthen our practice of baptism in two ways.
- Consistent with our steadfast belief in covenantal baptism, we will continue to encourage and celebrate the practice of baptizing infants/young children as the regular order of the church. Our understanding of God’s word commits us to this! As we say in the promises made in baptism, we continue to pay careful attention to family and church. We encourage the parental responsibility to “bring the child up in the faith and in the loving discipline of the Lord.” And as a congregation, we commit to partner with those parents to “provide nurture, support, and a godly example” – looking toward the day every child “claims Jesus Christ as personal Lord and Savior.” In the future, we hope to better encourage and equip both parents and church to prepare for this. We will also continue this practice as we have historically done: by sprinkling, during Sunday morning worship services.
- In a spirit of humility and hospitality, we will show a gracious flexibility toward member parents with strong convictions that baptism follow a conscious profession of faith (regardless of mode of baptism). As part of that, we also recognize that there are middle or high school students in our midst who are coming to faith in Christ and need to be baptized. Further, there is nothing in the Westminster Confession or the Book of Order preventing us from honoring someone’s sincere request to be baptized by immersion provided we can do so in a public worship service at the church. Given the “community” culture of our church, we are endeavoring to model our convictions that we are united on the essentials, charitable always, and make space for liberty in the rest.
Does the EPC really allow immersion? Is it “Presbyterian?”
Yes! It is important to remember that there is only one baptism: there no distinction between the significance or efficacy of baptism whether for an infant, child, or believing student or adult. One mode (Sprinkle with water? Pour? Immerse?) is not more special or significant than any other. Since the efficacy of baptism is by God’s grace and will in His time, it does not depend on the form, mode, or time of administration. It is the Session’s intent that our church’s practice of baptism be fully in keeping with Signal Pres’s identity as a Reformed, Presbyterian, EPC church.
Can just anyone who wants to be baptized by immersion choose that mode?
Not really – a few things need to be true. A person needs 1) to have trusted in Christ, by His grace through the gift of faith, 2) have been instructed in the basics of Christian faith, so as to share in His church and mission, 3) have not been baptized before, and 4) articulate to the pastors and/or the Session both a sincere and sound conviction about baptism following a profession of faith and a reason for electing baptism by immersion that is not rooted in elevating one mode of baptism over another. Again – there is only one baptism as there is just one Lord! There is never a need to re-baptize. On that basis, we strongly encourage anyone ready for baptism to not to wait for an annual service – be baptized on a normal Sunday morning! Simply contact one of our pastors to talk.
When and where will this happen? How often?
We will hold an annual service of baptism by immersion, in the Warehouse, on or around the time we conclude our Spring Disciple class.
What do we really believe about baptism?
The precise statements can be found in the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms. As a church, we often describe it this way: we believe baptism to be in continuity with (and yet with some difference from) the Old Covenant sign of circumcision. In Genesis 17, God commanded all the males of Abraham’s household, even babies, to receive the covenant sign of circumcision. This was not a sign of their faith that they were making to God, but a sign and seal for their faith that God was graciously giving to them. By a once-for-all mark upon their flesh, God identified Abraham’s offspring as the visible people of God in the world to whom He was eternally committed. Circumcision pointed forward to Christ, promising that no matter the hardships or the delay they faced as they awaited the promises of God to be fulfilled, they were saved by the blood as they looked to the covenant God in faith.
The waters of baptism have replaced the sign of circumcision: they point us back to God’s cleansing work in the bloody death of Christ and his resurrection to new life (Rom 6:3-5, Col 2:12). Like circumcision, baptism marks one out as part of the visible people of God in the world to whom He is eternally committed. As our Book of Order describes baptism: “As a sign it proclaims God’s forgiveness and our redemption in Christ. As a seal, God marks us as adopted children of our heavenly Father.” There is only one baptism for the Church (Eph 4:5) because we are made one in Christ by His Spirit on grounds of His work, not ours (1 Cor 12:13; Gal 3:27).
It is not a sign of faith (thus, it can be received by believers and their children, Acts 16:15,34) but a sign for faith, through which the Spirit of God perpetually works to draw His people out of their sin to the cleansing work of Christ. Baptism does not save anyone, but it is a great gift of God and advantage to His people and therefore to be highly valued and never neglected.
As we celebrate the sacrament of baptism, all baptized believers are called to remember their own baptism and the promise of God made therein, and to remind their children of their baptism and those same promises. What is more, as a new child is brought into the covenant family – which is our family – we commit ourselves to do all we can, with the parents, to point the child towards the covenant God who has marked him/her.
If I have additional questions about this, is there an opportunity to ask them?
By all means! Simply reach out to one of our pastors or current elders.