Often people have a lot of questions about baptism (sometimes also called a “Christening”) and what happens in a service of baptism. This is aimed at answering some of these questions.
What is baptism?
Baptism is the method God has given us of marking people out as belonging to His people. Being baptised involves having water poured over your head to symbolise the fact that it is only God who can wash us clean from our sin.
Who can get baptised?
The bible tells us that anyone who believes and trusts in Jesus as their Lord and Saviour should be baptised. The bible also shows us that when the parents believe and trust in this way, and are committed to actively bringing their children up as members of God’s people, it is appropriate for their children to be baptised too.
What does it mean to “believe and trust in Jesus as Lord and Saviour”?
To treat Jesus as our “Lord” means that we recognise that God is the most important person there is, and that we must do all we can to live putting Him first in how we think, speak and act.
To treat Jesus as “Saviour” means that we trust that Jesus’ death on the cross is the only way we can be forgiven for the many times we live ignoring God, and putting ourselves first.
The bible tells us that when God created the world everything was perfect, and mankind lived recognising that God was the most important person there is. However the first humans, and everyone who has ever lived since, turned their back on God by ignoring Him, and decided to live life treating themselves as the most important person there is. This is what the bible calls “sin.”
As God is a fair God He reminds us in the bible that it is really serious to do this, as will hold people to account for their rebellion against Him at the end of their life, because it is only right for people who treat Him in this way to be punished. That’s the bad news.
The good news is that this is not the end of the story! Because God the Father send His Son, Jesus, to come and live on earth in the form of a man. When Jesus was on earth He lived in perfect obedience to the Father, and so is the only person to have every lived who didn’t deserve God’s punishment. But the incredible news we particularly remember each Easter is that Jesus was put to death on the cross, and in doing so suffered the punishment we deserved on our behalf.
The bible tells us that if we admit we ignore God and trust that Jesus’ death is the only way we can be forgiven for our sin we will be forgiven and so won’t be punished as we deserve to be when our life on earth comes to an end. To show that we understand it is wrong to live ignoring God, and to show our thanks for this free gift and forgiveness, it is only right that we treat Jesus as the Lord of our life, by putting Him first.
Why is it important that I do believe these things if I just want my child to be baptised?
It is important for two reasons.
Firstly, and most importantly, baptism is God’s way of showing someone is part of His people, if in reality you’re not going to live as one of God’s people the bible tells us that this is really offensive to God.
Secondly in the baptism service you have to make a declaration in public that you believe and trust in Jesus’ death as the only way of being part of His people, and that you do all you can to live treating God as the most important person there is which is reflected in everything we think, say and do. It would be a really serious thing to say these words and not actually mean them.
Does this mean I have to be a perfect Christian to be baptised or have my child/ren baptised?
NO! Because Christians know life is a constant battle against wanting to live life our way and ignore God there is no such thing as a perfect Christian. It is also true that different people are at different stages in their commitment to Jesus, so if you struggle with living out your faith that doesn’t mean you or your child can’t be baptised. The thing you have to ask yourself is if you are committed to wanting to live trying to put Jesus first in your life?
What if when I’m honest with myself I don’t feel it is right to say I am committed to trying to live putting Jesus first in my life?
Most importantly it would be a really good idea to find out more about the Christian faith. Why not ask one of the ministers at St Mary’s, or the person doing baptism preparation sessions to talk to you a bit more about it. It would also be a good idea to go on one of the Christianity Explored courses we run.
It would also mean that it would be best for you or your child not to be baptised yet. If you would like we could run a service of Thanksgiving for you child (which is similar to a baptism, but just doesn’t have the pouring of the water on the child).
What are Godparents, and who can be one?
Godparents are people who believe and trust in Jesus as their Lord and Saviour who you would like to help and support you as you bring your child up in the faith. They could be friends or relatives, but would need to be people who would be committed to praying for you and the child as they grow up.
You can have as many Godparents as you like (the tradition is to have at least two Godparents who are the same sex as the child, and one of the opposite sex but this doesn't have to be followed if you don't want to).
Being a Godparent does not mean they will be the legal guardian of your child if something should happen to you, that would have to be sorted out in your will.
QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BAPTISM SERVICE
Do I have to do anything before the service?
It is normal to ask parents to come to some sessions talking through what baptism is, and what will happen on the day. This is an informal time to ask any questions and might be something you use to help you decide if you do want to have your child baptised.
You will also need to prayerfully pick some people to be Godparents.
What do I have to do in the service?
In the service there will be a point when the parents, and Godparents of the child would have to stand up and make declarations that you believe and trust in Jesus as your Lord and Saviour (see above for what this means in more detail), and do all you can to live putting Him first. There is nothing to worry about, as you will have a sheet of paper to tell you what to do and say when, and the person conducting the service will also be reminding you what to do when.
What happens to my child?
When it comes to the baptism the child will have some water poured over his/her head. The minister will also make a sign of the cross on his/her forehead and pray for them.
When can we have a baptism service?
You will need to speak to the Rector to agree a date, however there are various options. We only have a baptism service as part of our regular Sunday worship, and it would make sense to pick the service you are most likely going to make the main service you are part of - although we realise there are lots of logistical issues that might influence this!