In the Old Testament era and prior to the public ministry of Jesus Christ, circumcision was the divine ordinance used to place the sign of God’s covenant promises upon His people. Male infants at eight days and older male converts to Judaism received this covenantal sign in their flesh as a seal of their standing in relationship with the God of Israel. Because this was an outward sign, it did not always indicate a true inward commitment to God. It was only through the work of the Lord in bringing real inward faith into the recipient’s heart, that the covenant promises signified by circumcision were made effectual and available to them. Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah, and his disciples continued the practice of baptism emphasized in the public ministry of the prophet John the Baptist. Significantly, following the Saviour’s atoning death, burial, and powerful resurrection to life, he gave to his disciples as part of his Great Commission to them in Matthew 28 the command to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” As the early Church began to grow in converts to Christ through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, baptism was received by entire households. Peter’s own exhortation to the people at Pentecost included these words:
Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself. — Acts 2:38-39Since we believe baptism has replaced circumcision as the sign and seal for God’s covenant people, we believe that it is appropriate to apply it in obedience to Christ’s Great Commission both to infants of professing believers and to older converts to the faith who make a public profession. When infant boys or girls are brought by their parents for baptism, the child’s mother and father are trusting in faith that God will fulfill his covenant promises in the life of their child. As with circumcision, we believe this outward sign does not of itself grant salvation. Ultimately salvation and true identification with the chosen people of God is by faith which is a gift if God through the Holy Spirit. Baptism is an outward sign applied in the faith, anticipating an inward God-given reality. In addition, those of us in the congregation who are already professing believers in Christ are encouraged and reminded of our own baptisms and God’s faithfulness to us when we have the joy of seeing this sign and seal applied to an infant or a new convert. Our forefathers in the Reformed faith, meeting at Westminster in 1647, drafted the following article in their Confession of Faith concerning baptism:
Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible Church; but also to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in newness of life. Which sacrament is, by Christ’s own appointment, to be continued in His Church until the end of the world. — WCF XXVIII: Of Baptism, 1At Hope we practice baptism by sprinkling or pouring, with the understanding that the Old Testament covenant of God was often sealed to his people by the sprinkling of sacrificial blood. Objects were also cleansed in this manner. In addition, we believe that this mode symbolizes the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit upon his people and the cleansing we receive from above through the application of the shed blood of Jesus Christ. As the book of Hebrews tells us:
. . .since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. — Hebrews 10:21-22We recognize that other Protestant traditions practice baptism by immersion and believe baptism is to be administered only to those who are professing believers. Hope Presbyterian Church recognizes these baptisms as true and valid signs and seals of God’s covenant as long as they are administered “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” as our Lord commanded. When a baptism has been administered in accord with Christ’s instructions, we believe it is improper to require someone be rebaptized in order to become a communing member of our congregation.