On many Sundays I find pastors telling me “Remember your baptism!” Sometimes water is poured into the font. Sometimes there is a bit of liturgy.
But what do we remember, really?
I hang around Presbyterian churches. Most of the people around me were baptized as infants. How many secretly respond
Nope! Can’t remember a thing about it.”
Even in a church where members are baptized only after making a commitment to live as disciples, some might quietly reply
What about it?”
The point is not our conscious recall of the event. We are to remind ourselves of the fact that we have been baptized. This is something I know on excellent authority, from my parents. I’m asked to call the fact to mind, to consider its significance as a grown up Christian. But again, what about it?
Reformed theology emphasizes God’s role in baptism–far more important than our own faulty declaration that we will be faithful. God is the reliable party. In baptism, as in the Lord’s Supper, God declares the promises we call “gospel”: the good news of love, and forgiveness, and new life that come to us in Jesus Christ.
As I’ve previously written, Reformed theologians look for the promises in the nature of the words, the material elements and actions of the sacraments.
In the case of baptism, water is the element. Just as water washes dirt from our bodies, in baptism we are promised that Christ’s blood and Spirit wash us of our sins. They talk in comparisons:
as surely as”
as much as”
But, if we are going to call this promise to mind, we need to figure where it comes from.
The Heidelberg Catechism (the 450 year old Reformed summary of biblical Christianity that I blog about unrelentingly) poses that question directly.
71 Q. Where does Christ promise
that we are washed with his blood and Spirit
as surely as we are washed with the water of baptism?
In the institution of baptism, where he says:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father,
and of the Son
and of the Holy Spirit.”
“The one who believes and is baptized will be saved;
but the one who does not believe will be condemned.”
This promise is repeated when the Scripture calls baptism
“the water of rebirth” and
the washing away of sins.
The first quotation, from the “great commission” (Matt. 28:19), simply establishes that Christ instituted baptism, commanding us to baptize those who become disciples — no promise yet.
The second quotation (Mark 16:16) shows Jesus emphasizing importance of baptism by linking it to salvation — in a way often taken to support only adult baptism, but that’s another post.
There is a promise here, perhaps. But it still doesn’t do that comparison thing, telling us how we are washed by Jesus as surely as our bodies are washed with water.
Though this comparison is the whole purpose of the question, the answer becomes clear only in the last three lines. The writers say “the promise is repeated” in various other passages. They want to encourage a broad and deep engagement with the Bible, and searching out the topic would be a good exercise, but they give us two excellent example:
One is Titus 3:5 where Paul tells his young colleague,
…he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.”
The other is Acts 22:16, where Paul, the former persecutor, recounts the words of trembling Ananias:
And now why do you delay? Get up, be baptized, and have your sins washed away, calling on his name.”
When we remember our baptism, we are remembering that these promises were declared over us, to us personally. We remember that God is faithful to his promises. He does not go back on his word to us.
Most of us today undervalue our own baptism. We would be wise to remember it — to call to mind the promise given us in Christ that in those waters we were reborn, renewed, and washed of every sin.
I would love to hear from you in the comments! Do you call your own baptism to mind? What kind of role does that play in your faith?