Question on Baptismal Rite in Presbyterian Churches

Discussion in 'Baptism' started by BLM, Oct 12, 2019.

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  1. BLM

    BLM Puritan Board Freshman

    Greetings again PB friends,

    As I mentioned in an earlier thread here, I attended a worship service last Lord's Day at a Presbyterian Church (PCA) and the congregation celebrated the baptism of several of its member's children. My question this time has to do with the baptismal rite common to Presbyterian Churches.

    Included in the officiant's prayer was a pleading for the Holy Spirit to "bless these waters of baptism." Is this sort of language typical in Presbyterian Churches?

    I left the service wondering whether there are Presbyterians who believe in a sort of sacramental efficacy whereby grace is transmitted literally through the water itself.

    Thanks in advance for insight shared.
  2. earl40

    earl40 Puritan Board Professor

    I believe this is a strange way of stating such. I say this as a former RC (A long time ago one) who may have held to the superstitious way of thinking. The reformed should not think that God places some type of magic into a substance to bless. Now God may use particular substances for the good of His people, and in doing such one may think the substance is "blessed" but not in the RC, or non-reformed protestant, way of thinking. I would assume the pastor in a charitable light, unless I was convinced otherwise by an explanation from him.
  3. Scott Bushey

    Scott Bushey Puritanboard Commissioner

    There is a 'sacramental efficacy', if God so wills it. The distinction is much different from what Credo Baptists think. The rite itself and the water are never empty acts.
    Last edited: Oct 13, 2019
  4. BLM

    BLM Puritan Board Freshman

    Brother Scott,

    Can you unpack this for me? I'd like to better understand what you mean. What sort of "sacramental efficacy" is found in the baptismal rite and the application of water?
  5. NaphtaliPress

    NaphtaliPress Administrator Staff Member

    PCA directory says simply, "56-6 Then the minister is to pray for a blessing to attend this ordinance," but gives no words.
    --- Post updated ---
    PCA directory says simply, "56-6 Then the minister is to pray for a blessing to attend this ordinance," but gives no words.
  6. Scott Bushey

    Scott Bushey Puritanboard Commissioner

    Hi B.L.
    Let me pose my response in the form of a question: If God wants to use the waters of baptism to regenerate a child, can he? The stumbling block for you may be the difference between what we believe is a sacrament and you, an 'ordinance'. Example, the reformed see the Lord's supper more than just an ordinance. It is God, intimately communicating with us during the rite. The same happens during baptism.
  7. BLM

    BLM Puritan Board Freshman

    Surely the object intended by this prayer is the subject (person) and not the substance (water), no?

    If this sort of baptismal prayer ("bless these waters of baptism") is common among the Presbyterian bodies of churches I can see why some might hold to the error of baptismal regeneration. It seems like an unreformed appendage with roots in Anglicanism and Roman Catholicism to me, but as a Baptist that should come as no surprise to anyone.
  8. NaphtaliPress

    NaphtaliPress Administrator Staff Member

    I am simply reporting that the directory does not give any form of words. I have no idea if what you heard is common, but I expect for all the PCA's faults that Baptismal Regeneration is not one of them. To me the words mean bless this baptism now applied to become the thing signified, etc. Here is the PCA directory on Baptism:
    CHAPTER 56

    The Administration of Baptism

    The Baptism of Infants and Children

    56-1. Baptism is not to be unnecessarily delayed; not to be administered, in

    any case, by any private person; but by a minister of Christ, called to be the

    steward of the mysteries of God.

    56-2. It is not to be privately administered, but in the presence of the

    congregation under the supervision of the Session.

    56-3. After previous notice is given to the minister, the child to be baptized

    is to be presented, by one or both the parents, or some other responsible person,

    signifying the desire that the child be baptized.

    56-4. Before baptism, the minister is to use some words of instruction,

    touching the institution, nature, use, and ends of this sacrament, showing:

    a. That it is instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ;

    b. That it is a seal of the Covenant of Grace, of our ingrafting into Christ,

    and of our union with Him, of remission of sins, regeneration,

    adoption, and life eternal;

    c. That the water, in baptism, represents and signifies both the blood of

    Christ, which taketh away all guilt of sin, original and actual; and the

    sanctifying virtue of the Spirit of Christ against the dominion of sin,

    and the corruption of our sinful nature;

    d. That baptizing, or sprinkling and washing with water, signifies the

    cleansing from sin by the blood and for the merit of Christ, together

    with the mortification of sin, and rising from sin to newness of life, by

    virtue of the death and resurrection of Christ;

    e. That the promise is made to believers and their children; and that the

    children of believers have an interest in the covenant, and right to the

    seal of it, and to the outward privileges of the Church, under the

    Gospel, no less than the children of Abraham in the time of the Old

    Testament; the Covenant of Grace, for substance, being the same; and

    the grace of God, and the consolation of believers, more plentiful than


    f. That the Son of God admitted little children into His presence,

    embracing and blessing them, saying, “For of such is the kingdom of


    g. That children by Baptism, are solemnly received into the bosom of the

    Visible Church, distinguished from the world, and them that are

    without, and united with believers; and that all who are baptized in the

    name of Christ, do renounce, and by their Baptism are bound to fight

    against the devil, the world, and the flesh;

    h. That they are federally holy before Baptism, and therefore are they


    i. That the inward grace and virtue of Baptism is not tied to that very

    moment of time wherein it is administered; and that the fruit and

    power thereof reaches to the whole course of our life; and that outward

    baptism is not so necessary, that through the want thereof, the infant

    is in danger of damnation;

    j. By virtue of being children of believing parents they are, because of

    God’s covenant ordinance, made members of the Church, but this is

    not sufficient to make them continue members of the Church. When

    they have reached the age of discretion, they become subject to

    obligations of the covenant: faith, repentance and obedience. They

    then make public confession of their faith in Christ, or become

    covenant breakers, and subject to the discipline of the Church.

    In these or the like instructions, the minister is to use his own liberty

    and godly wisdom, as the ignorance or errors in the doctrine of Baptism, and

    the edification of the people, shall require.

    He is also to admonish all that are present to look back to their

    Baptism, to repent of their sins against their covenant with God; to stir up their

    faith; to improve and make right use of their Baptism, and of the covenant

    sealed between God and their soul.

    He is to exhort the parent to consider the great mercy of God to him

    and his child; to bring up the child in the knowledge of the grounds of the

    Christian religion, and in the nurture and admonition of the Lord; and to let

    him know the danger of God’s wrath to himself and child, if he be negligent;

    requiring his solemn promise for the performance of his duty.

    The minister is also to exhort the parents to the careful performance

    of their duty, requiring:

    a. That they teach the child to read the Word of God;

    b. that they instruct him in the principles of our holy religion, as

    contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, an

    excellent summary of which we have in the Confession of Faith,

    and in the Larger and Shorter Catechisms of the Westminster

    Assembly, which are to be recommended to them as adopted by

    the Church, for their direction and assistance, in the discharge of

    this important duty;

    c. that they pray with and for him;

    d. that they set an example of piety and godliness before him; and

    endeavor, by all the means of God’s appointment, to bring up their

    child in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

    56-5. The minister shall then read the covenant promises:

    For to you is the promise, and to your children, and to all

    that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call unto

    him. And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and

    thy seed after thee throughout their generations for an everlasting

    covenant, to be a God unto thee and to thy seed after thee. Believe

    on the Lord Jesus, and thou shalt be saved, thou and thy house.

    (Acts 2:39; Gen. 17:7; Acts 16:31)

    The minister shall then propose the following questions:

    1. Do you acknowledge your child’s need of the cleansing blood

    of Jesus Christ, and the renewing grace of the Holy Spirit?

    2. Do you claim God’s covenant promises in (his) behalf, and do

    you look in faith to the Lord Jesus Christ for (his) salvation,

    as you do for your own?

    3. Do you now unreservedly dedicate your child to God, and

    promise, in humble reliance upon divine grace, that you will

    endeavor to set before (him) a godly example, that you will

    pray with and for (him), that you will teach (him) the doctrines

    of our holy religion, and that you will strive, by all the means

    of God’s appointment, to bring (him) up in the nurture and

    admonition of the Lord?

    To the congregation (optional):

    Do you as a congregation undertake the responsibility of

    assisting the parents in the Christian nurture of this child?

    56-6 Then the minister is to pray for a blessing to attend this ordinance,

    after which, calling the child by name, he shall say:

    I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son,

    and of the Holy Spirit.

    As he pronounces these words, he is to baptize the child with water,

    by pouring or sprinkling it on the head of the child, without adding any other

    ceremony; and the whole shall be concluded with prayer.

  9. BLM

    BLM Puritan Board Freshman

    Thank you for the chapter out of the PCA directory on Baptism. This is good. I don't intend to assume the church I visited holds to baptismal regeneration, but simply that the language employed was unhelpful and could serve to confuse people in this area (members and visitors alike).

    On the subject of baptismal regeneration and your belief that among the PCA's faults (your words not mine) this issue isn't one of them, could a counterargument be made that the whole Federal Vision heresy that spread may have left some remnants of this view in pockets of your denomination? I know very little about the in's/out's of the FV debates, but the advocates held to baptismal regeneration correct?

    At any seems some here hold to a form of baptismal regeneration even if held as a minority position.

    I appreciate those who have commented thus far. Gives me some perspectives to reflect on.
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  10. timfost

    timfost Puritan Board Senior

    Is it substantially different than saying, "Lord, please take this sign and apply it as a seal"?
  11. NaphtaliPress

    NaphtaliPress Administrator Staff Member

    I don't know how far FV has spread or how overt anything would be in their execution of baptism. Someone like Lane can better elaborate on that. @greenbaggins
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  12. greenbaggins

    greenbaggins Administrator Staff Member

    I would be reluctant to link this pastor's words with the FV without any more information, for the very simple reason that Presbyterians often use sacramental language, by which the effects are sometimes indicated by the signs and seals. So, for instance, when Peter says, "baptism now saves you," (and goes on to talk about the conscience), what is happening there is not a crass baptismal regeneration. Rather, what Peter says is, in effect, "What baptism points us to is what saves us, and water is the sign of that salvation." Also indicated is the sacramental relationship between the sign and the thing signified, which is Spirit-given faith. But all the middle stuff can be taken out when speaking of it, provided that the fuller version is what we understand it to say. To a visitor, especially a Baptist visitor, this could appear confusing. However, as the baptism was for the Presbyterian church, it is not necessary that all elements of the service be explained in excruciating detail for people who might not understand it.
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  13. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Doctor

    It tends to get confusing when done say that water baptism would be the entry into the Kingdom, as sign of one now being in. Covenant relationship with God, as Anglicans tend to see it.
  14. JP Wallace

    JP Wallace Puritan Board Sophomore

    To draw a parallel with the other sacrament of the Lord's Supper are we not told that Jesus himself blessed the elements? Why should/or must the water of baptism be different?

    (Lk. 24:30 ESV) When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them.

    The Apostle Paul uses similar language
    (1 Cor. 10:1 ESV) 16 The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?

    So yet while it is possible that the words could be understood wrongly, (it's not uncommon for that to be the case) I think at very least the charitable understanding is as per Lane's explanation above.
    Last edited: Oct 12, 2019
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  15. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritanboard Amanuensis

    The language is unusual but there is nothing ipso facto wrong with it. It's quite common in the early church. There is no logical connection between "blessing the waters" and "baptism washes away the stain of original sin/regenerates the baby ala a Finney revival." Some FV types might believe that, but I've never met any that do.
  16. earl40

    earl40 Puritan Board Professor

  17. RWD

    RWD Puritan Board Freshman

    Why find it strange that we ask God to bless the ministry of baptism given that Jesus blessed the sacramental bread of the Supper? Moreover, since we pray God would be pleased to bless the ministry of the Word, why not the sacramental ministry of the Word as put forth in the visible sign and seal of the inward hope of washing of regeneration?
  18. G

    G Puritan Board Junior

    Nice sun glasses Earl! I knew you had a patriotic side!
  19. De Jager

    De Jager Puritan Board Freshman

    I probably wouldn't use that language, but I don't think the pastor would have likely meant anything "catholicish" by it. I think by saying "bless these waters of baptism", he likely meant, bless this whole deal, may this sacrament be used to strengthen the faith of those who observe, and upon reflection on it, the one to whom it was applied.
  20. De Jager

    De Jager Puritan Board Freshman

    This is a really good point, thanks so much for pointing out that connection. :)
  21. JTB.SDG

    JTB.SDG Puritan Board Sophomore

    I think you may be right that FV has left it's remnants in the denomination, as you put it; though as others have commented I wouldn't automatically say that's what is happening here. I think you are also probably right that the language wasn't as helpful as it could have been. What we want to ask for at baptism is that, in His time and way, the Lord would bring about "the reality" in the life of the covenant child which is represented by "the rite". I think probably this is what the minister intended to mean; that the Lord would do effectually for the child what the waters of baptism outwardly picture/signify. But I believe you are right in saying the words weren't as helpful as they could have been.

    Thank you for your question and humility in responding to others.
  22. Phil D.

    Phil D. Puritan Board Junior

    Many Baptist stalwarts have also recognized this metonymic association, as for example:

    “Brethren, the baptism here meant [Mark 16:16—“Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”] is a baptism connected with faith, and to this baptism I will admit there is very much ascribed in Scripture. Into that question I am not going; but I do find some very remarkable passages in which baptism is spoken of very strongly. I find this—‘Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.’ [Acts 22:16b] I find as much as this elsewhere; I know that believer’s baptism itself does not wash away sin, yet it is so the outward sign and emblem of it to the believer, that the thing visible may be described as the thing signified. Just as our Saviour said—‘This is my body,’ when it was not his body, but bread; yet, inasmuch as it represented his body, it was fair and right according to the usage of language to say, ‘Take, eat, this is my body.’ [e.g. Matt. 26:26] And so, inasmuch as baptism to the believer representeth the washing of sin—it may be called the washing of sin—not that it is so, but that it is to saved souls the outward symbol and representation of what is done by the power of the Holy Spirit, in the man who believes in Christ.”

    (Charles Spurgeon, “Baptismal Regeneration”; cited in, H. L. Wayland, Charles H. Spurgeon: His Faith and Works, [Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society. 1892], 315.)
  23. RJ Spencer

    RJ Spencer Puritan Board Freshman

    I'm not as smart on this subject as many others here, I'm fairly new to the paedo position. With that said, I feel like you are overthinking the whole thing, Baptism is a sign that the person being baptized is a member of the church external. So the prayer would be that God would grant that the person being baptized would be both a part of the external church as well as the internal. That the water would not just be a sign of the covenant external, but a symbol of the change that takes place when someone is part of the covenant internal.
  24. BLM

    BLM Puritan Board Freshman

    Admittedly, I might be a little hyper-sensitive to anything that sounds like sacramentalism. So perhaps you are correct.

    While my Baptist background is no doubt a contributor to this sensitivity, I am also concerned about what I believe is the growing disintegration of Protestant Evangelicalism. Many seem to be running off the road into one of two ditches. One ditch is full of those who have sought to sever ties to their theological forebears and want to reimagine/reinvent Christianity in the image of the culture. The other ditch is full of those who have sought a return to their "Ancient Roots" and have adopted liturgical practices, calendars, and an attitude that the early church fathers knew best. I believe when you begin to forget your Reformation Heritage you'll inevitably fall into one ditch or the other. Yes, these are admittedly the far ends of a wide spectrum and there are churches that maintain a healthy balance.

    My desire is to be as charitable as possible and not assume every church needs a tow truck to pull it out of one ditch or the other; however, I think it's okay to raise questions and think critically when something seems amiss.

    Thanks to all who have weighed in and helped to sharpen the iron on my end!
  25. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritanboard Amanuensis

    We've been dealing with this since the Peasant Wars of the 1500s.
  26. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Doctor

    Water Baptism is tied very much into faith, as that water reflects on our spiritual relationship to Jesus and to His Body. Symbol and sign of what we are now in Christ, as linked with Him through our faith and experiencing new life in Him.
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