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Why I Voted Against 22-T

by on March 8, 2023

Amendment 22-T seeks to list the sacrament of baptism as an appropriate action following the confession of sin and assurance of pardon. I voted against this amendment because it is unnecessary, but more, because it dilutes our baptismal theology.

1. The proposed amendment is unnecessary for the reason that the Advisory Committee on the Constitution already identified, namely, since Reformed theology understands baptism to be a response to the Word of God, there is nothing stopping a pastor from administering  baptism following the proclamation of forgiveness as God’s Word. In other words, pastors can already reasonably order worship to have baptism follow the confession and assurance.

2. But the theological reasons are more substantive. In 1982 the World Council of Churches promulgated the ecumenical document “Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry” which identified five primary understandings of the meaning of baptism. They are: 1) Participation in Christ’s Death and Resurrection; 2) Conversion, Pardoning, and Cleansing; 3) Reception of the Gift of the Spirit; 4) Incorporation into the Body of Christ; and 5) the Sign of the Kingdom.

To these we may add or elaborate that baptism represents: 6) the Sign of the Christian Covenant Community; 7) Union with Christ; 8) New Birth; 9) Sealing of the Word of God; and 10) Commissioning for Christ’s ongoing Ministry through the Church.

3. Administering baptism after the confession and assurance serves to place baptism early in a worship service, since ordinarily the confession occurs early in a worship service. The rationale for the amendment specifies this interest. However, while the declaration of forgiveness is indeed a fundamental Word of God, it is a very limited aspect of the Gospel. In other words, placing baptism here implies that it is a response primarily to God’s cleansing Word.

4. Placing baptism here obscures and diminishes those aspects of God’s Word that call us to conversion, to participation in Christ’s mission, to receiving the Spirit, to covenanting with the community of faith, and to living in the Kingdom of God.

5. Further, since baptism is an extraordinary rite in Sunday worship, placing baptism here in the interest of having it occur early in a worship service gives the appearance of “getting the extraneous out of the way” as soon as possible. I assume the interests underlying this amendment pertain mostly to infant baptism, but even if that is not the case, placing baptism here further marginalizes the significance of baptism in the Christian life.

6. Baptism is not merely a ritual addition to our worship, nor is it a family’s churchy rite of passage, nor is it merely a cleansing of sin. Baptism is the ongoing call to Christian living as Martin Luther might put it. Karl Barth recognized it as the foundation of the Christian life. John Calvin saw the sacraments as seals upon God’s Word. We should let the power of baptism seal more of God’s Word than just the assurance of pardon.


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