Presbyterians believe that baptism is one of the two sacred acts, or sacraments, instituted by God for his followers. Baptism is the application of water to an adult, child or infant by an ordained minister in the presence of a church congregation. Presbyterian churches follow some common practices for baptism, including the belief that baptism by immersion is not necessary. Nevertheless, individual congregations establish their own rules for preparation leading to baptism and for the ceremony itself.
Biblical Basis for Baptism
Presbyterians teach that baptism is uniting with Christ in his death and resurrection and is the first step in a new life in Christ, based on Romans 6:4, "We were buried with him by Baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” Those who are baptized are welcomed into God's family and into the local Presbyterian church. While Presbyterians teach that baptism should be administered only once, they also recognize that it is only a beginning and that God's grace continues to manifest itself in the life of the baptized believer.
Preparation for Baptism
Before performing a baptism ceremony, Presbyterian congregations require the person asking to be baptized, if she is an adult, or one of the parents of the baptism candidate, to be members of the local congregation or another Christian church. The Presbyterian Church (USA) also requires baptism candidates or a parent to attend baptism counseling sessions given by the pastor of the congregation where the ceremony will be performed. According to the Presbyterian Church (USA) Book of Order, no candidate can be baptized until successful completion of the pastor's counseling session and approval by the local church's Session, the church's governing body.
Presbyterians baptize by aspersion -- sprinkling of water on the head -- in the name of God, the Father; God, the Son; and God, the Holy Spirit. The ceremony is performed by an ordained pastor in the midst of the congregation during a regular Sunday worship service and can be attended by non-members, including relatives and friends. During the service, parents and the congregation repeat vows -- for example, a profession of faith in Christ, a renouncement of sin, a promise to participate actively in the mission of the church and a vow to nurture the child's faith.
Presbyterians do not have specific age requirements for baptism; nonetheless, the Book of Order urges members to baptize their children "without undue delay, but without undue haste." To prepare adult candidates for baptism, some churches offer newcomers' classes to give candidates more information about life as a Presbyterian. After baptism, life in Christ continues through service and educational opportunities and fellowship with other believers; parents may decide to permit their baptized children to receive the second sacrament of Holy Communion.
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