Baptism is one of two sacraments celebrated in the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, the other being the Lord’s Supper. A sacrament is a visual aid which illustrates and confirms the spiritual truths and promises contained in the gospel.
The Bible teaches that baptism is God’s sign of salvation. It was the Lord Jesus Christ who instructed us to baptise (Matthew 28:19,20). In the Old Testament circumcision was the sign of God’s blessing of salvation promised in the covenant made with Abraham (Genesis 17:10,11). In the New Testament baptism is the sign of the new covenant and of salvation in Christ (Colossians 2:11,12).
Just as water makes us clean, so baptism pictures how God, through Jesus Christ, can make our whole lives clean, forgiving our sins and giving us new life. It is the sign and pledge that our lives are built on Christ and that he is our Lord and Saviour.
Presbyterians believe that it is appropriate for Christian parents to have their child baptised because of God’s covenant with Abraham. The sign of the covenant was given, not only to Abraham who believed, but also to Abraham’s children. We believe that in the New Testament the promises of the covenant are extended to all true believers and to their children. Baptism does not mean the child immediately becomes a Christian. Although salvation is promised, in time children must trust and believe in Jesus Christ for themselves.
When believing parents have their children baptised they are publicly declaring they are committed Christians, and that they want their child to come to know Jesus Christ in a personal way and to grow up to serve Him.
Infant baptism is given on the basis of the qualifications of the parent, not the qualifications of the child. It is the parents’ relationship with God which is important. What is required of parents is a credible profession of faith, that is, a profession accompanied by some understanding of the Christian faith, a lifestyle in accordance with Christian values, and public commitment to the worshipping Christian community.
Baptism is a sign of God’s grace. But God’s grace places an obligation on us. We are to keep his covenant, not in order to earn his love, but to show our gratitude and to find his will. Baptism is a sacrament and privilege for those who are part of the Christian family. That is why parents who request baptism for their child must trust in Christ for themselves and accept the privileges and responsibilities of church membership.
In the Presbyterian Church in Ireland it is necessary that at least one parent professes faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord. The baptism is in most cases conducted at a church service in the presence of the congregation.