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Question and Answer

Followup to Godparents

Question:

The Q&A about godparents takes a very narrow view of the function of godparents. Could not a "godparent" simply be someone who will be the legal guardian of a child upon the death of the parents?

Certainly the OPC doesn't connect anyone else at baptism, but why would the Church preclude anyone from taking the wise precaution of securing care for their children? This is essentially something outside of the bounds of the Church's ministerial authority, and thus should not be regulated by it. It has nothing to do with baptism in this understanding of "godparents."

Answer:

The use of godparents is usually understood in the context of the sacrament of baptism. However, what one calls those that are to inherit the responsibility for raising children in the event of the death of both parents is of no matter to the church. Call them what you will, i.e., guardians.

Historically, the practice of using godparents or sponsors at the administration of baptism developed in the medieval church. By the time of the Reformation in the 16th century the practice remained among Protestants—even the Reformed in Switzerland (including Calvin!). The idea of godparents was, however, reformed from a more superstitious approach to an approach which centered around instruction. The godparents were seen as those who would assist the natural parents to instruct and teach the child the doctrines of the faith. As far as I can tell, however, their responsibility was not necessarily to be the caregiver in the event of the death of the natural parents.

Now, as time went on, some problems persisted with regard to godparents. First, Protestant parents were asking their Catholic friends, neighbors, and family to serve as their child's godparents. For the Protestant clergy this caused great consternation. After all, the main function of the godparent was to instruct the child in the faith. And if the godparents were Catholics, this would have been a threat to the faith of the next generation. After all, the Roman Catholic priests actually forbade their people to employ Protestant godparents!

Second, often the pastor and/or his wife would be asked to be godparent of the child the pastor was baptizing. This became a problem socially because one pastor could serve as the godfather for numerous members. Members could enjoy that privilege because of the pastor's position and influence in the community. It was a way of getting into the "in" crowd. And you can image how this would cause all kinds of corruption.

I think that by the 17th century the Reformed gave the practice up. Not only did it cause problems, but it was not biblical. So by the time the Westminster Confession and Directory for Worship are written, the practice disappears from church liturgy altogether.

However, again, this is not to say that you as a parent cannot designate someone to be the caregiver of your children in the event of your death. Furthermore, if you want to call them "godparents," that's your prerogative. But when it comes to the baptism ceremony, at least in the OPC, you won't find any liturgical mention of them for the reasons listed above.


About Q&A

"Questions and Answers" is a weekly feature of the OPC website. At least one new question is posted each week, so there should always be something new here for you to read. (For those who would like to look at previous questions and answers, they will continue to be available as well.)

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