May 28, 2006 Q & A

Baptizing Children of Non-Members


I am not a member of a church. I am Protestant and would like my son baptized the same. Do I have to be a member of your church for my son to be baptized there?


Thank you for writing. Your question is asked frequently.

To answer your question directly: Yes, you must be a member of our church to qualify for the baptism of your son. Or, to speak more precisely, if at least one parent is a professing Christian believer and a member of the church, a child may be baptized.

I do not know how much explanation you need or desire for what I have written above. To understand the answer to your question, it is necessary to understand something of the nature of infant baptism and of the significance of the vows being taken.

The Book of Church Order (Directory for the Public Worship of God, Chapter 4) brings out the importance of infant baptism's taking place in the context of the visible church in a meaningful way:

Since the sacraments are ordinances of the visible church, they are not to be administered except under the oversight of the government of the church. Moreover, in ordinary circumstances they are properly administered only in a gathering of the congregation for the public worship of God, baptism signifying solemn admission into the visible church...."

Before a child is baptized, the minister provides teaching concerning "the institution and nature of the sacrament:

Baptism is a sacrament ordained by the Lord Jesus Christ. It is a sign and seal of the inclusion of the person who is baptized in the covenant of grace. Teaching that we and our children are conceived and born in sin, it witnesses and seals unto us the remission of sins and the bestowal of all the gifts of salvation through union with Christ. Baptism with water signifies and seals cleansing from sin by the blood and the Spirit of Christ, together with our death unto sin and our resurrection unto newness of life by virtue of the death and resurrection of Christ....

When an infant is to be baptized, the minister provides teaching as to "the ground of infant baptism":

Although our young children do not yet understand these things, they are nevertheless to be baptized. For the promise of the covenant is made to believers and to their seed, as God declared unto Abraham: "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." In the new dispensation no less than in the old, the seed of the faithful, born within the church, have, by virtue of their birth, interest in the covenant and right to the seal of it and to the outward privileges of the church. For the covenant of grace is the same in substance under both dispensations, and the grace of God for the consolation of believers is even more fully manifested in the new dispensation.... So the children of the covenant are by baptism distinguished from the world and solemnly received into the visible church.

Baptism of an infant demands that parents make serious vows before God, including this one:

Do you promise to instruct your child in the principles of our holy religion as revealed in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, and as summarized in the Confession of Faith and Catechisms of this Church; and do you promise to pray with and for your child, to set an example of piety and godliness before him, and to endeavor by all the means of God's appointment to bring him up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord?

Are you ready to take such a vow before God and mean it?

In brief, when a child is baptized, a bond is created among three parties: family, church, and God. Vows are made in God's presence, vows that only believers are able, by God's grace, to carry out. Without such ties there really is no point to a baptism. Assuming you are not interested in baptism merely as a social/cultural nicety, the question remains: Why do you want your son to be baptized? Are you prepared to follow the Savior within the Church's ministry and fellowship? (The Westminster Confession of Faith, our Church's doctrinal standard, states that outside of the church there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.)

But within the church, God promises great blessing. I hope that you will seek out a church that faithfully proclaims and teaches the gospel according to the Scriptures

(On a related matter, see the report on "Refusing to Present Children for Baptism" submitted to the Thirty-third General Assembly (1966) of the OPC.)



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