HEIDELBERG CATECHISM, LORD’S DAY 26 & 27
How does baptism remind you and assure you that Christ’s one sacrifice on the cross is for you personally?
In this way: Christ instituted this outward washing and with it gave the promise that, as surely as water washes away the dirt from the body, so certainly his blood and his Spirit wash away my soul’s impurity, in other words, all my sins.
What does it mean to be washed with Christ’s blood and Spirit?
To be washed with Christ’s blood means that God, by grace, has forgiven my sins because of Christ’s blood poured out for me in his sacrifice on the cross.
To be washed with Christ’s Spirit means that the Holy Spirit has renewed me and set me apart to be a member of Christ so that more and more I become dead to sin and increasingly live a holy and blameless life.
Where does Christ promise that we are washed with his blood and Spirit as surely as we are washed with the water of baptism?
In the institution of baptism where he says: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” This promise is repeated when Scripture calls baptism the washing of rebirth and the washing away of sins.
Does this outward washing with water itself wash away sins?
No, only Jesus Christ’s blood and the Holy Spirit cleanse us from all sins.
Why then does the Holy Spirit call baptism the washing of rebirth and the washing away of sins?
God has good reason for these words. He wants to teach us that the blood and Spirit of Christ wash away our sins just as water washes away dirt from our bodies. But more important, he wants to assure us, by this divine pledge and sign, that the washing away of our sins spiritually is as real as physical washing with water.
Should infants, too, be baptized?
Yes. Infants, as well as adults, are in God’s covenant and are his people. They, no less than adults, are promised the forgiveness of sin through Christ’s blood and the Holy Spirit who produces faith. Therefore, by baptism, the mark of the covenant, infants should be received into the Christian church and should be distinguished from the children of unbelievers. This was done in the Old Testament by circumcision, which was replaced in the New Testament by baptism.
Tuesday, June 20: I Peter 2:4-10
Andrew Kuyvenhoven, in his book Comfort and Joy: A Study of the Heidelberg Catechism, perfectly states what it means to remember our own baptism: “Although we immediately associate the words ‘remember and believe’ with the Lord’s Supper, they could serve appropriately whenever the church administers baptism. Baptism is not only a once-and-for-all incorporation into Christ but also a continual visible reminder of our true identity. Every time someone is ‘baptized into the body’ (I Corinthians 12:13) to which we belong already, we must remember and believe that we are the baptized congregation, dead to sin and alive to God in Christ. Baptism assures us of our nobility and encourages us to live up to our high calling. Every baptismal ceremony reminds us to be what we are.”
The Sacrament of baptism is not a passive ritual the congregation simply watches others participate in. Rather, the baptismal vows are a communal undertaking, drawing us toward each other and toward our identities in Christ. This is why, at least in our church, we stand up together, make verbal vows together, and speak out ancient confessions of faith together. Participating in baptism is part of our gospel witness, part of that Great Commission call to make disciples. That call isn’t meant to be enacted only toward those we meet in the coffee shops of our neighborhoods or the English language camps of Ukraine or the schools in Haiti, although proclaiming the gospel in those corners of the world is vital to our gospel identity. What is often left out of our Great Commission call is the understanding that it is also meant to be enacted right in our own churches, amongst the community we live and move in. Baptism into the Covenant promise and the Covenant community means that we are set apart, yes, but we are set apart for a purpose. We are set apart so that we can be a light for others, so that we can point others toward the true King, toward the true Kingdom, toward the Gospel story. We shine this light to those who do not know the gospel story and those who do. We teach and admonish each other, even as we journey along in faith. Baptism vows are just as communal as they are personal. As we continue to study and explore the sacrament of baptism, I pray that you will take a moment to remember and believe the gospel promise in your own life and witness.
Chaplain Sarah Hoogendoorn