The Historical Development of the PCA Book of Church Order
Chapter 57 : The Admission of Persons to Sealing Ordinances
Paragraph 1 : Of Covenant Children
57-1. Believers’ children within the Visible Church, and especially those dedicated to God in Baptism, are non-communing members under the care of the Church. They are to be taught to love God, and to obey and serve the Lord Jesus Christ. When they are able to understand the Gospel, they should be earnestly reminded that they are members of the Church by birthright, and that it is their duty and privilege personally to accept Christ, to confess Him before men, and to seek admission to the Lord’s Supper.
[DIGEST : The current PCA text of 57-1 dates to 1981, when Chapters 56, 57 and 58 were adopted with full constitutional authority, albeit with minor editorial corrections. PCA 1973 was unchanged from the text of the Proposed BCO 11-1 (4 December 1973) and that of PCUS 1933 § 350 (DfW ch. 11). Differences between the texts of the 1925 and 1933 editions of the PCUS DfW date to the 1929 DfW revision. The text of the 1925 edition dates to the 1894 edition, which was the first edition adopted by the PCUS. The PCUSA text from 1823, cited below, dates to 1789, and that text remained in use in the PCUSA until at least 1905, if not beyond.]
ANTECEDENT TEXTS :
1. PCA 1973, DfW 11-1, Adopted text, as printed in the Minutes of General Assembly, p. 159
2. Continuing Presbyterian Church 1973, DfW 11-1, Proposed text, p. 71
3. PCUS 1933, DfW XI, § 350
Children born within the pale of the visible church, and especially those dedicated to God in baptism, are under the care of the Church. They are to be taught to love God, and to obey and serve the Lord Jesus Christ. When they come to years of discretion they should be earnestly reminded that they are members of the Church by birthright, and that it is their duty and privilege personally to accept Christ, to confess Him before men, and to seek admission to the Lord's Supper.
PCUS 1925, DfW X-1, § 341
PCUS 1894, DfW X-1
Children born within the pale of the visible church, and dedicated to God in baptism are under the inspection and government of the church, and are to be taught to read and repeat the Catechism, the Apostle’s Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer. They are to be taught to pray, to abhor sin, to fear God, and to love and obey the Lord Jesus Christ. And when they come to years of discretion, they ought to be urgently reminded that they are members of the church by birthright, and that it is their duty and privilege personally to accept Christ, confess him before men, and seek admission to the Lord’s supper.
PCUSA 1823, DfW IX-1
Children born within the pale of the visible church, and dedicated to God in baptism are under the inspection and government of the church, and are to be taught to read and repeat the Catechism, the Apostle’s Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer. They are to be taught to pray, to abhor sin, to fear God, and to love and obey the Lord Jesus Christ. And when they come to years of discretion, if they be free from scandal, appear sober and steady, and to have sufficient knowledge to discern the Lord’s body, they ought to be informed, it is their duty and their privilege, to come to the Lord’s supper.
PCUSA 1789, DfW IX-1
Children, born within the pale of the visible church, and dedicated to God in baptism, are under the inspection and government of the church; and are to be taught to read, and repeat the catechism, the apostles creed, and the Lord's prayer. They are to be taught to pray, to abhor sin, to fear God, and to obey the Lord Jesus Christ. And, when they come to years of discretion, if they be free from scandal, appear sober and steady, and to have sufficient knowledge to discern the Lord's body, they ought to be informed, it is their duty, and their privilege, to come to the Lord's supper.
REFERENCE and CONSTITUTIONAL INQUIRY :
1982 - Reference 1, from the Presbytery of the Western Carolinas [M10GA, 10-75, III, Item 9, pp. 99-100; cf. M9GA, pp. 50-51]
Q. 1. May infant baptism properly be administered to covenant children of persons who are not members of a particular congregation asked? (For personal reasons they have not joined Trinity, but hold membership in the CRC where they formerly resided.) If so, under what circumstances?
A. Ordinarily infant baptism should be administered only to covenant children of persons who are members of the requested congregation. However, baptism is not to be unnecessarily delayed (BCO 56-1); therefore, it would be proper for a minister to baptize the child of members of another church where those members find it impossible or impracticable to return to their home church due to an occupational assignment (military, business, etc.). In every case such baptism should be administered only with the consent of the home church Session, with proper notification of the baptism in order that due spiritual oversight may be given and accurate records kept.
Q. 2. May baptism properly be administered to individuals making profession of faith but who do not intend to become members of the requested congregation? If so, under what circumstances?
A. Baptism should not be administered to those individuals making profession of faith but who do not intend to become members of the requested congregation.
Q. 3. May baptism properly be administered to individuals who have been "christened" or baptized in infancy, when it had been apparent that neither parent was a believer? Please cite support for your advice and recommendations.
A. No. Baptism is but once administered to any person (WCF 28.7). Baptism with water, in the name of the Triune God, by most significant manner possible - by bringing the person to regeneration and faith (WCF 28.6).
The question of re-baptism has been of concern to believers since the time of the early Church when believers fell away from the faith during persecution and later returned to the faith. Questions were even raised concerning the validity of a baptism performed by a minister who later fell away from the faith. To the desire of individuals seeking re-baptism, the Church has historically responded that only one administration of baptism is appropriate. Historically, the Church has not re-baptized those who have fallen away/been excommunicated and subsequently have sought re-admission to the Church. If their former baptism was not invalidated by their later falling away, necessitating re-baptism, then neither can the baptism of their children be invalidated. If one or both parents professed faith in Jesus Christ and were members in good standing within the Visible Church, then the administration of baptism to their infant children was perfectly appropriate, as valid as their own baptism. If they were not professing believers and were not members in good standing within the Visible Church, then they would have no right to baptism for themselves or their children. Such a baptism would not be a proper baptism. If however they were professing members of the visible church at the time of the administration of their children's baptism, then the baptism was valid--both for themselves and for their children--and subsequent events could not invalidate the baptism so as to necessitate a new and subsequent baptism--for themselves or their children.
The only instance of a second baptism recorded in Scripture is found in Acts, Chapter 19, but it is clear from the context that the disciples referred to in this passage were not disciples of Jesus Christ : they were not professing Christians; they had not been baptized in the name of Jesus but in John's baptism. These disciples were ill-informed disciples of John the Baptist, people who did not even know of the Holy Spirit. They clearly did not know the Gospel of Christ, for the Apostle has to explain it to them. Having heard now of Christ, they were indeed baptized, but it was not a second Christian baptism : it was their first and only Christian baptism. There is a clear historical distinction between Christian baptism and John's baptism, despite their parallel purposes. We therefore ought not to equate the two baptisms and claim that Acts 19 gives us a case of people undergoing two Christian baptisms. There are no Scriptural examples of people being baptized twice in the name of Jesus.
There is another passage which has bearing on this issue. In Acts, Chapter 8, we read that Simon Magus professed faith in Christ and was baptized. Subsequently, Peter uncovered Simon's true spiritual condition and warned him : "Thy heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent!" Simon was apparently affected by this warning and apparently repented, saying to Peter : "Pray ye to the Lord for me, that none of these things which ye have spoken come upon me." Here, then, is an explicit case of the baptism of a man later discovered to be unconverted. Peter's counsel to him is not : "You need to be re-baptized." but rather, "You need to repent!" What Simon Magus needed was not another external baptism, but a true internal baptism--true regeneration, repentance, conversion. He had already had the symbol; now he needed the thing signified. Our confessional standards reflect this counsel. Baptism is but once to be administered to any one person (WCF 28.7); if a professing believer desires to improve his baptism (as indeed all believers should), the means of improving it is not re-baptism, but rather seeking with all our heart to live up to the engagement to belong wholly to the Lord, which our baptism signifies (see LC 167).
b. Grace Presbytery
Q. 1. Are the recipients of so-called baptism, by a religious body, which claimed the sacraments as a part of the process of justification (as in the case of Roman Catholic, Church of Christ, or Lutheran Churches), proper recipients of Christian baptism?
A. In view of WCF 28.7, the sacrament of baptism is but once to be administered to any person; therefore, the consideration must be the validity of the so-called baptism. If the so-called baptism by a religious body is an attestation to a falsehood, does this render the baptism invalid? If the so-called baptism is "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost" and is "a sign and seal of ingrafting into himself, of remission of sins by his blood, and regeneration by his Spirit" (LC 165), then it ought to be considered a valid baptism even though the sacrament may have been claimed to be a part of the process of justification. However, there are two other considerations which may invalidate the administration of the sacrament : if the religious body in question is not truly a part of the visible Church of Jesus Christ, any ceremony that it might perform would be invalid, and if the religious body attaches to the sacrament a superstitious power so that the sacrament is viewed to accomplish that which in the Scriptures it is taught the sacrament only represents. Great care should be taken to explain to the applicant for church membership that the doctrine of baptismal regeneration is a false doctrine. After consultation with the applicant and at the discretion of the Session, the baptism may be considered valid.
Q. 2. Are those who were presented by unbelieving parents for so-called infant baptism, proper recipients of Christian baptism?
A. An infant of parents who are not professing believers is not a proper subject for Christian baptism. Recognizing that there have been such irregular baptisms, the Church should direct the attention of such irregularly baptized individuals to the faithfulness of God. The validity of the baptism rests upon the covenant faithfulness of God rather than the lack of faith in the human parties to the baptism. (See answer and the grounds for answer to Question 3, Recommendation 9. a.)
Q. 3. Are those baptized as adults or older children (it is understood that these persons were baptized as unbelievers) proper recipients of Christian baptism?
A. No. (See WCF 28.5; 28.6; LC 166 and answer and grounds for answer to Question 3, Recommendation 9. a.).
Q. 4. Are those presented by parents for "christening" proper recipients of Christian baptism?
A. When parents present their child for "christening" they should be instructed that "christening" is an inappropriate and unbiblical term for Christian baptism. However, historically "christening" in the name of the triune God, with water, by a duly authorized person constitutes Christian baptism. (See answer and grounds for answer to Question 3, Recommendation 9. a.)
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Chapter Index [links to Par. 1 of each chapter]:
I. King & Head of Church
II. Preliminary Principles
[FoG = Form of Government ; RoD = Rules of Discipline ; DfW = Directory for Worship]