We have just conducted our Easter Baptism last Sunday and for the congregation who was present, I wonder whether you were uncomfortable making those promises in front of the baptismal candidates? Let me refresh your memory on the questions posed to you:
(Before the parents of the infants who were baptized) Congregation: “Do you, as members of the Body of Christ and of this congregation, solemnly promise to help in the raising of this child, to encourage the parents in their responsibilities, to provide an atmosphere of love and concern for them and their child, and to pray diligently for the well-being of this family?”
(Before the baptismal and confirmation candidates) Congregation: “Do you, as members of the Body of Christ and of this congregation, solemnly promise to help these baptism and confirmation candidates to encourage them in their spiritual growth and participation in the life of the church?
Some of you might have said ‘I do’ without thinking too much of it but others might be thinking whether they should refrain from making a response since it is quite a tall order for one to keep those promises, especially the first set which involves us in helping to raise the child, to encourage the parents in their responsibilities, to provide a conducive environment for the child’s spiritual growth and to pray diligently for the family. Those who take the promises seriously feel guilty when they cannot live up to them. Maybe the leaders should modify the promises so that they are not so demanding. Maybe we should just continue to mindlessly say ‘I do’ since it is part of the baptism liturgy. What should our attitude be when we are confronted with the need to make such promises? How should we go about saying them so that we do not merely go through the motion but we do it in a manner that is both meaningful for those who are being baptised and for those who are witnessing it?
The spirit behind all these promises is the emphasis on community. ‘No man is an island’ is a beautiful song (find it on YouTube) and speaks of our need for one another which is relevant to our Christian pilgrimage. We do not travel alone. We need each other. We can never find a lone Christian in the bible. Even when Paul was in prison, he had asked for people to visit him, e.g. when he was writing the second letter to Timothy, he said: ‘Do your best to come to me soon… Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry.’ (2 Timothy 4.9, 11) We need each other if we want to grow in our faith. The writer to Hebrews said: ‘And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.’ (Hebrews 10.24-25) When we say ‘I do’ to those questions posed to us, we are making a promise in front of those being baptised that we are committed to journey with them as they officially join our community.
Practically, this means that we should make effort to get to know the people who have been baptised. We should get to know the parents of the infants who have been baptised. Laurent and Rokia, parents of baby Cecile, would likely be unfamiliar to most of you. Would you make the effort to go up to them and introduce yourself and find out which country they come from and why they are here in Singapore and how did they come to True Way? Getting to know them is a very good start for us to find out how we can encourage and pray for them. It also means that if the family has a specific prayer request in the future, we will know who we are praying for, and that makes the praying more meaningful. Once we get to know them, the Spirit of God can sometimes bring them to our minds and when that happens, we can also utter a prayer for them.
When we promise to help raise a child who has been bapstised, it means that we cannot say that this child is not mine so I have no business in disciplining him if I see him misbehave. I have the responsibility to guide the child in the ways of the Lord. I know that sometimes we try to be sensitive for fear that if we were to reprimand the child, the parents might not like it, but parents need to know that both the family and the church have the responsibility to raise the child in the fear of the Lord. Therefore parents, you should not be angry with the Sunday school teachers should they discipline your children; know that the teachers are also on your side in wanting to see your child grow in the Lord. Be receptive of their feedback without being defensive. The teachers are fulfilling their promises in helping to raise your child, especially if your child has come forward for baptism and the teachers were there as witnesses.
When it comes to encouraging the baptismal candidates in their spiritual growth and their participation in church life, we require these candidates to join a small group after their baptism if they are not already in one. The small group ministry and the people within the small groups will definitely play a more active role in nurturing the faith of these baptismal candidates who have joined them. However, as part of the wider church, you can continue to encourage them by you yourselves being faithful to your own baptismal vows. If you are faithful in coming together for worship, in using your gifts and resources to serve the Lord, in giving your tithes, in taking ‘God’s people as your people’, surely you will have ample opportunities to minister to one another, including the baptismal candidates. It is therefore good that whenever we witness someone’s baptism we also take the opportunity to renew our baptismal vows.
Church, the next time you are asked to make such promises, do not mindlessly say ‘I do’, yet do not hesitate because you fear that you will fall short of what you have promised. Instead, say ‘I do’ confidently, knowing that we are redeemed people who make promises to God out of a grateful heart for what He has done for us in Christ, and He also enables us to fulfill those promises by the power of His Spirit who indwells us. Whenever we fail, God’s forgiveness is always at hand. Meanwhile, we continue to strive for the ideal even if the ideal cannot be perfectly lived out on this side of heaven.
Pastor Kien Seng
April 27, 2014