by Josh English
The baptismal liturgy asks the new member to make six promises:
- Renounce Satan and the forces of wickedness
- Renounce the evil powers of this world
- Renounce sinful desires that draw you from God
- Turn to Jesus Christ and accept Him as Savior
- Put whole trust in God
- Promise to obey and follow Him as Lord
These promises have three "I renounce them"s followed by three "I do"s. These promises are made by the sponsors (also called Godparents) of infants.
The Episcopal Church baptizes infants. Some other Christian denominations do not. The argument against infant baptism focuses on the lack of choice in the child to be baptized. There are historical reasons for baptizing children as well.
For several centuries it was generally believed that only baptized Christians would go to heaven. Infant mortality rates were also pretty high; so many people asked "what happens to the souls of the babies who die at birth, or in infancy?"
One solution was to consign these souls to Limbo. Not really sinners who need the fires of purgatory and hell, but not baptized, so they can't go to heaven.
A second solution was to baptize children as soon as possible. This "allowed" infants access to heaven.
There are two services that revisit the baptismal covenant: Confirmation and Reaffirmation. As a child growing up in Nevada, Confirmation was a middle-school affair. As students in Sunday School, we were given that option to study the promises, reflect on what they meant, and publicly confirm that we agree with the promises that were made on our behalf as infants. In a sense, we came to own the promises as ours.
Reaffirmation is similar to confirmation, aimed at adults. I left the church at 18 to explore things for myself. When I returned at 24 years of age, I went through the Catechumenate process and reaffirmed the faith I was brought up in. There is no limit to the number of reaffirmations an Episcopalian can do; there is, however, one baptism.
By One Baptism, we generally understand two things: 1] We only need be baptized once, hence other rites that return to baptism and reinforce it. 2] Baptism is baptism. We recognize all Christian Baptism as the same sacrament. Those who were baptized in another Christian denomination in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit and then join the Episcopal Church are not required to be baptized again.
Baptism is also seen as the requirement to share in Communion. There has been fresh debate over this. For more information, see our page on Communion.