If after reading the following you have additional questions concerning baptism for yourself, or for your child, please call the church office and make an appointment with one of the pastors (212-288-8920). They welcome the opportunity to talk with you about this important moment in the Christian life.
The Presbyterian Understanding of Baptism
Baptism is one of the two Sacraments celebrated by the Presbyterian Church (Communion is the other). Baptism is the sacrament of initiation into the Christian life. The washing with water in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is the sign and seal of a person's inclusion in the covenant of God's people and union with the risen Christ. Thus, baptism, whether of an adult or a child, is a response to what God is already doing in that person's life. This highlights the fundamental Presbyterian conviction that God always takes the initiative in redeeming us and that we are saved by God's grace through faith. Neither the act of baptism, nor the decision to be baptized, confers salvation; both of these are responses to God's grace already given and at work in one's life.
Presbyterians point to the Old Testament image of circumcision as entrance into the covenant community, and to a wealth of New Testament themes to understand the meaning of Christian baptism. For example, baptism is described as participating in the dying and rising of Christ, in which Christ broke the power of sin and death and created new life (Romans 6:3-5; Colossians 2:12). Similarly, it is a sign and seal of rebirth in the Holy Spirit and reception of the Spirit's power, who gives and renews life (Acts 2:38-39; 11:16; Titus 3:5). Baptism also signifies the washing away of sin, and union with the risen Christ through whom God's grace enables us to make a fresh start and, by God's Spirit, empowers us to redirect our lives living as Christ's body in the world (Galatians 3:28-28). Baptism is also an event of corporate significance because it welcomes individuals, as members of Christ's body, into the Christian community, the church (Ephesians 4:4-6; 1 Peter 2:9). All of these themes are at work in our understanding of the meaning of Christian baptism.
Frequently Asked Questions
I am an adult and not baptized. What must I do to be baptized?
The first step is to attend one of Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church's (MAPC) Inquirers' Seminars. This is a forum in which we talk about the basics of Christian faith, the characteristics and history of the Presbyterian Church, and the meaning of membership at MAPC. For more information on the Inquirers' Seminar and a schedule of upcoming classes, speak with one of the pastors or visit the Inquirers' page on this site. After the seminar, one of the pastors will be happy to meet with you for a session or two of additional baptismal education. Your attendance at the Inquirers' Seminar will provide you with some helpful background for those sessions. Following your baptismal education, a date will be set for you to be baptized and received into membership during a Sunday worship service.
Is it possible to be baptized but not join the church?
No. As baptism is union with Christ, so it is union with Christ's body, the church. Baptism is Christ's gift to those who would be joined to him and promise to follow him as a member of his body, the church.
Are private baptisms permitted?
As baptism is initiation into the covenant community, it is imperative that the members of that community attend and participate in the service. In addition to the vows you take, the congregation vows to support you (or your child, if this is an infant baptism) as you grow in faith. Therefore, except in extraordinary circumstances, baptisms take place as part of the regular Sunday morning worship services. We are happy to arrange reserved seating near the font for as many family members as you care to invite to that service.
I would like to join MAPC, but I was baptized as a Catholic (or Methodist, Eastern Orthodox, etc.). Do I need to be baptized again?
No. The Presbyterian Church has always placed great emphasis on the unity of the Christian church (Ephesians 4:4). We count anyone who has been baptized with water in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit a baptized Christian, regardless of the tradition within the Christian church that administered the baptism. You simply need to attend any one of our Inquirers' Seminars.
Do I have to be baptized to take Communion?
Baptism is the act of initiation into the Christian community and should take place before you receive Communion, which is the meal Christ left his followers as a means of continuing to experience his presence in their midst. It is also food and drink to strengthen Christ's followers for their lives of faith and ministry as his body in the world. However, it is Christ's table; he is the host. It may be that Christ is calling you through the invitation to the table. If you do respond to that invitation, you should speak with one of the pastors and arrange a time to prepare to receive the sacrament of baptism.
How can I arrange for my child to be baptized?
If you are already a member of MAPC, contact one of the pastors who will schedule a baptism conference with you. At that time, the pastor will discuss the meaning of infant baptism with you to ensure that you understand the intention of the vows you will take. If you are not a member, the first step to having your child baptized is for you to join MAPC by attending one of our upcoming Inquirers' Seminars. At least one parent must be a baptized Christian and a member of MAPC. In infant baptism, the parent(s) take the vows on behalf of the child and promise to raise her or him in the Christian faith. Similarly, the congregation vows to support the child's growth in faith.
Can we have godparents?
The role of godparents is to take special responsibility for the spiritual welfare of the child. "Godparents" are not a specific part of Presbyterian tradition because the entire community is charged with this role. However, if you wish to include "sponsors" who are close to your family and will be taking particular care to fulfill this spiritual responsibility to your child, they are welcome to stand with you at the font and take the baptismal vows for the child with you.