Book: Holy Baptism and Services for the Renewal of Baptism

Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1985. 114 pages, $6.40.

Holy Baptism and Services for the Renewal of Baptism. The volume on baptism and its renewal suggests a more radical departure from what has become current within Presbyterian circles. It quickly becomes clear that the sacrament of baptism is to be restored to a more important role in the life of the church.Confirmation ("a rite in search of theology," writes the editor) as well as the care for the estranged, the sick, and the dying, are to be defined, at least in part, through their relationship to baptism.

As one reads the order, it immediately becomes apparent that sponsors are allowed in the service. In fact, the sponsor's vow has replaced the congregational vow, leaving that group only a word of welcome and promise following the baptism.

Also worth noting is that a full prayer of thanksgiving over the water begins with the Sursum Corda, offers thanksgiving for God's creative and redemptive work in water, and includes the following words: "By the power of your Spirit, bless this water, that it may be a fountain of deliverance and rebirth." The act of baptizing is then followed by a blessing which may be accompanied by using oil to make the ancient sign of the cross on the person's forehead.

The rite, as described in these pages, is both joyous and rich in its imagery. While maintaining the centrality of the act of baptizing with water in the name of the triune God, this liturgy also clearly draws on some of the ancient traditions that surround the sacrament of baptism (laying on of hands and anointing with oil).

In spite of the continuing struggle with God language, the commentary categorically states that the "trinitarian formula remains essential to Christian baptism."

Since the power of baptism is renewed by faith in the life of the church and of the believer, the book offers seven services that build on the baptismal rite: Services for the Renewal of Baptism. These services include a public profession of faith, a renewal of baptism for those who have been estranged from the church, a renewal of baptism for a congregation, a renewal of baptism on the occasion of growth in faith, a renewal of baptism for the sick and dying, a renewal of baptism during pastoral counseling, and areception of members by transfer.

While each of our denominations will continue to follow its own authoritative order of baptism, we can still learn from the ecumenical and liturgical renewal in the life of a sister denomination. Slowly but surely the family bickering at the Lord's table is beginning to find some common understanding— which allows the continuing sticky issues of baptism and ministry to increasingly find their way onto our agendas. These books, placed before the Presbyterian Church for trial use, enrich each of our communions and challenge us to work toward better reflecting our beliefs in our liturgies.

Gregg A. Mast is Minister of Social Witness for the Reformed Church in America.