The subject of Baptism requires a reminder that all Christian denominations are different in their understanding and practice of baptism. For most reformed Protestants, we baptize children and adults by a three-fold sprinkling of water, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Other traditions baptize adults only, and some immerse the recipient in a pool of water. There is no one baptismal practice that is right or wrong, it’s a matter of denominational understanding and ascribed practice.
Now, I can only speak for my own tradition and theological perspective, so the following comes from a reformed understanding. We baptize our children not because we are afraid that they won’t go to heaven if they die, but because baptism is an outward sign of God’s providence in our world. When a parent commits to raising their child in the Christian faith, the child is baptized as a symbol of that commitment. It’s a commitment undertaken by both the parent and the faith community—“through our example and fellowship, we promise to help nurture the child’s ties with the household of God, so that in due time, the child may profess faith in Jesus Christ.” It’s a vow taken on behalf of a child. When the child is old enough to assume the vow on their own and they desire to commit themselves to the ministry of Christ, they do so by being confirmed as an adult member of a congregation.
For me it’s not about what happens to us when we die, it’s about what is happening in the here and now. Baptism in this sense, seals our relationship with God, it allows us to focus our commitment and intention to live as God’s people. When Jesus was baptized he was making a statement—there is something that continually happens between God and God’s people. And really, there is no better symbol of that than water. Water is a necessity for life. Not even plants can survive without water. Water also cleanses us. Try washing your hands with soap but no water and you’ll find that it doesn’t work out so well. We need water to live and we need water to be clean, and that’s exactly the relationship Jesus affords us with God. And our relationship with God is meant to be on-going. Baptism isn’t some once-and-for-all gesture of good measure. Being baptized doesn’t mean we are somehow “good to go!” Baptism is a symbol of on-going relationship. God is present in our day-to-day happenings, calling and challenging us to new and better things. Therefore, just as we continually need water to live and to be clean, we hold this reminder of our baptism—that we are joined in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.
In Baptism, we make a commitment to God; and God’s commitment to us is celebrated. In all of our days, God is present. God is present in the joy, showing us the beauty of life and offering us reason to enjoy it. God is present in the sorrow, showing us through Jesus Christ the way of compassion, empathy and an opportunity to experience new life. And God is also present in the mundane, calling us to take part with Christ in bringing about God’s grace and goodwill for all people. So, baptism isn’t some kind of assurance for later—it’s a symbol, a reminder, of we experience today as we live in right relationship with God.