Sometimes people ask me why we only celebrate the sacrament of baptism during sanctuary or celebration worship. They want to know why a pastor cannot simply come over to their house and have a small ceremony in the family living room with a few close friends in attendance. This is, no doubt, not an odd question and may be a question that many church people have on their minds.
Baptism is many things, but baptism is at least the occasion for a person (whether that person is nine months old or ninety-nine years old) to enter the household of God. Consequently, baptism is an occasion for the whole household of faith to celebrate together as God’s people. If we baptize an infant, then the parent’s make a public profession of faith to raise the child in a nurturing and Christian environment. If the person baptized is an adult, then that individual makes a public profession of faith to be a follower of Jesus Christ.
When we baptize people, then baptism grafts the person into a whole family of Christian sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles, and even grandparents. It is these congregational “relatives” who nurture us and encourage us in the faith. Thus, we celebrate baptism in the sanctuary so that everyone may get into the worship act, make promises to those baptized, and to renew their baptismal vows as well.
In one of Augustine’s works, based on Romans 6:4, he wrote (English translation from Augustine through the Ages: An Encyclopedia, page 88):
Paul spoke of the great mystery of holy baptism as bound up with the cross of Christ; and this he does in terms that make us understand that baptism in Christ is nothing but an image of Christ’s death, and the Christ’s death on the cross is nothing but an image of the remission of sin. Just as his death was real, so also the remission of ours is real; and just as his resurrection was real, so also our justification is real.
Baptism helps all of us understand how God claims us in Christ.