Christ’s Identifying Mark
Q44. What is baptism?
A. Baptism is the washing with water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; it signifies and seals our adoption into Christ, our cleansing from sin, and our commitment to belong to the Lord and to his church.
When a family undergoes the process of growing their home through legal adoption, it is the adoption papers issued by the government that signifies the official status of the adoption. These papers state on record that the adoptive parents have successfully applied for adoption, have been screened for fitness, and have finally been approved to take a child into their home and to make this child a part of their family. Nevertheless, while these papers are extremely important in demonstrating the existence of the adoption, the papers are not the adoption itself. The actual home life of this family, the love and bond that is shared between the adoptive family and the adopted child are what constitute the reality of the adoption. The papers are there to simply sign and seal the new relationship that now exists because of the adoption. In the same way, the sacrament of baptism functions like adoption papers for the Christian. Or, to use a different imagery, we can think of baptism as the watermark that is left on a wooden dining table when one forgets to put a coaster between the table and a cold drink.
Question forty-four of our catechism asks, “What is baptism?” Answer: “Baptism is the washing with water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; it signifies and seals our adoption into Christ, our cleansing from sin, and our commitment to belong to the Lord and to his church.” Many Christian today think that baptism is nothing more than a ‘public declaration of faith’ on the part of the one being baptized. But baptism is much more than just that. Our catechism teaches us that baptism is done with water and in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is a naming and adoption ceremony where the person being baptized takes on the family name: “Christian.” From the point on, the baptized person is identified with Christ and is claimed by Him as His own. Just like the watermark left on a piece of wooden furniture, baptism is a permanent mark on the individual that sets him or her apart as a member of God’s family. Baptism signifies that a person is a partaker in Christ and in all of his benefits by faith. This is why baptism is essential in the task of making Christian disciples. Jesus commanded his disciples to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe everything that He has commanded them. Baptism is an essential part of Christian discipleship because it officially demonstrates that we belong to Jesus. It is not simply a public declaration of faith on the part of the one being baptized, baptism is a public declaration of Christ’s faithfulness to disciple the one being baptized through the ministry of His church.