The word sacrament is based on the Latin word sacramentum, which means “something sacred.” In the early church, sacramentum came to stand for many things sacred, including rites that had a hidden meaning. During the 16th century, reformers of the church, using Scripture as a guide, limited the number of sacraments to two: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The reformers believed that Christ instituted these sacred acts (sacraments) as a means of grace within His covenant community. So what do these phrases mean?
“Means of grace” states that baptism and the Lord’s Supper are visible signs and seals of something internal and invisible. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are the acts (symbols) God calls us to perform as reminders of the work He has done and is doing in us through the power of the Holy Spirit.
“Covenant” speaks of a binding agreement God makes with us. This is a sacred promise that generally includes a statement of what God is doing and what He expects of us. Both the Old Testament and the New Testament are filled with statements describing God’s sacred promises to His people.
“Community” expresses multiple relational dimensions of the sacraments. Baptism is a sign that the adult or the parents and the child are adopted into the family of God through the covenant. It also establishes a covenantal relationship with the congregation, which vows that it will raise the child and support the adult in the Christian faith. The Lord’s Supper signifies the relationship between God the Father, Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit in their work of redemption. It also signifies the relationship established by Christ’s shed blood and the bond of fellowhsip shared by those participating in the sacrament.
Baptism is a sign and seal of God’s covenant of grace with us and our children. It was celebrated in the Old Testament through circumcision. In the New Testament, Paul identified the new covenant sign as baptism and equated it with the earlier sign. The Reformed Church baptizes infants as well as older children and adults. We see infant baptism in the New Testament when Peter baptizes Cornelius “and his household”.
Baptism is the mark of corporate and individual faith. The of faith that begins in an individual’s baptism continues in the church community. Thus, in the Reformed Church, baptism is always performed in the context of a congregation of God’s people (the local covenant community). The congregation, through its vows, commits itself to the spiritual nurture of the infant, child or adult being baptized.
These vows dictate that the adult, the child and the child’s parents be involved in the life of the church. If the one baptized is unknown and/or disappears after the baptism, the evidence of faith becomes invisible. The covenant relationship is disrupted. This calls into question the integrity of the sacrament for those who participated. For these reasons, HRC requires that the adult or at least one parent have been received into membership and be an active participant in the life of HRC.
The act of baptism does not save a child from hell – God is the one who does that through His grace and His love. Baptism is our recognition that we receive God’s actions through faith. It makes visible the word of God that we are cleansed in Christ’s blood, buried with Him unto death, that we might rise with him and walk in the newness of life. Through that comes the promise of the Spirit, eternal life, and forgiveness of sins.
A child is from inception in the hands of God. We are assured that the child is in God’s care and plan before and after s/he is baptized. Even though some churches commonly baptize an infant as soon as possible, nothing dictates this as a requirement.
Many families enter HRC who have not had their children baptized either because they were not strong supporters of infant baptism or because they were not involved in a church when the child was born. Allowing that child to come to an age of discretion when s/he can determine the appropriate time and be baptized as s/he makes a profession of faith is totally consistent with Scripture.
In the Reformed Church, the accepted style of baptism varies. Recognizing the symbolic cleansing and refreshing characteristics of water, HRC uses sprinkling, immersion, or pouring as appropriate methods of baptism. It is the activity of God, not the amount of water or the location of the service, that is important. We consider baptism in Fishkill Creek or at the baptismal font both as reflecting the Reformed tradition and faith.
Hopewell Reformed Church serves communion the first Sunday of each month. All who profess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior are welcome to partake.
We understand confirmation as personal affirmation of baptismal vows made for a child by his or her parents. Confirmation is their time to publically declare their faith in Christ. If a young person has not been baptized as an infant this would lead to a decision to be baptized. Our process begins in February and the confirmands make their public profession the first Sunday of June. Each confirmand has a mentor to guide them as they work through activities involving Bible study, Sunday School lessons, visits to different types of worship services, volunteer projects in the community and the development of a faith “credo”, which is shared with the congregation as a culmination of this important spiritual growth process.