Presbyterian Pastor Janet Edwards asks a question, “Baptism—How important is it?” She gives the wrong answer because she asks the wrong question. She could have asked does baptism qualify Christians for ordination. And that is actually the question she answers and that wrongly. So I will look at how important baptism is, and then explore the issue of what qualifies the Christian for ordination.
Baptism is an ultimate issue, not because it saves or regenerates but because it is a sign and seals what God has done and what God will do as in the baptism of an infant who is included in the family of God.
As John Calvin puts it, it is “an external sign, by which the Lord seals on our consciences his promises of good will toward us, in order to sustain the weakness of our faith, and we in turn testify our piety towards him, both before himself, and before angels as well as men. We may also define more briefly by calling it a testimony of the divine favour toward us, confirmed by an external sign, with a corresponding attestation of our faith towards Him.” But there is nothing in this that speaks of ordination.
Edwards uses Gal. 3:26 as her leading proof text, but that too is wrong. And 26 is helpful, “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” The verses Edwards quotes are 27-28, “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor freeman, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
If we are adults first comes our faith in Christ, (given by the Holy Spirit), and then if we have not yet been baptized baptism. We are clothed with Jesus Christ; he is our righteousness, our life. And we are made children of God because of what Christ has done for us on the cross.
Edwards writes, “The Presbyterian Church bases its practice of infant and adult Baptism upon references in Scripture. And Presbyterian tradition is clear that our Baptism is the primary qualification for service in any office of the church.” Edwards’ first sentence is true. Her second one is not. I wish she had referenced that because others have stated that also, but I do not believe one can find it in Scripture, confessions or the Book of Order.
The Book of Order in G-6.0106 states that those called to ordination, “in addition to possessing the necessary gifts and abilities, natural and acquired, those who undertake particular ministries should be persons of strong faith, dedicated discipleship, and love of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Their manner of life should be a demonstration of the Christian gospel in the church and in the world.” This does not leave out moral or faith issues. To call Christ Lord implies obedience to his word which includes all of Scripture. To demonstrate the Christian gospel is to live lives changed by the renewing work of Christ on the cross. Those espousing sin of any kind as good are not demonstrating the Christian gospel.
In G-6.o202, which gives the names of the various expressive duties of the ministry, this is included, “As it is his or her duty to be grave and prudent, and an example to the flock, and to govern well in the house and kingdom of Christ, he or she is termed presbyter or elder. As he or she is sent to declare the will of God to sinners, and to beseech them to be reconciled to God, through Christ, he or she is termed steward of the mysteries of God.” One cannot be an example nor declare the will of God to sinners, and at the same time insist that any sin in their life is not sin.
In the Book of Confessions of the PC (U.S.A.) in the Second Helvetic Confession it states; “Not anyone may be elected, but capable men distinguished by sufficient consecrated learning, pious eloquence, simple wisdom, lastly by moderation and honorable reputation, according to the apostolic rule which is compiled by the apostle in 1 Tim., ch. 3, and Titus, ch. 1.” (5.150b)
In the same section the Confession explains the difference between the priesthood of the believer and those who are ordained to office:
“To be sure, Christ’s apostles call all who believe in Christ ‘priests,’ but not on account of an office, but because, all the faithful having been made kings and priests, we are able to offer up spiritual sacrifices to God through Christ (Ex. 19:6;1 Peter 2:9; Rev. 1:6). Therefore the priesthood and the ministry are very different from one another. For the priesthood, as we have just said, is common to all Christians; not so is the ministry.” (5.153a)
I should add that standing against LGBT ordination is not telling others to go away as Edwards insists. Instead it is insisting that those who function under ordination as servants for the church must be willing to be examples of living a Christian life. When they sin, and they do sin, they must call it sin and repent.
Baptism is a sign and seal of what God has done in the life of a person. The Holy Spirit illuminates the work of Christ to us and woos us to the Father and the Son. The Father reveals the Son. The Son reveals the Father. It is a dance, but the dance does not end in sin but in forgiveness of sin. Those who are called are not only given gifts but also duties one of which is to live before the church and the world as a demonstration of Christ’s cleansing and forgiving power.
 Calvin sees faith planted as a seed in the infant which will grow with maturity. But it is nonetheless the faith that regenerates not the water which simply seals God’s action and becomes a sign to the baby and the community.