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Why I Did Not Baptize My Daughter

My Role as a Parent in My Children’s Salvation

by Mark Horne

copyright © 2002

Evangeline Jael Horne is our third child. My two boys were born while we were at seminary and we had the privilege of giving them to Jeff Meyers, our pastor at that time, for baptism. When Evangeline was born, however, I had (finally!) been ordained a minister of the Word. I was called and appointed to preach the Gospel, administer the Lord’s Supper, rule in the Church, and to baptize. I had according to all Reformed tradition, every right to baptize my newborn daughter.

But I found someone else to do it.

I simply did not think it was fitting for me as my child’s father to baptize her. To avoid misunderstanding I should say that, as a Minister of the Gospel, I had every right to baptize her. I had the authority and power to baptize her. After all, I am not only Evangeline’s father, but also her pastor. However, since part of my duty as a pastor is to proclaim the truth, and because I thought my dual roles in my children’s lives might cause some confusion, it seemed to me to be wise to abstain from playing both roles at once.

What if there had been no other minister available? Would I have baptized Evangeline? Of course! But since Rev. Dennis Tuuri graciously agreed to drive up from the Portland area to my church in Auburn, WA, there was no need to attempt dual roles in the baptism. Again, my objective is to not confuse people by conflating the father in the family with the minister in the Church.

Why is it so important to clearly distinguish the role of father against that of pastor? Because, in the case of baptism, their roles are quite opposed to one another.

Let’s take the case of the father first. According to Genesis 5.3, “When Adam had lived one hundred and thirty years, he became the father of a son in his own likeness, according to his image, and named him Seth.” Now, Adam had been made in the image of God and here we see that Adam (with Eve’s help!) was made and designed to produce other people made in God’s image. That image was something that he passed on to his progeny. We all do that. But Adam’s image had been warped by his fall into sin. From Adam onward we are all born into sin and death.

“That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3.6). The father’s and the mother’s initial contribution to the Spiritual life of their child is to pass on to her guilt, depravity, and a lack of any righteousness. Parents conceive damned children. From their flesh flows nothing but corruption and death and there is no health in them.

Into this otherwise hopeless situation, God must intervene and make these children of human parents into his own children. John 1.12 & 13 makes this clear: “as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”

This was one focal point of Jesus’ summons to discipleship. You must abandon the natural family and join My family:

And His mother and His brothers arrived, and standing outside they sent word to Him, and called Him. And a multitude was sitting around Him, and they said to Him, “Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are outside looking for You.” And answering them, He said, “Who are My mother and My brothers?” And looking about on those who were sitting around Him, He said, “Behold, My mother and My brothers! “For whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother” (Mark 2.31-35).

And when one of those who were reclining at the table with Him heard this, he said to Him, “Blessed is everyone who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!”

But He said to him, “A certain man was giving a big dinner, and he invited many; and at the dinner hour he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come; for everything is ready now.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first one said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of land and I need to go out and look at it; please consider me excused.’ And another one said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please consider me excused.’ And another one said, ‘I have married a wife, and for that reason I cannot come.’ And the slave came back and reported this to his master. Then the head of the household became angry and said to his slave, ‘Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the city and bring in here the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ And the slave said, ‘Master, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ And the master said to the slave, ‘Go out into the highways and along the hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste of my dinner.’”

Now great multitudes were going along with Him; and He turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.” (Luke 14.15-26)

Now it is true that in Christ and in the Church family relationships can and should be redeemed (Eph 5.22-6.4; Col 3.18-21), but that doesn’t change the fact that, unless God intervenes in the family, the family is a source of sin and damnation. Our only hope is in Jesus’ new family, the Church.

This leads us to consider the role of the Minister of the Gospel in the baptism ceremony. Baptism seals and signifies God’s intervention. In baptism, one is sacramentally united to Christ so that Christ’s crucifixion cuts off the flesh and his resurrection confers new life in the Spirit. Baptism is the beginning and basis of our Christian life:

Westminster Larger Catechism, Q167: How is our Baptism to be improved by us?

A167: The needful but much neglected duty of improving our Baptism, is to be performed by us all our life long, especially in the time of temptation, and when we are present at the administration of it to others;[1] by serious and thankful consideration of the nature of it, and of the ends for which Christ instituted it, the privileges and benefits conferred and sealed thereby, and our solemn vow made therein;[2] by being humbled for our sinful defilement, our falling short of, and walking contrary to, the grace of baptism, and our engagements;[3] by growing up to assurance of pardon of sin, and of all other blessings sealed to us in that sacrament;[4] by drawing strength from the death and resurrection of Christ, into whom we are baptized, for the mortifying of sin, and quickening of grace;[5] and by endeavoring to live by faith,[6] to have our conversation in holiness and righteousness,[7] as those that have therein given up their names to Christ;[8] and to walk in brotherly love, as being baptized by the same Spirit into one body.[9]

1. Col. 2:11-12; Rom. 6:4, 6, 11

2. Rom. 6:3-5

3. I Cor. 1:11-13; Rom. 6:2-3

4. Rom. 4:11-12; I Peter 3:21

5. Rom. 6:3-5

6. Gal. 3:26-27

7. Rom. 6:22

8. Acts 2:38

9. I Cor. 12:13, 25-27

How can baptism do such great things?

In one sense, it can’t. Only on the basis of the promise of the working of God’s Spirit can baptism have any significance. But if the Church is God’s new family, and if the Church is marked out and established by a rite of passage that is baptism, then baptism confers that basic identity which supercedes one’s identity as a member of a family, a country, a socio-economic class, a language-group, a culture. Thus it is written

For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many (First Corinthians 12.12-14).

For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 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 free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise (Galatians 3.26-29).

Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him–a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all (Colossians 3.9-11; c.f. Romans 6.3ff).

The Church is a new redeemed community where all other identities are either denied, tolerated temporarily, or given a second place status until the Final Judgment.

Now, none of this means it would be wrong for me to have baptized Evangeline. But I have been in a situation where the parents of a child thought it was especially appropriate for a grandfather to baptize his grandchild. Again, there was nothing inappropriate about him functioning as a representative of Jesus Christ as he was ordained to do. But the extra affirmation of family solidarity was simply out of place.

Right now we are seeing more and more people think that the greatest need of the Church is to exalt the family, either nuclear or extended, and use patriarchical shibboleths to determine who is truly “spiritual” and who is not. In my estimation, this represents a real threat to Christianity and constitutes a deformation rather than a continuing Reformation. The Church is not a confederation of tribes and fathers are not given the keys to the kingdom.

When I gave all my children up for baptism, I was confessing what an evil and malignant parent I was. God has graciously adopted my children as his own and has granted me the amazing privilege of being a steward of His children. My prayer is that God forgives and corrects my shortcomings so that these little ones always know that God has promised to be their Father.

copyright © 2002


  1. Hi Mark,
    I just got this link through CREC list.
    Good stuff and a good corrective in many ways. This challenges my “moderate, centrist, and peace-making” position of equal ultimacy of family and church on earth.
    Do you overstate things to say that the child gets nothing from the natural family except sin and damnation? Of course it is all of grace, but what of God’s design to save in the line of generations? Of covenant promises to parent and child? God elects what family we will be born into, and if I am born into a Christian household, don’t I receive of God’s goodness already bestowed on that nuclear father and mother?
    Just kicking things around a bit.
    Mike Ferguson

    Comment by Mike Ferguson — February 6, 2009 @ 1:14 pm

  2. A child receives grace from being born to a Christian family, just like anyone receives grace being exposed to a Christian missionary (situations are not alike in all particulars–I don’t think the child is an unbeliever needing to be evangelized, for example). But the promises to our children are fulfilled by God’s adoption of them. Just like Obed was born on Naomi’s knees to be legally counted as her son, so our children are transferred and we are guardians for their true Parent.

    Comment by Mark Horne — February 9, 2009 @ 4:00 pm

  3. We need to view all things from Gods sovereign calling ‘from before the foundation of the world’, first and foremost. It is from here that all decisions were made in regards to whom would be made and for what purpose. Baptism is only efficasious upon the elect of God, and they are truly baptised into Christ and sins are dealt with. Others may be baptised a million times over and it would have no power to do anything, never mind any spiritual benefit, or of dealing with sin.
    To say that ‘Parents conceive damned children. From their flesh flows nothing but corruption and death and there is no health in them,’is true in a restricted sense only. Mary conceived no damned child, and through this family line was Christ born. Similary none of the elect are damned at any time in history, becauase they were chosen in Him from ‘before the foundation of the world.’ Note that Christ was crucified ‘from the foundation’, but we were chosen from ‘before’ the foundation of the world. Why is that? It is because we were always made for the purpose of being saved and manifesting Gods’ glory. As soon as the eternal plan was brought into play at the first day of creation Christ was as good as crucified, His crusifiction was gauranteed, for us. Never a damning thought entered the mind of God towards us, and even if it did it was rejected, because scripture testifies to what God did do…’choosing us according to the good pleasure of His will.’ It is true that many parents conceive damned children but not all have that destiny. So God has to choose some family to bring an elect person into the world, and why not through an elect parent? It is entirely up to God, there is no fixed unmovable rule,as in ‘first born,’ and this is for elections sake and to remind us God is Sovereign and we are subject to His decree. But He does ordinarily do it through covenant family. They are heirs of the ‘promises,’ but not gauranteed the thing promised.The Holy Spirit.

    Comment by marvin — December 6, 2009 @ 5:09 pm

  4. I am not an ordained minister and feel their is no one else more appropriate to Baptise my daughter than myself, as spiritual leader of my home I intend to, my church isn’t sure if this ill be allowed in our congregation after allowing me to Baptise my son years ago, it is the traditions of man I believe are the problem, I believe I am ordained by God, do we all not come into ministry after receiving Christ? I believe we must, making disciples and bringing the Gospel, so for me I can’t fathom why it would even be questioned that I should Baptise my daughter amongst her piers and my piers in our congregation, in our church as they have participated in our Christian walk, otherwise I could do this anywhere.

    Comment by Adam — September 24, 2013 @ 5:33 am

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