Sunday, January 7, 2024

Thoughts about baptismal sponsors. . .

By now you have all heard it. Pope Francis has declared that those with the various desires and gender alphabets are good to go to be baptismal sponsors. If the Pope says it, it must be right. Right? Before we jump on the Pope, we ought to remember what it means to be a baptismal sponsor.

Our hymnal puts it this way:

 Address to Sponsors

P Beloved in the Lord, from ancient times the Church has observed the custom of appointing sponsors for baptismal candidates and catechumens. In the Evangelical Lutheran Church sponsors are to confess the faith expressed in the Apostles’ Creed and taught in the Small Catechism. They are, whenever possible, to witness the Baptism of those they sponsor. They are to pray for them, support them in their ongoing instruction and nurture in the Christian faith, and encourage them toward the faithful reception of the Lord’s Supper. They are at all times to be examples to them of the holy life of faith in Christ and love for the neighbor.

P [Names of the sponsors], is it your intention to serve [name of candidate] as sponsors in the Christian faith?

R Yes, with the help of God.

P God enable you both to will and to do this faithful and loving work and with His grace fulfill what we are unable to do.

C Amen.

Those who produced the hymnal have done us a great service here. Sponsors are not those who we love but those who confess the faith. Which faith? The faith of the Creed and Catechism. They are not nice people but Christian people with whom you commune because you share a common faith -- though, perhaps, separated by geography and age. This presumes that sponsors are members of the same church body or one in fellowship. Sponsors are witnesses but not merely witnesses. They must confess the same faith but they need not be present to have eyes on the baptism. They are there to do more than attest to what they saw. They are to pray for, support, and encourage the baptized in their life of faith, from the instruction of the home to the instruction in the Church. They are to help make sure that the baptized do not become strangers to God's Word or His House. The goal of all of this is that they may join the parents and sponsors at the rail, receiving the body and blood of our Lord. So obviously this precludes someone whose faith is in conflict with the faith into which the child is being baptized. Baptists and others who refuse infant baptism cannot be sponsors for the baptism of infants and small children. Those who do not believe that baptism is a means of grace and that it actually bestows what it promises and delivers what it signs cannot be sponsors. Those who speak of faith as a decision or who presume repentance is the precondition for faith cannot be sponsors among us.

In addition to this, they are to be examples of the holy life of faith in Christ and love for neighbor. This is not incidental to the role and place of sponsors. They are, within the bounds of human frailty, examples of the holy life of faith and the faithful. This surely means that they do not live in public or outward conflict with God's Word and commands (cohabitation, same sex marriage, promiscuity, trans, etc...). No one is perfect but that does not mean we do not strive in our earthly life to live in conformity with God's Word and command in our daily lives. If Pope Francis had the Lutheran Service Book on his desk, he would have been reminded of why some folks do not serve as sponsors. It is not being rude or arrogant or strict or narrow minded. It is being serious about the things of God. Anyone can be a witness to a baptism and there is no absolute requirement that there be sponsors but if you are going to choose sponsors, choose those who confess a faith you share and whose lives are lived under the cross. Holiness may not be achievable in this mortal life but it is certainly still the goal and shape of all we think, say, and do. We endeavor under the aid of the Holy Spirit to love the Lord with all our heart, body, mind, and soul. Do yourself a favor and consider what the liturgy teaches and you are asking your sponsors to do before you actually reach out to pick them.

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