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World News: Dutch Synod Critiques Baptism Renewal Ceremonies


The church has to be careful that baptismal renewal ceremonies do not resemble baptism and that they are not perceived by the person renewing baptism as a rebaptism. Such perceptions would be contrary to the essence of baptism.

Delegates raised these sentiments at the synod of the Protestant Church in the Netherlands (PKN). They were discussing a report that had been eight years in study and preparation. The drafters of the report will take the discussion under consideration and offer a final proposal for adoption in 2009.

An evangelical work group had put the question to the PKN’s predecessors back in 2000. They remarked on a growing sense that people needed to affirm their baptism when they returned to the church later in life. People who were baptized as infants but experienced no training or church life as they grew up were experiencing faith as a new thing and wanted a significant ritual to mark their conversion.

After some preparatory studies, the PKN synod appointed a group to study the liturgy of such a baptismal renewal, confirmation, or commemoration. They proposed ways of doing it where no greater amount of water was used than in the original baptism, and where the minister remained apart from the ritual itself. Only the believer confirming his or her baptism would touch the water. A select group of three theologians who examined the ritual proposals also came with a positive recommendation.

Many delegates had difficulty with the very idea of baptismal renewal. They thought it was based on a misperception of the meaning of baptism.

“God is the agent in baptism,” one argued, “and humans are never the actor in the act of baptism.” Others suggested that the act of confession of faith and participation in the Lord’s Supper were already ceremonies where baptism is confirmed.

On the other side, some felt such remarks did not come to grips with the reality of the question in people’s lives. It would be a shame, they argued, if the synod does not return to this question just from fear. Cees van der Kooi, chair of the theologians’ group, said the synod must do something with this question. “Otherwise, we turn as a church back to a culture of rationality,” he said. “It is more logical to give room for these expressions.”

Several delegates also noted that this discussion came in the midst of a deeper and wider discussion about the meaning of baptism taking place in the PKN.


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