08 April 2006

without delay

According the Presbyterian (PCA) "Directory for the Worship of God," after the birth of a child or the conversion of an older person "Baptism is not to be unnecessarily delayed" (56-1). The wording of this instruction goes back to 17th century Westminster "Directory for the Public Worship of God." What this means in practice, of course, can vary from parish to parish.

In John Calvin's 1542 Form of Prayers for the church in Geneva we read the following instruction:
It is to be noted that children must be brought to baptism either on Sunday at the time of catechism [i.e., at the late afternoon service], or on other days at the sermon, so that as baptism is a solemn reception into the church it may take place in the presence of the congregation.
A later edition of this same instruction becomes more detailed and specific:
And so we are to note the following, that children ought to be brought to be baptized, either, if they happen to be born on a Sunday, to the sermon after dinner which is the called "the catechism," or, if it is born on the working day, to one of the morning sermons. In this way, baptism should be celebrated in the presence of the congregation since it is a solemn usage and sacrament received in the church.
This quotation is adapted from the translation provided by William Huyke's 1550 English translation of Calvin.

What is interesting to note is that Calvin's Geneva offered daily worship and thus expected that a child ordinarily would be brought to church to be baptized on the very day it was born or, at the latest, the next day's worship service. This sort of historic practice makes one wonder what might have counted as "unnecessary delay" in 16th century Geneva and, moreover, what this might imply for contemporary practice.