What the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) teaches concerning
THE SACRAMENTS OF THE CHURCH
Sacraments (a word derived from several sources, including Latin for "solemn oath" and Greek for "mystery") are rites we practice, given by God to his people as a means of receiving his grace. We practice two sacraments: baptism and holy communion.
If you're reading this section, you probably have a few basic questions. We'll try to anticipate and answer them well.
Who do you baptize?
We practice household baptism, which means we baptize new converts and their children, if the parents or guardians, are accepting of that.
We believe this was the practice of the earliest Christians as show in the book of Acts and that theologically speaking, baptism is a continuation of circumcision.
Paul wrote in Romans 4:11, "He [Abraham] received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised." Circumcision was a sign that Abraham was justified by faith before God. But it was commanded that he give this same sign to his male heirs (even Ishmael!) We believe baptism is also a sign that we're justified by faith, and that it is still appropriate to include our children in this rite, as well.
That said, we recognize that not every Christian believes their infants or young children should be. We respect the difference of opinion held throughout the global church and don't force this practice on our members. However, we believe the practice to be true to Scripture and there is evidence dating back to approximately 215 AD that this was practiced in at least some of the early churches. See page 45 of this document called "Apostolic Traditions.")
Examples from Acts
One example involved a woman named Lydia. In the book of Acts, which details the actual beginning of the church, it's recorded in Acts 16:14-16, "The Lord opened Lydia's heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us."
A second example involved a man named Crispus who, together with his household, believed in the Lord and were baptized. (See Acts 18:8)
This does not mean we think their children are saved because they're baptized or that their original sin is washed away. because their parents are saved. The child must still have saving faith of their own, and upon public profession of that will be admitted to take communion. However, it does mean that we treat our children as members of our Christian community, and not just little heathens.
Colossians 2:11-12, written by the Apostle Paul, says:
"In Jesus, also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead."
This passage is complicated, but we believe Paul is saying that when we are baptized into Christ it is like we are spiritually circumcised (i.e. your sin is sliced away). So working backwards, if baptism (into Christ, into water) carries the same meaning of circumcision, why wouldn't it also be appropriate to continue the same practice? We think it should.
For a more thorough explanation, we commend this article from The Gospel Coalition website, written by Pastor Kevin DeYoung.
Not without its difficulties
We recognize that the practice of baptizing infants has caused confusion and generated some real problems for the church in America. Thousands, perhaps millions (?), of American babies are baptized every year out of superstition and tradition, but not by parents who have saving faith in Jesus Christ, and sometimes not even in churches that believe in a doctrine of salvation. We are opposed to these types of baptisms and don't believe they follow the example of Scripture.
Will you baptize me?
Jesus Christ is recorded in Luke 22 and Matthew 26 as observing Passover with his disciples the night before he was crucified. During this meal he finally told them not simply that he would be killed and rise again (he had done that before), but showed them what it actually meant.
The Apostle Paul, about thirty years later, showed that the meal was meant to be observed by all Christians everywhere when he wrote in 1 Corinthians 11, "For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes."
What "happens' when you take Communion?
You eat and drink. You re-enact an ancient meal, and God's grace is powerfully present in this meal, but only when participation is joined with faith.
You remember what you have learned: that Jesus had to actually be punished for your sins by dying on the cross.
You worship God because He has saved you by sending his son as your substitute.
You publicly demonstrate that you are part of God's family on earth - the church - and that you love your brothers and sisters and are ready to live in peace and unity with them.
And most amazingly, you receive God's grace, given through participating in this meal. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:16, "The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?"
Who should take communion?
We welcome all confessing Christians who are members of gospel-preaching churches and are able to do that inner work of discerning Christ's presence in the meal and the state of their own heart, to join us at the table when they worship with us.
Who shouldn't take communion?
Unlike baptism, communion is not for infants or young children, but only for those who can properly prepare their hearts and understand how Christ is spiritually present in this meal. Like baptism, communion is not for people who lack saving faith in Jesus Christ. We welcome everyone to worship with us and hear and see the gospel taught, but we believe Jesus gave this meal to his disciples specifically.
How do we celebrate Holy Communion?
We celebrate communion once a month: on the second Sunday. We spend about ten minutes preparing for and taking the meal together. Unlike our Catholic brothers and sisters, we do not believe the bread and wine become Jesus' actual body. Rather, we believe he is present by God's grace and power through His Spirit, and we participate with the Divine, Spirit to Spirit, mediated through the sense of taste and touch. However, with our Catholic brothers and sisters we agree on this: this meal is at a very profound level a divine mystery.