Before you ask who can serve as a sponsor for your child’s Baptism, there is another, more important question to consider: Should you have sponsors at all?
The use of sponsors, or “Godparents,” is a church custom that is neither commanded nor forbidden by Scripture. It will not impact the effectiveness of the Baptism either way. To be a valid Baptism, Jesus tells us to apply water (baptize) “. . . in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). Anything more than that is a custom that is optional. Whether it is a good custom or a bad custom depends on how it’s used and what it means.
Over the years, numerous customs have been added to the baptismal service. Each was meant as a way to deepen our understanding of and appreciation for what the Lord does through the simple act of Baptism. For example, the Apostles’ Creed was added because it explains what is meant when we say, “. . . in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” The Baptism became the time and place in which a child was given his Christian name (hence the term christening) in testimony to the rebirth that has taken place. In our services, the pastor customarily makes the sign of the cross over the baby’s forehead and chest. Though not required, the symbolism is most appropriate: the child has been redeemed by the crucified and risen Savior. We no longer put a pinch of salt in the baby’s mouth to signify an “exorcism” or calling out of the devil, but we do renounce the devil and all his works and all his ways.
The use of sponsors is a custom that probably originated when the early church was suffering persecution. In order to be admitted to the church, a sponsor had to speak in behalf of the applicant, vouching for that person’s sincerity and faith. The sponsor might also serve as a mentor, helping an immature Christian to grow in his Christian life.
In most cases, today’s sponsors also speak in behalf of the one baptized. Their responsibility doesn’t end with Baptism, but is concerned with the second part of the Great Commission, “… teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20).
This means encouraging the child in his faith, supporting him through prayer, and doing everything possible so that he is taught and raised, not in just any faith, but in the true faith. Godparents need to be more than just people who will love your child. They should be ones who love your child in the most important way: by making your child’s spiritual growth their constant concern. For this reason, doctrinal agreement is also necessary. How can non-members, who do not completely agree with you on all the teachings of Scripture, promise that your child will be raised in those teachings? They can’t, and they shouldn’t.
The use of sponsors is a beneficial custom when properly understood and practiced. If you do not have family or friends who share your faith, you could ask members of your congregation. They already have your child’s spiritual well-being at heart and will be happy to assist in this important work. If there are family members or friends you’d like to include in your child’s Baptism, and they do not belong to the CLC, talk with your pastor about having them serve as witnesses. This can be done without compromising convictions or asking someone to make a promise that he could not keep.
James Albrecht is pastor of St. John’s Ev. Lutheran Church in Okabena, Minnesota.