The following is a response I posted at On the Wittenberg Trail in regards to a question that was asked about who communicates at Baptism. The author of the Blog, Eric, argues that:
Disagreements over Baptism ultimately hinge on the answer to one crucial question: Who is communicating?
If Baptism is a symbol (and it is), and if a symbols are communication devices (and they are), who is communicating in the symbol of Baptism?
Matthew 28:16-20 gives us the unequivocal answer: In Baptism the Church is communicating to sinners on behalf of Jesus Christ. When we get the answer to this crucial question wrong, taking the view that in Baptism sinners made righteous by faith are communicating their faith to God and the world, then sacrament becomes sacrifice. And without restoring a correct understanding of who is communicating in its symbolism, there is no way to recover a Scriptural understanding of Baptism.
I wonder if this has to be an either/or. Certainly Baptism as a sacrament of God’s grace has been entrusted to His Church, and as such should ordinarily be administered by the ordained in an assembly of the faithful–though my tradition teaches, and I happen to agree, that any Baptized Christian can in turn Baptize in an emergency since what is ordinary is done for good order and not necessarily to ensure efficacy. So, on the one hand, the Church is “communicating” the good news of forgiveness of sins through the grace of God in the washing of the waters of Baptism.
On the other hand, I don’t think one can deny that in Baptism the person being Baptized (as an adult) or the family of the person being baptized (as an infant or young child) is communicating their faith in Jesus’ Christ’s saving action. So in Baptism the confession of the individual believer(s) is joined with that of the Church as a sign of God’s faithfulness towards us and to glorify his name.
I’m also not convinced that seeing Baptism as a sign of a person or family’s faith–at least not in addition to that of the entire Body–is somehow making it an action of sacrifice, at least not in any different way than the Eucharist is a sacrifice by virtue of the fact that we remember Christ’s saving act on the Cross for us and offer the only acceptable sacrifice of Praise and Thanksgiving and “our selves, our souls and bodies” in thanksgiving for what Christ has done.