As a pastor, you sit down with people periodically to discuss the details of baptism. Once I’ve talked with the parents about the theology of baptism we get to the other particulars of the rite. Baptism in general suffers from chronic treatment as a magic spell that guarantees salvation regardless of whether he ever seeks out his Savior ever again. Sponsors seem to get it especially bad.
I assume the thought process is just that there are family friends who will probably be involved in the child’s life to some extent. Whether the family seeking baptism are regular church attendees or not, it’s an even bet whether the sponsors they’ve selected are Lutheran, or even Christian at all.
It’s unfortunate that even Christians don’t really understand what they’re doing when they come forward to receive baptism. In Luther’s Baptismal Booklet, he goes on at length to explain that, while baptism is the gracious gift of God, it is also somewhat dangerous. It casts out Satan’s influence and spits in his eye. It is an open declaration that Satan is the enemy, and he doesn’t take that lightly.
Luther points out, as the rite still indicates, that sponsorship means taking a vow to be a part of the spiritual growth of the one receiving baptism. It means an awareness that Satan will be making it his mission to destroy that person and your job to help make sure that doesn’t happen. Being a part of their spiritual instruction is vital, but so is helping that person to avoid temptation, to keep out of despair, as well as all of the other tools Satan uses to destroy faith.
Granted, sponsors are adiaphora, but one that the church has used for a long time because they can be a benefit to a Christian’s life and faith. That’s only true if sponsors do their job, which first means knowing what the job they are signing up for actually is. A class for sponsors might be one way to help that problem, but I fear it will run into the same apathy and secularization that brought about some of baptismal problems to begin with. The church certainly has its work cut out for it to stem the tide of the world’s encroachment into the sacraments.
Are there ways we can recapture the benefits of sponsorship in the life of the Church? I wonder if a “sponsor’s kit” with devotions and other things a sponsor can do with a child (or adult) might be useful. How else can sponsors be encouraged?