Some people noted that our infant baptisms do not include godparents. Because ninongs and ninangs are so entrenched in the Philippine culture, we do not prohibit parents from asking their relatives or friends to be godparents. But we also instruct the parents about the reasons why we prefer not to have godparents for their children.
The practice of using godparents or sponsors became part of infant baptisms in the medieval church. The 16th century Protestant Reformers retained this practice, including John Calvin in Geneva (Scott M. Manetsch, Calvin’s Company of Pastors: Pastoral Care and the Emerging Reformed Church, 383). Today, Roman Catholics, Anglicans and Lutherans still use godparents, also known as sponsors.
The Reformers changed the practice from a superstitious tradition to a more instructional one, the idea being that the godparents are co-responsible with the parents “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4). But by the time of the writing of the Three Forms of Unity and the Westminster Standards in the late 16th into the 17th century, the practice had ceased in Reformed and Presbyterian churches (also because of the reasons listed below).
Having godparents assist in the Christian nurture of children is not a bad idea, but here are 5 reasons why we prefer not to have godparents in our children’s baptisms:
1. The Bible assigns the primary responsibility of raising children of the covenant people of God to parents. Other family members, the church, and friends may also give instruction to the children, but parents are mainly responsible. The parents are the ones who make the vows at the baptismal service.
2. In many Reformed and Presbyterian churches, the whole congregation has a part in the Christian discipline and instruction of the children. This is also Biblical, since the church is also tasked to instruct the whole congregation in preaching and teaching. (In the 1976 Form for Infant Baptism, the congregation is also addressed by the minister, “Do you, the people of the Lord, promise to receive these children in love, pray for them, help instruct them in the faith, and encourage and sustain them in the fellowship of believers?”)
3. Too often, Protestant parents ask their non-Christian family members, friends or officemates to serve as their children’s godparents. This practice defeats the purpose of the idea of having godparents. The Roman Catholic Church is better on this account: they do not allow non-Catholics to be godparents.
4. Popular or influential pastors may be asked by many of their members or others to be godparents. This could lead to favoritism and other problems.
5. Godparents are responsible to give gifts to the child after the baptismal service and at Christmas for life. This has led to much corruption of the practice, wherein parents ask several people to be their children’s godparents.
Rev. Nollie Malabuyo is currently pastor of Big Springs Community Church (URCNA) in Montague, California. He is the founding pastor of Zion Cornerstone Reformed Churches in Pasig (Metro Mania) and Imus, Cavite.