Q: Many infant baptisms today have only witnesses rather than sponsors. Is this a practice that is being encouraged? :
A: Baptismal sponsors are a custom of the church and thus are not commanded in Scripture. The custom is a good one when the sponsors for the child are chosen prayerfully and carefully, selecting individuals (not necessarily relatives) who will dutifully carry out the solemn God-pleasing responsibilities placed upon them. These responsibilities are primarily three: witnessing that the child has been baptized in the name of the Triune God, praying continually for the child’s regenerated soul, and offering assistance in the spiritual education of the child, especially if its parents would die before the child reaches adulthood. When parents and sponsors take seriously the injunction, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” (Prov. 22:6), this is truly commendable. What higher privilege can a person have than to be asked to playa major role in leading a young child to know more and more the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?
When parents wish to pick sponsors who lack the necessary qualifications to meet these obligations, pastors may often urge them simply to have witnesses. This is entirely appropriate, even though the ideal would be to have sponsors. Witnesses might include, for example, relatives who desire to be present for the ceremony but who do not express a oneness of faith, the faith into which the child is being baptized.
A healthy side to having only witnesses can be that the responsibility of parents receives emphasis on the day of the baptism rather than that of sponsors.