First United Methodist Church of Covington, TN
Monday, January 16, 2017
"Leading people to Christ, Learning to be Disciples, Loving through service."
“Through baptism we are initiated into Christ’s holy church, incorporated into God’s mighty acts of salvation, and given new birth through water and the Spirit.” United Methodist Hymnal, p. 33 With those words, Methodists begin a service of baptism. Baptism is sacred to Methodists as to all Christians. Yet questions are often asked about what Methodists believe about baptism. How is baptism administered? Why are infants baptized? What does Scripture say concerning baptism? This article is designed to give reasons from scripture, reason, and early church practice to explain Methodist belief concerning baptism.
What is the nature of Baptism?
Methodists believe baptism is a gift from God. We have two words to describe it. One word is “ordinance,” meaning it was “ordered” in Christ’s teaching and example. (Matthew 3:13-17; Matthew 28:19-20) We also call it a “sacrament”, from the Latin sacramentum, meaning “sacred.” We believe that God’s grace is bestowed in the partaking of the act. There are scriptures that demonstrate this.
· Romans 6:3-6:6 tells us that through baptism we become like him in death and life.
· 1 Corinthians 12:13 declares that we were made part of one body through baptism.
· Galatians 3:27 reads, “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”
The Bible teaches we are changed by God’s grace through the act of baptism. Thus, baptism demonstrates God’s actions, not only ours.
According to our Church’s official document on baptism:
“Grace brings us to an awareness of our sinful predicament and of our inability to save ourselves; grace motivates us to repentance and gives us the capacity to respond to divine love. In the words of the baptismal ritual: ‘All this is God’s gift, offered to us without price.’” From By Water and the Spirit”—A United Methodist Document on Baptism
What is Baptism’s Purpose?
1. Baptism is the rite of admission into the covenant community, taking the place of circumcision, which marked the children of Israel. (Colossians 2:11-12) According to John Wesley, the founder of Methodism: “It is the initiatory sacrament, which enters us into covenant with God. It was instituted by Christ, who alone has power to institute a proper sacrament; . . . And it was instituted in the room of circumcision. For, as that was a sign and seal of God's covenant, so is this.” From A Treatise on Baptism
2. Baptism is a rite demonstrating the washing away of the guilt of Original Sin (into which all people are born). Romans 5:14 discusses Original Sin; Ephesians 5:26 refers to baptism’s cleansing.John Wesley wrote: “What are the benefits we receive by baptism? . . . The first of these is, the washing away the guilt of original sin, by the application of the merits of Christ's death.” From A Treatise on Baptism
3. Baptism is the rite by which God’s Spirit begins a new life for a person, adopting him/her into the family of God. (John 3:5, Galatians 3:26-27) John Wesley wrote: “And this regeneration which our Church in so many places ascribes to baptism is … being “grafted into the body of Christ’s Church, we are made the children of God by adoption and grace.” This is grounded on the plain words of our Lord: “Except a man be born again of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” From“A Treatise on Baptism”
How is Baptism Administered?
We believe modes of sprinkling, pouring, and immersion are valid so long as water is used and that a person is baptized “in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit” as Christ commanded. (Matthew 28:19)
But Doesn’t the Bible Teach Total Immersion?
We recognize there are Christians who understand the Bible to teach baptism by immersion only. However, we believe the Bible does not insist on only one “correct” mode. The word “baptism” is from the Greek bapto (and its derivatives) and it means “to dip” or to “make wet,” not specifying total “immersion” or “submersion” under water.
There are several instances in the Bible referring to baptism which do not describe total immersion or submersion in water. For instance:
· in Mark 7:4, the Greek word baptismos is translated “washing” and applied to pots, pans, and even beds.
· In Hebrews 9:10, the word baptismos is used to speak of the various “washings” of the Jewish priests required by the law in Exodus 30:17-21.
· 1 Corinthians 10:2 says that the Israelites were “baptized in the cloud and the sea,” referring to a cloud which led the people of Israel in the wilderness.
· In Mark 10:38, Jesus told the disciples that they would be baptized with the same baptism as his, referring to his death.
· In John 13:26, the words bapto and enbapto are translated “dip” and “dipped” referring to Jesus placing his bread in a liquid at the Last Supper.
Incidentally, there was a Greek word that meant “submerge,” and that word was kataklysmos. The word was never used to describe baptism in the Bible.
In addition, our understanding of baptism must derive from how we interpret events surrounding baptism in the scripture. For instance in Matthew 3:16 and Mark 1:10,Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan River. The Bible text says: “then he came up out of the water.” Many point to this scripture as evidence for total immersion. The word in Greek that is translated “came up” is anabaino, which literally means to “climb”. The passage could mean either Jesus “came up” from underneath the water or it could mean that Jesus “came up” out of the water, climbing onto the bank. It is unclear from the word or the context.
Even as we look at the early church and its practice, we find evidence of baptism by a mode other than immersion. In the earliest known Christian art, the art of the catacombs, a baptism is portrayed as someone pouring water over the head.
Baptism by immersion is a valid method of baptism which reminds us of our death and rising in Christ. Yet, baptism by pouring reminds us of the anointing of God’s Spirit. Baptism by sprinkling reminds us of rites of ceremonial cleanliness symbolizing we are consecrated to God.
Most concerns of how baptism is administered arise in relation to the way in which Jesus was baptized by John. However, we must remember that the Church is not entrusted with the baptism of John the Baptist, but with the baptism of Jesus Christ. John the Baptist himself said, “I baptize you with water, but he who comes after me will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:8)
Consider when Paul found converts in Ephesus who had received John’s baptism, Paul insisted that they receive the baptism of Jesus Christ and he “laid hands on them” so that they would receive the Holy Spirit. (Acts 19:4-6)
Why Baptize Infants?
Some who reject the baptism of infants point out that the Bible does not specifically command that infants should be baptized. However, in no place does the Bible exclude infants and children from baptism. If we were to apply the same standard to Holy Communion, then women would be forbidden to receive Holy Communion as nowhere in scripture is a woman specifically mentioned as receiving communion. Yet we assume that women were partakers of communion. In the same way, there are plenty of scriptural reasons to believe that infants and children were included in baptism.
What are the Scriptural Reasons for Infant Baptism?
· John 3:16 proclaims "God so loved the world," and Jesus commanded us to "baptize all nations." (Matthew 28:19) Infants are a part of the world which is loved by God and are included in “all nations”.
· In Mark 10:14 our Lord Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these." The Greek word for children in this text is paidia, which means “babes in arms”. If the kingdom of God belongs to babes, how can we not allow them to participate in the covenant which proclaims belonging to the kingdom of God?
· There are references in the New Testament to the baptism of entire households. The Greek word for “household” is oikon and refers to all the inhabitants of the house including slaves, servants, infants and children. Peter baptized the household of Cornelius. (Acts 11:14) In Philippi, Paul baptized the household of Lydia and the household of the jailer (Acts 16: 15, 33). In his first epistle to the Corinthians, he speaks of baptizing the household of Stephanas (1 Corinthians 1:16).
Is Infant Baptism Valid if an Infant Cannot Profess Faith?
Objections are raised that infant baptism is not valid because an infant cannot profess faith. According to Paul in Colossians 2:11-13, baptism took the place of circumcision. Circumcision was administered to an infant Jewish boy of eight days old. The child did not decide to become a member of God’s covenant community, yet the child was validly under the covenant. At a later time, the child would choose to accept the covenant for himself at an age of accountability.
In the same way, Christian children are baptized into the covenant community and later given training through Confirmation to accept the covenant for themselves at an age of accountability.
God’s Grace Includes Infants
Infants are recipients of God’s covenant promises in the Old Testament. Consider Deuteronomy 29:10-12: "You stand this day, all of you, before the Lord--your captains, with all the men of Israel; your little ones, your wives and the stranger,--that thou should enter into covenant with the Lord thy God."
In Acts 2:38, Peter said to the multitude, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, for the remission of sins. Peter said, “every one of you”, recalling the Deuteronomy 29 passage mentioned above. Peter then continues with these words in Acts 2, “For the promise is to you, and to your children." Peter evidently had no quarrel with children in the covenant community.
We believe the covenant is dependent on God’s promise, not on our actions. Ephesians 2:8 reads, “By grace you are saved through faith,” not “By faith you are saved through grace.” God’s grace comes before faith, and even our faith is a gift from God.
Baptism is a gift of God’s grace that, together with teaching and hearing God’s word, helps lead a child to accept the covenant for himself or herself.
Early Church Practice
In addition, consider the common practice which existed during the time of Jesus. Infant dedication and baptism were already common Jewish practice. The Talmud (the most significant collection of Jewish interpretation of Torah) expresses that infants of adults converting to Judaism were to be baptized with their parents. (Maimonides, Hilkh. Iss. Biah xiii. 5 ) John Wesley wrote, “If, then, the apostles were accustomed (1) to circumcision, and (2) in the case of proselytes to infant baptism, it can hardly be doubted that to them it seemed natural to include infants, and to admit them into the new covenant by means of the rite enjoined for “making disciples.” From A Treatise on Baptism
In fact, the earliest known practice of the church included infant baptism. Origen, an early Christian theologian who was born in the second century, declared "The Church received from the apostles the tradition of giving baptism even to infants. The apostles, to whom were committed the secrets of the divine sacraments, knew there are in everyone innate strains of [original] sin, which must be washed away through water and the Spirit" (Commentaries on Romans 5:9 [A.D. 248]).
Hippolytus wrote: "Baptize first the children, and if they can speak for themselves let them do so. Otherwise, let their parents or other relatives speak for them" (The Apostolic Tradition 21:16 [A.D. 215]).
And Augustine wrote concerning infant baptism: "What the universal Church holds, not as instituted by councils but as something always held, is most correctly believed to have been handed down by apostolic authority. On Baptism, Against the Donatists 4:24:31 [A.D. 400]).
Also, it stands to reason that the Church Fathers who were raised in Christian homes would not have taught that infant baptism was apostolic if their own baptisms had been delayed until their age of accountability. Thus the practice of infant baptism obviously predates their own writings.
Infant baptism is Apostolic, practiced by the Early Church, with reasons derived from scripture. All parents are urged to bring their children forward for baptism.
Will My Child Need to be Re-Baptized As An Adult?
Baptism is God’s act and gift of God’s grace, not a covenant based on our act. It is perfect the first time and does not need to be repeated. For those already baptized, a ceremony of baptismal remembrance is held at various times.
Do Methodists Baptize Adults?
A person who would follow Christ must be baptized, following the command of scripture (Acts 2:38), and an adult who has not received baptism should not delay to receive the gift of God. It would be at that time that the adult would also publicly profess his or her faith in Christ.
How Do I Present My Child or Myself for Baptism?
Simply notify the pastor of your intent. After counseling, a date will be chosen for the sacrament to be administered during a service of worship. To present a child for baptism, parent must be a professing member of the church, as the parent(s) must take a vow to raise the child in the church until the child can accept God’s covenant for him or herself.
©2008 Timothy M. Carpenter