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0020. Baptism In the United Methodist Church
About the Sacrament of Baptism
Plan and outline for teaching a four-session Bible Study titled “God’s Gift to you in the Sacrament of Baptism” on the subject of Baptism
Relationship between Faith and Salvation
“Our very being is dominated by an inherent inclination toward evil which has traditionally been called ORIGINAL SIN. It is a universal human condition and affects all aspects of life. Because of our condition of sin, we are separated from God, alienated from one another, hostile to the natural world, and even at odds with our own best selves. Sin may be expresses as errant priorities, as deliberate wrongdoing, as apathy in the face of need, as cooperation with oppression and injustice. Evil is cosmic as well as personal; it afflicts both individuals and the institutions of our human society. The nature of sin is represented in Baptismal covenants I, II and IV in The United Methodist Hymnal by the phrases “the spiritual forces of wickedness” and “the evil powers of this world,” as well as “your sin.” (By Water, The Human Condition)
“While we turned from God, God has not abandoned us” (By Water, The Divine Initiative of Grace.)
“Our personal response of faith requires conversion in which we turn away from sin and turn instead to God. It entails a decision to commit our lives to the Lordship of Christ, an acceptance of the forgiveness of our sins, the death of our old selves, and entering into a new life of the Spirit – being born again (John 3:3-4, 2 Cor 5:17) All persons do not experience this spiritual rebirth the same way. For some, there is a singular, radical moment of conversion. For others, conversion may be experienced as the dawning and growing realization that one has been constantly loved by God and has a personal reliance upon Christ” (By Water, The Necessity of faith for Salvation.)
United Methodist Church has two sacraments: Baptism and Holy Communion. John Wesley taught that “a sacrament is an outward sign of an inward grace, and a means whereby we receive the same.” … “God’s presence in the sacraments is real, but it must be accepted by human faith if it is to transform human lives. The sacraments do not convey grace either magically or irrevocably, but they are powerful channels through which God has chosen to make grace available to us. Wesley identified baptism as the initiatory sacrament by which we enter into the covenant with God and are admitted as members of Christ’s Church (By Water, The Means by which God’s Grace comes to us).
Baptism and the Life of Faith
Scripture Study and discussion:
Read Matt 3:13-17 (Jesus’ Baptism)
Read Matt 28:19 (Great Commission)
Discuss: What do these texts tell us about Baptism?
Note: “Baptism is grounded in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ; the grace which baptism makes available is that of the atonement of Christ which makes possible our reconciliation with God. Baptism involves dying to sin, newness of life, union with Christ, receiving the Holy Spirit, and incorporation into Christ’s Church” (By Water, Baptism and Life of Faith).
The Baptismal Covenant
Discussion: What is a covenant? How do you understand covenant?
Definition: Covenant is
- A solemn promise made binding by an oath, which may be either a verbal formula or a symbolic action (Mendenhall 714)
- Initiative of a relationship between one who makes a promise (often someone of superiority or authority) and those to whom the promise is given (Stookey, 14)
- an agreement, usually formal, between two or more persons to do or not do something specified (Dictionary.Com)
- the conditional promises made to humanity by God, as revealed in Scripture (Dictionary.Com).
God enters into covenant relationship with His people in both the Old and New Testament. A covenant involves promises and responsibilities of both parties; it is instituted through a special ceremony and expressed by a distinguishing sign (By Water, The Baptismal Covenant).
Scripture Study and discussion:
Read Genesis 9:1-17 (God’s Covenant with Noah)
Note: “In Noah’s day, the earth was not only cleansed of sin, but was also regenerated by being washed with water” (Stookey, 108)
Q: What did God promise to do OR not to do in this covenant?
Q: What were Noah’s family responsibilities?
Note: In the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God fulfilled the prophesy of a new covenant and called forth the church as a servant community.
Read Jeremiah 31:31-34 (Promise of a new covenant to Jeremiah)
Read 1 Cor 11:23-26 (Paul’s teaching on fulfillment of the new covenant)
Q: What can we learn about the covenant from the words of Jeremiah?
NOTE: The baptism of infants and adults, both male and female, is the sign of this covenant (By Water, The Baptismal Covenant)
United Methodists identify our ritual for baptism as “The Services of the Baptismal Covenant” (The UMH, 33-54).
In baptism the Church declares that it is bound in covenant to God, through baptism new persons are initiated into that covenant. The covenant connects God, the community of faith, and the person being baptized; all three are essential to the fulfillment of the baptismal covenant. The faithful grace of God initiates the covenant relationship and enables the community and the person to respond with faith (By Water, The Baptismal Covenant).
Baptism by Water and the Holy Spirit
Scripture Study and discussion:
Read John 3:5 (“must be born of water and the Spirit”)
Read Acts 2:38 (“Repent and be baptized”)
Read 2 Corinthians 1:21-22
Read Ephesians 1:13-14 (God’s seal of ownership on us)
Q: Why do you think Jesus connects water and the Spirit?
Q: How does Peter connect the act of baptism and the gift of the Holy Spirit
Q: What is the connection between the seal of ownership on us and Baptism
Through the work of the Holy Spirit — the continuing presence of Christ on earth – the Church is instituted to be the community of the new covenant. Within this community, baptism is by water and the Spirit (John 3;4, Acts 2:38). In God’s work of salvation, the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection is inseparably linked with the gift of the Holy Spirit given on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2).
Working in the lives of people BEFORE, DURING, AND AFTER (emphasis added, aft) their baptisms, the Spirit is the effective agent of salvation. God bestows upon baptized persons the presence of the Holy Spirit, marks them with an identifying seal as God’s own, and implants in their hearts the first installment of their inheritance as sons and daughters of God (2 Corinthians 1:21-22). It is through the Spirit that the life of faith is nourished until the final deliverance when they will enter into the fullness of salvation (Ephesians 1:13-14) (By Water, Baptism by Water and the Holy Spirit).
Since the Apostolic Age, baptism by water and baptism of the Holy Spirit have been connected. Christians are baptized with both, sometimes by different sign-actions. Water is administered in the name of the triune God (specified in the ritual as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) by an authorized person and the Holy Spirit is invoked with the laying on of hands, in the presence of the congregation. Water provides the center symbolism for baptism. The richness of its meaning for the Christian community is suggested in the baptismal liturgy which speaks of the waters of creation and the flood, the liberation of God’s people by passage through the sea, the gift of water in the wilderness, and the passage through the Jordan River to the promised land. In baptism we identify ourselves with this people of God and join the community’s journey toward God. The use of water in baptism also symbolizes cleansing from sin, death to old life, and rising to begin new life in Christ. In United Methodist Tradition, the water of baptism may be administered by sprinkling, pouring, or immersion. However it is administered, water should be utilized with enough generosity to enhance our appreciation of its symbolic meanings (By Water, Baptism by Water and the Holy Spirit).
Round Table Discussion – What does Baptism means to you personally and to us as a congregation?
Scripture Study and Discussion
Baptism as Incorporation of the Body of Christ
Read 1 Corinthians 12:12-13, 27
Q: What does this reading tell us about the Holy Spirit?
Q: What is the relationship between human beings and the Holy Spirit?
Q: What does this Scripture tell us about our relationship to each other and to “the Body of Christ” (1 Cor 12:27).
Read Galatians 3:27-28
Q: What does this passage tell us about our equality in Jesus?
Q: How do you understand Paul’s words: “for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” Gal 3:27?
Read Ephesians 4:4-6
Q: What does this passage tell us about baptism, about different modes of baptism (sprinkling, immersion) and about baptism performed by different denominations?
Q: What does this passage tell us about the relationship between God’s Grace and the sacrament of Baptism?
The church draws new persons into itself as it seeks to remain faithful to its commission to proclaim and exemplify the Gospel. Baptism is the sacrament of initiation and incorporation into the Body of Christ. All persons (infants, children, adults) who are baptized become members of the Church universal, and within Church universal of the denomination and of the local congregation.
Baptism is a rite of the whole Church; it requires participation of the gathered, worshiping congregation. Baptism is not an individualistic, private or domestic occasion. (There are legitimate circumstances that can prevent a baptism from taking place in the context of a worship service in a midst of the gathered community – in such cases every effort should be made to assemble representatives of the congregation to participate in the celebration – i.e. NICU/PICU in pediatric hospital).
Baptism brings us into union with Jesus, with each other, and with the Church in every time and place. We affirm that there is only one baptism into Christ, celebrated as our basic bond of unity in the many communions that make up the Body of Christ.
The power of Baptism does not depend upon the mode by which water is administered, the age or psychological disposition of the baptized person, or the character of the minister. IT IS GOD’S GRACE THAT MAKES THE SACRAMENT WHOLE. One baptism calls the various churches to overcome their divisions and visibly manifest their unity. Our oneness in Christ calls for mutual recognition of baptism in these communions as a means of expressing the unity that Christ intends (By Water, Baptism as Incorporation into the Body of Christ).
Baptism as Forgiveness of Sin
In baptism God offers and we accept the forgiveness of our sin (Acts 2:38). Nicene creed states: “We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins” (UMH 880). Baptism is a dynamic activity of Christ through which the Gospel comes to us.
Stookey writes: “[Baptism has] sometimes been misunderstood to mean that at the very moment of administration baptism cancels the sins of the person baptized and effects salvation for ever… Baptism is not something that happens to us only once, to be forgotten or looked upon as a time of a change of our legal status before God. The rite of initiation brings us into covenant with God and into the community of the covenant where the promises and claims of God are set before us continually. Baptism sets into motion a dynamic of life that defies legal precision or even clear definition. The forgiveness of sins implies interrelationships, life in community with God and with one another. We do acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins … because baptism prevents us from indulging in the isolation of self-idolatry and incorporates us into the community in which the Spirit works continually to win our allegiance to righteousness and to prepare us for our witness to the world” (Stookey 72-73).
Baptism is a communal act. Baptism is an occasion for every adult to review the meaning of their own baptism and to renew their baptismal covenant.
Scripture Study and Discussion Baptism as New Life and Holy Living
Read 2 Corinthians 5:17
Read John 3:5
Read Titus 3:5
Q: What words are used to refer to Baptism in these readings?
Q: According to these readings, what does Baptism result in? What happens to us when we are baptized?
Q: What, or who, causes these things to happen and why?
Baptism is the sacramental sign of the new life through and in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Variously identified as regeneration, new birth, and being born again, this work of grace makes us into new spiritual creatures (2 Cor 5:17). Baptism is a means of entry into new life in Christ (John 3:5, Titus 3:5), but new birth may not always coincide with the moment of the administration of water or the laying on of hands.
Scripture Study and Discussion Baptism as a Gift to Persons of ANY Age
Read Luke 18:15 – 17 (Group 1)
Matthew 19:13-15 (Group 2)
Mark 10:13-16 (Group 3)
Read Acts 2:38-41
Q: What do these readings tell us about the ages of people seeking the blessing of the Holy Spirit/Baptism?
The baptizing of a person, whether as an infant or an adult, is a sign of God’s saving grace. That grace – experienced by us as initiating, enabling, and empowering – is the same for all persons. All stand in need of it and none can be saved without it. The difference between the baptism of adults and that of infants is that the Christian faith is consciously being professed by an adult who is baptized. A baptized infant comes to profess her or his faith later in life, after having been nurtured and taught by parent(s) or other responsible adults and the community of faith. Infant baptism is the prevailing practice in situations where children are born to believing parents and brought up in Christian homes and communities of faith. Adult baptism is the norm when the Church is in a missionary situation, reaching out to persons in a culture that is indifferent or hostile to faith (By Water. Baptism as God’s Gift to Person’s of Any Age).
Ask four volunteers to read
1 Corinthians 1:16
The New Testament does not contain an explicit mandate of infant baptism, but there is ample evidence for the baptism of infants and children (Acts 2:38-41, Acts 11:14, Acts 16:15, Acts 18:8, 1 Corinthians 1:16).
The Church affirms that children being born into the brokenness of the world should receive the cleansing and renewing forgiveness of God no less than adults. The baptism of an infant incorporates him or her into the community of faith and nurture, including membership in the local church.
The baptism of infants is properly understood and valued if the child is loved and nurtured by the faithful worshiping church and by the child’s own family. If a parent or sponsor (godparent) cannot or will not nurture the child in the faith, then baptism is to be postponed until Christian nurture is available. A child who dies without being baptized is received into the love and presence of God because the Spirit has worked in that child to bestow saving grace. If a child has been baptized but his or her family or sponsors do not faithfully nurture the child in the faith, the congregation has a particular responsibility for incorporating the child into its life (By Water. Baptism as God’s Gift to Person’s of Any Age).
Round Table Discussion – Discuss how your understanding of baptism has changed since we started this Bible study.
Scripture Study and Discussion
Read Matthew 3:1-12 (John the Baptist prepares the way)
Read Acts 8:26-40 (Philip and the Ethiopian official)
Read Acts 10: 23b – 48 (Peter at Cornelius’ house)
Read Acts 19:1-7 (Paul comes to Ephesus)
Q: How is the baptism of John different from the baptism that believers practiced after the Pentecost?
Q: What happened to the believers (Ethiopian official, Cornelius, believers at Ephesus) as a result of their baptism?
- Baptism of John the Baptist is the baptism of repentance.
- Presence of the Holy Spirit was evident in the cases of the Ethiopian Official, Cornelius/Family/Friends and Believers at Ephesus before and after the baptism that was practiced after the Pentecost
In these Scriptures we see an example of the interrelationship of God’s Grace, the working of the Holy Spirit in the lives of individuals and communities and the Baptism.
Working in the lives of people before, during and after their baptisms, the Spirit is the effective agent of salvation. God bestows upon baptized persons the presence of the Holy Spirit, marks them with an identifying seal as God’s own, and implants in their hearts the first installment of their inheritance as sons and daughters of God. It is through the Spirit that the life of faith is nourished until the final deliverance when they enter into the fullness of salvation (By Water, Baptism by Water and the Holy Spirit).
Round Table Discussion – Discuss your recollection of services of Baptism or Reaffirmation of Faith that you have witnessed. What parts of these services were most meaningful to you?
The Baptismal Covenants of the United Methodist Hymnal
There are four Baptismal covenants found in the United Methodist Hymnal.
Read the section titled Concerning The Services of The Baptismal Covenant found on page 32 of the United Methodist Hymnal
Q: How do you understand the difference between Baptism and the Reaffirmation of the Baptismal Covenant?
Q: What is confirmation and how is it different from Baptism?
Q: What should be done if a person was baptized outside of a congregational worship (i.e. emergency)
|Portions of the service||Portions of the service||Portions of the service||Portions of the service|
|Introduction to the Service||Introduction to the Service||Introduction to the Service||Introduction to the Service|
|Presentation of Candidates||Presentation of Candidates|
|Prayer for those to be Baptized|
|Renunciation of Sin and Profession of Faith||Renunciation of Sin and Profession of Faith||Renunciation of Sin and Profession of Faith||Renunciation of Sin and Profession of Faith|
|Thanksgiving of the Water||Thanksgiving of the Water||Thanksgiving of the Water|
|Baptism with Laying on of Hands||Baptism with Laying on of Hands||Baptism|
|Confirmation or Reaffirmation of Faith|
|Laying on of Hands, Confirmation, or Reaffirmation of faith|
|Reaffirmation of Faith|
|Reception into the United Methodist Church||Reception into the United Methodist Church|
|Reception into the Local Congregation||Reception into the Local Congregation|
|Commendation and Welcome||Commendation and Welcome||Commendation and Welcome|
|Congregational Pledge (one of two; found on page 44 of the UMH)|
Final Remarks and evaluation
List of resources used to develop the Bible Study:
“The Baptismal Covenant I” The United Methodist Hymnal: Book of United Methodist Worship. Nashville, TN:The United Methodist Publishing House, 1989. 33-39.
“The Baptismal Covenant II” The United Methodist Hymnal: Book of United Methodist Worship. Nashville, TN:The United Methodist Publishing House, 1989. 39-44.
“The Baptismal Covenant III” The United Methodist Hymnal: Book of United Methodist Worship. Nashville, TN:The United Methodist Publishing House, 1989. 45-49.
By Water & The Spirit: A United Methodist Understanding of Baptism. 6 September 2000. Website of the General Board of Discipleship of the United Methodist Church. 1 Nov 2007. < http://www.gbod.org/worship/images/water&spirit.pdf>.
Flemington, W.F. “Baptism.” The Interpreters Dictionary of the Bible. Ed. George Arthur Buttrick et al. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1984. 348-353.
Mendenhall, G.E. “Covenant.” The Interpreters Dictionary of the Bible. Ed. George Arthur Buttrick et al. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1984. 714-723.
Stookey, Laurence Hull. Baptism: Christ’s Act in the Church. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 198
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Some more resources on Baptism can be found AT THIS LINK (POINTS TO GBOD.ORG)