God is my conscience, Jesus lives in my heart… this blog is about what I see, what I think, what I do and how I serve God
20. Baptism: what is it and why do I need it?
Here is a good video about the Sacrament of Baptism
The United Methodist Church celebrates two sacraments: Baptism and Holy Communion. In this paper I will talk about Baptism.
An object or ritual is considered Sacramental when it evokes the presence of God or when it evokes the presence of Holiness in our midst. Sacrament is an earthly object or ritual that has a heavenly meaning.
Much of our identity is defined by others, by expectations from our family, friends and coworkers as well as norms and standards imposed upon us by the society in which we live.
When we make a commitment to Jesus Christ we receive a new identity. A Christian is a person who has “put on Christ” upon himself or herself.
The event of baptism celebrates that transformation of the “putting on” of Christ and receiving new identity. That is why the United Methodist Church has a ritual that begins with putting off the old self, acknowledging and renouncing our sinful nature and the powers of evil that lurk around us, and pledging our loyalty to Jesus.
Baptism is also a covenant (agreement or understanding); that covenant includes God, the person who is being baptized and a community of faith (a church) that promises to love and nurture the new Christian in his/her walk with Christ.
Throughout the ages, Christians understood their own baptismal covenant in light of Jesus’ baptism. At Jesus’ baptism God said: “This is my Son!” (It is a cool story and it can be found in Matthew 3:13-18, Mark 1:9-11). Jesus has a unique relationship with God because Jesus is a part of the Holy Trinity. Because God showed His pleasure with Jesus in the act of His baptism, Christians understand our own baptism to mean that through the process of baptism we acknowledge that we are God’s daughters and sons, and that God knows us intimately as a parent should. By the baptism we acquire a new identity – that of being sons and daughters of God.
From the beginning, baptism has been the rite of passage, the ritual of initiation, the door through which a person becomes a member of the Church.
Baptism commissions or calls us to be the “Body of Christ” in the world and to use our gifts to influence everyone around us by being Christ’s ambassadors, to strengthen the church and to transform the world.
From the earliest times, children and infants were baptized and included in the church. As scriptural authority for this ancient tradition, some scholars cite Jesus’ words, “Let the little children come to me…for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs” (Mark 10:14). However, a more consistent argument is that baptism, as a means of grace, signifies God’s initiative in the process of salvation. John Wesley preached “prevenient grace,” the grace that works in our lives before we are aware of it, bringing us to faith. The baptism of children and their inclusion in the church before they can respond with their own confirmation of faith is a vivid and compelling witness to prevenient grace.
United Methodists understand baptism to be a sacrament of God’s grace and a covenant that God has initiated; for that reason it should not be repeated. Sometimes through God’s continuing and patient forgiveness and prevenient grace, persons feel prompted to renew the commitment first made at their baptism. At such a time, instead of rebaptism, The United Methodist Church offers the ritual for the reaffirmation of baptismal vows, which implies that, while God remains faithful to God’s part of the covenant, we are not always faithful to our promises. Our part of the covenant is to confess Christ as our Savior, trust in his grace, serve him as Lord in the church, and carry out his mission against evil, injustice, and oppression.
Baptism is the beginning of a wonderful lifelong journey of faith. It makes no difference whether you were baptized as an adult or as a child; we all start on that journey at baptism. For the child, the journey begins in the nurturing community of the church, where he or she learns what it means that God loves them. At the appropriate time the child will make his or her first confession of faith in the ritual the church traditionally calls confirmation. Most often this is at adolescence or at the time when the person begins to take responsibility for his or her own decisions.
Persons who were baptized as adults do not need to go through the process of confirmation because they made their own conscious decision and were baptized of their own free will.