Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Baptism -- All about grace

I wrote yesterday about baptism, and since I still have more thoughts, I wanted to continue in today's post.

I think one of the key questions regarding baptism is its purpose. I wasn't baptized into the Methodist church; I was baptized a Presbyterian at the age of seven, but I was confirmed into the United Methodist church (age = 17). I didn't start attending the UM church because of its beliefs -- I started coming to our church because someone invited me (let that be a lesson to you).

As I've learned more and more about my "second" denomination, I've become more and more grateful to be a Methodist. I like what we say we believe -- it "meshes" with what I believe about God. The same goes when it comes to the Methodist view of baptism.

When I say in this post that "the Methodist church believes" I am basing those statements on the publication By Water and the Spirit -- a study guide. At the UM General Conference in 1996, the text of "By Water and the Spirit: A United Methodist Understanding of Baptism" was adopted.

  1. Baptism is our initiation into the Body of Christ. "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."* I really like the image that baptism is when God reaches down and claims the "child" (whether adult- or child-aged) as His own. It is how we know whose we are. The most important aspect of baptism is the work of God, not of our own.
  2. "Baptism is not a requirement for salvation. Our salvation is a free gift of God made possible by the work of Christ.* I really like what Wesley said about it: "the ordinary means which (God) hath appointed...and to which God hath tied us, though he may not have tied himself." Baptism is not unimportant or optional, but we limit God if we believe that baptism is the only way that God can can bring people into relationship with Him. This really resonates with me. If baptism were an absolute requirement, and God allowed no other way to salvation, then a baby who dies prior to baptism would not be able to enter eternal life. Do I believe that to be true? No, and the Water and Spirit statement of the UM church agrees with me (isn't that handy?") About a year before "we" became pregnant with G, I had what is called a "chemical pregnancy." That's a very common occurrence for first time pregnant women (about 50%). It is a very early miscarriage. Most women don't even know that it has happened, but I'm a very curious woman, and I took a pregnancy test when I was only about 3-4 days "late." It was positive. A few days later, the tests were no longer positive. If there was a baby involved in that pregnancy, and if God chose to bless those few cells with the breath of life, then I know that God has that child with Him. Why? Because in addition to being our child, that child is also a child of God.
  3. I also like the idea that we don't "rebaptize" people. If it is mainly an act of God, then we can be assured that He didn't "do it wrong" the first time. I like that we can "remember" our baptism through ritual, but we don't need to do it over. In comparison, think of marriage. Once we are married, we can renew our vows (as in the "Remember your baptism" ritual), but we are already married. We can't marry the same person again while we are still married to him or her. And, unlike marriage, there is no way to divorce God -- He's got you, babe, and He's not letting go.

It's all about grace, isn't it? God works through prevenient grace to make sure that we come to Him, and then He offers his grace again through baptism (and in so many other ways). To me, infant baptism is a wonderful illustration of grace -- proof, if we need it, that grace is a gift, freely given and sufficient.

I especially this quote from Frederick Buechner: "When it comes to the forgiving and transforming love of God, one wonders if the six week old schreecher knows all that much less than the Archbishop of Canterbury about what's going on."**

Sources: * = By Water and the Spirit ** = Beyond Words by Frederick Buechner
Image: from curtisgraphics


Blogger John said...

One of my most productive experiences this past semester at seminary was to write a paper comparing Wesley's view of baptism with that of the UMC. "By Water and the Spirit" was a very useful text.

I am inclined to be a high sacramentalist.

5:27 PM  
Blogger Kim said...

I like that resource and used it to teach a class to one of our adult Sunday school classes concerning the UMC view of baptism.

8:14 PM  
Blogger Matt said...

You find light in the words of Wesley, I might go to Calvin first. But Buechner is on our mutual list. The Orthodox might say "It's mystery." Certainly one point is, baptism is a God-thing. Jesus told us to do. It points us beyond font, pool, water, words to God. The words God said to Jesus at his baptism in the Jordan might not be reserved only for him.

Your blog is excellent: thoughtful, supple, easy to navigate, useful for folk like me who drop in out of the blue, and an inspiration to join the 21st Century and start our own blog. Kudos.

Blessings, Matt, St. Giles Presbyterian Church

12:44 PM  

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