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Baptism

A stained glass window in the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, France, depicting the baptism of Christ. Picture by Jorisvo/Bigstock.com

In the second of a two-part series on the topic of baptism, we address the Methodist distinctives on baptism, and infant baptism.

How is Methodist baptism different from other Christian denominations?
Let’s first look at how Methodist and other Christian denominations are united in the Lord. Ephesians 4:4-6 says that “there is one body and one Spirit … one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all”. So if someone who was baptised in another Christian denomination joins a Methodist church, we do not re-baptise.

We all agree that baptism is performed in the name of the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – with water, and declares Jesus as Saviour and Lord. Like the Presbyterians, Lutherans and Anglicans, Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians, Methodists view baptism as a sacrament – an outward sign of an inward act of God’s grace. We allow baptism by immersion, sprinkling, or pouring, and also baptise infants.

Baptists and many independent churches, however, baptise by immersion or dipping, citing the implied meaning of baptism as dipping or covering with water. Also, they only allow youth or adult baptism, not children.

Immersion, sprinkling, pouring – what’s the difference?
These are different modes of baptism, and they symbolise important Christian truths. Immersion or dipping expresses the truth of dying and rising with Christ (Romans 6:4). Sprinkling of water symbolises our cleansing by the blood of Christ, in the tradition of the cleansing rituals of the Hebrew priesthood (Hebrews 10:22). Pouring of water points to the work of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:17).

What’s our Church’s stand on infant baptism?
Baptism is available to all regardless of age. Our Methodist Discipline states that the baptism of young children is to be retained, and John Wesley, our founder, outlined several reasons for this practice.

It washes away original sin (Psalm 51:5). It replaces circumcision as an initiatory act (Colossians 2:11-12). And thirdly, baptisms in the New Testament often included the whole household. (Acts 16:15, and 33-34).

Some denominations don’t believe in infant baptism. Why?
There are several reasons for favouring believers baptism, (credobaptism) instead of child baptism (paedobaptism).

First, admittedly, the New Testament doesn’t specifically mention children being baptised. Second, Baptists and other denominations assert that being able to choose personal faith in Christ is essential before baptism can be performed. New Testament passages like Acts 2:38 seem to emphasise repentance and confession as conditions to faith at baptism, which babies cannot do.

While affirming personal consent, Methodists consider baptism as a sign that God’s grace is already a present reality in the child, drawing him or her to a point of full confession.

What is my obligation as parent or godparent after a child is baptised?
Parents should nurture their baptised children by providing a Christian home filled with prayer, Bible reading and other Christian practices and by bringing them to Sunday school and other appropriate ministries at church, so that at an appropriate time, they will be able to answer their baptismal
vows affirmatively. Godparents are obliged to take on this role in the absence of the parents. At 16, baptised children can enrol as preparatory members, before confirmation.

Should my child be baptised again when he or she has grown up?
No, absolutely not. However, in youth confirmation, and other reaffirmations of baptism, the pastor may use water in ways that do not constitute baptism to help them to remember their baptism.

there is one body and one Spirit … one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all”

Ephesians 4:4-6

The Rev George R. Martzen is a United Methodist clergy and missionary under the General Board of Global Ministries. Currently assigned to the Chinese Annual Conference in Singapore, he is a pastoral staff of Paya Lebar Chinese Methodist Church.

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