When a lifelong Southern Baptist girl joins the United Methodist Church, you can bet your bottom dollar that she spends a lot of time in research and prayer on the matter of baptism. If you’ve been curious…
What do United Methodists believe about baptism?
“Understanding the practice as an authentic expression of how God works in our lives, The United Methodist Church strongly advocates the baptism of infants within the faith community: “Because the redeeming love of God, revealed in Jesus Christ, extends to all persons and because Jesus explicitly included the children in his kingdom, the pastor of each charge shall earnestly exhort all Christian parents or guardians to present their children to the Lord in Baptism at an early age” (1992 Book of Discipline, par. 221)” (para. 226 in the 2004 Book of Discipline).
While baptism is understood primarily as a means of God’s grace toward the child, By Water and the Spirit also states: “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.”
Baptism is, among other things, incorporation into the body of Christ. The questions asked in the baptism of infants are asked not of the parents and sponsors to answer on behalf of the infant, but on behalf of themselves. Those who cannot or will not answer these questions affirmatively for themselves in good faith are not yet ready to support another in a journey toward discipleship to Jesus Christ, and so are not able to enter the covenant relationship entailed in baptism.
In infant baptism, God claims the child with divine grace. Clearly the child can do nothing to save himself or herself, but is totally dependent on God’s grace, as we all are — whatever our age. In believer’s baptism, the person being baptized is publicly professing her or his own decision to accept Christ. Believer’s baptism is an ordinance, not a sacrament. United Methodists baptize people of all ages who have not previously received the sacrament. Even when the people being baptized are believing adults and are ready to profess their faith, our emphasis is upon the gracious action of God rather than upon the individual’s decision.