Preparation for a Service of the Baptismal Covenant

A Conversation about the Meaning, Symbolism and Responsibility of Baptism

One of the great privileges that I have as a United Methodist preacher is offering the sacrament of Christian baptism to individuals and families connected with the local church. I like to meet with the individual or family in advance of the service to hear their story and to share some of the meaning, significance and logistics of the service.

Meaning of Baptism

  • Baptism is a sacrament, which is is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. This means that there is a physical action or elements that represent God’s work in our lives. In the United Methodist Church, there are two sacraments — baptism and Holy Communion. In Holy Communion, the other sacrament in the United Methodist Church, the bread and the cup represent the body and blood of Christ and entering into a new covenant.
  • Baptism is rooted in the Bible. We see a connection in the Old Testament ritual of cleansing and renewal. The Jewish people would undergo a ritual cleansing before participating in religious ceremonies. In the New Testament, we read about Jesus himself coming to John the Baptist to be baptized in the Jordan river.
  • Baptism is a sign of the new covenant in Jesus Christ. Throughout scripture we read stories of God making covenants, or promises with individuals and communities — Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and the people of Israel. In the New Testament, Jesus offers an invitation to a new covenant at the last supper. Baptism makes this real.
  • Baptism is initiation into the body of Christ. Baptism is not particular to a local congregation or denomination. You become a part of the universal church across all time and space.
  • Baptism is a signal that God’s forgiveness that is always and repeatedly available to us when we repent of our sins. For adults who are baptized, it can be a sign that all the ways that one has strayed from God’s path in the path have been forgiven. When an infant is being baptized, it can be difficult to consider that there are things which the child has said or done that are contrary to God’s dream for people. However, sin is not jus thte things that we hav done wrong, it is also the state in which we exist — it is part of our human condition.
  • Baptism is beginning of a lifetime journey of holiness. No matter the age of the person being baptized, it is not the end of a journey of faith — it is just the beginning. It is a significant milestone in our lifetime journey grow toward perfect love of God and neighbor.
  • Baptism is a commission of ministry. We are commissioned to serve God in all areas of our life, not just when we are in a particular place or around particular people.

Symbolism in the Act of Baptism

Water is the central symbol of baptism. We experience water in a variety of ways in our lives and these can give us insight into what is happening in baptism.

  • Just as there are waters at our physical birth, the water of baptism is symbolic of a spiritual new birth.
  • In the Bible, we read of the spirit of God moving across the waters and bringing order out of chaos at the very beginning of time. In a similar way, the waters of baptism can bring order out of the chaos of our lives.
  • We use water to wash and cleanse our physical bodies and the water of baptism is symbolic of our sin being washed away.

After the use of water, laying on of hands and anointing with oil symbolize the work of the Holy Spirit. We read in the Old Testament of indiviudals and holy items being anointed with oil as a sign of being set aside for God and God’s purposes.

Responsibility of Baptism

  • In addition to the meaning and symbolism of baptism, there is responsibility. Parents or guardians who are bringing a child to be baptized have the responsibility to raise the child in the faith and model for them what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ who seeks to worship, grow, give, serve and share. Part of their role is to encourage the child to, one day, claim faith for themselves.
  • Godparents, should the family chose to name them, are also taking responsibility to help raise the child in the faith and encourage them to claim faith for themselves.
  • Adults who come to be baptized have the responsibility to live as a disciple of Jesus Christ as they worship, grow, give, serve and share and seek to move toward perfect love of God and neighbor.
  • Baptism is a community event and the congregation is responsible for be active in the life of the individual and family and help her or him grow in faith. Those that have made a commitment to live as a disciple of Jesus Christ, recommit themselves to living a faithful life.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How much water should be used?
    • United Methodists practice sprinkling, pouring and full immersion. The water is a symbol of God’s action and the amount does not matter. Consider rings which are often exchanged as a symbol of marriage vows — a more expensive ring does not make someone “more married.” In a similar way, more water does not make someone “more baptized.”
  • Why are infants baptized?
    • As United Methodists, we believe that God is at work in our lives before we are able to recognize it. Faith is professed by the parents or guardians and promises are made to raise the child in the faith.
  • Do I need to be re-baptized?
    • No. As United Methodists, we believe that baptism is primarily God’s action. We do not practice re-baptism as we believe that God was at work in one’s baptism — no matter the age or circumstances. However, there are times in life when it is appropriate to remember your baptism or recommit yourself to living life as a disciple of Jesus Christ. We can create a symbolic moments in worship for these times of life that are not being baptized again.
  • Does baptism make me a member of the church?
    • Yes. In baptism, you become part of the universal church of Jesus Christ across all time and space. Adults become a Professing Member and Children a Baptized Member of the local United Methodist Church.
  • When do children claim faith for themselves?
    • There is a variety of opinions of the “age of assent” for a child to claim faith for themselves. As a church, we offer the opportunity for persons in 8th to 12th grade to an intentional time of examining their faith and the opporutnity to confirm the promises that were made on their behalf at their baptism. At confirmation, one transitions from a Baptized Member to a Professing Member of the United Methodist Church.

Conclusion

Baptism is meaningful, significant and exciting time in the life of an individual, family and local congregation. It is an honor to be part of this milestone on the journey of faith.

Twitter Communion

I recently came across the proposal for a Twitter Communion service and its subsequent cancellation. As Pastor of Resurrection Online, I have spent a good deal of time considering how sacraments are made available for those that worship online. I am still working on articulating clear guidance for Resurrection Online attender.

This proposal is particularly intriguing to me as it is from a British Methodist, who shares a similar theology and founder in John Wesley. Here is a video of the proposal.

What are your thoughts, feelings or opinions about this Twitter Communion?

Notes on “Virtual Religion in the 21st Century”

Several months ago, I received a copy of several articles that explore the intersection of religion and the internet. I want to record some of my notes on the articles and at the same time share them with you.

“Believe It or Not: Virtual Religion in the 21st Century” [PDF Link] by Susan E. George was published in 2005 in the International Journal of Technology and Human Interaction. In this article, George “explores the development of virtual religion and its impact on humanity” (63) through three main movements:

  • “First we consider the nature of religion and note that a social and communal expression is vital” (63).
  • “Second, we explore ways that technology is facilitating religious expression, noting it is both supporting conventional practice and enabling new” (63).
  • “Third, we move to consider technology in context, noting how it is ideally the application of science for the benefit of humanity, although many people have identified negatives of technology including its power to rob humanity of the essence of what it is to be human” (63).

These movements give an overview of the landscape of the internet and religion. I found particularly helpful the references to a ruling from the US Catholic bishops on The Sacraments via Electronic Communication. I will leave more discussion about the sacraments online to a future blog post. George leaves the reader with the question, “How can technology play a positive role in humanity” (70)?

How would you respond to this question?

Click in Remembrance of Me

Click in Remembrance of Me is the title of an article that was published in Newsweek on November 3. I invite you to check it out as it provides my first exposure to online church or internet campus being addressed by what I would interpret to be a mainstream media outlet.

While having previously found a United Methodist who was willing to baptize via the internet, this was the first reference that I have seen to a United Methodist willing to give communion via the internet. The site which is referenced in the article, holycommunionontheweb.com, appears to have been taken down.

Another perspective to throw in the mix as we continue to think about an internet campus at Resurrection.

Online Baptism

While reflecting on the sacraments for an internet campus several weeks ago, I wrote,

“I am not willing to suggest that sacraments could be administered online or remotely in any way.”

I had thought that this would be a common response for leaders in mainline congregations. I was wrong in at least one case. I read of a baptism by a United Methodist Pastor at Can You Baptize Somone Over the Internet? I commend that post to you for additional perspectives in the comments. I still do not think that I am ready to say that I would be okay with this, but I admit that seeing these videos is stretching me.

What do you think?

iCampus Summary Post

This is a collection of questions and responses to various questions about internet campus. I invite you to read each post and add any comments on that post or by emailing me directly. Thanks!

iCampus – What about the sacraments?

This is a series of responses to questions about an internet campus from a previous series of posts. Do you have any other questions? Feel free to leave them in the comments and I will try to respond to each one. Thanks!

What about the sacraments?

This is a serious question and one of the more significant challenges for an internet campus of a United Methodist congregation. Holy Communion is understood to be a means of grace for United Methodists and should not be ignored. John Wesley, founder of Methodism, encouraged the taking of communion at any opportunity available.

I am not willing to suggest that sacraments could be administered online or remotely in any way. I recognize that others with different understandings of polity and theology will come to different conclusions here, but this is where I am today as a United Methodist. For baptism, I see three possibilities:

  • Internet congregant would travel to a physical campus to be baptized
  • Internet campus pastor would travel to baptize the internet congregant
  • Internet congregant would be baptized at local congregation that was somehow connected to the internet campus (same denomination, pre-arranged plan, etc.)

For holy communion, I would suggest that the internet congregant receive this sacrament in another community of faith close to where she or he is living. Again, some sort of connection to the internet campus would be most desirable.

I recognize that none of these solutions are optimum. However, I do not think that the downsides here would be enough to prevent the possibility to build a Christian community where non-religious and nominally religious people are becoming deeply committed Christians.

Without the opportunity to have the “sacraments duly administered” it would not be possible to be defined as a local United Methodist church (2004 Book of Discipline, ¶201). Thus, an internet campus would necessarily be linked with an existing local church.

What do you think about my responses? How would you answer this question?