Baptism is a rite of initiation in the Christian religion, and Methodists are no exception to this rule. Methodist beliefs and practices regarding baptism can be traced back to traditions established in the early Christian church. Today, Methodist baptism is a means whereby an individual declares faith in God and dedication to the teachings of Christianity, as understood by the United Methodist Church.
Baptism is a Covenant
United Methodists understand baptism to be representative of a covenant between God and a person. It represents 'death' to the old life of sin and selfishness, and 'rising again' to a new life in service to Christ and his church. For United Methodists, baptism is just the beginning of that covenant, however. It is the door by which a person enters the body of faith, and it implies a life of devotion and services that are to follow.
Baptism is a Sacrament
The word sacrament is derived from the Latin word for mystery. For the United Methodist, baptism represents the mystery of God's grace through Christ in the life of the believer. Baptism is redemptive, in the sense that it celebrates the redemption of a person's soul. It is also transformative, in that it represents the new life the Christian lives through the power of the Holy Spirit. Most significantly, it represents the mystery that God has given his Son to save lost humanity.
Infants May Be Baptized
Throughout the ages, various streams of Christianity have practiced infant baptism. In this regard, the United Methodist church is no different. According to John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, baptism signified God's "prevenient grace," which is the grace that God works in the life of a person before they're aware of it and before they have the opportunity to respond to it. It signifies the principle that God initiates salvation, rather than the individual.
Baptism Takes Many Forms
Sprinkling, pouring and immersion have all been used for baptism in the history of Christianity. United Methodists accept any of these methods of baptismal practice. Pouring and sprinkling are the most common methods used for infant baptism, while adult baptisms often include immersion. The method used for baptism isn't as important to the United Methodist as what baptism represents. The presence of the water, indicating a cleansing from sin and hearkening back to the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist, supersedes any particular method.
Other Methodist Denominations May Have Varying Views
The United Methodist Church isn't the only church that bears the name 'Methodist,' though it is the largest. Others, such as the Free Methodist Church, hold essentially the same views on baptism as does the United Methodist Church. The same holds true for the Church of the Nazarene, one of the largest churches holding Methodist doctrines. Those two groups, however, also offer infant dedication for parents who believe that baptism is a sacrament that ought to be reserved for adults. Members of those churches may choose to have their infants baptized or dedicated.
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