What’s the difference between a Methodist and Baptist? Two answers are usually offered:
1) A Methodist will say “hi” to you in a liquor store, or
2) Methodists baptize babies.

Depending on your convictions, you may like all, one, or none of those answers! No matter, for today we will leave the UMC stance on the first response aside to focus on why Methodists baptize infants. But before we answer the “why” we should first describe the two common practices of baptism.

Two Practices

There are two widely utilized practices of baptism: infant baptism & believer’s baptism. Both are self-explanatory. Infant baptism is the practice of baptizing an infant while believer’s baptism is the practice of baptizing someone once they confess Jesus is Lord. Infant baptism has been practiced since among the earliest of church records. Believer’s baptism has been primarily practiced since the Protestant Reformation. {As an aside, biblical records do not have explicit records of the baptism of infants. However, the practice was firmly in place by the time the earliest writings about the church surfaced.}

Believer’s Baptism

For those who ascribe believer’s baptism, the concept of baptizing a baby is ludicrous. The argument typically goes something like, “a baby does not have the ability to profess Jesus as Lord, to choose to repent from their sin, or even to understand the significance of the event. Therefore, they should wait until they are able to make the decision to be baptized when they are older.” In this type of baptism, the implication is that baptism is for those who have previously professed their faith in Christ and now will choose to be baptized. The pattern usually follows this order:

  • Person recognizes need for grace
  • Person publicly professes Jesus Christ as Lord
  • Person is baptized, welcomed into the Church universal

Many Christians who practice believer’s baptism treat baptism as an ordinance which should be practiced because a) Jesus told the disciples to baptize (Matthew 28) and b) Jesus himself was baptized as an example. In regards to its meaning, the Southern Baptist Convention’s basic beliefs state:

Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water. …It is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer’s faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, the believer’s death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus. (http://www.sbc.net/aboutus/basicbeliefs.asp)

Essentially, the practice of believer’s baptism (according to the SBC) is intrinsically connected with one’s public profession of faith. Entrance into the Church universal is initiated by the person professing their faith in Christ through their choosing to be baptized.

Infant Baptism

Infant baptism shares many of the same ideas as believer’s baptism but the meaning and order of events is quite different. The process for infant baptism is:

  • Infant is baptized, initiated into the Church universal
  • Person later recognizes need of divine grace
  • Person publicly professes Jesus Christ as Lord (Confirmation)

In infant baptism, the emphasis is solely God’s work. The child has done nothing to earn God’s grace but it is bestowed on them as a free gift. This focus is not on professing faith. Rather, the focus is on being claimed as God’s child. Through baptism, one receives a new identity, is initiated into the Church universal, and is adopted as God’s child. Later the child will either profess or reject faith in Christ.

This practice is more closely associated with the concept of God’s covenant relationship with the Israelites through circumcision. Baptism becomes for us what circumcision was for them; a marker of our identity. We have been chosen by God to be God’s very own and may or may not accept the gift given to us. This is seen primarily as a sacrament, not an ordinance, because it deals with God’s mysterious work of grace in human lives and not only carrying out a command.

Why Do Methodists Baptize Babies?

From the earliest times, children and infants were baptized and included in the church. As scriptural authority for this ancient tradition, some scholars cite Jesus’ words, “Let the little children come to me…for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs” (Mark 10:14). However, a more consistent argument is that baptism, as a means of grace, signifies God’s initiative in the process of salvation. John Wesley preached “prevenient grace,” the grace that works in our lives before we are aware of it, bringing us to faith. The baptism of children and their inclusion in the church before they can respond with their own confirmation of faith is a vivid and compelling witness to prevenient grace. (From http://www.umc.org)

I would like to add that whether you were baptized as an infant or an adult, whether you accept or reject the practice of infant baptism, there is something much greater that binds us all together than the differences we may have regarding this Christian initiatory rite. We believe that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead and has given us the Holy Spirit to do the work of God on earth as it is in heaven. Let us keep Christ at the center of our lives and not let these differences divide our work to transform the world!

To read more about the Methodist view of baptism, follow this link:
http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/baptism

Thanks for reading!

 

 

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