Why United Methodists baptize babies

January 13th, 2016

Much of the confusion infant baptism causes across the theological spectrum could be eased if pastors and others could make some brief clarifying remarks about what this sacrament is and is not. As a model, John Lomperis submits what he recently said at the baptism of his own newborn son, Josiah Wesley Lomperis. 

We realize that infant baptism causes a lot of confusion with some people, as it once did with me. So we appreciate Pastor letting me say a few brief words about what infant baptism is, and what it is not, in our United Methodist tradition.

John Lomperis

We are not pretending that Josiah is making a choice today. This baptism does not excuse Josiah from his need, as he becomes old enough, to repent of his sin — which we expect him to show a lot of — to trust in the blood of Christ, and submit every area of his life to King Jesus. It does not guarantee that he will definitely go to heaven or get God’s approval regardless of what choices he makes as he grows up.

Here are a couple things from the official United Methodist statement on baptism:

  • Baptism is “neither essential to nor sufficient for salvation.” 
  • “God’s gift of grace in the baptismal covenant does not save us apart from our human response of faith.” 
  • “The United Methodist Church does not accept … the notion that the baptism of infants magically imparts salvation apart from active personal faith.” 

So why do we, and the majority of the world’s churches, bother baptizing infants, as well as adults? How was an evangelist like John Wesley able to stress the importance of personal conversion when we are of age but also of infant baptism?

Remember, Jesus actually scolded his disciples for trying to prevent parents from bringing their young children, or babies, to him. He said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” And then he blessed them.

Through the ages God has worked through families. In the old covenant, babies even younger than Josiah joined the people of God through the ritual of circumcision. In the new covenant, children of parents who do have active Christian faiths do so through the sacrament of baptism, which is offered to people of all genders, races and ages.

Since John Wesley’s day, Methodists have believed, in continuity with centuries of Christian tradition, in the words of our church’s statement: “that in baptism a child was cleansed of the guilt of original sin, initiated into the covenant with God, admitted into the church, made an heir of the divine kingdom, and spiritually born anew.”

And again: “The sacrament is a powerful expression of the reality that all persons come before God as no more than helpless infants, unable to do anything to save ourselves, dependent upon the grace of our loving God.”

“Neither parents nor infants are the chief actors; baptism is an act of God in and through the church.”

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