Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Skinny on Wesleyans and Baptism

Interestingly, The Wesleyan Church can be attractive to Baptists and Pentecostals for a number of reasons.  To Baptists, it offers a very familiar low church feel with a more robust connecting network.  All they have to do is deny eternal security or not bring it up. ;-)  For Pentecostals, it's very similar except tongues aren't generally allowed in worship.  But then again, a lot of charismatic churches don't speak much tongues in worship either.

So what do Wesleyans believe about baptism?  Here's the official statement:

"We believe that water baptism and the Lord's Supper are the sacraments of the church commanded by Christ and ordained as a means of grace when received through faith. They are tokens of our profession of Christian faith and signs of God's gracious ministry toward us. By them, He works within us to quicken, strengthen and confirm our faith.

"We believe that water baptism is a sacrament of the church, commanded by our Lord and administered to believers. It is a symbol of the new covenant of grace and signifies acceptance of the benefits of the atonement of Jesus Christ. By means of this sacrament, believers declare their faith in Jesus Christ as Savior."

But official statements often don't really tell the whole story.  Here's the skinny:

"Until recently, baptism has not been much of an emphasis of the Wesleyan Church.  Most churches practice believer's baptism and have done it maybe once a year.  You may find traces of individuals who have never been baptized or who were baptized as infants, but these are rare.  Few if any would have any theology of baptismal regeneration and in practice, our sense of baptism as a sacrament has generally been somewhat weak."

Now the background:

1. One of the main predecessor churches of the Wesleyan Church (Pilgrims) had significant Quaker elements. So many of the early Pilgrims were like the Quakers or Salvation Army.  They not only did not emphasize baptism.  Many of them were not baptized at all.  My grandfather only got baptized because he was asked to perform a baptism.  He didn't think he should perform a baptism if he wasn't baptized himself.

By far the majority of Wesleyans would now say that, even though baptism does not actually save you, it is a central practice of the historic church with sacramental power. Nevertheless, we still would not believe that a person has to be baptized in order to be saved.

2. The other main predecessor church (Wesleyan Methodist) withdrew directly from the Methodist church over abolition.  Accordingly, it retained the possibility of infant baptism.  Again, the idea is not that such a baptism saves the child or ensures that the child will eventually be saved.

By far the majority of Wesleyans now practice believer's baptism, so much so that many would be surprised to know that it is still allowed to practice infant baptism in the Wesleyan Church.  Nevertheless, my wife and I preferred for our children to be reckoned "in" the church and to have to leave it rather than to reckon them "out" until we could persuade them to come in.  Dr. Bud Bence accordingly baptized our children in a Wesleyan Church.

So basically, in practice we have moved toward the Baptists, although in our theology, we neither specify the method (immersion, sprinkling, or pouring) nor the timing (believer's or infant).  For Wesleyans, baptism is a sacrament in which every believer should participate, but it is neither essential for salvation nor something whose particulars we should fight about.

Were you baptized as an infant?  You do not need to be re-baptized.  If it would be significant for your spiritual pilgrimage, though, we will not stop you.  Were you never baptized?  You should very, very seriously consider it, although we will still call you a brother or sister if you choose not to.

10 comments:

π² said...

My wife and I dealt with this after our daughter was born. To baptize or dedicate? We chose dedication, in part because it was what would be best understood by our congregation, and also because I wanted my daughter to be able to remember her baptism. However, we did alter our church's usual dedication by having our daughter, and two other children who were dedicated that day, anointed with oil during the prayer of dedication. Our family which came from Roman Catholic and Lutheran backgrounds appreciated that the children "got wet with some type of liquid."

FrGregACCA said...

For a variety of reasons, some of them geographical and others related to my father's predispositions and connections, I grew up simultaneously in the Christian and Missionary Alliance, the Church of the Nazarene, and the Assemblies of God, with some exposure to the Fundamentalist Baptist tradition and the Evangelical Free Church.

I was not baptized as an infant. I was dedicated. When I, on my own initiative, sought baptism around age 11-12, I was denied it because, even though I had accepted Christ at age seven, I could not articulate my faith to the satisfaction of the pastor in question (I think the fact that I, even then, somewhat believed in baptismal regeneration was just too obvious for him).

Anyway, go forward a couple of years: at age 13, I was subjected to what I can only describe as a sustained, year-long spiritual attack by demons (partially the result, I think, of earlier sexual abuse by an adult male, a family friend).

Knowing what I know now, I firmly believe that had I been baptized at that time, the attack, if it occurred at all, would have been much easier to deal with. (We won't even talk about the fact that the Eucharist was not available to me at that time, nor the sacrament of confirmation/chrismation, nor that of Reconciliation.)

Robert said...

That sounds commendably broad-minded; I can never understand people who get het up about when the water's applied, and how deep it is. I think we need to think more about our theology of baptism. It's a tradition which carried over from the days when it was considered essential to salvation; we don't give it much thought, and maybe that's one reason why people sometimes argue over the details. Apart form the sectarian mentality, that is. and I don't think we can do much about that.

::athada:: said...

Was baby dunked at a UMC, redipped in a Calvary Chapel baby pool at 19. Leaning towards infant baptism for my baby this November so my child can make the same mistake I did some day ;)

Patrick said...

Baptism seems to have a historical linear decline in importance in the NT.

John B uses it to attract repenters pre Christ.

In Acts, sometimes it is an add on, sometimes not when the question comes up, "how do I get saved"?

Paul expressly stated he didn't come to baptize, he only baptized X,Y and Z and stopped.

Are their alternative views of exactly what the baptism represented?

FrGregACCA said...

Patrick, Church history does not bear that out, and really, the NT does not either. See the Didache, a large portion of which concerns baptism, as well as Justin Martyr, writing c. AD 150 and and so on.

In the New Testament, the following, for example, were written after I Corinthians:

Romans 6:2-4ff, Colossians 2:12, Titus 3:5, I Peter 3:21.

Note also, within I Corinthians, 6:11 and 10:1-4 and 12:13.

In the New Testament, baptism and regeneration are synonymous, and to think that somehow, the two can be definitively separated is to set the stage for the questioning the Incarnation and yes, the Resurrection itself. The material creation is the vehicle whereby God manifests and acts to save us. Christianity is nothing if not wholistic.

Anonymous said...

When reading the Bible, it is striking how urgently newly regenerated people treated baptism. The Ethiopian Eunuch and the Philippian jailer were just two of those. Jesus condemned those who placed tradition above scripture. It seems this is not the only issue. The speaking in tongues is forbidden in the service even though the Holy Spirit directed Paul to write "forbid NOT the speaking in tongues". The same is true in reverse on women preaching in authority over men - here the church encourages what is forbidden and even a modest Bible student knows that it has nothing to do with sin, it has to do with creation and God';s design for humanity. I suppose that should not come as a surprise since the statement of beliefs is alien to the attitude of Christ and all the prophets toward the perfection of the scripture. The Bible is perfect, whether speaking of history, anthropology, psychology, sex or science. On the latter noted, Christ inscribed in stone to Moses on the tablets that God created the world in seven days and Genesis is confirmed throughout the entire Bible. When churches depart from the word of God, there is no authority. The only difference between fallen churches and the world is the DEGREE they disobey the scriptures. The act of disobedience is the same. So is a higher belief in the fallible ideas of man over the infallible counsel of the Almighty.

Ken Schenck said...

What you don't realize is that your paragraph is also full of tradition. Jesus didn't condemn those who put tradition over Scripture but those who put their traditions about Scripture over people. Your approach here is actually more like that Jesus was opposing and what made him angry.

Gary said...

Maybe the Infant Baptism debate has been approached from the wrong direction. Instead of starting with our disagreements, let's start with what Baptists/evangelicals and orthodox Christians AGREE upon: All persons who believe and have faith in Christ as their Savior should follow his command and be baptized as soon as possible. Agreed?

So the next question is: Can an infant believe and have faith?

Evangelical and Baptist brothers and sisters in Christ: If I can prove to you from Scripture that infants not only can but DO believe and have faith, would you accept infant baptism as Scriptural?

http://www.lutherwasnotbornagain.com/2013/09/the-bible-says-that-infants-can-have.html

Anonymous said...

Babies should be dedicated to the Lord not baptized. That should be done after they accept Jesus as their saviour. Baptism is more than a tradition. It is more of a command after turning your life over to the Lord. It goes along with your salvation. It is a very important decision not to be taken lightly. In Acts it tells us to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus. Baptism represents being burried with Christ and coming to life in him.

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