The Methodist Church was founded in England by brothers John and Charles Wesley. They brought it to the Americas in 1736. In 1968, we merged with the Evangelical United Brethren church and became the United Methodist Church. Today, we have over 44,000 churches in around the world. Even though we are a Christian faith who can trace our lineage from the Church of England, people sometimes wonder if we still follow typical Christian practices.
For instance, do Methodists believe in baptism? Yes, baptism is one of the two Sacraments the United Methodist Church (its formal name) adheres to; the other being communion. As with many other of the Christian faith, it is believed being baptized is an important first step on the way to salvation, and baptismal traditions fall in line with many other Protestant faiths.
Because we are a Christian tradition, we believe strongly in the sacrament of baptism. It is only through water that we can truly be reborn onto the path of faith. We believe each baptism performed (no matter the faith) is absolutely perfect in God’s eyes. But what exactly are our own traditions? How do we celebrate baptism in the Methodist church?
Baptism In The Methodist Church
Most Protestant religions celebrate just two Sacraments: Baptism and Communion (often called the Lord’s Supper). Just like other Christian religions, we understand baptism to be an important part of our journey to living life according to God’s law.
Unlike other faiths that require you to be re-baptized if you convert, we believe that once you are baptized, you are always baptized. For us, we believe that once the covenant with God is made, it is eternally binding, and God does not need us to repeat it. However, sometimes our hearts need to re-state the baptismal vows. In that case, we have a ritual for the reaffirmation of baptismal vows. This allows us the opportunity to promise ourselves once again to the Lord.
We believe that anyone can be baptized at any time. Traditionally, we baptize babies, because as Jesus said in Mark 10:14, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” More than this, we believe that by baptizing children at the very start of their lives, they experience God’s grace from the beginning and learn to live in faith. However, we recognize that sometimes people aren’t baptized as babies for whatever reason. Anyone can come to us at any time to take part in the ritual.
Different denominations have different ways of practicing baptism; some will sprinkle water over the person, some will pour water gently over the top of the head, and some believe in total submersion. We believe that they are all valid choices and leave it up to the person or their parents or sponsors to decide which is most meaningful for them. For us, the important thing is the baptism itself.
We hold our baptisms during our Sunday services. Because we believe that the entire church is part of a person’s journey in faith, the entire congregation takes part. During the baptismal ceremony, the minister asks the congregation if we will nurture each other in the Christian faith, including the newly baptized. As a congregation, we respond by saying, “With God’s help we will proclaim the good news and live according to the example of Christ. We will surround these persons with a community of love and forgiveness, that they may grow in their trust of God, and be found faithful in their service to others. We will pray for them, that they may be true disciples who walk in the way that leads to life.”
If you are baptized in a United Methodist church, you automatically become a member of the larger church organization as well as the local congregation. Because we are a united church, if you are coming from a Baptist, Presbyterian, or Lutheran church, you may transfer your membership. If you are coming from another denomination and you have already been baptized, you can take a profession of faith and become a member. If you haven’t been baptized, we will make arrangements for that, and you will become a member of our church.
According to Your Baptismal Liturgy, “Confirmation includes three aspects: a) God confirms the divine promise to those who were too young to grasp what God was doing in their baptism, b) they respond by professing their own acceptance of the grace they have received and their own faith in Christ, c) the Church, as represented by this congregation, confirms the commitments they make.”
Even though we only have two Sacraments, Confirmation is an important part of a young congregant’s life. It gives us the opportunity to renew the vows that were taken for us when we were baptized as infants or very young children. Because we don’t expect children to understand the importance of those vows or be able to carry the responsibility of fulfilling them, confirmation gives our youth a chance to develop a more mature relationship with the church. It helps them truly understand what is expected of them as full members of the congregation.
Confirmation classes are offered to our youth (usually aged 12 and up) who feel they are ready and able to commit to being a member of the church. Classes vary from church to church, but often involve learning scripture, community service, and fellowship. Some classes have projects we need to complete, while others may have weekend immersion trips.
After we have successfully gone through the classes, a special service is held in front of the Sunday congregation and we are confirmed as members into the church. We take the vows that our parents or sponsors took for us when we were baptized. Then we kneel, and our ministers and our parents or sponsors all put their hands on our head. Then the minister speaks the same words said over us during our baptism: “The Holy Spirit work within you that having been born through water and the Spirit, you may live as a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.”
After that, we then take the seven vows that all members take. Throughout all of this, the congregation is taking part as well. They join in renewing their own vows and promising to help our newest members lead a life guided by faith. At the end of the service, our young adults are considered full members of the congregation. Many celebrate this rite of passage with a special luncheon or post-church family party.
Confirmation classes are intentionally meant for the youth of our congregations who have already been baptized. For already baptized adults that are joining the church, these classes aren’t mandatory. Although some of our individual churches will offer small group study or orientation sessions to help them feel comfortable in their new settings.
Guided By Faith
In 1791, our founder John Wesley said in a sermon, “The things unknown to feeble sense, Unseen by reason’s glimmering ray, With strong, commanding evidence, Their heavenly origin display. Faith lends its realizing light: The clouds disperse, the shadows fly; The Invisible appears in sight, And GOD is seen by mortal eyes!”
We are guided by our faith and trust in God. The vows we took at our baptism and confirmation are continually renewed as members of the congregation. Our founder intentionally organized early congregations so they could support each other in their faith.
Today, we continue those same basic principles. We support each other within our own congregation and work to support our communities at large. We believe that by supporting and helping our neighbors, we become more like Christ in our thoughts and deeds.
In our baptismal vows, we promise to: “. . . renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin” and we “. . . accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.”
We take these vows very seriously and work within our communities to help right wrongs and help those in need. This has been a longstanding tradition in our church, with early members fighting the slave trade, smuggling, and prisoner abuse. Our Social Principles and Social Creeds guide us in our active engagement with the world.
We believe that we are, each and every one of us, children of God. Even though we all may have diverse cultural traditions, look different, or come from different societies, we are all of God. We believe that families come in all shapes and sizes. We are saddened by divorce but understand that it is often the best decision for all parties. We believe that men and women are equal in God’s eyes, in faith and ability.
Our Social Creed says, “We commit ourselves to the rights of men, women, children, youth, young adults, the aging, and people with disabilities; to the improvement of the quality of life; and to the rights and dignity of all persons. We believe in the right and duty of persons to work for the glory of God and the good of themselves and others and in the protection of their welfare . . . We dedicate ourselves to peace throughout the world, to the rule of justice and law among nations, and to individual freedom for all people of the world.”
We believe that by advocating for change in our world, we grow and deepen our relationship with God. We believe we can and should take stances on important topics that are hurting our fellow human beings. We are currently working within the issues of human rights, economic justice, and women and children, just to name a few.
For example, we are currently working in the areas of domestic violence, human trafficking, reproductive health, and education for women and children around the world. We are also working on criminal justice reform, immigration issues, freedom of religion, and even LGBTQ rights. Because we are all God’s children, and by working to make sure we are all cared for, we are living according to our faith.
Living according to God’s wishes is of the utmost importance to us. We believe that he guides us to take care of each other, as fellow congregants and as people in our larger communities. We regularly renew our vows to the church every time we pledge to support and nurture new members, whether they be babies or adults. Treating each other compassionately helps us be more like Christ and serve God’s will.
If you are interested in learning about other Religions in the world, then check out this book on World’s Religions on Amazon.