In the Methodist Church, we believe in one baptism, as stated in the Nicene Creed. There has been a lot of controversy over the years about when a person should be baptized. For Wesley, it did not matter when a person was baptized but that they were baptized. Even more so, it was what happened in their life after their baptism. Baptism symbolizes regeneration, which comes after initial sanctification, or, the new birth. Our Christian journey does not stop at New Birth, just as a child’s development does not stop at his or her birth. Baptism symbolizes the beginning of a life of dedication to God and Christian perfection.
Baptism is a symbol of how little we do and how much God does. We do nothing for our salvation. We cannot have enough faith, cannot be good enough, cannot be righteous enough, and cannot be selfless enough to be saved. In baptism, we are accepting that God gives us our salvation just because he loves us and not because we have done anything to deserve it or earn it.
Profess and Believe
Romans tells us that all we must be saved is to believe and declare it to someone or a group of people. This is part of what is done at baptism. We give people an opportunity to tell the world that they believe in Christ Jesus and saving power in their life. We ask them to profess Jesus as Lord. It is a moment to accept that we are powerless over our lives but that God is all powerful.
Baptism Doesn’t Remove Sin
Some Christian denominations believe baptism is required to remove sin, but as Methodists and Wesleyan’s, we don’t believe this. Christ was without sin in his life. He met John, his cousin, at the river to be baptized to start his ministry on earth. It was a way to tell the world that he was dedicating his life to God. Jesus told John that it's as necessary for him to be baptized. This proves the importance of baptism, but also that Christ’s baptism was about his relationship with God, not the removal of sin. The blood of Christ shed on the cross, is what removes sin from our lives.
Baptism vs. Christening
Methodists baptize babies; we do not christen them or dedicate them. This is the only baptism that a child will ever need. It is the ultimate symbol of how little control we have over our lives. When a child is baptized, the parents promise to raise that child according to God’s will until that child is old enough to decide for themselves if they will embrace the Christian life. At that point, the child will make a public profession of their own and take ownership of the vows their parents made on their behalf.
Confirmation vs. affirmation
In the Methodist tradition, we confirm students, usually when they are in the 6th grade. This is a time when students go through a series of classes, either of the course of weeks/months or in a retreat format. The peruse of confirmation is to teach these students what it means to be Christian, and ask them if they want to profess their faith in Jesus Christ. The teenage years are a formative time for students. It is essential for them to understand why their parents are Christians and if they want to continue in that path.
Affirming one’s faith is part of the confirmation process, but a person does not have to go through confirmation to affirm the faith. In the Methodist tradition, we do not do confirmation for adults. Some traditions do, but it has not been standard for us. We do however make it freely open for anyone to affirm their faith in Jesus Christ at any time. Every time a person joins a Methodist congregation, they are asked to affirm his or her faith. There is nothing to prevent a person from coming before the church and sharing with others that they want to profess that Christ is their Lord.
Baptism is a symbol of what God does for us, not what we do. God never makes mistakes and never needs a do-over. God's actions in a person's baptism is everlasting, even if a person falls away. There are times when a person may feel like they have wandered from God, and they want to make a new public profession of faith. In this case, we do what’s called a remembrance of baptism, which includes water. In this, we use the words, “Remember your baptism and be grateful,” which reminds us that God never changes and his promises are always a part of our life.
Baptize in the Name of…
Christ told us to baptize others. There are only two things he commanded us to do, to baptize and to repeat communion at the Last Supper. When he instructions his disciples to go, share the Gospel with everyone, and baptized, he said that it should be done "in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” This is how we baptize, as Christ instructed us to do.