This upcoming Sunday, January 10, is known on the church calendar as "Baptism of Our Lord" Sunday. It's a Sunday in which we remember when Jesus was baptised by John the Baptist and began his public ministry.
I can't think of any topic in the Christian faith that has caused more divisions in Christendom than the theology of baptism. With that being said, here are some thoughts on the meaning of baptism from my United Methodist/sacramental perspective.
- Baptism is the initiation of a person into a covenant relationship with Jesus Christ and a particular church family. Baptism is a communal event reminding us that our faith journey is meant to be lived within the community of faith (a local church) rather than in isolation.
- Baptism is primarily about what God has done for us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Because baptism is more about what God has done and is doing in our lives and less about what we have done or are doing, the age of the person being baptized becomes irrelevant.
- OK. Let me qualify the above point. Since baptism is primarily about what God has done, and less about what we have done, infants and young children are invited to receive baptism, provided that a parent or guardian is willing to affirm Christian vows on behalf of the baby or young child being baptized. If baptism is about an initiation into a covenant relationship with Jesus Christ (see point #1) then a baby or young child will need to rely on a parent or guardian who is living out the Christian faith.
- For people who are against infant baptism because they believe each person should be able to decide to become a Christian or not, here are a couple of thoughts on this. 1) As the baby grows with the support of a Christian parent or guardian and the support of a local church, the hope is that this child will one day profess the Christian faith for himself/herself. 2) Since we live in a highly individualistic culture and the Bible comes out of a highly communal oriented culture, infant baptism makes sense only when we place a high emphasis on the role of the community when it comes to baptism.
- Since baptism is primarily about what God has done and is doing, we believe a person only needs to be baptized once, even if that person was baptized as an infant, or if a person has fallen away from the faith (short of publicly denouncing his/her faith.) If a person would be baptized again, it is like saying that God wasn't faithful in the baptismal covenant. It's not whether or not God has been faithful. It's on whether or not we have been faithful.
- There are many ways to renew our baptismal covenant without being baptized again. 1) For young people, confirmation is a wonderful process for a young person to reaffirm his or her baptism by reflecting on the meaning of the Christian faith and professing membership vows. 2) Every time we receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion, we celebrate what God has done for us in Jesus Christ and offer ourselves in joyful obedience to continue to live out our faith. 3) Every time the church offers baptism in worship, the congregation has an opportunity to renew their baptismal vows. "With you, we renew our vows..." we say from our ritual. 4) Participate in a baptism renewal service which we will be offering this Sunday for "Baptism of our Lord Sunday."
- Since Jesus was baptized, the question is often asked why this was necessary since Jesus was sinless. While it's true that Jesus didn't need cleansing from sins as we do, baptism isn't only about the cleansing of sins, it's also about responding to God's covenant faithfulness and responding in joyful obedience. Jesus' baptism marks the beginning of his public ministry in which he would faithfully live out his mission of being the Savior of the world.
Ah! So much more to say but that's enough for now. Have a blessed "Baptism of Our Lord" Sunday!