“Remember your baptism and be thankful”

July 29, 2011

Bishop Watson led us in reaffirming our baptism at the Jordan River in February

Scot McKnight, an Anabaptist writer and thinker, is writing about baptism over on his blog. Anabaptists (think Mennonite and Amish, for example) practice believer’s baptism. During the Protestant Reformation, Catholics and Protestants, who could agree on seemingly little else, too often agreed with one another that Anabaptists should be killed as heretics—in part for re-baptizing adult Christians who were baptized as infants.

McKnight is reviewing a book on Anabaptist theology, and he wonders if there isn’t a movement within traditions that practice infant baptism (like our own Methodist tradition) to reconsider the wisdom of the practice. In the comments section of that post, I wrote the following:

United Methodist pastor here… In my tradition, there is little room for “revisiting the question” of baptism. Infant baptism is not some merely acceptable but less desirable option. As clergy, we counsel and encourage parents to have their infants baptized, even when parents would choose to wait. Of course, some parents still hold out, in which case their children are normally baptized at confirmation. (For believers’ baptism, we are indifferent as to mode.)

I’m not complaining. I happen to agree with our church’s understanding of the sacrament. And I can’t imagine that Catholics, for example, are less strident on the issue, right?

Regardless, one recent development in my denomination—which may in part be a response to living in our post-Christian age—is an emphasis on the reaffirmation of baptism liturgy. We must continually affirm the promises we made (or are made on our behalf) at baptism, and this liturgy gives us the opportunity to do that. If you haven’t seen the liturgy, it looks and sounds a lot like the baptism liturgy. Instead of re-baptizing, however, we use the water in other symbolic ways and say, “Remember your baptism and be thankful.”

I often counsel with people who want to be re-baptized, especially after a powerful experience of spiritual growth. They want to acknowledge publicly what has happened in their hearts. I believe strongly that reaffirmation of baptism is a beautiful way of accomplishing that, and we pastors should regularly make it available to people.

5 Responses to ““Remember your baptism and be thankful””

  1. Tom Harkins Says:

    Brent, as a Baptist, understandably I believe baptism is intended as a symbol and affirmation that one has crossed “from death unto life.” “Believe and be baptized,” Peter preached. The Ethiopian enuch asked, “What hinders me from being baptized?” I don’t know of New Testament passages where baptism of infants is taught. However, fortunately, Baptists also do not believe that baptism is essential to salvation, but a “step of obedience” which God calls for as “identification” of oneself as a believer. Consequently, even though I feel strongly that I am correct on the point, it is clearly not a matter to break fellowship over. At the least, though, certainly I don’t think anyone should be discouraged from being “baptized again” upon a profession of faith.

    • brentwhite Says:

      Tom, I grew up Baptist and was baptized by immersion at age 14—so I’m saved, at least. 😉 I understand the arguments and counterarguments. Oddly enough, I would lose my credentials as an ordained elder if I re-baptized someone. It’s that serious! It’s exactly as serious as marrying gay people in our Book of Discipline. (I’m not kidding!)

      My main point is that our reaffirmation liturgy fulfills the pastoral need that re-baptism in the Baptist tradition might otherwise fulfill.

  2. Tom Harkins Says:

    I am very sorry to hear about the “ban” of “believer’s baptism.” Didn’t know it was that “serious.” Well, if you do ever feel so compelled, I’m sure us Baptists would “welcome you back home!”

    • brentwhite Says:

      That’s not quite right… It’s not believers’ baptism that’s banned, but believers’ re-baptism. If a believer has never been baptized, then we happily baptize them—and I agree with Baptists that baptism by immersion is a fitting symbol of what baptism represents. We can do that, too.

      Methodists simply understand baptism differently. This is why it’s a sacrament in our tradition versus an ordinance (something you do because the Lord commanded it) in yours. I’m not asking you to agree with our interpretation, but this might help you understand it better: Baptism is not something that a person does or has done to them so much as something that God does through baptism. What God does, God does in eternity, once and for all. It’s not a time-bound action, so in this sense it doesn’t really matter when it’s done. It also doesn’t need to be done again, because God wouldn’t have done it incorrectly the first time around.

      Moreover, infant baptism, among other things, symbolizes our utter helplessness before God. We can do nothing to earn God’s gift of saving grace. We bring nothing to the table. It’s completely God’s unmerited gift.

      Like you, we Methodists completely reject the idea that baptism alone saves a person. John Wesley spoke contemptuously of English people’s “pride” in their baptism—as if baptism alone meant you were saved. But, as with most of the universal church, he never rejected infant baptism.

      Our tradition says that while baptism is by no means sufficient for salvation, it’s not nothing. It is part of the process of salvation—the ordinary means by which we are incorporated by the Holy Spirit into God’s family, and the means by which our lives are connected to Christ’s life (and death), as in Romans 6:3-4 (or thereabouts).

  3. Tom Harkins Says:

    This is very educational, Brent. Thanks.

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