Article XXIII-The Church-Baptism

Continuing on the series of the Free Methodist Church’s Articles of Religion (see here and here for an explanation of the series and format):

¶124 The Church–Baptism

Water baptism is a sacrament of the church, commanded by our Lord, signifying acceptance of the benefits of the atonement of Jesus Christ to be administered to believers as declaration of their faith in Jesus Christ as Savior.

Baptism is a symbol of the new covenant of grace as circumcision was the symbol of the old covenant; and, since infants are recognized as being included in the atonement, they may be baptized upon the request of parents or guardians who shall give assurance for them of necessary Christian training. They shall be required to affirm the vow for themselves before being accepted into church membership.

¶131 Scriptural References

The doctrines of the Free Methodist Church are based upon the Holy Scriptures and are derived from their total biblical context. The references below are appropriate passages related to the given articles. They are listed in their biblical sequence and are not intended to be exhaustive. John 3:5; Acts 2:38, 41; 8:12-17; 9:18; 16:33; 18:8; 19:5; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:27-29; Colossians 2:11-12; Titus 3:5.

If you want to get into some heated discussions with church people, bring up the topic of baptism. There are so many different understandings of what actually happens in the sacrament (or even whether it is a sacrament) that even usually docile people become irate.

The Free Methodist Church affirms and expects older people who become believers in Jesus Christ to be baptized. If a Church exists in communities where people are not yet Christian, and that Church is actually doing what it is commanded by Jesus Christ of spreading the Good News and introducing people to him, there ought to be adult converts. Therefore, there ought to be new believers getting baptized.

The Free Methodist Church affirms and expects Christian families to bring their children to be baptized as well. There are three main reasons for this belief. First, we stand in the main stream of the history of the Church for the past 2000 years in that we affirm and practice infant baptism. That is a position with a strong historical precedent. The Church in the most places in the most time touching the most Christian lives around the globe for the last 2000 years has baptized infants, and we remain faithful to that practice.

Yet we also know that just because something is ancient in its practice does not necessarily make it right. Therefore, second, we affirm that the world is made up of only two kinds of people: those in the Kingdom of God and those outside of the Kingdom of God. There is not a third category of “children of those in the Kingdom who are waiting their turn.”

Finally, we affirm and practice infant baptism for theological and biblical reasons. If all have sinned in Adam, that includes infants. Psychology teaches an age of accountability for our actions, but the Bible is clear that all have sinned. As well, entire households were baptized in Acts, and even Paul baptized the entire household of Stephanus in Corinth. And if baptism is truly the mark of the new covenant just as circumcision was of the old covenant (as referenced by the Colossians passage above), then there ought to be no reason to keep children out of the covenant since the same God instituted both covenants, and he is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Theologically, we believe that God is the primary mover in all of our relationships. God’s presence and grace go before us and we react and respond to it. Baptism of infants is our liturgical and ecclesiological way of showing our belief that God is the primary mover in our salvation. God’s grace is already being poured out on us, even in infancy.

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3 thoughts on “Article XXIII-The Church-Baptism

    • Here is your comment, so it is on the correct post:

      It is interesting that the theological rationale given in support of baptizing infants is basically the same as the Reformed position. In the Reformed church that I grew up in, our liturgy spoke of baptism being a “sign and seal of God’s eternal covenant of grace” with us, and that just as infant Hebrew boys were circumcised before they believed, so infants of Christian parents may be baptized as a sign of the covenant. It is also interesting that this rationale in the Articles was not present in the original Articles of 1860. It was added, I think, in the 70’s.

      In the FM churches I have served, I was the first pastor they ever had who baptized a baby. Some congregants were upset about it, some were just confused, and some didn’t care. Many kept speaking of the baptism as a “dedication” no matter how often I made it clear that it was more than that – a baptism. The response often was, “Well, okay. But she will have to get a real baptism later, you know, when she is old enough to choose.” And that is what many of our FM pastors do if they are pressed hard to baptize a baby – they tell the parents that later the child will need to be baptized again ( “You know, for real.”)

      The whole issue of re-baptism in the FMC church baffles me. I found records in the Marston Historical Center indicating that the Bishops and General Conference had given the okay to re-baptism of people who had left Catholicism for the FMC. Apparently some of these converts were concerned that their baptism in the Catholic church was not genuine or satisfactory somehow. But it took maybe five minutes for others who had been baptized a children, but not in the Catholic Church, to jump in and request their own re-baptism. Ugh. Now it is rampant in the FMC. We need a statement against re-baptism like many churches have.

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      • I think you are absolutely right, Russ. Too many FMs don’t understand the concept of infant baptism, and we most certainly need a statement against re-baptism. Really, I think we need to take a hard look at our sacramental theology and see if we a) proclaim what we believe and b) believe what we actually proclaim.

        I have always thought, perhaps a showing a little naivete, that if churches spent more time focusing on what they believe about God, the Church, and how they interact with each other, many of the social issues we debate would be solved through the guiding of the Holy Spirit in the discussions. We can’t talk about the world and issues in it until we have a firm grip on who God is, who we as the Church are, and how God is at work in our lives. Then we can see how God is using us (or at least would want to use us) to work in the world.

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