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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Hebrews 6:1-3 and Deepening Faith and Growing in Christ

Have you ever met someone who was a Christian, or at least claimed to be one, and never really changed? They never grew in their faith. They never seemed to have more love of God or neighbor in their hearts. And they always seem to talk about the same subjects when it comes to religion?

This is not what Christianity is supposed to be about. Christianity is about being recreated in the image and likeness of Jesus Christ one step at a time. It is about changing from the inside out, through the power of God, into the person we know we ought to be. It is about allowing God to live in us so that his love can be shed abroad in our lives and the world around us.

Interestingly, the Bible knows it can be difficult for people to get past the initial stages of the faith and grow in Christ. Hebrews encourages Christians:

So let’s press on to maturity, by moving on from the basics about Christ’s word. Let’s not lay a foundation of turning away from dead works, of faith in God, of teaching about ritual ways to wash with water, laying on of hands, the resurrection from the dead, and eternal judgment—all over again. We’re going to press on, if God allows it.

Faith. Not trying to earn our salvation. Arguments over baptism. Arguments over ordination. What the resurrection is. The end of the world. This is like a laundry list of topics most churches and denominations argue over and discuss. Frequently. As a matter of fact, if the majority of Christians stopped preaching, teaching, and discussing these topics, I do believe most pastors would be silent and most congregations could hear a pin drop in them.

Perhaps the reason we do not have so many more people living out the Christian faith in such obvious ways as to be considered salt of the earth people or living saints is because they are not moving past the basics about Christ’s word. Perhaps if we spent more time trying to grow deeper in our faith and less time talking or arguing about these topics, we would see more changed lives. Perhaps if we tried to seriously become disciples of Jesus and less time trying to prove why other groups of Christians are wrong, we would see the Kingdom of God come with power.

Just a thought.

1 Corinthians 10:1-6 and Baptizing Babies

2706514_f260I love babies.  And I love baptizing babies.  I have lived in a few places in the country where that idea was in the minority.  There are traditions within the Church that believe (pun intended) that only believers ought to be baptized, only people who can make a personal profession of faith and accept the gift of salvation that Jesus offers.

Interestingly enough, most people who adhere to believer-only baptism criticize Churches that baptize babies for the idea that the baby is now saved.  “Baptism is not what saves.  Faith saves.”  Why this is interesting is that, by not allowing babies to be baptized, believer-only practitioners show they really have the same understanding of baptism that they criticize.  Only those who are saved get baptized.

Let’s move the conversation in a different direction.  Look at what Paul writes in 1 Corinthians:

Brothers and sisters, I want you to be sure of the fact that our ancestors were all under the cloud and they all went through the sea.  All were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.  All ate the same spiritual food,  and all drank the same spiritual drink. They drank from a spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ.  However, God was unhappy with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness.  These things were examples for us, so we won’t crave evil things like they did.

God came to the Israelites in Egypt and offered them grace–he did not give the Law until they were at Mt. Sinai.  In this grace-filled state, all the Israelites passed through the waters of deliverance.  Once they passed through these waters, they all had a spiritual meal and drink.

Paul uses this reality to show that baptism is about being delivered by grace into a covenant relationship with God.  Salvation is not “get immediately into heaven,” but rather “live in a covenanted relationship with God.”  And there is the different between the two understandings of baptism.

One group thinks that if you are baptized you are saved, whether the baptism did the saving or it is merely a sign of the salvation–and that salvation means you get to go to heaven when you die.  The other group thinks that if you are baptized you are now a part of the covenant people of God–and it is up to you to faithfully live within that covenant.

Most of the Israelites who passed through the waters of deliverance dropped dead in the wilderness because they failed to keep the covenant.  Not everyone who is baptized will keep the covenantal faith and stay in relationship with God.  Does that mean we should not baptize?  Absolutely not!  God bestows his grace upon us through the faithful response we make to his leading in our lives by the sacrament of baptism.  But what we do with that grace is up to us.

But what about babies?  The Bible only knows two classes of people: those who are a part of the covenant people of God and those who are not.  There is no third category of “heathen children of believers.”  Just as the Church is the natural growth of Israel (see Romans 11), so too baptism is the natural transformation of circumcision.  Jewish boys did not have a choice in their circumcision, in whether or not they would be a part of the covenant people.  They did have a choice of whether or not they would be faithful to that covenant.  As everything in the Old Testament prepared the way for the New Testament, baptism takes the place of circumcision (and now both boys and girls can experience it because in Christ there is no male or female!).

It will still be up to those baptized children whether or not they will be faithful to the covenant God has made with them.

John 19:34 and New Creation

angelicoThere is a strong tradition within the Church that Jesus is a new Adam (see 1 Corinthians for an obvious example of this) and with the new Adam comes a new creation.  Let’s connect a few dots here with regards to something John wrote in his Gospel.

However, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out.

This is what happens once the soldiers decide to make sure Jesus is really dead on the cross.  Now, let’s look back at Genesis and the story of creation.

 So the Lord God put the human into a deep and heavy sleep, and took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh over it. With the rib taken from the human, the Lord God fashioned a woman and brought her to the human being (Genesis 2:21-22).

Jesus called death “sleep” when he was speaking to his disciples concerning the death of Lazarus.  And the Church is the Bride of Christ (seen in Paul’s writings and Revelation).

The two things that help mark out Christians from the rest of the world are the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  Each of these are ways in which God gives people his grace and presence in their lives.  They are means by182-3 which God moves us from grace to grace and glory to glory as we become more and more like Christ.  It is the waters of baptism that confirm our relationship in Christ and his Church and the blood of Holy Communion that gives us our spiritual strength for the journey with Christ.

So, Adam fell into a deep sleep, something was taken from his side, and his wife was created (Eve).

Christ fell into a deep sleep (of death), something was taken from his side, and his wife was created (the Church).

I love the way God has guided the writers of the books of the Bible to tell one grand narrative!

Zombies and Sin

I got in my car this morning to head out for a meeting, and when I went to plug my phone into its charger, I noticed the charger was gone.  Not only that, but our iPod was gone as well.  We usually are pretty good about locking our car doors (even in rural America), but I guess we missed one time.  The really sad thing about this is that there are not many good radio stations near us (did I mention we are in rural America?), so the only way we listened to music in the car was with the iPod, which is now God-knows where.

As I was thinking about this on my car ride to my meeting, I began to think about the string of petty larcenies that seem to happen in many small towns that have meth problems.  When people become addicted to drugs, especially meth, they will do anything to get the money for another high.  They become completely taken over by the need to fill such a base desire and all other rational thought goes out the window.  It’s like they become zombies.image-2

Then I began to think even more on this.  All sin, whether it is addiction to drugs, money, sex, anger, gossip, gluttony, creates zombies out of humans.  When we are consumed by sin, it is as if we exist to feed the sin, and we will do whatever we can to feed that desire and appetite.

So this made me think even more.  (Now I ought to offer a disclaimer here: I do not watch zombie movies or tv shows.  I don’t like being scared and I certainly do not ever want to pay money so that I can be scared.)  In most zombie stories there is something that happens (virus or the like) that either turns ordinary people into crazed monsters or allows people who have died to “reanimate” into crazed monsters.  All the while normal people have to fight to stay alive (cue the Bee Gees) and not succumb to the zombies.

While this is obviously fiction, if you reverse the main roles in the story, it becomes quite real.  All humans are infected with sin.  It is only those who “die” and are “brought back to life” in Christ that are delivered from that infection.

The real zombie apocalypse is not the destruction of our society and our way of life.  Reality is even more frightening.  The real zombie apocalypse is that, apart from Christ, our society and way of life is already zombies.

My Favorite Religious Joke

This has to be my absolute favorite religious joke.

The local Baptist minister and Methodist minister get together each week to pray together for their town and banter with each other in a good natured way.  On this particular occasion, the Baptist brings up his favorite subject: baptism.

Baptist: I still just don’t understand how you can think that a little water sprinkled on the top of a head qualifies for a valid baptism.  Everyone knows you have to go all the way under the water and up again to really be baptized.

Methodist: So, what you’re telling me is that if I go in the water up to my knees that isn’t a valid baptism?

B: No, that’s not a valid baptism.  You have to go all the way under.

M: So, if I go in up to my waist that doesn’t count?

B: No!  You have to go all the way in.

M: So if I go up to my chest…

B: What part of this are you not understanding?

M: So if I go up to my chin…

B: All the way in.  All the way down under the water.

M: So if the water goes up to my eyes…

B: NO! THAT IS NOT A VALID BAPTISM!

M: That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you all along.  It’s that little bit of water on the top of the head that makes all the difference in the world!