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This pamphlet is for adults coming for baptism in the United Methodist Church. It is hoped that this guide will help you to prayerfully prepare to receive the sacrament of Baptism
Baptism has its roots in the Old Testament, where water was used for ritual cleansings, both in the home and in the temple. Water symbolized the washing away of sin. In Old Testament times, these kinds of ritual water cleansings were repeated over and over.
John the Baptist began to “baptize” people by immersing them in the waters of the River Jordan. This baptism symbolized the cleansing of the whole person from sin as a part of a spiritual movement of repentance. To “repent” means to “turn around”—to turn from sin and to turn towards God, receiving God’s forgiving and renewing love.
Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" But Jesus answered him, "Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, he went up immediately from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on him; and lo, a voice from heaven, saying, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."
Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist at the start of his public ministry. Although Jesus did not need any cleansing from sin, he asked John to baptize him, because in this way he identified himself with our human condition and gave us an example of how we need to be baptized. We are told that at the baptism of Jesus “the Spirit of God came descending like a dove” upon him, and God said, “This is my beloved Son.” Baptism has henceforth been a symbol of how God pours His Spirit upon us, and how God through Christ claims us as His children.
Jesus after Easter said to his disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19) We baptize in direct response to Jesus’ words.
To be baptized “in the name of” means to be baptized “under the power of” or “under the authority of” or “in devotion to.” In baptism we take on “the name” of God the Father, Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit—we become part of the family of God, we take on the fullness of God’s saving activity on our behalf, and we place ourselves under the reign of God.
And Peter said to them, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him." And he testified with many other words and exhorted them, saying, "Save yourselves from this crooked generation." So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.
As soon as people began to come to faith in response to the apostles’ preaching, they were baptized. Baptism was and continues to be initiation into the Christian life and into the church.
Note in the passage in Acts 2 that people were baptized following repentance. To repent in response to the gospel is to turn from sin and turn towards Christ, accepting Christ as Savior, receiving the forgiveness and everlasting love that Christ offers us, and stepping forward to follow Christ into new life.
Note how the Acts 2 passage explicitly talks about baptism representing forgiveness of sins (the washing away of our sin) and receiving the Holy Spirit (the Holy Spirit is God present and working within us).
The baptism of John the Baptist was by immersion in a river. The New Testament does not tell us how people were baptized as the church grew, but we know from early church records that the question soon arose as to how much water must be used for baptism. This was a critical issue in an arid land. Did persons desiring baptism need to run to the nearest river, pond, or pool? The church ultimately decided on the minimum amount of water required for baptism—three drops (one each for the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit).
Today in the United Methodist Church, we believe that the amount of water in baptism is not important; the Spirit of God is at work no matter how many drops we use! We can baptize using any of three different methods:
vSprinkling—A few drops of water are placed on the head of the person being baptized. This is the form we most commonly practice; it has been a form of baptism since ancient times.
vPouring—Water is poured from a pitcher over the head of the person being baptized.
vImmersion—The person is completely immersed in a pool or other body of water.
Each method could be seen to symbolize different aspects of the meaning of baptism. The sprinkling reminds us of the cleansing of God’s forgiveness, the pouring reminds us of how God pours His Holy Spirit into us, and immersion reminds us of how our “old self” is buried and we arise through Christ into new life. But no matter which method we use, baptism means all these things.
Baptism in the United Methodist Church is always a public act in a service of worship. We never do “private baptism” (except in cases of impending death), because baptism is an act of the whole church and is initiation into the community of faith. Adult baptism is generally celebrated in conjunction with joining the church as a part of a membership class. The service includes an opportunity for the whole congregation to renew their vows of baptism.
The person being baptized is always asked to make a public profession of Christian faith (usually this is done along with other members of a New Member Class). You are asked if you repent of your sin, if you believe in God, if you accept Jesus Christ as your Savior, if you accept the truth of the Scriptures, and if you promise by God’s grace to lead a Christian life.
“The person who believes and is baptized shall be saved.” (Mark 16:16) In professing your faith and being baptized, you are taking hold of salvation in Jesus Christ.
The Baptism service in which you will be taking part is called a “baptismal covenant service.” The Bible speaks throughout its pages about God’s covenant with us. A covenant involves two parties making a mutual commitment to one another (the marriage covenant being the most common human example). In the Biblical story, God makes an everlasting commitment to us, and we are invited to respond to God.
Baptism symbolizes both sides of this divine/human covenant.
On God’s side, baptism represents:
Øthat God forgives us, cleansing us of sin
Øthat God renews us, filling with His Spirit
Øthat God bestows on the gift of everlasting life (water being a fundamental symbol of life)
On the human side, baptism represents:
Øthat we come to God in repentance, ready to receive God’s grace (God’s freely given love)
Øthat we profess our faith and our commitment to God
Øthat we enter into the church, the community of believers
You are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for as many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
As you prepare to come for baptism, you connect with Christians through the centuries who have responded in faith to the good news of Jesus Christ. God’s Spirit will be at work in your baptism, for God stands ready to place upon you the forgiveness, blessing, and love that Christ has brought to the world, and to claim you forever as a child of God.
The church also stands ready to affirm you, and to receive you as a full, baptized member.
Baptism, of course, is a beginning. You are embarking into a spiritually abundant life as a disciple of Jesus Christ, committing yourself to grow in Christ and to share in how Christ is at work in the world. God’s Spirit will be with you to guide your steps; and you can rejoice that you now are journeying through life as a part of God’s people, sharing in God’s blessing, and traveling by the grace of Christ towards the everlasting promises of God.
Almighty and everlasting God, we pray for the blessing of your grace upon names. Grant that in coming for holy baptism, they may receive forgiveness for their sin, and be filled with the Holy Spirit. Receive them, O Lord, in your mercy, and grant that they may be faithful to you all the days of their lives, and finally come into the eternal kingdom which you have promised, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.