Whetting Our Appetite for Baptism Discussion by Anita Roper

As the Affiliates Task Force has looked at church membership, it could not move forward without delving into the topic of baptism, as baptism is the door through which one enters church membership. Of course, many hours of discussion and thought have followed.

Our event on January 27 will feature speakers highlighting various historical and theological perspectives on the Baptist practice of baptism. To further inform our conversation, we thought it would be a helpful tool to review the role baptism in the mainline Christian denominations, both Protestant and Catholic, and in doing so better understand the perspectives of many who seek membership in our church.

At Highland, we practice immersion, dipping under the water, after one has made the choice to follow Christ. Highland follows the long-held Baptist belief that John baptized Jesus by immersion. While Highland does accept other modes of baptism from those transferring membership, our practice in worship is immersion. Baptists do not determine a specific age for one to be baptized, relying on the understanding and faith of the individual believer.

In researching Catholic, Episcopalian, Lutheran, Methodist and Presbyterian traditions, several common themes were present. Each of these tradition accepts differing modes of baptism with water, whether sprinkling, affusion (pouring) or immersion, some allowing candidates or their parents to choose the mode. Each, in turn, believes baptism to be a one-time event in one’s life, with none requiring re-baptism from someone coming from another Christian tradition.

Another commonality within Catholicism, Episcopalian, Lutheran, Methodist and Presbyterian traditions is infant baptism. The Lutheran tradition believes the Bible teaches salvation is received through God’s grace alone in Jesus Christ. Baptism is seen as a miraculous means of grace creating the gift of faith in one’s heart, even the heart of infants. In the Methodist tradition, John Wesley called this “prevenient grace,” God’s grace working in one’s life before he or she is aware of it. The Episcopal tradition believes baptism is the indissoluble bond through which God adopts us to be inheritors of God’s Kingdom. Presbyterian tradition sees baptism not as the moment when it is administered, but as the beginning of life in Christ, with human faithfulness to God needing repeated renewal. Catholicism also practices infant baptism, believing in the need to remove original sin. This tradition also believes in the concept of “household baptism,” referred to in Acts 16:15, Acts 16:33 and I Corinthians 1:16. Other scriptures cited
by these traditions to affirm infant baptism include Mark 10:14, Titus 3:5-6, 2 Timothy 3:15.

Each of these traditions who practice infant baptism has a process of Confirmation, where persons baptized as infants have the opportunity to confess with their own mouths, taking responsibility for their own decisions to perfect their baptism. The Lutheran and Episcopal traditions each stress the importance of sponsors who take responsibility of bringing up the child in the church, to know and follow Christ. All of the traditions stress the importance and promise of congregational nurture for those who cannot yet speak for themselves.

This is some very basic research to spark thought and discussion as Highland continues the discussion of church membership and the definition thereof. Clearly, this is but a thumbnail sketch of Christian traditions regarding baptism. If you wish to do more in depth study, here are a few resources: www.umc.org, www.pcusa.org, www.lcms.org, www.episcopalchurch.org, www.catholicism.about.com. We hope you will join us on January 27, after morning worship, for a time of fellowship and further reflection on membership policies.

For more information about the January 27 event, click here.

~ Anita Roper, Affiliate/Member Task Force