A Family of Faith . . A Family of Friends . . A Family in Christ
Many folks join a church based on how friendly it is or how much they feel at home in it. People choose a church because of the music & worship experiences. A vital aspect of church life to consider is the churchís beliefs. Sacraments are acts ordained by JesusÖ.. The two sacraments we celebrate as United Methodists are the sacrament of communion and the sacrament of baptism.
Communion is the sharing of bread & fruits of grapes as a way of remembering what Christ has done, accepting what He is doing and will do for us in a personal way as our Lord and Savior. The bread & wine represent the body & blood of Jesus as he spoke of them at his Last Supper with the disciples. (Matthew 26:26-30; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:14-23) Communion is a response to Godís invitation to a close personal relationship with him through Jesus Christ. Jesus invites all who repent of their sins, intend to lead a new life, & seek to live in peace & walk in Godís holy ways.
Communion in the UnitedMethodistChurch is celebrated in what we call ďan open table.Ē All who accept His invitation are welcome at the Table of Christ. United Methodist pastors will often say at a communion service that you need not be a member of this church or of any church to participate, you only need accept Jesus. It is an open table in that all who are attending the worship service are invited to participate and receive the love of God in Jesus Christ. Godís love comes to us as an unearned gift; through the sacrament of communion we reconnect with his love for us, accepting it anew for our lives. There are places in our hearts that can only be filled and nourished by God, to reject God and accept less or poor substitutes is one way of defining sin. Communion reminds us of our need & the worldís need for Godís mercy, grace, and love. In the UnitedMethodistChurch, even though they may not fully comprehend its meaning, children are allowed to take communion, for God is at work in their lives and they understand what it means to be a part of fellowship.
The Baptismal Covenant is Godís word to us, proclaiming our adoption by Godís grace, and it is our word to God, promising our response of faith & love. Those who receive this covenant are members of the community & fellowship of the church. During the sacrament, the members of the church promise to support the growth of the faith and love of the person being baptized. We promise to help one another grow as disciples of Jesus Christ. Therefore, baptism in the UnitedMethodistChurch is shared in the public worship service of the church where the personís membership is to be held, except in unusual circumstances. References to baptism in the Bible are found in I Corinthians 12:13 & Galatians 3:27-28.
Because baptism initiates us into Christís whole Church, and not only into a denomination, United Methodists recognize all Christian baptisms and look upon baptism as something that should unite rather than divide Christians. It signifies Godís desire ot wash away our sins, recreate us by water & Spirit, a pouring out of the Holy Spirit, and of our burial & rising with Jesus in the resurrection.
In baptism we look back with gratitude on what Godís grace has accomplished, see & experience the here & now action of Godís grace, as it also looks forward to what Godís grace will accomplish in the future. Baptism is not as much an achievement, and not an ending as it is a beginning and acceptance of a deep, personal relationship with God made possible through Jesus. The covenant of Christian marriage reflects the covenant of baptism. The marriage ceremony is the marking of a new beginning in a committed relationship where people promise to nurture & grow in one anotherís love, to learn about love together. Baptism anticipates a lifetime of further and deeper experiences of Godís further acts of Christina commitment and ministries in the world.
Baptism of Children
Personas of any age are suitable for baptism because Christís body, the Church, is a great family of faith that includes persons of all ages (Acts 2:38-39). The Bible repeatedly records that when a believer was baptized, the believerís whole household was baptized. No where does it suggest or record that any Christian family delayed the baptism of their children until they could make their profession of faith. Jesusí words, ďLet the little children come unto me, do not stop them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.Ē (Mark 10:14b), tells us that our Lord has expressly given to little children a place among the people of God, which must not be denied them. It is vital that children also be instructed and guided in the fellowship of our faith so that they can grow in their understanding and love of God and Godí love in Jesus Christ, until they are of an age of consent.
The scriptures also make it clear that we are not to practice indiscriminate baptism. Those who present the child for baptism are making a promise to nurture the child so that they will come to accept Godís grace for themselves. At least one parent of the child must be a baptized, professing, active member of the church in order for the child to be baptized. In order to make the commitment to God, the child, & the Church, for the childís faith, parents need to have made a commitment to Christ themselves. Baptism is more than a vaccination against evil; it is the beginning of a lifelong pursuit of living in Godís will.
It must be made clear that United Methodism does not teach that infants who die before they are baptized will be denied full salvation. We have always strongly affirmed the biblical teaching that Christ died for all, and that Godís prevenient grace, grace that comes to us before we are even aware of it, is available to all and is sufficient for such children.
During the service we all recommit ourselves to God in Jesus Christ, and remember the grace of our baptisms. Remembering our baptisms can save our lives, as it reminds us of Godís love for us, a love that is more than we can imagine, a love that can guide and keep our ways in life.