Frequently Asked Questions About Baptism (2/2)

July 10, 2017

 

Does The United Methodist Church accept the baptism of other denominations?


Yes, The United Methodist Church recognizes the baptism of other Christian denominations. We do not rebaptize those who have already received Christian baptism in any form.

 

The Book of Discipline says, "A member in good standing in any Christian denomination who has been baptized and who desires to unite with The United Methodist Church shall be received as either a baptized or a professing member. Such a person may be received as a baptized member by a proper certificate of transfer from that person’s former church or some certification of Christian baptism and as a professing member upon taking vows declaring the Christian faith through appropriate services of the baptismal covenant in our ritual (see ¶¶ 214-217). In baptism water is administered in the name of the triune God by an authorized person. The pastor will report to the sending church the date of reception of such a member. It is recommended that instruction in the faith, work, and polity of the Church be provided for all such persons. Persons received from churches that do not issue certificates of transfer or letters of recommendation shall be listed as “Received From Other Denominations.”

 

(From The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church - 2016 Copyright © 2016 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Used by permission.)

 

How do I become a member of a United Methodist church?
 
If you have never been baptized, you will prepare for baptism.

 

If you were baptized as an infant or young child and have not made a profession of faith and been confirmed, then you will prepare to reaffirm your baptism when you take the membership vows.

 

If you are a member of another part of the church (such as Baptist, Presbyterian or Lutheran), then you can transfer your membership from that church to a local United Methodist Church.

 

If you are a member of another Christian church that does not transfer membership, you can make a profession of faith and be received as a member.

 

Talk with a United Methodist pastor about becoming a member of The United Methodist Church.The pastorwill be able to answer your questions and help you discern what next steps to take.

 

Does baptism make me a member of the church?
 
Yes, baptism is the act of initiation and incorporation into the universal church of Jesus Christ, The United Methodist Church, and the local congregation, as our ritual makes very clear.

 

How should water be used when baptism is being reaffirmed?
 
Baptismal Covenant IV in The United Methodist Hymnal is a powerful ritual of reaffirmation which uses water in ways that remind us of our baptism.

The Baptismal Covenant is explicit about water being used "in ways that cannot be interpreted as baptism" as the pastor says: "Remember your baptism and be thankful."


(From The United Methodist Hymnal. Copyright © 1989 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Used by permission.)

 

Let me suggest two ways to fulfill this requirement of the Baptismal Covenant that will both enrich our current practice of baptism and help reaffirmation be clearly differentiated ritually from baptism.

 

There is an emerging ecumenical consensus based on early Christian practice that baptism should normally be administered with flowing water in some form-whether in an immersion pool or by pouring over a font, and that practices using only small amounts of water (droplets via sprinkling) should be discouraged. So one way to make the distinction is to use large amounts of water in baptism and perhaps significantly less in rites of reaffirmation.

 

A second way is to be clear about who is using and administering water in which ritual. In baptism, the presiding pastor both blesses and administers the water upon those being baptized. This is because baptism is a gift from God that we can only receive, not take for ourselves. In reaffirmation, the pastor still offers the prayer over the water, but those making reaffirmation may be invited to "come to the waters" of the font to use them in ways that may be meaningful for them. For some this may be dipping their hand in the water and making the sign of the cross on their own foreheads, while for others it may be scooping out a relatively larger amount of water to place or pour over their own heads. People may choose different ways to embody their thankful remembrance of their baptism. And that's the point. While baptism is a gift of God through the church (and so through the hands of the presiding pastor), reaffirmation is a thankful response by the individual who makes it.

 

Rev. Taylor Burton-Edwards
Director of Worship Resources
General Board of Discipleship

 

Where can I find a record of my baptism?
 
United Methodist records of baptism are kept by the local church (as long as the congregation exists).

 

If you know the name and location of the church where you were baptized, you can use the Find-A-Church website to obtain contact information. If you need assistance locating or identifying the church, contact InfoServ.

 

If the congregation ceases to exist, its records are transferred to the annual (regional) conference archives. The General Commission on Archives and History provides an online directory of local and regional archives.

 

May I or my child be Christened instead of baptized?
 
"Christening" is an historical term that referred to the giving of a "Christian" name at the time of baptism, whether that person was an infant or an adult. The Christian name would become the person's new first name, a sign that this person is now a new creature in Jesus Christ by water and the Spirit. Christening was thus part of baptism itself and not a separate or different rite.

 

May we have our baby dedicated instead of baptized?
 
No. The theological understandings of the two services are very different. Dedication is a human act - something we pledge or give to God. Baptism is a divine act, a pledge and gift God gives to us. Baptism of infants includes the reaffirmation of the vows of the baptismal covenant by parents, sponsors, and the congregation; but chiefly it celebrates what God is doing and will do in the life of the infant.

 

Isn’t it better to wait until children can decide for themselves whether or not to be baptized?
 
No. We no more wait for our children to decide about being in the family of God than we wait for them to decide if they would like to be a part of our human family. As parents, we make many decisions - in matters of health, safety, education, for example - for our children. Of course, they may later reject what we have done for them. But, this possibility does not relieve us of the responsibility to do all that we can for them spiritually, as we do in other aspects of their lives.

 

Do I have to choose godparents when I have my child baptized?

 

Parents may choose a person or persons to serve as a godparent. However, godparents are not required in The United Methodist Church.

The United Methodist Book of Discipline uses the term "godparent" along with the word "sponsor" and does so because in different regions and different churches one or the other of the terms is familiar and comfortable. Both derive from the ancient practice of the church of a mature, reliable Christian serving as a mentor and encourager of persons coming into the Christian life in baptism, whether adult or child. In all infant baptisms, the parents or other family member serve as the primary sponsor, and in many churches another Christian or two are named as "godparents" - sponsors and encouragers for the child. In the case of adults, the sponsor walks with the person on a journey of conversion, until the day they are baptized - perhaps weeks or months after having learned and experienced the way Christians live and think. When it is a child or infant, the sponsor/godparent and the parents walk with the child on a journey of conversion until they claim the way of Christ as his or her own at confirmation or some other profession of faith.

 

Rev. Dan Benedict
Center for Worship Resourcing
General Board of Discipleship

 

Can I choose a person who is not a Christian as my child’s godparent?
 
A parent may choose to honor someone by asking him or her to be a child's godparent, but our Discipline clearly understands and calls godparents to be people of genuine faith and determination who exercise a ministry of seeing that Christ is formed in the child. (See Godparents: A Ministry of Love & Disciple Making)

 

Paragraph 226 of our Book of Discipline says,

At least one parent or guardian shall be a member of a Christian church; or sponsor(s) or godparent(s) who are members shall renew their own baptismal vows. They shall be admonished of this obligation and be earnestly exhorted to faithfulness therein. At the time of baptism they shall be informed that the Church, with its Christian education program, will aid them in the Christian nurture of their children.


(From The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church - 2016. Copyright © 2016 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Used by permission.)

 

However, our Jewish brothers and sisters are people of the covenant and can have much to offer in sharing their faith and practices of Judaism. I suggest that friends of other faiths be a faith friend/Jewish godparent and that you ask a professing Christian to be the faith friend/Christian godparent. If you keep the traditions clear, I think it would work well and your child will be the richer for it.

 

Rev. Dan Benedict
Center for Worship Resourcing
General Board of Discipleship

 

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