In a few weeks, I will be baptizing my twin son and daughter. It’s an event my wife Emily and I are very much looking forward to. The opening words of the baptismal liturgy of my church sum up why the sacrament of baptism is so important for Christians:
Through the Sacrament of Baptism
we are initiated into Christ’s holy church.
We are incorporated into God’s mighty acts of salvation
and given new birth through water and the Spirit.
All this is God’s gift, offered to us without price.
Our children Stuart and Anna Charlotte will receive the sign of salvation that witnesses to Christ’s victory over death in the crucifixion and resurrection. As a sacrament, baptism is a true means of grace whereby spiritual regeneration is found. They will also be knit into the body of Christ—brought publicly and visibly into the people of God.
One of the things that is most comforting to me about the prospect of my son and daughter’s baptisms is the thought that my wife and I will know that we don’t have to do all that we need to do for them on our own. Their baptisms will be a visible sign of the grace God bears toward them, beckoning them into deep communion with Christ. And it is also the act that will welcome them into Christ’s holy covenant in the church. Stuart and Anna Charlotte will be joining a family that will help them on their journey, no matter what happens to Emily and me through the years. Teaching them the gospel, helping them learn what it means to follow Jesus, and showing them the way of sanctification—all these tasks will be shared by the whole church. When they have been baptized in the midst of the great congregation, the people there will pledge on behalf of the church catholic to do all in their power to increase their faith, confirm their hope, and perfect them in love. To that, all I can say is: Thanks be to God.
I want to share something special we’re doing for the baptism, but first a digression…
Of all the Scriptural means of grace given to the church, the one that my own Methodist people have historically understood least well is, yes, baptism. We at least come by this neglect honestly, as baptism was not exactly central to John Wesley’s teaching or the early Methodist movement. Wesley himself certainly valued baptism as a sacrament; but he was operating in a culture of Christendom when most people had been baptized as infants, and he was more focused on the possibility of new birth as a gift of God for adults who stood in need of spiritual regeneration.
I actually think there are resources embedded within the Wesleyan tradition that can help to give Methodist folk a renewed sense of the importance and power of baptism. Some of the needed work has been begun by scholars like Henry Knight (who has connected the practice of covenant renewal with baptism) and Fred Edie (who has done significant work locating youth ministry within a baptismal context). I build off of both these scholars’ work in an article I have coming out in an upcoming issue of Liturgy, and I am making a broader case in a book I’m working on currently focused on the means of grace and the practice of discipleship. (The book is something I’ll start writing more about later this fall.)
Now back to the subject at hand…
In celebration of the wonderful event upcoming in the life of our children (and our church!), Emily and I have commissioned a baptismal set that will be used in their baptisms. Photos of the set are below. It was crafted by my friend and professional artist, Katherine Owen. She does wonderful work, and her pottery on this occasion is a true gift to us.