The importance of baptism
“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 . . .” (See Matthew 28:18-20, RSV).
The sacrament (or ordinance) of Holy Baptism is common to all Christian communities. When Jesus issued the “Great Commission” to his church, baptism was pivotal in the assignment to “preach/make disciples,” “baptize,” and “teach/instruct.”
Different denominations practice baptism in a variety of ways, most commonly by either immersing, pouring, or sprinkling water over the new church member. Great emphasis is placed upon the symbolism of this rite. Baptism is a picture of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. It also depicts the baptism of the Holy Spirit – or the coming of the Holy Spirit into the life of the Christian. Baptism is also regarded as the rite of initiation into church membership, and the first public testimony of God’s grace. Baptism is usually seen as a prerequisite to receiving Holy Communion. (While baptism is a “one time” act, Holy Communion is to be received regularly as a part of the Christian pilgrimage.)
Some denominations practice “believer’s baptism” and emphasize that this ordinance is a response to the grace of God – it is something the believer does for God as an act of obedience and testimony. Many denominations practice infant baptism – recognizing the grace of God in the life of an infant and placing the emphasis upon what God does for us. In the latter case, the church itself is called upon to form a partnership with the parents to raise a child in the knowledge of God’s love and grace, culminating in a service of “confirmation” when the individual embraces the grace of God acknowledged at baptism.
The liturgy for baptism is a beautiful depiction of the church. It reads, in part: “Through baptism you are incorporated by the Holy Spirit into God’s new creation and made to share in Christ’s royal priesthood. We are all one in Christ Jesus. With joy and thanksgiving we welcome you as members of the family of Christ.” While baptism does not “save” an individual it is an important reminder that we belong to Christ, that our lives are no longer our own, and that we have been called to “good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). It is important that all Christian “remember their baptism” and honor the commitments that were made to live the Christian life and to help other Christians in their walk with Christ.
Dr. Faught is Pastor of The LaFollette United Methodist Church.