Being able to perform baptisms is one of the things about being a pastor that brings me great joy. I recently had the honor of baptizing a very happy and full of life two-and-a-half-year-old boy. In the days prior to the baptism I met with his parents to make sure they understood baptism and the meaning behind it. To many people baptism is simply something we do because it seems like the right thing to do or because one of our family members wants us to do it. Baptisms do make for good picture taking opportunities, but baptism is so much more than that.
In the United Methodist Church, baptism is one of two sacraments that we practice. Sacraments are traditionally defined as "outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace." It is something that is open to all showing the one recognizes the working of the grace of God in their lives. We recognize baptism and the Lord's Supper as sacraments. We baptize because Jesus Christ was baptized and commanded us to baptize as well (see Matthew 3:16, Matthew 28:19). Through baptism we recognize that God's grace is at work in our life, and we ask for the church's help in our faith journey. It is important to remember that God's grace is always a gift and our baptism is a gift as well. The focus is on God's action.
We often see infant baptisms in our church because we believe in what is called prevenient grace. God's grace is at work in our lives before we are aware of it. We see baptism as a way of acknowledging that grace. Through infant baptism the parents are acknowledging that grace, making the commitment to raise their child in the particular community of faith, and asking for the church's help in raising the child in the faith. We generally do not do private baptisms (except in extreme cases such as a sick child) because of the commitment the church is making to help raise the child. The hope is that when the child is old enough, he or she will make their own commitment to follow Christ and be involved in the life of the church. Typically, that is done through the process of confirmation.
The commitment to have your child baptized is an important one. It lays a foundation of faith for your child and it shows the desire to be involved in the life of the church. When a couple brings their child to our church for baptism, they are putting their faith in God AND our church. The saying "it takes a village to raise a child" is true; and when it comes to faith it takes a church to raise a child. It is a huge honor for us as a congregation when a family chooses to have their child baptized at our church and a large responsibility. My prayer is that we will enter into that responsibility with joy and thanksgiving. As it says in the Baptismal Covenant in the United Methodist Hymnal:
With God's help we will proclaim the good news and live according to the example of Christ. We will surround these persons with a community of love and forgiveness, that they may grow in their trust of God, and be found faithful in their service to others. We will pray for them, that they may be true disciples who walk in the way that leads to life.