Aren’t you lucky? You chose to come to church on a day when we are celebrating the Baptism of Jesus. It was a sacred and holy moment in his life and, as a result, we have been baptizing adults and babies ever since. However, If you are new to the church or even if you have been hanging around for a long time, perhaps no one has told you what it means. So I thought I would give you a little primer on Baptism. Ready?
Baptism is one of the two sacraments offered in Protestant churches. The other one is the Sacrament of Holy Communion. The Protestant Reformation formally began on October 31st, 1517 when Martin Luther posted his 94 theses (or demands) of the Catholic church on the sanctuary door of a church located in Wittenberg, Germany. At that time, the church practised seven sacraments. It still does to this day. Rituals such as marriage, confirmation and divine unction were also considered sacraments of the church. However, with the emerging Protestant Reformation, Protestant churches chose to celebrate only two rituals as sacraments. Why Baptism and Communion? Because they were rituals that Jesus himself instituted or was directly involved in.
In the 4th Century ce, a bishop in the church named Augustine became deeply concerned about the original sin of Adam. You remember him – he was the guy who disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden, after being tempted by Eve. (Sure! Sure! Always blame it on the woman!). In response to this concept of original sin, Augustine developed a theology which said that the only way to be washed of this original sin was to be baptized.
From that moment on, infant baptism became the norm in the church because in a time of high infant mortality, anxious parents wanted to make sure their babies were baptized so they (the babies) didn’t go to hell. Prior to that, adult baptism was the norm. So, here we are today! But there is an important difference you need to be aware of. The United Church does not baptize people to absolve them of original sin. For us, Baptism is the ritual by which the grace and love of God, represented by pure and fresh water, is sprinkled upon the child’s forehead, welcoming them into the worldwide Christian church. It is a ritual of blessing, belonging and believing in the unconditional love of God. Once a child or infant is baptized, that child or infant becomes a member of the universal Christian church. It is only when the child or infant takes Confirmation Classes as a Youth that they become full members of a specific church.
Adult baptism is another story. If you should wish to be baptized as an adult, we ask you to take some classes to more fully understand what the ritual means in our tradition. Your baptism is accompanied by your public profession of faith. When it is completed, the adult becomes a member of Central United Church, in addition to being a member of the universal Christian church. We even offer you an opportunity to be fully immersed in a hot tub on Easter Sunday! Splishing and a-splashing, immersed in the unconditional love of God! Wonderful!
Hope that helps!