Monday, January 6, 2014

John Wesley on Baptism

This week we'll be kicking off our eight week, lectionary based sermon series on United Methodist beliefs, Method: Our Wesleyan Way.

Searching through John Wesley's A Treatise on Baptism, it seems prudent when talking about baptism from a Wesleyan perspective, to listen to the man himself.

Just a few quotes from the document that strike me!
"What it is. It is the initiatory sacrament, which enters us into covenant with God. It was instituted by Christ, who alone has power to institute a proper sacrament, a sign, seal, pledge, and means of grace, perpetually obligatory on all Christians. We know not, indeed, the exact time of its institution; but we know it was long before our Lord’s ascension. And it was instituted in the room of circumcision. For, as that was a sign and seal of God’s covenant, so is this. 
The matter of this sacrament is water; which, as it has a natural power of cleansing, is the more fit for this symbolical use. Baptism is performed by washing, dipping, or sprinkling the person, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, who is hereby devoted to the ever-blessed Trinity. I say, by washing, dipping, or sprinkling; because it is not determined in Scripture in which of these ways it shall be done, neither by any express precept, nor by any such example as clearly proves it; nor by the force or meaning of the word baptize. 
And as there is no clear proof of dipping in Scripture, so there is very probable proof of the contrary. It is highly probable, the Apostles themselves baptized great numbers, not by dipping, but by washing, sprinkling, or pouring water. This clearly represented the cleansing from sin, which is figured by baptism. And the quantity of water used was not material; no more than the quantity of bread and wine in the Lord’s supper. 
What are the benefits we receive by baptism, is the next point to be considered. And the first of these is, the washing away the guilt of original sin, by the application of the merits  of Christ’s death ...  By baptism we enter into covenant with God; into that everlasting covenant, which he hath commanded for ever ... By baptism we are admitted into the Church, and consequently made members of Christ, its Head ...  By baptism, we who were “by nature children of wrath” are made the children of God.
Towards the middle-end of the document, Mr. Wesley goes on a bit of a tear against those who would oppose infant baptism, after an eloquent justification of infant baptism.  He answers a few 'questions', and this response, as it also goes to the rights of women:
It is objected, Thirdly, “There is no command for it in Scripture. Now, God was angry with his own people, because they did that which, he said, ‘I commanded them not.’ (Jer. vii. 31.) One plain text would end all the dispute.”  
I answer, (1.) We have reason to fear it would not. It is as positively commanded in a very plain text of Scripture, that we should “teach and admonish one another with psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, singing to the Lord with grace in our hearts,” (Eph. v. 19,) as it is to honour our father and mother: But does this put an end to all dispute? Do not these very persons absolutely refuse to do it, notwithstanding a plain text, an express command?  
I answer, (2.) They themselves practise what there is neither express command nor clear example for in Scripture. They have no express command for baptizing women. They say, indeed, “Women are implied in ‘all nations.’” They are; and so are infants too: But the command is not express for either And for admitting women to the Lord’s supper, they have neither express command nor clear example. Yet they do it continually, without either one or the other. And they are justified therein by the plain reason of the thing. This also justifies us in baptizing infants, though without express command or clear example. 

John Wesley is an awful fun read, and I'm so excited to dig a little deeper over the next few weeks into the foundations of our faith movement.