Monday, October 12, 2009

Baptism Liturgy

I have to admit that sometimes (ok, maybe often) I find the liturgies in the hymnal to be distant and complicated. People get so lost in trying to follow along that they often lose the meaning of what they are saying and answering. I find this to be less true of communion, but that's in part because I've said/done/used it so many times that it's no longer complicated.

Anyway, because of my frustrations, I have rewritten the baptism liturgy. It's not super simple, but it seems clearer and less worked for my church anyway....we got to baptize 4 kids on Sunday!!

Baptism is a time when we acknowledge the redemptive work God does in our lives. It is a symbolic act for the cleansing and purifying work God is doing within us. In Methodist terms, it is an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace. In other words, God acts invisibly within us offering forgiveness, new life, and salvation and we use baptism to mark that work.

For infants and children, at the time of baptism, parents confess their faith and make a covenant with God to help their children grow in Christian discipleship. Today, we will be welcoming four children into the body of Christ and the Wesley family. To each of the parents, I ask:

· Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil power of this world, and repent of your sin?

· Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?

· Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord in union with the church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races?

· Will you nurture these children in Christ’s holy church, that by your teaching and example they may be guided to accept God’s grace for themselves, to profess their faith openly, and to lead a Christian life?

Each of you are here today because you are a part of the community of faith. As Christians, we participate in community. We are connected to one another. And even though we baptize an individual, we don’t do it in isolation because each of us needs help, support, encouragement, and accountability in our faith walk and that comes from our Christian brothers and sisters. Today, these parents confessed their faith and their commitment to their children and each of us will commit to share our faith with them and their children.

So, to all of you, I ask:

· Will you be faithful to Christ and to the Holy Scriptures in study and in practice?

· Will you live the greatest commandment: to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and your neighbor as yourself?

· Will you humbly give to others sharing the blessings you have received?

· Will you uplift one another in faith and in love?

· Will you nurture, care for, and teach these children in the ways of Christian discipleship?

Water is a powerful symbol. It represents purification and being clean. It is with water we wash our hands and bodies, washing away any impurities. And symbolically at baptism, water purifies our souls—it represents the way God washes us of all impurities.

Water also offers life. It is composes 80% of our bodies and without it, we die. It also surrounds us in the womb, protecting us and nurturing us as we grow. Water represents both new life and our life source. The water in baptism also represents the new life God gives us spiritually, and the source of our continued life in Christ.

Water has been powerful throughout the ages. When nothing existed but chaos, God swept across the dark waters and brought forth light. In the days of Noah, God saved those on the ark through water. When God set the Israelites free from Egypt, it was water which protected them from Pharaoh’s army. It was in water of the Jordan River that Jesus was baptized. And it is today, with water, that we baptize these beloved children.

Precious God, pour out your Holy Spirit and by this gift of water and use it to wash these children and make them new in Christ Jesus. For you have washed away our sins, and you clothe us with righteousness throughout our lives, that dying and rising with Christ we may share in his final victory.

What name is given to this child?

[NAME] I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

And now I anoint you with the sign of the cross. May all who see you see the light and love of Jesus Christ in all that you do and may the cross be an eternal reminder that you are a child of God.


Steven Manskar said...

I appreciate the work and thought you have put into your alternative Baptismal liturgy. However, there are several problems with this:
1. This is not the ritual of the Church. The Baptismal ritual in the the UM Hymnal is the ritual of the church. It is also ecumenical in nature. You, as a pastor of a local church do not have the authority to change or discard the ritual of the church. I think a better solution to the problem you are attempting to address is to do a series of sermons on the meaning of baptism and walk the congregation through the baptismal covenant. Teach the baptismal covenant in sunday school classes and other teaching opportunities. The congregation should be as familiar with the baptismal covenant as they are with the eucharitist.

2. I do not see the creed in your revised ritual. The Apostles' Creed is a required part of the covenant.

3. I do not see much opportunity for congregational response or involvement in the revision. The congregation plays a critical role in baptism.

4. I do not see a Thanksgiving over the water or invocation of the Holy Spirit with laying on of hands. These are critical elements of the ritual in which the congregation participates.

I sympathize with your situation and desire to commumicate the meaning of baptism. However, as the pastor of the congregation you have an obligation to use and teach the ritual of the church, as it appears in the Hymnal and the Book of Worship. The General Board of Discipleship has developed an excellent teaching resource to help you in this work. It is titled "By Water And The Spirit: A United Methodist Understanding of Baptism."

Mitch said...

Den Beste's Law: "The job of bureaucrats is to regulate, and left to themselves, they will regulate everything they can."

But seriously, "You, as a pastor of a local church do not have the authority" to say anything more, less or in any way differing than the text of the ritual, no matter the circumstances?

I can't find the authority for this claim anywhere. In fact, I find quite a bit of language in both the Discipline and the Book of Worship that suggests otherwise.

Is this a personal opinion, GBOD's position or has the Judicial Council ruled this way?