Why do we baptize at different ages?
Our need for salvation
The Bible teaches that God made human beings in the image of God, and all of creation to be good. Sin caused a “distortion of the image of God in us and the degrading of the whole of creation,” By Water and the Spirit, The United Methodist Church’s official statement on baptism, reports.
In baptism, we reject the power of sin and begin our journey as disciples of Jesus Christ.
Baptismal Covenants I, II, and IV in The United Methodist Hymnal (Baptismal Covenant III is not to be used) open with questions asked of the parents and sponsors of those to be baptized, and the candidates who can answer for themselves.
The questions ask if one renounces wickedness, rejects evil, and repents of sin; accepts the freedom and power of God to reject evil, injustice, and oppression; and confesses Jesus as Savior, trusts in his grace, and promises to serve him as Lord alongside all who are part of the universal church. (For more on the service, see This Is Your Baptism Liturgy.)
“Baptism starts that process of breaking us away from sin’s power,” Burton-Edwards clarifies, “but it is sanctifying grace throughout our lives that actually accomplishes it.”
Through the waters of baptism, we are cleansed of our sin and born into a new way of living. Whether an infant or adult, this is just the beginning.
As the circumcision of male children is the initiatory act into God’s covenant with the Hebrew people (see Genesis 17:9-14), baptism is our initiation into the new covenant in Jesus Christ.
On the day of Pentecost, Peter offers the promise of baptism without regard to age, saying it is for those present, their children, and those far away (Acts 2:38-41). Later in Acts, we read of Paul and Silas baptizing Lydia and her household, and later their jailer with his entire family (Acts 16).
We continue this practice by baptizing the children of those who reaffirm their baptismal vows, receiving them into God’s mighty acts of salvation.
All those who receive the sacrament in a United Methodist congregation, are baptized members of the Church universal, the denomination of The United Methodist Church, and their local congregation, regardless of age.
By Water and the Spirit explains, “Just as infants are members of their human families, but are unable to participate in all aspects of family life, so baptized infants are members of the Church — the family of faith — but are not yet capable of sharing everything involved in membership.”
While all those baptized in a United Methodist church are members, when reporting membership statistics we count professing members, those who are baptized and have publicly professed the baptismal and membership vows for themselves.
For further study
Discipleship Ministries of The United Methodist Church provides two wonderful resources for those seeking to know more.
- By Water and the Spirit: A United Methodist Understanding of Baptism is the official statement of the church adopted at the 1996 General Conference.
- This is Your Baptismal Liturgy: A Resource for Understanding the United Methodist Ritual of Holy Baptism explains the purpose of each part of the service we use.
Both are free downloads that can be used for study by individuals, classes, and small groups.