From a letter by John Wesley to the Bishop of Bristol in 1741:
Several persons have applied to me for baptism. It has pleased God to make me instrumental in their conversion. This has given them such prejudice for me, that they desire to be received into the Church by my ministry. They choose likewise to be baptized by immersion, and have engaged me to give your Lordship notice, as the Church requires.
My assumption here is that these were dissenters who were not baptized as infants in the Church of England, but I could be wrong. I am no expert on 17th century Anglicanism.
My blogging friend Talbot Davis has stirred up a good deal of heat and conversation by writing that he no longer believes in infant baptism.
It’s not complicated, it’s not a spiritual birthmark, it’s not a naming ceremony, it’s not even the New Testament equivalent of circumcision. It’s death to the old life and resurrection to the new. And babies don’t have old lives to die to.
I have written on this issue a few times, and Talbot and I have exchanged views in public and private. He is convinced believer’s baptism is Scriptural. I will point out as well that the pastor of one of the largest United Methodist congregations in my conference is an active proponent of believer’s baptism and infant dedication. So far neither the vortex of hell nor the bishop’s ire has overtaken that pastor.
As you might imagine — given my ‘company man’ and Wesleyan ways — I support the United Methodist law and doctrine on infant baptism, even though I myself was an adult convert to the faith.
Here are two of my posts about infant baptism in the UMC, if you care to read them (the second is more polemical):
Why I baptize infants
United Methodists baptize babies
And, on a slightly different note, here is one of my favorite John Wesley statements on baptism, in which Father John argues in favor of sprinkling as a valid form of baptism.
It is true, we read of being “buried with Christ in baptism.” But nothing can be inferred from such a figurative expression. Nay, if it held exactly, it would make as much for sprinkling as for plunging; since, in burying, the body is not plunged through the substance of the earth, but rather earth is poured or sprinkled upon it.
A post on the absence of Eucharist from the life of the United Methodist Church.
Catching up on some blogs I missed while away.
Teddy Ray has some helpful suggestions for pastors wanting to move to weekly celebration of Holy Communion.
The comments include a link to a good post by retired Bishop Whitaker about the importance of using the church’s prayer of Great Thanksgiving in the celebration.
I bookmarked this interview with Prince Harry a few months ago. I marked it because of what he had to say about the significance of being given a name (in this case Prince) that he did not choose for himself.
[T]here’s a lot of times that both myself and my brother wish obviously that we were just, you know, completely normal. But, you know, we’ve been born into this position. And then therefore, we’ll do what we need to do to make a difference to the to people and to kids that need it, you know? It’s, it really is that simple for us.
Prince Harry’s reflections give we infant baptizers something to discuss. Those baptized as infants were given names that they did not select for themselves. They were made part of a royal people.
Part of the task of the church is helping them live into this royal name and identity. People may — like Harry — wish they were normal, but, so sorry, you are not. So, now, the question is how can we help you live into the name you were given: Christian.
Drew McIntyre offers an extended reflection and commentary on the Eucharist table as the center of a protest at General Conference 2012.
In a world of partisan politics, bitter divides, and thoughtless polemic, the Eucharist should be one place where God reaches through all of the muck and mire to speak a word of grace and peace. The Lord’s Table is where, like Christ, we are taken, blessed, broken, and given. To make the Eucharist our act instead of God’s, a mere tool in a game of political manipulation rather than a sacrament of God’s grace, is a great disservice to Christ and his church.
Here is something Elaine Heath wrote elsewhere in response to reactions from her presentation at the United Theological Seminary conference I attended yesterday:
Yesterday I participated in a very interesting conference on Theology, Eucharist, and Ministry in Dayton, Ohio. My assignment was to make remarks on evangelism and the Eucharist, the remarks being a sort of précis of a chapter I’ll be writing for the forthcoming volume on the Eucharist that will be published by Kingswood. I am already hearing back from people who heard things I did not actually say, so I want to say again here, what I will be writing about in that chapter. It is okay with me if you want to share these few words with someone. I focused on the kenotic meaning of the Eucharist, how when we take the bread and wine we are not only receiving the salvific love of God, but we are offering ourselves as a living sacrifice to work in union with that missional God. Quoting Nouwen, I described this as our offering ourselves to God to be “taken, blessed, broken, and given.” I lifted up the kenotic hymn of Phil. 2:6-11 which urges all Christians, not just clergy, to follow this path of receiving and giving in the eucharistic life, and named the eucharistic life to which every Christian is called, as a life of ongoing martyrdom. I called attention to the fact that we have serious theological problems with a closed table in some cases, and a gated table in others, where very few can actually preside at a UM table. I raised the question about the assumptions behind this tradition, with regard to who is capable of the degree of sanctity and training and accountability to reliably and with integrity offer the bread and wine to neighbors, particularly with regard to the inherently kenotic meaning of the Eucharist. I framed this as a missional and evangelistic matter for us to explore honestly and openly in light of our missional call as Wesleyans. I assured people during the Q&A that in our communities in Dallas and in my teaching in the Academy we adhere strictly to UM tradition with communion only being served by elders. Thus what I am doing is simply inviting further reflection on the deeper meaning of the Eucharist and its implications in how we carry out our missional and eucharistic vocation. There are ramifications here, of course, as to what constitutes the pastoral vocation, if it is not presiding over the sacraments. I will get into that in my chapter. Meanwhile, be assured, I follow and teach others to follow our tradition as it has evolved up to this time. Thank you for your kindness and charity.
At the very interesting conference on Eucharist in Methodism sponsored by United Theological Seminary, we heard a great deal about the importance of the Eucharist in the life of the church and Christian discipleship. Among the topics was a fair bit of conversation about ecumenical efforts between Methodists (including United Methodists) and Roman Catholics.
Then Elaine Heath said the most attention-grabbing thing at the conference.
I was not taking notes so do not have her exact words, but in a brief talk on Eucharist and evangelism she made a passionate plea for allowing laity to preside at the table of the Lord. She seemed frustrated by restriction of sacramental of authority to elders (and deacons and local pastors on a limited basis).
Some of the people gathered pumped fists and glee. Some looked both surprised and a bit upset. The pastor sitting next to me and I traded a “wow” after her talk ended. I was a bit surprised that during the Q&A she did not get any push back or criticism, especially from the advocates of closer communion with the Roman Catholic Church, which I presume would not view lay administration of the sacraments as a step toward full communion.
Lots of interesting stuff was said at the conference, but that was certainly the “did she just say that?” moment.
Note: See this post for Elaine Heath’s elaboration about her statements.
On Thursday, May 17, I’ll be at United Theological Seminary’s Theology, Eucharist, and Ministry Conference.
Here is the conference statement of purpose:
For John and Charles Wesley, few things were more important for both theology and ministry than attentiveness to the Lord’s Supper. In recent years, Wesleyan theologians and church leaders have lamented a decline in attentiveness to the Eucharist in Wesleyan theology and ministry. Some have gone so far as to suggest that a decline in sacramental vitality is at the heart of the wider pattern of decline in Wesleyan churches.
At this event, seventeen Wesleyan theologians will call for the restoration of the Eucharist to its rightful place as the heart of theology and ministry in the Wesleyan tradition. Indeed, what will be offered is nothing less than a vision of theology and ministry in which the Eucharist is understood both as a vital means of grace by which Christians participate together in the Trinitarian life of God and the well-spring from which the whole of Christian life and ministry flows.
If you can’t be in Dayton to see it in person, you can watch it livestreaming.
The two main sesssions are:
- 9:00 a.m. “The Trinity and the Eucharist” Geoffrey Wainwright, Duke Divinity School; Matthew Levering, University of Dayton, responding
- 1:00 p.m. “Eucharist and Ethics” Rebekah Miles, Perkins School of Theology; Joyce Ann Zimmerman, Institute for Liturgical Ministry, responding
If you tune into the livestream, I’ll be the one with the rainbow wig and the John 3:16 sign.
With it looking more and more likely that Mitt Romney will be the presidential nominee of the Republican Party, I suspect pastors may hear discussion and get questions about Mormonism.
Here is page with a link to a study document that the United Methodist Church put together. The document “Sacramental Faithfulness” touches on many of the theological issues and explains why the UMC does not recognize Mormon baptism as a valid sacrament.
I’d be interested in some ways — if any — pastors have thought about engaging with such issues in the months ahead. The news media will likely offer much information. What should we in the local churches be saying or doing?