Sunday, June 4 we will either Confirm or Baptize two new members of Laurel Heights. A service of Confirmation is not limited to United Methodists but not every denomination practices confirmation. For us, confirmation is the act of confirming for yourself the vows made at your baptism. If you are like me, I have to ask myself several times every day, is what I am about to do confirming my baptismal covenant or some worldly expectation? Often they are not mutually exclusive but other times there is one choice that is clearly more in one kingdom than the other. I think all Christians share that dilemma.
Because United Methodists believe that baptism is an outward and visible action reminding us and others what God has already and is currently doing, we baptize all ages. Some denominations wait until the person being baptized can show they understand the covenant of baptism and are willingly entering that covenant. I am not sure anyone can say they fully understand the covenant of baptism and what is happening. United Methodists give the parents the choice but encourage early baptism as a way of acknowledging that baptism is more about God and what God is already doing than about our knowledge or understanding.
Baptism and Confirmation is not only us responding to God’s grace and making a pledge to God but a covenant between God, the community of faith and the individual. This is one reason the church does not have “private” baptisms. It is hard to say that you want to enter into a covenant that includes a community of faith but for some reason you don’t want the faith community there. This does not mean that every baptism must be witnessed by a large group of people. Even shy people and introverts participate in baptism and confirmation. It just can’t be done in secret or exclusively.
God is the primary actor in baptism. Our lack of ability to understand or fully live into the Grace of God does not limit God’s ability to love us. The amount of water used in baptism does not determine the clarity or intensity of the spiritual mark applied by God in our baptism. One way we communicate the importance of God’s action in baptism is by not implying in any way that God might need to act through baptism a second time. A person may have a burning desire to confirm their baptism or to be reminded in a significant way of their baptism, but there is only one baptism. Even if they have no memory of their baptism, God remembers. While some denominations only recognize baptisms performed by a specific group of people or only in churches or congregations of their denomination, a United Methodist pastor should never re-baptize someone. And many United Methodists have refused to be re-baptized because of their beliefs about baptism and how they experience God’s self-revelation in this solemn act.
Each time we participate in the baptism or confirmation covenant we are invited to confirm our own baptism and recommit ourselves to living in response to God’s saving acts through Jesus Christ. We are able to re-member, or bring together all who were part of that original covenant moment. Sunday we welcome two more people to this covenant community and they too will decide many times throughout their lives to confirm that moment or deny it. But they will be strengthened by all the saints who have come before, were present then or joined later as they continue in their growth and covenant acknowledged on that special day.
See you Sunday,