Wesley on baptism

What is the Methodist or Wesleyan understanding of Baptism?  Why do Methodists (and Anglicans) baptize babies?  If salvation comes by faith, where does baptism come in?

Sometimes (as with women's ordination) I fear that United Methodists offer simplistic answers to these deep questions, answers like "because God loves infants too" (yet there is obviously more to it than this since we do not baptize Hindus or Atheists or non-human creatures, all of which God also loves).
Methodists or Wesleyans take many of our theological cues from the writings of 18th Century Anglican priests Charles and particularly John Wesley.

John Wesley's view of baptism seems at times somewhat elusive because it is unclear how statements he makes in some of his writings cohere with statements he makes in others.  However, he certainly maintains a high and Anglican view of the efficacy of baptism, even infant baptism, as a means of grace - and place where we meet God's transforming power.  Even late in his life and ministry when he edited The Book of Common Prayer for Methodist use, he maintained the traditional language and theology of the Anglican prayerbook in the prayers and liturgy for baptism, though he did make some adjustments.

Yet his most systematic teaching on baptism is his Treatise on Baptism (or click HERE).  He tells us in the first sentence what the Treatise covers:   CONCERNING baptism I shall inquire, what it is; what benefits we receive by it; whether our Saviour designed it to remain always in his Church; and who are the proper subjects of it.

What is baptism?  What does it do (or what does God do through it)?  Does the Lord intend the church to continue practicing it (since groups like the Quakers, said he did not)?  Should we administer it to believers only, or also to the children of believers?

In the Treatise Wesley lays out the traditional Reformational views on the subject very clearly.  I read this text shortly after seminary and remember wondering why it had not been part of the curriculum as it gave such clear answers to some of my lingering questions about baptism that the official United Methodist statement, By Water and the Spirit, had not quite cleared up for me.

If the Treatise on Baptism is taken together with Wesley's great sermons The Means of Grace and The Duty of Constant Communion and also the Articles of Religion and Confession of Faith then we have a very rich and solid foundation for Methodist sacramental theology that is at once catholic, and evangelical, and reformed. 

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Blogger Andrew C. Thompson said...

Thanks for this thoughtful post. I am working on a manuscript this summer for a book that will present the means of grace in Christian discipleship. My overview chapter for the book is going to be a chapter on baptism -- which Wesley did have an adequate theology for, but which he never adequately advanced in any sustained way. I'm hoping to utilize a Wesleyan theology of baptism as a way to make all the other means of grace hold together theologically and practically.

10:49 PM, May 30, 2013  
Anonymous Amber said...

This is cool!

10:49 PM, August 11, 2013  

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