Rituals point us to an event or a truth that should never be forgotten. When the ritual is broken or altered, we forget the importance of it. A good example of this is Christmas. We celebrate the ritual of Christmas by sharing Jesus' birth narrative by reading and reflecting Matthew 1-2 and Luke 2, lighting candles, and singing ancient hymns. In the last couple centuries, there has been a shift from the birth narrative to the exchanging of gifts, decorating houses, chopping down trees, and shopping. As predicted, some Americans have forgotten the true meaning of Christmas.
Christian Baptism is a ritual that has been passed down for two thousand years. While there have been some changes in the ritual of baptism (first century Christians were baptized without clothes, always dunked in water, the immediacy of baptism following his/her conversion, etc.), the meaning has not been lost since the people who partook in baptism (in whatever form) was always taught of its significance.
The first people who participated in Christian baptism understood that the concept of baptism was a Jewish ritual. They knew of the many stories in the Jewish tradition of people who went underwater and came out changed - the most famous one being Exodus 13:17-14:31. God's people went down into the Red Sea as slaves and came out on the other side as free people.
Baptism is our way of proclaiming to the community around us that we are no longer slaves to the world, but free people who worship God.
Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Baptism:
Q: Why are there so many methods of baptism?
A: Since the word baptism literally means to be dunked or submerged, there are a few denominations that stand by the practice of only allowing baptism by going completely underwater. In the 18th Century, there was an enormous rise in people who wanted to get baptized, so evangelists employed a new method of baptism, which was by sprinkling water. Since baptism was a symbol of salvation, they figured that it was okay to change the custom a little bit as long as they taught the meaning behind the symbol.
Q: Which method of baptism does Westlight employ?
A: Westlight Community Church is part of the Free Methodist Church denomination. The FMC believes that it is up to the person who desires to be baptized to decide.
Q: What about baby baptism? If baptism requires the individual to consciously choose to be baptized, how can we allow parents to decide on behalf of the baby?
A: We totally agree with your rationale. However, if we look back to the history of baptisms, we discover that baptism plays two roles. The first one (which you already know) is to publicly display your commitment to Christ. If you lived in the Old Testament days (and if you are a male), this commitment was shown by circumcision. In the New Testament, this was updated to be replaced by baptism. However in the OT, circumcision had another role. When you had a baby, and you wanted to signify to the community around you that you were going to raise the baby as a member of your faith community, you would show this by circumcising the baby. Some churches have updated this practice with baptism, and others have called it "Baby Dedication." The FMC allows for baby baptisms and baby dedications (which means the same thing).
Q: What do I do if I want to get baptized? Are there any prerequisites?
A: The only prerequisite for baptism is your desire to be baptized. If you would like to get baptized or would like more information, feel free to contact our pastors.