Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Sacramental Nature of Baptism As Seen In Song

This evening, during Evening Prayer, I finished singing through Wesley Hymns (edited by Ken Bible) . . . at least for this go around!  -  The last hymn in the book expresses the sacramental nature of baptism, nicely.  This is a good reminder for Wesleyan Christians (especially Evangelical ones) that we differ from many "Evangelical Christians" at this point.  Instead, we stand in line with our Methodist and Anglican forefathers, back to the Ancient and New Testament Church.

Many of our Evangelical sisters and brothers (e.g., Baptists), view holy baptism (and holy communion) as a mere ordinance.  (I say mere, because ordinances they surely are.  Even the hymn uses that term.  However, they are not merely so.)  As a mere ordinance, our sisters and brothers of this tradition view baptism as something that, while commanded by Christ, is exclusively understood to be a testimony by the one being baptized concerning what Christ has done in his/her life by faith.

We Wesleyans would affirm that, when a convert is being baptized, s/he is, indeed, testifying to what Christ has done in her/his life by faith . . . but we believe that this testimony is secondary.  Along with our forefathers in the faith, we believe that holy baptism is primarily God's work.  That is to say, we believe that baptism is not just an ordinance.  It is also a sacrament.  Whether the one being baptized is an infant or an adult convert, when we come to the waters of baptism with faith in Christ, God is present and at work.  Further, as the hymn makes clear, we believe that the whole of the Holy Trinity is at work in this sacrament.

To be sure, it is not an "automatic thing" simply because we go through the outward motions of a ritual.  Nevertheless, God's promised presence is granted to those who come with faith in Him.

Charles Wesley expresses this sacramental nature of baptism in this hymn:

Father, Son, and Holy Ghost

1. Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
In solemn pow'r come down!
Present with Thy heav'nly host,
Thine ordinance to crown,
See a sinful soul of earth!
Bless to him the cleansing flood!
Plunge him, by a second birth,
Into the depths of God.

2. Let the promised inward grace
Accompany the sign;
On this newborn soul impress
The character divine!
Father, all Thy name reveal;
Jesus, all Thy name impart;
Holy Ghost, renew and dwell
Forever in his heart!
(Charles Wesley)

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