Believe Chapter 5: Identity in Christ

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1 Key Verse: Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. John 1:12 (NIV) The word right (exousia) may be misleading since it suggests a legal claim. Exousia can also mean "power" or "authority." The imagery of coming alive as God's children suggests the focus here is on the power that produces divine life. But it is a power that must be exercised by the person John does not say "he made them children of God" but "he gave them power to become children of God" There is no doubt that God's gracious sovereign initiative comes first, for he is the source of all life and it is only by his grace that any life occurs and abides at all. The right (or power) to become children of God must be given by God. But unlike in natural birth the one being born of God does play a part; this life is not forced on the believer but must be received. Those who are receptive to the Son are offered the gift of becoming children of God themselves. 1 Questions: As you reflect on John 1:12, what do you think it means to be children of God? The IVP commentary noted above states that right may also mean power or authority. As you reflect on your life as a child of God, what does that mean for you? 1 (commentary is developed using portions of this site). 1 P a g e

2 We affirm our identity in Christ as United Methodists when we partake of the two Sacraments: Baptism and Communion. Let s take a look at these two sacraments from a Methodist perspective. It may be helpful to have a copy of the United Methodist Hymnal available to look at the order of service for both Baptism and Communion. Sacraments 2 With many other Protestants, we recognize the two sacraments in which Christ himself participated: baptism and the Lord's Supper. Baptism Through baptism we are joined with the church and with Christians everywhere. Baptism is a symbol of new life and a sign of God's love and forgiveness of our sins. Persons of any age can be baptized. We baptize by sprinkling, immersion or pouring. A person receives the sacrament of baptism only once in his or her life. The Lord's Supper (Holy Communion, Eucharist) The Lord's Supper is a holy meal of bread and wine that symbolizes the body and blood of Christ. The Lord's Supper recalls the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and celebrates the unity of all the members of God's family. By sharing this meal, we give thanks for Christ's sacrifice and are nourished and empowered to go into the world in mission and ministry. We practice "open communion," welcoming all who love Christ, repent of their sin, and seek to live in peace with one another. Let s take a closer look at both of these sacraments P a g e

3 A United Methodist Understanding of Baptism 3 Who tells you who you are? We receive our identity from others, from the expectations of friends and colleagues, from the labels society puts upon us, and from the influence of family. To become Christian is to receive a new identity. You no longer allow others to tell you who you are. Christ now claims you and instructs you. A Christian is one who has put on Christ. Baptism celebrates becoming that new person. That is why the church s ritual begins with putting off the old, renouncing sin and the evil powers of the world, and pledging our loyalty to Christ. God Initiates the Covenant We also believe that in baptism God initiates a covenant with us, announced with the words, The Holy Spirit works within you, that being born through water and the Spirit, you may be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ. This is followed by the sign-act of laying hands on the head, or the signing of the cross on the forehead with oil. The word covenant is a biblical word describing God s initiative in choosing Israel to be a people with a special mission in the world, and Israel s response in a life of faithfulness. The baptismal covenant calls us to a similar vocation. God Has Chosen Us Christians have also understood the baptismal covenant in light of Jesus baptism. At Jesus baptism, God said: This is my son. While Jesus relation to God as Son is unique, for Christians baptism means that God has also chosen us as daughters and sons, and knows us intimately as a parent P a g e

4 So the most important things about us, our true identity, is that we are now sons and daughters of God. That is why the introduction to the United Methodist Baptismal Covenant states, We are incorporated into God s mighty acts of salvation and given new birth through water and the Spirit. The introduction also says, Through the Sacrament of Baptism, we are initiated into Christ s holy church. Baptism Is the Door From the beginning, baptism has been the door through which one enters the church. It was inconceivable to many that one could respond to God s grace by reciting the renunciations, affirming one s faith in Christ and loyalty to the Kingdom, without joining the fellowship of those who are committed to mature in that faith. As the Body of Christ in the world, baptism commissions us to use our gifts to strengthen the church and to transform the world. Why Baptize Babies? From the earliest times, children and infants were baptized and included in the church. As scriptural authority for this ancient tradition, some scholars cite Jesus words, Let the little children come to me for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs (Mark 10:14). However, a more consistent argument is that baptism, as a means of grace, signifies God s initiative in the process of salvation. John Wesley preached prevenient grace, the grace that works in our lives before we are aware of it, bringing us to faith. The baptism of children and their inclusion in the church before they can respond with their own confirmation of faith is a vivid and compelling witness to prevenient grace. Baptism Is Forever Because baptism is a sacrament of God s grace and a covenant that God has initiated, it should not be repeated. However, God s continuing and patient forgiveness, God s prevenient grace, will prompt us to renew the commitment first 4 P a g e

5 made at our baptism. At such a time, instead of rebaptism, The United Methodist Church offers the ritual for the reaffirmation of baptismal vows, which implies that, while God remains faithful to God s half of the covenant, we are not always faithful to our promises. Our half of the covenant is to confess Christ as our Savior, trust in his grace, serve him as Lord in the church, and carry out his mission against evil, injustice, and oppression. Baptism Is the Beginning, Not the End You have heard people say, I was baptized Methodist, or I was baptized Presbyterian, which could mean that in baptism they got their identity papers and that was the end of it. But baptism is not the end. It is the beginning of a lifelong journey of faith. It makes no difference whether you were baptized as an adult or as a child; we all start on that journey at baptism. For the child, the journey begins in the nurturing community of the church, where he or she learns what it means that God loves you. At the appropriate time, the child will make his or her first confession of faith in the ritual the church traditionally calls confirmation. Most often, this is at adolescence or at the time when the person begins to take responsibility for his or her own decisions. If you experienced God s grace and were baptized as an adult or received baptism as a child and desire to reaffirm your baptismal vows, baptism still marks the beginning of a journey in the nurturing fellowship of the caring, learning, worshipping, serving congregation. What Is a Sacrament? The word sacrament is the Latin translation of the Greek word mysterion. From the early days of the church, baptism was associated with the mystery that surrounds God s action in our lives. That means that at best our words can only circumscribe what happens, but not define it. We cannot rationally explain why God would love us while we were yet sinners and give his only begotten Son that we should not perish but have eternal life. That is the most sacred and unfathomable mystery of all. 5 P a g e

6 We can experience God s grace at any time and in any place, but in the sacrament of baptism we routinely experience that amazing grace. Questions: What does baptism mean based on the article above? o Do the meaning of baptism change as a result of reading the article above? Did you realize that when you are baptized, you are participating in the covenant with God? Baptism is a sacrament. In a sacrament, God uses common elements - in this case, water - as means or vehicles of divine grace. Baptism is administered by the church as the Body of Christ. It is the act of God through the grace of Jesus Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit. 4 Questions: How can water be ordinary means that God uses as a vehicle of grace? What can you do when you either participate in a baptism or reaffirm your baptism to experience the mystery of the sacrament? P a g e

7 As part of the baptism ritual water is used and a prayer will typically take place. Below is taken from the baptism liturgy which may or may not be read directly: 5 If there are baptisms, or if water is to be used for reaffirmation, the water may be poured into the font at this time, and the following prayer offered: The Lord be with you. And also with you. Let us pray. Eternal Father: When nothing existed but chaos, you swept across the dark waters and brought forth light. In the days of Noah you saved those on the ark through water. After the flood you set in the clouds a rainbow. When you saw your people as slaves in Egypt, you led them to freedom through the sea. Their children you brought through the Jordan to the land which you promised. Sing to the Lord, all the earth. Tell of God s mercy each day. In the fullness of time you sent Jesus, nurtured in the water of a womb. He was baptized by John and anointed by your Spirit. He called his disciples to share in the baptism of his death and resurrection and to make disciples of all nations. Declare his works to the nations, his glory among all the people. Pour out your Holy Spirit, to bless this gift of water and those who receive it, 5 This is Your Baptismal Liturgy, link can be found at 7 P a g e

8 to wash away their sin and clothe them in righteousness throughout their lives, that, dying and being raised with Christ, they may share in his final victory. All praise to you, Eternal Father, through your Son Jesus Christ, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns for ever. Amen. This prayer is comparable to the Great Thanksgiving prayed over the elements of bread and wine in Holy Communion. God s mighty acts of salvation through water are celebrated Creation, Flood, Exodus, and the greatest of all, the coming of Jesus Christ. At the conclusion, the Holy Spirit is invoked to bless and use the water, in anticipation that God will act again, even now. The pouring of water into the font, seen and heard by all in the congregation, calls forth joyous spoken or sung responses, as the whole worshiping community praises God. Methodism has always allowed persons to choose sprinkling, pouring, or immersion as the mode of their or their children s baptism. All three modes have been used since New Testament times and each has its particular symbolism. Only the given names, not the surnames, are spoken as new members are initiated into the family of the church. Water is administered in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in accord with Matthew 28:19. Baptism is by water and the Holy Spirit. Laying on of hands is an ancient action of the Church indicating the receiving of the Holy Spirit. Family members, including baptized children, and sponsors are invited to participate. The response of Amen here and elsewhere in the ritual is the congregation s affirmation of what has been done and said. Several other meaningful symbolic actions may be used at this point in the service. 8 P a g e

9 In the words of welcome, the congregation expresses its joy that new members have joined the community of faith and its unity with them as Christian disciples. Baptism is recognized as the work of the Holy Spirit through which we are spiritually made new and commissioned into Christian service. Questions: Knowing that we remember God s mighty acts of salvation through water, does this make baptism more meaningful to you? Is there any difference between baptism by immersion, sprinkling, or pouring? o Have you felt there was a difference between these methods of baptism prior to reading the above? 9 P a g e

10 We Are Nourished by Communion 6 Like baptism, Holy Communion is regarded by Protestants as a sacrament. That is, it s an act of worship ordained by Christ and is a means of grace. This does not mean that we become any more worthy of God s grace by taking part in Communion. Rather, we open ourselves to the divine love that s already there; we become more ready to receive that love and to respond to it. As with baptism, we use common, physical gifts of the earth, bread and wine though in United Methodist churches we prefer unfermented grape juice. All Christians are welcome at our table, whatever their denomination. Holy Communion is a family meal, and all Christians are members of Christ s family. Therefore, in each congregation, when we receive the bread and cup, we join with millions of brothers and sisters across the ages and around the world. Holy Communion (or the Lord s Supper) is a mystery too deep for words. Its meaning will vary for each of us and from one time to another. But three essential meanings are caught up in this proclamation in our Communion service: Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again (The United Methodist Hymnal, p. 14). Christ has died In part, Communion is a time to remember Jesus death, his self-giving sacrifice on our behalf. As he said to the disciples at their last meal together, Do this in remembrance of me (1 Corinthians 11:24). In remembering his passion and crucifixion, we remember our own guilt; for we know that in our sin we crucify Christ many times over from day to day. So the Lord s Supper is a time of confession: We confess that we have not loved you with our whole heart.we have not heard the cry of the needy (The United Methodist Hymnal, p. 12). 6 From The United Methodist Member s Handbook, Revised and Expanded by George E. Koehler (Discipleship Resources, 2006). 10 P a g e

11 Christ is risen But Communion is not a memorial service for a dead Jesus. It s not a time to wallow in our own guilt. It s a time to celebrate the Resurrection, to recognize and give thanks for the Risen Christ. The bread and wine represent the living presence of Christ among us though we do not claim, as some denominations do, that they become Christ s body and blood. In Luke s Resurrection story, the Risen Christ broke bread with two of his followers at Emmaus, then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him (24:31). So, as we re nourished by this meal, our eyes are opened; and we recognize Christ here in our congregation, our community, and our world. What s our response? Thanksgiving! In fact, another of our words for Communion, the Eucharist, means thanksgiving. Christ will come again In Communion we also celebrate the final victory of Christ. We anticipate God s coming reign, God s future for this world and all creation. As Jesus said, I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father s kingdom (Matthew 26:29). We believe that we re partners with God in creating this future, but the demands of discipleship are rigorous. In the bread and wine of the Lord s Supper, in the fellowship of Christian friends gathered at his table, we find the nourishment we need for the tasks of discipleship ahead. Questions: 11 P a g e

12 How do you feel about the open table (e.g., All Christians are welcome at our table )? Did your view of communion change when looking through the lens of the proclamation of Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again? Several terms naming the sacrament are used in past and present Christianity. The Lord s Supper reminds us that Jesus Christ is the host and that we participate at Christ s invitation. This title suggests the eating of a meal, sometimes called the Holy Meal, and makes us think of the meals that Jesus ate with various people both before his death and after his resurrection. The term the Last Supper is not appropriately used for the sacrament, but it does encourage us to remember the supper that Jesus ate with his disciples on the night when he was arrested. This emphasis is especially meaningful around Maundy Thursday. The early church appears to have referred to their celebrations as breaking bread (Acts 2:42). The term Holy Communion invites us to focus on the self-giving of the Holy God, which makes the sacrament an occasion of grace, and on the holiness of our communion with God and one another. Eucharist, from the Greek word for thanksgiving, reminds us that the sacrament is thanksgiving to God for the gifts of creation and salvation. The term Mass, used by the Roman Catholic Church, derives from the Latin word missio, literally sending forth, and indicates that this celebration brings the worship service to a close by sending forth the congregation with God s blessing to live as God s people in the world. The Divine Liturgy is a name used mostly by churches in the tradition of Eastern Orthodoxy. All of these names refer to the same practice: the eating and drinking of consecrated bread and wine in the worshiping community. 7 7 Excerpt taken from This Holy Mystery, link can be found 12 P a g e

13 Questions: How do you feel about the open table (e.g., All Christians are welcome at our table )? Is one name of communion more familiar to you? If so, which one? 13 P a g e

14 Why do most Methodist churches serve grape juice instead of wine for Holy Communion? 8 In the history of the church, wine has been the normal drink for Holy Communion. In the 19th century, Methodists and other denominations were persuaded that the unfermented juice of the grape was an important witness to the grace of God and of the churches resistance to the abuses of alcoholic beverage. This Holy Mystery, the official statement on communion, says, "Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and many Protestant denominations have always used wine in the Eucharist. During the movement against beverage alcohol in the late nineteenth century, the predecessor bodies of The United Methodist Church turned to the use of unfermented grape juice... (The term wine is used in this document because of its biblical and historical antecedents, although United Methodists customarily serve unfermented grape juice in Holy Communion.)" The United Methodist Book of Worship says, "Although the historic and ecumenical Christian practice has been to use wine, the use of unfermented grape juice by The United Methodist Church and its predecessors since the late nineteenth century expresses pastoral concern for recovering alcoholics, enables the participation of children and youth, and supports the church's witness of abstinence." There is no longer a prohibition against serving wine at communion, so some United Methodist churches also offer wine. 8 (The United Methodist Book of Worship. Copyright 1992 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Used by permission.) 14 P a g e

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