This past Sunday I started a sermon series using the Wesleyan Quadrilateral to talk about basic Christian and Wesleyan/United Methodist faith. If you do not know, the Wesleyan Quadrilateral describes our United Methodist methodology for determining doctrine and practice in the church. It is a concept that pulls together the ideas of John Wesley, though the term “quadrilateral” really comes to us through Methodist historical Albert Outler.
The quadrilateral is Scripture, Tradition, Reason and Experience. This past Sunday I preached on the place of scripture in the Church reminding us that Scripture is our primary source for doctrine but not our only source and that tradition, reason and experience interplay with scripture in the formation of our faith.
Right now First UMC is also emphasizing the importance of the church family with an annual theme “Family First.” By family we do not just member the members and attenders of First UMC but all people who are part of God’s family. (That’s everyone!)
So this week I’m thinking about how tradition and family interplay. One of the great traditions of the church the sacrament of baptism. This Sunday I’ll be officiating my first baptism at First UMC! The candidate for baptism happens to be a very cute infant boy.
United Methodists have the tradition of baptizing people at any age from infancy into adulthood. That tradition has Biblical roots in Peter’s baptism of Cornelius’ family and in our understanding of God’s grace. Grace is God’s unmerited unearned love and favors. One of the ways we describe grace is that it is “prevenient.” That means God loved us and cared about us before we ever knew God, before we could ever respond to God, and before we even understand anything about God or faith. God’s love comes first, just like a family’s love for a small child comes first!
So one of the valuable traditions of our Church is welcoming children into the family of God through baptism. In that traditional ceremony of baptism parents will renew their own baptismal vows, and promise to raise their child in the faith. The church will promise to love and care for that child and family and do all in their power to also help lead that child to faith in Christ and into the family of God.
That are some negative aspects of tradition and we also need to examine those to determine what traditions should remain and what traditions should we lifted up again and again. But in baptism the family of God is connected to each other, the universal body of Christ, and Christians down through the ages as people enter Christ’s church by water and spirit!