April 23, 1996 in Nation/World

New Rules For United Methodists

Associated Press

In a return to its theological roots, United Methodists decided Monday that people should be considered full members of the church when they are baptized, rather than when they are old enough to profess their faith.

The new policy was unanimously approved by about 1,000 delegates to the United Methodist General Conference, the governing body of the nation’s second-largest Protestant denomination. Later in the week the body will vote to incorporate the changes into church law.

The statement moves the 8.5 million-member church closer to Lutheran, Episcopal and Catholic churches, and away from some evangelical churches that require individuals to be “born again” or make their own decisions as teenagers or adults to join the church.

“The sacrament is primarily a gift of divine grace. Neither parents nor infants are the chief actors; baptism is an act of God in and through the church,” the statement says.

Proponents of the new policy said it recaptures the church’s theological heritage.

John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Movement, taught that in infant baptism, a child was cleansed of the guilt of original sin, initiated into a covenant with God and admitted into the church.

However, in the frontier world of rugged individualism where Methodism flourished, revivals emphasized personal decisions for Christ.

© Copyright 1996 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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