There are many views among Christians regarding baptism.
~ How old should you be?
~ How many times should one be baptized?
~ Is it about one's personal decision?
~ Does it make you a member of a certain church?
~ What is the correct method of baptism?
~ Is it a heaven or hell issue?
I believe that my view of baptism is very much in line with general Methodist theology on baptism.
Here is my take on baptism . . .
Baptism did not start with John the Baptist. For centuries before, the Jews had various baptisms and ceremonial washings for different traditions regarding worship in the temple. Consequently when John the Baptist came and offered baptism for the repentance of sins, it was not a new thing to the Jews.
They went out and were baptized by John in the Jordan river. The Jordan River is hardly a place where people would be dunked all the way under. Usually a river deep enough to dunk someone in [like the Missouri] would carry you away, long before the baptism was over. [Help, I can't swim!] I have seen the Jordan River and a more accurate picture would be someone kneeling in water and cupped hands pouring water on the person's head.
The early church practiced infant baptism. As in the days of Abraham, and during the New Testament times, the people lived in clans. There was no such thing as individual decision. When God spoke to Abraham in Genesis 12, everyone went with him. When the Phillipian jailer was saved, he and his whole house were baptized. One person, made a decision and it was effective for everyone in his group, even the kids. When the Roman emperor declared Christianity the official religion of the empire in 356 ad, overnight, millions became Christians. This clan style of thinking permeated the church until the time of the enlightenment and reformation.
In the 1500's we had some amazing changes. The printing press came in to being. City-states were developing, bringing about more job opportunities [cobbler, blacksmith] which threatened the clan, and gave people the chance for the first time in their lives to live and exist outside of the clan. People began to read the Bible themselves; they revolted against some of the teachings of the church. New denominations were formed. As society began to introduce individual choice, so the Christian faith too began to find great purpose in individual choice. It was during this period of time that the first groups of Christians emerged that taught believer's or adult-only baptism.
Today, we have two streams of theology that co-exist in our world. Both streams are different, but both are good.
In one stream, lets call it the clan stream; parents make decisions for their children. They will be raised in the Christian faith. Baptism is a sign of the covenant. It is a sign of God's power, God's protection, and God's action. When the child is older, they come to their own faith in Christ and they confirm their faith. This does not include being re-baptized though, because baptism is not about one's choice in this theology, baptism is about God's choices and God's action in the world.
In the other stream, children are dedicated to the Lord, but not baptized . . . no water goes on them. They are trained and when they are of age, they choose Christ and are baptized.
Both of these approaches are acceptable in the United Methodist Church. Baptism is not a heaven or hell issue. People have different ways of looking at things. Neither one is more right or more wrong in my opinion.
There are dangers to both. In infant baptism, there is danger of "splash and dash" just going thru the motions of baptism and never making sure that they young person finds a real faith in Christ. There is the danger of thinking that since I was baptized, I must be ok.
In the other model, the danger is that too much emphasis is placed on the person's decision instead of God's promise. Consequently, every time someone has a bad year, they come back to church the next year and want to renew their faith and get baptized again. How many times should one get baptized in their life?
In the Methodist church, whether baptized as a child or an adult or a youth, we believe that the person is baptized into Christ, not into a particular denomination. Consequently, there is never a need to rebaptize someone. Occasionally we do it, but theologically the message at a second baptism is this "God didn't keep his promise, it really didn't count before, and it's all about how I feel today."
There are three historical methods of baptism.
~ sprinkling.....just a bit of water on the head.
~ dunking.....all the way under.
~ pouring....three pitchers poured one at a time on the head . . . in the name of the father, the son and the Holy Ghost.
We practice all three methods of baptism in the Methodist church. I have done all three kinds. Actually pouring is my favorite.
I believe that most arguments over baptism break down when people begin to say, "it should only be done this way or that way." In fact, churches have split over the issue of baptism. That is sad because baptism in not a heaven or hell issue. No one will be kept out of heaven because they were baptized in the wrong manner. Nor will anyone be allowed in simply because they were baptized. Baptism is a sign of God's action in saving us. When we are old enough to understand, we must choose to follow him, regardless of if or how we have or have not been baptized.
In baptism we celebrate the grace of God that has found us all and brings us together as a family in Christ.
All three of my children were baptized as infants. We made that choice for them just as we will choose when they get their ears pierced and what kind of clothes they wear. But, there are many great families in our church who have children and let them grow up and they are baptized at a later date. That is great with me, and I support each family's decision as to how they want to look at baptism.