A significant portion of the contemporary ecumenical movement centers on baptism, where lines of consensus are appearing among Christian churches.
That's according to Dr. Gayle Carlton Felton, assistant professor of Christian Nurture at Duke Divinity School. She was one of five speakers at the "Baptism Meaning and Practice" seminar, hosted by the First United Methodist Church of Salt Lake City Feb. 20-22.Felton, who wrote the book, "This Gift of Water," said during her Feb. 21 morning speech that there are seven trends appearing in baptism that are forming these lines of consensus among many Christian churches.
"Baptism and other sacraments are being seen as part of corporate worship," she said, explaining the trend is that it is no longer a private family occasion.
Second, she said baptism is becoming a sacrament, not just an ordinance in many churches now.
Third, she said more water is being used in baptism - even if sprinkling is the method used.
She also said baptism is being seen more and more as an invitation into the church and is the first public affirmation of a person's Christian faith.
Baptism is being linked more closely with the sacrament of Holy Communion, too, and is becoming more a mark of Christian discipleship.
"When we are baptized, we are commissioned," Felton said.
She also traced the history of baptism from the early Christian Church to the Reformation.
Infant baptism was the accepted tradition in early Christian families, because those children would be trained in the faith. Otherwise, it was many times a three-year training process for an adult, she said.
Elder Jay E. Jensen, a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was another speaker at the seminar. He gave a 45-minute presentation Feb. 20 on "Baptism and the LDS Tradition."
Elder Jensen said baptism is an essential initiatory ordinance in the LDS Church and that proper authority is needed to baptize.
Regarding ecumenical implications, he said he couldn't speak for the Methodist faith, but for the LDS Church, baptisms performed by ministers of other religions are not accepted.
"The reasons have to do with the question of proper authority and with the purpose of baptism," he said.
However, he also stressed that the church does not believe that anyone not baptized into the LDS faith is damned to hell.
"In God's grace, goodness and justice, provisions are made for teaching his gospel in this life and in the next life," Elder Jensen said.
The three other speakers at the three-day event included Dr. Bruce Robbins, the General secretary of the General Commissions on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns for the United Methodist Church. He addressed baptism and interreligious concerns.
"Strengthening Worship for the 21st Century" was addressed by the Rev. Daniel T. Benedict Jr., a member of the General Board of Discipleship of the United Methodist Church.