What Is Baptism?


Baptism is defined as "the ceremony or sacrament of admitting a person into Christianity or a specific Christian church by immersing the individual in water or by pouring or sprinkling water on the individual." The word "baptize" derives from the Greek word "βάπτειν," or "baptein," which loosely means "to dip, bathe, or wash."

When Is Baptism Performed?

Some religions, such as the Catholic Church, teach that babies must be baptized or christened, usually within the first year after they are born. Others, however, believe that a person should not be baptized until they have reached an age of accountability, which can occur anywhere from the preteen years into adulthood.

How Is Baptism Performed?

Here again we see quite a difference in how baptisms are conducted. The practice of "sprinkling" drops of water over a baby's head is common in many religions, and this practice is typically referred to as aspersion. Some religions expand upon the aspersion tradition by actually pouring water over the head. However, other religions teach that to baptize is to immerse, meaning the person's entire body must be submerged under water for a few seconds.

What Is the Significance of Baptism?

For some, the act of baptism is the act of actually washing away of one's sins. It is a part of the plan of salvation, and these churches believe that those who do not practice it may lose their souls. For other religions, however, baptism is a symbol of their identification with the Lord. Although their salvation doesn't hinge upon baptism, they are showing their intention to live a Christian life. Whatever the case, baptism shows a person's submission to God.

What Is the History of Baptism?

Baptism dates back to Biblical times. The incident of John the Baptist baptizing Christ is just one of many examples throughout the Bible when baptisms were performed. Although Jews do not adopt the term baptism, traditional Jewish rites included purification baths, or mivkahs, which were given for a variety of reasons as part of a cleansing ceremony.

The Celebration

In the Catholic Church, the baptism or christening of a child is a cause for celebration, although it is also looked at as a very serious affair. In fact, parents are tyically asked to review an infant baptsim preparation policy and become familiar with all that the policy entails. Before the actual event occurs, a priest typically wants to meet with the parents. Information concerning the child's baptism registration is taken, and then, the date of the ceremony is set. The priest may also discuss the theology surrounding the baptismal ceremony. Parents are asked to make certain decisions regarding the ceremony. These might include the following:

  • When will the ceremony be held?
  • Will the ceremony be conducted during Mass?
  • Who will be the participants? Parents? Godparents?

Churches who do not practice infant baptisms may still choose to hold some type of celebration among the members of their congregation. Although, these celebrations will probably be much more informal. Baptisms are very personal decisions, and if you have any questions concerning baptism, you should contact your pastor, preacher, priest, elder, or deacon to voice these concerns.

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What Is Baptism?