Water baptism is a Christian ritual in which a believer – and in some cases, believers’ children – is immersed in or sprinkled with water. Different Christian denominations have different views regarding the purpose and meaning of baptism, but most agree that the practice has to do with the symbolic washing away of sin.

Believers Only

Some Christian denominations believe in baptizing the children of believers shortly after birth. People who belong to these churches are usually baptized when they are infants, though those who convert later in life may be baptized as adults. Other Christian denominations believe that baptism is only meaningful for those who have personally professed faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sin. These denominations differ regarding the age at which they will baptize a convert. Some will only baptize adults; others will baptize children who are old enough to understand the significance of baptism. Some of the larger denominations that practice believers’ or adult baptism include Baptists, Pentecostals and Churches of Christ.

Sacrament or Symbol

There is disagreement among Christians regarding whether baptism is a sacrament or a symbolic ordinance. Those who believe that baptism is a sacrament believe that a person actually receives God’s forgiveness of sin during his or her baptism. Those who believe that baptism is an ordinance believe that baptism is symbolic of the washing away of sin that was already accomplished when the person accepted Jesus Christ as savior. Both believe that baptism serves as a testimony to others of a person’s faith in Christ.

Sprinkle, Pour or Immerse

Different Christian denominations practice different methods of water baptism. The three most common are sprinkling water on the baptismal candidate’s forehead, pouring water over his head and immersing him completely under the water. Most churches that exclusively practice adult or believers’ baptism baptize by complete immersion. One of-cited reason for this is that the word baptism literally means “immersion” in Koine Greek – the language in which the New Testament was originally written. Some churches that commonly practice adult baptism – including Wesleyans and United Brethren – accept any form of water baptism.

Symbolic Meanings

Baptism conveys a number of symbolic meanings for Christians. The first is that of having sins washed away. Many Christians also believe that baptism helps a believer to identify with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. They cite scriptures such as Romans 6:3-4, which says, “Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”