Baptism is a ritual practice within the Christian faith involving ablutions, or cleansing by water. It is performed differently from denomination to denomination. Some Christian denominations sprinkle water over an infant's or convert's head and read a liturgical statement about baptism. In other traditions, adult Christians must be submerged under water. Just as practices of baptism differ, their cultural meanings also vary significantly between Christian traditions.
Cancellation of Sins
Within the Roman Catholic religion, baptism must be performed on infants as a matter of eternal salvation. Catholics believe infants are born in a state of degradation caused by the so-called "original sin" committed when Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate fruit from the forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden. Catholics believe infant baptism conducted by a priest cancels out the original sin such that an infant will be received in heaven if he suffers an untimely death.
A Welcoming Ritual
In mainline congregations such as the United Church of Christ, Reformed Church or Presbyterian Church - U.S.A., adult converts to Christianity can be baptized. Still, the churches practice infant baptism on children born in the church community. For these denominations, baptism does not provide eternal salvation. Whether an infant or older person is being baptized, the focus involves welcoming the new person into the congregation. Often the pastor and church members read a liturgical passage in which members commit to support the spiritual development of the person being baptized.
Establishing God's Sovereignty
More conservative churches in the Calvinist tradition, such as the Presbyterian Church of America and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, also practice infant baptism. Like their more theologically liberal counterparts, they too recite a liturgical commitment to help guide the person being baptized. These denominations teach the doctrine of predestination, so their ceremonies often focus on God's sovereignty. The liturgical readings signify the congregation's commitment -- often called a "covenant relationship" -- to help the individual determine God's predetermined plans for her life.
Demonstrating Personal Salvation
Another group of evangelical churches that includes various Baptist and Pentecostal denominations requires adult baptism, usually by submerging in a tub of water. For these denominations, the baptism is not about the congregation's relationship to the new adult member. Rather it is a public symbol of the individual's commitment to the Christian faith. Church members view such baptisms as cause for celebration but hold that the individual's spiritual development is fundamentally his own responsibility.
- Word and World: Baptism Revisited - An Anthropological Perspective
- Patheos Religion Library: Christianity - Rites and Ceremonies
- Catholic Encyclopedia: Baptism
- The Anthropology of Christianity; Fenella Cannell
- Comparative Christianity - A Student's Guide to a Religion and its Diverse Traditions; Thomas Arthur Russell
- One Baptism - Ecumenical Dimensions of the Doctrine of Baptism; Susan K. Wood
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