What exactly is baptism?
- Ecclesiastical. a ceremonial immersion in water, or application of water, as an initiatory rite or sacrament of the Christian church.
- any similar ceremony or action of initiation, dedication, etc.
- a trying or purifying experience or initiation.
“initiatory sacrament of the Christian faith, consisting in immersion in or application of water by an authorized administrator,” c. 1300, bapteme, from Old French batesme, bapteme “baptism” (11c., Modern French baptême), from Latin baptismus, from Greek baptismos, noun of action from baptizein (see baptize). The -s- was restored in late 14c.
The signification, qualifications, and methods of administration have been much debated. Figurative sense “any ceremonial ablution as a sign of purification, dedication, etc.” is from late 14c. Old English used fulluht in this sense (John the Baptist was Iohannes se Fulluhtere).
Phrase baptism of fire “a soldier’s first experience of battle” (1857) translates French baptême de feu; the phrase originally was ecclesiastical Greek baptisma pyros and meant “the grace of the Holy Spirit as imparted through baptism;” later it was used of martyrdom, especially by burning.
As you can see, the term has had some variant use. Even so, the focus here is on what you see in definition #1 from dictionary.com.
Baptism, while it has initiate qualities, more specifically display death to one’s old self and rising anew as a believer in Jesus Christ. Practices surrounding this sacrament have varied throughout church history.
Of the various baptism varitions, each can be easily placed into one of two categories of baptism:
Credotbaptism is the baptism of professing believers. It involves the public profession of faith from the believer accompanied with entire-body immersion in water. [cred- (latin) refers to a creed or profession; often called “believer’s baptism”]
- The Baptists (hence the name) are some of the most well-known connected to this practice.
- The water immersion could take place in a river, lake, pool, etc. Some Christian traditions will only baptize in running water (usually a river).
Paedobaptism is the baptism done upon infants or young children. This could include immersion, dunking, or sprinkling with water. [paed- comes from Greek pais which means “child”]
- Entire households are considered to be part of the Covenant of Grace if the parents are believers. Therefore, it is the parent’s belief that is looked to instead of the Child’s belief.
- Baptism is considered the sign of the covenant just as circumcision was the sign of covenant found in the Old Testament.
- For variations on paedobaptism (current & historical), see the list within the Paedobaptist post.