Published: Friday, Jul. 30th, 2021
Baptism is a Christian religious rite that symbolizes purification, regeneration, repentance, the forgiveness of sins, and a person’s choice to adopt Christian faith and values.
Through the ceremony, a child or adult is welcomed into Christianity after being cleansed of sin. Baptism almost always involves water -- sprinkling it on the forehead, pouring it over the head and shoulders, or immersing the believer in a pool of water -- and is practiced in almost every Christian denomination in different ways. Some denominations believe it’s necessary for salvation.
Elders baptize babies to welcome them into the Christian faith, protect them from evil, and wash away their ‘original sin.’ Christians believe that the impulse to disobey God is part of human nature, that all people are born sinful, and that it’s this sinful nature that compels people to commit ‘actual sins’ (immoral acts).
Baptismal cleansing washes away this inherited sin and confers holy grace and salvation -- giving children a true clean start in Christ. This act is sometimes also called christening, when children are given a Christian name during baptism.
Catholics and Protestants practice infant baptism (including Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutherans, and Methodists), but Baptists do not. This is because Baptists believe that adult followers must choose baptism (sometimes called “believer’s baptism”). Some Protestant parents take an in-between approach, and baptize children only after those children have made the decision to follow Christian teachings.
Adults get baptized to publicly celebrate and profess their faith in Jesus Christ and their desire to obey God, and to repent and wash away past sins.
The traditions and customs of each denomination guide who performs the sacrament of baptism. Many Christians believe that any believer can baptize another, without being a member of the clergy.
However, most denominations reserve this role for ministers and other clergy members, as a way of honoring the importance of the ritual. This honor is often entrusted to bishops, deacons, parish priests, pastors, reverends, ordained ministers, and other clerics.
When performed within a church or oratory, baptism ceremonies take place in an area called a ‘baptistery.’ This area contains a table with a basin (similar to a sink) or bowl. Baptist churches have large pools, big enough for total immersion in water.
Baptisms are also held outdoors. These events might involve a table prepared with a bowl or cup of water, a community swimming pool, or a natural body of water (such as a river, stream, or lake). Outdoor venues are popular for non denominational and interfaith baptisms.
Baptisms are performed by sprinkling the forehead with holy water, pouring water over the head and shoulders, or by full or partial immersion in water (being “buried” in water as a symbolic death to a believer’s sins). Catholics and some traditional denominations also anoint the forehead with oil as part of baptism (oil of catechumens) as an added protection from evil.
Baptisms are an important and personal part of someone’s journey with Christ, but the ritual itself is very simple. (There’s no official term for the person being baptized, so we just refer to them as the ‘individual.’)
If you’ve ever performed a wedding, it can be helpful to think of your opening words and blessing as the wedding ceremony’s invocation (the introduction and ‘words on marriage’). The individual’s profession of faith is a public vow of commitment to Christ, and the benediction and pronouncement are very similar to an officiant’s wedding pronouncement -- as in, you’ll pronounce them officially baptized, and welcome them into the community.
Start by greeting the individual’s family and friends and announce the purpose for the ceremony. Share a few words on the religious significance of the ritual. You might wish to read a few Bible verses (we’ve included a few options below) or other inspirational texts, or give a blessing. If you’re close to the person being baptized, you might talk about walking the journey with them, and watching them grow in faith.
Prepare your opening words with enough time to practice them (more than once) before the ceremony. You don’t need to memorize anything, but it’s important to be familiar with any materials you plan to read.
While infants will just hang out looking adorable, it’s customary for older children and adults to profess their belief publicly as part of the ritual.
This can be as simple as a minister asking:
“Have you made a decision to follow the teachings of Jesus, and live your life only for Him?”
“Have you made a decision to walk in the light of God, living your life here forward in the worship and love of Christ?”
and the individual answering:
They might want to say a few simple words about their path to baptism, and what the day (and their faith) means to them.
This part is personal and should feel authentic to both of you!
As you sprinkle water on the individual’s forehead or lower them into a pool or lake, you’ll offer a traditional blessing, called a benediction. This first part of this ‘script’ is taken from Bible verse (Matthew 28:19):
“With this profession of faith, I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Ghost). This water is a symbol of God’s love and forgiveness. Let it wash away the first sin, the original sin… Let it cleanse both mind, and soul.”
“With your willing profession of faith, I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Ghost). Today you bury your sins of the past, and are reborn into eternal life in Christ. Let His light fill you, let His holy and eternal love fill, and guide you.”
For infant baptisms, it’s most common to sprinkle or pour a small amount of water on the baby’s forehead. (Some adults prefer this method, too.) You’ll need to keep in mind that several denominations have strict methods that you’ll need to adhere to. And most often, you’ll find that the chosen venue and water source will naturally steer you toward one method or another (indoors versus outdoors, pouring with a bowl versus submerging in a stream).
But if you’re not sure what method to use, it’s always useful to ask what the individual is most comfortable with. This is especially helpful for non denominational and interfaith ceremonies.
As you sprinkle the water or lower them into the pool, remember to be gentle! You don’t want to get water up anyone’s nose. Have the individual hold onto one of your arms, as you lower them into the water with the other - this will make it easier for them to stand back up afterward.
When the baptism is over, embrace them and welcome them into the community!
Some ministers will complete a baptism certificate for the family or individual:
For children, certificates usually include name, date of birth, parents’ names, minister’s name, denomination, and date and location of the baptism. For adults, certificates include name, date and location of the baptism, denomination, and minister’s name (and any sponsors or witnesses). Certificates can be purchased in a specific style, or created using a personal template.
There are many references to baptism in the Christian Bible, each with dozens of translations. Here are a few:
John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” -- Luke 3:16 (ESV, English Standard Version)
So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. -- Galatians 3:26-27 (NIV, New International Version)
John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. And there went out unto him all the land of Judaea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins. -- Mark 1:4-5 (KJV, King James Version)
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. -- Matthew 28:18-20 (NIV, New International Version)
And Peter said unto them, Repent ye, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins; and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For to you is the promise, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call unto him. -- Acts 2:38-39 (ASV, American Standard Version)
We spend a lot of time talking about wedding ceremonies here in the American Weddings blog. This makes sense... Wedding ceremonies (and wedding officiants) are awesome! And they’re our primary focus and passion.
But AMM Ministers don’t just marry people. When they choose to, their roles can extend much further, supporting their communities in important ways. This deserves to be highlighted!
Ordination through American Marriage Ministries gives our ministers all of the same rights and protections held by ministers ordained through traditional brick-and-mortar churches. As an AMM Minister (or Reverend, Pastor, or Officiant, whatever title you choose), your right to conduct religious ceremonies of all forms is protected by the religious non-establishment clause of the first amendment. While many of our ministers only conduct wedding ceremonies, others also conduct baptisms, funerals, baby blessings, and other meaningful rites.
Learn more about what it means to be an AMM Minister by visiting our FAQ page.
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