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The Meaning Of Baptism In Christianity

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A ritual is the performance of a ceremonial act prescribed by tradition. A ritual is a specific, observable mode of behaviour exhibited by all known societies (Encyclopaedia Britannica 2019). Christianity is a monotheistic religion that grew out of Judaism. There are many life cycle rituals that are included in the Christian faith, some of these rituals include; baptism, Eucharist, Confirmation, Reconciliation, Anointing of the sick, Marriage and the Holy orders. Life cycle rituals in Christianity are not as rigid as they tend to be in other religions, with many Christians not participating in any rituals what so ever. In Christian denominations, baptism is conducted soon after a baby is born. Baptism is a formal induction into the Christian faith. This is a ritual of purification by water, which is conducted by a priest who recites prayers and pours water on the head odd the person being baptised (Lee, C n.d., Classroom). Christian baptism originated with Jewish ritual cleansing as carried out by John the Baptist when he baptised Jesus. In Christianity, baptism has changed over time through the way in which it used to be done immersion, whereas it is now done by sprinkling or pouring water over the person’s head.

Arnold Van Gennep argued that all rites of passage have three phases, these stages include; pre-liminal, liminal and post-liminal. The pre-liminal stage of a ritual is the stage which marks the break and end of the old order and status before the individual or group comes to terms with the new phase (Liminality n.d). In Christian baptism, the pre-liminal stage is the original sin that the infant was born with. Everyone is born with original sin stemming from Adam and Eve’s rebellion in Eden, particularly the sin of disobedience in consuming the forbidden fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The pre-liminal stage also consists of parents buying a white gown for the infant to be baptised in. In Christianity, white is a symbol of purity, innocence and holiness (Religion Facts 2016). The liminal stage of a ritual refers to the period in which a person or community is between two distinct phases of life. This is where the original sin is acted upon. The liminal stage of baptism is the actual baptism ceremony itself when water is poured over the baby’s head and they anointed with the holy Chrism oil (BBC n.d.). The Sign of the Cross is traced on the forehead of the one being baptized. The immersion in water of the one being baptized reminds us that we die with Jesus to conquer sin and rise with him so we might enter into a new life. This ritual action expresses that the mystery of the cross is at the heart of our faith. The words of Baptism, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” are spoken while the water is poured or the one to be baptized is immersed. These words reveal that God in the Trinity is both the source of life and our life’s goal. The newly baptized is anointed with sacred oil to signify that the Holy Spirit dwells within the heart of this new Christian. A baptismal candle, lit from the Easter candle, represents the one true light of Christ, a light to guide the new believer throughout his or her life (Loyola Press n.d.). The post-liminal stage of baptism is where the baptised how now become apart of the Catholic Church. Now that the baptised person is apart of the Catholic Church, they are now invited to take part in the 6 other sacraments of Christianity, these sacraments include; Eucharist, Confirmation, Reconciliation, Anointing of the sick, Marriage and the Holy orders.

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Baptists believed that churches are to be pure, where only those who testify in both word and deed such as baptism, are to be members of and active participants in the life of churches (Religion Library 2019). Christian churches have universally accepted baptism as their ritual of initiation. Baptism is a rite of passage that marks a change of status. In ancient times, baptism was the pinnacle of a long preparation period, which included the forty days of Lent. This Liminal stage in which the newcomer went beyond the verge of normal living is known as catechumenate. Some churches have restored this practice of preparing adults for baptism in a catechumenate (Ryan, M & Goldburg, P 2001). During the baptism ceremony in the early church and candidates faced the West. They stretched their hands and rejected Satan. Then they turned to the East and declared their commitment to Jesus Christ. Before Jesus, the washing of almost anything was considered as a way of cleansing and purifying to rid of sin or to make clean (Morrissey, J, Mudge, P & Taylor, A 1998). Nowadays, baptism is seen as the beginning of the Christians’ faith journey to God. Christians, believe that in baptism they are leaving behind a life of sin and starting a new life in Christ (The Holy Sacrament of Baptism 2011). In mainline congregations such as the United Church of Christ, Reformed Church or Presbyterian Church – U.S.A., adult converts to Christianity can be baptised. The churches still practice infant baptism on children born in the church community. Baptism does not provide eternal salvation for these denominations. Whether an infant or older person is being baptised, the focus involves welcoming the new person into the congregation (Lee, C n.d., Classroom). They see this in the symbolism of water. Water represents death to sin and new life in Christ. Water is needed for life and can cause death by drowning. The symbolism of water is more evident in the believer’s baptism ceremony. As they enter the pool down the steps they are leaving their old life behind and as they come out of the water they are beginning a new life in Jesus. Over the years, baptism has changed in small ways. There are three methods of baptism used in Christian churches today: immersion, in which the person is completely submerged, affusion which is, pouring, and aspersion, where the water is sprinkled. Due to different cultural beliefs, some Christians might reject a certain practice while others would gladly accept it. Debates over ethics and practice are intrinsic to the multicultural nature of the Christian religion (Lloyd, S n.d.).

The mode used by the early Church in the first few centuries was immersion, with affusion reserved for occasions when immersion was impossible due to lack of sufficient water, and aspersion used for individuals too sick or weak for either immersion or affusion. Baptism was once and still performed by immersion even when infant baptism is practiced (Norskov Olsen, V 1978). However, sprinkling became ever more common in modern times. Baptism by sprinkling or pouring came to be known as ‘clinical baptism,’ because it was first primarily used for those who were sick (Pence, G n.d.). Apostle Paul in the Epistle to the Romans points out that the rite of baptism by immersion expresses symbolically our personal faith in Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection in our behalf. Jesus commanded baptism in a way that would make it an ongoing practice of the church. This can be seen explicitly in Matthew 28:19-20: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

As a result of all of the changes throughout Baptism in Christianity, it can be seen that the ritual has developed over the centuries. It has developed in ways through which it has not permanently changed any way in which baptism is performed as it can be done through either immersion or now affusion aswell. Different methods of being baptised have been added such as the sprinkling and the pouring. Christians, particularly those who recognize the validity of infant baptism, consider all three modes to be acceptable (Encyclopaedia Britannica 2019). Scriptures and common sense indicate that the water is not all-important and that, therefore, other methods may be used as substitutes in exceptional circumstances. God accepts the believer on the basis of his faith in Christ and his desire to obey Him, not on the basis of how much water covered his body when he was baptised (Encyclopaedia Britannica 2019).

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