Baptism (or Christening) is when a person makes a public commitment to their Christian faith. In the New Testament of the Bible there are many stories of people coming to faith, and being baptised as a symbol of their new life as a Christian, a follower of Christ. Jesus himself was baptised in the River Jordan, before he began his ministry on earth. The Church has followed the tradition in his example since then.
There is powerful symbolism in the act of baptism. The person passes through the water of death, showing that their old life apart from God has died, and is raised to new life. This reflects the death and ressurection of Christ. Indeed, before the existence of fonts, people were physically submerged in rivers and then lifted up. In the same way that the sins of the world were redeemed through Christ’s death and ressurection, so too are the person’s sins, as they enter in to their new life as part of their own church family and the worldwide Christian family.
Discover all you need to know about choosing, planning and going to a Church of England christening on Church of England Christenings’ website.
Baptising children and infants
Parents have brought children and infants for baptism since the early days of the Church. It is a way of expressing their love and thanks for their child, declaring their commitment to raise them as a Christian, and welcoming them in to the church as they begin their journey of faith. The difference from adult baptism is that parents and Godparents (or sponsors) make the declarations on behalf of the child who is too young to understand.
These declarations state a commitment to bring their children up within a Christian family, to bring them to church regularly, and to teach and encourage them in their faith journey. This will lead to them bringing the child for confirmation when they are old enough, so that they themselves can ‘confirm’ the declarations made on their behalf at baptism.
Some parents may not feel quite ready to make these declarations, or wish to wait until the child is older, but still want to celebrate and give thanks for their child’s birth. Many churches offer services of thanksgiving which offers this alternative.
Adults have also been baptised since the early days of the church, as a symbol of their new life as a follower of Christ. It usually follows a period of preparation where they learn about Christian faith and how that translates in to everyday life.
Whereas it was once always the Bishop that carried out the baptism, as the church grew it became physically impossible for him to do this, so priests were given permission to baptise. Originally the baptism was immediately followed by being annointed with oil and partaking in holy communion. This later was broken in to two parts, making two separate services. The baptism became one service, and receiving annointing and holy communion another – the confirmation service. However, if it is an adult being baptised, it’s more usual still for both to take part in one service.
If you would like to arrange a baptism or thanksgiving for your child, or discuss baptism for yourself, you need to find your local church and contact the vicar. They will happily discuss any questions that you have, and help you to make your decision.