Baptism 101: What Does It Mean?
Baptism Basics. Baptism is often called an “Outward Sign of an Inward Grace.” Christian baptism is rooted in the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth, in his death and in his resurrection. It is incorporation into Christ, who is the crucified and risen Lord; it is entry into the New Covenant between God and God's people. Baptism is a gift of God, and is administered in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The risen Lord, when sending his disciples into the world, commanded them to baptize. From its earliest days, the Church practiced baptism, and churches today continue this practice as a rite of commitment to the Lord.
Symbolism of Baptism. Baptism is a symbol. It is the sign of new life through Jesus Christ. It unites the one baptized with Christ and with his people. Baptism is participation in Christ's death and resurrection; a washing away of sin; a new birth; an enlightenment by Christ; a re-clothing in Christ; a renewal by the Spirit, and more. Following the example set by Jesus through his own baptism, Christians are immersed in the liberating death of Christ where their sins are buried, and where the power of sin is broken. Fully identified with the death of Christ, Christians are buried with him and are raised here and now to a new life in the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Baptism implies confession of sin and conversion of heart. Washing the body with water symbolizes cleansing the heart from sin.
Unity of Baptism. Through baptism, Christians are brought into union with Christ, with each other and with the Church of every time and place. Our common baptism, which unites us to Christ in faith, is thus a basic bond of unity. We are one people and are called to confess and serve one Lord in each place and in all the world.
Practice of Baptism. In the course of history, the practice of baptism has developed in a variety of forms. Some churches baptize infants brought by parents or guardians who are ready, in and with the Church, to bring up the children in the Christian faith. Other churches practice exclusively the baptism of believers who are able to make a personal confession of faith. Some of these churches encourage infants or children to be presented and blessed in a service, which usually involves thanksgiving for the gift of the child and also the commitment of the mother and father to Christian parenthood. (As an interdenominational congregation, Chapel by the Sea recognizes the various forms of baptism according to the tradition held by the family.) All churches baptize believers coming from other religions or from unbelief who accept the Christian faith and participate in catechetical instruction.
Baptism and Confession of Faith. When one who can answer for himself or herself is baptized, a personal confession of faith will be an integral part of the baptismal service. When an infant is baptized, the personal response will be offered at a later moment in life. In both cases, the baptized person will have to grow in the understanding of faith. For those baptized upon their own confession of faith, there is always the constant requirement of a continuing growth of personal response in faith. In the case of infants, personal confession is expected later, and Christian nurture is directed to the eliciting of this confession. At every baptism the whole congregation reaffirms its faith in God and pledges itself to provide an environment of witness and service. Baptism is best celebrated and developed in the setting of the Christian community.
Adapted from The World Council of Churches, “Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry - Faith and Order Paper No. 111.” If you want to know more, a quick internet search for this paper will be a great place to start.
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