Baptism welcomes believers into Christianity

Friday, September 28, 2007 | 1:00 p.m. CDT; updated 4:02 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Whether by dunking, sprinkling or pouring, baptism comes in many forms. Christian denominations agree, though, on the spiritual significance of baptism, one of only two sacraments shared by Protestants and Catholics.

Baptism is a symbolic rebirth through Jesus Christ. It is an acceptance of Jesus as Lord and Savior and an initiation into the church and its beliefs.


The story of Jesus’ baptism is told in the Gospel books of Matthew, Mark and Luke. Jesus goes to his cousin John the Baptist to be baptized in the Jordan River, marking the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.

After Jesus is baptized, the Holy Spirit comes to him in the form of a dove. The dove is sometimes used as a symbol during baptism. Jesus’ baptism is also sometimes compared to God’s saving of Noah from the flood waters.

Because it is believed that John the Baptist poured water from a scallop shell, the shell is another symbol commonly associated with baptism. It sometimes features three drops of water that symbolize the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The sacrament of baptism is performed in one of three ways. Immersion is the practice of dunking a person completely under water to symbolize his or her rebirth. Sprinkling is the spraying of a person; affusion is the pouring of water on a person’s head.

Infant baptism

Denominations that baptize children as infants do so on the belief that Jesus calls for all people to be brought before him and baptized. Often the infant is baptized before the church as a symbolic bringing forth of the child to be brought up in the faith by the congregation.

Children who are baptized as infants usually go through confirmation rites as young adults where they learn about their faith and reaffirm their early baptism. Among the faiths that practice infant baptism are Roman Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Presbyterians, Methodists and Lutherans.

Adult baptism

Denominations that do not baptize as infants believe that people who are baptized must be able to understand the depth of what is being performed and the purpose for having it done. This belief is often referred to as “believer’s baptism.” Most often these adult baptisms are immersions.

Some denominations offer a baby dedication, where the child is made part of the church but must still go through the rites of baptism to be a true member. Among the “believer’s baptism” faiths are Baptists and Seventh-Day Adventists.

Sources: The Encyclopedia of Religions;;;;;

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