Begin Free Online Ordination

A Baby Being BaptizedBaptism is practiced by many Christian sects all over the world. There are many different approaches: Some sprinkle water on an individual’s head while others call for full or partial immersion. Doctrinal reasons exist for all these methods, but baptism remains an important custom with deeper meanings for millions of people today.

The Jewish Mikveh and First-Century Baptism

Ritual purity was important to Jewish communities in ancient times. Many things could make you ritually impure: touching a dead body, physical contact with unclean animals, and childbirth, to name a few. You could not enter the temple in Jerusalem, and in some serious cases, you had to stay outside the community until you were clean again. The Torah directed an unclean person to wash in water to become purified. This gave rise to the mikveh, a ritual bath for immersing oneself.

Christian baptism traces its roots to several people. One is John the Baptist, a Jewish itinerate preacher during the first century C.E. who called people to repentance. The Bible’s New Testament depicts him baptizing Jesus, which the Gospels point to as the start of Jesus’s ministry. The Book of Acts shows disciples and later followers baptizing converts, usually people who’d observed pagan Greco-Roman traditions.

Around this time, Christian theologies began to develop around the practice. The Encyclopedia Britannica mentions Saint Paul’s description of baptism from his letter to the Romans, comparing it to sharing in Jesus’s death, burial, and resurrection. Baptizing in Jesus’s name was a common first-century Christian practice, but later customs called for invoking the Trinity during the ritual.

The Didache and Later Practices

Aleteia contributor Philip Kosloski discusses the Didache, a treatise on baptism written during the middle of the first century C.E. The writer instructed early Christians to baptize in living water whenever possible, invoking the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. “Living water” usually meant a river or other natural bodies of water. If immersion wasn’t possible, pouring water three times on the person’s head was an acceptable alternative. Those being baptized were required to fast a couple of days before the rite.

Scholars infer that early Christian communities primarily baptized adults, but some began baptizing infants. It was widespread enough that Tertullian, a second-century theologian, commented on the practice. He wasn’t exactly a fan of infant baptism; in his mind, it presented more problems because infants don’t know Christ and can’t understand why they’re being baptized. However, he didn’t outright forbid it. Other early theologians appeared to be in favor of infant baptism. Catholic Answers quotes Irenaeus, Origen, John Chrysostom, and Augustine of Hippo in support of the custom.

Infant Baptism and Anabaptist Movements

Throughout the next several centuries, the Christian Church’s reach spanned throughout Europe and the Middle East. Then came the Schism of 1054, splitting it into two divisions: Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodox. Most Eastern Orthodox sects practiced infant baptism, as did the Roman church. Protestant denominations such as Lutherans, Methodists, Anglicans, and Presbyterians also continued to baptize infants.

The Radical Reformation of the 16th century rebelled against both Catholicism and mainstream Protestant ideals. One point of contention was baptizing infants. The Radical Reformers believed that one had to make a personal profession of faith. Descendants of the Radical Reformation include Anabaptist groups like the Amish and the Mennonites. Other Protestant sects that prefer baptizing at later ages include Baptists, Churches of Christ, and most evangelical and Pentecostal groups.

Rites of Purification and Passage

Humans create rituals for many reasons. Baptism stemmed from the ideal of purification, washing away the old and being reborn. Over the last 2,000 years, it’s also become a rite of passage and membership. While every sect has different doctrines and practices, baptism is an important shared custom throughout the Christian world.

Category: Baptism

Baptism religion history children

Add Your Comment

To post a comment you must log in first.
You may alternatively login with your credentials, below.