What is a Baptism?

Baptism Ceremony Planningbap·tism
Pronunciation: ‘bap-“ti-z&m, esp Southern ‘bab-
Function: noun

1 a : a Christian sacrament marked by ritual use of water and admitting the recipient to the Christian community b : a non-Christian rite using water for ritual purification c Christian Science : purification by or submergence in Spirit
2 : an1. There are several types of baptism: water, fire, spirit, and metaphorical.

2. Water baptism is associated with and symbolic of the confession of sin, repentance, the baptism of the Holy Spirit, righteousness, being a disciple of Jesus, obedience of Jesus’ commands, the washing away of sins. In short, it is an initiation rite into the community of New Covenant believers.

BaptismThe Roman Catechism (Ad parochos, De bapt., 2, 2, 5) defines baptism thus: Baptism is the sacrament of regeneration by water in the word (per aquam in verbo). St. Thomas Aquinas (III:66:1) gives this definition: “Baptism is the external ablution of the body, performed with the prescribed form of words.”

Later theologians generally distinguish formally between the physical and the metaphysical defining of this sacrament. By the former they understand the formula expressing the action of ablution and the utterance of the invocation of the Trinity; by the latter, the definition: “Sacrament of regeneration” or that institution of Christ by which we are reborn to spiritual life. The term “regeneration” distinguishes baptism from every other sacrament, for although penance revivifies men spiritually, yet this is rather a resuscitation, a bringing back from the dead, than a rebirth.

Penance does not make us Christians; on the contrary, it presupposes that we have already been born of water and the Holy Ghost to the life of grace, while baptism on the other hand was instituted to confer upon men the very beginnings of the spiritual life, to transfer them from the state of enemies of God to the state of adoption, as sons of God. The definition of the Roman Catechism combines the physical and metaphysical definitions of baptism. “The sacrament of regeneration” is the metaphysical essence of the sacrament, while the physical essence is expressed by the second part of the definition, i.e. the washing with water (matter), accompanied by the invocation of the Holy Trinity (form).

Baptism is, therefore, the sacrament by which we are born again of water and the Holy Ghost, that is, by which we receive in a new and spiritual life, the dignity of adoption as sons of God and heirs of God’s kingdom
experience, or ordeal by which one is purified, sanctified, initiated, or named.

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Greek Meaning of Baptism: Liddell and Scott is not the only authority to point out that the Greek word βαπτίζω did not mean exclusively, dip, plunge, immerge. Scholars of various denominations point to two passages in the New Testament as indicating that the word was used of something much less than the total immersion of the person. Luke 11:38 recounts that, when Jesus ate at a Pharisee’s house, “the Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash (βαπτίζω – literally, “be baptized” or “baptize himself”) before dinner.”

Those who point to this passage say that the Pharisee will not have expected Jesus to immerse himself fully before having a meal and that his surprise will have been at Jesus’ omission of the customary ritual washing of the hands. The other New Testament passage pointed to is Mark 7:3–4a: “The Pharisees … do not eat unless they wash (νίπτω, the ordinary word for washing) their hands thoroughly, observing the tradition of the elders; and when they come from the market place, they do not eat unless they wash themselves (literally, “baptize themselves” – βαπτίζω)”.

Modern Practice: Today, baptism is most readily identified with Christianity, where it symbolizes the cleansing (remission) of sins, and the union of the believer with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection so that he may be called “saved” or “born again.” Most Christian groups practice some form of literal water-based baptism and agree that it is important, yet strongly disagree with other groups regarding any or all of several aspects of the rite, such as:

* manner or method of the “baptism”, including the necessity of using water
* recipients of baptism
* meaning and effects of baptism

A few Christian groups assert that water baptism has been supplanted by the promised “baptism of the Holy Spirit”, and water baptism was unnecessarily carried over from the early Jewish Christian practice. Some require the explicit word “water” to be used in the text if it is to be interpreted as a literal baptism in water.

Meaning and Effects of Baptism: There are differences in views about the effect of baptism for a Christian. Some Christian groups assert baptism is a requirement for salvation and a sacrament, and speak of “baptismal regeneration.” This view is shared by the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions, by Churches formed early during the Protestant Reformation such as Lutheran, Anglican and Methodist, and Restorationist Churches such as the Churches of Christ and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons). For example, Martin Luther said:

To put it most simply, the power, effect, benefit, fruit, and purpose of Baptism is to save. No one is baptized in order to become a prince, but as the words say, to “be saved.” To be saved, we know, is nothing else than to be delivered from sin, death, and the devil and to enter into the kingdom of Christ and live with him forever.
—The Large Catechism, 1529

For Roman Catholics, baptism by water is a sacrament of initiation into the life of children of God. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1212-13). It configures the person to Christ (CCC 1272), and obliges the Christian to share in the Church’s apostolic and missionary activity (CCC 1270). The Catholic Tradition holds that there are three types of baptism by which one can be saved: sacramental baptism (with water), baptism of desire (explicit or implicit desire to be part of the Church founded by Jesus Christ), and baptism of blood (martyrdom) (see topic below : Catholic baptism and salvation).

By contrast, Baptist and Calvinist groups espouse baptism as a worthy practice, but say that baptism has no sacramental power, and only testifies outwardly to the invisible and internal operation of God’s power, which is completely separate from the rite itself.

Who May Adminster a Baptism? There is debate among Christian churches as to who can administer baptism. The examples given in the New Testament only show apostles and deacons administering baptism. Ancient Christian churches interpret this as indicating that baptism should be performed by the clergy except in extremis, i.e., when the one being baptized is in immediate danger of death. Then anyone may baptize, provided, in the view of the Eastern Orthodox Church, the person who does the baptizing is a member of that Church, or, in the view of the Roman Catholic Church, that the person, even if not baptized, intends to do what the Church does in administering the rite. Many Protestant churches see no specific prohibition in the biblical examples and permit any believer to baptize another.

In the Latin Rite Catholic Church the ordinary minister of baptism is a member of the clergy (bishop, priest or deacon), but in normal circumstances only the Parish Priest of the person to be baptized, or someone authorized by the Parish Priest, may do so licitly. “If the ordinary minister is absent or impeded, a catechist or some other person deputed to this office by the local Ordinary, may lawfully confer baptism; indeed, in a case of necessity, any person who has the requisite intention may do so By “a case of necessity” is meant imminent danger of death because of either illness or an external threat. “The requisite intention” is, at the minimum level, the intention “to do what the Church does” through the rite of baptism.

In the Eastern Catholic Churches, a deacon is not considered an ordinary minister. Administration of the sacrament is reserved, as in the Latin Rite, to the Parish Priest. But, “in case of necessity (in extremis), baptism can be administered by a deacon or, in his absence or if he is impeded, by another cleric, a member of an institute of consecrated life, or by any other Christian faithful; even by the mother or father, if another person is not available who knows how to baptize”.

The discipline of the Eastern Orthodox Church, Oriental Orthodoxy and the Assyrian Church of the East is similar to that of the Eastern Catholic Churches. They require the baptizer, even in cases of necessity, to be of their own faith, on the grounds that a person cannot convey what he himself does not possess, in this case membership in the Church. The Latin Rite Catholic Church does not insist on this condition, considering that the effect of the sacrament, such as membership of the Church, is not produced by the person who baptizes, but by the Holy Spirit. For the Orthodox, while Baptism in extremis may be administered by a deacon or any layperson, if the newly-baptized person survives, a priest must still perform the other prayers of the Rite of Baptism, and administer the Mystery of Chrismation.

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7 responses to “What is a Baptism?”

  1. michael yatsko says:

    Our pastor ends the baptismal “”N. I baptize….” with an “Amen”. I find no reference to this “form” in any of the cathechisms or website devoted to our sacraments. Having been taught by the old school and by various sources that these ritual forms are liturgically “carved in stone” perhaps I am being over scrupulous. But somehow I resent the liberty they are taking with these ancient and traditional prayers. Is this some form of the new liberation theology? Seriously, I would appreciate your comments.
    M. Yatsko

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  6. Owen Murphy says:

    i think that spiritual life is much more important compared to our earthly life.`”~

  7. Lucas Parker says:

    spiritual life is really more important than our earthly life~-;

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