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How To Perform a Baptism

Although baptism is traditionally thought of as a Christian ceremony, that truth is that many faiths have various spiritual ceremonies that fall along the lines of baptism. In fact, even the many denominations of the Christian faith have their own traditions that vary from the path that so many imagine for a baptism.

One detail that varies greatly is the age at which someone is baptized. In many denominations, the baptism occurs when someone is a newborn. For others, a baptism occurs only when the person has reached a certain age. Some faiths also require the person to be baptized to take special classes or perform other tasks before their ceremony.

On the other hand, a detail that remains constant is water. It is used in nearly every faith to represent the cleansing of sin and the start of a new life. Baptisms may be performed by a number of religious personnel, including priests, ministers or pastors. This guide will help you to learn more about baptism, including what your next steps should be if you are called upon by a friend or family member to perform one yourself.

Ordained Minister performs baptism

The History of Baptism

The history of baptism can be traced to John the Baptist, who was considered the founder of Christianity. In the third and fourth centuries, the spiritual practiced involved several steps, including reciting a creed, exorcism and immersion. Martin Luther declared baptism a sacrament in the 16th century, stating that faith is something people have regardless of age. Today, many of the rituals remain the same. Immersion and reciting creeds are still particularly common.

The Right Age for Someone To Be Baptized

The right age for someone to be baptized depends largely on his or her faith. Some Christian denominations, such as the Roman Catholics, believe in original sin. Original sin is the tendency for all humans to sin, and the denominations that follow this belief practice infant baptism to protect the child from sin. For faiths that do not believe in the idea of original sin, which typically includes Protestant denominations, the person being baptized has more control over when the ceremony takes place. Some churches do require a child to have an adult sponsor before becoming baptized, but others allow them to make their own decision. Children, adolescents or adults who intend to be baptized typically must complete religious education and a period of reflection before their ceremony can take place.

Religious education typically falls upon a priest, minister or another clergy member. In denominations that practice home teaching and send missionaries to teach the faith, such as the Latter-Day Saints, there are people whose job is specifically to educate those who are interested in becoming baptized. The education teaches more about the religion but also includes conversations about the potential church member's spiritual beliefs and why they feel that baptism is the right choice.

Christian Baptism

Christian denominations typically use one of two formulas for their baptisms: the Trinitarian formula or the Apostle Peter's formula. Those who use the Trinitarian, which is derived from Matthew 28, specifically mention the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit during the baptism ceremony speech. Apostle Peter's formula is derived from the Book of Acts and specifically urges people to repent in the name of Jesus Christ. When performing a Christian baptism, it is important to ask the person (or his or her family members) who is to be baptized which formula to use. If you are unable to do this, other clergy members of the church may also be able to provide information.

Baby in baptism ritual

Baptism Outside of the Christian Faith

Baptism rituals vary outside of the Christian religion. Some non-Christian religions have very similar traditions while others don't practice baptism rituals at all. Perhaps the most similar is the Jewish purification ritual of Tvilah. Someone who undergoes Tvilah is immersed in a Mikva, which is a natural source of water, which restores purity. Tvilah is the act of accepting the religion and is required by those who wish to convert, but it is also important in other circumstances. For example, someone who has become "impure" because they came into contact with a corpse must use a Mikva before participating in Holy Temple again. The ability to use Mikva repeatedly is the main way that Jewish Tvilah is different than Christian baptism.

Some people who wish to be baptized only want to take part if some of the Christian symbolism because other parts aren't relevant to their personal journeys. For this reason, it is important to talk to the person wishing to be baptized to ensure that you follow his or her personal beliefs and ideas about the baptism. Doing so ensures you create something that meets the church's specifications as well as adheres to the participant's personal beliefs.

How To Perform a Baptism

Although every baptism is its own spiritual rite of passage that is customized to the person taking part in the ceremony, all baptisms typically have the same basic steps. The first step is to ensure the person being baptized is in the proper kind of dress. For most Christian denominations, this includes a white robe or gown. This is because Christian faiths believe that white is the color of purity and rebirth. An infant or small child being baptized will likely arrive at the ceremony location in the proper attire. Older children and adults will have time to change at the venue before the ceremony begins.

When the ceremony begins, the spotlight will be on you. This is the time at which you'll recite blessings and prayers as well as anything else requested by the person being baptized. These words are meant to cleanse infants of original sin and to cleanse children and adults of original sin as well as any sins they've knowingly committed up to this point.

After you finish reciting blessings, the person being baptized receives physical support for the immersion. If the recipient is an infant, his or her parents and, if available, godparents, provide the support. Older children and adults receive support from the person performing the baptism or from another priest or minister. This involves supporting the recipient's back and head at the shoulders and gently pinching the nose to prevent water from entering it during immersion.

Once in position, the person being baptized receives the purification water. Sometimes, an infant will simply have water poured over his or her forehead instead of being fully immersed. However, children who are old enough and all adults are fully immersed by leaning back into the pool of water. The support person ensures the baptized is fully immersed and then helps him or her back into an upright position.

After the person being baptized has returned to an upright position, the ceremony is considered complete. If the ceremony only included immediate family, everyone usually departs at this time. However, some denominations allow friends, extended family or the congregation to attend baptisms. In these cases, there is usually a small reception afterward.

Performing a Baptism is an Honor

Being asked to perform somebody's baptism ceremony is a special honor. After all, he or she is asking you to directly help with the process of becoming closer to god, something that is deeply personal for many people. By understanding what to expect during a baptism and asking the recipient about his or her preferences, you can help to ensure a good experience for all involved.

Ordained Minister performs an adult baptism ceremony