Most Christian faith groups agree that
baptism is the method by which an individual is welcomed into the church. But
denominations disagree on the precise significance of the act, and the age when
baptisms are done.
Some denominations teach that baptisms are regenerative: i.e.
they have the power to cancel any sins that the person has,
including original sin that some Christian faith groups believe that they have inherited from ancestors.
Others consider baptism to be a form of exorcism which rids the
recipient of indwelling demonic spirits.
Other faith groups teach that baptism is merely an affirmation
of decisions that have been made previously. The ritual itself has
no power to forgive sins or affect the individual's salvation
Some denominations generally baptize infants.
Others only baptize youths and adults -- people who have reached
the age of accountability -- and then only after they have been "saved."
All four possible variations of baptism have been taught by the early
Christian church or by present-day denominations:
Age for baptism
Significance of baptism
Early Christian movement
Forgiveness of past sins. Causes indwelling of the Holy
Public affirmation of having previously been "saved"
Some baptize by full immersion in water; others sprinkle or daub water over
the face of the person to be baptized.
Baptism, as practiced by the primitive Christian church:
Baptism was performed by totally immersing the convert, in water --
typically in a stream, river or lake. Baptism of a new Christian was a
major watershed in their life. Many individuals are described in the
Christian Scriptures (New Testament) who heard the Gospel, were
immediately converted and quickly baptized.
There are dozens of passages in the Christian Scriptures that mention
baptism. Although some verses appear conflict with others, a general
Infants and children were probably not baptized. There are references to
families being baptized together; however it is not clear whether this
applied to children as well. Baptisms appear to have been performed only on
youths or adults -- individuals who had reached the age of
accountability -- who had already converted to Christianity, and
accepted Jesus as Lord.
Baptisms were generally done in the name of Jesus only, not in the names
of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Early Christians believed that people could be possessed by spirits,
including both demons and the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit was believed to enter and dwell within each person
after baptism, (assuming that He was not already in place before the
Baptism was regenerative. That is, the person's sins were wiped
clean by the ritual itself.
In biblical passages that describe baptism, the author often implied
that the ritual was necessary in order for a person to be saved and
after death. But elsewhere in the Christian Scriptures, other
criteria for salvation are implied that do not include baptism -- such as good works, belief in Jesus
as the Son of God, belief in Jesus' Resurrection,
Although Jesus' disciples frequently baptized converts, it is not clear
whether Jesus himself performed baptisms. The Bible is ambiguous on this
Baptism among Gnostics: They taught secret
knowledge that they believed was needed to understand Jesus' message and, after
death, to reach heaven. They were a major competitor to Pauline
Christianity in the first few centuries CE. Among
their more startling beliefs is that Jehovah is a defective, inferior
Creator-God, also known as the Demiurge. He created the earth
and its life forms, and is viewed by the Gnostics as fundamentally
evil, jealous, rigid, lacking in compassion and prone to genocide.
Jesus was a revealer or liberator, rather than a savior or judge. His
purpose was to spread knowledge which would free individuals from the
Demiurge's control and allow them to return to their spiritual home
with the Supreme Father God at death.
There are many references to the Gnostics in the Christian Scriptures.
Simon, described in Acts 8:9-24 may have bee one. There are also
dozens of references to false witnesses, false prophets, false
apostles and deceitful workers. Jude, Verses 4 to 9 apparently
condemns Gnostics as "...certain men" who "
have secretly slipped in among you,".
Although various Gnostic leaders had diverse beliefs, a common
teaching was that converts would be saved
through knowledge. They cannot be reborn or regenerated through water
baptism. 1One of the most respected of the
Church Fathers, Irenaeus (circa 130? - circa 200? CE), condemned the
Gnostics as heretics. He wrote:
"And when we come to refute
them, we shall show in its fitting-place, that this class of men have
been instigated by Satan to a denial of that baptism which is
regeneration to God, and thus to a renunciation of the whole
[Christian] faith...For the baptism instituted by the visible Jesus
was for the remission of sins" 2
Some Gnostic beliefs about baptism live on today among Evangelical and
other conservative Protestant faith groups. They teach that baptism is
a public acknowledgement of having been earlier saved and indwelt by
the Holy Spirit. The rite of baptism has no saving, regenerative power
The Gnostics were oppressed and almost exterminated by the church in
Rome and by the Roman Empire. Gnostic Christianity is currently undergoing a rebirth and is
rapidly expanding in numbers.
By Pauline Christians: This was the movement founded by Paul
who established a network of churches around the Mediterranean Sea. In order to
become a Christian, an individual passed through the following
He/she became a convert to Christianity
They studied Christianity for a lengthy period
They were baptized. This ritual had two main results:
their sins were washed away, and
they became indwelt by the Holy Spirit
The early 1st and 2nd century church's belief
that baptism ritual washed away the Christian's sins was based on a
number of biblical passages: Acts 2:38, Acts
22:16, Titus 3:5, 1 Peter 3:21, and others. The belief
that baptism led to salvation and an indwelling of the Holy Spirit was
based on John 3:5, Acts 2:38, Galatians
3:26-28, Titus 3:5, 1 Peter 3:21 and other verses. These beliefs
of the early church were confirmed by the direct teachings of the
Apostles, or by individuals like Polycarp of Smyrna (~69 - ~155 CE)
who had been directly taught by one or more apostles, or by
individuals like Ireneaus (~130 - ~200 CE), a pupil of Polycarp. Many
theologians feel that the 2nd century church continued with
reasonable accuracy the beliefs and practices of primitive Pauline
Christianity of the 1st century.
Some statements confirming the belief in the regenerative nature of
baptism and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit as a result of baptism
are seen in the writings of the early church Fathers:
Justin Martyr (~100 to ~165 CE): Discussing how a
Christian obtains God's promises: "There is no other [way]
than this - to become acquainted with Christ, to be washed in the
fountain spoken of by Isaiah for the remission of since, and for
the remainder, to live sinless lives." 3
Ireneaus (~130 - ~200 CE): "As we are lepers in
sin, we are made clean from our old transgressions by means of the
sacred water and the invocation of the Lord. We are thus
spiritually regenerated as newborn infants, even as the Lord has
declared: 'Except a man be born again through water and the
Spirit, he shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.' "
4 The "invocation of the Lord"
may refer to the phrase "Jesus is Lord" which the
initiate said during baptism.
Bishop Cyprian of Carthage (~200 - 258 CE): "But later,
by the help of the water of new birth, the stain of former years
was washed away, and a light from above -- serene and pure -- was
infused into my reconciled heart. Then through the Spirit breathed
from heaven, a second birth restored me to a new man." 5He describes that baptism canceled his sins, the Holy Spirit
indwelt his body, he was born again, and changed his behavior.
Pauline Christianity eventually became the main Christian church,
centered in Rome.