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Baptism is a Christian ritual or sacrament performed with water, applied 'in
the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit', by which the
baptised person is incorporated into the life and the teachings of Christ,
in the context of a Christian church.
The ritual of baptism originates in the purification rites of Jewish law and
tradition. In the Tanakh and tradition of the teachers of the Torah, a
ritual bath for purification from uncleanness used to be required under
specified circumstances, in order to be restored to a condition of ritual
purity. For example, women after menses, and after a number of blood-free
days following child-birth, were washed in a ritual bath, called a mikveh.
Those who became ritually defiled by contact with something infectious,
would also use the mikveh as part of their healing. Washing was also
required for converts. Through practices such as these, immersion in the
mikveh came to represent purification and restoration, and qualification for
full religious participation in the life of the community.
This kind of ablution, or ritual washing, although once common everywhere in
Jewish life especially for women, nevertheless was not for the Jews the
ordinance of central religious prominence that it is in the New Testament.
Bathing is something that is done often, just as eating or toileting are
performed repeatedly, and in the life of observant Jews it was governed as
nearly all things were, by instructions. The fact that something like a bath
is performed frequently underscores its practical importance and ritual ties
routine into life before the Lord; but importance of this kind may not be
the same thing as religious significance. In Judaism, the ritual bath does
not have the same religious significance that it has in Christianity. Most
ordinances of ritual washing have been regarded as inapplicable by modern
Judaism, although fundamentalist Jews strive to practice whatever can be
found in the ancient instructions.
The Christian explanation of baptism as the definitive rite, by which the
baptized person is indicated to be fully qualified for participation in the
life of the Church, begins with the career of John, the cousin of Jesus of
Nazareth. Those who believe that John was a prophet, identify baptism with
his message concerning the putting away of sin, in preparation for the
coming of the Messiah.
He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of
repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As is written in the book of
the words of Isaiah the prophet: "A voice of one calling in the desert,
'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every
valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The
crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all
mankind will see God's salvation.'"
Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.
John declared that repentance was necessary, prior to forgiveness. There
must be a return to God. This implies that the stain of sin is not
ineradicable, but can be removed by putting off polluting acts and returning
to the way of the Lord, all of which was symbolized in his baptism.
The Christians believe that John also taught that his baptism was not
finally sufficient, and that repentance would not attain to its goal of
separation from sin, apart from a greater baptism which it was not in his
power to give. According to the Gospel of Luke, John taught, "I baptize you
with water; but one comes who is stronger than I, of whom I am not worthy to
untie the strap of his sandals; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and
fire; his winnowing fork is in his hand to clean out his threshing floor and
to gather the wheat into his storehouse, but the chaff he will burn with
inextinguishable fire." Christians believe that John's baptism shows that
the effort to make oneself acceptable to God by repentance would be
superceded, made complete by the coming of the Lamb of God that takes away
According to the Gospel of John, after John baptized Jesus, he testified
concerning him, "I have seen the Spirit coming down as a dove from heaven,
and it remained upon him. And I had not known him, but the one who sent me
to baptize with water, that one said to me, On whomever you see the Spirit
coming down and remaining upon him,this is the one baptizing with the Holy
Spirit. And I have seen, and I have testified that this is the son of God."
"Behold the Lamb of God, that takes away the sins of the world." From this
point on, water baptism became identified with the followers of Jesus, who
preached "Repent, for the kingdom of God is near."
According to one ecumenical statement prepared by representatives across a
spectrum of Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant traditions of
Christianity, a common understanding of baptism may be derived from the New
" ... according to Acts 2, baptisms follow from Peter's preaching and
lead those baptized to life in the community: "They devoted themselves
to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and
the prayers" (2:42) as well as to the distribution of goods to those in
need (2:45). Those who heard, who were baptized and entered the
community's life, were already made witnesses of and partakers in the
promises of God for the last days: the forgiveness of sins and the
outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all flesh (2:38). Similarly, in what
may well be a baptismal pattern, 1 Peter testifies that proclamation of
the resurrection of Jesus Christ and teaching about new life (1:3-21)
lead to purification and new birth (1:22-23). This, in turn, is
followed by eating and drinking God's food (2:2-3), by participation in
the life of the community - the royal priesthood, the new temple, the
people of God (2:4-10) - and by further moral formation (2:11 ff.). At
the beginning of 1 Peter the writer sets this baptism in the context of
obedience to Christ and sanctification by the Spirit (1:2). So baptism
into Christ is seen as baptism into the Spirit (cf. 1 Cor. 12:13). In
the fourth gospel Jesus' discourse with Nicodemus indicates that birth
by water and Spirit becomes the gracious means of entry into the place
where God rules (John 3:5)." 
The most commonly cited reference for the command justifying the continuing
practice of baptism by Christians, is the "Great Commission," found in the
Gospel of Matthew, chapter 28, verses 18-20. It is typically viewed as a
means by which a person is joined to Christ and his body, the Church, after
which the newly baptized person is considered to be a Christian.
Most Christians do not believe that the mode by which baptism is
administered is essential to the rite. Most Western Church traditions
practice sprinkling (aspersion) or pouring as a mode of baptism, often using
a specially constructed bowl to hold the water, a baptismal font. Eastern
Church traditions specify immersion, symbolizing burial with Christ.
Catholic traditions use specially prepared water for baptism when available
and believe baptism to be a sacrament intended for infant children as well
as for adults. These Christians believe that sacraments are a means by which
the grace of God is conveyed or imparted to participants, with a real role
in washing away the believer's sins and imparting new life to the person
being baptized. This view is held by Roman Catholicism, all of Eastern
Christianity, and many Protestant groups including Anglicans, Lutherans and
most Reformed churches (each with distinctive understandings according to
their traditions). According to Roman Catholic dogma baptism is one of the
three sacraments that make an indelible mark upon the soul.
Baptist groups derive their name from the restrictions that they
traditionally place on the mode and subjects of the ordinance of baptism.
Immersion is regarded as the only legitimate, biblical baptism; and baptism
is not administered to children. Those who hold views influenced by the
Baptists, may perform the ceremony indoors in a baptismal, a swimming pool,
or bathtub, or outdoors in a creek or river: as long as there is water,
nothing prevents the performance of Baptism. Protestant groups influenced by
these convictions usually emphasize that it memorializes the death and
resurrection of Jesus, which by a gift of God has become the principle of
repentance and new life for those who have professed belief in Him,
symbolizing spiritual death with regard to sin and a new life of faith in
God. They typically teach that baptism does not accomplish anything, but is
an outward sign or testimony, a personal act, indicating the invisible
reality that the person's sins have already been washed away as a result of
their profession of faith. It is more what they say baptism is not, that
distinguishes the views of these groups, more than what they say it is (not
for children, not by sprinkling, not a sacrament, not a means of grace).
The liturgy of baptism in the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox tradition makes
clear reference to baptism as a symbolic burial and resurrection, and draws
parallels to the experience of Noah and the passage of the Israelites
through the Red Sea divided by Moses. Thus baptism is symbolically not only
cleansing, but also dying and rising again with Christ. Those who do not
have a liturgy of baptism may also use the same parallels in scripture.
The Catholic Church prescribes that in case of emergency any person, even
someone not baptized, can baptize, if he has the required intention. The
words "N., I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of
the Holy Spirit," are said while pouring water three times on the head. The
sign of the cross is then made over the recipient. The ommission of the name
or the sign of the cross and the addition of 'Amen' at the end have no
effect on the validity of the sacrament. The validity of Baptism is doubtful
if impure water is used. In such a case, the sacrament should be repeated
conditionally with certainly valid matter as soon as possible if the
Mandaeans, who abhor Jesus and Moses as false prophets, revere John the
Baptist and practice frequent baptism.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints practices baptism for the