The majority of Christian churches agree on the importance of baptism. But the "how" and "when" of baptism has produced many deep schisms and fiery disagreements over the centuries. Indeed, the name "Baptists" originated from the great emphasis this denomination placed on this sacred ordinance.
Essentially, Baptists split off from the Church of England because they believed infants should not be baptized. They also felt that baptism should be by immersion.
"Baptism is an important step of obedience that believers should take soon after they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior," said Pastor Terry Long of Salt Lake's Calvary Chapel. "In baptism, the church celebrates the renewal of the covenant with which God has bound his people to himself," said the Rev. Scott Wipperman of Wasatch Presbyterian Church in Salt Lake. "Baptism is a sign that each of our lives is claimed by God and we are wrapped in God's love."
The New Testament is insistent when it comes to baptism. John 3:5, for example, reads: "Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born of water and of the spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God."
But what must have seemed a simple ordinance to early Christians has become a potpourri of styles and practices. Basically, there are three methods of baptizing: immersion, pouring and sprinkling. A few Christian churches believe the ritual should be performed face first. Some traditions even perform it three times.
Here's a brief look at various Christian faiths and their core beliefs on the subject:
United Methodist Church
Baptism celebrates becoming that "new person," according to www.umc.org.
United Methodists also believe that from the earliest times, children and infants were baptized and included in the church. United Methodists are urged to use abundant amounts of water for baptism — preferably immersion, when possible.
Most Friends reject the sacraments in their outward forms — such as communion and baptism as variously practiced in Christian churches. They are seekers, rather, for the inward reality. For them, all great human experiences are of a sacramental nature, according to www.quakerinfo.org.
Seventh Day Adventists
According to www.adventist.org: "Seventh-day Adventists practice full immersion baptism because by being fully buried beneath the water we symbolize that God's grace fully fills us with His new life for the future. Through baptism we are truly born again in Jesus."
The General Introduction to the Rites of Christian Initiation states (from www.americancatholic.org):
"Either the rite of immersion, which is more suitable as a symbol of participation in the death and resurrection of Christ, or the rite of infusion (pouring]) may lawfully be used in the celebration of baptism."
The largest percentage of baptisms in the Catholic faith are infant baptisms.
Also, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia, in cases of necessity, not only a priest or deacon, but a woman or even a pagan or heretic can administer a valid baptism. That is provided they observe the form used by the church and intend to perform what the church performs.
"One can be baptized at any age," Pastor Wipperman said. "This is a celebration of the wonder of God, and what our Lord has already done. We have been claimed from before we were conceived, so it makes no difference if we are an infant, youth, adult or senior citizen when we choose to give our thanks for the covenant that God has included us in."
He said Presbyterians are open to any form of "washing."
"The most typical is "sprinkling," of placing water on the head of the one being baptized three times in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit."
They will also baptize by "pouring" or "immersion, even though this may require holding a worship service on the banks of a river or lake. The will accommodate whichever form a person wishes their baptism to be.
"Again, the means of baptism is not significant, what is important is that we are gathered to participate in this sign of God's love for us, and to celebrate our creator's eternal covenant with us," the Rev. Wipperman said.
Calvary Chapel Salt Lake, part of a non-denominational church movement, believes babies were often dedicated to the Lord in the Bible, but never baptized, Pastor Long said. "However, we do believe that one of the beautiful things about God's gift of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ is that it's simple enough for a little child to understand — and yet deep enough for great scholars to spend their lives exploring. So, we do baptize younger children who have demonstrated a genuine and sufficient understanding of their commitment to Jesus as Savior — and who can understand what they are doing by being baptized."
Long said his faith does not believe that the 'validity' of baptism is dependent upon the form — faith in Jesus is the real key.
"However, we believe that immersion is the preferred form, being both biblical and important in fulfilling one of the major symbols of baptism which was that it represented a burying of the 'old (sinful) person' and a resurrection of the 'new (forgiven) person' through their faith in Jesus (Romans 6:3-4)."
Lutheran, Missouri Synod
The LCMS uses the "sprinkle" method of baptism and does baptize infants, according to www.lcms.org/
However, the parents and sponsors of a baptized child bear the responsibility of teaching the child God's word so that the child's faith may remain alive and grow.
According to the Watchtower.org, "Baptism candidates are fully immersed in water to show publicly that they have made a dedication to Jehovah."
They do not believe in infant baptism.
Baptism is a ceremony representative of spiritual cleansing, "renewing" a person upon entry into the church. Originally, the recipient was fully immersed in water; a modern baptism in the Anglican Church involves a ceremonial sprinkling of water on the head, and special prayers.
Episcopalians do baptize infants, believing this is an indication that the parents have decided to bring up their child as a Christian.
According to the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, the church believes that baptism is an essential initiatory ordinance for all persons who are joining the church, as it admits them to Christ's church on earth.
The church believes that baptism — by immersion — is necessary for the salvation of all competent persons who reach the age of accountability, age 8 or older.