What is Baptism? - Definition & Overview

Instructor: Jennifer Williams

Jennifer has taught various courses in U.S. Government, Criminal Law, Business, Public Administration and Ethics and has an MPA and a JD.

In this lesson we will learn about the meaning of baptism. We will take a closer look at the rationale behind performing the rite, how a baptism is completed and the similarities and recognition amongst various churches of the sacrament.


Baptism has different meanings to the various branches of Christianity that practice the rite. Generally, baptism is a Christian rite of passage, tradition, and admission to the church.

Baptism, at its simplest, is considered to be a rebirth of the one receiving the sacrament; a cleansing of sin.


Baptism is believed to be one of the official sacraments of the church. Members of the Christian church consider it to be a sacrament because it is widely accepted that Jesus Christ himself was baptized. Some Christians believe that baptism is considered necessary for salvation. Still others believe that the rite aligns the person with Jesus Christ and the Christian church's activities. Most Christians would agree that baptism cleanses the recipient of 'original sin' - which is why typically infants are baptized shortly after birth.

'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.' Luther's Large Catechism, 1529

Methods of Baptism

Christians are baptized in four different ways: aspersion, affusion, immersion, or submersion.

The baptismal method of aspersion is done by the sprinkling of water on the head of the recipient. This method is used by some factions of the Roman Catholic Church, the United Church of Christ, and Church of the Nazarene.

The baptismal method of affusion is completed by pouring water over the head of the recipient. This method is used by the Methodist Church and most Protestant churches.

The baptismal method of immersion is done by dipping the person totally or partially into water. This method is used by Eastern Orthodox Churches, the United Church of God, and by most Community Churches.

The last baptismal method, submersion, is performed by completely covering the recipient in water. This method is used by the Evangelical Free Church and the Seventh-day Adventists.

In all methods, most recipients of the sacrament are either dressed in white or nude, in order to symbolize purity and the washing away of sin.

Recognition of the Completed Rite

Most baptismal rites are performed by the church clergy or recognized deacon or minister. The exception that is recognized by most Christians would be in the event of an emergency, in which case anyone who has the proper intentions that the church would have in administering the rite may perform the rite.

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