Baptism (Gr. . from frequentative of to dip), the application of water as the sign of reception of a person into the visible Christian church. As to the mode, it is admitted by all orders of Christians that immersion is a valid form, while the Baptist denomination, with its various branches, maintain that this is the only valid form. The Latin church favors affusion three times applied, in the names of the three persons of the Trinity; it however admits of either immersion or sprinkling. The original rubric of the Greek church requires a trine immersion, but in the Russian branch sprinkling is held equally valid. The rubric of the church of England requires that an infant be dipped three times in water, unless the health of the child renders it unadvisable. Protestant denominations, other than Baptists, recognize either mode; among them immersion is rare, affusion not uncommon, but sprinkling more usual. In the Greek and Latin churches the rite is administered at a very early age, practically as soon as the physical condition of the recipient will permit. The proper time is generally held to be from a week to a month after birth; but when there is supposed to be danger of death, it may be administered at once.
By many Protestant denominations who recognize the baptism of children, only those are to be baptized one or both of whose parents are members of the church. Baptists maintain that the rite can only be administered upon profession of faith by the recipient, and therefore only to those who have reached a sufficient age to make such profession intelligently. In the case of infants, the Greek, Roman, and Anglican churches require sponsors, who promise in the name of the child obedience to the divine law. In the Latin church sponsorship is held to constitute a kind of affinity, so that sponsors are not allowed to intermarry. In the Lutheran church the parents may be sponsors. In the dissenting bodies in England, and in most of the non-episcopal churches in the United States, sponsors are usually dispensed with. The Latin church recognizes as valid baptism performed by any person, even by a midwife, upon a new-born child; but except in peril of death, the minister should be a clergyman. Baptism is only to be administered once. Baptists immerse all new postulants.
The Roman church recognizes all baptisms as valid, but administers to converts what is sometimes styled "conditional baptism," in cases where there is any doubt as to the fact of the person having been before baptized. - The Latin church holds baptism to be a sacrament by which all previous offences, including the taint of original sin, are washed out, so that the person baptized stands free from all sin, whether actual or original, up to the time of baptism. Many Protestant denominations maintain that it is merely a ceremony of initiation into church membership. Between these two extremes lies every possible shade of sentiment. The general idea of different churches respecting the ordinance of baptism may be best expressed in the words of their own formularies. The idea of the Latin and Greek churches is clear: baptism is a washing out of all previous sin; the person baptized commences thenceforth a new life. Article xxvii. of the Anglican and of the American Episcopal church reads: " Baptism is not only a sign of profession and mark of difference whereby Christian men are discerned from others, but it is also a sign of regeneration, or new birth, whereby, as an instrument, they that receive baptism rightly are grafted into the church: the promises of the forgiveness of sin, and of our adoption to be the sons of God by the Holy Ghost, are visibly signed and sealed; faith is confirmed, and grace increased by virtue of prayer unto God. The baptism of young children is in any wise to be retained in the church as most agreeable with the institution of Christ." The Augsburg Confession says that baptism is " a necessary ordinance, a means of grace, and ought to be administered also to children, who are thereby dedicated to God and received into his favor." The Westminster Confession affirms that it is "a sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible church, but also to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in newness of life; which sacrament is, by Christ's own appointment, to be continued in his church until the end of the world.
Not only those that do actually profess faith in and obedience to Christ, but also the infants of one or both believing parents, are to be baptized. Although it be a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance, yet grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed unto it as that no person can be regenerated or saved without it, or that all that are baptized are undoubtedly regenerated." In article xvii. of the Methodist Episcopal church, it is declared that " baptism is not only a sign of profession, and mark of difference whereby Christians are distinguished from others that are not baptized, but it is also a sign of regeneration or the new birth. The baptism of young children is also to be retained in the church." The Baptist churches in America, being congregational in form, have no absolutely fixed formula. Two not very dissimilar ones are generally accepted, the "New Hampshire Confession of Faith" in the north, and the "Philadelphia Confession" in the south. The article on baptism in these two confessions is essentially the same, varying only in phraseology.
In the Philadelphia Confession article xxii. reads: "Baptism is an ordinance of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ to be unto the party baptized a sign of his fellowship with him in his death and resurrection; of his being ingrafted unto him; of remission of sins; and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to live and walk in newness of life. Those who do actually profess repentance toward God, and obedience to our Lord Jesus Christ, are the only proper subjects of this ordinance. The outward element to be used in this ordinance is water, wherein the party is to be immersed in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost."