The full definition of Baptism from the Concise Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church

Churchy Term of the Week – Baptism

The sacramental rite, involving the use of water, by which a candidate is admitted to the Church. It is clear that it goes back to the earliest days from the many references in Acts and in the Epistles of St. Paul. Traditionally it has been held that Christ Himself instituted the sacrament, but how far He made His intentions explicit, or indeed envisaged the Church as a continuing institution, is now disputed.


Baptism of Jesus by Davezelenka, 2005

Baptism has been in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit at least since the end of the 1st cent. In the early Church it was normally administered by *immersion. The rite, at which the bishop usually presided, included the laying on of *hands and anointing, and culminated in the Eucharist. In the first four or five centuries, it was common to defer Baptism until death was thought to be imminent because of the responsibilities attached to it.


The theology of Baptism was elucidated by the 3rd-cent. controversy over the validity of Baptism administered by heretics. Largely through the influence of St Augustine, it came to be accepted that the validity of sacraments depended on the use of the correct form, regardless of the faith or worthiness of the minister. Against the Pelagians Augustine maintained that one of the chief effects of Baptism was the removal of the stain of Original Sin on the soul which bars even the new-born child from Heaven. He also held that the Holy Spirit produced in Baptism an effect independent of sanctifying grace; it could not be destroyed and was not to be repeated. In the 16th cent. various aspects of Catholic teaching were rejected by the Reformers. M. Luther sought to combine belief in the necessity of Baptism with his doctrine of justification by faith alone; for him Baptism was a promise of Divine grace after which people’s sins are no longer imputed to them. U. Zwingli denied the necessity of Baptism, seeing in it only a sign admitting a person to the Christian community. J. Calvin taught that it was efficacious only for the elect, since they alone had the faith without which it was worthless. The BCP preserved the traditional Catholic teaching. At the Council of Trent, the RC Church stressed that Baptism is not merely a sign of grace, but actually contains and confers it on those who put no obstacle in its way. Since the Second Vatican Council, the RC Church has again linked Baptism with Confirmation and First Communion as sacraments of initiation.

The forms of the rite used in the RC Church are the most elaborate found in the W. In the case of children it includes an undertaking from the parents that the child shall be brought up in the Christian faith, a prayer of exorcism, blessing of water, renunciation of evil by parents and godparents and a declaration of faith, Baptism by immersion or affusion with the Trinitarian formula, and anointing with chrism. The child’s father, godfather, or someone else, holds a candle lit from the Paschal Candle. The Baptism of Adults is not very different, except for the omission of the chrismation; it is followed immediately by Confirmation. The C of E rite is similar but simpler. In CW, renunciation of evil is followed by the signing of each candidate with the cross, blessing of water, and Baptism by immersion or affusion, using the Trinitarian formula. There is provision for the optional use of oil and clothing with a white robe. A lighted candle may be given to the newly baptized. In the Orthodox Church, the rite for the admission to the catechumenate, consisting of exorcisms, the renunciation of Satan and profession of faith, is followed by the rite of Baptism proper, in which water and oil are blessed, the candidate is anointed with oil, immersed three times in water, and clothed with a white garment. Chrismation follows immediately and, if possible, Communion is given at the same time to the newly baptized.


From Concise Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church by Mary Sparks. Oxford University Press, 2013.

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