This week the media has been extensively covering the Christening of the Duke and Duchess’ baby son Prince George, by the Archbishop of Canterbury. at the chapel in St James’ Palace. It was interesting to note how different reporters and commentators sometimes used the word “christening” to describe the process and others the word “baptism” (one BBC reporter used both words in the same sentence!). So which term is correct?
Baptism is a Biblical expression. Here are a few examples of where it is mentioned.
Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptised by John.
Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.
Tax collectors also came to be baptised. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”
After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptised.
All the Biblical references to baptism have these things in common:
a) The people who were baptised asked to be baptised (i.e. it wasn’t forced upon them by their parents).
b) They were all of an age where they understood what they were doing (i.e. they were adults not babies).
c) They were totally immersed in water (i.e. not sprinkled on the head with water).
Baptism is symbolic of washing away sins and is an important stage in living a Christian life. The Bible makes it clear that only a person who understands the need to change their ways and to start afresh can make the decision to be baptised.
So why do people “christen” their children. Christening probably came about under the reign of Emperor Constantine in the 4th Century. The Roman Empire adopted Christianity as its main religion in 313 AD and in an attempt to popularise it, and get it into the people’s culture and psyche, Christening was introduced.
This partly played on parents’ fears stemming from the quote “Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Parents were encouraged to have their children christened young so they would then grow up in the church. This was a great way to rapidly expand the church; but it fundamentally changed the purpose and experience of baptism. Constantine effectively threw the baby out with the bath water (no pun intended!).
There is no harm in having a child christened but it doesn’t have any impact in the eyes of God. He would rather that a child grew up, learned about him and his son Jesus and then (and only then) decide whether they wanted to be baptised or not. God is not a “pushy parent” who dictates what he wants from his children. The Bible makes it clear what he would like us to do; but he created us with free will so we can make our own choice.
If you look at our beliefs page then you will see that full immersive adult baptism is at the heart of what we believe, as the Bible is at the heart of our lives.