Jesus’ cousin John the Baptist was the first Jew to use baptism to symbolise the forgiveness of sins. He baptised Jesus, and baptism remains important for Christians. This is because after his resurrection, Jesus told his followers that they too should be baptised:

No one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.John 3:5

Following this instruction, baptism is practised by nearly all Christian denominations. Christians believe that baptism cleanses people from Original Sin and welcomes a Christian into God’s family.

Infant baptism

Some Christians baptise babies as soon as possible after they are born. This is known as infant baptism. Some Christians believe that Heaven can only be entered by those who are baptised. For these Christians, it is important to baptise babies as quickly as possible.

A baptism ceremony for a young child in a church

For Orthodox Christians, infant baptism involves total immersion. In other denominations, priests use holy oil to make the sign of the cross on the baby’s head before sprinkling the baby with holy water. The priest repeats Jesus’ instruction to baptise … in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19).

There are other elements to a baptism service. For example, godparents promise to reject evil on behalf of the child. At the end of the ceremony, the priest gives the child’s guardians a lit candle, which symbolises receiving the light of Christ.

Believers’ baptism

Believers’ baptism is practised by Evangelicals, Baptists and Pentecostals. These denominations teach that baptism should only occur once somebody is an adult because:

  • Becoming part of a faith community is an important commitment that people should choose for themselves.
  • Christians should follow Jesus’ example as closely as possible, and he was baptised as an adult.
  • The Bible seems to support adult baptism - there are no examples of babies being baptised in the Bible.
  • Jesus does not recommend baptising people as soon as they are born. In the Bible, a person called Nicodemus asks Jesus, How can someone be born when they are old?. Jesus replies, You must be born again (John 3:4, 7). This shows that baptism (being “born again”) was practised on adults (people who are “old”), rather than infants.

Believers’ baptism involves total immersion, where the person being baptised walks into a special pool and is fully submerged three times before walking out into their new life.

Two pastors fully submerge a man in a believers’ baptism

What does baptism do?

Baptism cleanses a person of Original Sin and makes them fully part of the Christian community.