In the Bible it says, “And now why tarriest thou? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22.16). Baptism is mentioned again and again in the Bible and symbolizes a washing away of sins. Early baptisms were held in rivers, and in fact, they still are in many religions. The terms baptism and christening are used interchangeably, but there are differences between the two ceremonies.
Baptism and christening are both rites of passage and rituals that take place in a variety of faiths. John the Baptist baptized his followers in the River Jordan; Jesus is the most famous of those baptized. The ceremony symbolizes the baptism gift of washing away of sins. A christening, on the other hand, has traditionally been a naming ceremony which welcomes the baby into the church. Most parents today do not delay naming their baby, so the actual meaning of a christening is changed. Today, it is not an official naming as much as a welcome to the church.
The differences between a christening and baptism are related to the specific faith. For Catholics, Lutherans, and Episcopalians, for instance, baptism and christening are one and the same. The baby is sprinkled with water to wash away original sin and become an official part of the church. In this case, baptism and christening really are interchangeable terms. One does not happen without the other.
In religions that baptize and christen when children are newborns or babies, the two ceremonies are intertwined. In other faiths, baptism and christening are distinct and separate. According to the beliefs of religions such as Baptist, Evangelical, or Methodist, babies are not baptized. Why? Because, in their view, it has no effect or meaning. A baby cannot consciously choose whether he wants to follow Christ; it is his parents’ decision at that point. These faiths site the Bible, saying there is no mention of infant baptism. John, as we recall, baptized an adult Jesus. These churches baptize older children and adults because of the ability to make that commitment.
The ceremony of baptism itself is also different. Typically, the person being baptized is submerged in a river or pond. Some churches have baptism tanks instead, which are similar to small pools. At a christening/baptism for a baby, the priest sprinkles water over the baby’s forehead. This ceremony uses water much more symbolically – and sparingly.
For many faiths, christening and baptism are part of the same ceremony, welcoming the baby into the faith. For others, baptism must be a conscious decision, undertaken to affirm a commitment to Christ. While some churches baptize babies, all will baptize people who want to be welcomed into the faith, regardless of age. Even in the Catholic Church, which baptizes and christens infants, there are adult converts who are baptized. In other churches, people are considered reborn when they undergo baptism.
After the ceremony or service, many times family and/or friends get together at the home of the baptized baby and share in a meal, open baptism gifts and even receive baptism favors.
Whatever the age, the symbolism of baptism is similar. It involves the washing away of sins and a commitment to following God and the teachings of the church into which one is baptized. Today, many people who aren’t particularly religious are continuing the tradition of baptism and choosing godparents in order to help their child grow up with a strong sense of morals and support.