Source: The Complete Library of Christian Worship, Robert E. Webber, General Editor

The History Of Baptism

Baptism remains the point of entry into the Christian church. However, the form of baptism has developed through the centuries, as seen in the following entries. Catechism shifted from before baptism to after baptism in the medieval church as infant baptism became the most common path of initiation. In the Western church, anointing with oil (chrism) became detached from baptism and developed into a separate sacrament (confirmation). First Communion was also delayed until the child was old enough to understand the significance of the Eucharist. Western scholastic theologians described baptism as marking the person and explained the relationship between Christ's work and the priest's instrumentality in the sacrament. On the other hand, Eastern Orthodox churches continued to include baptism, chrismation, and first Communion in the initiation rites of even infants. During the Reformation, Radical Reformation sects (Anabaptists, later English Baptists, and various free churches) challenged infant baptism. The main Protestant groups (Lutherans, Reformed, Anglicans) retained infant baptism and developed theologies such as covenant theology to justify it. During the twentieth century, adult-baptizing churches began to examine their practice, realizing that it could cause difficulties for children who grow into the faith without experiencing a clear conversion. Yet some Protestant theologians of the infant-baptizing denominations rejected the legitimacy of infant baptism. Roman Catholics, on the other hand, restored the prebaptismal catechumenate, the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, and sought ways to ensure that parents and godparents of baptized infants were committed to the child's Christian nurture after baptism. Most of the larger Christian communions agreed, notably in the Baptism, Eucharist, Ministry Statement of the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches (1982), that baptism is a nonrepeatable sacred action. As a result, most churches no longer require rebaptism of converts formerly baptized with water in the name of the Trinity. Some of the adult-baptizing free churches do not recognize the validity of other churches' baptisms and thus continue to rebaptize new members.

  1. Baptism In The Early Church
  2. Baptism In The Medieval West
  3. Baptism In Contemporary Roman Catholic Thought
  4. Baptism Among The Protestant Reformers
  5. Baptism In The Modern Era
  6. Convergence At The Font

Contemporary Theologies Of Water Baptism

In this section we find that in the Orthodox and Roman Catholic traditions, baptism itself is a saving sacrament. For Eastern Orthodox churches, baptism begins the process of salvation and growth toward participation in the divine nature. In the Western tradition, baptism washes away the guilt of original sin. For Martin Luther also, baptism remained a saving sacrament that carried the power to drive out original sin. Subsequently, all three traditions continued to baptize infants. In the Reformed tradition, infant baptism was also retained. However, baptism does not accomplish salvation. Instead, it is a seal confirming and ratifying the saving promise found in God's Word, setting the infant on a path toward conversion to personal faith and repentance, a path that takes place within God's covenant community, the church. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Anglicans retained the Catholic understanding of baptism as a sacramental washing away of sin although this understanding was challenged by the nineteenth-century evangelical party that emerged from the Wesleyan revivals. After much theological discussion, most Anglicans now admit baptized but unconfirmed children to Communion. While retaining infant baptism, some twentieth-century Anglican theologians have abandoned the theology of original sin that undergirded infant baptism in the West. Mennonites, Amish, and Hutterites are divided into hundreds of individual groups. In the twentieth century, a number of Mennonite scholars and leaders have begun to draw their theology from the sixteenth-century Anabaptists, from whom these three branches descend. For Anabaptists, baptism depended on a personal, adult faith commitment made in the context of a community of believers. Methodists take their theology of baptism from John Wesley's insistence on infant baptism as the ordinary means of salvation. Yet Methodism also emphasized, for adults, the possibility of a conscious conversion that may not necessarily be tied to the sacrament. This conversion experience contributed to the development of Holiness, Pentecostal, and charismatic movements from the later nineteenth century onward. North American evangelicals emerged from revivalism. Most baptize only upon profession of personal, adult faith. However, some evangelical denominations are branches of infant-baptizing Reformed or Lutheran churches. Modern Pentecostal denominations emphasize the experience of sanctification by an inward baptism of the Holy Spirit, but also retain water baptism on the basis of personal conversion. According to these denominations, baptism has no saving efficacy.

  1. An Eastern Orthodox Theology Of Baptism
  2. A Roman Catholic Theology Of Baptism
  3. A Lutheran Theology Of Baptism
  4. A Reformed Theology Of Baptism
  5. An Anglican Theology Of Baptism
  6. An Anabaptist Theology Of Baptism
  7. A Wesleyan Theology Of Baptism
  8. A Restorationist Understanding Of Baptism
  9. An Evangelical Theology Of Baptism
  10. A Pentecostal Theology Of Baptism
  11. A Charismatic Theology Of Baptism

The Practice Of Baptism

The documents of this section are representative of baptismal liturgies within Christendom. First, a foundational document from The Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus provides the student with a sense of baptism in the early church. The baptismal liturgies of the historic churches-Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches-show how baptismal worship has developed from the historic sources. The influence of these sources is then demonstrated by presenting a wide variety of baptismal liturgies including the Reformed, Wesleyan, free church, and ecumenical traditions. In addition, a proposed service for baptism in the charismatic tradition is presented.

  1. The Apostolic Tradition Of Hippolytus
  2. The Eastern Orthodox Baptismal Liturgy
  3. The Roman Catholic Baptismal Liturgy
  4. A Methodist Baptismal Liturgy
  5. A Reformed Baptismal Liturgy
  6. An Ecumenical Baptismal Liturgy
  7. A Believer’s Baptismal Liturgy
  8. A Charismatic Baptismal Service


In Western Europe during the Middle Ages, the anointing with oil that was part of baptism in the early church was detached from the baptismal rite and eventually became the distinct sacred action known as confirmation for largely practical reasons. The almost accidental origins of this separation have led to much controversy and reexamination. The issues raised by a separate rite of confirmation are closely related to catechism and the nurture of children within the context of the church. This section examines these matters.

  1. Historical Origins And Development Of Confirmation
  2. A Theology Of Confirmation
  3. A Liturgy For Confirmation
  4. Guidelines For Planning A Confirmation Service

The Renewal Of The Baptismal Covenant

Christian baptism represents a commitment to Christ. In other entries, much will be said about rites of confession of sin, reconciliation, fasting, and solemn assembly that are intended to restore such a commitment when it has been broken, both individually and corporately. Here another approach, used particularly in churches that baptize infants, is formal renewal of baptismal promises. Baptismal renewal is closely connected with the increased attention given to catechism of baptized children and their (nonsacramental) confirmation, often during adolescence, in Lutheran and Reformed churches. However, annual corporate renewal of baptism is also part of the baptismal liturgy of the Easter Vigil in the Roman Catholic and Anglican communions.

  1. Historical Origins And Development Of The Renewal Of The Baptismal Covenant
  2. A Theology For The Renewal Of The Baptismal Covenant
  3. A Liturgy For The Renewal Of The Baptismal Covenant
  4. Guidelines For Planning A Service Of The Renewal Of The Baptismal Covenant