The History Of Baptism

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

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...

Baptism In The Early Church

From the very beginning of the Christian church, baptism was the path for entering the church, whether as adults, children, or infants. Although the precise origins of baptismal rituals are not entirely clear, the entire process involved extensive ritual action: from the catechumenate (the period of preparation) to the actual baptism with water and anointing with the oil of chrism during the great Easter Vigil service.

Baptism In The Medieval West

As infant baptism became common, the process of catechizing shifted from before to after baptism. In the Western church, the baptismal anointing with oil (chrism) slowly developed into a separate sacrament called confirmation. First Communion was often delayed for a number of years. Scholastic theologians developed theological language to describe the way baptism left its mark on the person baptized.

Baptism In Contemporary Roman Catholic Thought

To implement reforms decided upon at the Second Vatican Council, the Roman Catholic church has restored the adult catechumenate as a preparation period for baptism and given it a prominent role in the church, alongside infant baptism. Like most other major Christian churches, the Roman Catholic church no longer insists on rebaptizing converts who have been baptized in water in the name of the Trinity in other churches.

Baptism Among The Protestant Reformers

Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin all believed baptism could properly be administered to infants. Yet, whereas Luther emphasized baptism as a sign of God's promise to bring about faith in conjunction with the infant's inchoate faith, Zwingli and Calvin saw it as a Christian equivalent to circumcision in the Hebrew Scriptures, the mark of inclusion in God's covenant people. Adherents of the Radical Reformation rejected the baptism of infants entirely, arguing that infants cannot have faith in Christ, since faith comes by hearing and understanding the Word of God. They repudiated their own baptisms as infants and had themselves rebaptized. Hence they became known as Anabaptists, or rebaptizers.

Baptism In The Modern Era

In today's churches the theology and practice of baptism continues to be shaped by the debates begun during the Protestant Reformation. Theological discussions continue about the nature of baptism and appropriate candidates for baptism. Liturgical discussions continue regarding the appropriate way to celebrate baptism. This article surveys the discussion of baptism in the contemporary church.

Convergence At The Font

The actions of Christian initiation seem to be growing toward an ecumenical shape as some major traditions shift their traditional baptismal customs and do so along broadly similar lines.