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Rites of Passage: Adult Baptism

Why is baptism so special to Christians?

Have you ever joined a group? Or started at a new school? Do you remember what happened when you began? Perhaps you were welcomed ‘officially’ and people gave you a round of applause. Maybe you did something special at home to mark the occasion. Being baptised is in some ways like a special welcome into a local church. But it is much more than this. Baptism is a sign that someone has turned from ('repented of') living to please themselves and instead has chosen to live God's way. Some Christian churches baptise infants. Others wait until a person is old enough to decide for themselves, showing this in "believer's baptism".

Why do people get baptised?

One reason why Christians choose to get baptised is because Jesus himself was baptised. He also asked his disciples to baptise others as a sign of their commitment to living life differently. In the Bible, the Gospel of Matthew records these words as the last thing Jesus said before he returned to heaven:

"I have been given complete authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Matthew 28: 18-20)

Jesus asked it, so Christians do it! When an infant is baptised, the parents and Godparents make promises on their behalf. When the child is old enough, they may make their own promise to live as a Christian in a confirmation service. Churches that do not baptise infants may have a service of "dedication" or "thanksgiving", to say "thank you" to God for the child and to pray for the family.

What does Baptism mean?

For many Christians, baptism is an outward symbol of something happening on the inside. The word for this is a sacrament: something ordinary in itself, but that has a sacred (special)
meaning. In this case, the meaning is that someone has turned to Jesus and wants to follow him and his ways. There are two big things that baptism in water symbolises:

  1. Getting clean. When people do things that displease God, it’s almost like getting dirt on your soul. Water is used for washing. Through baptism, Christians show that they have been made clean by receiving God’s forgiveness for the things they have done wrong.
  2. Moving from death to life. If you saw somebody lying still on the floor, you might think that they were asleep, or perhaps worse. If they were to sit up, you would think they had woken up. When Christians are baptised by immersion – pushed backwards under the water and then brought up again – they show that an old way of living has gone. The old person is dead and a new person is alive, ready to start living in a way that pleases God.
Did you know? All Christians used to be baptised by going right under the water, like believer's baptism today. Old baptisteries were like small swimming pools and were in separate buildings next to the cathedral or church. Find out more... What does baptism look like? Watch a film of a child being baptised or a young person being dipped in water.