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Which Religions Practice Baptism? Which Do Not?

Updated on June 14, 2016
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Beverley Byer has been writing on and offline for a number of years. Her work has been published in magazines and newspapers.

First, what is baptism? It is a ritual practiced by a number of faith traditions, mainly Christian. Not all denominations practice baptism for the same reasons or in the same manner. The word baptize is said to derive from the Greek words baptizo or baptisma, which means “to bath, wash, or immerse.” Ancient pagan religions saw baptism as a ceremony of purification (cleansing), rebirthing, or initiation. Participants were bathed/washed in water or blood. Baptism in the Christian tradition most likely stemmed from the Jewish ritual called Mikvah.

The washing or bathing of one’s person and clothing in water were common practice meant to reestablish purity as required by laws in Jewish texts such as the Tanakh. One could not enter the HolyTemple unclean. According to an http://www.eHow.com article on types of baptism, the Mikvah was also a necessary part the Judaic initiation process. Seven days after circumcision, the candidate was immersed in flowing water. When he emerged, he was considered an official Israelite.

Tintoretto "Baptism of Christ"
Tintoretto "Baptism of Christ" | Source

Union between Christian Spirituality and Baptism

Spirituality and the baptismal rite united when John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin, appeared. He preached on its association with God (“it came from heaven” -Matthew 21:25) and baptized others, including Jesus, in the Jordan River for the remission of sins. But when Jesus died on the cross, baptism became more than a ritual of repentance and forgiveness. It became the uniting force between believers and Jesus. He was now their savior through “death, burial, and resurrection.” That notion remains with most of today’s Christians. Baptism is considered a public profession of their belief and/ or that of their children (infant baptism or christening as it is called in some denominations).

Types of Baptism

There are two types of baptisms. Some might say three because some denominations perform the rite on objects. But my focus is on the baptism of human beings: infant and adult.

Infant Baptism
Infant Baptism | Source

Infant Baptism

No one can pinpoint exactly when infant baptism began. Most historians believe its somewhere between the first and third centuries. They do know, however, that infant baptism was prevalent in the third century. The ritual is not practiced by all denominations. And those who do, do it for different reasons.

The denominations that do not practice infant baptism believe that children (babies, toddlers) are unable to grasp the concept of Jesus Christ as Savior. The denominations that practice infant baptism are of two minds. Some perform the rite with the belief that we are born into sin and baptism cleanses us from it and gives us eternal salvation. Others see it as no more than an initiation into the faith tradition or Christian community.

Believers tend to baptize their children as early after birth as is possible. In the Eastern Orthodox Church and Oriental Orthodoxy, for instance, it is customary though not mandatory, to baptize infants on their eighth day of life. The practice may have Judaic origins relating to the circumcision of male children.

Adult Baptism
Adult Baptism | Source

Adult Baptism

By the third century, according to religious historians, adult baptism was a mandatory part of Christian life and deemed a sacrament. Later, there were disagreements among the various groups of Christians whether or not baptism really was a sacrament. Some thought of it as a symbolic ritual. In Sacramental baptism, believers’ declare their belief in Jesus Christ as their Savior. They receive forgiveness of sins, God’s grace, deliverance from death, and eternal salvation. In the symbolic baptism, Christians believe that it is only a public representation of the Sacramental gifts. In some denominations, it is thought that children at age eight do have understanding and can be baptized as adults. Also, some faiths require adult baptism for membership even if converts were baptized as children.

Baptismal font, Cathedral of Christ the Light, oakland, CA
Baptismal font, Cathedral of Christ the Light, oakland, CA | Source

Methods of Baptism

There are three forms of baptism: immersion, affusion or pouring, and aspersion or sprinkling. Here again, methods differ among the various faith traditions. Those who practice immersion view the rite as cleansing by Jesus’ death and burial, and rising from the water with a new life. Those who use affusion and aspersion see the rite as the gift of cleansing and eternal life of the Spirit coming from above/ God. All agree that the water should be moving to represent living water. Places used to conduct the ritual: rivers, ocean, lakes, indoor or outdoor swimming pools, and baptismal fonts.

Immersion: Baptism by this method could be total submergence of the body into the water or partial submergence into the water where believers just stand or kneel while water is poured over them. Immersion was the method of baptism practiced by the early Christians. Jesus’ cousin, St. John the Baptist, submerged his converts in the Jordan River, according to biblical accounts. There is also pictorial evidence of partial submergence being performed by others. Most of the churches exclusively practicing adult baptisms prefer this method.

Affusion: water is poured onto the head of the convert. This was the main method used in the 10th century. In some instances, the water is poured on the individual’s forehead three times.

Aspersion: This method of baptism involved sprinkling (holy) water on the individual’s head or forehead. It is believed this method derived out of the necessity to baptize children and people who were sick and people who were incarcerated.

St. Patrick's Church, Tuticorin, Tamilnadu, S. India
St. Patrick's Church, Tuticorin, Tamilnadu, S. India | Source

Religions Practicing Baptism

Though the ritual of baptism is practiced by most Christians, it is also practiced by the Sikhs, a monotheistic religion founded more than 500 years ago by Guru Nanak, and the Gnostic Mandaeanism, an ancient religion –still viable today in Iran and Iraq- whose theology favors John the Baptist over Jesus. The Sikh baptismal ceremony is called Amrit. It began in 1699 by Guru Gobind Singh. The Mandaeans view baptism as simply a purification ritual. Islam also has a ritual of washing by submersion called Ghusul but it similar to the more modern Jewish Mikvah (women must wash after menstruation and for the Muslim men, after sex. Prayers of forgiveness for unclean or impure actions must follow both rituals).

Christians Who Practice Baptism

- Anglicans (including Episcopalians): Their philosophy is that baptism is for the cleansing of sins or original sin, rebirth, and entry into the denomination and the body of Christ through God’s grace. Baptism is performed in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit –the Holy Trinity. So, infant baptism is allowed. Methods used are immersion, affusion, and aspersion. Episcopalians prefer the method of affusion.

- Anabaptists: Their belief is that baptism is not necessary for salvation, but symbolic. Therefore adult baptism is the only true baptism by immersion or affusion. In fact, their name means “to be baptized again.”

- Baptists: Baptism is symbolic and by immersion only. Infant baptism is not practiced.

- Catholics: For all manner of Catholics, baptism is sacramental in the name of the Holy Trinity (the “Great Commission” Matthew 28: 18-20) and grants eternal salvation and remission of sins by God’s grace. They practice infant baptism. Latin Rite Catholics use the method immersion (Ambrosian Rite) or affusion. Roman Catholics use aspersion but the water must flow on the head. Eastern Catholics use full or partial submersion.

- Christadelphians: They view the rite of baptism as granting repentance and salvation though it is only for adults and by immersion.

- Churches of Christ: They too view baptism as granting repentance and salvation, but do not practice infant baptism. They baptize by full immersion following the biblical Book of Acts 8:38.

- Community Churches: Baptism is the outward symbolism of cleansing as well as the acceptance of salvation and new life through God’s grace. The method used is immersion and infant baptism is not permitted.

- Disciples of Christ: Their ideology of baptism is that it is symbolic of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, a cleansing of sin, rebirth through God’s grace, and entry into the Christian faith. Baptism is by immersion or affusion. They do not practice infant baptism.

- Eastern OrthodoxChurches, Oriental Orthodoxy: Baptism is sacramental; for salvation and remission of sins. It is by full or partial immersion and infants are included.

- Evangelical Free Churches: Their view is that baptism is the public symbol of the profession of faith, God’s grace, and rebirth. Baptism is by immersion for adults only.

- Grace Communion International: Their view of baptism is similar to the Evangelical Free Churches.

- Jehovah’s Witness: They also view baptism as a public symbolism of individual belief performed by full immersion. Therefore, they do not practice infant baptism.

- Lutherans: Their philosophy is that baptism is sacramental and grants eternal salvation. The method used is aspersion, and infant baptism is practiced.

- Methodists: Their belief is that baptism grants the sacrament of salvation, profession of faith, and is an initiation into the Christian community. All Methodists including Wesleyans, United Brethren, and the African Episcopal Methodist Church use immersion, affusion, or aspersion and baptize infants.

- MetropolitanCommunityChurch: Baptism is sacramental and part of worship. The method used is immersion, and infant baptism is practiced.

- MoravianChurch: Baptism is sacramental and necessary for entry into Christianity. They use immersion, affusion, or aspersion and practice infant baptism.

- Nazarenes/ Church of the Nazarenes: Baptism grants the sacrament of salvation and acceptance of Jesus. Methods used are immersion, affusion, or aspersion. Infant baptism is practiced.

- Pentecostals: Their baptismal ideology is that it is a symbolic representation of the individual’s belief and acceptance of Jesus as savior, which only adults can understand and profess. The Oneness Group believes baptism is a requirement for salvation. Both Oneness and Trinitarian Pentecostals use full immersion and do not practice infant baptism.

- Presbyterians: Baptism is a sacrament, seal, and outward symbol of “inward grace.” It also grants membership into the Christian community. So, infant baptism is practiced. Methods used are immersion, affusion, or aspersion.

- Revivalists: They view baptism as receipt of the Holy Spirit, which is necessary for salvation. Method use is immersion. Infant baptism is not practiced.

- Seventh Day Adventists: Baptism is a requirement for membership into their church and Christianity. It symbolizes “death to sin and new birth in Christ.” Method used is full immersion, and infant baptism is not practiced.

- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons): All converts must be baptized or re-baptized. They do not view baptism as cleansing of sins but rather a ritual of forgiveness of sins, repentance, and preparation for receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit, which occurs in the sacrament of confirmation/ laying of hands. Baptism is by full immersion and is given to individuals from the age of eight upwards.

- The UnitedChurch of Christ (Evangelical & Reformed Churches, & Congregational Christians): Baptism is viewed as an outward symbol of one’s “inward grace” given by God. Some churches use the rite as an initiation into church membership. Methods used are immersion, affusion, or aspersion. Infant baptism is practiced.

Faith Traditions That Do/ Do Not Practice Baptisms and the Types and Methods of Those Who Practice It

Religions
Practice Baptism
Types of Baptism Practiced
Methods of Baptism Practiced
Anglicans (inc. Episcopalians*)
yes
Infant & Adult
Immersion, Affusion (pouring)*, Aspersion (sprinkling)
Anabaptists
yes
Adult
Immersion, Affusion
Baptists (some denominations)
yes
Adult
Immersion
Catholics (all denominations, inc. Latin Rite*, Eastern**, Roman***)
yes
Infant & Adult
Immersion*( Eastern does Immersion only**), Affusion*, Aspersion***
Christadelphians
yes
Adult
Immersion
Churches of Christ
yes
Adult
Full Immersion
Community Churches
yes
Adult
Immersion
Disciples of Christ
yes
Adult
Immersion, Affusion
Eastern Orthodox Churches
yes
Infant & Adult
Immersion
Evangelical Free Churches
yes
Adult
Immersion
Grace Communion International
yes
Adult
Immersion
Jehovah's Witnesses
yes
Adult
Full Immersion
Lutherans
yes
Infant & Adult
Aspersion
Methodists (Wesleyans, United Brethren, African Episcopal Methodist Church)
yes
Infant & Adult
Immersion, Affusion, Aspersion
Metropolitan Community Church
yes
Infant & Adult
Immersion
Moravian Church
yes
Infant & Adult
Immersion, Affusion, Aspersion
Nazarenes/ Church of the Nazarene
yes
Infant & Adult
Immersion, Affusion, Aspersion
Pentecostals
yes
Adult
Full Immersion
Presbyterians
yes
Infant & Adult
Immersion, Affusion, Aspersion
Revivalists
yes
Adult
Immersion
Seventh Day Adventists
yes
Adult
Full Immersion
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons)
yes
Age 8 & up
Full Immersion
The United Church of Christ (Evangelical & Reformed Churches, & Congregational Christians)
yes
Infant & Adult
Immersion, Affusion, Aspersion
Baha'i
no
 
 
Baptists (some denominations)
no
 
 
Christian Scientists
no
 
 
Quakers/ Members of the Religious Society of Friends
no
 
 
Salvation Army
no
 
 
Unitarians
no, but they do practice child dedication ceremonies for children of members
 
 
 
 
 
 

Religions That Do Not Practice Baptism

Today in particular, many religions including some Christian denominations, believe baptism is unnecessary. Those who are of this belief are as follows:

- Baha’i: Their belief, as dictated by their leader the prophet Baha’ u’ llah, is that baptism by water refers to “water of knowledge and life.” Baptism by the Holy Spirit refers to the “spirit of divine bounty.”

- Baptists: Some groups in this denomination do not believe or view the ritual of baptism as necessary.

- Christian Scientists: They believe emphasis should be on the inward aspects of Christian sacraments rather than the practice. Their idea of baptism is the daily study of their texts and living life as is dictated: “Spiritual purification by daily prayer.”

- Quakers (members of the Religious Society of Friends): They reject all forms of outward or public manifestations of their spirituality. They view baptism as an inward sacrament.

- Salvation Army: They too do not believe in outward or public displays of the sacraments. Founders William and Catherine Booth believe that Christians must rely on the inward grace granted by God instead of outward symbols.

- Unitarians: They see no basis for baptism. However, they do conduct child dedication ceremonies for the children of their members.

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    • profile image

      filipe ban pathaw 7 weeks ago

      Salvation is only from Jesus

    • beverley byer profile image
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      Beverley Byer 6 months ago from United States of America

      Norine, I guess some folks see baptism as more of an initiation into a particular denomination rather than into the Christian faith. However, if your question has to do with form of baptism, wasn't Jesus baptized by water?

    • profile image

      norine williams 6 months ago

      Hello Bev:

      Do you believe one should be "water baptized" seeing that Ephesians 4:5 says there is "one" baptism?"

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