Our editors explore baptism vs. christening so you can understand the differences according to the Christian Bible.
Baptism and infant christening are often considered to be similar, if not the same, among many in the secular world. However, the concepts are not synonyms. In fact, infant christening is never expressly mentioned in the Christian Bible while baptism is required for salvation.
It is hard to know exactly how many baptisms or christenings are done each year because there are a multitude of Christian denominations. These different churches unfortunately do not share data, while others do not differentiate between infant baptism (christening) and adult baptism. This can skew the figures even more.
There has been a steep decline in both baptisms and christenings in the United States over the last half-century at least. Since adult baptism is a key way to gauge how many unbelievers turned to Jesus Christ, a decline simply means that the church is not reaching as many unbelievers as it once did. As a result, the proportion of those that are spiritually lost, according to the Christian Bible, is growing rapidly.
Only God can ultimately save an unbeliever, but personal evangelism plays a huge role in Christian outreach. To evangelize successfully, one must understand the basic principles of the Christian faith. An understanding of baptism vs. christening can go a long way in ensuring one has a knowledge base of the sacraments to begin with. In this light, our editors explore these two common Christian ceremonies by providing a basic definition and key characteristics of each, along with supporting Bible Scripture so you can make sense of it all.
Baptism vs. Christening
What is Baptism?
“Be saved from sin”
Baptism is taught in the New Testament to be a step of obedience when a person comes to understand sin and its consequences. Jesus told his disciples in Matthew 28:19-20 to “go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:” by “Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded.”
There are three steps involved according to these verses:
- You must be willing to be Jesus’s disciple and trust Him as your Savior
- Be baptized – which is an outward step of obedience following inward faith
- Be ready to learn more about God and Jesus from this day onward
Baptism literally means “to dip or to plunge” and comes from the Greek word “baptizo.” The Jews practiced baptism even before the church’s founding to signify cleansing.
1 Corinthians 12:13 says “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body.” Therefor, baptism by water is a reenactment of what the Spirit can do, if one does so in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is a symbol of belonging to Jesus Christ. In 2 Corinthians 5:17 the Bible says “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature” old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” This is meant to mean that one’s pre-salvation self is dead and becomes a new creation in Christ.
It is essential to realize that baptism is not about what one does, but about what God did already. Only God can provide eternal life, forgive sins, and unite believers in Christ. God saves through baptism.
What is a Christening?
The word “Christian”, when it was first used in the Book of Acts, comes from the Greek word “Christianos”, which means “Little Christ.” The word christening, however, comes from “Christos” meaning “the anointed” and symbolizes marking the baby as Jesus’s own forever.
Christening, therefore, usually means the dedication of a baby to Christ and can be done either by full submersion under water or by sprinkling. It is often a public ceremony in a church, with friends and family attending. A christening welcomes a baby into the church family and marks the start of a lifetime of discovery about the Christian faith.
There is no specific age for christening a child, as the ceremony usually involves the parents making a promise on the baby’s behalf. They promise to raise a “Little Christ,” until the child can decide for him or herself to give their life to Jesus Christ.
“To bring to Christ”
The tradition of christening babies developed gradually and can best be described as a religious ritual. The Bible teaches that all of mankind have a nature to sin. Romans 5:12 explains “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men.” As a result, some individuals in the early church began thinking that babies needed to be “cleansed” from original sin. An interesting thought perhaps, but not one that comes directly from the scriptures.
Christening a baby is not wrong, and can make for a worthwhile family commitment to God and the Bible. However, if a christening should involve baptism, it is not a biblical practice. To be baptized, one must first understand the nature of sin and their need to be cleansed from it.
Baptism vs. Christening; key differences, according to the Christian Bible
- Christening is a ritual that aims to “baptize” babies from original sin. Infants don’t understand sin, and although parents promise to teach them about God, Jesus Christ, and the Bible, a parent cannot repent of sins or trust in God for them.
- That you’ve been christened only means that you’ve been publicly dedicated to the Lord and that He sees you. He promises to be your God, even though you don’t understand anything. It does not mean that you’ve been saved yet. However, once a child understands and realizes the eternal consequences of sin, he can choose to trust Jesus Christ for salvation.
- At baptism, however, a person declares in the open that he or she is a child of God and now dedicated to Him. Baptism is the celebration of a new member entering the Kingdom of Heaven.
- The ceremonies for baptism and christening also differ. Baptism usually involves immersing an older child or adult in water as a sign of sincere commitment to God. For a christening, on the other hand, the baby is sprinkled with water by a priest or minister, and it is the parents who bring the child to affirm what God has done for him before he or she ever understands (in most christenings, babies also get their names).
- Though a commitment, infant christening is more of a tradition than Biblical sacrament (as it is not expressly mentioned in the Bible). Jesus did however command his disciples to baptize new Christians.
- Generally, Christian and evangelical churches such as Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Pentecostal differentiate between christening and baptism. For Catholic, Lutheran, and Episcopal churches, they are one in the same.
Is it better to do an infant christening or baptism? Should parents do both? What about adult baptism? Ultimately, christening and baptism just get one wet, but it is God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ that can provide salvation! God knows your intention when you bring Him your child at a christening. Matthew 19:14 says “But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”
God will accept one’s baptism if it comes from an honest heart and a desire to get closer to Him. If you have not yet chosen to put your trust in Jesus Christ, you are still cut off from him according to Isaiah 59:2 which proclaims “But your iniquities have separated you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.”
The only way to be saved and to be in the eternal presence of God is through Jesus Christ as stated in John 14:6 “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”
The most important decision is not whether you were christened or baptized as an infant, but whether you put your full trust in Jesus Christ.
Lord's Library participates in affiliate programs. We may make a small commission from products purchased through this resource.
- Covenants in the Bible in Order with Meanings & Key Verses - March 23, 2023
- What is a Faith Statement and How Do You Write One? (with Examples) - March 8, 2023
- What Does the Bible Say About Testimony? With Scripture References - March 7, 2023