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Baptism, Sacrament Or Symbolism?


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Is Baptism a Holy Sacrament, or a symbolic gesture? Is it a requirement for membership in the Christian family, or just a requirement in membership to a specific church? If one is baptized and then consciously falls way from the Christian family and denys God, should they be baptised again if they renue their faith, or does the first time suffice? If one is baptised as an infant, is it necessary to become baptised again later in life, once you have reached an age and level of understanding and an awareness of what that commitment to God means? Most perplexing to me personally, is it necessary for an infant to be baptised in order to receive the grace of God and assure their place in Heaven?

I have my own veiws, but I am asking for curiosity, educational, and conversational purposes. I understand that their are numerous distinct and different perspectives on this, and I would like to know what they are.

My personal perspective is simple. Jesus was baptized and the Holy Spirit decended upon him. Whether that is intended symbolically, or literally, I cannot do more than speculate. I found it to be evidence enough that I should be baptized by conscious decision. I believe that Christ was full of the Holy Spirit and in communion with God at the moment of his birth, so baptism may not have been necessary for him, but I was not. My theology doesn't leave room for original sin, so for me, baptism was a symbolic washing away of the self, like rinsing out a vase, so that it could be filled with the Holy Spirit.

I was not raised in a church where infant baptism is the norm, so I have questions concerning that. Some great theological scholars insist that it is necessary to ensure a place in Heaven (Heaven also being a concept open for debate, on another thread of course). Interestingly, I cannot find one reference to the necessity for infant baptism in the Bible. Any thoughts or opinions?

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Great topic. I haven't posted to this forum in a long time, and so this is a chance for me to get back into it.


I consider Baptism to be a symbolic ritual that gives us a physical connectedness with a spiritual event. Immersion of the physical body into water, followed by the emmanation of the body back into air, is a great way to give a physical feeling and understanding of how our spiritual body is cleansed/changed by our mystical Baptism with Diety.


This version of Baptism refers to the full immersion version, not the symbolic touching of water to the forehead of babies. I never quite understood the value of baby Baptisms in this regard.


Baptism is a very old ritual not limited to Christianity. There is evidence of Baptism/immersion rituals as far back as Mesopotamia and in numerous cultures around the world.


I consider it to be a valuable procedure for those who understand its implications. Much like other accepted church sacraments, I think Baptism has been 'dumbed-down' to make it more digestable to the masses and its deeper, mystical meaning has been lost.



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After reading my post, I realize I didn't give my thoughts on the Sacrament/Symbolism issue.


I have a hard time with the word Sacrament. Christianity is generally accepted as having two Sacraments: Baptism and Communion. Both of these are supposed to impart Grace into our lives. My questioning/confusion comes from the term Grace. What does this term truly mean? I don't believe in an external, separate God entity that 'looks down upon us' or acts outside of ourselves. With that said, the term Grace doesn't make sense to me because it implies getting something from outside of myself.


So, I guess I would consider Baptism to be a Symbolic ritual in our physical lives to give us understanding of what we need to do with our internal spiritual life. I'm not sure that really conveys my thoughts, but it's a start.



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Thanks Alan, after reading your posts, I did a little more research and was surprised at how wide the practice is throughout history. Baptism was used in everything from the Mystery of Isis to the Sikh Amrit Sanskar ceremony, to scholastic initiation. It's purpose ranged from It is not in anyway isolated to the Christian faith. Even within the Christian sects the practice has such a broad spectrum of ideology ranging from baptism of infants by pouring or sprinkling to total immersion, for consenting adults only. It's purposes range from symbolic or ritual cleansing all the way to absolute necessity for salvation and entrance to Heaven. No wonder Christianity provide the opportunity for so much distain and disregard from secular society. Even among professed followers of the same God we have set so many borders and doctrinal dividers as to cause hatred and division among the faithful. There is a prayer that I heard in an Episcopal service that comes to mind. "Lord, forgive us for making much of what cannot matter much to thee."

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I come from a tradition where child baptism is the norm and adult baptism a rare, but exciting event.

I have had four children over a period of 15 years, and an evolving faith.

With child number one, I was reading Spong for the first time and had serious hesitations about proceeding.

I was questioning not only the ceremony/process/implications, but everything that I believed in.

I eventually bowed to pressure from parents on both sides and the child was baptised at around 18 months.

It was not a very spiritual occasion, with parents bickering, and the minister having informed me that my best friend(who was in a lesbian relationship) was almost certainly going to hell.

Child number two was born seriously ill, and I found myself, once again, under pressure to have her baptised(this time by chaplains, social workers and nurses) since her death was a real possibility.

This time I was resolute that I would not be pushed and that no matter what, I had no fears of her dying outside of the family of god.

A baptism, in this instance, amongst strangers, in a far away city and for reasons of fear, would have meant absolutely zero to me.

Thankfully, she pulled through and became a loved member of the church community, but I felt no need for further action.

When child number three was born, my faith was becoming more mature and comfortable and I was part of a church, that despite a traditional theology, had a great inclusive, social justice agenda and I felt that I was ready to have my children baptised into my church family.

It was a vote of confidence in the community, and a sign that I was reconciled with my own beliefs, and a symbol of how I wanted to raise my children.

It was a wonderful day and my husband and I(and many others) wept with joy.

The elder of the two children being baptised, had one of the most wonderful days of her life. This time I felt that my own (unremembered) baptism was renewed.

When my fourth child was born, I was an openly practicing Progressive Christian.

I invited no guests. We had no cake or celebratory meal(other than the communion) and it was personal, and meaningful, and special.

I feel with their baptism, I have given them membership of an active faith community.

They have sat at my feet as I dispensed food to the hungry and played on the mat whilst I counselled people about their finances.

They have sat through countless bible studies and church occasions and their baptism, to me, purely signifies membership of this particular community.

Having said that, when I was lost, and I was truly lost, it was my baptism that called me back, even though I cannot recall it.

When I needed something else in my life, I remembered that I was baptised a Christian and that was a point of return.

I resurfaced in a Christian community far from my own.

If my children, at some point, take up their faith, it will be because they have made that choice (and because of their upbringing) and not necessarily because of that water that was lovingly poured on their heads.

The ritual has no magic in itself, from my point of view, but it was an important thing for us.

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Thank you, Timeflows for that very open response. So it has value to you, which is how I feel it should be. I have attended church where infant baptism was the norm, where it was unthinkable, and where baptism doesn't happen at all. I remember very little of my own baptism as well. I was an adolescent, not an infant, and I was baptized by submersion. I just remember that I lost my footing, my feet flew up into the air, and most of the congregation got a good chuckle out of it. I don't remember getting any sort of a spiritual impact from it. I always wondered, in a innocent way if I should have felt something more. Over time I separated myself so far from my faith that it no longer mattered. Since my own personal "road to Damascus" incident 5 months ago, the question has come to mind again. On an intellectual level I know it's just water, blessed by clergy, but still just water. I also know that the Holy Communion is just bread and wine, but at my first eucharist service after my return to Christianity, I was just about swept off my feet by the sensation of oneness with everything. It was a "beyond words" experience, and I have had a few of those lately while trying to be more open to God. One of my close friends, who has heard me argue against the existence of God prior to this return suggested that I get a brain scan, and if I was going to pursue this "God thing", to at least leave bread crumbs. I don't think I will take her suggestion.

Anyhow, it's late and I am rambling. Back to baptism, has anyone gotten that swept away feeling from their baptism, or has it been a symbol jesture, or a sort of rite of passage? Is it still widely viewed as a necessity for inclusion to the Christian family by most churches? I'm just looking for experiences other than my own.

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Hi Jake,


Since you are looking for the experiences of others. I would be happy to share. Was sprinkled with 'holy water' as a child in the catholic church, later in life immersed in a baptismal pool of water in a full gospel church and finally baptised in the river Jordan in the 80's. None of these experiences did anymore that I could see or feel other than to temporary wrinkle up my skin a little.


Having said that, I found as clergy, that the experiences of others varied. I have had numerous experiences as you have described but they were not timed with water baptism for me. It is not that I have not seen others have genuine experiences during that act but to me it seems that the act can be a trigger for some but that the act is not a requirement. It seems to vary by individual and their expectations. I have seen others have experiences with the laying on of hands or, when in a position of extreme danger or, the breaking of bread or, washing of feet or, during prayer, or when driving or, when meditating or, when there is a strong need or, during group worship or, or appreciation of music, beauty or art or, when there seems to be no determinable reason. My conclusion is that it is not something we make happen or under the direct control of the creature self except when exercised as a gift that results from an act of faith that has been imparted and simply happens by an exercise of will when conditions are ripe and a connection is made. There seems to me to be no single magic button or ritual. :lol: In other words it is not caused by the 'self' or any single act but rather part of an evolving process of creation.


Just my 2 cents from my experience...



edited June 29th 9:00AM added sentence.

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  • 4 weeks later...

At the age of 52 I was baptised for the first time - this just a few weeks ago! For me, it was a very personal acknowledgement of my faith in God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit; the fact that it occurred in front of my church family made it more fulfilling for me because of the public expression of my faith. It is interesting to read others' posts about the role of baptism in the modern church; whether it should be done when someone is an infant or as an adult, whether it is sacrament or symbolism. For me I'd say it was both. Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary defines sacrament as "a formal religious act that is sacred as a sign or symbol of a spiritual reality." So in my mind, there is both an acceptance of the sacred and a symbolic representation of my personal spiritual reality. As to whether one should be baptised as an infant, adolescent or adult, that's a tough one to answer - and, I think, a very personal decision. If I were of child-bearing age and had a child, I would probably have her/him baptised, more as a welcome into the church community than out of fear that if the child died s/he would not be accepted in heaven.


Having been born Jewish in a fairly non-observant family, I was only superficially introduced to the rituals of my birth religion and found that I wanted more. However, when I accepted Christ in high school I didn't seek to join a church because my family really struggled with my testimony. I'd wager a guess that they thought it was a phase I would grow out of. I didn't, but neither did I walk the walk or talk the talk. When my husband and I married in 2002 (2nd marriage for both), we made a conscious decision to be (1) married by a Christian pastor; (2) to have a mostly Christian ceremony; and (3) to include some of the rituals from a Jewish wedding to honor my heritage and my family. My mother still commented, "I don't understand why you're not more Jewish." What can I say?


My husband and I have been going through some difficult times - as a childhood cancer survivor, my health has always been challenging, and in 2006 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. My husband's mother died several years ago, and his sister is in prison for causing her death (very long story). My husband was laid off at Thanksgiving, and we've had to declare bankruptcy. Our relationship was definitely suffering. When a dear friend from high school suggested that we find a church that fit us, I thought, Well, it can't hurt. God led us to a lovely church home and has strengthened our relationship. My husband stood beside me as I was baptised, and for me it was a glorious celebration of both our faith and our love for one another.


Thanks for listening. God bless!

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At the age of 52 I was baptised for the first time - God led us to a lovely church home and has strengthened our relationship. My husband stood beside me as I was baptised, and for me it was a glorious celebration of both our faith and our love for one another.


Salutations to the divinity within you and your husband. I like that you had Jewish elements in your marriage ceremony. You have a unique background that should make your spiritual experience deep and enlightening for you and your spouse that will radiate to the larger community. Thanks for sharing.

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Hi Jake,


Reading your very interesting post with the wonderful question reminded me of something I tried to express a while back. It's not written very well but see what you think:


An ancient Christian doctrine that I have always appreciated is The Incarnation. Traditional Christianity understands this as the becoming flesh of God, the place where God literally steps into our world in the form of one man. However I have grown to see it as a symbol of what already is, as if there is a hidden divinity to humankind itself. So Jesus somehow represents what is true for all humans, and perhaps for the whole of nature too - that God lives in it and through it. I do not want to think of myself as not of the world or as having to ascend the world. I want to be fully part of it. And, as time has progressed, this is precisely what has been happening to my experience.


Over my last few years (as a Vicar) I started to recognise a gradual shift in how I understand the central facets of the faith to which I belonged. Being a free thinker, I was never really concerned about where my thoughts and ideas were going, as long as I was honest with myself. It seemed to be the case that, alongside both my theoretical fascination with other spiritual paths and my tendency to spend more and more real-time finding glimpses of God outside the church, came an automatic inner re-evaluation of belief. I remember sitting down, journal in hand, asking myself what the various doctrines and ideas of my own faith meant to me. I began with the Sacraments (Notes. The Sacraments are the two Anglican, or seven Roman Catholic, symbolic rituals of grace. i.e Baptism and Holy Communion) and without thinking I wrote that they were simply beautiful ritual acts that dramatise and symbolise what is already true. For example, a babys baptism might traditionally be seen of as some strange ceremony that brings a child out of darkness into light. But for me it was an acting out of what is already true for that child - he /she is already filled with divinity and is a child of God. Of course baptism is so much more than any words can describe which is why we use religious symbolism. Symbols speak a broader, more universal language than any verbal dialect. The real power of baptism is in the symbol of being buried and risen which, of course, will happen time and time again throughout life. In life we go through many deaths, be it a death of a career, a relationship or a literal death. Jesus (like the many god-man-Christ-figures before him) is, in part, a powerful symbol of what is true for all humankind life, death, re-birth. Baptism acts this cycle out, which is why it appears in many other ancient cultures beyond the world of Christendom. Jung would possibly call it a universal archetypal ritual.


What about marriage? Well at a wedding the Priests words do not create a married couple. In fact the couple themselves are the real priests in the marriage ceremony. It is their vows and their sexual joining together that makes true what already is. The ordained priest or celebrant merely vocalises and witnesses the event.


At a Eucharist [and here is where Im likely to be accused of sacramental heresy] the priest, by ritual and drama, makes present the memory of something both shocking and wonderful that happened many years ago. The truth of this act is hard to fully comprehend [indeed there are possibly many truths] and the ritual enacted brings it to mind again. The most basic meaning is again Incarnation - we eat and drink bread and wine said to be the body and blood of God - because we are in some strange way the body and blood of God ourselves (humans filled with deity). Thus again it makes true what already is. The more I think about it the more the whole Christian story is about making true what already is.


Hope it makes some kind of sense!



Edited by the magician
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  • 3 weeks later...

Here is a link for anyone who might be interested. It provides some historical information about baptism and the Jewish purification ritual of mikvah. The early Gentile believers, according to historians, likely adopted the Jewish mikvah and converted it into what we commonly call a baptism today.



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