Maybe you have been invited to a christening, or perhaps have been asked by family if you plan to have a christening for your newborn. If you are unsure as to what a christening is, please read on. Connected to baptism, Christening is connected to the sacrament of Holy Baptism.
What Is the Importance of Baptism?
Baptism has its origin in the ritual immersions of the ancient Jewish people for ritual purification before going to the synagogue on the Sabbath, and before entering the Temple. Additionally, Scripture tells us there were a series of mandatory times when one had to be immersed for purification. Just a few of these were:
- After releasing the scapegoat (Leviticus 16:26).
- After burning the red heifer (Numbers 19:7).
- After intercourse (Leviticus 15:18).
- A woman does so before her wedding and after she menstruates (Leviticus 15:19).
- A mother does so 40 days after she gives birth to a boy, and 80 days after giving birth to a girl (Leviticus 12:2-5).
Included in the core commands of Jesus Christ to his apostles is the command to baptize people in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Baptism is a sacrament of the church instituted by Christ wherein the new believer is immersed in water (or has water poured or sprinkled on them) for the forgiveness of sins. This is how we are born again or regenerated.
“But there is no other way than this: to become acquainted with this Christ; to be washed in the fountain spoken of by Isaiah for the remission of sins; and for the rest, to live sinless lives” (Justin Martyr).
“When we come to refute them (Gnostics), we will show in its proper place that this class of men have been instigated by Satan to a denial of that baptism which is regeneration to God....For the baptism instituted by the visible Jesus was for the remission of sins” (Irenaeus).
“The union of the Logos with baptism is like the agreement of milk with water. For, of all liquids, milk alone receives water. It allows itself to be mixed with water for the purpose of cleansing — just as baptism does for the remission of sins” (Clement of Alexandria).
When we are regenerated it is only fitting that we be given a new name, which was the custom of the early church, and is still the case in Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches.
What Is Christening?
Christening is basically baptism for infants. It marks a very special moment when a mother and father commit themselves to raise their child in the Christian faith and to support them in their journey of faith.
If godparents have been chosen, they will also promise to provide a good example and to pray for the child. The Book of Common Prayer provides the following from the rite of baptism/christening.
Minister: “Having now, in the name of this child, made these promises, wilt thou also on thy part take heed that this child learns the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments, and all other things, which a Christian ought to know and believe to his soul’s health?”
Answer: “I will, by God’s help.”
Minister: “Wilt thou take heed that this child, so soon as sufficiently instructed, be brought to the bishop to be confirmed by him?”
Answer: “I will, God being my helper.”
The practice of infant baptism was performed in the early church:
“In respect of the case of the infants, you say that they should not be baptized within the second or third day after their birth — that the law of ancient circumcision should be regarded. So, you think that one who has just been born should not be baptized and sanctified within the eighth day. However, we all thought very differently in our council...Rather, we all believe that the mercy and grace of God is not to be refused to anyone born of man. As far as we can, we must strive that no soul be lost, if at all possible. For what is lacking to him who has one been formed in the womb by the hand of God?” (Cyprian).
“Baptize your infants also and bring them up in the nurture and admonition of God. For He says, ‘Allow the little children to come unto me and do not forbid them’” (Apostolic Constitutions).
“..according to the usage of the church, baptism is given even to infants” (Origen).
“The custom of mother church in baptizing infants is certainly not to be scorned...nor is it to be believed that its tradition is anything except apostolic” (Augustine).
What Is the History of Christening?
One of those practices was infant baptism. Church history reveals the tradition of infant baptism and its importance. Kevin Young, Senior Pastor of Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina, writes regarding those who deny infant baptism/christening
“...the burden of proof rests on those who would deny children a sign they had received for thousands of years. If children were suddenly outside the covenant, and were disallowed from receiving any ‘sacramental’ sign, surely such a massive change, and the controversy that would have ensued, would been recorded in the New Testament. Moreover, it would be strange for children to be excluded from the covenant, when everything else moves in the direction of more inclusion from the Old Covenant to the New.”
He goes on to say: “within two centuries of the Apostles we have clear evidence that the church was practicing infant baptism. If this had been a change to long-standing tradition, we would have some record of the church arguing over this new practice. It wasn’t until the sixteenth century that Christians began to question the legitimacy of infant baptism” (Ibid.).
What Does This Mean?
Christening is a solemn, yet joyous occasion and marks the beginning of a child’s life in Jesus Christ and membership in the Body of Christ and carries with it a grave responsibility for both parents and godparents if they so choose.
For further reading:
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/kzenon
J. Davila-Ashcraft is an Anglican priest, Theologian, and Apologist, and holds a B.A. in Biblical Studies and Theology from God’s Bible College in Cincinnati, Ohio. He is a recognized authority on the topic of exorcism, and in that capacity has contributed to and/or appeared on programming for The National Geographic Channel, Discovery Channel, and CNN. He is the host of Expedition Truth, a one-hour apologetics radio talk show.