Christening is a type of baptism, traditional in the Catholic or Anglican Church. Commonly baptizing babies and young children, it includes an ordered ceremony and frequently, the child is christened with a new, Christian name, in a gathering of family and friends. Children obtain godparents to help them grow in their faith and life and are welcomed into the Church. Christening is an important moment for these young Christians, as baptism is a vital element to the Christian faith.
Christening is described as “a Christian sacrament signifying spiritual cleansing and rebirth.” The christening tradition, normally given to small children and babies, and most common in Catholic and Episcopal churches, goes beyond simply infant baptism. The christening ritual involves giving the baby their “Christian” name, sprinkling water on the head of the child, and welcoming them into the Church fellowship.
Christening, although viewed as the same as baptism, in the eyes of the Church of England, has a comparable meaning to a baby dedication. The Church of England mentions the significance of Christening as, “Your child is precious to you and precious to God. You want the very best for them, and so does God. You want them to make the right choices in life, for themselves and for others. A christening is just the beginning of this and so much more.”
“Over the years to come, it’s a journey you’ll share together with your child by: Being there for your child to talk to about the bigger questions of life – questions about hope, faith and love. Praying for your child through the ups and downs of their faith journey. Showing them practically how to make those good choices in life. Helping them to learn more about their Christian faith, through their church and in other ways. So it’s a commitment to start as you mean to go on.”
Christenings share other similarities with baby dedications: during a christening, the children are prayed for by members of their family and family friends. The promises made in the ceremony to care for the child as he or she grows up, especially with respect to faith, are also similar to baby dedications.
One thing that is not shared among the two is the baptism itself.
The significance of Christening, beyond the spiritual meaning of baptism, is the receiving of a new Christian name and godparents to encourage and strengthen the faith of the christened baby in their life.
Ashley Osmera describes the reason for giving a new name during a christening, stating, “In the 4th century, St. John Chrysostom strongly encouraged parents to choose for their children names of holy men and women known for their strength and virtue, in order that the children might look to them as role models,” Osmera writes, “Even earlier, St. Dionysius of Alexandria (c. 260) observed, “There are many of the same name as the Apostle John, who on account of their love for him, and because they admired and emulated him, and desired to be loved by the Lord as he was, took to themselves the same name, just as many of the children of the faithful are called Paul or Peter.”
During a christening, it is customary for the family to choose a godmother and/or godfather to aid in guiding the child and helping them in the faith.
“They’ll be people who you know you can trust and who’ll be there for your child to talk about the bigger questions in life; questions about faith, hope, and love,” the Church of England explains, “Every child should have at least three godparents, two of the same sex and at least one of the opposite sex to your child. Although there is no official maximum number of godparents, three or four is usual...Because of the very special role they have in supporting your child’s faith journey, godparents must be baptized themselves. Ideally, they should be confirmed too…”
Christening in the Bible
For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. 1 Corinthians 12:13 ESV
Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. Mark 16:16 ESV
For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. Galatians 3:27 ESV
One Lord, one faith, one baptism Ephesians 4:5 ESV
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Matthew 28:19 ESV
And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Acts 2:38 ESV
Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 3:21 ESV
And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.’ Acts 22:16 ESV