Customs and Rituals

How do Christians mark formal initiation into their various faith communities?

Along with the Lord’s Supper, baptism is one of the two rituals the vast majority of Christians recognize as a sacrament. Its symbolism recalls the cleansing waters of the Flood and the crossing of the Red Sea and Jordan. Essential elements in baptism are flowing water and the formula “I baptize you (or “The servant of God is baptized”) in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Infant baptism was the norm until the Reformation. Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Congregational churches still baptize infants, while some churches defer the ritual until the candidate is a teenager or older. Baptism can be administered by total or partial immersion, with the candidate descending into a pool or with the officiant lowering the infant into a font, or by affusion, in which the officiant pours water over the candidate’s head only.


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