Baptism (from the Greek noun Βάπτισμα baptisma; itself derived from baptismos, washing) is a Christian rite of admission (or adoption), almost invariably with the use of water, into the Christian Church generally and also a particular church tradition. Baptism has been called a sacrament and an ordinanceof Jesus Christ.
In some traditions, baptism is also called christening, but for others the word "christening" is reserved for the baptism of infants.
The New Testament reports that Jesus was baptized. The usual form of baptism among the earliest Christians was for the naked candidate to be immersed totally (submersion) or partially (standing or kneeling in water while water was poured on him or her). While John the Baptist's use of a deep river for his baptism suggests immersion, pictorial and archaeological evidence of Christian baptism from the 3rd century onward indicates that a normal form was to have the candidate stand in water while water was poured over the upper body. Other common forms of baptism now in use include pouring water three times on the forehead.
Martyrdom was identified early in Church history as "baptism by blood", enabling martyrs who had not been baptized by water to be saved. Later, the Catholic Church identified a baptism of desire, by which those preparing for baptism who die before actually receiving the sacrament are considered saved. As evidenced also in the common Christian practice of infant baptism, baptism was universally seen by Christians as in some sense necessary for salvation, until Huldrych Zwingli in the 16th century denied its necessity.
Today, some Christians, particularly Quakers and the Salvation Army, do not see baptism as necessary, and do not practice the rite. Among those that do, differences can be found in the manner and mode of baptizing and in the understanding of the significance of the rite. Most Christians baptize "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" (following the Great Commission), but some baptize in Jesus' name only. Most Christians baptize infants; many others hold that only believer’s baptism is true baptism. Some insist on submersion or at least partial immersion of the person who is baptized, others consider that any form of washing by water, as long as the water flows on the head, is sufficient.
"Baptism" has also been used to refer to any ceremony, trial, or experience by which a person is initiated, purified, or given a name—see Other initiation ceremonies.
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