Some people think baptism and christening are synonymous, but they are not entirely the same. While the word “christening” is not mentioned in the Bible, baptism is indicated as a requirement for salvation in Christ Jesus.
Christening is considered a religious rite by churches such as Catholic, Lutheran and Episcopal, whereas baptism is considered a commitment to God, typically when someone comes of age to know the difference between right and wrong and makes the choice to be baptized. One of the big differences between baptism and christening have to do with the way the ceremonies are performed. Baptism is commonly immersion in water of an adult or older child for remission of sins. It is also a time where you make a public commitment to Christ. During a christening, a priest or pastor sprinkles water on the child and parents affirm a baby’s commitment to Christ as well as setting forth a “proper” name for the child.
The family is a central part of a christening as they are professing a child’s faith in God and renouncing sin. This ceremony is sometimes called a child baptism. We see examples of the practice of baptism in the Bible. Matthew 3:16 is central to our understanding of baptism: “As soon as Jesus was baptized, He went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on Him.” During baptism, individuals are making a conscious decision to dedicate their lives to Christ. While family may be present as witnesses, they are not serving as a representative on your behalf as they would in a christening ceremony.
The concept of christening which means “to bring to Christ” was developed over the first couple hundred years of the church. Scripture teaches that all since the time of Adam have a sin nature and as a result, people began think there needed to be a method for cleansing an infant from sin. There are those who believe that christening is not scriptural since infants are not capable of understanding sin or their need to be cleansed from it.
Scripture says we are born sinners and that we are by nature sinners as biblical evidence for original sin. Although the words “original sin” aren’t found together in Scripture, the doctrine is taught in many passages: “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12); “one trespass led to condemnation for all men” (Romans 5:18); and “In Adam all die” (1 Corinthians 15:22). Knowing this, it is no wonder that David wrote in Psalm 51:5, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” Ephesians is another book of the Bible that people connect with original sin. Ephesians 2:2 says that all people who are not in Christ are “sons of disobedience.” Ephesians 2:3 also establishes this, saying that we are all “by nature children of wrath.” If this is the case, it can only be because we are all by nature sinners. While God did not create the human race sinful, but upright, we fell into sin and became sinful due to the disobedience of Adam.
Christians often fight over the doctrine of original sin. The ideas around it are not only important, but also powerful. The common description of the great chasm of sin is that we’re on one side and God is on the other, and Jesus’ cross provides a bridge over which we can walk to God again. But this isn’t a description of the Gospel and when we focus on this illustration, we lose sight of the fullness of its message. It’s a description of the story of original sin and original sin isn’t the Gospel. The Gospel is not the story of us being separated by sin from God. It’s the story of God who is for us and intent on being with us that God became human to help us embody the wholeness and fullness of life we’ve been made for. This isn’t the story of separation. It’s the story of invitation and participation. Original sin took us down the wrong path. It took us to a version of the Gospel where sin is the headline and separation is the norm. Because of this, we are in a desperate need of a turnaround.
Biblical baptism is taught in the New Testament to be a step of obedience before after a person has come to understand sin and its eternal consequences and also an individual’s need to be saved from sin. Jesus gave a command to His disciples about baptism: “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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).
Ultimately, there is no mention of christening directly in the Bible, but there is also no biblical prohibition against it. The fact that the two words are used interchangeably leaves many people confused. What’s important is that we recognize our own sin and that we commit ourselves to being in relationship with Jesus.