What is the difference between infant and adult baptism? Let’s take a look at how infant baptism began and why it’s important for adults to take the symbolic step of baptism.
Infant baptism arose from the teachings of some early second and third-century church fathers that baptism washed away sin. This meant that if you died without being baptized then you died with your sins unforgiven and thus went to Hell (or purgatory as that concept developed over time). With the high infant mortality rate in the early centuries, the concept of baptizing babies as soon as possible came into vogue. Since it is not necessarily good to push baby heads underwater, the idea of sprinkling took hold.
Again, the word baptism does not mean “sprinkle or “pour”. The Greek word “baptidzo” literally means to “dip” or to “immerse”.
Throughout the years of the Church, baptism by immersion has taken several forms. Some baptize by dipping three times in the “Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit”. Others use the Jewish model for baptizing Gentile converts into Judaism. The initiates wear white robes and are dipped three times forward and three times backward. The most common mode of baptism is once backward to portray the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.
According to Romans 6:1-10, baptism pictures at least three things:
- First, baptism is a picture of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. As we stand in the water we are representing Christ on the cross. As we are dipped underwater we illustrate the burial of Christ. As we come out of the water we demonstrate the resurrection of Christ.
- Second, baptism is a personal testimony to us of the washing away of our sins. As we go under the water we reconfirm that our sins are forgiven and as we come out of the water we are resurrected to live a new life in Christ.
- Third, baptism represents our personal identification with Christ. Paul declared in Romans 6:3-4 “We were buried with Christ in baptism and we are raised to walk in a new life” as forgiven followers of Christ empowered by the Spirit of God.
Being sprinkled or having water poured over your head when you were an infant, or too young to understand, missed the point of baptism on all three levels.
The Bible teaches that commitment to Christ always precedes baptism. In fact, baptism is your testimony of surrendering your life to Christ. The New Testament order is not be baptized and then receive Christ. It is always first you receive Christ and then you get baptized. If you were not aware of submitting to the Lordship of Christ then it is impossible to think of your baptism as a personal commitment to Christ.