This wasn’t my friend’s first baptism. He was baptized five years earlier, when he first gave his life to Christ. I was first baptized as a young child, after accepting Jesus at a Vacation Bible School event. Another friend of mine, a practicing Catholic, was baptized as an infant. The ritual of baptism varies widely across the many denominations of Christianity but can easily be broken up into two categories: Infant and Adult. They’re both beautiful, symbolic pictures of a new life dedicated to Jesus Christ and the Christian church, a celebration of His victory over death on the Cross of Calvary, and a public declaration of faith to any that bear witness to it. But they also draw some stark contrasts regarding the reasons they’re performed, their ritual methods, and most importantly, the will of the one being baptized.
First, a little history. Most experts believe Christian baptism has its origins in Levitical purification rituals. Jewish priests would bathe themselves in water before they performed their duties. Many Bible verses point to the importance of water baptism for the believing Christian. (1 Peter 3:21, Romans 6:3-5, Colossians 2:12, Galatians 3:26-29). Jesus Christ himself was famously baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist (See Matthew 3, Mark 1, Luke 3, John 1) saying, “It should be done, for we must carry out all that God requires.” (Matt 3: 15) He also mentioned importance of baptizing new disciples in the Great Commission, saying “Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations,baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28: 19). Both the actions and commands of Jesus Christ stressed the importance of baptism in the early Christian church.
Thus we have the consensus of baptism by the modern church: though not necessary for salvation, any true believer should care enough about their dedication and love for the Lord to make a public profession of it in the form of water baptism. Most adult baptisms are performed soon after conversion, by full immersion in water. The man or woman being baptized will stand waist deep in water with a pastor or priest, profess of their belief in Jesus where a church’s congregation can hear them, and then be lowered beneath the water and brought back up again.
Because there are many denominations of Christianity in practice today, the baptism ritual and its meaning can vary wildly. However, the biggest differences tend to be between adults and children.