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Saint Matthew’s Church
Big Lamp, Summerhill Street, Newcastle upon Tyne

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Baptism

Repent and Believe - What is Baptism?

Repent and Believe
Repent and Believe

Baptism is the rite by which people are made members of the Church. Its practice stretches back to the origins of the Christian era; we read about people being baptized in the texts of the New Testament. In Britain it is often called “Christening”, because in it one is CHRISTened – made a follower of Christ.

Before Christ
It is probable that Christianity inherited the practice of baptism in some form from Jewish rites. There are references to similar sorts of practices in Jewish literature for Gentiles who converted to Judaism. At Qumran (a desert retreat by the Dead Sea for a sect of ascetics), there were purification pools that bear an uncanny resemblance to some fonts (the place where Baptisms take place). S John the Baptist may have had a connexion with the Qumran community – he was almost certainly baptizing people before Jesus began his public ministry.

The Baptism of Jesus by S John the Baptist
We read in the Gospels that S John the Baptist had a ministry of baptizing people who wished to repent (turn away) from their sins. The Baptism (a word that means “washing”) was understood to wash away the stain of sin on their character and represented a new beginning to their lives.

All four Gospels recount the Baptism of Jesus by Saint John the Baptist in the River Jordan. This is understood as the moment when Christ’s public Ministry began, validated by God the Father and the bestowal of the Holy Spirit (represented by a dove).

Baptism and Saint Paul
There are a few hints that Saint Paul had some reservations about Baptism; however, there is no doubt that it was a firmly established practice even in the churches that he had founded. In his letter to the Romans (chapter 6), he outlines his understanding of the rite. Through it, he tells us, we are grafted into the Sacrifice of Christ; in our Baptism we die and rise with Christ.

The development of Christian Baptism
During the times of the Apostles, Baptism became identified not only as a mark of repentance, but also as a sign of one’s belief in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, echoing the call reported in the Gospels to repent and believe.

A synthesis of ideas
The Church now weaves all these ideas into its understanding of the nature and purpose of Baptism, sometimes emphasising one aspect, sometimes another:

  • A Rite of entry into the Church

  • The cleansing of sin after an acknowledgement of past failures and a new beginning with God

  • Anointing with the Holy Spirit

  • A mark of one’s acceptance of the Gospel of Christ

  • Dying and rising with Christ

Confirmation
The history of the development of the Sacrament of Baptism is complicated. Many centuries ago, the rite was split in the West (Christians in the East came up with a different practice) when the Baptism of children became the norm. The last part of the rite, which we now call “Confirmation”, has developed as a service in its own right.

When people are baptized as adults or older children (increasingly the case nowadays) the Confirmation follows directly. Babies are not confirmed at their Baptism and it is expected that their parents will present them for confirmation when they are old enough (about ten years old).

Confirmation is preceded by instruction in the Christian Faith so that the candidates have an understanding of the commitments that they will make.

Confession – the Rite of Reconciliation with God
In spite of our best intentions, we all find that we continue to fall short of God’s ideals after our Baptism/Confirmation. Part of our Christian duty is regularly to reflect on our lives and identify those things that need to be improved. Sometimes our sins weigh heavily on our conscience. In such circumstances, there is an opportunity to come and make your peace with God and the Christian community in the Sacrament of Confession.

The rite is simple in form (though it can be quite hard to take part). You come together privately with a priest (who may not under any circumstances reveal what you say without your clearly expressed consent) to talk over the things that disquiet your conscience. At the end, if you are sorry for the things that you have done, the priest is empowered to forgive you in the Name of God and on behalf of the Church.

 


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