There are a lot of different answers, depending on who you ask, when it comes to the difference between baptism and christening. Most of these answers are incomplete or just plain wrong. Some say the difference is the amount or type of water, some say it’s a matter of age, others still that it varies depending on the type of church. These alone are all wrong! While these play a factor in the overall difference, none of them is the true, full, and complete answer.
Most people use the words “Baptism” and “Christening” interchangeably. This is OK in the sense that the connotations mean basically the same thing. However there are significant literal and historical differences often forgotten, overlooked, or misconstrued.
Baptism: Baptism is a Greek word. Prior to Christianity, baptism was the ritual use of water for purification. Christian baptism is defined as a sacrament marked by the ritual use of water and admitting the recipient into the Christian community. This is the traditional term used and is an official sacrament of the Catholic Church. Baptism practices vary between churches, however it almost always involves the Trinitarian invocation (“I baptize you in the name of the father, the son, and the holy spirit”). In some cases recipients are fully submerged in water, and in other cases it may be poured or sprinkled over the head. The earliest non-biblical forms of baptism were referred to in the Didache around 100 AD. This reference speaks to the baptism of adults rather than children. Around the same time we have references from others about infant baptism being customary. From the 3rd century, onward, groups of Christians baptized infants as standard practice (although some families preferred to wait until the child was older).
Christening: Introduced in the 14th century, Christening is the ceremony of baptizing and naming a child. It comes from English culture and isn’t properly defined in the modern day. Many dictionaries will refer to “baptism”.
- 1) Baptism is a traditional sacrament, Christening is not.
- 2) Baptism can be done at any age, christening is traditionally for babies and young children
- 3) Christening usually involves a naming ceremony, baptism usually does not
- 4) Christening is when water is poured or sprinkled on the head, while the method for baptisms vary
- 5) Baptism was practiced and mentioned by name before Christianity, Christening was first referenced in the 14th century
- 6) Some churches believe christening is an act of submission to god, others don’t. Yet all consider baptism a submission to god.
- 7) “Baptism” is a Greek word, “Christening” is English
Groups who practice infant baptism:
- Roman Catholic
- Greek Orthodox
- Russian Orthodox
- Oriental Orthodoxy
- Armenian Apostolic Church
- Assyrian Church
- Anglican Communion
- Church of the Nazarene
Groups who normally reject infant baptism:
- Apostolic Christians
- Old Time Missionary Baptists
- Seventh-Day Adventists
- Jehovah’s Witnesses
- Mormon Church
Based on interpretations on biblical passages, these churches have decided to either undergo, or postpone baptism until later in life. The arguments are made that baptism is supposed to be the act of turning yourself over to god, and that infants are too young to be able to do that. Although there is no literal scriptural passage for or against infant baptism, advocates interpret some biblical references in support of their beliefs (ex Acts 16:15).
To sum it all up, christenings are baptisms, but not all Baptisms are Christenings. You can use the information in this article to decide whether the event is a Baptism or Christening