Baptism is a sacrament of admission and adoption, almost invariably with the use of water, into the Christian Church. The canonical Gospels report that Jesus was baptized — a historical event to which a high degree of certainty can be assigned. Baptism has been called a holy sacrament and an ordinance of Jesus Christ. In some denominations, baptism is also called christening, but for others the word "christening" is reserved for the baptism of infants. Baptism has also given its name to the Baptist churches and denominations.
There are, roughly speaking, four views of the effect of someone being baptised:
· Nothing. Christians need not bother with the physical sign of baptism if they experience the spiritual grace. Spirit-baptism is the fulfilment of the ceremony of water-baptism. This view is taken by churches which do not practice sacraments, such as the Quakers (Society of Friends) and Salvation Army.
· An expression of obedience to Jesus, and as such is desirable but not essential: it is a sign which symbolises an underlying reality but has no actual effect. This view is called Zwinglian (after Zwingli 1484-1531) or Baptist (but many Baptist theologians are closer to the Reformed view). One of the main points of baptism on this view is that it is a witness to others of one’s personal decision to follow Christ.
· It is a sign and seal, effecting what it signifies in the context of faith. This is the Reformed or Covenant view, held by the Church of England (in the 39 Articles of Religion in the Book of Common Prayer) and the Presbyterian Westminster Confession. “In the context of faith” means that the New Testament’s language of efficacy (e.g. Romans 6:4, 1 Peter 3:21) is correctly applied to those who trust in Jesus for themselves.
· it does what it says it does, actually making someone a Christian. This is called the “Catholic” or “Ex opere operato” view. (These Latin words mean it works by virtue of having been performed correctly.).