How to baptize someone in an emergency
Your church probably has a very strong preference
that clergy conduct baptisms, so you should not go around the
neighborhood baptizing people. However, most churches will recognize a
baptism performed by a layperson in an emergency.
A couple of web sites have linked to this page
because they think it is uproariously funny that there could be such a
thing as an emergency baptism. It never occurred to me that an act of
compassion for a dying person would give anyone the giggles. However, I
don’t mind. It is part of my job as pastor to give compassionate help
when the giggles stop. Meanwhile, laugh all you can, it’s good for
Before we Begin…
Through His incarnation and resurrection, Jesus teaches us that a
whole person consists of a body and a spirit. Any attempt to give the
spirit priority over the body is Gnosticism, not Christianity.
If you are with a person who is suddenly afflicted with a medical
emergency, whether they are dying or not, your first priority is to
summon professional medical help and to administer first aid until it
arrives. Only then should you attempt to administer spiritual help.
What Constitutes and Emergency
It is an emergency if all of the following statements are true:
(a) The candidate urgently requests baptism.
Despite having received the best available
medical attention, the candidate is reasonably worried that they
(c) You have tried and failed to contact a member of the clergy, or a
member of the clergy cannot arrive in time.
Is It Necessary?
We could all go round and round in theological debates about whether
baptism is necessary. We are commanded to be baptized (Acts 2:38), and
the church is commanded to baptize new converts (Matthew 28:19).
However, the thief on the cross wasn’t baptized, and Jesus said he was
okay. But is that a special case, since it is physically impossible to
baptize someone who is nailed to a cross?
All this theological debate is heartless in an emergency. If someone
has good reason to think they are about to die, they urgently want to be
baptized, and baptism is physically possible, then it is pastorally
necessary to baptize them, no matter what our theology is.
(a) Do not baptize a person unless they request it.
Do not baptize a person while they are unconscious.
(c) Do not baptize a person who has already been baptized in any
If you are a layperson, pay special attention to the following:
(a) Do not baptize a person if a member of the
clergy is available.
(b) If a member of the clergy declines to baptize
the person, do not take it upon yourself to do it.
(c) Do not baptize a person if a member of the
clergy instructs you not to do it or tells you it is unnecessary.
(d) Do not ask the person to confess sins to you.
(e) Do not require the person to show you evidence
(f) Do not attempt to determine whether the person is worthy of
The Essential Parts
If you want the baptism to meet the requirements for as many churches
as possible, it must have the following three features:
You must have the intention of performing a valid baptism.
For example, if children are playing church or if you perform a
baptism as part of a play, or you are horsing around in a swimming
pool, it is not a valid baptism.
Water must be involved.
Immersion is valid in all churches, but since this is an emergency,
that is probably not practical. Instead, pour water on the
candidate’s head three times. (This instruction goes back to the
first-century document called the Didache, or the Teaching
of the Twelve Apostles.) Sprinkling the water, daubing water on
the candidate’s forehead, or pouring the water only once may be
valid in some churches but it won’t be valid in many others.
You must use the formula in Matthew 28:19.
You must say to the candidate, “I baptize you in the Name
of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” You can add
any additional wording that you like, but it’s probably best to
stick to the bare essentials. If you substitute other formulas or if
you baptize only in Jesus’ name, the baptism may be valid in some
churches, but in most churches, it won’t be valid.
If the person is unable to verify whether or not they were baptized,
or it cannot be determined if the person’s baptism was valid, then you
should say: “If you are not already baptized, I baptize you in the
Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” This avoid
rebaptism, which most churches frown upon.
Other Features of a Baptism
We’re talking about bare-bones emergency baptism here, so this
isn’t a full liturgy. Other things that normally accompany baptisms
can include the following, but not necessarily in this order:
Before the Water:
The candidate formally agrees to be
The candidate renounces Satan and evil.
The baptizer blesses the water.
The candidate professes faith.
The Apostles Creed, in western churches.
After the Water:
The candidate is anointed with oil.
The candidate receives the laying on of
There is a prayer for the candidate to
receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
These extra features are not necessary in an emergency, and if you
are a layperson, you may not have the authority to perform them anyway.
However, you should ask the candidate at the last moment if they desire
to be baptized.
You don’t need special equipment for pouring. You can pour the
water simply by cupping your hands and letting the water flow onto the
candidate’s head. There doesn’t have to be a lot of water, but be
sure to apply it three times.
Ask the candidate if they want to be baptized. If they say no,
stop at this point and go no further. If they say yes, proceed.
As you pour the water three times, use the candidate’s name and
say, “_____, I baptize you in the Name of the Father, and of the
Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” If there is any doubt about a
previous baptism, pour the water three times, use the candidate’s
name and say, “_____, if you are not already baptized, I baptize
you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy