There are all sorts of myths and legends surrounding baptism or christening. This FAQ will hopefully help you as you explore this issue.
What is the difference between baptism and christening?
As far as the church is concerned, there is no difference at all. Some people would call a baby baptism a christening and some do not realise that a christening is actually a baptism. For many, when they say a christening they actually mean a thanksgiving, and this is different to a baptism.
Is a baptism or christening the same thing as a naming service?
The short answer is, no. In some cultures, a person would be ‘christened’ with a new Christian name (a name from the Bible to mark them out from their old way of life), and in the past, because of infant mortality, babies were often baptised soon after birth and this coincided with naming. However, in the UK, naming is a completely separate thing from baptism.
Isn’t baptism just a welcome into the church?
That depends on what you mean by church! If you mean, simply welcomed into a social group, then no. If you mean initiation into a group of people engaged in the ongoing mission of Jesus Christ – and identifying themselves with his life, death and resurrection, then yes!
Do I have to be a Christian to have my baby or toddler baptised?
Yes – absolutely. It would be very odd to make promises on behalf of a baby that you yourself do not intend to keep, or to initiate a baby into a community to which you do not belong. However, you do not have to be a Christian to have a service of thanksgiving for a child.
What is the difference between a baptism and thanksgiving?
We offer two services to parents.
- Baptism is initiation into the church community (the community engaged in the ongoing mission of God) and involves water as a symbol of a new life in Jesus Christ. The Christian parents who are members of this community make vows or promises on behalf of the baby who cannot speak for himself or herself. The Godparents are Christians who also agree to help pray for and encourage the child in their walk with Jesus.
- Thanksgiving is for people who are not members of the Christian community, but want to say thank you to God for their child. The minister asks for God to bless the child. The parents and friends do not make vows (such as declaring an allegiance to Jesus Christ) but do pray that they will bring up the child with Christian values and that the child may one day choose to follow Jesus.
Note: Both services take place within a Sunday church service. There is no such thing as a private baptism. Also, although in church culture there is no difference between a baptism and christening, in the wider culture a christening is the same thing as a thanksgiving.
Will the vicar say “no” to letting my baby be Christened?
No. We will never say no, but we may say ‘not yet’. We will expect you to act with integrity. The service of baptism will require you (and godparents) to publicly affirm your faith in Jesus Christ, and make promises before a congregation and before God on behalf of your child.
How come the church christened my other children and never told me what baptism was all about?
Sadly, it has been common practice in the Church of England to offer baptism as a right with little or no preparation. It is still true that everyone in the parish has the right to be baptised, however, we think baptism is very important and it is essential that the person being baptised and/or their parents understand the nature of baptism and the promises that are made.
Can you be baptised more than once?
No – baptism is once and for life. But saying that, different Christian churches view baptism differently. Some, for example, do not recognise baby baptism as valid as a baby cannot choose Christ for himself or herself.
Do you need to be baptised to get married in the church?
No! Not at all. Every person living in a parish has the right to be married in their parish church, whether they are baptised or not, as long as the marriage is legal in terms of state and church law. In the same way, everyone who dies in a parish is entitled to a Christian funeral.
What is the role of a godparent or sponsor?
Contrary to popular belief, godparents have no legal guardianship over the child. In a baptism, a godparent is a Christian who undertakes to support the parents in bringing up the the child in the Christian faith – as followers of Jesus Christ. Because of this, it is expected that godparents will also be Christians and have an active and real faith in Jesus Christ. In a thanksgiving service, the sponsor is someone who promises to support the family.
If I do not have my baby baptised will he or she go to limbo, purgatory or hell?
Absolutely not! This is a terrible superstition and God would never do such a thing. Sadly, there are still people who believe this superstition. It is not a reason to have a baby baptised.
Does the church do private baptism or thanksgiving services?
The baptism or thanksgiving service will always take place in the context of a church service unless there are exceptional circumstances. This is because baptism and thanksgiving takes place within the community of the church and this community is involved in making promises too. There is no such thing as a private baptism.
Do I have to live in the Axmouth or Uplyme parishes to ask for a baptism or thanksgiving?
You will be expected to live within the parish to have a service of thanksgiving for your baby. You will also be expected to be a member of the Axmouth Community or one of the Uplyme Congregations (or in exceptional circumstances, a member of another church) to have your baby baptised – i.e. the baby will be expected to have believing parents.