Denominations

What’s the Difference Between Christian Denominations? Baptism

In the “What’s the difference between Christian Denominations” series, we examine a whole bunch of Christian Denominations to determine what the difference really is between them. This time, the subject is baptism. And for something that on the surface seems so simple, there are a bunch of differences.

But first, let’s look at the main denominational groups we’ll be comparing. There’s the Catholic group, represented by the Catholic Church, also commonly known as the Roman Catholic Church. The Orthodox are represented by the orthodox Catholic Church, also known as the Eastern Orthodox Church. Greek Orthodox and Russian Orthodox churches, for example, fall under this heading. For Anglicans we’ll mostly focus on the Church of England itself, in the Holiness & Methodist Category we’ll consider the United Methodist Church, and the Church of the Nazarene. For Lutheranism, well look at the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, for Reformed we’ll look at the Presbyterian Church USA, and the Presbyterian Church of America, for Anabaptist we’ll look at Mennonites, for Restorationist, we’ll look at the Churches of Christ, Christian Churches, and the Christian Church Disciples of Christ. As for Baptists, we’ll consider the Southern Baptist Convention, Independent Baptists, and American Baptists. Schwarzenau Brethren will be represented by the Church of the Brethren, and finally, for Pentecostalism, we’ll consider the Assemblies of God, and the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World.

And if you think that is a lot of denominations, let me warn you that we’ll be looking at several more in the course of this video as well.

So how many differences can there be in baptism anyway? Off the cuff, people can normally name a few. For example, the mode of baptism – is it sprinkling, pouring, or immersion. Or the candidate – are infants baptized, or only believers? But in this video we have actually more than a dozen categories to consider beyond the mode and the candidate. So let’s get into it.

Candidate

We will start with the candidate. Who is to be baptized? There are two main positions on this, although there are some small differences within the two camps. One camp says that baptism should only be done to believers – and that as infants are not capable of forming beliefs such as trusting in Jesus Christ for salvation, we should not baptize them, but rather wait for them to grow up and make a profession of faith, at which time they will be baptized.

The other side of the argument is that anyone under the care of the church should be baptized. When someone converts from another religion, they should be baptized as an adult, and if someone within the church has a child, that child should be baptized too. There’s some difference of opinion here on the role of belief. Some of these groups say that God does miraculously cause the infant child to believe, so it is believer’s baptism, therefore. Others say that the parents or guardians presenting the child exercise their belief on the infant’s behalf, and that this belief should later be willingly confirmed by the candidate at a later age, normally in a process called confirmation.

A third view does exist, called “household baptism”, which is one that teaches that a family converting into a group should be baptized wholesale – infants and all, based on the authority of the head of the house. Belief in the children is not necessarily assumed or considered necessary, but because the Bible shows examples of whole households being baptized, when the head of a house is saved, they ought to have their whole family baptized. There is a very fine line between this view and the prior one, but generally the household baptism view puts a much higher priority on a male head of the house leading in having his family baptized.

So which denominations fall into which categories? Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Holiness & Methodist, Lutheran, and Reformed Churches baptize all those in the church’s care, including infants. I have put ‘infant’ here, just to differentiate, but they do adult baptisms as well. Some holiness churches only perform believer’s baptism, though the denominations of Church of the Nazarene and the United Methodist Church both allow infant baptism.

For believer’s baptism, we have Anabaptists, restorationists, Baptists, Schwarzenau Brethren, and Pentecostal. Additionally, some churches that are exclusive brethren, a subset of Plymouth Brethren, practice household baptism.

We’ll discuss the candidates a bit more in some other categories coming up.

Mode

Now let’s talk about the MODE of baptism. Most people think of only three modes of baptism: Sprinkling, pouring, and immersion: However, there are actually more than that. For example, some Baptists would be happy to find out that the main mode of baptism of the Orthodox churches is immersion – until they find out that most don’t fully immerse the candidate. So there is sprinkling, pouring, partial immersion, and full immersion, and as we’ll see these can be mixed as well.

Catholics practice primarily pouring, with immersion secondarily. Sprinkling or ‘aspersion’ is not licit, that is, allowed to be done, but it is accepted as valid, such as in the case of a sprinkled person joining the Catholic Church. They would not be asked to be re-baptized. Orthodox churches can vary, but baptism is normally by partial immersion, sometimes with water additionally being poured. In some cases, full immersion may be used. More rarely, only pouring is done. Pouring is the main mode for Anglicans, with sprinkling and immersion acceptable, United Methodists and Nazarenes accept sprinkling, pouring, or immersion, with more high-church and liberal Methodists using sprinkling, and Evangelical Methodists tending toward immersion. Nazarenes mostly practice immersion. Lutherans in the ELCA and LCMS, as well as Presbyterians in the PCUSA and PCA practice sprinkling most commonly, but also accept pouring and immersion.

Most Mennonites, following Menno Simons and the Swiss Brethren, baptize by pouring. There has been some amount of immersion practiced, but the majority not only hold to pouring, but also provide apologetic defense of pouring as opposed to immersion.

Church of Christ, Baptists, Church of the Brethren, and the vast majority of Pentecostalism baptize by full immersion only. Churches of Christ and most Baptists will re-baptize people who were baptized by pouring or sprinkling, considering it invalid. Disciples of Christ and American Baptist Churches generally will accept transfers of people baptized by other modes without rebaptism.

Number

Next, let’s discuss the number of pourings, sprinklings, or immersions performed in the baptism. Some denominations care about this point a lot, and in others the ministers may not have even considered the matter. As a result, some denominations may be inconsistent on the matter.

With Roman Catholics, typically there are three pourings. While the Minister says “in the name of the Father, In the Name of the Son, and in the Name of the Holy Spirit”, for each person of the trinity they will do another pouring.

Orthodox likewise use a set of three, which is also referred to as “trine” or sometimes “triune” baptism. This may be in the form, for an infant, of three dips into the water, or, being placed into the water and water poured three times, or in the case of an adult, being partially immersed in the water and then three times being pushed forward into it.

Anglicans commonly use trine pouring. One pour in the name of the father, one in the name of the son, one in the name of the Holy Ghost.

United Methodists normally have a single application, whether sprinkling or otherwise.

Likewise in the church of the Nazarene a single application is most common.

Lutherans, both ELCA and LCMS, most commonly have three applications, as do both PCUSA and PCA Presbyterians

Mennonites have a single pouring, Church of Christ a single immersion, which is very standard for immersion baptism. Disciples of Christ have just one immersion, as do Baptists, whether Southern Baptist, American Baptist, or Independent Baptist, and Pentecostals, both Trinitarians like the Assemblies of God or Oneness like the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World.

Among those who baptize by full Immersion as the primary mode, Church of the Brethren and the groups that came from Schwarzenau Brethren are the outliers. They typically have three separate immersions.

Direction

And that also brings us to the question of the direction of baptism. For infants and those baptized by modes other than immersion, this doesn’t even make sense as a question, but if an Adult is getting into water to be immersed, some denominations have a position on which way they should be going when they go under. To some extent this can be dictated by the shape of the baptistery used. If a person is baptized in a natural body of water, or in a larger baptistery, a person can be leaned back by the officiant into the water, or the person could kneel forward into the water. However, in a smaller baptistery only the kneeling forward may be an option.

The default view, perhaps by convenience, for many denominations is to baptize backwards. Some may hold this as it seems more like a burial, or just because this is the way it’s been historically done.

Orthodox, will normally baptize forward when there is an adult baptism, and Schwarzenau Brethren held to forward baptism by conviction, referencing the Bible’s mention of baptism being in the likeness of our Savior’s death, and saying that as Christ’s head fell forward at death, we should be baptized forward.

Officiant

Another difference in baptism between denominations is the position on who may perform administer, or preside at the baptism. Other terms would be the officiator or officiant.

Before delving into this, let me explain that many of the denominations have made a distinction between actions relating to baptism being licit, and being valid. In other words, if a person is baptized by a non-Christian, for example, many denominations would, if everything else was correct, view the baptism as valid. It’s a real baptism, and they won’t make you be baptized by them. However, most would also view that baptism as illicit, meaning that it was the wrong way to do things. A baptism that is licit is one performed to the proper standards of the church, and one that is illicit had some problem with it. A baptism that is valid means the person is viewed as actually baptized and they will not be so-called “re-baptized”, and a baptism that is invalid means that the church doesn’t view the person as actually baptized at all.

The Catholic view on the officiant is that a Bishop, Priest, or Deacon is to perform it. However, baptism is still valid, though not licit, if performed by a layperson, a non-Catholic, or even a non-Christian. In an emergency, Catholics are encouraged to seek baptism by any means possible. Orthodox Christians require baptism to be by Priest or deacon, but in an emergency a clergyman or layman will do. I won’t keep mentioning these emergency clauses, but many denominations have them.

Anglican baptism must be administered by a priest, the United Methodist Church says “by an authorized person”, the Church of the Nazarene requires an ordained minister and not a lay minister. Likewise ELCA Lutherans require an ordained minister to preside, and LCMS Lutherans generally believe that the Pastor of a given Church has the duty to perform the Baptism,

For the Presbyterian Church USA, A teaching elder—a pastor—must preside at the baptism. The PCA says baptism is to be administered by a minister of Christ, called to be the steward of the mysteries of God. For Mennonites, an elder normally presides, Churches of Christ aren’t standardized, but the Pastor normally presides. Disciples of Christ have the appointed congregational minister preside, American Baptists typically have the ordained minister preside. Southern Baptists and Independent Baptists don’t believe a minister must preside, generally, but often a pastor or deacon will administer the baptism. In the Church of the Brethren, baptism is normally administered by an ordained minister. In the Assemblies of God, All ordained, licensed, and certified ministers holding current ministerial credentials are authorized to perform the ordinances. Pentecostal Assemblies of the World generally have the ordained minister preside at baptisms.

Godparents

Denominations also differ in that some have parents present their children for baptism, and others add another one or two people called “godparents” or sponsors. Roman Catholics require at least one godparent, and if there are two there must be one man and one woman. They cannot be the children’s parents, can’t be a minor, and they should be faithful Catholics. Likewise Orthodox churches have godparents, and they must be people who were baptized Orthodox, not the parents, and not a minor.

Some denominations refer to “sponsors” instead of “godparents”, and in these cases sometimes they are set in the different term, while other use them interchangeably. Being a godparent means that a person is responsible to nurture the child in the faith, to play an active role in their upbringing. It may mean that if the parent dies, that the godparent would take over their spiritual guidance altogether. A sponsor doesn’t necessarily carry the same weight. At its most lenient meaning, a sponsor may just be a person helping in the baptism or leading up to it, or even just a figurehead or family friend like a groomsman at a wedding might be.

In the Episcopal Church, there are sponsors or godparents, the terms used mostly interchangeably. United Methodists don’t require sponsors, but it is a common practice. If a child’s parents aren’t part of the UMC, at least one sponsor should be. Church of the Nazarene doesn’t have godparents. ELCA Lutherans often do have sponsors: The congregation is encouraged to select one from among themselves, and the parents may also select sponsors. These may not be Lutheran, or even Christian.

For LCMS Lutherans, parents may pick sponsors. The LCMS doesn’t put requirements on them, but parents may be encouraged to pick LCMS, or Lutheran sponsors for the baptism.

Presbyterians usually avoid the term godparents, and mention only sponsors. In the PCUSA this takes place, with the church session choosing the sponsors, or endorsing sponsors that parents have selected. PCA churches don’t have sponsors, but although not required, almost always have the congregation say a vow of assistance.

Denominations that practice believer’s baptism and reject infant baptism have little use for sponsors or godparents. You won’t find this practice except in rare exceptions among these groups, which includes Mennonites, Church of Christ, Disciples of Christ, American, Southern, and Independent Baptists, Church of the Brethren, Assemblies of God or Pentecostal Assemblies of the World.

Some of the denominations above may also allow the use of ‘witnesses’, which play a role in the baptism, but even more than sponsors are not expected to provide any ongoing role in the child’s religious upbringing. This term may be used in some cases if the parents choose someone from outside of the denomination or a person who is not a Christian.

Clothing

Many denominations also use baptismal robes or some other form of clothing with baptism. Garments are typically white. Roman Catholics traditionally have a white christening gown worn by the infant, while the pouring takes place, and Orthodox often also use a white robe, which is put on after the baptism, in which it is common for the infant to be unclothed. White garments are also commonly used by the Episcopal Church and the United Methodist Church. This is common among Lutherans and Presbyterians as well.

Practice of wearing baptismal garments is more variable among denominations that mainly practice adult baptism. Often, if the church’s practice is for the clergy to have no special garments, baptismal candidates don’t either, but this is not always the case. In the case where there are no special robes or baptismal garment, candidates often would be baptized in their regular clothing, and since this is often by immersion, they would normally bring a change of clothes to the ceremony.

Formula

The formula is an important part of baptism. It often clarifies the doctrine of the denomination about baptism. Some denominations have set liturgies with prescribed formulas that are consistently used, others have certain recommendations, and others have no established requirement. The previous video here on the Ready to Harvest Channel has 50 baptism video clips that will give you a good slice of the different ways the formula might be used. For adult baptisms, the formula often begins “upon  your profession of faith” or “based on this profession of faith”, and nearly all formulas will include the name of the candidate of baptism, a declaration of the baptism such as “I baptize you” or “John Smith is baptized”. Following this is normally the name in which the person is baptized. This is stated in most all of Christendom as “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”, though Oneness Pentecostals and a small number of others may say “In the Name of Jesus” or “In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.” In addition to this, some denominations add wording at the end about the effect of baptism, such as “for the forgiveness of your sins” or “and you shall receive the gift of the holy ghost”, based on the denomination’s theology.

High-church and liturgical denominations are more prone to follow these steps to a T, and more contemporary churches are likely to improvise.

Of the denominations we are considering, only the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World baptize in the name of Jesus, while the rest baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

Churches of Christ and Oneness Pentecostals will normally include “for the forgiveness of your sins”. The Pentecostal Assemblies of the World normally conclude the formula with “and you SHALL receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.”

Some more Liberal denominations generally have allowed the use of formulas that say, instead of “in the name of the father, and of the son, and of the holy ghost, something like “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit “I now baptize you, in the name of the One who made the world, and of Jesus Christ
who redeemed humankind, and of the Holy Spirit, who eternally gives life to all people of God.” That is actually a recommended formula in online material from the Disciples of Christ.

Several denominations view the formula as such an important part of baptism, that they will consider baptism without a proper formula as invalid. For example, the Catholic Church required the use of “the father, son and Holy Ghost”, and won’t accept baptisms in Jesus’ name. Additionally, they require the word “baptize” to be used. If these are not used, the person is considered to not have been baptized. Most Oneness Pentecostals will require a person baptized with the Trinitarian formula to be re-baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. These guidelines by other denominations have somewhat limited the free-wheeling tendencies of certain groups.

Category

Christian denominations that practice baptism will categorize it in two different ways – either it is a sacrament or an ordinance. The idea of a sacrament may carry the idea of an act that brings special grace, or saving grace, and so those groups that deny  that baptism plays a part in salvation don’t use the word, which isn’t found in the Bible – instead they use the term ‘ordinance.’ Not everyone who uses the word sacrament always means this, but that is the typical meaning.

In the Catholic Church, baptism is one of seven sacraments. The others are Eucharist, Confirmation, Reconciliation, Anointing, Marriage, and Holy Orders.

In Orthodoxy, baptism is also one of seven sacraments – the others being chrismation, communion, holy orders, penance, anointing of the sick, and marriage.

Most protestants hold to only two sacraments, baptism and communion, although some, like Anglicans, view the other catholic sacraments as useful practices, but not on the same level. Those who hold to these two sacraments include Anglicans, Methodists, Nazarenes, Lutherans, Presbyterians and the Mennonite church USA. The following groups also hold to only these two, but call them ordinances: Church of Christ, Baptist, and Assemblies of God. Disciples of Christ historically considered these as ordinances, but they now commonly call them sacraments.

Church of the Brethren considers baptism an ordinances, but they also have three others: love feast & communion (those two things together being considered a single ordinance), feet washing, and anointing. Pentecostal Assemblies of the World holds to three ordinances, Baptism, communion, and feet washing.

Effects: Salvation

Perhaps the largest area of disagreement between Evangelical Christianity on the One side, and Mainline American Protestantism, the Orthodox, and Catholics on the other, is the question of the effects of baptism as it relates to salvation. Does Baptism play a role in a person’s salvation?

For Catholics, the answer is yes. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the following is stated:

  1. THE NECESSITY OF BAPTISM

1257 The Lord himself affirms that Baptism is necessary for salvation.60 He also commands his disciples to proclaim the Gospel to all nations and to baptize them.61 Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament.62 The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude; this is why she takes care not to neglect the mission she has received from the Lord to see that all who can be baptized are “reborn of water and the Spirit.” God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments.

Orthodoxy also teaches baptism as necessary for salvation. The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America states:

Our “new birth” is given to us in Baptism according to the words of the Lord: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5) […]What is the event at which salvation truly takes hold? Baptism! That’s the answer St. Paul gives in Romans, chapter 6. All of chapter 6 is about Baptism and life after Baptism. For Paul, it is in Baptism that the believer is united with Christ, dies to the power of sin, and receives new life in Christ.[1]

Anglicans also believe the same. A catechism in the Book of Common prayer reads:

HOW many Sacraments hath Christ ordained in his Church?
Two only, as generally necessary to salvation; that is to say, Baptism, and the Supper of the Lord. […]What is the outward visible sign or form in Baptism?
Water: wherein the person is baptized, In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
What is the inward and spiritual grace?
A death unto sin, and a new birth unto righteousness: for being by nature born in sin, and the children of wrath, we are hereby made the children of grace.

The United Methodist Church teaches that Baptism is the normal beginning to salvation, but isn’t always necessary. They say on the UMC website:

Do I have to be baptized in order for God to save me?
No. God is free to offer God’s salvation if for some reason you have not been baptized by the time you die.
If I am baptized, does that mean I will be saved no matter what?
No. Baptism begins God’s work of saving us by cleansing us of sin and beginning the work of renewing us fully into the image of Christ. The key word here is beginning. Baptism starts the process. It does not complete it. We can choose by our action or inaction to let the work begun go dormant and have no fuller effect. Or, as John Wesley sometimes put it, we may “sin away the grace received at baptism.”
How does baptism relate to salvation?
We say baptism is the “ordinary” or “instituted” means of justifying grace. It is the usual way God has offered the church to enable people of any age to experience the justifying grace of God and the cleansing power of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Salvation normally begins taking root in people’s lives here. From here we are invited to keep growing in sanctifying grace until by God’s grace and our faithful response we are “made perfect in love in this life.”[2]

Though the church of the Nazarene teaches baptism is a sacrament, they don’t teach that it brings salvation. On their holiness today website, they state:

Admittedly, the acts of infant baptism or dedication do not save the child. Nevertheless, both of these holy actions place the child under the canopy of God’s grace and initiate the child sacramentally into the community of Christian faith, the Church.[3]

ELCA Lutherans also teach in baptism being part of salvation. The ELCA website states:

ELCA Lutherans believe that baptism addresses itself to the question of salvation. In God’s gift of Baptism we are assured the forgiveness of sins to live a free, responsible and joyful life – in order that we might be saved everlastingly. With Luther we can say that, “No greater jewel … can adorn our body and soul than Baptism, for through it we obtain perfect holiness and salvation, which no other kind of life and no work on earth can acquire.”

With them, LCMS Lutherans also present Baptism as a way to Salvation:

…while Baptism is God’s gracious means of conveying to human beings His saving grace revealed to us in Jesus Christ our Savior, it is not the only means. On the basis of the Scriptures we teach that the spoken Word of the Gospel and the Lord’s Supper are also means of grace.[4] […]Infant baptism expresses that it is God who chooses us for faith, discipleship, and salvation

The Presbyterian Church USA says on this topic,

Presbyterians describe baptism as a sign and seal of the covenant of grace made by God through Jesus and extended to us. In baptism, God claims us as beloved children and members of Christ’s body, the church, washing us clean from sin as we renounce the power of evil and seek the will and way of God.[5]

They also add,

Can a person who is not baptized be saved? In a word, yes; but this by no means diminishes the importance of the sacrament.

The Presbyterian Church in America denies that baptism is salvific. One PCA statement of faith says,

We believe the Bible teaches that baptism is a covenant sign for believers and their children. We do not think that baptism saves someone but it signifies them as a part of the community of the church, receiving all of the benefits of that community.

Mennonites hold to believer’s baptism, teaching that salvation is not for infants, but for believers who are already saved by belief.

Churches of Christ teach that a person must be baptized for the remission of their sins to be saved.

Historically, Disciples of Christ believed this too, but many in the denomination today are liberal mainline and don’t really teach a born-again or salvation theology so the question has lost importance.

American Baptists, Southern Baptists, Church of the Brethren and Assemblies of God all believe in believer’s baptism, and that baptism is not necessary for salvation. In contrast to this, Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, like nearly all oneness Pentecostals teach baptism is necessary for and therefore part of salvation.

Purpose: Other

As you may have noticed in some of the statements quoted from earlier, many of these denominations teach that baptism has effects in addition to whether it plays a part in salvation or not. Most believe that Baptism adds a person to the Universal Church, with the main exception being some Independent Baptists who deny the existence of the Universal Church, and many also believe that baptism makes the individual a member of the particular local church congregation. Some teach that the holy spirit is received at baptism.

Rebaptism

Let’s discuss the issue of rebaptism, or Anabaptism as it was known in the past. When should a person be baptized again? Actually, no denominations of any note teach that a person should ever be baptized a second time. With few exceptions in some individual congregations that may baptize a person who was already baptized a second time in a re-dedication ceremony, Christian denominations believe a person should be baptized only once. Here’s the rub: Many denominations believe that people who received something called baptism already didn’t truly get baptism. In other words, they reject certain baptisms as invalid, and therefore they say they must be baptized – not a second time – but for the first time, as their first so-called baptism was no baptism at all.

Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants all have been widely opposed to Anabaptists who so-called ‘re-baptized” those baptized as infants because Anabaptist theology taught that infant baptism was invalid. However, nearly all denominations including Catholics will re-baptize (so-called) in certain cases.

Catholics will not accept the Baptism of those baptized with the wrong formula, such as those not baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and they also reject baptism of certain groups not considered to properly be called Christian, such as Mormon Baptism. Other than that, though, Catholics will not rebaptize in many other scenarios. They may view a baptism as having been performed illicitly, but they still view it as valid. So Baptism by pouring, sprinkling, or immersion, in any Christian Churches, whether Lutheran, Orthodox, Methodist, Baptist, Church of Christ, et cetera are considered valid, and individuals converting to Catholicism will not be baptized by them.

This is similarly the case with mainline protestants, and it varies among evangelical groups. Those who baptize by immersion and those who only teach believer’s baptism often will have those baptized by sprinkling or pouring or those who were baptized as infants submit to believer’s baptism by immersion. Some churches, like certain Baptists, believe that other denominations don’t have proper authority in baptism, and therefore will baptize those who come in from other denominations, even if they were previously immersed as believers.

Many Churches of Christ will also re-baptize those who come from other denominations, or if not that strict, will at least re-baptize those who were previously baptized by groups that don’t teach baptism as essential to salvation.

For Orthodox Churches, the typical practice is to chrismate those who convert who were already baptized, but in some orthodox denominations baptism of such people is common.

Other Areas

Let’s cover a few more things that are different between denominations on baptism.

Attendees

As for those present during baptism, some denominations allow for private baptisms, but most either require in all cases, or at least under typical circumstances, that baptism takes place in the presence of the local church.

No Baptism

The Salvation Army is a denomination which does not practice baptism at all, nor do Quakers or Unitarians, generally, though Unitarianism is decentralized enough that there are at least a couple videos online of Unitarian baptism.

Intention

Intention is important in baptism to most denominations. Taking a bath is not baptism, for example, because it isn’t intended to be. Likewise, a person cannot baptize an unwilling candidate, or in the case of infant baptism, generally it is viewed as illicit to baptize a child without consent of at least one parent or guardian.

Exceptions

For those who view baptism as especially important, such as that it is required for salvation, some may hold to exceptions, to where a person who is not baptized may be exempted somehow. For example, the Catholic Church doesn’t have infallible teaching on the case of unbaptized babies, but many have taught and most believe that they go to a state of limbo, and not to hell. Additionally, the Catholic Church teaches of baptism by desire, such as in the case, presumably, of the thief on the cross. In the case where a person desires to be baptized or intends to but cannot before their death, they are considered baptize by desire. Also, the Catholic church teaches that those who die as martyrs for the faith, but are unbaptized, are to be considered baptized by blood. Other denominations sometimes have similar exceptions. Here is the relevant section from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

1258 The Church has always held the firm conviction that those who suffer death for the sake of the faith without having received Baptism are baptized by their death for and with Christ. This Baptism of blood, like the desire for Baptism, brings about the fruits of Baptism without being a sacrament.

1259 For catechumens who die before their Baptism, their explicit desire to receive it, together with repentance for their sins, and charity, assures them the salvation that they were not able to receive through the sacrament.

1260 “Since Christ died for all, and since all men are in fact called to one and the same destiny, which is divine, we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partakers, in a way known to God, of the Paschal mystery.”63 Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church, but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved. It may be supposed that such persons would have desired Baptism explicitly if they had known its necessity.

1261 As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus’ tenderness toward children which caused him to say: “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them,”64 allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism. All the more urgent is the Church’s call not to prevent little children coming to Christ through the gift of holy Baptism.

Prerequsites

Many denominations have prerequisites to baptism. Especially in the case of adult baptisms, there may be some hoops to jump through for the candidate, such as a baptismal counseling session, or required new member classes. Some churches require a person to have been in attendance for a certain length of time before being baptized.

Location

There have been a few small scattered groups in history which were opposed to baptisteries and only would baptize in rivers or lakes. Some churches, even those who baptize by immersion, don’t have a baptistery, and still baptize this way, or offer it as an option. Most baptisms are performed indoors in a church building.

Conclusion

There’s no way that I could have covered everything, but this is about as comprehensive of a denominational comparison on baptism as you will find.

[1] https://www.goarch.org/-/how-are-we-saved- (Accessed 5/21/2020)

[2] https://www.umc.org/en/content/ask-the-umc-what-do-i-need-to-know-about-baptism-in-the-united-methodist-church (Accessed 5/21/2020)

[3] https://www.holinesstoday.org/QA-infant-baptism (Accessed 5/21/2020)

[4] https://www.lcms.org/document.fdoc?src=lcm&id=537 (Accessed 5/21/2020)

[5] https://www.pcusa.org/news/2016/1/21/what-presbyterians-believe-baptism/ (Accessed 5/21/2020)

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