The word “Christening” tells us what baptism is about. By the water and the prayers of Baptism the adult or the child is made a member of Christ, a child of God and an inheritor of the Kingdom of Heaven. In our Baptism we “put on Christ.”
At Baptism a child is given a name to show that he or she has been specifically, individually and personally incorporated into the Body of Christ, which is the Church. But in Baptism at St Mary’s, the candidate is not only made a member of our parish church but a member of the eternal fellowship or communion which is the whole Church on earth and the Church in heaven.
Baptism is effective because it frees us from sin and strengthens us by the Holy Spirit to live as God commands us.
“But most of us were babies when we were Christened. Surely a baby does not commit sins!”
Well, we must understand that there are two sorts of sin. There are the sinful acts which we all do. For example, breaking any of the Ten Commandments, more generally failing to love God and failing to love my neighbour. There is also Original Sin with which we are all tainted from birth. There is nothing weird or occult about this. Original Sin is that flaw in our character which predisposes every one of us to sin. St Paul describes this simply in words of one syllable: “The thing I would not, that I do; and what I would, I do not.” And we all know that feeling!
Original Sin is the fatal flaw in all of us and the wages of this sin is death. By incorporating us into Jesus Christ, Baptism washes away this deep flaw and brings the promise of eternal life with him. Christians have traditionally regarded Baptism as a form of exorcism.
Of course, we all continue to commit sins after our Christening. But Baptism is the gift of the Holy Spirit and by this indwelling Spirit we are enabled, at least in part, to overcome our sinful tendency: to fight against sin, the world and the Devil and to continue Christ’s faithful soldiers and servants unto our lives’ end.
Baptism must be accompanied by repentance – the expression of sorrow for our sins and the promise to amend our lives and do better.
“Why then baptise babies who are not yet able to understand what repentance is?”
Because we desire to incorporate the child into the fullness of the life of Christ as soon as possible. So the Godparents do the repenting and make the promises on the child’s part – these promises to be, literally, confirmed by the candidate at Confirmation.
Baptism is not “only a symbol.” Just as in the Holy Communion we truly receive the Body and Blood of Christ, so in Baptism we are actually and really cleansed of our sins and given grace and power to enter into the life of discipleship.