- Amy MacKinnon
How to Teach Baptism
Updated: Oct 12, 2021
If you knew what the very last words spoken by Jesus to the Apostles were,
would that matter to you?
What if the words He spoke just before ascending into Heaven
were a command that He was giving them?
Sounds like that command would be pretty important, doesn’t it? Well, we do know what His last words to the Apostles were, and we know that they were a command:
Teach and baptize all of the nations (Matthew 28:20)
Jesus didn’t just tell them that they were to baptize everyone, He also showed them how they were supposed to baptize others.
Jesus Himself was baptized, and part of the reason He was baptized was to show us how we should baptize others.
In the four gospels, the writers of the gospels thought that there were certain things about His baptism that were very important, because each of them included these points:
John the Baptist used water to baptize Jesus
The Holy Spirit descends
The Father speaks
In John’s Gospel, right after Jesus is baptized, He tells Nicodemus:
Truly, truly, I say to you,
unless one is born of water and the Spirit,
he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
What does this mean?
You can’t baptize yourself—even Jesus was baptized by another person
All 3 persons of the Trinity are present at baptism
Baptism is necessary to enter Heaven
Why Was Jesus Baptized?
If baptism forgives sins, and Jesus was without sin, then why was Jesus baptized?
The moment that Jesus was baptized, is the moment when Jesus became the Messiah.
Messiah is the Hebrew term for one who is anointed.
In Greek it’s christos
The word “baptism” comes from the Greek as well, but it means “immerse, dip in water”
This is why Catholics use the terms “baptism” and “Christening” in the Catholic Church, almost interchangeably. There is a slight difference, though:
Baptism is the action
Christening is the event
So you can see why people often use both terms “baptism” and “Christening” without really making a big deal about using one or the other.
You can only receive the sacrament of baptism once, so after your Christening, you are now a new creation in Christ!
Remember that command that Jesus gave? And that they were the very last words He spoke before ascending into Heaven? The actual words in that passage are:
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing them in the name of
the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you;
and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.
(Matthew 28:20; RSVCE)
That command is called, “The Great Commission.” It was the command by Jesus, sending the Apostles out into the world, just as the Father had sent Him in the world.
How Do You Teach Baptism?
It’s easy to see why teaching people about God is important: you choose what you love, but you can’t love what you don’t know.
Why would anyone choose to be baptized if they don’t know what baptism is, or why it matters? They wouldn’t!
How Do You Explain What Baptism Is, and Why It’s Important?
You can start with showing people where Jesus Himself was baptized in each of the gospels. The reason that helps, is because as followers of Christ we’re supposed to follow in His footsteps and do what He commands.
But is that enough? Does that really tell you what baptism is, and why it’s important for us to be baptized?
Not necessarily. It doesn’t tell us all that we need to know about what baptism really is, how it affects us in the here and now, or how it helps us get to Heaven.
Even when you’re teaching someone who’s very young, that person needs to know why it matters. That’s why we need to look a little deeper.
The best way to teach someone who is at a beginning level for any topic, is to start with images.
We learn first through our senses, and then through our ability to use reason.
This is why using images from the Bible helps to understand what baptism is, but it also shows how God has planned for this, and why.
Start with Genesis and the Fall, So They’ll Know Why We Need a Savior
When Adam and Eve committed their original sin, they lost the gift of sanctifying grace that God had created them with. The Gates of Heaven were then closed to them and their descendants (all human beings), and God placed a cherubim with a fiery sword at the gate to prevent them from being able to re-enter the garden (click here to read how angels in Catholic churches symbolize this).
You need sanctifying grace to heal the wound of original sin that was passed down to all of their offspring, and to allow us to enter Heaven. When He sent them out of the Garden of Eden, it was symbolic of their loss of Heaven for them and for all of their offspring.
How could their sins be forgiven? How could they become people of God after that when they had rejected Him so completely as to lose His gift of grace?
They couldn’t. That gap was too big for human beings to cross, so God promised that He would send a savior to heal the wounds caused by sin, and reunite us with Him.
Second, show how God prepared His people for the promised savior, and what that savior would do.
Throughout the Old Testament, there are events using images of water that do three things:
Cleanse or purify
Give rise to a new creation
Some of the events in the Bible you can use to show this are:
Moses leading the Hebrews through the Red Sea
Joshua leading the Hebrews across the Jordan River into the Promised Land
This is the model for teaching baptism that’s used in 1 Peter 3:18-22.
In each of those situations, those who chose evil were destroyed, those who chose God were cleansed or purified, and they came out of the water as a new creation. Each time, there are references to the creation (and fall) in the first three books of Genesis.
Why Do Catholics Baptize Babies?
Teaching about what baptism does is important, but there are always going to be more questions that need good answers. One of them is about baptizing babies.
Why is it an important question for Catholics? Because baptizing someone against their will is a potential sin against that person.
So why do Catholics baptize babies and adults instead of just baptizing adults?
There are several reasons. The first is because of what the sacrament itself does for us.
Allows us to enter Heaven. The Gates of Heaven that were closed to human beings after the Fall in Genesis 3, were re-opened by Jesus Christ
Forgives all sins, mortal and venial
Allows us to receive the other six sacraments
There is another reason for the custom of Catholics practicing infant baptism, and it has to do with the way that sons were brought into the covenant with God in the Old Testament.
That way was through circumcision, which was done when a baby boy was 8 days old.
That was the moment when the baby boy became a member of the people of God.
Jesus came first for the Jews, and then for the Gentiles, and He fulfilled the Law perfectly.
He also came to heal what had been damaged in the Fall by reuniting human beings with God.
When Catholics baptize babies, the biggest reason is the same reason that people in every age group are baptized.
It’s for the effect of the sacrament on the soul of that person (click here for more about the sacraments themselves).
The reason that we’ve always practiced infant baptism is because Christianity is a continuation of the revelation that God began in Genesis.
From the beginning of the covenant with Abraham, children (Isaac) were brought into the covenant with God. Early Christians understood this, which is why infant baptism was practiced in Christian households from the earliest days of Christianity.
It’s a sacrament, so it’s a symbol—but is it just a symbol? There are some who think that it is, but Catholics don’t.
We believe that baptism has an effect on our soul. Both mortal and venial sins are forgiven at baptism, we receive sanctifying and sacramental grace, and it leaves an indelible mark on our soul.
When we’re baptized, we bear the mark of God on our soul, and that mark can never be erased. No matter how much we sin afterwards, and even if you reject God completely, that mark of God is remains there.
When parents have their baby baptized, they are also promising to raise that baby in the Catholic Faith.
They’re promising to raise him to know God, what God has revealed, and how to get to Heaven. When the baby grows up and becomes an adult, then he makes his own choices.
It’s a very serious responsibility, but that responsibility comes with the gift of a child. When God creates human beings, it’s not just to live here on earth—it’s to live forever in perfect happiness with Him. We don’t naturally know how to live so that we can go to Heaven, and we don’t naturally know who God truly is. That’s why the sacraments—especially baptism—and teaching others about God, are so important.
Questions or comments about teaching the sacrament of baptism? Leave a comment below!
Blog Series: Teaching Grace, the Sacraments, and the Church
How to Teach the Sacrament of Baptism (this post)
How to Teach the Sacrament of Confession or Reconciliation
How to Teach the Sacrament of Confirmation
How to Teach the Sacrament of Eucharist Part 1: the Bible
How to Teach the Sacrament of Eucharist Part 2: Sacred Tradition
How to Teach the Sacrament of Marriage
How to Teach the Sacrament of Holy Orders
How to Teach the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick
How to Teach About the Catholic Church
How to Teach About Sacramentals