Baptism is one of two sacraments universally recognized among Christians as instituted by the Lord and necessary to salvation. “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” This was Christ’s command to the Apostles.
The nature of Christian baptism is patterned somewhat after Christ’s own baptism by John the Baptizer. Its nature is described clearly and concisely in Jesus’ own words in his conversation with Nicodemus: “Except a man be born of water and of Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God.” In baptism, then, by the Lord’s own definition, a person is born again, is re-created, is re-generated.
By baptism, a person is made a child of God, becomes a member of Christ’s body, is cleansed and reborn in the Spirit. He is not “converted” at that moment, does not become by a conscious act of human will a follower of Christ. What he does get is clean slate and access to God’s grace, to use or not as he himself determines from that moment forward. He may choose not to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, but he has been given the key to that kingdom at that moment, to use if he will.
The Anglican Church is insistent, of course, on the need for baptism as a means of regeneration and a mark of reception into Christ’s Church -- not any particular Church, but the Church at large. On the other hand, Anglicanism is very tolerant as to age and procedure. It allows both infant and adult baptism and it allows aspersion (or “sprinkling”), pouring, or immersion. Immersion is, however, very seldom used by Anglicans. Naturally, the Church is insistent on the key points of Christ’s command -- the use of water and the invocation of the Trinity.
Baptism is, in a sense, a covenant between God and the person being baptized. Man agrees to renounce the Devil and all his works, to believe in God and to serve Him. For his part, God wipes out all sin -- whether natural or original; He bestows grace and He accepts the person as His child. An infant, to be sure, cannot speak, nor reason, nor make promises. Therefore, sponsors or godparents speak for him. By this act, they take on the responsibility of seeing to it that in later years the infant is brought to the Bishop for confirmation and thereby comes to a realization of his part in the covenant.
Normally, baptism is administered by a priest in the church in the presence of the congregation. However, in case of emergency or special circumstances presenting urgent need, any baptized Christian can validly baptize any person wishing or needing it. It may be noted in passing that Baptism and Matrimony are the only two sacramental acts in which the lay Christian can participate as a minister.
Baptism is solemn and it is joyous. It is intensely personal, and yet it is an act intimately affecting the corporate Christian community. It is essential for the Christian, but its effectiveness depends upon the free will of the individual being baptized.