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Thread: Difference between Baptism and Christening

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    Difference between Baptism and Christening

    What is the difference(s) between a baptism and a christening? And which faiths use which methods? I have seen some English parish registers where sometimes it is called a baptism and sometimes it is called a christening (usually by different recorders). Are there some faiths where the terms are NOT basically interchangeable?
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    "Baptism" is a word that translates the Greek for "immerse," and the Greek (and other Orthodox) churches do in fact immerse babies in the font; but most Anglican and related churches use less water, whether on babies or adults. So the more literally inclined Protestant, Evangelical denominations practice immersion, call that less aquatic approach "sprinkling," and don't practice it. The objection also has to do with the symbolism of washing away the sins of the baptized subject, which takes a great deal more water for many Protestants. Not for reasons of their personal sin quota.

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    Technically, "christening" is connected to the giving of a name. When a child is brought to be baptized, his or her name is made known within the church -- so that essentially, the christening of the child is part of the baptismal rite.

    Baptism, of course, is the rite itself.

    I've never heard of an instance in which the two -- christening and baptism -- occurred at separate times, though I suppose it's possible. More likely, if either term used in a record, it actually refers to the same thing. It's just that if "christening" is used, you know that the person being baptized was most likely an infant.

    EDIT: The term "christen" has sometimes even been used of non-humans. Ships, for example. As in, "I christen this ship Lolipop." Thankfully, when babies are christened they don't usually get a champagne bottle broken on them.

    Also, if you christen a ship, you probably don't want it to be fully immersed unless it's a submarine. (In which case you'd probably call it a boat, anyway.)
    Last edited by geebee; 11-19-2018 at 09:54 PM.
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    In the context of church records "baptism" and "christening" signify the same thing. Edited to add, "in the context of Anglican and Catholic records." I don't think non-conformist types use the word "christening."

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    Quote Originally Posted by razyn View Post
    "Baptism" is a word that translates the Greek for "immerse," and the Greek (and other Orthodox) churches do in fact immerse babies in the font; but most Anglican and related churches use less water, whether on babies or adults. So the more literally inclined Protestant, Evangelical denominations practice immersion, call that less aquatic approach "sprinkling," and don't practice it. The objection also has to do with the symbolism of washing away the sins of the baptized subject, which takes a great deal more water for many Protestants. Not for reasons of their personal sin quota.
    Yes, except that I wouldn't exactly call the word a "translation". It's more of a modified loan word, since "baptizo" (βαπτίζω) is the actual word used in the Greek New Testament. It means to dip or plunge (into water). Despite its literal meaning, however, the majority of churches do not use full immersion in most instances. Some may always use sprinkling or pouring; some use sprinkling, immersion, or pouring; while some use immersion only. Which mode is used will sometimes depend on the age of the candidate for baptism, or even on the candidate's own preference (if an adult).

    From a genealogical standpoint, the date of christening or baptism is generally only relevant as a proxy for a the date of birth. From that standpoint, seeing "ch." can be good because of the implied connection between giving the child a name and baptizing the child.

    Keep in mind, though, what sort of record you're looking at. If it isn't an actual church record (or copy or excerpt from one), then "bp." or "ch." (or whatever abbreviation or term is used) may only reflect the preference of the source. For example, a family Bible might use "christened" even if the church would use "baptized" (or vice versa).

    Also, even when an individual was baptized/christened as an "infant", it could have taken place any time from days to weeks or even months after the date of birth. (Or it might even have been on the date of birth.) So clearly an actual date of birth is preferable when available.
    Last edited by geebee; 11-20-2018 at 04:17 AM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by David Mc View Post
    In the context of church records "baptism" and "christening" signify the same thing. Edited to add, "in the context of Anglican and Catholic records." I don't think non-conformist types use the word "christening."
    I agree, although I'm also unsure about non-conformist religions, because I've never searched their records. In my experience the two terms are interchangeable in Church of England parish records.

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    I mostly use "to baptize" because it translates Dutch "dopen", the act of baptism (German "taufen"). "christening" is literally translated as "kerstening", which is used for the act of making someone Christian (often used in a historical way, e.g. the conversion of pagan Franks such as king Clovis).

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    Quote Originally Posted by GoldenHind View Post
    I agree, although I'm also unsure about non-conformist religions, because I've never searched their records. In my experience the two terms are interchangeable in Church of England parish records.
    I've looked at a bunch of English non-conformist records (Calvinist), and they invariably use baptized. My CoE records use both, christening more commonly. I've considered the terms interchangeable.

    I have not looked at Methodist records that much, but I have some relatives (not direct ancestors) who turned Methodist in Shropshire mid 1800s, and one thing I've noticed there is that baptisms tended to happen longer after birth on average, I suspect because of circuits so you wouldn't always have people available for baptism). I've also seen people go with the Methodists for most baptisms, but have a child or two baptized in the CoE parish records, often followed quickly by a death.

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    And of course when you have events named birth, baptism and burial it can be helpful to change the letter of one and to leave the other out, especially when (in the early days of indexing and computing) you needed to try to restrict each event to just one initial.
    So the IGI, for example, used "C" for christening to cover christenings and baptisms, and "B" for burials.

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    Quote Originally Posted by razyn View Post
    "Baptism" is a word that translates the Greek for "immerse," and the Greek (and other Orthodox) churches do in fact immerse babies in the font; but most Anglican and related churches use less water, whether on babies or adults. So the more literally inclined Protestant, Evangelical denominations practice immersion, call that less aquatic approach "sprinkling," and don't practice it. The objection also has to do with the symbolism of washing away the sins of the baptized subject, which takes a great deal more water for many Protestants. Not for reasons of their personal sin quota.
    I thought the two terms were interchangeable- we tend to refer to "christenings" here regardless of the denomination.

    The ritual of baptism derives from the Jewish practice of mikveh, which entails full-body immersion and is required for conversion by most denominations. So they're not so much "taking the Greek literally" as taking the traditional route.
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