A few months ago, a very unexpected video went viral. Recorded in a church, it depicted an immersion or submersion baptism, which is pretty much what it sounds like. The person being baptized, in this case a baby, is dunked completely under water, while a Christian priest administers initiation rites.
If your idea of a baptism involves a sprinkling of water at the most, this video is, to put it a lightly, a jarring introduction to other types of Christian baptism. There are actually three main forms of baptism: aspersion, affusion, and immersion. Believe it or not, none of them is considered the definitive version of Christian admission.
Where immersion baptisms see individuals being, well, immersed in water, affusion baptisms require that people have water poured over their heads. Finally, baptisms by aspersion consist of a mere sprinkling of water. According to Harold W. Attridge, PhD, professor of divinity at Yale University, immersion baptisms are most often seen in Adventist, Baptist, and Eastern Orthodox sects of Christianity. But, he adds, there's certain amount of flexibility among mainstream denominations as to which mode of baptism is performed these days.
What remains consistent across all three types of baptism is the use of water, Dr. Attridge explains. Water frequently represents purification and rebirth across religions, but the Gospel of John specifically states that, in order to enter Heaven, one has to be born by water and the Spirit. In fact, one of the few mentions of baptism in the Bible simply describes the man who was baptized and the accompanying evangelist going down to the water. "It doesn’t say what they do there," Dr. Attridge says. In other words, Christian scripture holds that baptism should involve water, but the rest is up for debate.
So, if water appears in all forms of this ceremony, why bother with total immersion? The answer, Dr. Attridge says, is a yet another matter of symbolism. Unlike affusion or aspersion, immersion is intended to mimic the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus directly. "Going into the water is equivalent to dying, and coming up again is being restored to life," he says. It may look dramatic, but immersion baptism is just one more way for Christians to demonstrate a lifelong commitment to their faith.
As for that video, Dr. Attridge isn't surprised that it went viral — or even that people found a regular old religious ceremony funny: "People have been ridiculing religious rituals for as long as people have been performing religious rituals. It’s a fact of life."
Check out the infamous video below.