Not a Sacrament

By | March 1, 2016

Hi I would like to know if you have any information on The history of the Sacrament of baptism. Why and how baptism moved from being an adult initiation to a sacrament for the initiation of babies. This would be most appreciated as I have an assignment due soon for University.

Thank You


Good question Teresa! Baptism didn’t start out as a “Sacrament“. It started out as and still is an “Ordinance“.


  • Pronunciation: ‘sa-kr&-m&nt
  • Function: noun
  • Etymology: Middle English sacrement, sacrament, from Old French & Late Latin; Old French, from Late Latin sacramentum, from Latin, oath of allegiance, obligation, from sacrare to consecrate.
  1. a : a Christian rite (as baptism or the Eucharist) that is believed to have been ordained by Christ and that is held to be a means of divine grace or to be a sign or symbol of a spiritual reality b : a religious rite or observance comparable to a Christian sacrament

  2. capitalized a : COMMUNION b : BLESSED SACRAMENT

  3. something likened to a religious sacrament <saw voting as a sacrament of democracy>


  • Pronunciation: ‘ord-n&n(t)s, ‘or-d&n-&n(t)s
  • Function: noun
  • Etymology: Middle English, from Middle French & Medieval Latin; Middle French ordenance, literally, act of arranging, from Medieval Latin ordinantia, from Latin ordinant-, ordinans, present participle of ordinare to put in order — more at ORDAIN <dictionary?book=Dictionary&va=ordain>
  1. a : an authoritative decree or direction : ORDER b : a law set forth by a governmental authority; specifically : a municipal regulation

  2. something ordained or decreed by fate or a deity

  3. a prescribed usage, practice, or ceremony

Simply put, a sacrament is defined as a necessity to receive grace or salvation. An ordinance is a ceremony to give an outward showing or proof of an event. You used the term initiation which also could be used.

From the lectures by J. M. Carroll called “The Trail of Blood” we find exactly the answer you are looking for:

5. Another vital change which seems from history to have had its beginning before the close of the second century was on the great doctrine of Salvation itself. The Jews as well as the Pagans, had for many generations, been trained to lay great stress on Ceremonials. They had come to look upon types as anti-types, shadows as real substances, and ceremonials as real saving agencies. How easy to come thus to look upon baptism. They reasoned thus: The Bible has much to say concerning baptism. Much stress is laid upon the ordinance and one’s duty concerning it. Surely it must have something to do with one’s salvation. So that it was in this period that the idea of “Baptismal Regeneration” began to get a fixed hold in some of the churches. (Shackelford, page 57; Camp p. 47; Benedict, p. 286; Mosheim, vol. 1, p. 134; Christian, p. 28.)

6. The next serious error to begin creeping in, and which seems from some historians (not all) to have begun in this same century and which may be said to have been an inevitable consequence of the “baptismal regeneration” idea, was a change in the subjects of baptism. Since baptism has been declared to be an agency or means to salvation by some erring churches, then the sooner baptism takes place the better. Hence arose “infant baptism.” Prior to this “believers” and “believers” only, were regarded as proper subjects for baptism. “Sprinkling” and “pouring” are not now referred to. These came in much later. For several centuries, infants, like others, were immersed. The Greek Catholics (a very large branch of the Catholic church) up to this day, have never changed the original form of baptism. They practice infant baptism but have never done otherwise than immerse the children. (Note–Some of the church historians put the beginning of infant baptism within this century, but I shall quote a short paragraph from Robinson’s Ecclesiastical Researches.)

“During the first three centuries, congregations all over the East subsisted in separate independent bodies, unsupported by government and consequently without any secular power over one another. All this time they were baptized churches, and though all the fathers of the first four ages, down to Jerome (A.D. 370), were of Greece, Syria and Africa, and though they give great numbers of histories of the baptism of adults, yet there is not one of the baptism of a child till the year 370.” (Compendium of Baptist History, Shackelford, p. 43; Vedder, p. 50; Christian, p, 31; Orchard, p. 50, etc.)

The often praised and honored Philip Melanchthon (1497-1560), ranks with Luther and Calvin as one of the ‘greatest of the Reformers.’ Isn’t it interesting that: “He applauded… the execution of Servetus” and “recommended that the rejection of infant baptism, or of original sin, or of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, should be punished as capital crimes,”

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