The English word ‘Baptism’ is taken from Greek language where the root word means to immerse. Baptism is the process of immersing into water and emerging out. Immersion into water is identifying with the death of Jesus Christ and emerging out is identifying with his resurrection.
Jesus died for our sins once for all, was buried and rose again. The Bible says ‘One Lord, one faith, one baptism’ (Eph. 4:5). If you are already baptised then the Mar Thoma Church does not expect you to be baptised again to join the Church. To be baptised again is as good as saying that Christ needs to die and resurrect several times over to cleanse us.
When Moses was leading the Israelites through the wilderness there was need for drinking water. God asked Moses to strike a rock and water came gushing out (Ex. 17:6). Later again there was need for drinking water, this time God told Moses to speak to the rock (Num. 20:8). However Moses chose to strike the rock and the water came. It is for this act of Moses that he was not permitted to enter the Promised Land. Was the act so grave to prevent the man who brought all the Israelites from Pharaoh’s bondage the joy of going to the Promised Land? Christ is the spiritual rock (1 Cor. 10:4). Striking the rock was the picture of crucifixion of Christ, his death and resurrection. Christ died and rose again once for all. Thus Moses striking the rock a second time was a grave misdeed. There is only one baptism.
While the word Baptism does imply immersion, there are cases where an individual may not be able to immerse himself/herself in water because of health conditions, water-phobia, etc. To address this pouring water on the head is deemed as having submerged and emerged.
Baptism is also an initiation towards becoming the member of the church. The Old Testament speaks of circumcision of the male child on the 8th day as the process of initiating into the Jewish community (Lk. 2:21). Hence it is okay for a child to be baptised. Some question the child baptism since the child has not come to the age of reason.
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Mt.19:14). Would it be then fair to assume that Christ would not accept child baptism? We also see that in the Gospels that the children were healed when the parents brought forth their case to Christ, e.g. the Royal official’s son (Jn. 4:43-54), the daughter of the Canaanite woman (Mt. 15:21-18). Will not Christ accept the child baptism where the parents, godparents and church elders have brought the child upholding him/her in their faith?
The Mar Thoma Church has not laid down any age for baptism in the constitution; however parents are encouraged to bring their infants for baptism. The parent and godparent who bring the child for baptism, during the baptism service have to take an oath to bring up the child in the fear and knowledge of God. When the child turns 12+ years of age, he/she then becomes eligible to partake in the Holy Qurbana. They go through first communicants training and take public oath in front of the whole congregation about their commitment to Christ. Since the Mar Thoma Church upholds one baptism, at the stage of first communion there is no need for another baptism.
Some hold the view that Jesus was baptised as an adult hence we should also go through adult baptism. The baptism done by John the Baptist was a ‘baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins’ (Lk. 3:3). Jesus is the sinless one. He needed no baptism of repentance. However Jesus took the baptism to identify with the sinful humanity and to initiate the redemptive public ministry. The baptism we now undergo is not a baptism of repentance – but baptism in the name of ‘the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit’ (Mt. 28:19). Jesus identified with us when he went through baptism by John the Baptist, when we go through baptism we identify with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.