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How to baptize someone in an emergency

Your church probably has a very strong preference that clergy conduct baptisms, so you should not go around the neighborhood baptizing people. However, most churches will recognize a baptism performed by a layperson in an emergency.

A couple of web sites have linked to this page because they think it is uproariously funny that there could be such a thing as an emergency baptism. It never occurred to me that an act of compassion for a dying person would give anyone the giggles. However, I don’t mind. It is part of my job as pastor to give compassionate help when the giggles stop. Meanwhile, laugh all you can, it’s good for you!

Before we Begin…

Through His incarnation and resurrection, Jesus teaches us that a whole person consists of a body and a spirit. Any attempt to give the spirit priority over the body is Gnosticism, not Christianity.

If you are with a person who is suddenly afflicted with a medical emergency, whether they are dying or not, your first priority is to summon professional medical help and to administer first aid until it arrives. Only then should you attempt to administer spiritual help.

What Constitutes an Emergency

It is an emergency if all of the following statements are true:

Is It Necessary?

We could all go round and round in theological debates about whether baptism is necessary. We are commanded to be baptized (Acts 2:38), and the church is commanded to baptize new converts (Matthew 28:19). However, the thief on the cross wasn’t baptized, and Jesus said he was okay. But isn’t that a special case, since it is physically impossible to baptize someone who is nailed to a cross?

All this theological debate is heartless in an emergency. If someone has good reason to think they are about to die, they urgently want to be baptized, and baptism is physically possible, then it is pastorally necessary to baptize them, no matter what our theology is.

Important Considerations

If you are a layperson, pay special attention to the following:

The Essential Parts

If you want the baptism to meet the requirements for as many churches as possible, it must have the following three features:

If the person is unable to verify whether or not they were baptized, or it cannot be determined if the person’s baptism was valid, then you should say: “If you are not already baptized, I baptize you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” This avoid re-baptism, which most churches frown upon.

Other Features of a Baptism

We’re talking about bare-bones emergency baptism here, so this isn’t a full liturgy. Other things that normally accompany baptisms can include the following, but not necessarily in this order:

These extra features are not necessary in an emergency, and if you are a layperson, you may not have the authority to perform them anyway. However, you should ask the candidate at the last moment if they desire to be baptized.

The Baptism

You don’t need special equipment for pouring. You can pour the water simply by cupping your hands and letting the water flow onto the candidate’s head. There doesn’t have to be a lot of water, but be sure to apply it three times.

More information

Roman Catholics should read paragraph 1284 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Paragraph 903 might also be helpful. (As you are reading the book, note that the paragraph numbers are in boldface; the italic numbers in the margin are cross references.)

For general information about the theology and practice of baptism in various Christian groups, see this other web site: Baptism Integrity. e