Water itself has been used in religious rites for thousands of years. It represents a cleansing of the body, spirit or soul. Many cultures throughout history have used this symbolism for different occasions. The act of Christening, or Baptism, is but one of many such rites. The beginning history of Christenings can be traced through the Bible.
As far back as the 6th century BC, Ezekiel mentions "I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean …" (Ez. 36:25). The word baptism comes from the Greek "baptizo" meaning, "immerse, dip, submerge". Christenings and baptisms as we know them today, however, stem from the New Testament of the Bible, albeit each religion has its own way of performing the rites. Some prefer total submersion while others only sprinkle water on the elect. The Christening is performed to bring you into the Body of Christ, or the Church and is considered an act of grace and you join in the New Covenant with God.
The story of John the Baptist is the initial New Testament story that we hear that introduces us to the baptisms. He himself was baptized in the Jordan, and as the cousin of Jesus, he would carry the torch forward and baptize people from the surrounding areas himself. He would tell the people that we would baptize with water, and One greater than he would come forward. Therefore the Christenings are looked upon as a cleansing, as well as a union with the Holy Spirit. "… a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins." (Mark 1: 4) and "He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire." (Matthew 3: 11-17).
In the Roman Catholic Church, for instance, there are full submersion and sprinklings in the Baptismal Rite. It is considered a Sacrament, a birthday in the Church as the infant, youth or adult is brought into communion with Christ. There are two oils used for anointing referring to salvation and forgiveness / repentance to wash the elect of the original sin (that which was performed by Adam and Eve), a white garment to signify purity and grace and the lighting of a candle to signify the Light of Christ. The baptisms are held during the church service or privately, dependent on how the local diocese handles the Rite. Other Christian churches use water and white garments to signify the cleansing and grace.
In the first four centuries it was first the adults, and later the children that would be Christened. Hippolytus mentions an Apostolic tradition to the Rite, while Cyprian of Carthage argued it was Christ that owned us in the Rite, not the priest. In 337 Constantine was baptized on his deathbed, forming the Holy Roman Empire. During the times of the Bubonic Plague, many would have their babies baptized before their deaths to secure entrance into heaven. Luther thought that people would not be saved unless they were baptized. In the 17th through 20th centuries John Smyth, the Westminster Confession, Pentecostals and Pope John Paul II argument on if infant Christenings are necessary, should people be sprinkled or immersed, and are they saved.
When it was said to the Apostles to go out and spread the Word of God to all nations, they instigated the first rash of Christenings, as they baptized people into the faith of Jesus, away from Roman and Judaic laws. Holy Water is used now; As well as each faith has Godparents to raise the children within the faith if anything were to happen to the parents. The elect are pledged to a life in Christ.