Once you've accepted Jesus into your heart, your next step is showing your obedience and symbolizing your rebirth through baptism. The Christian denominations in which I grew up believed that baptism was only valid as a personal decision. Some denominations practice infant baptism or sprinkling, but in the context of what I was taught that practice seems to have no significance whatsoever (except to upset the baby).
The basis for baptism is vague and consists (like most Christian doctrine) of cherry-picked verses scattered throughout the New Testament and inferences from dialog contained therein. This site contains a lengthy discussion on why believers must be baptized and why immersion is necessary. A quick glance tells you right away that the ritual is heavy on symbolism and light on substance. Here's the gist:
You are "crucified" (standing upright in water), you are "buried" (immersed into the water), and you are "resurrected into life" (raised out of the water).
The problem is that every variation of the baptism ritual can be backed up by scripture in the same way (some in more convoluted ways than others). You'd think that Christians -- using the inspired, holy word of god -- could reach a consensus on how you are "reborn" but that's just not the case. Apparently it wasn't god intention to provide clarity to his people but to give them a very basic picture of how he works and let them fight the rest out for themselves. What a guy.
As I said before, my parents' chosen denominations preferred immersion baptism as the personal choice of the new believer. So it was that after being saved I "made the choice" (although it could be argued that it was never presented to me as "optional") to be baptized. I remember being somewhat nervous about it, but not because I was afraid of water or anything. I think I was under the impression that this ritual would be transforming and I would somehow feel different afterward. Although I was positive any change would be good, I couldn't get a handle on just what, exactly, would change. Would I still be the same person? Would I think differently? I didn't know. Just think about it though, when Jesus was baptized the clouds parted, a dove landed on him, and god's voice boomed down from Heaven. If that happened, I'm pretty sure that at that point in my life I wouldn't even have questioned it.
When the day came we all went to the beach and the children who were to be baptized played until it was time to start. From what I recall, we didn't play in the water until the ritual was over. I suspect we were told not to so that the water would take on a special significance that it otherwise wouldn't had we just dove right in. When the time came I waded into the water to meet the pastor where he stood, waist-deep in the ocean, and he began his spiel. I can't remember what he said but it was probably something like this:
Having accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior, Jon Willis comes before us seeking to follow in believer's baptism. By being immersed in the water, he puts to death the old man and rises up a new man, sanctified through the Holy Spirit. Jon, I now baptize you in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I was dunked backward with the pastor's fingers pinching my nose, my hands clasped in prayer over his arm for support. When I was brought back up...nothing happened. I was just wet. No dove, no rays of intense sun, no booming voice from above. Just wetness. Oh, and parents cheering and beaming proudly over their obedient son (similar to Jesus' experience but somewhat lacking in finesse). Oh well, I was still saved, right?
So I stumbled onto something about the Baptist Church doctrine regarding the age of the person being baptized. While there's no firm number attached to the doctrine, it appears that one of the requirements for baptism being valid is that the believer be of the age of reason so that they understand the statement of obedience they're making. I wonder whether or not four years old is good enough. One source I found states that some denominations won't baptize anyone under 13 years old. I tend to agree that young children whose only understanding of these rituals is what their parents have told them are too young to make decisions like this and have them be as meaningful as they're supposed to be. Ask yourself whether parroted behavior is as meaningful as intentional behavior.
Anyway, after the baptism ceremony was over we all got to play around in the ocean. It was almost as though the water had just lost its magical qualities because I'm pretty sure I dunked myself a few more times and nothing else happened. Imagine, if you will, a stick that magically becomes a water detector while held by a dowser but that instantly becomes just a stick once the dowser is finished with it. Sounds corny, right? Right.
Baptism is a lot like that.
Read this post on The Wayward Willis