The institution of baptism has developed over time. It certainly has its roots in Jewish rites of cleansing or baths before certain religious rites. John the Baptist however, took it to a new level and attached a new spiritual meaning to it. With him, it was not just a ritual of purification as in Judaism, it became a symbol for spiritual cleansing, a symbol for the forgiveness of sins, a symbol of the desire of the recipients to repent and start a new spiritual life.
Jesus Christ Himself did not baptize people but upon His death, He instructed His disciples to go to the people and baptize them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Mathew 28:18-20). With this command, the form of baptism changed. We do not know how the disciples baptized people because we do not have the details of the ceremony itself in the Bible but later in the 1st and 2nd centuries, the form had developed into a full ceremony.
As the Church became more organized, it came to symbolize the admission of individuals into the rituals of the Church such as the participation in the Eucharist and so on. According to 2nd century sources, the person to be baptized often underwent instructions that could last for three years. The candidate was examined, prepared, anointed and exorcisms carried out. He or she was then baptized on the following Easter Sunday. The candidate confessed his sins and was immersed three times, each time with the words “I baptise you in the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” Each was followed by total immersion.
There were quite a lot of controversies as the centuries passed as to the importance of the moral standing of the baptiser and also over infant baptism. The Donatists were more concerned over the moral standing of the baptiser than over the question of doctrinal practises. Their views were ultimately rejected in 314CE at the Council of Arles. Cyprian noted that the Spirit during baptism could not really be transmitted by someone who did not possess the Holy Spirit. As for infant baptism, some argued in favour and some against. Those in favour said that baptism of children would remove original sin since all children came with that sin. Those against wanted to continue with the Apostles’ practice of only baptising those who were adults and as such were conscious of the significance of the event.
Having said all this, what one must realise is that baptism in the way it was originally instituted by John the Baptist was meant to be for those who wanted to change their ways for the better. Those who had come to recognize that they were sinners and had become penitent and wanted God to forgive them their sins. At the same time they wanted to make a promise never to go back to their old ways.
Also in the instructions that Jesus gave to His disciples, it was a question of spreading the Word and once a believer confessed his sins and just like in the case of John wanted to follow the new way, they were then to be baptized. The importance of the similarity of the baptism of John and that of Jesus’ Apostles should not be lost on us. What is equally important is that those performing the baptism must be people who have the calling within themselves for this. Otherwise it would be impossible for these people to transmit the power and spirit which is what baptism is all about.
The act of baptism is a process whereby the person being baptised is given the power to strengthen him in his resolve to change from his old ways and to fight temptation. It is all about this receipt of power. Therefore the person administering the baptism must be an individual who is capable of receiving power from God and transmitting it. To be able to do this however, the baptiser must have the basis for this within himself. He must have a very firm faith in God and must be an individual of high moral standing obviously. He must be seen by God to be an individual of the requisite inner qualities for this, otherwise he will not be able to make a connection with God.
As far as infant baptism is concerned, the child is protected from evil if the baptiser is really able to transmit Light. If not, it makes no difference to the child. The same occurs in the case of baptism carried out on adults by those who do not have any connection with God and cannot therefore transmit power.
Aside from these factors, it is better that the individual being baptised is fully aware of what is going on. He must be fully conscious and this allows him to open himself for the receipt of power from the Light through the baptizer.