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What Is Baptism?


Baptism

Baptism is a significant ritual in Christianity that holds different meanings and practices across various denominations. It is a sacred ceremony that symbolizes purification, initiation, and the forgiveness of sins. This article explores the meaning of baptism, its historical origins, different types of baptism, its role in salvation, preparation for baptism, the baptismal ceremony, and various traditions and customs associated with baptism.

Key Takeaways

  • Baptism is a sacred ritual in Christianity that symbolizes purification, initiation, and the forgiveness of sins.

  • There are different types of baptism, including infant baptism, believer's baptism, and sprinkling vs immersion.

  • Baptism holds different meanings and practices across various Christian denominations, such as Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox.

  • Baptism is considered a sacrament and is believed to play a role in salvation, forgiveness of sins, and regeneration.

  • Preparation for baptism involves catechism and instruction, choosing a godparent, and making baptismal vows.

The Meaning of Baptism

Biblical Definition of Baptism

Baptism, as defined in the Bible, is a ritual of initiation into the Christian faith. It is a symbolic act that represents a person's identification with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The word 'baptism' itself comes from the Greek word 'baptizo,' which means 'to immerse' or 'to dip.'

In the New Testament, baptism is often associated with repentance and forgiveness of sins. It is seen as a public declaration of faith and a commitment to follow Christ. Through baptism, believers are united with Christ and become part of the body of believers, the church.

While the mode of baptism (immersion, sprinkling, or pouring) may vary among different Christian denominations, the central meaning remains the same: a symbolic representation of spiritual cleansing and rebirth.

Symbolism of Baptism

Baptism holds deep symbolism within the Christian faith. It represents a spiritual cleansing and rebirth, symbolizing the washing away of sins and the beginning of a new life in Christ. The act of immersion in water signifies the burial of the old self and the rising up of a new person in Christ. It is a powerful visual representation of the believer's identification with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.

Water is a central symbol in baptism, representing purification, renewal, and the Holy Spirit. It is a tangible reminder of God's grace and the transformative power of the Holy Spirit in the believer's life.

Drowning in the water during baptism symbolizes the death of the old self and the surrendering of one's life to God. It signifies the complete immersion and submission to God's will and the desire to live a new life in obedience to Him.

White garment is often worn by the person being baptized, symbolizing purity, righteousness, and the new life in Christ. It represents the believer's commitment to live a holy and blameless life.

Purpose of Baptism

The purpose of baptism is a significant aspect of the Christian faith. It serves as a public declaration of one's faith and commitment to follow Jesus Christ. Baptism symbolizes the cleansing of sins and the spiritual rebirth of an individual. It is an act of obedience to God's command and a way to publicly identify with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.

Baptism also serves as a means of receiving the Holy Spirit and entering into the community of believers. It is a step of initiation into the church and a way to demonstrate unity with other Christians. Through baptism, individuals become part of the body of Christ and are welcomed into the family of God.

In addition to its spiritual significance, baptism also holds personal meaning for many individuals. It can be a deeply meaningful and transformative experience, symbolizing a new beginning and a commitment to live a life dedicated to God.

Overall, the purpose of baptism encompasses both spiritual and personal dimensions, representing a profound step in the journey of faith.

History of Baptism

Early Christian Practices

Early Christian practices of baptism varied across different regions and communities. Immersion was the most common method of baptism, symbolizing the washing away of sins and the believer's identification with Christ's death and resurrection. In some cases, baptism was performed in natural bodies of water, such as rivers or lakes, while in others, specially constructed baptismal pools were used.

The early Christians viewed baptism as a sacred rite that marked the initiation into the Christian community. It was often preceded by a period of catechism and instruction, during which the candidates for baptism would receive teachings on the basic doctrines of the faith. This period of preparation allowed individuals to understand the significance of baptism and make an informed commitment to the Christian faith.

Early Christian baptismal practices also involved the role of godparents. These individuals, often experienced members of the Christian community, would accompany the candidates for baptism and provide spiritual guidance and support. The godparents played a significant role in the spiritual formation of the newly baptized individuals, helping them grow in their understanding and practice of the Christian faith.

Evolution of Baptismal Rites

The evolution of baptismal rites throughout history has been a fascinating journey. From its early beginnings in the early Christian church to the diverse practices seen in different denominations today, baptism has undergone significant changes.

One significant development in the evolution of baptismal rites was the shift from immersion to sprinkling as a mode of baptism. While early Christian practices primarily involved full immersion in water, the adoption of sprinkling as a valid form of baptism allowed for greater accessibility and convenience, especially in situations where full immersion was not practical.

Another important aspect of the evolution of baptismal rites is the incorporation of liturgical elements and rituals. Over time, various symbols and rituals have been introduced to enhance the significance and solemnity of the baptismal ceremony. These may include the use of holy water, anointing with oil, and the recitation of specific prayers and blessings.

It is interesting to note that the evolution of baptismal rites is not limited to changes in the physical aspects of the ceremony. The theological understanding of baptism has also evolved, with different denominations placing varying emphasis on its role in salvation and the forgiveness of sins.

Different Types of Baptism

Infant Baptism

Infant baptism is the practice of baptizing infants or young children. It is a common tradition in many Christian denominations, including Catholic, Orthodox, and some Protestant churches. The belief behind infant baptism is that it cleanses the child from original sin and initiates them into the faith community.

In some churches, infant baptism is seen as a way for parents to dedicate their child to God and commit to raising them in the Christian faith. It is often accompanied by the appointment of godparents, who play a role in the child's spiritual upbringing.

While infant baptism is widely practiced, there are differing views on its significance and necessity. Some argue that baptism should be reserved for those who can make a conscious decision to follow Christ, while others believe that baptism is a means of God's grace and should be administered to infants as well.

Key points about infant baptism:

  • It is a common tradition in many Christian denominations

  • It is believed to cleanse the child from original sin

  • It initiates the child into the faith community

  • It is often accompanied by the appointment of godparents

  • There are differing views on its significance and necessity

Believer's Baptism

Believer's Baptism, also known as adult baptism, is a significant practice in many Christian denominations. It is a voluntary act of faith where individuals make a personal decision to be baptized after professing their belief in Jesus Christ. This type of baptism is based on the belief that baptism is a public declaration of one's faith and a symbol of their commitment to follow Christ.

In believer's baptism, the individual is fully immersed in water, symbolizing their identification with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. It represents a spiritual cleansing and a new beginning in their relationship with God. The act of baptism is seen as an outward expression of an inward transformation.

Key elements of believer's baptism:

  • Voluntary act of faith

  • Public declaration of one's faith

  • Symbol of commitment to follow Christ

  • Full immersion in water

  • Identification with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus

  • Spiritual cleansing and new beginning

Believer's baptism is a meaningful and personal experience for individuals who choose to publicly declare their faith and commitment to Christ through this act of obedience.

Sprinkling vs Immersion

The method of baptism, whether sprinkling or immersion, has been a topic of debate among Christian denominations. Sprinkling involves the pouring or sprinkling of water on the person's head, while immersion is the complete submersion of the person in water. Each method carries its own significance and symbolism.

Some argue that sprinkling represents the cleansing and purification of sins, as water is seen as a symbol of spiritual cleansing. Others believe that immersion better represents the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, as the person is fully immersed in water, symbolizing their identification with Christ's death and resurrection.

While the method of baptism may vary, the underlying meaning and purpose remain the same: to publicly declare one's faith and commitment to Christ. It is a symbolic act that signifies the believer's identification with Christ and their desire to follow Him.

Here is a comparison between sprinkling and immersion:

Method

Symbolism

Sprinkling

Cleansing and purification of sins

Immersion

Identification with Christ's death and resurrection

It is important to note that the method of baptism is a matter of personal conviction and interpretation of scripture. The most important aspect is the sincere faith and commitment of the individual being baptized.

Baptism in Different Christian Denominations

Catholic Baptism

Catholic baptism is a sacrament that holds great significance in the Catholic Church. It is the initiation into the Christian faith and the cleansing of original sin. The Catholic Church believes that through baptism, an individual becomes a member of the Church and receives the grace of God.

In the Catholic tradition, baptism is typically performed on infants. The parents and godparents play an important role in the baptismal ceremony, making promises to raise the child in the Catholic faith and guide them in their spiritual journey.

During the baptismal ceremony, the priest or deacon pours holy water over the child's forehead while invoking the Holy Trinity. This act symbolizes the washing away of sin and the child's entry into the Christian community.

Important Note: The Catholic Church recognizes the validity of baptism performed by other Christian denominations as long as it follows the essential elements of baptism, such as the use of water and the invocation of the Holy Trinity.

Protestant Baptism

Protestant Baptism is a sacrament practiced by various Protestant denominations. It is a significant rite of passage for individuals who have made a personal commitment to their faith. Unlike infant baptism, which is common in Catholic and Orthodox traditions, Protestant baptism is typically reserved for believers who have reached an age of understanding and can make a conscious decision to be baptized.

In Protestant churches, baptism is often seen as a public declaration of one's faith and a symbol of their spiritual rebirth. It is viewed as an outward expression of an inward transformation that has taken place in the individual's life. The act of baptism is usually performed by immersion in water, symbolizing the washing away of sins and the emergence of a new life in Christ.

Some Protestant denominations may have specific requirements or guidelines for baptism. For example, certain churches may require candidates to undergo a period of instruction or preparation before being baptized. Others may emphasize the importance of baptism as a means of receiving the Holy Spirit and entering into the community of believers.

Protestant baptism serves as a powerful reminder of the believer's commitment to follow Christ and live according to the teachings of the Bible. It is a visible sign of their faith and a way to publicly identify with the Christian community. Through baptism, individuals are welcomed into the church and are encouraged to actively participate in the life of the congregation.

Orthodox Baptism

Orthodox Baptism is a significant sacrament in the Eastern Orthodox Church. It is a sacred rite that marks the initiation of an individual into the Christian faith. The Orthodox Church believes that baptism is necessary for salvation and the forgiveness of sins.

In Orthodox Baptism, the candidate is fully immersed in water three times, representing the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This immersion symbolizes the cleansing of the soul and the new life in Christ. The use of triple immersion is rooted in the early Christian practices and is seen as a way to fully participate in the mystery of Christ's death and resurrection.

The following table summarizes the key elements of Orthodox Baptism:

Element

Description

Holy Water

The water used in baptism is consecrated by the priest and represents the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit.

Chrismation

After baptism, the candidate is anointed with holy chrism, a mixture of olive oil and fragrant substances, signifying the sealing of the Holy Spirit.

White Garment

The newly baptized person is clothed in a white garment, symbolizing purity and the new life in Christ.

Candle

A lit candle is given to the newly baptized as a symbol of the light of Christ and their role as a light in the world.

Orthodox Baptism is a solemn and joyous occasion for the individual and their family. It is a time of spiritual rebirth and the beginning of a lifelong journey in the Orthodox faith.

The Role of Baptism in Salvation

Baptism as a Sacrament

Baptism is considered a sacrament in many Christian denominations. It is a sacred ritual that holds deep spiritual significance for believers. The sacrament of baptism is seen as a visible sign of God's grace and the initiation into the Christian faith.

In baptism, the individual is cleansed of their sins and reborn into a new life in Christ. It is believed to be a means of grace through which the Holy Spirit works in the life of the believer.

The sacramental nature of baptism is rooted in the teachings of Jesus Christ and the early Christian church. It is seen as a sacred act that brings the believer into communion with God and the community of believers.

In some Christian traditions, such as Catholicism and Orthodoxy, baptism is considered one of the seven sacraments. It is seen as an essential step in the process of salvation and the reception of other sacraments such as the Eucharist.

In Protestant denominations, baptism is also recognized as a sacrament, although its significance and practices may vary. It is often seen as a public declaration of faith and a symbolic act that represents the believer's identification with Christ's death, burial, and resurrection.

Baptism and Forgiveness of Sins

Baptism is closely associated with the forgiveness of sins. According to the biblical definition of baptism, it is a symbolic act that represents the cleansing of sins and the initiation into the Christian faith. Through baptism, individuals publicly declare their repentance and acceptance of Jesus Christ as their Savior.

One important aspect of baptism is the belief that it washes away sins and brings about spiritual renewal. It is seen as a means of receiving God's grace and forgiveness. Baptism is often considered a necessary step in the process of salvation, as it signifies a person's commitment to follow Christ and live a life of faith.

Table: The Significance of Baptism and Forgiveness of Sins

Significance

Explanation

Cleansing

Baptism symbolizes the cleansing of sins and the start of a new life in Christ.

Forgiveness

Through baptism, individuals receive God's forgiveness and are reconciled with Him.

Renewal

Baptism brings about spiritual renewal and a fresh start in one's relationship with God.

Note: Baptism does not guarantee automatic forgiveness of sins, but it is an important step in the process of seeking forgiveness and reconciling with God.

In summary, baptism plays a significant role in the forgiveness of sins. It symbolizes the cleansing of sins, brings about spiritual renewal, and signifies a person's commitment to follow Christ. While baptism is not a guarantee of automatic forgiveness, it is an important step in seeking God's forgiveness and reconciling with Him.

Baptism and Regeneration

Baptism is often associated with the concept of regeneration, which refers to the spiritual rebirth or renewal of an individual. It is believed that through baptism, a person is cleansed of their sins and receives the Holy Spirit, thus experiencing a transformative change in their spiritual life.

Regeneration is a fundamental belief in many Christian denominations, including Catholicism, Protestantism, and Orthodox Christianity. It signifies a new beginning and a commitment to living a life in accordance with the teachings of Jesus Christ.

In the sacrament of baptism, the act of immersion or sprinkling with water symbolizes the washing away of sins and the emergence of a new person in Christ. It is a powerful symbol of death and resurrection, representing the believer's identification with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.

Through baptism, individuals publicly declare their faith in Jesus Christ and their desire to follow Him. It is a significant step in their spiritual journey and a symbol of their commitment to the Christian faith.

To better understand the significance of baptism and regeneration, let's explore some key aspects:

  • Baptism as a Sacrament: Baptism is considered one of the sacraments in Christianity, along with other rituals such as the Eucharist and Confirmation. It is seen as a visible sign of God's grace and a means of receiving His blessings.

  • Baptism and Forgiveness of Sins: Baptism is believed to wash away sins and cleanse the individual, allowing them to start anew in their relationship with God. It is seen as a moment of forgiveness and reconciliation with God.

  • Baptism and Regeneration: Regeneration refers to the spiritual transformation that takes place in a person's life through baptism. It is a renewal of the individual's heart and mind, leading to a changed life and a closer relationship with God.

In conclusion, baptism and regeneration are closely intertwined concepts in Christianity. Baptism represents the believer's commitment to follow Jesus and symbolizes their spiritual rebirth and renewal. It is a sacrament that signifies forgiveness of sins, the receiving of the Holy Spirit, and a new life in Christ.

Preparation for Baptism

Catechism and Instruction

Catechism and instruction play a crucial role in preparing individuals for baptism. Catechism is a process of teaching and learning the fundamental beliefs and practices of the Christian faith. It provides a solid foundation for understanding the significance of baptism and its role in the spiritual journey. Through catechism, individuals are guided in exploring the teachings of the Bible, the nature of God, and the meaning of salvation.

Instruction, on the other hand, focuses on the practical aspects of baptism. It involves familiarizing individuals with the rituals, symbols, and requirements of the baptismal ceremony. Instruction may include discussions on the order of service, the significance of baptismal symbols, and the responsibilities of the baptized individual.

To ensure a meaningful and informed baptismal experience, it is essential to engage in thorough catechism and instruction. This process allows individuals to develop a deeper understanding of their faith and prepares them for the commitment they are making through baptism.

Choosing a Godparent

Choosing a godparent is an important decision in the baptismal process. The godparent plays a significant role in the spiritual development of the baptized individual. They are chosen to provide guidance, support, and serve as a spiritual mentor. When selecting a godparent, it is essential to consider someone who is committed to their faith and can serve as a positive role model. Ideally, the godparent should be a practicing member of the Christian community.

It is common for parents to choose close family members or trusted friends as godparents. The godparent should be someone who can actively participate in the child's life and be present for important milestones. They should be willing to take on the responsibility of nurturing the child's faith and helping them grow in their understanding of Christianity.

In some Christian denominations, there may be specific requirements for godparents. For example, the Catholic Church often requires godparents to be baptized, confirmed, and practicing Catholics. It is important to consult with the church or religious institution to understand any specific guidelines or requirements for godparents.

Choosing a godparent is a decision that should be made prayerfully and thoughtfully. It is a commitment that extends beyond the baptismal ceremony and requires ongoing support and involvement in the child's spiritual journey. By selecting a godparent who is dedicated to their faith and willing to fulfill their role, parents can ensure that their child receives the guidance and support they need in their Christian walk.

Baptismal Vows

Baptismal vows are a significant part of the baptismal ceremony. They are promises made by the person being baptized or their parents and godparents. These vows serve as a commitment to living a life of faith and following the teachings of the Christian faith. The specific vows may vary depending on the Christian denomination and the age of the person being baptized.

In some Christian traditions, the baptismal vows include renouncing sin and professing belief in the Holy Trinity. The person being baptized or their parents and godparents may also promise to raise the child in the Christian faith and provide spiritual guidance.

It is important to note that baptismal vows are not just empty words, but a solemn promise made before God and the Christian community. They are a reminder of the responsibilities and privileges that come with being a member of the Christian faith.

Table: Sample Baptismal Vows

Vow

Description

Renounce sin

Promise to turn away from sinful behaviors

Profess belief in the Holy Trinity

Declare faith in God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

Raise the child in the Christian faith

Commitment to provide spiritual guidance and education

Note: The specific baptismal vows may vary depending on the Christian denomination and the cultural practices.

Baptismal Ceremony

Order of Service

The order of service for a baptismal ceremony may vary depending on the Christian denomination and local customs. However, there are some common elements that are typically included in the order of service:

  • Opening Hymn or Song: The ceremony often begins with a hymn or song that sets the tone for the baptism.

  • Welcome and Introduction: The minister or officiant welcomes the congregation and introduces the purpose of the baptism.

  • Scripture Reading: A passage from the Bible related to baptism is read.

  • Baptismal Vows: The person being baptized, or their parents and godparents, make vows to renounce sin and profess faith in Jesus Christ.

  • Baptism: The actual act of baptism takes place, which may involve pouring water over the person's head or immersing them in water.

  • Prayer: A prayer is offered for the person being baptized and for their spiritual journey.

  • Blessing: The minister or officiant offers a blessing for the person being baptized.

It is important to note that the specific order and details of the service may vary, but these are some common elements that are typically included.

Baptismal Symbols and Rituals

Baptismal symbols and rituals play a significant role in the sacrament of baptism. These symbols and rituals serve as visual representations of the spiritual transformation that takes place during baptism. Water is the central symbol in baptism, representing purification, cleansing, and rebirth. It symbolizes the washing away of sins and the beginning of a new life in Christ. The act of immersion or sprinkling with water is a physical demonstration of this symbolic cleansing.

In addition to water, other symbols and rituals are often incorporated into the baptismal ceremony. These may include the use of oil, which symbolizes the anointing of the Holy Spirit and the sealing of the baptized person as a member of the Christian community. The white garment worn by the baptized person represents purity and newness of life in Christ. It is a visual reminder of the commitment to live a life of faith and righteousness.

During the baptismal ceremony, prayers are offered for the person being baptized, their parents, and the entire community of faith. The sign of the cross may be made on the forehead of the baptized person, symbolizing their identification with Christ and their belonging to the Christian community. These rituals and symbols serve to deepen the spiritual significance of the sacrament of baptism and create a meaningful experience for both the individual being baptized and the community of believers.

It is important to note that while these symbols and rituals hold great significance in the practice of baptism, their exact form and interpretation may vary among different Christian denominations and traditions.

Baptismal Liturgy

Baptismal liturgy is the ceremonial aspect of the baptismal ceremony. It includes a series of rituals and symbols that hold deep significance for the Christian community. The liturgy typically takes place within the context of a worship service, where the congregation gathers to witness and celebrate the baptism.

One of the central elements of the baptismal liturgy is the baptismal font, which is a basin or pool of water used for the baptism. The font represents the cleansing and renewal that occurs through baptism. It is often located near the entrance of the church, symbolizing the entrance into the Christian community.

During the baptismal liturgy, the minister or priest performs the baptism by immersing the person being baptized in water or by pouring water over their head. This act symbolizes the washing away of sin and the new life that comes through faith in Christ.

In addition to the act of baptism, the liturgy may include prayers, scripture readings, and hymns that reflect on the meaning and significance of baptism. These elements help to create a sacred and reverent atmosphere during the ceremony.

It is important to note that the specific details of the baptismal liturgy can vary among different Christian denominations. Some traditions may have additional rituals or customs that are incorporated into the ceremony. However, the central focus of the liturgy remains the same - the celebration of new life and the incorporation of individuals into the body of Christ.

Baptismal Traditions and Customs

Naming Ceremony

The naming ceremony is an important part of the baptismal tradition. It is a special moment where the child is officially given their name and welcomed into the Christian community. During the ceremony, the child's name is announced and the significance of the chosen name may be explained. Family and friends gather to witness this joyous occasion and offer their blessings and prayers for the child's future. It is a time of celebration and a reminder of the child's unique identity within the faith.

In some traditions, the naming ceremony may also include the presentation of a baptismal certificate. This certificate serves as a record of the child's baptism and is often kept as a cherished memento. It may include details such as the date and location of the baptism, the names of the parents and godparents, and the officiating minister.

Tips for the Naming Ceremony:

  • Choose a meaningful name that reflects the family's faith and values.

  • Consider involving family members or close friends in the ceremony as godparents.

  • Plan the ceremony in advance and communicate the details to all participants.

  • Create a welcoming and inclusive atmosphere for all attendees, regardless of their religious background.

Remember, the naming ceremony is a significant moment in the child's life and should be approached with reverence and joy.

Baptismal Gown

The baptismal gown is a significant part of the baptismal ceremony in many Christian traditions. It is a white garment that symbolizes purity and new life. The tradition of wearing a baptismal gown dates back to the early centuries of Christianity. The white color of the gown represents the cleansing of sins and the new life in Christ that the person being baptized is entering into.

In some traditions, the baptismal gown is a family heirloom that has been passed down through generations. It carries a sense of tradition and connection to the faith community. The gown is often made of fine fabric and may be embellished with lace or embroidery to make it special.

During the baptismal ceremony, the person being baptized is dressed in the gown as a symbol of their commitment to their faith and their initiation into the Christian community. The act of putting on the gown can be seen as a ritual of transformation, marking the beginning of a new spiritual journey.

It is important to note that the use of a baptismal gown is not universal across all Christian denominations. Some denominations may have different customs or may not use a gown at all. The decision to include a baptismal gown in the ceremony is often based on the traditions and practices of the specific denomination or congregation.

The baptismal gown serves as a visual representation of the spiritual significance of baptism and the commitment to the Christian faith.

Baptismal Feast

The Baptismal Feast is an important tradition that follows the baptismal ceremony. It is a time for celebration and fellowship among family and friends. During the feast, a variety of food and drinks are served to commemorate the joyous occasion. It is common for the parents of the baptized child to host the feast, inviting loved ones to join in the celebration.

In some cultures, specific dishes or desserts hold symbolic meaning during the Baptismal Feast. For example, in Greek Orthodox tradition, a special cake called 'koliva' is often served. This cake is made with wheat, symbolizing the resurrection of Christ, and is shared among the guests as a reminder of the spiritual significance of baptism.

The Baptismal Feast provides an opportunity for the community to come together and offer their support and blessings to the newly baptized individual. It is a time to rejoice in the new life and spiritual journey that has begun. The feast serves as a reminder of the importance of community and the role it plays in nurturing and supporting individuals in their faith.

Conclusion

In conclusion, baptism is a significant sacrament in Christianity that holds various meanings and purposes. It has a rich history, evolving from its origins to different practices in different Christian denominations. Baptism plays a crucial role in salvation, symbolizing forgiveness of sins and regeneration. Preparation for baptism involves catechism, choosing a godparent, and making baptismal vows. The baptismal ceremony follows a specific order of service, incorporating symbols and rituals. Additionally, there are various traditions and customs associated with baptism, such as the naming ceremony, baptismal gown, and baptismal feast. Overall, baptism is a fundamental aspect of the Christian faith, representing a spiritual rebirth and entry into the community of believers.

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