Church

Big Questions

Q A person desiring to join our church was baptized soon after his birth in an intensive care unit by a Roman Catholic nurse who feared he was about to die. Is this baptism considered to be valid in our denomination?

A Yes. Church Order Article 58 clearly takes that position: “The baptism of one who comes from another Christian denomination shall be held valid if it has been administered in the name of the triune God, by someone authorized by that denomination.” The fact is that the Roman Catholic Church authorizes nurses and other medical professionals to do this if they are truly acting in good faith.  They are not ordained, it is true, but they do have formal authorization.

On this issue, the position of the Christian Reformed Church is remarkably broad-minded. We fully honor the catholicity of the church, just as St. Augustine did in his approach to the Donatists of the fourth and fifth centuries. These Donatists, on the other hand, refused to acknowledge any baptism performed in the Roman Catholic Church and ordered recipients of it to be re-baptized.

There was a time when our churches would “conditionally baptize” such individuals. They would administer the baptism with the statement: “If, in fact, you have not been baptized, or your previous baptism is not valid, I baptize you into the name of the Father. . . .”  In reflecting on that practice, I have come to the conclusion that I could not permit myself to do that. In this case, I would rather hold the baptism to be valid and rejoice with the person involved and the congregation that God keeps his promises to us.

About the Author

Henry De Moor is professor emeritus of church polity at Calvin Seminary, Grand Rapids, Mich. He’s the author of Christian Reformed Church Order Commentary

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Comments

Thanks Henry for your response in regard to valid baptisms.  I think your caution and fear are well warranted.  To question the baptism of another Christian, asking if it was performed by a qualified pastor or in a proper setting leans towards superstition.  There is nothing magical in the actual rite of baptism, as though if it is done properly, only then will a grace be bestowed, and only then is it valid.  It’s odd how easily superstition can creep into the Christian faith.  Some might even say that Christianity itself is a superstitious belief or religion.  Thanks for your answer to this person’s question.

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