Bishops Approve Catholic-Reformed Baptism Agreement

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U. S. Roman Catholic bishops have approved an agreement with four Protestant denominations, including the Christian Reformed Church, to recognize each other’s baptisms as valid.

Declaring that baptism is “the sacramental gateway into the Christian life,” the Common Agreement on Mutual Recognition of Baptism affirms that the sacrament is to be performed only once in a person’s lifetime, by an  authorized minister, with flowing water, and in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It also calls for use of a common baptismal certificate.

The agreement is a result of seven years of ecumenical  study and dialogue between representatives of the Roman Catholic Church, the CRC, the Presbyterian Church-USA, the Reformed Church in America, and the United Church of Christ.

Synod, the annual leadership meeting of the Christian Reformed Church, will consider the agreement for approval at its meeting in June 2011.

While the CRC and the Roman Catholic Church already recognize each other’s baptisms in practice, formal recognition removes any lingering uncertainties about the validity of original baptisms, said Rev. Lyle Bierma, a professor at Calvin Theological Seminary, the seminary of the CRC.

Bierma, who served on the committee that drafted the baptism agreement, said that on a practical level, it will ease the transfer process when Reformed Christians join a Roman Catholic church or vice versa.

Beyond the specifics of baptismal practice, Bierma said, the agreement is a significant ecumenical milestone.

“It is a testimony and reminder to us all that our baptismal memberships are not first of all in the CRC or the Roman Catholic Church, but in the one holy catholic  church,” he said.

The seven-year dialogue leading to the baptism  agreement has produced two longer documents on baptism and the Lord’s Supper that, Bierma said, “demonstrate a greater convergence in our sacramental theologies and liturgies than any of us would have imagined at the beginning.”

A similar baptismal agreement between the Catholic Church in Canada and the CRC is not in effect, but the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops reports that Reformed baptisms are, in practice, considered valid.

Serving with Bierma as Christian Reformed  representatives in the dialogue were Rev. Ron Feenstra, also of Calvin Seminary; Sue Rozeboom, an author and liturgical specialist; and the late Rev. David Engelhard, former general secretary of the denomination.

To read the text of the baptism agreement and read more about the Reformed-Catholic dialogue, please visit

http://oga.pcusa.org/ecumenicalrelations/resources/report-cath-reformed-bilateral-dialogue-baptism.pdf.

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I was born into the Christian Reformed Church and baptized as an infant, yet I can now say that that baptism was a promised from my parents that they would raise me in a manor pleasing to the Lord as well as that the Church would help out in that regard. However, through my own study and education I have come to see that in scripture the idea of infant baptism is invisible. Every baptism that was done by either John the Baptist or through one of the Apostles was to someone that was coming in Repentance, to John the Baptist, or to commit themselves to Christ. John the Baptist himself speaks of the fact that his baptism is less than that of the Christ will bring, saying "As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mighteier than I, and I am not fit to removie HIs sandals He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and Fire." (Matt. 3:11, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16 and John 1:26) Even speaking in regards to John's baptism it is one of repentance and an infant cannot repent of anything for they have no knowledge that they have done wrong. Though my intent is not to criticize pedobaptism I feel there is no choice but to speak to what the Bible speaks about when it discusses Baptism itself. Again we do not see in the New Testament anywhere where baptism is done to someone that has not Confessed Jesus as Lord and Savior, Acts 19:3,4 talks about the fact that those that were Baptized into the baptism of John still needed to be under the Baptism of Jesus. Earlier in Acts we see that the Jailer that was brought to Christ was baptized after the fact (Acts 16:33), and yes the verse concludes with the phrase "and all his household" yet we see no evidence that this is done for any that were not converted. Again in Acts 8:37 and 38 we see that Philip baptizes the Ethiopian Eunich after he has received the Gospel and Grace of God. In fact in that Passage the Ethiopian says first " I blieve that Jesus Christ is the Son of God." He makes a proclamation of the deity of Christ, that He is in fact the Christ, and a personal belief in Jesus BEFORE being Baptized. (Philip actually requires this confession before he will baptize the man.) In Romans 6:4 Paul speaks of Baptism as a symbol of being buried with Christ and being raised in Christ's resurrection into New Life. Colossians 2 verse 12 carries this same idea.

Looking at those texts alone we have to come to the conclusion that baptism is for those that have a belief in Jesus Christ. Now, like I said before I do not wish to make this about pedobaptism but those points, I feel, must be made in order to properly refute the idea that the CRC should allow the baptism of it's Church to be viewed as the same as that of the Catholic Church.

One quick side bar on the topic, in study of the Greek work baptizo three definitions come into play the first two being that of submerging something to clean it or to repeatedly do it for another reason. But a third definition is there also which is to overwhelm. If Jesus' baptism is that of the Spirit, the image is true to the Submerging of a believer into the Spirit, but also the fact that the believer would be Over Whelmed by the Spirit. Another thing that cannot happen without that person coming to a true Faith in Christ.

After looking at CRC doctrine of Baptism, and that of the Roman Catholic Church it is clear that the two carry different ideas of what baptism is in the life of a believer. Though apparent differences in my own Dispensational theology to that of the Covenant theology of the CRC, I want to still say this; according to the Westminster Catechism baptism is a sign of the Covenant, not salvation. When I was baptized it was not a sign showing that I was then and there saved. It was however a symbol that I had been born into a family of believers and they had decided to raise me up in the right way. Pastor Gerald Erffmeyer of Orland Park CRC in Illinois always says before he baptizes a child "this water doesn't do anything special, it's a symbol." So why then should we associate the CRC concept of Baptism with that of the Roman Catholic Church, when in the Roman Catholic Church it is clear that they believe that baptism is necessary for one to be saved. Yet, give a disclaimer that it is possible to be saved and not baptized. They are back tracking on themselves, as they have done time and time again. To a Catholic John 3 verse 5 signifies that one must be baptized to be saved. It's clear when you exegete the passage thoroughly that Jesus has yet to speak of Baptism in his discussion with Niccodemus. In fact to a Jew the birth in Water is that of a physical Birth, not a baptism. Therefore when Jesus says one must be born of the Spirit and of water he is saying that without the idea of being Born again, born into the Family of God that is only due to a faith in Christ as Savior and LORD, one is not in a place where they can enter the kingdom of God. The passage doesn't even contain the word Baptizo. In fact the Greek word used in the passage for Born/Birth, is the idea of bringing one into his way of thinking, or to convert someone. The passage is mute on the idea of Baptism.

Then going to the next biggest passage on baptism, in fact the only one that I can see makes the statement that Baptism is necessary for Salvation, is First Peter 3 verse 21 which Reads "Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you, not the removal of dirt form the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ" As a good student of the Bible one must ask Corresponding to what? I believe that It goes all the way back up to Verse 18. We have the idea of Baptism in relation to the Suffering that Christ went through, yet the Joy of his resurrection. The word here is often defined as one being baptized into the same afflictions. Or submerged into afflictions that were patterned after Jesus'. Or even to be overwhelmed in those afflictions. The word of water here is literal! Only either people were saved from the Flood, only either didn't drown in the water. It is not about baptism! It is about enduring through affliction it's about suffering and how we can have life in Christ through it and through him Get through it!

So is baptism necessary for ones salvation? If even the Catholic Church won't make this an Ultimatum then we can discard the idea. Yet that is what the Catholic Idea of Baptism is. While I disagree on the idea of Covenant theology the idea of baptism is the same. A child who is dedicated or Baptized is one who is being promised by his parents and his church that they will do their best to show him God so that one day the child may confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Further, I daresay that the CRC needs to distance itself from the Roman Catholic Church. The Catholic Church is a "Jesus and" type of Church. One must be baptized, one must go to confession, one must take the Eucharist, and one must make penance for their sins. It seemingly says that we have to earn our salvation, or at least that we have to do things in order to say "See Jesus! I found you and then I was Good enough!" Yet Scripture teaches the opposite, it teaches that we get to say to people "I found Jesus, Received salvation and will enter into Eternal Paradise in spite of the fact that I'm not good enough nor will I ever be! Instead it is because of the Power, authority and Grace of God!"

I'm not saying that every Catholic isn't Saved, in fact I know many that do not know that in the doctrines of that Church these things are required for one to enter paradise, but what I am saying is this, the CRC which is based on the Scriptures and the teachers of those, not those of the Saints or of the Father (though they are highly regarded when they themselves were taught using scripture as guide and reason). I think it is a terrible idea to link the two Churches baptism. I think also that the CRC must look at the various doctrines of the Catholic church and make statements that proclaim them wrong, because some of them are.

I hope that the various Scriptures I discussed and the words themselves will help to see that, despite the idea's of pedobaptism or Believers Baptism, that linking the Protestant baptism to the of the Roman Catholic Church is an out right impossibility without one rewriting what it's baptism means.

Thank you for your time,

Bryce Gross

(Sources for CRC standpoints were taken from the Heidelberg Catechism. Those for the Catholic position were from www.catholic.com/library/necessity_of_baptism.asp)

The approved Catholic-Reformed agreement is one of the fulfillments of the Lord's prayer in John 17:21, "that they may all be one". The act is very significant because it is the very beginning of unity among divided Christian communities; the genuine answer to God's call to go back to the original structure of the first century Church of Christ. The agreement is a manifestation of respect and love to each other in the Vineyard of the Lord. To God be the glory.

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