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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