When I was an itty bitty baby Baptist, I remember “accepting Christ as my saviour” (the seven-letter spelling of “savior” was VERY important to a fundamental Baptist) when I was seven years old. The “one and done-ness” of it all didn’t sit well with me and I had severe bouts of doubt in the teachings of my faith and my eventual place in eternity because of it. I would get saved over and over again or “rededicate my life” in an effort to alleviate those doubts, but because I always struggled with what I believed, I held off on Baptism. I was always told that once you are baptized, you are putting on the armor of God and the act is affirming the decision to follow Christ. Since I was never sure if I was actually following Christ, I didn’t much like the thought of affirming a decision I wasn’t strong in. I do tend to be an over-thinker and didn’t want to offend the powers that be with my half-heartedness. I was eventually baptized at the age of 23 in a Baptist church, but my inner Catholic fire was already kindling inside of me, and my understanding of Baptism was lining up with what I was taught.
As I mentioned in my previous post, Catholics and most Protestants view the method of salvation very differently. Of course, there are over 40,000 different kinds of Protestants, so I cannot speak for them all, but generally they fall into two classes: those that believe in infant baptism and those who do not. Most of those that believe in infant baptism do not believe that the baptism itself has any role at all in the salvation of the person, it is simply a sign of welcoming the child into the congregation and culture of Christendom. I was raised in the kind of Protestantism that does not believe in infant baptism. I was taught that baptism is the public affirmation of having made the decision previously to accept Christ as your saviour. Since babies cannot make decisions, only those of the age of reason that have made the decision are true Christians, according to the conservative Protestants and fundamentalists.
Baptism is, essentially, a sign of the covenant of God and His People. It marks us as His and as part of the Church. Protestants are not wrong on that score, but it is also so much deeper than that. Most Protestants are familiar with the concept of the Covenant that began with God and Abraham and expanded to the entire people of Israel. Any Protestant worth their salt can lead you through the Covenant story—somehow, they just miss the parallels between the Old (First) and New (Expanded) Covenants. The physical Sacraments changed, but the idea of them remained the same between the two covenants.
A covenant is deeply meaningful, more than a vow or a promise, because there are consequences to those that break a covenant and they amount to more than hurt feelings or disloyalty. The breaking of a covenant was, in the ancient world, punishable by death. The Israelites continually, and at times perpetually, broke their covenant with God. They were deserving of death by the laws of the covenant, but God supplied mercy and grace in the form of his Son. He loved us so much, rather than kill us as we were so deserving, he himself died instead. John 3:16 has just as much meaning, beauty, and truth to Catholic ears as it does to Protestants’.
Thus, Jesus’ sacrifice was a fulfilling, renewing, and expanding of a covenant made with people thousands of years previously, so we can all start fresh with God. God’s covenant was never limited to only individuals, but was with the people as a whole as well. God promised Abraham descendants, land, and a kingdom. This covenant was renewed with Jacob, Moses, and David: the descendants came through Jacob, the land came through Moses with the Exodus, and the earthly kingdom established with David and his dynasty…but the promises were for all of his people. The people were marked as one of God’s through circumcision, which was done a mere eight days after birth. After the death of Jesus, this sacrament is expanded and enhanced by Baptism. Boys can still be circumcised or not, but Baptism replaces this symbol as a marking of belonging to God—and happily boys and girls can be baptized, so girls can partake in their own sacrament instead of by proxy. In Colossians 2:11-13 Paul makes the direct correlation of the replacement of circumcision with Baptism, “In him you were also circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of flesh in the circumcision of Christ; when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses…”
In the Protestant view baptism is reduced from a sacrament to a command or a regulation, if you will, because it does not actually convey the grace that it symbolizes; and it isn’t even a rule you have to follow for salvation, it is just an outward and public expression of your previous salvation. The Catholic view is that Baptism is a sacrament in the true sense of the word—it is a channel of grace–the initial channel of grace. It was the very first act Jesus did to begin His ministry and establish His kingdom. It was through this act that the Holy Spirit descended to Him and the Father spoke to Him. Jesus was God before all of this, of course, and He was also sinless before and after all of this, but the significance of the act is not altered—through this act we are marked as Christ’s, regenerated through Him, and blessed by the Holy Spirit.
Of course, if this event alone may not be enough to convince you of the sanctifying grace conveyed through the sacrament of Baptism, then perhaps verbatim Scripture is. Jesus said with his own mouth, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit” (John 3:5). As Jesus was ascending into Heaven in Matthew 28:19, He gave his disciples direct orders, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Peter, when asked directly by people on how to convert, He replied “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2: 38). Further confirmation of the sanctifying grace received through baptism can be found in Acts 22:16, “Get up, and be baptized, and have your sins washed away, calling on his name”; 1 Peter 3:21, “And baptism…now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from your body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through resurrection of Jesus Christ”; and Titus 3:5, “He saved us, not because of any works we have done, but according to his mercy, through water of rebirth and renewal of the Holy Spirit”, among other verses.
As for infant baptism, Jesus even rebuked His disciples when they attempted to prevent people from bringing their infants and children to Him in Matthew 19:14 and Luke 18:16, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.” Jesus did not expect the children to make a decision to come to Him—just the opposite, He explained that it is precisely those with such innocent minds that could receive the kingdom of heaven. After Christ ascended into Heaven, the apostles continued His teachings as instructed, baptizing entire households (Acts 16:15 and 16:33, 1 Cor. 1:16). It can be assumed that children were likely part of the households of converts, even babies, and I am sure the disciples did not forget Jesus’ rebuke about denying children His redeeming grace. There are no explicit rules or exceptions against baptizing infants, either, so we can assume that when the Bible says entire households, it means it. Peter says in Acts 2:39 “For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord Our God calls to him.”
So, while the Protestants are not entirely wrong in their belief that baptism is the first command of Christ and the way of marking his sheep, if you will, they are just skimming the surface of the sacrament. It is meant for Christians individually and collectively, just as the first covenant was meant for Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and David specifically and for Israel as a whole. If Jesus himself expressed that baptism is what saves us, and that children are welcome, then who are we to dispute this? Even the Protestants, who are adamant believers of sola scriptura are hard-pressed to refute the black and white words clearly printed on their tissue-thin pages: Baptism washes away our sin and is the qualifying factor of a Christian, regenerates us, imbibes us with the Holy Spirit, marks us as one of the fold, and we are specifically advised by Jesus not to deny our babies this blessing. Happily, if you were baptized in a Protestant faith “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”, your baptism is valid in the Catholic Church as well.
The Catholic Church takes the sacrament even deeper, but that is a matter of tradition supported by scripture. We will discuss the Catholic view of the happy marriage of Tradition and Scripture for the foundation of our faith versus the Sola Scriptura foundation of Protestantism next time.
About Janie de Lara
I am a Catholic convert living in the Deep South, and was raised Independent Fundamental Baptist (the scary kind that can quote entire chapters of KJV verses at you). I love my new faith so much, I wish I could hug it. I have an interracial marriage and a son from a previous relationship, so I am no stranger to controversy and I am a working mom who is pretty bummed about suffering from infertility, but trying to see all the bright spots in this crazy, hectic life. I don’t write for anyone or anything in particular, just when something gets laid on my heart or if I am dying to share something. My greatest desire (besides a passel of babies) is for everyone to get along–races, creeds, cultures, political views…todo…everyone just get along!