III. Koinonia and Baptism7
A) The Meaning
and Roman Catholics agree that baptism is prefigured in Old
Testament symbolism, e.g. in the salvation of Noah and his family
(cf. 1 Pet 3:20-21); the Exodus through the Red Sea (cf.
1 Cor 10:1-5); washing as a symbol of the cleansing power of
the Holy Spirit (cf. Ez 36:25).
further agree that baptism was instituted by Christ, and that
he commanded his disciples to go "and make disciples of
all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of
the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Mt 8:19). In accordance
with the Lord's commission, his disciples baptized those who
were added to the fellowship of believers (cf. Acts 2:41).
Pentecostals and Roman Catholics differ in that Roman Catholics
understand baptism to be a sacrament, while most Pentecostals
understand it in terms of an ordinance (i.e. a rite that the
Lord has commanded his Church to perform). Some Pentecostals,
however, do use the term sacrament to describe baptism. These
differences illustrate the need for further discussion between
Roman Catholics and Pentecostals on the meaning of the terms
"sacrament" and "ordinance."
Most Pentecostals hold that believers' baptism is clearly taught
in Scripture (cf. Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; Acts 8:12, 36-39;
10:34-38) and, therefore, believe that baptism of infants should
not be practiced. Roman Catholics admit that there is no incontrovertible
evidence for baptism of infants in the New Testament, although
some texts (notably the so-called household baptism texts, e.g.
Acts 16:15 and 16:31-33) are understood as having a reference
in that direction. Roman Catholics note, however, that through
a process of discernment during the early centuries of the Church,
a development took place in which infant baptism became widely
practiced within the Church; was seen as being of Apostolic
origin; was approved by many of the Fathers of the Church; and
was received by the Church as authentic.
and Roman Catholics agree that faith precedes and is a precondition
of baptism (cf. Mark 16:16), and that faith is necessary
for baptism to be authentic. They also agree that the faith
of the believing community, its prayer, its instruction, nurture
the faith of the candidate.
Roman Catholics believe that the faith of an infant is a covenant
gift of God given in the grace of baptism, cleansing the child
from original sin, and introducing it to new life in the body
of Christ. Infant baptism is the beginning of a process towards
full maturity of faith in the life of the Spirit, which is nurtured
by the believing community.
The majority of Pentecostals practice believers' baptism exclusively,
rather than infant baptism. They affirm that faith is the gift
of God (cf. Eph 2:8), but at the same time stress that
it is essentially a personal response of an individual. The
Scripture says: "if you confess with your lips that Jesus
is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the
dead, you will be saved" (Rom 10:9). Because they believe
that faith must be personally expressed, Pentecostals maintain
that an infant cannot receive the impartation of faith unto
salvation (Eph 2:8), or the Holy Spirit. And because they believe
that a conscious faith response to the proclamation of the Gospel
on the part of the candidate is a necessary precondition for
baptism, they do not baptize infants.
The general refusal of the Pentecostals to practice infant baptism
notwithstanding, Roman Catholics and Pentecostal affirm that
the grace of God is operative in the life of an infant. It is
God who takes initiative for our salvation, and God does so
not only in the life of adults but also in the life of infants.
Scripture tells us, for instance, that John the Baptist was
filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother's womb (cf.
Luke 1:15; cf. also Jer 1:5).
and Roman Catholics differ over when one "comes to Christ"
and about the significance of baptism itself. For all Pentecostals
there is no coming to Christ apart from a person's turning away
from sin in repentance and toward God in faith (cf. 1
Thess 1:9), through which they become a part of the believing
community. Baptism is withheld until after a person's conscious
conversion. Most Pentecostals regard the act of baptism as a
visible symbol of regeneration. Other Pentecostals have a sacramental
understanding of baptism.
Catholics describe conversion as a process incorporating the
individual in the Church by baptism. Even in infant baptism,
a later personal appropriation, or acceptance, of one's baptism
is an absolute necessity.
Catholics and Pentecostals agree that a deep personal relationship
to Christ is essential to Christian life. They also see how
conversion is not only a personal or individual act, but an
act that presupposes a proclaiming community before conversion
and requires a nurturing community for growth after conversion.
Further discussion is needed, however, on the nature of faith,
the sense in which faith precedes baptism, and the meaning of
corporate faith in Roman Catholic teaching. What is the nature
of the gift of faith given to the infant born into the covenant
community by baptism?
the Roman Catholic understanding, one is incorporated into the
death and resurrection of Christ through baptism thereby also
entering into the koinonia of those saved by Christ.
Pentecostals affirm a relationship between baptism and incorporation
into the death and resurrection of Christ (Rom 6:3ff). Even
if Pentecostals do not consider baptism, which makes possible
incorporation into the koinonia, as a sacrament, most
of them would not see baptism as an empty church ritual. It
serves to strengthen the faith of those who have repented and
believed in Christ through the Holy Spirit. Often a person will
have a deep spiritual experience at baptism (manifested, sometimes,
for instance by speaking in tongues). Provided that the person
who is being baptized has experienced conversion, some Pentecostals
would even speak of baptism as a "means of grace."
Without denying the salvation of the unbaptized, all Pentecostals
would consider baptism to be an integral part of the whole experience
of becoming Christian.
Catholics and Pentecostals agree that faith is indispensable
to salvation. Pentecostals disagree with the Roman Catholic
teaching that baptism is a constitutive means of salvation
accomplished by the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.
Nevertheless, Pentecostals do feel the need to investigate further
the relationship between baptism and salvation in light of specific
passages which appear to make a direct link between baptism
and salvation (e.g. John 3:5; Mark 16:16; Acts 22:16; 1 Pet
3:21). Further discussion is also needed on the effect of baptism.
Baptism and the Church
Roman Catholics, baptism is the sacrament of entry into the
Church, the koinonia of those saved in Christ and incorporated
into his death and resurrection. For Pentecostals baptism publicly
demonstrates their personal identification with the death and
resurrection of Christ (cf. Rom 6:3ff), and their incorporation
into the Body of Christ. In keeping with the long tradition
of the catechumenate, some Pentecostals believe that baptism
is a precondition for full church membership to the extent that
unbaptized converts are not, strictly speaking, called "brothers
and sisters in Christ" but "friends."
both Roman Catholics and Pentecostals, the believing community
is important in the preparation for baptism, in the celebration
of baptism, and in nurturing the faith of the one baptized.
It is essential for the newly baptized believer to continue
to grow in faith and love and to participate in the full life
of the Church.
the Roman Catholic Church, the basis of ecumenical dialogue
with Pentecostals, properly speaking, is found in the Catholic
recognition of the baptism performed by Pentecostals in the
name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This implies a common
faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. This recognition by Roman Catholics
of Pentecostal baptism means, in consequence, that Roman Catholics
believe that they share with Pentecostals a certain, though
imperfect koinonia (cf. Unitatis redintegratio, §3).
The unity of baptism constitutes and requires the unity of the
baptized (cf. Unitatis redintegratio, §22). Our
agreement on the trinitarian basis of baptism draws and impels
us to unity.
do not see the unity between Christians as being based in a
common water baptism, mainly because they believe that the New
Testament does not base it in baptism. Instead, the foundation
of unity is a common faith and experience of Jesus Christ as
Lord and Savior through the Holy Spirit. This implies that to
the extent that Pentecostals recognize that Roman Catholics
have this common faith in and experience of Jesus as Lord, they
share a real though imperfect koinonia with them. "For
just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members
of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.
For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body
Jews or Greeks, slaves or free and all were made to drink of
one Spirit" (1 Cor 12:12-13 a passage Pentecostals
tend to interpret as not referring to water baptism). Insofar
as baptism is related to this experience of Christ through the
Spirit it is also significant for the question of unity between
Catholics and most Pentecostals agree that a person is to be
baptized in water in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Roman Catholics and most Pentecostals disagree with those Pentecostals
who do not baptize according to the trinitarian formula, especially
if in baptizing only in Jesus name (e.g. Acts 2:38) they deny
the orthodox understanding of the Trinity.8
Baptism by immersion is the most effective visible sign to convey
the meaning of baptism. Most Pentecostals hold that immersion
in water is the only biblical way to baptize. Roman Catholics
permit immersion and pouring as legitimate modes of baptism.
and Roman Catholics agree that baptism, when it is discerned
as properly administered, is not to be repeated.
addition to theological difficulties, Pentecostals perceive
certain pastoral difficulties with the practice of infant baptism.
These difficulties commonly associated with the practice of
infant baptism are significant enough for Pentecostals to suggest
that Roman Catholics continue to examine this practice.
Catholics freely acknowledge the possible pastoral difficulties
(e.g. creation of a body of baptized but unchurched people)
inherent in the misuse of the practice of infant baptism. But
infant baptism often provides a pastoral opportunity to help
those parents weak in faith and practice, and is the beginning
of a whole process of Christian life for the child. "Conversion"
in this sense becomes a series of grace-events throughout life,
resulting in a commitment equally as firm as that stemming from
a sudden conversion in adulthood.
Catholics point out that there is a new emphasis upon adult
initiation among Roman Catholics in the post-Vatican II rites,
without denying the value of infant baptisrn. Indeed, because
adult baptism is now expressed as the primary theological model,
the theology and practice of infant baptism is itself enriched.
Not only is faith given to the infant through the sacrament,
but the parents themselves are fortified as the ones responsible
for the infant's future growth, and so are caught up in the
grace-giving event, frequently having their own faith strengthened.
Catholics and Pentecostals agree that instruction in the faith
necessarily follows upon baptism in order that the life of grace
may come to fruition. In this connection a pastor should delay
or refuse to baptize an infant if the parents (or guardians)
clearly have no intention of bringing up the infant in the practice
of faith. To baptize under those circumstances would be to act
in manner contrary to the canon law of the Roman Catholic Church.
are some parallels between the Roman Catholic practice of infant
baptism and the common practice of infant dedication in Pentecostal
churches in terms of the activity of grace and the role of the
Christian community in the life of an infant. In infant dedication,
as in infant baptism, the parents of the infant and the believing
community publicly covenant together with God to bring the infant
up so that he or she will come into a personal relationship
with Christ. Though Pentecostals do not believe that dedication
mediates salvation to an infant or makes him/her a member of
the Christian Church they do believe that because of the prayer
and the faith of the believing community, a blessing of God
rests upon the dedicated infant. Both practices acknowledge
in their own way the presence of the grace of God in the infant
and are concerned with creating an atmosphere in which the child
may grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Baptism and the Experience of the Spirit
Catholics and Pentecostals agree that all of those who belong
to Christ "were made to drink of one Spirit" (1 Cor
12:13). We agree that God intends that each follower of Jesus
enjoy the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (Rom 8:9). This indwelling
of the Spirit is not the fruit or product of human works, but
is due to the unmerited, efficacious action of grace by which
each person responds to the special initiative of God.
acknowledge that Roman Catholics and Pentecostals have different
understandings of the role of the Spirit in Christian initiation
and life, but may nonetheless, enjoy a similar experience of
the Spirit. Our experience of the Holy Spirit, furthermore,
heightens our mutual awareness of the need for unity.
agree that the experience of the Holy Spirit belongs to the
life of the Church. Wherever the Spirit is genuinely present
in the Christian community its fruit will also become evident
(cf. Gal 5:22-23). Genuine charismata mentioned in Scripture
(e.g. 1 Cor 12:8-10, 28-30; Rom 12:6-8; etc.) also indicate
the presence of the Spirit. All such manifestations, however,
call for discernment by the community (cf. 1 Thess 5:19-22;
1 Cor 14; 1 John 4).
Roman Catholics have tended to be cautious about accepting the
more spectacular manifestations of the Spirit such as speaking
in tongues and prophecy, although the Charismatic Renewal has
helped them to rediscover ways in which such gifts are rooted
in their oldest tradition.
Catholics fear that Pentecostals limit the Spirit to specific
manifestations. Pentecostals fear that Roman Catholics confine
the Spirit's workings to sacraments and church order. Therefore,
we share a mutual concern not to confine or to limit the Holy
Spirit whom Jesus described by the imagery of the freely blowing
wind (cf. John 3:8). Each of us seems more worried about
the other limiting the Spirit than ourselves. Still, we have
learned through our discussions together that there is greater
freedom for the Holy Spirit in both of our traditions than we
expected to find, and our fears once shared, have made us more
aware of our shortcomings in this regard.
discussions, too, have made us more aware about the ways in
which we use language related to the Holy Spirit. We agree that
such ideas as what it means to be "baptized in the Spirit"
or "filled with the Spirit" would be fruitful fields
for mutual exploration.
We devote a
special section to baptism because of the difficulty which
baptism and the practice of baptism have in our dialogue.
(Footnote 6: A segment of Pentecostals known as "Oneness"
or "Jesus Name" Pentecostals are opposed to the
trinitarian formulation of the faith. Their view of God tends
toward modalism and the baptismal formula which they pronounce
is "in the name of Jesus Christ" (Acts 2:38) instead
of the traditional trinitarian appeal to Matthew 28:19. Most
Pentecostals, however, strongly disagree with this position.)