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Saturday, May 30, 2015

BAPTISM: The Thing that God Does to Gain Men

We confess One Baptism for the Forgiveness of Sins

by Lawrence Fox 

One morning I watched a non-Catholic pastor attempt to convince members of his congregation to be baptized while at the same time affirming that it was not necessary for salvation. “We are justified by faith and not by works, but baptism was commanded by Our Lord,” said the pastor.

The pastor and his congregation understood baptism to be that thing which men do to gain God and not something that God does to gain men. Jesus said, “When I am lifted up, I will draw all men to myself.” (Jn. 12:32)

The content of their faith, prevented the pastor and his congregation from comprehending and professing, “That the redemption won for all on Calvary is poured forth by Jesus Christ upon the heads of those baptized, ‘In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.’” (Frank Sheed, Theology and Sanity, pg. 314)

The Catholic Church’s profession of faith “one baptism for the forgiveness of sins” literally echoes Paul’s affirmation, “There is one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism…” (Eph.4:4-6) It also repeats verbatim Peter’s declaration to the
crowd on Pentecost, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:42) Paul’s words identified the oneness in the body of Christ was naturally born from one faith and one baptism.
They therefore that received his word, were baptized;
and there were added in that day about three thousand souls.
(Acts 2:41)
Peter’s words were in response to an urgent question from the crowd? “Brethren, what must we do to be saved?” (Catechism of the Catholic Church CCC, 1226) The Catholic Church treasures in her heart (Lk.2:19, 51) and professes in her creeds, liturgy, moral life, and prayer both Paul’s words and the content of Peter’s confession and the act of faith of those who heard Peter, “They were baptized and three thousand souls were added to their numbers that day.” (Acts 2:37-41)

The Catholic Church recognizes in the text “Three Thousand souls were added to their numbers,” that baptism does not establish atomized disciples but brings the initiated into a mystical union with Jesus Christ and His one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church established upon Peter “the Rock.” (Ratzinger pg. 245)

Souls baptized in the name of Jesus – no matter when and where – are added to the apostles’ numbers and continue to be shepherded by them through men ordained to succeed in the ministry of the apostles. Sacred Scripture provides a glimpse of this “sacred union and universal shepherding” with the ministry of Philip the Evangelist.

Philip the Evangelist was ordained by Peter to perform the duties of a deacon in the Church. (Acts 6: 5) Philip went down to a city in Samaria and preached the Good News. Those who believed in his message were baptized. News of Philip’s efforts reached the Church in Jerusalem, which sent Peter and John to Samaria and to lay hands upon those baptized that they too may receive the Holy Spirit. (Acts 8: 9-17) Non-Catholics reason that since those baptized in Samaria did not “receive the Holy Spirit” until the apostles laid hands upon them, that baptism is simply an outward sign; like a wedding ring.

Allowing Sacred Scripture to interpret itself, a Catholic understanding of faith and baptism (CCC 1253) emerges demonstrating:
·     1st that deacons ordained by the apostles received the right to administer the sacrament of baptism.
·     2nd that apostles confirm the baptized with the Holy Spirit with the laying of hand and thereby completing their initiation. (CCC 1304)
·     3rd that the baptized even when scattered about are still pastored by the apostles into a unity of faith.
·     4th the expression “receive the Holy Spirit” also identifies a visible manifestation of gifts (i.e. speaking in tongues and prophecy) 
which compliments the inward gifts of justification and sanctification received in baptism. This 4th point is further demonstrated by an event in Paul’s missionary journeys.

Paul, after meeting up with 12 disciples in Ephesus, asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” They answered, “We have not heard there was a Holy Spirit.” He adroitly asked them, “What baptism did you receive?” They said, “The baptism of John.”

Paul baptized them in the name of Jesus Christ. He then placed his hands upon them and they spoke in tongues. (Acts 19: 1-7)  Note: An encounter with a congregation of unbaptized Christians would be most problematic to Paul. Paul could have asked the disciples this question, “Were hands placed upon you when you were baptized?” or again “Were you fully initiated into the Mystical Body of Christ by baptism and the laying of hands?”

Paul identifies the receiving of the Holy Spirit with both faith and baptism (they are not separated). His laying of hands joins the baptized with the visible charisms of the Holy Spirit. (CCC 1288) To argue that baptism - an action on the part of the Church and performed in the name of Jesus - is simply a symbolic action while the related action of laying of hands - also performed in the name of Jesus is not symbolic is simply fragmented “either-or” theology.

Paul conveys to the disciples in Ephesus the necessity of being baptized in the name of Jesus prior to receiving the manifested gifts of the Holy Spirit. Paul’s approach toward the disciples in Ephesus faithfully captures the content of Peter’s preaching on Pentecost and the crowd’s immediate understanding and response to Peter’s teaching. Scripture’s emphasis on the necessity to be baptized is repeated within Philip’s ongoing ministry.

Philip the deacon was led by the angel of the Lord to meet up with an Ethiopian Eunuch traveling by chariot from Jerusalem to Ethiopia. Philip explains to the Eunuch that Jesus is the Messiah; fulfilling all the prophecies of the Old Testament. The Eunuch asks Philip, “See here is water, what prevents me from being baptized?” and Philip says, “If you believe with all your heart you may.”

And he answers, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God…” And so they went down into the water and Philip baptized him. (Acts 8: 36-38)

Philip preached the Good News and the Eunuch emphatically asks, “What prevents me from being baptized here and now?” What did Philip say that solicited such an urgent act of faith from the Eunuch? Did Philip simply repeat the content of Peter’s confession to the crowd on Pentecost? Maybe Philip remembered from his catechesis the words of Jesus, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved.” (Mark 16:15-16)

Luke in the Acts of the Apostles does not give us the details but through his narration of the Eunuch’s question to Philip and his narration of the question posed by Peter to his fellow Jews after preaching the Good News to Gentiles, Luke prepares disciples to understand Jesus’ teaching about “water and Spirit” as found in the Gospel of John.

The Holy Spirit led Peter to the home of man named Cornelius, a centurion within the Italian Regiment. Peter, while preaching to Cornelius and his household, recognized they received a manifestation of the Holy Spirit:
they spoke in tongues. Peter responded by questioning those with him, “Can anyone forbid these (non-Jews) from being baptized with water?” Peter commanded them to be baptized. (Acts 10:47-48)

Peter’s question, “Can anyone forbid… baptized with water?” is little different from the Eunuch’s question to Philip, “See here is water, what prevents me from being baptized?” The words “forbid” and “prevent” harken back to a command given by Jesus, “Let the little children come to me and do not ‘hinder’ them, for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matt. 19:13-15) Peter makes clear that the withholding of baptismal waters from these Gentiles would be a form of hindrance to their initiation into the Kingdom of Heaven. The gentiles by analogy are infants when it comes to salvation history. Without the prompting of the Holy Spirit, Peter would not have known that.

Following Luke’s narration of the Eunuch’s and Peter’s line of questioning along with Jesus’ “do not hinder,” the reader of Sacred Scripture now sits next Nicodemus and re-hears Jesus say, “Unless a man is born again of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Jn. 3:5)  The entire squabble about what is meant by “born again of water and Spirit” is moot.

Another point to ponder along with the context of baptizing Jews and Gentiles is the concept of the “keys” given by Jesus to Peter (Matt 16:19). Peter’s keys open the doors of the
BAPTISM opens the doors of the Kingdom
Kingdom of Heaven to Jews and Gentiles through the sacrament of baptism. Paul confirms this truth in (1Cor. 3:27-28),
“All who have been baptized in Christ’s name have put on the person of Christ; no more Jew or Gentile … you are all one person in Jesus Christ.” (Frank Sheed, Theology and Sanity, pg.316)

Sacred Scripture coalesces the doctrinal themes of forgiveness, regeneration, sanctification, and movements of the Holy Spirit with the sacrament of baptism. The non-Catholic pastor and his congregation rejected this reality. Catholics in response to such confusion can only humbly confess and explain that baptism is one of God’s many Divine Excesses as demonstrated throughout Sacred Scripture. (Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity, pg. 260, 261) 

Baptism is not a thing that men do to gain God but something that God does to gain men. God is willing to allow nature and men to cooperate with the administration of His Divine Excesses. For example, by the power of the Holy Spirit, and the “yes” proclaimed by Mary, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (Jn 1:5) Jesus turns water into wine when the servants simply “do whatever He tells them.” (Jn.2:5)

Bread and fish are multiplied and Jesus feeds thousands after the apostles obey Him by
Miracle of the Loaves & Fishes 
placing five loaves and two fish into baskets. (Mark 6:38) Jesus takes spit and dirt and makes mudand opens the eyes of a blind man. (Jn.9:6) Jesus takes bread and wine (fruit of the earth and the work of human hands) and declares,
“This is my body” and “This is my blood.” (Lk. 22:19) Jesus is pierced with a lance and blood and water (symbolizing Baptism and Eucharist), pours forth and initiates souls into the Kingdom of Heaven. (Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity, pg. 241)

Those baptized in Jesus’ name are now in Christ; members of His body. That is why Jesus says to Saul, “Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Frank Sheed, Theology and Sanity, pg. 314) Saul (Paul) -- on the road to Damascus -- is blinded by God’s Divine Excess. Saul’s blindness was also washed clean (removed) through the Divine Excess of Baptism.

Paul, blinded by his encounter with Jesus, is instructed to go to a man named Ananias on Straight Street to be healed. Ananias says to Paul, “Why do you delay, rise up and be baptized and wash away your sins, invoking his name.” (Acts 22:16)  Ananias, identifies baptism as washing; literally fulfilling what was spoken typologically by the Old Testament prophets, “Wash me more and more from my guilt and cleanse me from my sin…” (Psalm 50 (51)) The literal connection between baptism and “washing, cleansing, and water” (CCC 1227) is most vividly foreshadowed by God through the prophet Ezekiel, who writes: “I shall pour clean water over you and you will be cleansed…I shall give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you. I shall remove the heart of stone from your bodies and give you a new heart of flesh instead. I shall put my spirit in you.” (Ezk. 36:25-27)

Paul & Ananias
Ananias understood that with the waters of baptism, the origin of Paul’s sinful nature (inherited from the old Adam) would be washed clean. In baptism, Paul inherits from Jesus the life-giving Spirit of the new Adam. Paul is “born again” in faith and baptism (water and Spirit). In other words, the likeness of God lost by the original sin of the old Adam is restored when the soul is baptized into the new Adam.

The author of Hebrews makes a similar connection, “Let us draw near with a true heart in the fullness of faith, having our hearts sprinkled … and our bodies washed with clean water.” (Heb.10:22)  These words are not simply metaphors but expressions of God’s grace working through nature within the life of the Catholic Church. As Ratzinger notes “Everything is Grace.” (Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity, pg. 280) The pastor and congregation mentioned above were taught to separate grace from nature in order to preserve the doctrine of “justification by faith alone.” In doing so, all the images of baptism within the Old Testament remain hidden from them.

The Catholic Church brings to light in her baptismal liturgies all the ways God pre-figured baptism in Sacred Scripture. (CCC 1217-1225) While blessing the waters used for baptism, the Church recalls that the Holy Spirit moved over the waters of creation. (Gn. 1:1) She listens to Peter illustrate how Noah’s Ark and those within it were saved as through water, “which symbolizes baptism and which now saves you.” (1 Pt. 3:21) 

The Church learns that the children of Israel were baptized into Moses, while Israel’s foes were drowned in the same water. (1Cor. 10:2) She recognizes that baptism heals by observing Naaman, the Syrian King, dip himself seven times in the River Jordan. (2Kings 5:14) She recognizes her baptismal confession in the Holy Trinity while watching Elijah pour water “three times” over the bull offering which God then consumes. (1King 18:34) The Church enters Lent meditating upon Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan and the Spirit of the Lord resting upon His human nature; sanctifying and illuminating the Mystical Body of Christ (Sheed pg. 247, 316) 

The Church professes God’s precious name (Yahweh) given to Moses on Mount Horeb each time the initiate is baptized in the Name of Jesus (Yahweh Saves) and professing “I believe in one God Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” (Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity, pg. 331)

In the Catholic Church when baptism takes place, the Presider reminds the congregation that baptism is that thing which God does to gain men. And although administered by the Church, it is Jesus drawing souls to himself in the Sacrament. When a baptism takes place, the content of the Catholic Faith is presented article by article to the recipients along with their responding confession,
“We believe in One God… in one Lord Jesus Christ… in the Holy Spirit and in one Baptism for the Forgiveness of Sins.” In other words, the Catholic Church professes in fidelity to Sacred Scripture that the redemption won for all on Calvary, is poured forth by Jesus Christ upon the heads of those baptized, “In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”

Did you enjoy Mr. Fox's piece on Baptism? You might also like Who is Jesus in the Gospel of Mark?


  1. Thank you for this great insight . God bless .just breathtaking article.

  2. Beautiful ! Inspired by the Holy Spirit! May God give you more power!

  3. This is a very profound article of Theology. If more of our separated brothers in Christ read and responded to the promptings of The Holy Spirit, we'd have many more Catholics. And May Catholics not take Baptism and the remaining Sacraments for granted...may we receive them devoutly. Thank you Sir for your great contribution.
    Warm regards and prayers
    Edwin Rodrigues