Another open letter to non-Catholics-Re: Baptism

Dear Separated Bretheren,

Many of you criticize Catholics about baptism.  I will take some of the criticisms, and explain by Catholic Church teaching why they’re not valid criticisms:

1)  Infant Baptism
To understand infant baptism, you must understand where baptism comes from. During the first years of the New Covenant of Jesus, Christians were, exclusively, Jewish.  They practiced the law of Moses, which prescribed circumcision to male infants eight days old. Without this, no male could be part of the culture.  St. Paul tells us that the rite of circumcision was replaced by baptism, the New Covenant replaced the old:

“In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of flesh in the circumcision of Christ; and you were buried with him in baptism” (Co 2:11–12).

Next, in Acts 2:38-39, Peter preached to the Jews (see Acts 2:5-35) on the day of Pentecost,

“Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children…” 

There are frequent examples of infant baptism implied in the New Testament. For example, when the head of a household converted and was baptized, his entire household was also baptized with him (Acts 16:15, 33; 1 Cor 1:16). The inference of course, especially based on Jewish understanding of the family and covenants, would include the aged, the adults, the servants, and the infants. If the practice of Infant Baptism had been illicit or prohibited it would surely have been explicitly forbidden.

2)Immersion or infusion?
Another common criticism of the Catholic Church is that we allow baptism by infusion, or ‘sprinkling’. They claim that immersion is necessary because that’s how Jesus was baptized. But how far should we take this? Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River, the first baptism of the new covenant. But do we need to be baptized in the Jordan River in order for it to be a valid baptism? No, Jesus said we needed to be baptized with water and the spirit. He didn’t specify immersion. But think of it realisitically…In a region of the world where water is scarce, would our LORD require that we be immersed? What about in cold climates? How about people with physical ailments? Well the answer is right there, in the Bible. In Acts 2, Peter evangelizes the 3000 men in Jerusalem, and all are baptized immediately…So where and how were they baptized? Some say they trekked down to the Jordan river (a distance of 20 miles), but that’s not specified. So they were baptized in Jerusalem, where there’s very little water. Where in Jerusalem? In the pool of the temple? No, archaeologists have demonstrated that there was not sufficient water supply to immerse 3000 people without endangering the entire water supply of the city. They must have been baptized by infusion (pouring) or sprinkling.
The Didache, (a Syrian liturgical manual that was widely circulated among the churches in the first few centuries of Christianity, perhaps the earliest Christian writing outside the New Testament) shows clearly that the early church permitted pouring.

Though not inspired, the Didache is a strong witness to the sacramental practice of Christians in the apostolic age.

“Concerning baptism, baptize in this manner: Having said all these things beforehand, baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit in living water [that is, in running water, as in a river]. If there is no living water, baptize in other water; and, if you are not able to use cold water, use warm. If you have neither, pour water three times upon the head in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

These instructions represent an already established custom.

Then there is the artistic evidence. Much of the earliest Christian artwork depicts baptism by infusion, not immersion! If the recipient of the sacrament is in a river, he is shown standing in the river while water is poured over his head from a cup or shell. Tile mosaics in ancient churches and paintings in the catacombs depict baptism by pouring. The entire history of the early Church (the New Testament, other writings, and in monumental evidence) indicates the mode of baptism was not restricted to immersion.

Other archaeological evidence confirms the same thing. An early Christian baptistery was found in a church in Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth, yet this baptistery, which dates from the second century, was too small and narrow in which to immerse a person.

3) Trinitarian baptism
Some Christians today don’t believe in the doctrine of the Trinity. Why, I know not. The three persons of the Trinity are all declared in the very first book of the Old Testament. The Lord said “Let us create man…”  Who is “us”?  The Father and the Son.  But the Holy Spirit is represented much earlier in Genesis 1:2 “and the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.”  I know, it’s hard to understand “One God, three Persons”.  One WHO, three WHATs.  And it’s easy to see how someone could think that we worship three Gods-until you ask us.  We will tell you we believe in one God.

But how does this apply to Trinitarian baptism?  Jesus said, in Matt 28:19 “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”.  But Jehovah’s witnesses don’t baptize using any formula.  They say Jesus is not God, which is Arianism.  Oneness Pentecostals say that Jesus is the only person in the Godhead (Sabellianism), and note that the passage above uses name singularly.   They baptize in the name of Jesus, citing the four places in the scriptures where this is shown, but we know that the writers were using shorthand, to distinguish from other baptisms such as John the Baptist’s, or those of pagan cults.

I hope this helps you understand Catholics better.  I know we usually criticize what we don’t understand, and endeavor to show you, in this series, why and how we believe.


4 thoughts on “Another open letter to non-Catholics-Re: Baptism

  1. I was baptized as a baby into the catholic church, but my parents never attended. So eventually my sister and I attended a protestant church as kids.

  2. Welcome, Kenbrec. The anecdote you mention, of being baptized then your parents never attending, is one that puzzles me greatly. If you think baptizm is important, how could you not believe that going to mass and living your faith is not also important??? That’s ok, I just wonder at humanity (especially my own) at times…:)

  3. Yeah, I wonder if my parents ever regret that, but tI haven’t asked them that yet.

    In many ways I see the Protestant church deformed lacking the sacraments btw. 🙂


  4. So what, about ‘the’ Protestant church, keeps you from coming back. The sacraments, being the source and summit of Catholic life, are the most important thing!

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