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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Did the Catholic Church change the way Christians baptize? Shouldn't we baptize "in Jesus' name" only?

“Love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul,
         and with all your MIND”--Matt 22:37

This coming Sunday's first reading from Acts of the Apostles contains a verse that has led to the separation of another Christian group (one of tens of thousands of Christian denominations, each claiming that their interpretation of Scripture is the correct one.)

Then Peter responded,
"Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people,
who have received the Holy Spirit even as we have?"
He ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.

There is a Christian denomination, the Oneness Pentecostals, which has separated itself based on this very text (plus 3 others) which appears to be proclaiming that baptism be done in Jesus' name.  They believe, based on this text, that we ought to be baptizing NOT using the Trinitarian formula, ("in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit"), but "in the name of Jesus" ONLY.  They maintain that the Trinitarian baptism is a "tradition of men" that has been condemned by the Scriptures.

It is of such dire import to them that they started their own sect in the early 20th century because they felt that the rest of Christendom was contradicting the Word of God by baptizing using the Trinitarian formula (among some other doctrinal issues concerning their understanding of salvation and their understanding of the Trinity.)  And this movement is no small matter, claiming over 24 million adherents.

The short answer to the above question, is:  no, the Catholic Church did not change the way we baptize; we baptize the way Jesus commanded us to baptize in Matthew 28:19:

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.

Catholics have been baptizing using the Trinitarian formula from the earliest days.  There is a document of early Christian practices from about 50 AD called the DIDACHE (pronounced did-a-kay) that details how the early Christians baptized:

"In regard to baptism - baptize thus: After the foregoing instructions, baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living water. If you have no living water, then baptize in other water; and if you are not able in cold, then in warm."

So why does this verse in Acts say we should be baptizing in Jesus' name and not in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit? It is made to offer a distinction from other baptisms that were occurring during the earliest days of Christianity.  There were the baptisms done by followers of John the Baptist, baptisms done in Jewish liturgies, and baptisms done in pagan rituals.  By proclaiming baptisms be done "in the name of Jesus Christ", the inspired author of Acts was merely attempting to disassociate ourselves from the baptisms done by other sects.  It was not an instruction on how to baptize.

It is the Church that offers the authentic interpretation of the Scriptures.  Without an authentic interpreter of God's Word, what occurs is the chaos and confusion of tens of thousands of Christian denominations, each claiming that they have rightly interpreted Verse and the rest of Christianity has simply missed the mark on Verse .  This, clearly, is the work of the Great Deceiver, and not the will of Christ who prayed that "we might be one" as He and the Father are one.

Since becoming passionate about apologetics many years ago I have encountered some, frankly, weirder and weirder interpretations of the Bible--here's one that I just recently heard:  stairs to altars are condemned in Scripture.  Go figure.   This only serves to confirm this point:  we need someone to tell us what the Bible means.**

Without a guide to open the Scriptures to us (as Jesus did to those on the walk to Emmaus in Luke 24:32), we are left to our own destruction and "tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning and by craftiness in deceitful schemes"--Ephesians 4:14.  In fact, our first pope, in his first "encyclical" tells us that "there are some things hard to understand that the ignorant and unstable distort to their own destruction, just as they do the other scriptures." 2 Peter 3:16

**Now, of course, Catholics are free to read the Scriptures without an authority telling us what it means to us personally. That is, if we are in a fight with our honey (hypothetically speaking ) and we open the Bible up to Psalm 45:3 which proclaims, "You are the most handsome of men" we are certainly free to interpret this to mean that we need to make up with our handsome, hunky husband.  But we are never free to interpret it contrary to what the Church has proclaimed.  And thus we would never been free to interpret Psalm 45:3 as permission, say, to commit adultery.  But of course we Catholics can read the Bible (and in fact are obligated to read the Scriptures) and apply them to our own faith journeys in personal ways. 

(Note:  The Catholic Church recognizes the baptism of all Christians baptized in other denominations, provided that the baptism was done using water and the Trinitarian formula.  Thus, people who wish to enter the Catholic Church but were baptized "in Jesus name" alone must be "re-baptized".)

Catholics Come Home
"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect" - 1 Peter 3:15