By its very nature, baptism impels Christians toward oneness. In
baptism a person is incorporated into Christ Jesus and into his
Body, the Church. The fundamental unity which God has given us is
rooted in the sacrament and cannot be destroyed. We are called to
the one baptism by the Gospel that is the way of salvation for all
humanity. Baptism is, therefore, the fundamental source of our oneness
in Christ's life, death and resurrection.
Yet, we came to the subject of baptism with an awareness of differences
in baptismal practice which could not be treated lightly. at first
sight, these differences might seem to represent divergent understandings
which could threaten our fundamental unity through baptism.
In fact, we have discovered important areas in which our understanding
and practice of baptism encourage us to speak truly of one baptism.
These areas were found to have varying degrees of significance.
(a) We share a common attribution of the origins of baptismal observance
to the example of Jesus, the command of the risen Christ, and the
practice of the primitive Church.
(b) For both Disciples of Christ and Roman Catholics baptism is
with water and "in the name of the Father, and of the Son,
and of the Holy Spirit."
(c) In both our traditions, baptism is ordinarily administered by
a duly authorized minister.
(d) In both our traditions, it is affirmed that we enter into a
new relationship with God as his children and as brothers and sisters,
one of another in Christ, for in baptism our sins are forgiven and
we become a new creation.
(e) Since God never revokes the new relationship brought about in
baptism, rebaptism is contrary to the Gospel and should never be
practiced. Nevertheless, we are aware of the need for continued
repentance after baptism and we experience forgiveness in the ongoing
life of the Church.
(f) Both our traditions maintain the necessity for the role of faith
in baptism. For both Roman Catholics and Disciples, incorporation
into the Body of Christ and forgiveness of sins are primarily acts
of God that presuppose faith and call for a continuing active response
of faith for their full development and fruitfulness.
This fundamental agreement must be kept in mind as we seek to interpret
differences in regard to baptism. These differences fall under two
The Relation of Personal Faith to Baptism
Since believers' baptism is the form of baptism explicitly attested
in the New Testament, the conviction of Disciples is that the rite
of baptism should be preceded by a personal confession of faith
historical, theological and pastoral reasons, Roman Catholics baptize
infants, They see this as the first sacrament in the process of
Christian initiation, followed by Christian nurture and instruction,
and culminating in the sacraments of Confirmation and Eucharist,
accompanied by a life of continual repentance and conversion.
Catholics see the fundamental belief of their church regarding baptism
as expressed with new clarity in the revised rite for adult baptism,
which includes personal confession of faith.
the same time, Disciples have an increasing appreciation for the
place of infant baptism in the history of the Church. In part, this
involves understanding infant baptism in relation to Christian nurture
in both the family and the Christian community. Also, Disciples
have seen that infant baptism has been a pastoral response, in a
situation where members are no longer predominantly first-generation
The Mode of Baptism
Disciples practice immersion, believing it to be the practice of
New Testament times and the clearest symbolic representation of
our participation in the death and resurrection of Christ. Roman
Catholics, on the basis of early Christian tradition, regard pouring
as an acceptable mode while acknowledging the symbolic value of
descent into the baptismal waters. They have always recognized and
sometimes practice baptism by immersion. Disciples are coming to
recognize the other modes, while retaining a preference for immersion.
Although God's saving power in the world is unlimited, baptism is
fundamental in Christian life. By it, we become members of Christ's
Body and participate in the life he gives. Participation in Christ's
life calls us to enter his ministry, suffering, death and resurrection,
as is prefigured in our baptism, for the salvation of the whole
Because both baptism and the eucharist involve participation in
the Body of Christ and since the grace of God received in baptism
is nurtured and strengthened by participation in the eucharistic
meal, the oneness achieved by grace in baptism should find manifestation
and completion in the anamneses (memorial/remembrance) of the sacrifice
of Christ for all humanity at the table of the one Lord.
Baptism is, paradoxically, a sign of unity and a reminder of disunity.
It is a sign of unity inasmuch as it incorporates all Christians
into Christ. It is a reminder of disunity in that, as administered,
it also initiates Christians into separated ecclesial communities
with their special traditions and doctrines.
We have been helped in our further consideration of this paradox
by distinguishing two affirmations of faith. The one is the fundamental
assent of the person to God's gift of grace in Jesus Christ, a gift
that is, in itself, life-transforming and that is signified in baptism.
This affirmation brings our lives under the determination of God's
grace, thereby turning us outward from ourselves and making us one
in Christ. The other is the acceptance of the elaboration of the
faith as that has come to expression in our separated ecclesial
communities. Baptism is also the induction into a particular ecclesial
community with its own explication of the one faith. Making this
distinction, therefore, has helped us to understand our fundamental
unity and to locate the source of our separation.
However, in conclusion, we affirm the mutual recognition of baptism
administered by Roman Catholics and Disciples, convinced that the
oneness we receive by the grace of presuppose faith and call for
a continuing active response of faith for their full development
and fruitfulness. God in baptism must find its completion in visible
ecclesial unity, so that the world may believe that Jesus is the
Christ, the Son of the living God, as we together confess him to
be. We are determined, therefore, by the same grace to discover
more fully the truth that shall set us all free.