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II. Faith And Christian Initiation 

   Appendix 1: PARTICIPANTS
   Appendix 2: PAPERS

II. Faith and Christian Initiation

A. Introduction

60. Pentecostals and Catholics fully agree that becoming a Christian is not comprehensible apart from faith. The Letter to the Hebrews teaches that “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). In the Gospels, faith is depicted as trusting acceptance of God’s revelation (e.g. Mary in Lk. 1:38,45), accepting the Gospel as proclaimed by Jesus (Mk. 1:15), belief in the person of Jesus as the source of life (Jn. 3:16; 6:35, 7:38; 20:30-31); and trust in and initiative toward the healing power of Jesus (Mk. 2:5; 10:52). Faith is a gifted response to God’s revelation, involving an opening of the heart, an assent of the mind and actions which express our trust.

B. New Testament Perspectives on Faith and Christian Initiation

61. While Jesus’ call to saving faith is found in the synoptic gospels (e.g., Mk 1:15; 10:52 par.), it is especially John’s gospel that presents Jesus as repeatedly calling people to believe in him in order to receive “eternal life” (Jn 3:16-17; 5:24; 6:35 et al.; cf. Jn 1:12; 20:31). The letter to the Ephesians makes clear that it is through faith, freely given by God, that we are saved: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God – not of works, so that no one may boast“ (Eph 2:8-9). Again, Paul clearly links the necessity of faith with salvation: “‘The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart’(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because 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. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved” (Rom 10:8-10).

62. Christian Initiation cannot be fully appreciated without reference to the practice of baptism within the Jewish community at the time of Jesus. Not only was a ritual bath administered to Gentile proselytes who wanted to become Jews, but also those who were already Jews could receive a ‘baptism of repentance’, such as that administered by John the Baptist in the Jordan river and received by Jesus at John’s hands. Scripture contrasts the baptism of John, who baptized “with water” with that of Jesus, who “will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Mt 3:11; cf. Mk 1:8; Lk 3:16; Jn 1:26; Acts 1:5; 11:16; 19:3-6). The mention of the baptism of John in the sermons of Peter and Paul (Acts 10:37 and 13:24-25) and in other passages of the Acts of the Apostles (18:25 and 19:3) suggests how important it was in the memory of the early church. The accounts of John’s baptism of Jesus (Mt 3:13-17; Mk 1:9-11; Lk 3:21-22; Jn 1:31-34) include rich insights into the identity of Jesus as Messiah, servant and Son of the Father, and also provide clues to the meaning of discipleship for those who would later be baptized as Christians.

63. While the four gospels articulate the nature of Jesus’ call to all who would become his disciples, the first actual accounts of people becoming Christians are contained in the Acts of the Apostles, beginning with the account in Acts 2, of those who first responded to the Apostles’ message on the day of Pentecost. After the descent or outpouring of the Holy Spirit, Peter went out and preached about Jesus, crucified and risen (Acts 2:22-23), who had been foretold by the prophets (Acts 2:24-28), and who now had sent the Holy Spirit to empower him and the other disciples to witness boldly to God’s saving action in Christ. Those who heard the proclamation were “cut to the heart,“ and said to Peter and the other apostles, “What should we do?” To which Peter responded: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:37-38). The sequence of events is: the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the preaching about Jesus Christ, the response of faith, conversion, baptism for the forgiveness of sins and the reception of the Holy Spirit.

64. After noting that three thousand had accepted the message that day, Acts 2:42 goes on to state that “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Their community was marked by signs and wonders, by the sharing of material goods and by regular gathering in the temple for prayer and in their homes for the breaking of bread (cf. Acts 2:43-47). Thus the account of the conversion of these three thousand concludes with their integration into a koinonia, a community of faith (personal adherence to Christ and to the truths asserted in the proclamation about Christ and in the subsequent teaching of the apostles) and of celebration (baptism and the breaking of the bread). The statement that the new community was devoted to the apostles’ instruction (cf. Acts 2:42) suggests that the proclamation on Pentecost was followed by continuing formation, which would provide the believers with a more complete understanding of the faith and of the practice of discipleship.

65. Acts 8:12-17 reports the conversion of Samaritans, which took place in two distinct moments with different persons ministering: “But when they believed Philip, who was proclaiming the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. [...] Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. The two men went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.” Here the pattern of initiation seems to be the preaching of the good news, faith, baptism, prayer for the reception of the Holy Spirit, the imposition of hands by apostles from Jerusalem and the reception of the Spirit. Catholics have seen the prayer for the Holy Spirit and the imposition of hands by the apostles as a basis for the sacrament of confirmation. Pentecostals see in the two moments of this account evidence that once one comes to personal faith and has been baptized, there is also a need for the coming of the Spirit upon an individual (8:17), often accompanied by the laying on of hands. This is an example of how Catholics and Pentecostals view a text from different perspectives. Further on, in Acts 8:26-40, where we read of the Ethiopian eunuch who became a Christian, we find again a partially similar pattern: proclamation, personal profession of faith, and baptism.

66. Paul’s vision of Jesus, his conversion and call, baptism and reception of the Spirit are recorded in Acts 9. Following his experience on the way to Damascus and his subsequent three day stay in that city, Ananias arrives to lay hands upon Paul, that he might recover his sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit. Paul’s sight then returns and he is baptized (Acts 9:17-18). The elements of proclamation and personal faith are not explicit in this account (nor when Paul retells it in Acts 22:1-21 and 26:2-23), although the encounter with the living Jesus Himself could be seen as a singularly vivid proclamation that the Jesus who had been crucified is alive, and Paul’s faith may be supposed since, without it, he would not have accepted baptism. The aspect of divine initiative, so clear in the process by which Paul became a Christian, is also dominant in the next account of Christian Initiation, that of Cornelius and of all the other Gentiles who were listening to Peter’s message (Acts 10:34-43). As Peter preaches, the Holy Spirit rushes upon his listeners, who began to speak in tongues and to glorify God (Acts 10:46). Peter ordered that they be baptized, later explaining “If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?“ (Acts 11:17). This emphasis upon the divine initiative is also evident in the fact that Cornelius and his companions do not seem to have had the chance to profess their faith in response to Peter’s message; before he finishes they begin to speak in tongues and to glorify God. Nor do they request baptism; Peter “ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ,“ after saying “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?“ (Acts 10:47-48). There are clearly elements of proclamation and of a response of faith present in this account; at the same time, because of its importance for seeing God’s design in the acceptance of Gentiles as part of the Christian community, the accent upon the powerful divine initiative is very strong.

67. Acts 16 contains the account of Lydia, whose heart was opened by the Lord to heed what Paul said and who was baptized with her household (Acts 16:14-15), and of the jailer who was converted after the earthquake which occurred as Paul and Silas were praying and singing in prison. “The jailer called for lights […] and said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ They answered, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.’ They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay” (Acts 16:29-32). Another account appears in Acts 18:8: “Crispus, the official of the synagogue, became a believer in the Lord, together with all his household; and many of the Corinthians who heard Paul became believers and were baptized.” In all three of these accounts the elements of proclaiming the word, faith and baptism are present, while the Holy Spirit is not explicitly mentioned. A striking peculiarity is the baptism of the household or the whole family. Given the cohesive nature of the family at that time, it is possible that the events recounted here included also the baptism of infants who were part of the family. On the other hand, the mention of faith could also suggest that only those who could understand and personally confess faith upon hearing Paul’s message would have been baptized.

68. The last account in Acts of people becoming Christians appears in 19:1-7, when Paul discovers some baptized disciples in Ephesus who had never heard of the Holy Spirit, having been baptized only with John’s baptism. On hearing Paul’s explanation of how John was preparing the way for Jesus, “they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied – altogether there were about twelve of them” (Acts 19:5-7). Here the pattern seems quite close to that of the Samaritan converts in Acts 8: proclamation, faith, baptism, laying on of hands and the receiving of the Holy Spirit.

69. In several of Paul’s letters we find reference to the time when his readers first became Christians (e.g., Gal 1; Col 1:1-9; 1 Thess 1:3-10; 2:13-14). He also recounts some of the activities of his initial evangelization of these communities (e.g., 1 Cor 2:1-5; 1 Thess 2:1-12). In these records we typically see the proclamation of the Gospel, the ‘calling’ of the people by God through Paul and their attentive response in faith, sometimes with reference to their baptism (1 Cor 1:15-17; Gal 3:26-27) and receiving of the Spirit ( 1 Cor 2:12; Gal 3:2). In other New Testament letters, such as Hebrews (Heb 4:2; 10:32-35, et al.) or 1 Peter (1 Pet 1:1-3, 22-23, et al.) we find similar elements of Christian Initiation.

70. Thus, in addition to the foundational testimonies of the four gospels and the references in various New Testament letters, these nine accounts from Acts – the three thousand on Pentecost, the Samaritans, the Ethiopian eunuch, Paul, Cornelius and companions, Lydia and her household, the jailer and his family, Crispus along with his household and many Corinthians, and the twelve Ephesians – offer us insight into the way one became a Christian in New Testament times. The pattern among these accounts is rather similar, but clearly not always the same, and the details are often sparse. Usually there is a proclamation of the message about Jesus Christ, its acceptance in faith, baptism, the laying on of hands, the gift of the Holy Spirit and entrance into the community. The community worships together with the distinctive practice of the breaking of bread (Acts 2:42,46; 20:7). Catholics have traditionally seen this in eucharistic terms indicating that sharing in the eucharist is a sign of the full integration into the community. While Acts does not tie the breaking of bread to initiation so strongly, further development toward a fuller eucharistic theology can be seen in Justin’s First Apology (61, c.156), Tertullian’s On the Resurrection of the Flesh (8, c.208) and Hippolytus’s Apostolic Tradition (21, c.215). Pentecostals do see in the Last Supper and the “breaking of bread” (Acts 2:42) Jesus’ institution of an ongoing rite and communal celebration that, in the fullest sense of the Greek work anamnesis, ‘remembers’ him and his death on the Cross and even an ordained means for God’s communication of redemptive life, as reflected in the practice in many Pentecostal churches of praying for the sick during the celebration of the Lord’s supper. But they do not see these accounts as necessarily implying the more fully developed sacramental, eucharistic theology embraced by Catholics.9

71. In the Acts of the Apostles, becoming a Christian is described within the context of a church fervently engaged in the apostolic mission of proclaiming the gospel to those who do not yet know Christ. Such a mission obviously could only be addressed to those old enough to understand the proclamation. Moreover, this earliest missionary stage seems not to have required a lengthy and detailed process of initiation prior to baptism. In fact there are several different approaches found in the Acts of the Apostles. It seems that persons and groups became Christian suddenly, with much of the further explanation of the requirements of faith and discipleship only following later. But sometimes teaching precedes conversion, as in Acts 4:2, where Peter and John were “teaching the people and proclaiming that in Jesus there is the resurrection of the dead,” or in 5:20, where the apostles “entered the temple at daybreak and went on with their teaching.” Often, teaching seems to have followed initiation, as in Acts 2:42. Clearly faith is central to Christian Initiation in the New Testament accounts here considered. The missionary, especially Peter and Paul in Acts, is the member of the church most engaged in introducing neophytes into the community's faith. But various texts suggest that the whole church was involved in supporting their mission, by encouragement (Acts 18:27; Phil 1,5), or by prayer (Acts 4:24-31; 13:1-3) or by offering financial support (Acts 4:34-37; Phil 4:14-20). The whole church was also involved in discerning the solution to what was the most difficult challenge emerging from the initiation of new believers – the question about the observance of the law (Acts 15:1-35), so crucial both for the meaning of the Gospel (cf. Gal 1:6-9) and for the spread of the faith among the Gentiles. Acts 18:26 reports that Priscilla and Aquila took aside the eloquent preacher Apollos and “explained the Way of God to him more accurately.” All of this suggests that the task of initiation was not restricted to the missionary apostle but more widely shared by the whole community.

72. Christian Initiation may also be seen in the many instances of teaching in the Acts of the Apostles, as well as the accounts of Jesus’ earlier teaching in the Gospels. According to the Scriptures, becoming a mature Christian entails a process of growing in faith. This requires teaching. Acts 13:1 mentions the presence of “prophets and teachers” in the church at Antioch, reminding one that Paul’s lists of ministries include “teachers” (1 Cor 12:28; Rom 12:7; Eph 4:11). Various individuals are described by Acts as engaged in teaching: Peter and John (4:2), the apostles (5:21,42), Saul and Barnabas (11:26; 15:35), Paul (18:11; 20:20; 21:21; 28:31), Aquila, Priscilla, and Apollos (18:24-26). Some of these passages indicate a ministry of teaching which extended over a long period of time: “a whole year” in Antioch (11:26), “a year and six months” in Corinth (18:11), “two whole years” in Rome (28:30-31). Acts also knows of the danger of being misled by false teachings. In his moving farewell to the leaders of the church at Ephesus, called presbyteroi (“presbyters” or “elders”) in 20:17, and episkopoi (“overseers”) in 20:28, Paul warns of “fierce wolves” who will come after his departure, to draw disciples away from the admonitions which Paul taught for three years night and day with tears (Acts 20:28-31). Acts presents a teaching church in which the formation in faith which occurs after initiation may, in fact, be more extensive and more important than the seemingly short instruction which precedes baptism.

73. All of the New Testament books imply that the church was active not only in the initial proclamation of the Gospel but also in the ongoing formation of faith. While the individual books, except for Acts, do not tell the story of the initial mission of the church, they are all instructions in faith. Naturally the different groups of writings have distinctive emphases. The Pastoral letters (1 & 2 Timothy and Titus) emphasize the need to preserve sound doctrine in the face of false teachings (1 Tim 1:10; 2 Tim 4:3; Titus 2:1) and the special role of ordained ministry in such vigilance (1 Tim 3:2; 6:20-21; 2 Tim 1:5-6; Titus 1:9). Written to a group of believers who were tempted to turn back from their conversion to Christ, the letter to the Hebrews makes much of the need for Christians to receive further teaching following their initial response to the Gospel (Heb 5:11-6:3).The Johannine literature highlights the role of the Holy Spirit leading the church into all truth (Jn 14:26; 16:13) and the fact that discipleship entails an intimate union with and love for Jesus (Jn 15:4-11; 17:20-26). Much of the New Testament material about teaching shows that formation in faith was not reserved to baptismal candidates alone. Paul suggests that maturing in faith is a long process (1 Cor 2:6-13; 3:1-2) which never completely outgrows that seeing “in a mirror, dimly” which is part of our earthly state (1 Cor 13:9-12).

74. The activity of the Christian community in welcoming new members and in helping them mature as faithful disciples clearly shows that faith and Christian Initiation are closely tied together. Additional insights can be gained by briefly looking at the place of faith within the New Testament's reflection about baptism.10

75. The accounts in Acts, starting with Pentecost (cf. Acts 2:37-38), make clear that, in order to become a Christian, one is called to be baptized. Furthermore, throughout the New Testament baptism is associated with a powerful and dynamic transformation of the believer. Baptism is tied to the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38). It is linked to salvation: “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved” (Mk 16:16). It is even said to “save” us (“And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you...through the resurrection of Jesus Christ....” 1 Pet 3:21). In two extended sections of his letter to the Romans, Paul develops the themes that we are saved from the “penalty” of sins through faith in the blood of Jesus (Rom 1:18-5:9), but are then delivered from the “power” of sin through inclusion in the death and resurrection of Jesus and the new indwelling life of the Spirit (Rom 5:10-8:13). This inclusion in the death and resurrection of Jesus frees us from “the body of sin.” According to Paul, when persons are baptized they are not only giving public testimony to their faith in and allegiance toward Jesus and signifying the burial of an old life and entry into the new; they are participating in or entering into the death and resurrection of Jesus (cf. Rom 6:4; Col.2:11-12). Baptism means adoption as children of God: “For in Christ Jesus, you are all children of God, through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Gal 3:26-27). Those who have believed and are baptized have been formed into the messianic people: “There is no longer Jew nor Greek, there is no longer slave nor free, there is no longer male nor female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise” (Gal 3:28-29). Because of the profound link which the New Testament makes between faith and baptism, it is not surprising that some verses actually juxtapose the two realities (cf. Mk 16:16; Gal 3:27).

76. In the New Testament becoming a Christian entails a communal dimension. Baptized into Christ, we are also baptized into Christ’s Body, the church. Christian Initiation establishes communion among all who are transformed in Christ: “For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body” (1 Cor 12:13). It should be noted that most Pentecostals understand Gal 3:26-28 and 1 Cor 12:13 as referring to a “spiritual” baptism into the Body of Christ, to which public witness is given through baptism in water. Nevertheless, like other Christians they do believe that baptism in water carries a communal dimension. This link between Christ’s death, baptism and the unity of the church helps to explain Paul’s passion as he pleads with the Corinthian church to see and honor their oneness in the Lord: “Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (1 Cor 1:10-17, at v. 13). Clearly for Paul, a baptized person is now a member of the New Community and as such has the obligation to actively maintain its unity (cf. Eph 4:1-3).

77. In summary, the teaching of the New Testament and the several accounts in Acts of individuals or groups becoming Christians, clearly show that faith plays a critical and necessary role in Christian Initiation. Faith is a gift of God without which one cannot become a Christian. Likewise, faith and baptism are linked. All who would become Christians are called to a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins and a reception of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). At the same time, Pentecostals and Catholics need to explore further the different perspectives they bring to the precise nature of Christian Initiation. Catholics generally understand texts such as Jn 3:3-6 about being born anew in water and the Spirit, Titus 3:5 about the washing of regeneration, and Jn 6 about eating Jesus’ body and blood in a sacramental way. In texts such as Rom 6:1-7, which speaks of being united with Christ in a death like his, that is, by baptism, or Col 2:11-12, being “buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead”, Catholics see a real participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Pentecostals, on the other hand, see in the New Testament a primary emphasis on faith and confession, which also includes baptism, engendered by the received Word through the power of the Spirit. This public confession of faith and obedience is powerfully attended by God’s Spirit, who also imparts the very realities signified by baptism.

78. Regarding the timing of baptism, many of the accounts of baptism in the New Testament suggest that a personal, explicit profession of faith was a prerequisite, an act which an infant would not seem capable of performing. At the same time, the household baptisms recorded in Acts 16 and 18 allow for the possibility that infants were baptized. Of the nine accounts of baptism in Acts, only those of the Ethiopian eunuch and of Paul are reported as the baptism of a single individual; all of the others were administered to groups of persons. Furthermore, aside from the issue of infant baptism, a single pattern is not so easy to discern in the New Testament. Generally, it seems that a pattern such as proclamation of the message about Christ, faith and conversion, baptism, the laying on of hands and the gift of the Holy Spirit, evidenced in signs, seems to be the norm, with the presumption that the new Christians eventually shared in the “breaking of bread.” But there are instances which do not seem to fit the pattern, such as the delay of the coming of the Spirit until the Samaritans receive the laying on of hands by the apostles in Acts 8, or the Spirit coming upon Cornelius and his household prior to their baptism in Acts 10-11. Also it is clear that the whole church was involved in the initial and continuing formation of its members. Yet while the entire community is active in the formation of disciples, in the end it cannot do for individuals what they must do themselves: each one is called to believe. At the same time, the accounts of baptism in Acts of the Apostles show people being baptized immediately after having heard the proclamation about Jesus Christ for the very first time. Presumably they would have much more to hear about him and, to that extent their faith would need to grow with the passage of time through the grace of the Holy Spirit and with the help of instruction and encouragement by other members of the community. In this sense, their faith could not and need not have been fully mature at the precise moment of initiation. There are also accounts in the New Testament involving physical healing, where the faith of the community is operative in a way that brings benefit to the one in need (for example, Mk 2:5 where Jesus responds to the faith of the four men who brought their paralyzed friend to Jesus, Acts 3:16 where the faith of Peter and John in the name of Jesus made the paralyzed man well, or Acts 9:36-43 where Tabitha is raised from the dead). It is on the basis of such accounts that Catholics can envision the community supplying faith in the baptism of an infant, until that infant can confess faith personally at a later time, a profession of faith which is sacramentally sealed at confirmation.

C. Patristic Perspectives on Faith and Christian Initiation

79. From the Second Century relatively few patristic texts have survived concerning the explicit theme of becoming a Christian. One of the oldest that did is the Didache (prior to 120), which describes the ‘two ways’ of life available to human beings – the way of light and the way of darkness. The author exhorts his readers to follow the Christian way (of light), which entails living according to Jesus’ twofold commandment of love, abiding by the golden rule and avoiding the major sins that offend the law of God. Then, in paragraph 7, the Didache speaks about the initiation rite involved in becoming a Christian: “Concerning baptism do as follows. Having first said all these things, baptize into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,’ in running water. [...] But before the baptism, let the baptizer fast, and the baptized, and whatever others; but you shall order the baptized to fast one or two days before.” Even though these brief words do not explicitly mention a profession of faith or develop its doctrinal content, becoming a Christian naturally implied such, as suggested by the Trinitarian formula indicated in the text. Not long afterwards, Justin Martyr’s Apology I, 61, 65 (c. 150), gives a slightly more elaborate account of Christian Initiation, in which he develops the ideas that baptism entails regeneration, new birth, and “illumination” and adds that the newly initiated also participates in the celebration of the eucharist. Another reference to the rite of initiation from this earliest century of the post-New Testament period is found in the Proof of the Apostolic Preaching (190), by Irenaeus of Lyon, who repeats the details of the Didache and Justin Martyr, but adds: “this baptism is the seal of eternal life and is rebirth unto God, that we be no more children of mortal men, but of the eternal and everlasting God.”11 Here the word “seal” stands out in comparison with the texts from Didache or Justin; Scripture associates this word precisely with the Holy Spirit (2 Cor 1:22; Eph 1:13; 4:30). That this last book, along with other writings of Irenaeus, are directed against various heresies, is a witness to the fact that conflicting doctrines divided Christians from one another at this time. Becoming a Christian involved sharing the same faith. It would make no sense to be baptized into a community, if one did not accept its ‘rule of faith,’ as Irenaeus would say, or its ‘symbol’ or ‘creed,’ according to other authors; nor would it be sensible for a community to accept as new members individuals who did not share their faith.

80. The Third Century opens with two writings that provide much more information about the process of becoming a Christian than the sources considered above. Tertullian’s short treatise On Baptism (c. 198-200) explains the creative and healing effects of baptism by reference to the Spirit over the waters at the creation of the world (Gen 1:2) and of the angel stirring the water at the pool of Bethsaida (Jn 5:1-9; On Baptism, 3-5). He next mentions the anointing with chrism, a consecrated oil whose name derives from the Greek verb ‘to anoint’ and which is related to the words ‘Christ’ (the anointed) and ‘Christian.’ This anointing occurs after the newly baptized has risen from the font and, according to Tertullian, recalls the anointing of Aaron as high priest (Ex 29:7; On Baptism, 7). The imposition of hands and prayer for the presence of the Holy Spirit come next in the rite (On Baptism, 8). Old Testament types of baptism are seen in the great flood and the crossing of the Red Sea (On Baptism 8-9). Its necessity is rooted in Jesus’ words from Matt 28:19 and John 3:5 (On Baptism, 13), although there is a ‘second font,’ baptism by martyrdom, about which Jesus spoke in Lk 12:50 (“I have a baptism to be baptized with and how I am constrained until it is accomplished” On Baptism, 16). The proper minister of initiation is the bishop, or the presbyters and deacons acting on his authority (On Baptism, 17). One should not be too hasty to baptize, particularly little children (On Baptism, 18). Children should become Christians only after “they have become able to know Christ” (On Baptism, 19). All of this suggests that explicit, personal faith is a prerequisite for baptism.

81. The Apostolic Tradition, attributed to Hippolytus and written in Rome around the year 215, not only includes an outline of the steps involved in becoming a Christian but also, because of its wide diffusion, helped to shape the practice of initiation in many parts of the church of that time. Chapters 15-22 present five steps in the path of becoming a Christian: 1) the presentation of the candidates (15-16), 2) the catechumenate, from the Greek word for the ‘one being instructed’ and thus the time of instruction prior to initiation (17-19); 3) the final weeks of preparation for baptism (20); 4) the rites of initiation themselves (21); and 5) the mystagogical catechesis, occurring during the week after initiation (22). The ‘mystagogical’ catechetical instructions explained the rites of baptism, confirmation and eucharist, that were and still are called “the mysteries” in the Greek-speaking portion of the church (hence the adjective “mystagogical”). Special emphasis is given during this process to the examination of the motivation and moral character of the candidates. The period of instruction usually lasted for three years. Only at the end of that period could one enter the stage of final preparations during the weeks prior to Easter. The three rites of baptism, confirmation (or anointing with oil and prayer for the imparting of the gifts of the Holy Spirit) and eucharist took place on the morning of Easter Sunday. During the rite of baptism, the recipient responded three times “I believe” to questions asking about his or her faith in the Triune God; after each response the person was then immersed in water. Parents or family members of children too young to respond answered on their behalf. Afterwards those baptized were anointed with oil in the name of Christ and the bishop imposed hands upon them. Finally, after a greeting of peace, the newly baptized and confirmed shared the eucharist with the whole community for the first time.

82. In general, the pattern of a long catechumenate, followed by a more intense preparation in the weeks before the celebration of baptism, confirmation and eucharist at Easter seems to reflect the practice throughout the early church during the Third Century. How was faith related to becoming a Christian? In the Apostolic Tradition, the rigor of the pre-baptismal instruction and the interrogatory aspect of the rite itself called for an understanding and profession of faith. And yet, this same text is the first unambiguous and positive affirmation of the baptism of infants. Fifteen years earlier, Tertullian’s words against infant baptism imply that infants were being baptized already then, but Tertullian argued against this practice. In contrast to his view, the second section of Cyprian of Carthage’s Letter Sixty-four (c.253) tells of a synod of sixty-seven bishops, held shortly after 250, which condemned the opinion that baptism be celebrated on the eighth day after birth, following the biblical pattern for circumcision. In the decision of the synod, baptism should not be put off beyond the second or third day, since ianfants too need to be freed from original sin. During this period, the personal expression of faith was obviously bound to the process of becoming a Christian, both in the way in which the rites of preparation and initiation are celebrated (The Apostolic Tradition) and in the theology of baptism (Tertullian). Yet, at the very same time, positive evidence of and support for the baptism of infants first appears and continues to grow.

83. While Tertullian saw in this a contradiction between theology and practice, his view did not prove convincing to the church as a whole. This may be in part because even some who greatly admired him, such as Cyprian, believed that baptism provided the benefits of release from the state of original sin, birth into new life in Christ and the possibility of entering the kingdom of God, which should not be denied to infants. This conviction seems related to how many early Christians understood Jesus’ words to Nicodemus (“Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit” [Jn 3:5]), and his missionary mandate to the disciples (“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” [Mt 28:19]). “As nothing else is effected when infants are baptized except that they are incorporated into the church, in other words that they are united with the body and members of Christ,” Augustine saw their baptism as a reflection of Christian faith that they too needed to be so incorporated and thereby freed from original sin and protected from its effects (see Augustine’s On Merits and Forgiveness of Sinners and on the Baptism of Infants, III,4,7 [c.412; ]). The same writer also affirmed that the practice of baptizing infants went back to the apostles themselves (On Merits and Forgiveness of Sinners and on the Baptism of Infants, I,26,39)

84. During the Fourth Century, there is abundant literature about the event of becoming a Christian and how believers understood the meaning of that change. The stages leading to full admission into the community generally followed the pattern sketched out earlier in The Apostolic Tradition. Particularly inspirational and illuminating for us today are the various courses of instructions prepared by bishops and other pastors for the purpose of introducing aspirants into the faith and life of the church. This material will be mentioned later in our report when we discuss the topics of discipleship and formation (Section 4). It may suffice to note here that these instructions were global in scope. They dealt in depth with matters of faith, especially in recalling the principal doctrines of the Bible and in explaining the various articles of the Creed. But they also addressed the moral and spiritual life expected of a Christian, commenting on the commandments and other principles of good behavior and explaining the virtues of faith, hope and charity, as well as the fundamentals of Christian prayer.

85. All of this illustrates that the church during the patristic period fully accepted and tried to put into practice the biblical teaching about the importance of faith in the process of becoming a Christian. It is not surprising that many writers, from Tertullian to Augustine, call baptism the sacrament of faith: sacramentum fidei. It is also clear that the development of the catechumenate highlighted the communal nature of the process by which people became Christians. The bishop and many other members of the community were very much involved in the preparation of the candidates for initiation at Easter. There was such a deep connection between the celebration of initiation and the life of the community that the creeds as we know them can be said to have developed in order to satisfy the need of having a short, global profession of faith at baptism. The way in which the sequence of liturgical celebrations each year came to be structured owes much to the development of the rites of initiation.

D. Contemporary Reflections on Faith and Christian Initiation

86. Both the Bible and the patristic literature affirm a deep relation between faith and the series of events by which one becomes a Christian. We have examined what these sources say about this theme in the hope of deepening our agreement about it and bringing into greater clarity what may still divide us.

87. As regards Scripture, we can rejoice in the fact that the New Testament provides much data that reinforces what we hold in common concerning entry into the Christian life. At the same time, our shared exploration has revealed differences in the way we interpret some biblical texts. Catholics see implied references to baptism in certain texts that Pentecostals may not. One example, already mentioned above in par. 47 and 77, is John 3:5-6: “Jesus answered, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.” Catholics see this text as tying the new birth to baptism, whereas many Pentecostals see its reference to birth “by water” as speaking only of natural birth, its purpose being to highlight the need for a second, spiritual birth. Because of such interpretations, Catholics identify baptism as absolutely central to Christian Initiation, since they believe it to be implied in many New Testament references to the whole conversion complex and therefore see the whole dynamic process of redemption as intimately related to baptism itself. They see baptism specifically implied in such passages as 1 Cor 6:11 (“But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God”) or Titus 3:5 (“he saved us… according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit”). Pentecostals see these passages as certainly referring to conversion, the washing as a reference to the blood of Christ, but not necessarily focusing specifically on baptism.

88. Our communities also differ on the implications we draw from our interpretations of New Testament language regarding baptism. For Catholics, baptism is seen as actually bringing about the realities it signifies. Pentecostals embrace the necessity of baptism as a point of obedience to the command of Jesus (Mk 16:16; Matt 28:19). For some Pentecostals baptism is only an outward but necessary sign, carried out in obedience to Jesus as a public testimony of a transformation that has already occurred by grace though faith. Other Pentecostals attribute more effectiveness to the baptism itself, seeing it not only as a sign or testimony but also as an ordained means for the communication of forgiving grace, delivering power and saving life, effected by the power of the Spirit. But most Pentecostals do not see baptism as the means of regeneration. Regeneration is effected when, through faith, the Word and Spirit beget new life within a believer. Baptism apart from this dynamic cannot effect new birth. In light of the fact that some Pentecostals may neglect baptism, the Pentecostal members of the dialogue team want to encourage all Pentecostals to consider the clear Scriptural call for all to be baptized (cf. Acts 2:38). In addition, while water baptism itself cannot save apart from faith, in the New Testament it is closely linked to the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38), to effective deliverance from the power of sin (Rom 6:1-7) and to salvation itself (Mk 16:16; 1 Pet 3:21).

89. Clearly, our study of the biblical texts has not resolved all of the disagreements which still divide us concerning the nature, timing, stages and communal dimensions of becoming a Christian. Some texts about baptism suggest to many that it is an effective rite, the transformative power of which actually changes the person who is baptized. “And baptism, which this [Noah's ark] prefigured, now saves you – not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ...” (1 Pet 3:20-21). “...When you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead” (Col 2:12). Or again, “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Gal 3:26). This might support a sacramental interpretation of baptism, which acknowledges both its efficacy and its necessity for salvation, as believed by Catholics. On the other hand, other verses speak about salvation in Christ without mentioning baptism: “‘The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe with the heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with his heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the lips and so is saved” (Rom 10:8-10). This might support a view which sees baptism less as an efficacious “sacrament” and more as an ordinance of the Lord which is to be obeyed and which confirms the more fundamental saving event, which is belief and a profession of faith, as believed by most Pentecostals. In light of such examples, it is possible that some of the diversity of our focus and emphasis simply reflects the diversity of focus and emphasis present within the New Testament itself, a healthy tension that ought not to be artificially or otherwise inappropriately resolved.

90. But it is likely more than such a biblically warranted diversity. Catholics and Pentecostals both read Scripture in the light of faith under the illumination of the Holy Spirit. But we also bring different presuppositions to our interpretation of individual passages. For example, some passages, such as 1 Cor 12:13 (“For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and we were made to drink of one Spirit”; see also Gal 3:26-28 or Titus 3:5-7), could be interpreted in a variety of ways. Is it not possible that a concern to avoid a supposed formal or mechanical approach to salvation may make some less open to see a possible reference to water baptism in such texts? Or, on the other hand, might not a concern to affirm a sacramental understanding of salvation make others less open to consider the possibility that such texts may not be referring to water baptism? Because we have not yet explicitly identified the nature, number and function of our presuppositions, a valuable result of the present phase of dialogue is that of earmarking hermeneutics as a topic for serious consideration in a future phase of Pentecostal-Catholic conversations. Even at this preliminary stage, we recognize that Catholics interpret Scripture within the broad framework outlined by Vatican II’s Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei verbum, which places the interpretation of any individual text within the context of its origins and subsequent understanding within the Christian Tradition throughout the ages. The official teaching of bishops in apostolic succession or “magisterium” exercises a decisive role in discerning the legitimacy of the interpretations of the Scripture that emerge from the reflection of exegetes, theologians and the entire people of God. For Pentecostals, the Bible, as illuminated by the Holy Spirit, is considered to be authoritative for serving as the guide for Christian belief and practice. At the same time, there exists both a kind of Pentecostal “tradition” as well as an authority of discernment exercised by competent ministers and decision-making bodies that serve to differentiate legitimate from illegitimate interpretations of the Bible. Our common consideration of scriptural texts relative to becoming a Christian has placed in relief the need to explore together the similarities and differences of our hermeneutical presuppositions.

91. What might the patristic data contribute to our project of deepening agreement and clarifying differences between Pentecostals and Catholics concerning how faith is related to becoming a Christian? First of all, with regard to the role and nature of baptism, the patristic witness tends to build upon those Scripture passages that came to be interpreted as emphasizing the effectiveness of baptism. The catechetical instructions speak of the new birth that occurs when one is baptized. Nevertheless, some Christian parents chose not to have their children baptized, including parents of some children who would eventually become very prominent church leaders. This seems to be not because Christians had doubts about the benefit of receiving the rites of initiation, but rather because they wanted their children to be prepared to persevere in the effects of those rites. The efficacy of the sacraments was seen very much as a result of the working of the Holy Spirit who, through the rites, touched the lives of those who received these sacraments. In this patristic understanding of the activity of the Holy Spirit as the basis of the saving power of baptism and the eucharist, Pentecostals and Catholics may discover a common resource for greater reflection about how Christ could use the rites which came to be called ‘sacraments’ as means for his powerful salvific action in the lives of people. In particular, the linkage between sacraments and the Spirit could allow both Pentecostals and Catholics to profess together that, through the reception of baptism, a significant action of God occurs in the life of the one who is baptized. Becoming a Christian required a transformation of life, which meant also a serious effort to cooperate with God’s grace in such a way that one truly lived a good and holy life.

92. On the timing of the reception of baptism, the development of the catechumenate would seem to favor the baptism of those capable of making a personal profession of faith and old enough to undergo a strenuous ascetical and intellectually engaging process. Furthermore, the developments in the rites of Christian Initiation during the Fourth Century should not be considered in isolation from the very pressing need of responding to the many formerly pagan adults who now wished to become Christians and to be received into the church. In such a situation, the fashioning of those rites in a way suitable to the initiation of adults was imperative. That being said, there is, nonetheless, also clear evidence of the baptism of infants during the same period.

93. The stages involved in becoming a Christian are more sharply delineated in the patristic period than they are in the New Testament. The pattern of professing Trinitarian faith and triple immersion during baptism, followed by an imposition of hands for the imparting of the Holy Spirit, and culminating in the celebration of the eucharist, seems firmly established by the time of the catechetical instructions of the Fourth Century. The Bible does not provide detailed information about such a process nor about the place of the eucharist in it. Since the New Testament presents the Christian community as one which celebrates the “breaking of bread” one could infer that, were a Christian not participating in the Lord’s supper (cf. Acts 2:42, 46; 20:7; 1 Cor 10:14-11:1; 11:17-34), which Catholics understand to be the eucharist, he or she would not be integrated fully into the life of the church. While both of our communities would make such an inference, Catholics would link the partaking of the table of the Lord precisely with Christian Initiation, as an essential culminating moment of the process of becoming a Christian, while Pentecostals tend not to do so.

94. Regarding the church’s role when new members became Christians, the patristic data suggests that the post-apostolic community built upon and further developed the initial witness to the communal nature of becoming Christian already seen in the New Testament. Instead of missionary apostles like Peter and Paul who, supported by their fellow Christians, took the lead in inviting listeners to faith and baptism, now every local church is organized, from its pastor-bishop to the other members of the community, to participate in the preparation and initiation of new members. The relation between community and initiation is so strong that the church’s very creed and ordering of worship throughout the year are to some degree determined by the initiation of new members.

95. These observations suggest that the patristic material, on its own, does not resolve all differences between Pentecostals and Catholics about the place of faith in the series of events by which a person becomes a Christian. On the one hand, it seems that most Fathers understood this process in a sacramental way. Becoming a Christian involved baptism, the imparting of the Spirit and the reception of the eucharist as essential parts of the process. At the same time, faith was essential to Christian Initiation. The fact that the faith of the whole community was involved in the preparation, acceptance and ongoing formation of new members, along with the conviction that the saving effects of baptism should not be denied to the children of believers, were reasons supporting the practice of baptizing infants. All of these points could serve to support the Catholic understanding of becoming a Christian and the way that faith is related to that event and process. At the same time, the fundamental orientation of the catechumenate toward the profession of one’s faith before being baptized, along with the facts that many individuals postponed their own baptism and that the children of Christian parents were not always baptized, all could be cited in support of a Pentecostal view of becoming a Christian and the way that faith relates to that event or sequence of events, particularly to their conviction that some transformation needs to occur prior to baptism. For Pentecostals, baptism is a symbolic enactment of the divine drama, which makes the saving deeds of Christ present; it is an identification with the dying and rising of Christ. Thus, they acknowledge its power, without using language such as that of ‘effectiveness’ to describe it. Catholics acknowledge the development of such language over time but see it rooted already in the biblical teaching about becoming a Christian. Today the more evocative language of symbol and mystery is also used to describe the efficacy of the sacraments.

96. How might the biblical and patristic material we have considered deepen our agreement about the role of faith in becoming a Christian? Certainly it confirms that the two cannot and should not be separated. There is biblical and patristic material that can be interpreted either in favor of the view that becoming a Christian is primarily an event or in favor of the view that it is primarily a series of events comprising a long process. In either case it is by divine grace that the human being is saved and sanctified. Faith, which is the very heart of discipleship, is God's gift. The individual must receive this gift and believe in order to become a Christian. At the same time, the faith of the individual is related in various ways to the community of believers. Much of the biblical and patristic evidence can be interpreted as suggesting that God uses the church as an instrument for proclaiming Christ and thereby inviting individuals to faith. Both the New Testament and the patristic writings show the believing community as assisting those who accept this proclamation with an open heart to understand more fully the message, to cooperate with God's grace of conversion and to begin to live the new life of Gospel discipleship. In both the New Testament and the Fathers, the believing community not only shares its faith with those becoming Christians but also celebrates with them the rites of baptism, the laying on of hands and the breaking of bread. One does not initiate oneself. Faith in Christ and belonging to the community that he founded and constituted as his Body go together. In that sense, while becoming a Christian clearly includes a personal dimension, there could never be a radically individualized Christianity comprised of believers who isolate themselves from one another. Furthermore, becoming a Christian requires both the ongoing response of the individual believer to the grace of God as well as his or her commitment to join with the whole community in sharing its faith with yet other persons by means of evangelistic and missionary outreach. Reflecting upon biblical and patristic perspectives about the relation of faith to becoming a Christian could allow Pentecostals and Catholics to affirm together that the church is a communion in faith whose nature is essentially missionary, impelling it to foster the profession of faith by each of its members and to invite into this communion of faith others who do not yet know the joy of believing in Jesus Christ. Our dialogue about the relation of faith to becoming a Christian has allowed us to see in new ways the essential nature of the church as communion (cf. Perspectives on Koinonia) and mission (cf. Evangelization, Proselytism and Common Witness).



  1. See Perspectives on Koinonia 1985–1989, C) “Koinonia”, Sacraments and Church Order, 81–89.

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  2. For a fuller discussion of Pentecostal and Catholic views on baptism, see Perspectives on Koinonia 1985–1989, III. Koinonia and Baptism, 39–69.

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  3. St. Irenaeus, Proof of the Apostolic Preaching, Joseph P. Smith, S.J., translator, London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1952, paragraph 3, page 49.

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