Indice > Dialoghi Interconfessionali > PE-RC > Perspectives on Koinonia (part III)


  INTRODUCTION - selezionare
III. Koinonia And Baptism
  CONCLUSION - selez.
  APPENDIX - selez.

III. Koinonia and Baptism7

A) The Meaning of Baptism

  1. Pentecostals and Roman Catholics agree that baptism is prefigured in Old Testament symbolism, e.g. in the salvation of Noah and his family (cf. 1 Pet 3:20-21); the Exodus through the Red Sea (cf. 1 Cor 10:1-5); washing as a symbol of the cleansing power of the Holy Spirit (cf. Ez 36:25).

  2. They further agree that baptism was instituted by Christ, and that he commanded his disciples to go "and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Mt 8:19). In accordance with the Lord's commission, his disciples baptized those who were added to the fellowship of believers (cf. Acts 2:41).

  3. Pentecostals and Roman Catholics differ in that Roman Catholics understand baptism to be a sacrament, while most Pentecostals understand it in terms of an ordinance (i.e. a rite that the Lord has commanded his Church to perform). Some Pentecostals, however, do use the term sacrament to describe baptism. These differences illustrate the need for further discussion between Roman Catholics and Pentecostals on the meaning of the terms "sacrament" and "ordinance."

  4. Most Pentecostals hold that believers' baptism is clearly taught in Scripture (cf. Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; Acts 8:12, 36-39; 10:34-38) and, therefore, believe that baptism of infants should not be practiced. Roman Catholics admit that there is no incontrovertible evidence for baptism of infants in the New Testament, although some texts (notably the so-called household baptism texts, e.g. Acts 16:15 and 16:31-33) are understood as having a reference in that direction. Roman Catholics note, however, that through a process of discernment during the early centuries of the Church, a development took place in which infant baptism became widely practiced within the Church; was seen as being of Apostolic origin; was approved by many of the Fathers of the Church; and was received by the Church as authentic.
B) Faith and Baptism
  1. Pentecostals and Roman Catholics agree that faith precedes and is a precondition of baptism (cf. Mark 16:16), and that faith is necessary for baptism to be authentic. They also agree that the faith of the believing community, its prayer, its instruction, nurture the faith of the candidate.

  2. Roman Catholics believe that the faith of an infant is a covenant gift of God given in the grace of baptism, cleansing the child from original sin, and introducing it to new life in the body of Christ. Infant baptism is the beginning of a process towards full maturity of faith in the life of the Spirit, which is nurtured by the believing community.

  3. The majority of Pentecostals practice believers' baptism exclusively, rather than infant baptism. They affirm that faith is the gift of God (cf. Eph 2:8), but at the same time stress that it is essentially a personal response of an individual. The Scripture says: "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" (Rom 10:9). Because they believe that faith must be personally expressed, Pentecostals maintain that an infant cannot receive the impartation of faith unto salvation (Eph 2:8), or the Holy Spirit. And because they believe that a conscious faith response to the proclamation of the Gospel on the part of the candidate is a necessary precondition for baptism, they do not baptize infants.

  4. The general refusal of the Pentecostals to practice infant baptism notwithstanding, Roman Catholics and Pentecostal affirm that the grace of God is operative in the life of an infant. It is God who takes initiative for our salvation, and God does so not only in the life of adults but also in the life of infants. Scripture tells us, for instance, that John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother's womb (cf. Luke 1:15; cf. also Jer 1:5).

  5. Pentecostals and Roman Catholics differ over when one "comes to Christ" and about the significance of baptism itself. For all Pentecostals there is no coming to Christ apart from a person's turning away from sin in repentance and toward God in faith (cf. 1 Thess 1:9), through which they become a part of the believing community. Baptism is withheld until after a person's conscious conversion. Most Pentecostals regard the act of baptism as a visible symbol of regeneration. Other Pentecostals have a sacramental understanding of baptism.

  6. Roman Catholics describe conversion as a process incorporating the individual in the Church by baptism. Even in infant baptism, a later personal appropriation, or acceptance, of one's baptism is an absolute necessity.

  7. Roman Catholics and Pentecostals agree that a deep personal relationship to Christ is essential to Christian life. They also see how conversion is not only a personal or individual act, but an act that presupposes a proclaiming community before conversion and requires a nurturing community for growth after conversion. Further discussion is needed, however, on the nature of faith, the sense in which faith precedes baptism, and the meaning of corporate faith in Roman Catholic teaching. What is the nature of the gift of faith given to the infant born into the covenant community by baptism?

  8. In the Roman Catholic understanding, one is incorporated into the death and resurrection of Christ through baptism thereby also entering into the koinonia of those saved by Christ. Pentecostals affirm a relationship between baptism and incorporation into the death and resurrection of Christ (Rom 6:3ff). Even if Pentecostals do not consider baptism, which makes possible incorporation into the koinonia, as a sacrament, most of them would not see baptism as an empty church ritual. It serves to strengthen the faith of those who have repented and believed in Christ through the Holy Spirit. Often a person will have a deep spiritual experience at baptism (manifested, sometimes, for instance by speaking in tongues). Provided that the person who is being baptized has experienced conversion, some Pentecostals would even speak of baptism as a "means of grace." Without denying the salvation of the unbaptized, all Pentecostals would consider baptism to be an integral part of the whole experience of becoming Christian.

  9. Roman Catholics and Pentecostals agree that faith is indispensable to salvation. Pentecostals disagree with the Roman Catholic teaching that baptism is a constitutive means of salvation accomplished by the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Nevertheless, Pentecostals do feel the need to investigate further the relationship between baptism and salvation in light of specific passages which appear to make a direct link between baptism and salvation (e.g. John 3:5; Mark 16:16; Acts 22:16; 1 Pet 3:21). Further discussion is also needed on the effect of baptism.
C) Baptism and the Church
  1. For Roman Catholics, baptism is the sacrament of entry into the Church, the koinonia of those saved in Christ and incorporated into his death and resurrection. For Pentecostals baptism publicly demonstrates their personal identification with the death and resurrection of Christ (cf. Rom 6:3ff), and their incorporation into the Body of Christ. In keeping with the long tradition of the catechumenate, some Pentecostals believe that baptism is a precondition for full church membership to the extent that unbaptized converts are not, strictly speaking, called "brothers and sisters in Christ" but "friends."

  2. For both Roman Catholics and Pentecostals, the believing community is important in the preparation for baptism, in the celebration of baptism, and in nurturing the faith of the one baptized. It is essential for the newly baptized believer to continue to grow in faith and love and to participate in the full life of the Church.

  3. For the Roman Catholic Church, the basis of ecumenical dialogue with Pentecostals, properly speaking, is found in the Catholic recognition of the baptism performed by Pentecostals in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This implies a common faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. This recognition by Roman Catholics of Pentecostal baptism means, in consequence, that Roman Catholics believe that they share with Pentecostals a certain, though imperfect koinonia (cf. Unitatis redintegratio, §3). The unity of baptism constitutes and requires the unity of the baptized (cf. Unitatis redintegratio, §22). Our agreement on the trinitarian basis of baptism draws and impels us to unity.

  4. Pentecostals do not see the unity between Christians as being based in a common water baptism, mainly because they believe that the New Testament does not base it in baptism. Instead, the foundation of unity is a common faith and experience of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior through the Holy Spirit. This implies that to the extent that Pentecostals recognize that Roman Catholics have this common faith in and experience of Jesus as Lord, they share a real though imperfect koinonia with them. "For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body — Jews or Greeks, slaves or free and all were made to drink of one Spirit" (1 Cor 12:12-13 — a passage Pentecostals tend to interpret as not referring to water baptism). Insofar as baptism is related to this experience of Christ through the Spirit it is also significant for the question of unity between Christians.
D) Baptismal Practice
  1. Roman Catholics and most Pentecostals agree that a person is to be baptized in water in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Roman Catholics and most Pentecostals disagree with those Pentecostals who do not baptize according to the trinitarian formula, especially if in baptizing only in Jesus name (e.g. Acts 2:38) they deny the orthodox understanding of the Trinity.8

  2. Baptism by immersion is the most effective visible sign to convey the meaning of baptism. Most Pentecostals hold that immersion in water is the only biblical way to baptize. Roman Catholics permit immersion and pouring as legitimate modes of baptism.

  3. Pentecostals and Roman Catholics agree that baptism, when it is discerned as properly administered, is not to be repeated.

  4. In addition to theological difficulties, Pentecostals perceive certain pastoral difficulties with the practice of infant baptism. These difficulties commonly associated with the practice of infant baptism are significant enough for Pentecostals to suggest that Roman Catholics continue to examine this practice.

  5. Roman Catholics freely acknowledge the possible pastoral difficulties (e.g. creation of a body of baptized but unchurched people) inherent in the misuse of the practice of infant baptism. But infant baptism often provides a pastoral opportunity to help those parents weak in faith and practice, and is the beginning of a whole process of Christian life for the child. "Conversion" in this sense becomes a series of grace-events throughout life, resulting in a commitment equally as firm as that stemming from a sudden conversion in adulthood.

  6. Roman Catholics point out that there is a new emphasis upon adult initiation among Roman Catholics in the post-Vatican II rites, without denying the value of infant baptisrn. Indeed, because adult baptism is now expressed as the primary theological model, the theology and practice of infant baptism is itself enriched. Not only is faith given to the infant through the sacrament, but the parents themselves are fortified as the ones responsible for the infant's future growth, and so are caught up in the grace-giving event, frequently having their own faith strengthened.

  7. Roman Catholics and Pentecostals agree that instruction in the faith necessarily follows upon baptism in order that the life of grace may come to fruition. In this connection a pastor should delay or refuse to baptize an infant if the parents (or guardians) clearly have no intention of bringing up the infant in the practice of faith. To baptize under those circumstances would be to act in manner contrary to the canon law of the Roman Catholic Church.

  8. There are some parallels between the Roman Catholic practice of infant baptism and the common practice of infant dedication in Pentecostal churches in terms of the activity of grace and the role of the Christian community in the life of an infant. In infant dedication, as in infant baptism, the parents of the infant and the believing community publicly covenant together with God to bring the infant up so that he or she will come into a personal relationship with Christ. Though Pentecostals do not believe that dedication mediates salvation to an infant or makes him/her a member of the Christian Church they do believe that because of the prayer and the faith of the believing community, a blessing of God rests upon the dedicated infant. Both practices acknowledge in their own way the presence of the grace of God in the infant and are concerned with creating an atmosphere in which the child may grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.
E) Baptism and the Experience of the Spirit
  1. Roman Catholics and Pentecostals agree that all of those who belong to Christ "were made to drink of one Spirit" (1 Cor 12:13). We agree that God intends that each follower of Jesus enjoy the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (Rom 8:9). This indwelling of the Spirit is not the fruit or product of human works, but is due to the unmerited, efficacious action of grace by which each person responds to the special initiative of God.

  2. We acknowledge that Roman Catholics and Pentecostals have different understandings of the role of the Spirit in Christian initiation and life, but may nonetheless, enjoy a similar experience of the Spirit. Our experience of the Holy Spirit, furthermore, heightens our mutual awareness of the need for unity.

  3. We agree that the experience of the Holy Spirit belongs to the life of the Church. Wherever the Spirit is genuinely present in the Christian community its fruit will also become evident (cf. Gal 5:22-23). Genuine charismata mentioned in Scripture (e.g. 1 Cor 12:8-10, 28-30; Rom 12:6-8; etc.) also indicate the presence of the Spirit. All such manifestations, however, call for discernment by the community (cf. 1 Thess 5:19-22; 1 Cor 14; 1 John 4).

  4. Generally, Roman Catholics have tended to be cautious about accepting the more spectacular manifestations of the Spirit such as speaking in tongues and prophecy, although the Charismatic Renewal has helped them to rediscover ways in which such gifts are rooted in their oldest tradition.

  5. Roman Catholics fear that Pentecostals limit the Spirit to specific manifestations. Pentecostals fear that Roman Catholics confine the Spirit's workings to sacraments and church order. Therefore, we share a mutual concern not to confine or to limit the Holy Spirit whom Jesus described by the imagery of the freely blowing wind (cf. John 3:8). Each of us seems more worried about the other limiting the Spirit than ourselves. Still, we have learned through our discussions together that there is greater freedom for the Holy Spirit in both of our traditions than we expected to find, and our fears once shared, have made us more aware of our shortcomings in this regard.

  6. Our discussions, too, have made us more aware about the ways in which we use language related to the Holy Spirit. We agree that such ideas as what it means to be "baptized in the Spirit" or "filled with the Spirit" would be fruitful fields for mutual exploration.


  1. We devote a special section to baptism because of the difficulty which baptism and the practice of baptism have in our dialogue.

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  2. See footnote 6.
    (Footnote 6: A segment of Pentecostals known as "Oneness" or "Jesus Name" Pentecostals are opposed to the trinitarian formulation of the faith. Their view of God tends toward modalism and the baptismal formula which they pronounce is "in the name of Jesus Christ" (Acts 2:38) instead of the traditional trinitarian appeal to Matthew 28:19. Most Pentecostals, however, strongly disagree with this position.)

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