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Was My ‘Believer's Baptism’ Valid?


People Asking
Dear TIA,

You are one of the only sources for me to find answers. Could you help me with advice about the validity of my baptism? I was baptized by a fundamentalist baptist pastor. His intention is what I call into question, so I wrote to him.

I'm sending you the correspondence. If you would be so kind to read it and respond it would put my mind at rest.

     Sincerely,

     D.L.

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Dear Mrs. P.D.,

So much has happened in the last 30 years since I've had contact with you and Pastor B.G.D. it's astounding. All of our lives have changed dramatically and in ways that none of us could have expected.

I'm writing to you because I have a specific question … What I wanted to ask is this:

When I was baptized by Pastor B.G.D. at Exeter did he intend to impart the waters of salvation and the gift of eternal life? (as Catholics, Anglicans, Presbyterians, and Methodists do) Or did he specifically intend not to impart salvation, but for the baptism to be a sign of my faith in Jesus Christ - a believers baptism - the salvation being received only in my born again experience?

Or was there some other intention?

If I remember correctly, he made the second option clear when I was baptized. Could you discuss it with him and get back to me?

All the best to you. …

    Sincerely,

     D.L.

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Hi D.L.,

What a delightful surprise to hear from you! … I read your e-mail to Pastor B.G.D. and, since he doesn't use the computer, he wrote out an answer for you, which I am reproducing below.

P.D.

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D.L.

What an unexpected pleasure to hear from you after all these many years. …

As to your question about baptism, you have correctly remembered that your baptism at Exeter was believer's baptism as an outward symbol of your confession of your faith in Christ alone as your Lord and Savior. For your further study on this subject consider the following Scriptures: Mark 16:16: "He who believes and is baptized (note the word order) will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned." Note also that it is not lack of baptism that condemns, but lack of faith.

John chapter 3 is one of the prime sources of baptismal instruction. In verse 5 Jesus says that one must be born of water and the spirit to enter the Kingdom. Does water here refer to baptism? Perhaps, the parallelism of verse 6 may lend another interpretation, water referring to natural birth. However, the rest of the chapter clarifies the place of baptism. Verses 15,16,18, and 36 refer to faith alone, no reference to baptism as any part in salvation.

Interestingly, verse 23 says that John's baptism (like Jesus' baptism) took place in the Jordan where there was much water, implying that immersion was the mode that was practiced by the Leader of our faith. And you will note if you study the New Testament practice of baptism that there is no mention of infant baptism.

The epistle to the Romans is commonly recognized as the primer of Christian faith. Chapter 4 makes it clear beyond all question that our justified standing before God is solely on the basis of our faith in the promise of God and the work of Christ, with no work of human effort or obedience added to subtract from God's grace.

How wonderful to know we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

So good to renew our acquaintance, D.L. Write again.

     Pastor B.G.D.

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TIA responds:

Dear Mr. D.L.,

Thank you for the confidence you place in our answers. It is an encouragement for us to continue to study each question seriously in order to provide our readers the best Catholic response we can.

We are dividing the topic into parts to facilitate eventual reference to it.

Fundamentals on Catholic Baptism

The fundamental doctrine on Baptism taught in the Catholic Church is expressed in the Bull Exultate Deo by Pope Eugene IV, also approved by the Council of Florence. We reproduce it here for your perusal:

“Holy Baptism holds the first place among the Sacraments, because it is the door of spiritual life; for by it we are made members of Christ and incorporated with the Church. And since through the first man death entered into all, unless we be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, we cannot enter into the kingdom of Heaven, as Truth Himself has told us.

"The matter of this sacrament is true and natural water, and it is indifferent whether it be cold or hot. The form is: ‘I baptize thee in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.’ We do not deny, however, that the words: ‘Let this servant of Christ be baptized in the name of the Father of the Son and of the Holy Ghost’ or ‘This person is baptized by my hands in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost’ constitute true baptism. Because since the principal cause from which baptism has its efficacy is the Holy Trinity, and the instrumental cause is the minister who confers the sacrament exteriorly, then if the act exercised by the minister be expressed, together with the invocation of the Holy Trinity, the sacrament is perfected.

“The minister of this sacrament is the priest, to whom it belongs to baptize by reason of his office. In case of necessity, however, not only a priest or deacon, but even a layman or woman, nay, even a pagan or heretic can baptize, provide he observes the form used by the Church, and intends to perform what the Church performs. The effect of this sacrament is the remission of all sin, original and actual; likewise of all punishment which is due for sin. As a consequence, no satisfaction for past sins is enjoined upon those who are baptized; and if they die before committing any sin, they attain immediately to the kingdom of Heaven and the vision of God” (apud The Catholic Encyclopedia, New York: Encyclopedia Press, 1907, vol. II, pp. 258-259)

Catholic doctrine on the baptism of Fundamentalist Baptists

Different sources we consulted about the believer’s baptism you received linked Fundamentalist Baptists in one way or another either to the Anabaptists, Presbyterians or Lutherans. You may know - or be able to check - whether these attributions are correct and whether they apply to your case.

Regarding the baptism administrated by Fundamentalist Baptist pastors, the same source - under the topic of the need for conditional baptism for converts from heresy - states that “the Baptists use the rite only for adults, and the efficacy of their baptism has been called in question owing to the separation of the matter and the form, for the latter is pronounced before the immersion takes place” (ibid. p. 264).

This decision must apply, we believe, also to the Anabaptists, since they deny the validity of the baptism of infants. That is, a conditional baptism should be administrated when they convert to the Catholic Church.

Regarding Presbyterians, an Instruction of the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith (June 23, 1840) determined they should be baptized conditionally when they enter the Catholic Church because “they frequently either corrupt the form, do not have the necessary intention, or baptize erroneously for other reasons” (Dictionnaire de Theologie Catholique, Paris: Letouzay, 1923, vol II, col 340).

Regarding the Quietist Lutherans, a Decree of the Holy Office (June 17, 1715) decided that in certain cases when one does not know all the precise circumstances, a baptism should be administered conditionally (ibid).

So, on the doctrinal level, it seems that, regardless of whether your branch of Baptists does or does not have links with other Protestant sects, the recommended procedure is for a conditional Baptism to be given.

This conclusion is confirmed by a general custom established by the Catholic Church in the United States, described as follows:

“Practically, converts in the United States are almost invariably baptized either absolutely or conditionally, not because the baptism administered by heretics is held to be invalid, but because it is generally impossible to discover whether they had ever been baptized. Even in cases where a ceremony had certainly been performed, reasonable doubt of validity will generally remain, on account of either the intention of the administrator or the mode of administration. Still each case must be examined into” (The Catholic Encyclopedia, p. 264).

Since prudence recommends investigating each case to avoid abuses of administering conditional baptism, we will try to investigate specifically your case, as you asked.

Application to your believer’s baptism

In your baptism, you have more information than the average convert mentioned above. You asked Pastor B.G.D., who executed your baptism, and he assured you: “Your baptism at Exeter was believer's baptism as an outward symbol of your confession of your faith in Christ.”

Without being experts on Protestant baptisms, it seems to us that the believer’s baptism you received does not have the intention of a valid baptism. Indeed:
  • Its intent was not to introduce you into the Catholic Church;
  • It did not aim to introduce you into the grace of Christ;
  • It was not administered as an effective sacrament, but merely an external symbol of your faith.
Therefore, it strongly appears that the believer’s baptism you received was invalid.

It is our opinion that you should have been baptized absolutely. That is, you should follow the normal procedure for baptisms of adults, being instructed into the mysteries of our Holy Catholic Faith. After being prepared, you should profess those articles of the Faith according to the formula of the Creed of Pius IV, which is also the formula for the abjuration of heresies. Then, a ceremony of absolute baptism should be administered to you.

This is what we can do to help you within the limits of our knowledge.

     Cordially,

     TIA correspondence desk
Posted April 16, 2010

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