Baptism, Part 1. Introduction & CofC False Premise #1: The Greek Word Implies Mode, Not Rite

bazingaRestorationist Christians,

The Catholic Church of Christ believes the word “Baptism” (capitalized) represents a specific sacrament, and the Protestant Church of Christ believes the word (capitalized or not) represents a specific sacrament (so to speak) as well as a specific mode: immersion, and only immersion. The Catholic Church and the Protestant group agree that Baptism by immersion is valid, but the Catholic Church has always understood that Baptism is not relegated to its phenol-linguistic parameters, but, as a sacrament, includes pouring as a proper mode (often referred to as “sprinkling” by ignorant Protestants, but is in fact a pouring action when performed most properly).1

It is with great pleasure that the Catholic Church of Christ recognizes the validity of your group’s “first” Baptisms (there are no “re-Baptisms”; cf. Ephesians 4:5)—they are valid because they are still within the scope of the Catholic Church’s teachings (the Church is the foundation and conduit of truth: cf. John 14:16-18,26; 16:13; Ephesians 3:10; 1 Timothy 3:15); with water, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and for the forgiveness of sins (regeneration). The difference, however, is that your group has deliberately narrowed its understanding of acceptable modes—an evolution that is tied to a new (= Protestant) belief that infants should not be baptized, which I will address in a later essay.

In addition to your erroneous assumption that the Bible is intended to provide a thorough exposition of a proper mode (the Scriptures do not, and cannot, claim to be a “sole authority” or thorough expounder of the subject), your group’s confusion seems to largely stem from four false premises. It goes without mentioning, though I must, that not all members of your group accept every false premise as valid, but all members do accept some of them in varying degrees. I will show how your group’s premises are false and simultaneously show you how the Catholic Church of Christ’s position is more reasonable.

False Premise #1: The secular Greek use of the word baptizo is intended to indicate a specific mode for a religious rite.         

True, the Greek word baptizo is the word from which the English word “baptism” is derived, but your group is incorrect when it teaches that the Greek word’s use is intended to communicate a specific mode for a Christian rite. It is a poor assumption to believe that an older existing word provides the conclusive illuminating exposition of a newer concept. (Actually think about my sentence, please.)

Surely you can admit that a word’s spectrum of meaning can widen when it is moved from a secular use to a theological use, because the Protestant Church of Christ has done so with its understanding of the word “elder”. Your group admits the Greek word from which we derive “elder” refers to men over the age of forty,2 yet many congregations within your community elect elders who do not fit the secular definition, and the secular definition itself invalidates any need for any election process. (One’s age is not determined by an election.) Why do you bind other Christians to your arbitrary interpretive and ecclesiological tradition? And of course, who do you think you are to redefine the word—to ascribe a Christian doctrinal nuance to a secular word?

Some of your members refuse to use the word “Trinity” (triad; trias), but many of your members have not rejected the word. Originally, the secular use of the word referred to any group of three things, but the word has since been grafted into Christian terminology. So are we to assume that whenever a Fundamentalist uses the word “Trinity” that she is referring to anything other than the Godhead?

Another example of how a word’s meaning changes when the Church absorbs it is with the Greek word for “canon” (kanon). The word originally referred to a physical measuring rod, but became a word to indicate a standard of authority, as in the Christian canon of Scripture.

As with “elder”, “Trinity”, and “canon”, other words gain theological meaning when they are grafted into the Church, and baptizo is one that became rich with meaning. There is no reason to assume baptizo must retain its secular meaning, there is no reason why a person must concede to a Protestant Church of Christ minister who demands that it must; but most of all, there is no reason to entertain the premise because it is founded on an additional false premise: that baptizo always indicates full-immersion in a fluid, in either a secular or religious sense.


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1 “Sprinkling”, as a mode, does not affect validity, only licitness (strict adherence to law). Catechism of the Catholic Church #1239: “Baptism is performed in the most expressive way by triple immersion in the baptismal water. However, from ancient times it has also been able to be conferred by pouring the water three times over the candidate’s head.” Code of Canon Law, 854: “Baptism is to be conferred either by immersion or by pouring.”

2 Edward C. Wharton, The Church of Christ (Nashville: Gospel Advocate Company, 1997), 82. Wharton’s book is one of only a relatively few written by a member of the Protestant Church of Christ that is intended to work as an explanation of the group’s beliefs. Wharton’s book is not authoritative; it is indicative.

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