The world got a new pope last week. It made world news as white smoke wafted from the Vatican rooftop. I am not a Catholic, so I found myself wondering why this was front page, prime time news. I knew Christianity was the biggest religion on earth, but wasn’t sure about which Christian group had the most members. Turns out it is the Roman Catholics with 1.2 billion members. Greek Orthodox and protestants only add up to 1 billion.

Is it possible that all 2.2 billion of us Christians could get together and form one big unified church? What’s the difference between the Anabaptists, the Presbyterians, the Lutherans and the Catholics? The difference is that they all get baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

You ask, “Isn’t that how they are all the same?”

My reply is, “No, that is how they all differ.” Let me try to make this simple. But, trust me, it ain’t simple. What should be a simple 1 + 1 = 2 is far more complex. Here is the algebraic formula:
C = Catholic
L = Lutheran
A = Anabaptist
P = Presbyterian
Here are the formulas for baptism in each of these four groups:
C = baptism at birth, or as an adult + water poured over your head + receive Holy Spirit
L = same as C
A = only adult, public baptism + dunked under water + public statement of faith
P = birth or adult baptism + sprinkled, poured or dunked + a public statement of faith

So how does this work if a Christian wants to join a different church? Here’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it. When I met my “husband to be” he was a C and had been sprinkled at birth in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I was an A, baptized on confession of faith and dunked at age nine in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We were getting married in a P church and decided we should both become members of that church in addition to getting married there.

This particular P church was more like an A church in one sense. Here is what they decided about our baptisms when we decided to join. I did not have to be baptized again, or sprinkled since I had been dunked by public confession of faith in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But fiance had to be rebaptized by sprinkling demonstrating his own adult faith in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. For some reason his mother’s faith was not considered enough to cover him. You might consider this like a booster shot to protect against an infection. My “husband to be” needed a booster baptism.
He was happy to be resprinkled because he did truly believe in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit after living for some years with doubts. At our wedding the soloist sang,
“May the mind of Christ our savior live in us from day to day.
By his power and love controlling all we do and say.” Barham-Gould

Some years later we attended an A church. I could join since I had been dunked at age nine, but my husband would have to be dunked, not just sprinkled – a third baptism in one lifetime. However, the times had changed somewhat. This A minister told us to just consider ourselves members. The whole issue over C, L, A, or P baptism was a non issue. (By the way, in case you were wondering, the Baptists were called anabaptists a few hundred years ago because they insisted that folks such as my husband must be baptised again, if they were only baptised as infants. “Ana” means “again” in Greek.)

The years went by, and not getting any younger, we joined an L church near home. By now all the C, L, A and P rules were beginning to disintegrate. My husband and I were greeted with open arms and told to head up front to the altar for communion every Sunday, as long as our “tradition” was the same as theirs.

We figure our “tradition” is the same as that begun by Jesus when he said “Whosoever will may come,” so we trot up front for communion every Sunday, sometimes with tears of joy in our eyes, remembering his body broken, and his blood shed for all.

Here is a Roman Catholic church from Taiwan singing about Jesus Christ. It seems Marco Polo is not the only Roman who reached Asia.

“We remember how you loved us to your death,
and still we celebrate, for you are with us here;
and we believe that we will see you when you come,
in your glory, Lord.
We remember, we celebrate, we believe.”
Marty Haugen


6 thoughts on “New Pope – Holy Smoke!

  1. I’ve been taking a 2-year course in spiritual direction with the Jesuits, along with my German Lutheran friend Dorothy. The rest of the group are all either nuns or priests.

    The head of the program started by allowing us to take communion with the others, and is very interested in ecumenism (?). However, two participants in the course tattled on him to his bishop and he was asked to ask us to refrain from taking the elements at mass. The Catholics spend much time in the mass preparing the elements and proclaiming them to be the body and blood of Christ, the eucharist is the main event at the mass, and then even the clean-up afterwards is very carefully performed to respect the elements of the eucharist. (a short homily is always nice, but it’s not the main meal–more like the after dinner mint).

    So, yes, differences in baptism. And the other sacraments as well.

  2. Hi Christi, The Lutheran church we are in is very similar. Our pastor preaches a wonderful, short sermon. But the focus is on communion, oh, and the wonderful music and litergy. I must commend the Roman Catholic church for maintaining the integrity of belief in Scripture. What would the world do without that. I think Martin Luther would agree, as would John Calvin from the Ps.

  3. No Presbyterian church should ever require a Catholic to be rebaptized, as that church required of your then soon-to-be husband. Can’t imagine what criteria they used for that one. Sounds like they didn’t really know WHAT they were theologically/biblically. If they truly were Presbyterian they were/are part of the Calvinist Reformed tradition, and therefore definitely not anabaptists. Presbyterians, and all Reformed denominations, DO NOT rebaptize people who were baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

  4. Hey Marian, I totally agree, but that church was a great church, and we spent several happy years there. I think the main point of my essay on baptism is that we profess our faith in Christ and bond with other believers every Sunday regardless of the details.

    One of these days I will blog about the struggle with integration of churches in the South. At that point I will address more serious issues – not just who gets baptized, or how or when.

    • I certainly agree with your main point, Paula. That’s also why, despite the obvious doctrinal differences with Catholics, I am disturbed that so many evangelicals and conservative Reformed people seem to be so viscerally anti-Catholic. They’re convinced that they and devout Catholics don’t worship the same Savior!

  5. I can’t help it – have to reply with a cliche – what would Jesus do? I think the heart of the matter is in the word “visceral.” If we are talking with a person of a different perspective it’s important to love and respect the person. Second it is important to focus on the basic essentials – Jesus is Lord and Savior. Sometimes, at some point, we may wish to go beyond that and discuss issues where we disagree.

    Here is an example. Do I pray to Mary? No, but I often talk to my mother who is in heaven. Her name was Ruth. Is that praying to Ruth?

    Nothing is simple, at least not for my brain.

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