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.”