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Friday, January 13, 2006

The Great Commission

Dear Sir,

Can you show me one verse that clearly says that one is not saved because he has not been baptized?

The Bible teaches that the only condition for salvation is to believe. This by the way comes out of the mouth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Let us now look at the Great Commission in the Gospel of Matthew chapter 28.

Matthew 28:18-20

18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."

The Greek has only one command here "make disciples." This phrase is an imperative and is clustered around three participles. The main verb "make disciples" tells us what is to be done and the participles, "going, baptizing, teaching" tell us how to do it.

Some contend that "disciple" is a synonym for "Christian." In that view, to make a disciple is to make a Christian. But this and other biblical passages indicates that being a Christian is one thing and being a disciple is another. Being a Christian costs nothing; salvation is a gift (Romans 6:23). Discipleship costs everything (Luke 14:15-35). Thus, a disciple is defined as a baptized believer who is obeying the Word and is therefore growing in the Lord.

The three participles indicate the three-step process in disciple-making. Step one is going. Step two is baptizing. The NT teaches that when a person hears the message about Jesus Christ and trusts Him as Savior, he has eternal life (John 3:36). THEN he is to be baptized.

Notice Mark 16:15-16.

15 And He said to them, "Go [same idea as in the Matt. passage] into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. 16 "He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.

Evidently, from verse 15, between going and baptizing comes presenting the gospel and inviting the person to Christ. The saved person is then asked to be baptized. We are only to baptize saved people. Baptism does nor ever will save us is not a part of the gospel message.


Dear Darrel:

Thanks for the offer to play the venerable Protestant game of proof-texting, but I prefer to read Scripture in its full context of the life of the Church and with the favorite verses safely nestled in the context of verse you don't happen to like as much.

When I do, I notice, for instance, that when Scripture doesn't fit your template, you simply change what it says:

John 3:36

36 He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey [believe] the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.
The text actually says "Obey", but you don't like that, so you simply make it say what you want it to, because you have a theory and Scripture is going to conform to that theory come hell or high water.

The Catholic approach is much simpler than all this incredibly nuanced parsing of the text. For us, faith and obedience are two sides of the same coin. So if you believe, you are baptized. Believing as we do in the Word made flesh, we have no particular problem with the idea that God confers grace to us through sacraments of matter, just as we have no problem believing that God came to us in a body of matter.

Given that Jesus himself said that we are born again of water and the Spirit (i.e. baptism), that Romans 6 sees baptism as the normative means of entry into the Christian life, and 1 Peter 3:21 says about as clearly as possible that "baptism now saves you", Catholics don't worry too much about the wire-drawn attempts to pull apart mental assent from obedience. They recognize that in rare instances people are deprived of the chance of baptism who have, in fact, come to faith in Christ (like the good thief). And so Catholic theology has always recognized the reality of baptism of desire and blood, which are in union with the sacrament of baptism rather than the opposite of these.

So, in conclusion, when I am faced with language from you that directly contradicts the plain word of Scripture, what should I do?

You say: "Baptism does not nor ever will save us." The word of God says, "Baptism now saves you".

For my part, I will stick with Scripture and not with the theories of people who change and contradict Scripture to suit their notions.

Mark Shea
Senior Content Editor
Catholic Exchange

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