Baptism of Desire - the key to ecumenism with Evangelicals?

Most Evangelicals find the Catholic Church’s teaching on salvation to be out of sync with both Scripture and personal experience. We teach that regeneration/justification/re-birth occurs at water baptism. We teach that works and sacraments are requirements for salvation. We thus, according to Evangelicals, obfuscate and obstruct the message of the Gospel. For them, the Gospel is all about the free gift of God’s grace that comes through faith, to every person who believes, at the moment they believe, no matter who they are or what they have done.

John 3:16 and Romans 10:9-10 are good examples of their Scriptural foundation. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, so that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but shall have everlasting life. If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. And the personal experience of Christians around the world testifies to the fact that a person does indeed become radically transformed by The Holy Spirit the moment they encounter Christ through sincere, heart-felt faith and surrender.

From their perspective, baptism is symbolic of this event and good works the result of it. When they hear Catholics say that baptism and good works are required for the event to take place, they look at the Scriptures which promise the new-birth to all who believe in their heart, and at their own personal experience of this, and thus are forced to reject what the Church teaches.

However, their rejection of Catholic teaching is because, in my opinion, we Catholics have done a poor job understanding our own doctrines, and a worse job explaining them to others.

Our teaching about water baptism, as I understand it, is that regeneration occurs at water baptism *ordinarily *; and it is required for salvation - but not absolutely. Water baptism is only the ordinary form, as was originally intended by God for the early Church, such that converts were to be baptized immediately upon reception of the Gospel, so conversion and baptism were basically simultaneous. (read Acts, Peter preaches, 3,000 are converted, they are all baptized immediately that same day)

But the Church has always understood that water baptism is not necessary if there are extenuating circumstances which make it impossible at the moment of conversion. God will use water baptism to bring about regeneration if it is possible to do so, but in the event that a person comes to Christ without a person present who can baptize them in water, God will bring about the baptism by purely Spiritual means. The Church teaches that when a person comes to faith in Christ, such that they love Christ more than anything else, at that moment they are supernaturally regenerated and justified by The Holy Spirit of God.

This is called a “Baptism of Desire.” Any time a person is moved to love God more than anything else, God has promised that He will forgive all their sins, justify them, and regenerate them at that moment.

Now, isn’t this the exact same Evangelical Gospel that our separated brethren believe in? Could we not explain our understanding of justification to them in such a way that we place a heavy emphasis on the reality of this phenomena? Yes, the ordinary form is water baptism. Yes, we should always insist that every believer receive water baptism, even if they have already experienced a baptism of desire. Evangelicals will not have any problem agreeing with us that water baptism is necessary as long as we affirm the reality which we call the “Baptism of Desire.”

It seems to me that our efforts at ecumenism with Evangelicals would be greatly benefited if we would make a point to always lead with and emphasize this teaching of ours. If they knew that we have always believed in this evangelical Gospel of free grace to all who surrender their heart, they would be much more open to hearing what we have to say. Their entire theology is based upon an absolute commitment to this understanding of the Gospel, and without affirming it we stand no chance at winning them over. But if this is truly a Catholic teaching, and it is indeed a Catholic teaching as I understand it, then we would benefit ourselves and our separated brethren by bringing it to the forefront of our theology.

Evangelicals/pentecostals are the most close minded and stubborn people I know.

The very nature of their faith says Catholic faith is evil and from the devil itself.

And they believe the Holy Spirit talks with them in a peculiar way. They don’t need and want any “arguments”.

Isn’t there more to consider than just baptism?..for that is just the beginning of the promises and goodness of Jesus.

We might ask ourselves “why am I Catholic today?” “Would I be any thing else and why not?” For some this may not be a very deep question and not an important one. For others, gratitude fills their heart and soul for what Jesus does for them in an on-going way.

I rather think it goes back to what Jesus told us about sower and the seed. Some fell by the wayside, some fell on rocky hard ground, some fell among the thistles and thorns, while some fell on good ground producing fruit. The seed falling on the ground is the story of baptism. What happens after that is the lesson of importance. Any thing that hinders us in any way inhibits us from the oneness of Jesus is a bad thing. And in addition, even among the seed that produced fruit, some gave 100 fold, some gave 60 fold, and some gave 30 fold. It would stand the test to say that the closer one is to Jesus thru what he left with us, would produce the 100 fold.

Our Protestant brethren will not respond to this kind of preaching. The seed falling on the ground is the story of baptism? Jesus says the seed is the good word of the Gospel. We Catholics have so completely misunderstood our own theology…

Baptism is spiritual, and may or may not include water. Baptism is being submerged into Christ, dying to oneself and rising to live for God. It is the experience of radical transformation and conversion. That is what baptism is. And it does not require water to occur. Anyone who comes to love Jesus more than anything will experience a baptism of desire at that very moment. This is the Gospel.

Well, that’s something only God can judge, since we cannot know each person’s disposition who believes baptism isn’t a sacrament, but only a witness to a conversion that already happened.

When we discuss what the Church understands the “baptism of desire” to mean it is best to go to the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

1260 "Since Christ died for all, and since all men are in fact called to one and the same destiny, which is divine, we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partakers, in a way known to God, of the Paschal mystery."63 Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church, but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved. It may be supposed that such persons would have desired Baptism explicitly if they had known its necessity.

Of course, this presupposes ignorance, not deliberate rejection of the sacrament. So, as I stated, we cannot know if any individual Evangelical deliberately rejects baptism as a sacrament, we cannot know if any of them “qualify” as having had a “baptism of desire.” It appears that it is reserved for those who live in ignorance, such as a Hindu or Muslim who never heard of the sacrament. But, of course, only God can judge our hearts/intentions–his is the final say as to who will be saved. In brief, I think it’s too broad a definition to say that all Evangelicals have a baptism of desire, especially not those who know what the sacrament is and reject it.

There is not a single Evangelical alive who rejects baptism. The Church does not mean that people have to reject the idea that Baptism is a Sacrament. The Church means that people have to reject Baptism in general, ie: refuse to be Baptized. Whether one believes it is a Sacrament or not not is irrelevant.

Besides, the Church teaches that a person is forgiven and regenerated the moment they love Christ more than anything else. This is when a baptism of desire occurs: when a person loves Jesus more than anything else.

This site should be helpful for you:

Catholic teaching is different in that salvation means death in the state of grace. One can receive baptism of water or desire, only to loose that salvation later by dying in a state of mortal sin.

Baptism of water is a sacrament, whereas baptism of desire and baptism of blood are denominated baptism only analogically. Baptism of blood also applies to infants.

Catholic Encyclopedia:

*]The baptism of desire (baptismus flaminis) is a perfect contrition of heart, and every act of perfect charity or pure love of God which contains, at least implicitly, a desire (votum) of baptism. … (John 14): “He that loveth Me, shall be loved of my Father: and I will love him and will manifest myself to him.” And again: “If any one love me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him, and will make our abode with him.” Since these texts declare that justifying grace is bestowed on account of acts of perfect charity or contrition, it is evident that these acts supply the place of baptism as to its principal effect, the remission of sins. This doctrine is set forth clearly by the Council of Trent.
*]The baptism of blood (baptismus sanquinis) is the obtaining of the grace of justification by suffering martyrdom for the faith of Christ. … The Church grounds her belief in the efficacy of the baptism of blood on the fact that Christ makes a general statement of the saving power of martyrdom in the tenth chapter of St. Matthew: “Every one therefore that shall confess me before men, I will also confess him before my Father who is in heaven” (verse 32); and: “He that shall lose his life for me shall find it” (verse 39).

Fanning, W. (1907). Baptism. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

Knowingly denying the efficacy of baptism is a sin, so it does matter. :slight_smile:

I merely wanted to point out that you are applying the definition of baptism of desire too broadly by stating what you have stated.

I can understand you wanting to believe that Evangelicals have salvation through the baptism of desire out of concern for their salvation, but I don’t think that’s the right term to use, for the simple reason that they do baptize their members, which the Church recognizes as valid. That being the case, they don’t need the baptism of desire, even if they don’t believe it regenerates the soul and forgives sins. If they baptize saying “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” in living water, and as long as they intend to baptize, it is valid. So, if they baptize their members they don’t need the baptism of desire. :slight_smile:

Originally Posted by TaylorDonBarret
Our Protestant brethren will not respond to this kind of preaching. The seed falling on the ground is the story of baptism? Jesus says the seed is the good word of the Gospel. We Catholics have so completely misunderstood our own theology…

The very first thing in the word of God is to bring one into Christ’s kingdom which is the first thing Jesus told his apostles to do by going out and baptizing the whole world. The word of God is utilized not only by listening but by doing what Jesus wants. Theology in and of itself is nothing if not carried out in our lives which starts by our committment in baptism to Jesus.

Originally Posted by TaylorDonBarret
…That is what baptism is. And it does not require water to occur. Anyone who comes to love Jesus more than anything will experience a baptism of desire at that very moment. This is the Gospel.

When we pause to think about it, Jesus could forgive anyone for anything without requiring anything at all since he is above and beyond all sacraments. But we need to start with what He wants. And he told us what he wants is for us to be baptized in water and spirit. And wouldn’t you say that is what we should do? And it is our job, the church, to hold on to what he wants and explain this in the capacity of life we find ourselves in.

As for our Protestant friends, it all depends on them and their understanding they bring with them to Jesus. Jesus alone, not us, is in the all knowing position to determine their state in the kingdom. We on the other hand are in a more sound and blessed position to know what pleases Jesus, and are on safer ground. But it is what Jesus wants is what we must point out and do.

We might say that about the rest of the sacraments as well which gives us life and health in Jesus. Our Protestant friends do not have the Blessed Sacrament. The Baptism of water is what leads to the next step of being united with Jesus and others, thru that most holy prescence of Jesus. If our Protestent friends only knew, believed, understood, how must Jesus wishes to become one with them thru this most blessed sacrament … “…I live in them and they live in me.” What a sad thing for them … my heart truely hurts for them. And some of them have such a deep faith in Jesus that if they knew what we have been blessed with, they would put us to shame.

I had a Protest friend of the family who told us that we were lucky for we had confession to forgive our sins and they didn’t have that. This is what Baptism leads to … the other sacramental way of life … the gift of holiness and goodness and comfort. Our Protestant friends have been cheated out of their birthright.

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