Convert Patty Bond has some very significant reflections on this topic:
I’ve been working on this presentation about the difference in language between Catholics and Protestants. While it is possible to define words and their different meanings to each group, what is very difficult is to explain the difference in perspective that those words represent. Maybe a personal example will help explain what I mean.
I’m presently working on the word “baptism.” Baptism is a word that is defined in a multitude of ways across the Christian spectrum. Where I came from (I was a Baptist) it was just something we did to identify ourselves with Jesus Christ. Because He was baptized and He instructed us to be baptized, we were baptized out of obedience. It was often described as “putting on the uniform” of a Christian so that the world would identify us as Christians. Odd, really, since the vast majority of the world has no idea if you have been baptized or not. Once your hair is dry, who would know? Especially in baptist circles where certificates of baptism and even baptismal records kept at the chruch are often neglected and ignored. If you doubt me, ask a few baptist to Catholic converts who have struggled to prove they were baptized. We just don’t think much of it.
Ten years ago I became aquainted with a lady who was Presbyterian. She was one of the strongest Christians I had ever met. The only problem I had with her was that she had been baptized as an infant, and then “saved” as an adult, and refused to be re-baptized because she believed her baptism as a child was valid. I won’t get into Presbyterian doctrine, but she belived that her baptism brought her into the new covenant of Christ. I really struggled with what I saw as disobedience on her part because she would not be re-baptized.
Then five years ago, when I began studying the Catholic faith, I really struggled with the concept of infant baptizm as opposed to what baptists refer to as “believers baptism.” As baptists, baptism was seen as purely symbolic, non-effectual, and optional. In fact, we said that if you were not already “saved” when you entered the waters, all you were going to get out of baptism was wet.
Then I encountered the writings of the early Fathers of the Church and realized that baptism had always been seen as a sacrament that washed away original sin and imparted the grace of God making the baptized a new creation; a child of God. Here are just a couple of quotes:
*“And we, who have approached God through Him (Christ), have received not carnal, but spiritual circumcision, which Enoch and those like him observed. And we have received it through baptism, since we were sinners, by God’s mercy; and all men may equally obtain it.” *
"Then they are brought by us where there is water, and are regenerated in the same manner in which we were ourselves regenerated (were reborn). For, in the name of God, the Father . . . and of our Savior Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they then receive the washing with water. For Christ also said, 'Except ye be born again, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven . . . "
"For He came to save all through means of Himself - all, I say, who through Him are born again to God, - infants, and children, and boys, and youths, and old men."
I can still remember wrestling with these words. What made these early Christians think that they should baptize their infants? What good did they think that did?
At this point I had come to peace with Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist, but the concept of sacrament was still so new that I still did not quite get how God has chosen to use matter to impart grace in our lives. But one day as I was driving across the desert here in Phoenix and wrestling with the Early Fathers, in one moment the Holy Spirit made sense of it all. I was driving along and suddenly burst out - “Because it’s a sacrament! It’s effective by the power of God! And who would not want their child to be brought into the family of God as quickly as they had been brought into the human family? It’s a sacrament!” Suddenly the word “sacrament” made sense and from there the whole Catholic faith made sense.
God had taken me on a five year journey to finally understand that one word. Words can be defined, but understanding their deep meaning often takes a changed vantage point and that can take years and requires the work of the Holy Spirit. That is another reason why understanding the written text of the scriptures is not sufficient to understand the Word of God. Without the proper vantage point (Sacred Tradition) words are just symbols without a definite meaning, open to the interpretation of the reader.
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