What does it mean to "Evangelize" for a Catholic if conversion starts at baptism?

So: I question I would often ask my Calvinst friends: What’s the point of evangelism if God elects who will be saved (whether they like it or not)?

On the flip side, however, I would have to ask this question of Catholics: What does evangelism look like from a Catholic view if conversion is NOT about “asking Jesus into your life”, but only about “baptism”?

It seems Protestant evangelism involves a rather definitive moment of decision – where someone becomes Christian and “gets saved”. However, they have a very fuzzy view of what it means to “stay saved” (unless, of course, you’re a Calvinist). Catholics, on the other hand have a very definitive idea of what it means to “stay saved” (ie., living out the holy life, the sacrament, etc.) but a very fuzzy view of what it means to “get saved” (apart from the act of baptism)

While I agree with the Catholic understanding of Justification in general (we’re brought into God’s covenant family and “infused” with Christ’s righteousness, not merely forensically “covered” or “imputed” .), I have difficulty understanding how evangelism plays into the life of the Catholic.

I believe when a person realizes the “despair” and fraility of their lives apart from God – then when they repent and “give” their lives over to CHrist — God accepts that person (even though the ordinary means would be through baptism).

However: It seems to me there is almost a disproportionate emphsis in the Catholic CHurch on the very act of baptism as being the point of conversion in a persons life.

So: Back to the question: What is the Catholic evangelism story to athiests, for example?
I’m trying to imagine how this scenario would look…

God wants you to become his child and repent, but first you must take an introductory class, and then RCIA, and then during Easter, you’ll be baptised – and only THEN, will you become “Christian”.

It seems to me it cannot possibly be that complex.
I can accept that the “ordinary” means to becoming a Christian — or brought into God’s covenant family is through baptism, but doesn’t God also work through the extraordinary means of personal contrition, repentance in an adult convert?

I’ll give you an illustration:
When we were living overseas in Ireland for a few years, I was able to drive legally the first year without having to get a FULL Irish drivers license. About after a year, we took our “written” test and got what’s called a “provisional drivers license”. NOW: According to Irish law, holders of a “provisional license” are required to place a big “L” on the back of their car, which indicates “LEARNER”! And learners, incidentally, are not allowed to drive on the Motorways (only local roads). Go figure.

So, this left us puzzled. We’ve ALREADY been driving for quite sometime on the Motorways using our American license, and NOW we have to place an “L” on our car, and restrict our driving to the local roads? (When I asked some authories about that – and never DID get a straight answer about that).

I guess the the illustration here applies to my “salvation”.
I truly believe the “ignition” of my salvation started precisely on September 9, 1988 when someone led me to Christ in a prayer of repentance and acceptance of Christ. I can clearly say my life changed quite radically since that moment, in such a way, that NO other explaination sufficies than God truly accepted me as his child at that moment.

Now: It turns out that I WAS already baptised in the Lutheran chuch as an infant – but I later got “re-baptised” (in true, Protestant fashion), after I made a public confession of my faith as an adult. Some have told me the second baptism was really unnecessary — and I can sort of see that. HOWEVER: I can truly say that most of my life was lived in darkness and sin until I was about 18, when I “asked Jesus in”.

Anyway: I hope you can follow my train of thought here – as I’m writing rather fast and furiously! (because I have to get back to work).

Any thoughts?
DO Catholics “tell people about Jesus?”, or do you just “tell people about the RCIA process and baptism?” How does that work?

The point is that election doesn’t save. Men are still saved through the preaching of the Gospel.

The elect still need to hear the Gospel in order to respond to it.

It seems Protestant evangelism involves a rather definitive moment of decision – where someone becomes Christian and “gets saved”. However, they have a very fuzzy view of what it means to “stay saved”

I disagree. The Bible gives us four very clear criteria to judge whether or not we’re saved:

  1. Our testimony
  2. Our doctrine
  3. Our fruit
  4. Our sanctification

While I agree with the Catholic understanding of Justification in general (we’re brought into God’s covenant family and “infused” with Christ’s righteousness, not merely forensically “covered” or “imputed” .),

So then what do you do with the Bible verses that support imputed righteousness?

DO Catholics “tell people about Jesus?”, or do you just “tell people about the RCIA process and baptism?” How does that work?

One of the difference I’ve noticed can be seen right here. If you look at the threads here in the “evangelization” forum, there are plenty of threads about recruiting people into the Catholic Church and keeping people from leaving the Catholic Church, but very,very little about the Gospel or anything about the presentation of the Gospel to the lost.

I never hear anything about evangelization in our parish, only two times throughout the past year did the priest say anything remotely related to outreach and it was “you could invite your lapsed Catholic family members back to the Church”.

Evangelism is so much more than this. What about people who don’t come from Christian families? It just seems to be assumed that of course your parents were Catholics, grandparents, etc.

The favorite saying is “evangelize and use words if necessary”. Well, if you’re from an unbelieving background words will most definitely be necessary. But is is a lot more uncomfortable to talk about the gospel than to be a nice person to people who aren’t believers.

I think it would be great to have some seminars and classes on how to share the gospel with our friends, how to answer different questions, how to use the Bible to explain the truths of the gospel, etc.

And i should also note, that there was no one entering our parish this past Easter. No surprise.

I’m unclear how many questions you are asking or exactly what your issues are.

As for evangelizing non-Christians, the emphasis is on telling people about Jesus. RCIA is primarily for people who are discerning becoming Catholic. There would be little point for someone to attend RCIA if he weren’t attracted to Jesus. Therefore, the catechumen must have been taught about Jesus (at least in part) previously.

These days, we also hear about the “new Evangelization,” which is primarily geared toward continuing instruction of fully initiated Catholics, including telling them about Jesus.

I’m a bit confused. Are you asking about how Catholics evangelize, or are you asking about the Catholic view of salvation?

If it’s the latter is gets a little hairy because Catholics and Protestants differ in their terminology. I can try to hash it out for you though.

If you’re asking about the former, I can only answer for myself, which is I try to see where the person whom I’m speaking to is coming from, and start there. I’m directing the person to Jesus, explaining the gospel, encouraging repentance, faith in Christ,and, yes, baptism. But as we all know, conversations and conversions are rarely that linear.

So maybe my queston is more around the nature of baptism itself – and secondarily, how that fits into the evangelistic story.

So let me provide some context for me question. I was just listening to “Open Forum for Non-Catholics”, featuring David Anders (former Protestant).

He mentions that in his Protestant background, “being saved” was about “asking Jesus to be your personal savior”, whereas in Catholicism, it starts with “baptism”.

Well, we can see certainly that baptism almost ALWAYS accompanies a profession of faith (the Ethiopian eunich, the Roman jailer, etc.), but certainly not the CAUSE of it.

Consider Acts 8:
Philip and the Ethiopian

26 Now an angel(AF) of the Lord said to Philip,(AG) “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” 27 So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopiana eunuch,(AI) an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means “queen of the Ethiopians”). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship,(AJ) 28 and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. 29 The Spirit told(AK) Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”

30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.

31 “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

32 This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading:

“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
and as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
Who can speak of his descendants?
For his life was taken from the earth.”**(AL)

34 The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” 35 Then Philip began(AM) with that very passage of Scripture(AN) and told him the good news(AO) about Jesus.

36 **As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?”(AP) [37] [c] 38 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. **39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away,(AQ) and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. 40 Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns(AR) until he reached Caesarea.(AS)

(NOTE: Apparently some manuscripts include a verse 37, which is missing here: Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” The eunuch answered, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”

Now contrast this with the Catechism…

Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit (vitae spiritualis ianua),4 and the door which gives access to the other sacraments. Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission: "Baptism is the sacrament of regeneration through water and in the word."5

Perhaps I’m taking this out of context, but it is seems a bit confusing to me when such a strict, material, literal emphasis is placed on baptism itself as the regenerating moment. Rather the Biblical, historical emphasis (and my own personal experience) seems to me that baptism is co-joined with (or follows a) profession of faith, but **never preceeds it.

These articles on baptism - including infant Baptism - may be helpful:




Perhaps I’m taking this out of context, but it is seems a bit confusing to me when such a strict, material, literal emphasis is placed on baptism itself as the regenerating moment. Rather the Biblical, historical emphasis (and my own personal experience) seems to me that baptism is co-joined with (or follows a) profession of faith, but **never **preceeds it.

Well, I think when it comes to the conversion of adults, you’re right. Belief in Jesus must come before baptism, otherwise why would anyone consent to be baptized? The catechism doesn’t contradict that. It simply says that baptism is necessary for the remission of sins. I can’t really think of a Protestant church that denies the necessity of baptism, even though many view it as merely a symbol and not a sacrament.

Conversion IS about asking Jesus into your life. The difference between Catholic and Evangelical Christian faith is that Catholics believe our conversion is ongoing and happens throughout our lives. We don’t see baptism as an event that happens and then life goes on, we see baptism as a start to a new life where we are constantly asking Jesus to renew us, each and every day of our lives. We are asking Jesus into our life not only at baptism, but with every breath we take.

If you really want to know what Catholics believe about Evangelization, especially in America, take a look at the document : Go and Make Disciples. I’d also suggest reading the book, From Maintenance to Mission if you can find a copy of it.

As with most things Catholic, it’s not an either/or approach. These quotes from the Holy Father will give you a taste of Catholic evangelization:


Thanks all. I think a lot of this is just getting a deeper understanding. I love the “pope quotes”!

“We cannot keep to ourselves the words of eternal life given to us in our encounter with Jesus Christ: they are meant for everyone, for every man and woman. … It is our responsibility to pass on what, by God’s grace, we ourselves have received.”

  • Pope Benedict XVI, Verbum Domini, 2010

Because God commands that we do it. :slight_smile:

Mr Anders was likely referring to the normative entry into the Church.

Both Catholics and Protestants agree that salvation comes “by grace through faith” and that God alone supplies these. The “being saved” Mr Anders discusses concerns pinpointing the precise moment when salvation enters a person’s life.

Evangelism is towards those who have not heard the Gospel. The New Evangelization is for those who are baptized but were never sufficiently evangelized. So said Cardinal Wuerl at the Defending the Faith Conference last summer. :thumbsup:

Baptism is the beginning, but we have to say ‘yes’ to God daily (even hourly!).

Back in the day, when folks lived in Catholic neighborhoods and had Catholic role models, evangelization probably happened without much thought.

Now we have to work at it and get people to realize they need it.

Baptism is only one part of the plan of salvation, and the real New Testament Gospel is more complex than that offered by many n-Cs.

Baptism does not start conversion. Conversion begins with the work of the Holy Spirit and His gift of faith. Baptism is the logical and scriptural step in response to that gift, whether to an adult convert or the parents of a newborn blessed enough to be born into a Catholic family.

As a Catholic I am always involved in evangelism. I use a wide variety of means to communicate the Gospel and, with the help of the Holy Spirit, I seek to call them to a deep conversion and right relationship with God through the sacrifice of Our Lord Jesus Christ. I endeavor to carry out the mandate of Matthew 28:19-20 which plainly tells us…19] Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20] teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age."

RCIA, as well as other teaching aids, including both the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and other studies such as the Catholic Home Study Service assist in doing precisely that, so that the people get the fulness of the Gospel as found in the New Testament.

In a nutshell the following 2 brief articles on my blog sum up my position.

How Is A Catholic Saved?
Who REALLY Preaches “A Different Gospel”?

BTW, the Church does indeed teach that our first mission field is to those of our own households. IOW we are to seek to train up our children in the way that they should go. (See Proverbs 22:6 to see what we are committing to when we have our children Baptized.) We start there and expand to the whole world around us.

Hi All — get back to this discussion…

Let me see if I can summarize this — and especially in regard to infant baptism:

We know that without God taking the initiative in our salvation (and his grace conferred on us), man is unable to respond appropriately in faith to him by our OWN efforts alone. Essentially because our eyes our “blinded”. This is why we need grace — which is precisely what the COuncil of Orange stated (in response to the heresy of Pelagianism)


Presumably: Calvinists believe it is God’s arbitrary “election” that removes those blinders – so that they can then believe (except, I’m not sure I understand the logic that the “Elect” STILL must beleve, and respond in faith. That doesn’t seem to square either with the ideas of “Irresistable Grace” and “Perseverance” of the elect).

Catholics believe that for infants (or children unable to commit ACTUAL, personal) sin, the “blinders” are essentially removed by baptism.

Is this accurate?

I WAS, in fact, baptized as an infant in the Lutheran church — and yet, I lived a life of pretty active sin in my teen years, with little awareness of God in my life.

At age 18, I made a commitment of faith and essentially “gave my life over” to Christ. Some might say the reason I was able to even respond in faith to God was because of my initial baptism. Perhaps: And yet, I’m pretty sure there are many out there who “come to faith” in God without having been first baptized as an infant.

So – I guess I can agree that baptism is “normative” for all people to be saved – and yet, based on the stories of many people out there ---- MANY come to Christ in the “extraordinary way” by simply “repenting and asking Jesus into their lives” (although, Protestants would call this the “ordinary way”.

In infants, Baptism removes the stain of Original Sin. In catechumens, (unbaptized adults who are becoming Catholic) it removes the stain of all sin- Original and Actual. In most Protestant traditons, Baptism is “an outward symbol of an inward transformation or change.” It is not necessary for salvation, the way the Catechism teaches. However, as long as the Protestant Baptism was only performed once in a person’s life and was done “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”, it is considered a valid Baptism by the Catholic Church. In the Protestant world, Baptism is often seen as the end. From there all you have to do is go to church and you’re okay. In the Catholic Church, Baptism is just the beginning. I’ve been writing a blog that posts three days a week going through the Catechism, explaining some of the differences between the Catholic Church and the Protestant tradition. It’s found at www.explorefaith.blog.com. I have covered already the Nicene Creed and the liturgy. Beginning next week I will be posting on the Sacraments, beginning with Baptism.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.