FAITH AND BAPTISM

By Guest Blogger Rev. Deogratias O. Ekisa, S.T.D

Faith and the sacrament of baptism are intimately linked in Catholic doctrine and practice.  This relationship is twofold: not only does faith lead to baptism (terminus ad quem), but faith also grows from baptism (terminus a quo).

‘Be baptized!’

That baptism is the culmination of a faith journey, is best illustrated by the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles.  The chapter begins with the great event of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-13), after which Peter boldly preaches Jesus as the Lord and Messiah promised by God and the Savior of the world (Acts 2: 14-36).  The decisive point comes in Acts 2:37: “Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?’”  These people, who clearly believe in Jesus Christ, inquire as to the next step in their journey of faith.  Peter’s answer supplies the natural answer to this question saying: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).  And the passage ends by telling us that those who received his word were baptized (Acts 2:42).  That believing and faith should lead one to baptism is also explicitly stated in the missionary sending forth reported by Mark 16:16 and Matthew 28:19 (See also CCC 1226).

But baptism is also a source of faith, in the sense that after baptism, Christians continue to grow in the faith.  Chapter 6 of Paul’s letter to the Romans makes this intimate connection between baptism and faith.  While treating the broader question of justification by faith, Paul is anxious to show that the natural consequence of baptism is a continual growth in faith.  The novelty of baptism and the transformation thus received in baptism means that the baptised person no longer has room for sin (Rom. 6:11-14).  Commenting about this passage, the Jerome Biblical Commentary has this to say:  “Ontologically united with Christ through baptism, the Christian must deepen his or her faith continually to become aware psychologically of that union.  Thus consciously oriented to Christ, one could never again consider sin without a basic rupture of that union” (NJBC p.848).  This is a theme that Paul comes back to again and again in his writings (see 1 Cor. 6:11; 1 Pt. 3:21; Col 2-3).  That Baptism is a source of faith is also clearly expressed in the Church’s long-standing practice of infant baptism.  The infants, who have not yet believed in Good News are baptized in the faith of the Church and henceforth begins their journey of faith.

Baptism <–> Faith

Considering both strands of theology, we can summarize the relationship between baptism and faith in a dialectical way: On the one hand, Baptism presupposes faith, particularly in the adult convert; on the other hand, the faith of the baptized person lives and grows from the baptismal experience and from the Spirit of God given in baptism.

And yet regardless of which precedes the other, it is clear that the two, faith and baptism go together.  In the ordinary dispensation of God’s plan of salvation, both are necessary for salvation.  Except in the rare case of infant baptism, it is not enough to go through the sacramental ritual of baptism, if there is no corresponding faith in the Triune God in whom one is baptised and in Jesus Christ whose death and resurrection makes the sacrament effective.  Baptism without faith is ritualism, a kind of attitude in those who think the sacrament works like magic.  But this attitude is also to be found in those who have been baptised, particularly as infants, and have since not followed up in the baptismal commitment to a relationship with Christ, demonstrated in their belief and in their way of life.  On the other hand, except in the rare case of baptism of blood and baptism of desire, it is not enough to have faith without the sacrament of baptism.  The Catholic faith must be embodied in this ritual of baptism, through which the intending candidate visibly dies with Christ in the water and rises out of it with him.  For the law of Christ is not just a law of belief (lex credendi), but it is also a law of celebration and liturgy (lex orandi).

See Fr. Deo sharing on his pastoral work in Uganda in this youtube clip:

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