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Monday, February 14, 2022

Oh my God! He said "we" instead of "I"

According to USA TodayA priest incorrectly performed thousands of baptisms for decades – by changing one word. In the article by Marina Pitofsky, we learn that the Catholic Diocese of Pheonix, Arizona confirmed that one Father Arango "used the words 'we baptize you in the name of the father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit,' instead of the correct phrase 'I baptize you in the name of the father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit.'"

If (like me) you were thinking that that doesn't sound too bad, you would be wrong - according to the Diocese! Pitofsky noted that "The diocese explained that the single incorrect word matters for worshippers because 'it is not the community that baptizes a person and incorporates them into the Church of Christ; rather, it is Christ, and Christ alone, who presides at all sacraments.'" Hence, they concluded that all of the baptisms performed by this priest were invalid! Moreover, they believe that this calls into question all of the subsequent rituals (like confirmation, communion and marriages) which had been performed for those who had been improperly baptized!

Frankly, this article caught my attention because of some of the teachings surrounding baptism that were promulgated by the Armstrongists with whom I was formerly affiliated. For Herbert Armstrong and his followers, those Catholic "baptisms" were thrice damned! According to them, only adults should be eligible for baptism, they should be fully emersed in water, and one of their ministers should perform the ritual (since they didn't believe Catholics were real Christians anyway).

Moreover, Catholics and Armstrongists aren't the only "Christians" who are prickly and particular about how their baptisms are performed. Some folks dip, others dunk, and some groups sprinkle. Some folks baptize in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, while others baptize in the name of Jesus Christ! Some folks lay hands on the newly baptized, while others simply pray over them.

What ALL of them seem to have forgotten is that baptism is a ritual of the Christian Church which symbolizes a spiritual reality. Baptism symbolically washes away our sins. It also pictures the burial of the old sinful person, and the resurrection of the new person which Christ's own life, death, burial and resurrection makes possible. Talk about straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel!

The reality becomes secondary to the mechanics - the physical practices of the ritual. After all, the first Gentile converts were given the Holy Spirit prior to being baptized (see Acts 10). Likewise, some believers at Ephesus hadn't even heard about Christ's baptism or the Holy Spirit until Paul taught them about those things (see Acts 19). What if circumstances precluded a person from being baptized? Does that mean that they are precluded from receiving the Holy Spirit and becoming part of the body of Christ?

I've heard the same kind of ignorant debates over the mechanics of the Eucharist. Does it have to be wine - or is grape juice OK? Does it have to be unleavened bread - or will the regular stuff do? Should it be practiced weekly, monthly, quarterly or yearly? Do the elements actually turn into the body and blood of Christ - or do they remain wafers and juice/wine? Should it be referred to as the Eucharist, Lord's Supper, Passover, Holy Communion, or something else? Must the service be accompanied by a foot washing ceremony to be valid? Really? What about what the ritual actually portrays?

Unfortunately, a lot of Christians seem to be more interested in form than in meaning. I believe that anyone who professes to be a disciple of Jesus Christ should approach these issues with the same kind of dedication that Christ always exhibited towards the spiritual principles that motivated his every action. We need to ask ourselves some questions like: Does this or that really matter? Will this or that impede the person's salvation? Will this or that help the person's faith - or risk destroying it? Is God able to save a sincere person with limited understanding? Does this person really need to be rebaptized, reconfirmed, or remarried because the person performing the ritual (or the ritual itself) was somehow deficient? Sure, we all have our opinions about the proper way to do things, but just how much do our opinions really matter in the end?

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