|By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. John Weldon; ©2003|
|What does the Catholic church teach concerning baptism? Catholic apologist Karl Keating teaches, "The Catholic Church has always taught that justification comes through the sacrament of baptism." What else does baptism do for the individual Catholic?|
As noted previously, the sacraments are believed to work ex opere operato—merely by virtue of the performance of the act. This explains why in some pagan countries overzealous Catholic priests have, apparently, actually thrown buckets of water on natives—hoping to infuse the graces of baptism merely by the act itself.
Nevertheless, if we look at the sacraments collectively, we can see that each one is intended to perform a special function at a special time. Thus, just as baptism, confirmation and marriage are pivotal points in a person’s life, the function of penance, the Mass, and anointing the sick also relate to crucial moments in life.
Space does not permit discussing each sacrament in detail; however, to illustrate the sacraments we will discuss baptism, Holy Eucharist (in Part 3), and penance (in Part 4). These and other sacraments will briefly be discussed again when we look at the Catholic view of salvation.
The Catholic Church teaches that baptism remits original sin, actual guilt and all punishment due to sin. The Catholic Church also teaches that baptism confers (1) justification, (2) spiritual rebirth or regeneration and (3) sanctification. Catholic apologist Karl Keating teaches, “The Catholic Church has always taught that justification comes through the sacrament of baptism” and “baptism is the justifying act.” Thus, “the justification that occurs at baptism effects a real change in the soul....”
The Catholic Encyclopedia also explains the importance of baptism in the scheme of salvation:
Baptism, however, is only the beginning of justification because in Catholic teaching subsequent good works increase grace (spiritual power) and help perfect justification. Baptism does not save automatically, for Catholicism holds that salvation can be lost through mortal (“deadly”) sin or other means. But salvation cannot be had without it. Because baptism produces regeneration, a person is made capable of faith. Once he exercises faith, he grows in sanctification which is then followed by his further justification, since baptism makes it possible for a person to cooperate with divine grace, allowing for further growth in righteousness.
In Outlines of the Catholic Faith we read the following about baptism:
Because Catholicism teaches baptism places “an indelible mark.... on your soul” the Church of Rome holds that once a Catholic, always a Catholic. Again, of course, to always be a Catholic does not necessarily mean one cannot end up in eternal judgment.
Nevertheless, the fact that Catholicism teaches baptism is an essential requirement for salvation underscores a system of works salvation. Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma declares, “Baptism by water is, since the promulgation of the gospel, necessary for all men without exception, for salvation.”
But nowhere in all the Bible can this teaching be justified. It would be strange indeed—if baptism conferred all the above upon the believer—that the Apostle Paul himself would even think of saying that “Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel” (1 Corinthians 1:17). To say that baptism is necessary for salvation is to undercut the basic biblical teaching of salvation by faith alone.