When I was an Evangelical Protestant, it was commonplace to ask whether a person was "saved", or "born again". Since Jesus told Nicodemus that "You must be born again" (John 3:3), one's answer to that question was clearly a matter of eternal importance! Yet if a non-Christian did want to be born again, the typical Evangelical response was to lead the person in a short prayer (similar to that which a Catholic prays at the end of Confession--the Act of Contrition) which is known in Protestantism as "the Sinner's Prayer." Often such occasions followed powerful preaching at a worship service, where people seeking salvation were invited to raise their hands or come up to the front for prayer. This is how I first came into a relationship with Jesus as a five-year-old child. My Pentecostal tradition, like many Evangelical denominations, didn't include baptism in the "born again" equation. For them, it was just a symbol of one's commitment, having no intrinsic power. If someone taught that baptism was necessary, it was only because "Jesus commanded that we should do it," even though no one seemed particularly sure why.
As I wrote in my last post, I came to discover that the Bible is very clear about what baptism is, what it does, and why it is necessary for salvation. Paragraph 1213 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church sums up the meaning of this sacrament well:
Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit (vitae spiritualis ianua), 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 in the word."
Using this paragraph as the jumping-off point, we'll examine Scripture and the Church's teaching to better understand this first of sacraments, which, having been received in infancy for most Catholics, is perhaps too much forgotten in our day-to-day lives. First, we will examine baptism as the primary sacrament of initiation, and our divine adoption as God's children. Second, we shall explore the emission of sins that is effected in Baptism. Third, we will discuss how baptism incorporates us into the Church and her evangelistic mission, and see how the valid Trinitarian baptisms of our separated brethren make them truly Christian and that this truth should inspire us to work towards true unity. Finally, we will apply what we've learned to better be able to renew our baptismal promises and more fully live them as we move into the Easter season.
(I know I promised this article last night, and it was mostly written, but time got away from me, and I had to postpone it until today. I'll be posting the rest on Tuesdays as promised.)