"Common Agreement on Mutual Recognition of Baptism"
Earlier in 2013, I saw an article on Huffington Post's website entitled: "U.S. Roman Catholic Church and Protestant Denominations Agree to Recognize Each Other's Baptisms." News articles that have specific connections to religion always catch my eye. Being intrigued, I read the whole article and wanted to share my thoughts about what is being called the "Common Agreement on Mutual Recognition of Baptism."

But before critiquing, let's consider a few specifics. This is an agreement that was entered into by the U.S. Roman Catholic Church, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Christian Reformed Church in North America, the Reformed Church in America, and the United Church of Christ. Essentially, all of these groups will now recognize each other's baptisms as valid since they agree that using "water and the scriptural Trinitarian formula 'Father, Son, and Holy Spirit'" is a must for the baptismal rite.

Bishop Joe Vasquez affirmed regarding the effort that it "is part of our response to Jesus' prayer that we all be one." Friends, Jesus did pray for unity in John 17 and we should pursue it. I'm a strong supporter of genuine efforts at unity--provided people are being united on the truth of God's word as opposed to the traditions of men. In this case, I'm afraid this "Common Agreement" is more of the latter than the former. It seeks unity at the expense of doctrinal purity. An agreement on a couple aspects of one doctrine, where countless disagreements remain elsewhere, is not real unity at all (cf. Amos 3:3).

Scripture is clear that baptism is a burial in water; it is not sprinkling or pouring. Colossians 2:12 affirms that disciples are "buried with Him in baptism." Romans 6:3,4 speaks of being baptized into Jesus' death, specifically being "buried with Him through baptism into death." The religious groups mentioned above do not all agree that Bible baptism requires a burial or immersion (though that is required by the Greek word baptizo). It would have been a noble thing for them to unite on what Scripture teaches and lay aside their man-made traditions regarding sprinkling and pouring, but that is not what happened over the seven year period this agreement was being discussed.

It is noteworthy that they would require specific language be used during a baptism in order for it to be considered valid (cf. Matt. 28:19,20; Acts 19:1-5). Specifically, baptizing in the name of the "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit" is approved in the agreement but not baptizing into the name of the "Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier." I appreciate their apparent desire to stick with terminology used in Scripture but am mystified as to why they follow the Scriptures here but not regarding the singular mode of baptism mentioned in the paragraph above (i.e., baptism is a burial). If the proper terminology is important to them, why isn't the mode and reason for baptism important, too?

Some view this "Common Agreement" as a monumental occasion for ecumenical relations. I respectfully disagree with that sentiment. They have come to an agreement on one point of doctrine, but their agreement is not even in harmony with what the Bible teaches on baptism! (cf. Baptism.AudioEvangelism.com). I'm left wondering: Why bother to enter into an agreement that respects part of God's word for today but dishonors other aspects? Why not take this common agreement and expand it to seek unity on every point of doctrine? Why not dissolve denominational names (that can't be found in the Bible; cf. I Cor. 1:10-13) and seek to simply be the church we can read about in the New Testament--the church that belongs to Jesus (cf. Matt. 16:18)? Now that would be a monumental occasion worth celebrating, in heaven and on earth!