In ecumenical news: A proposed agreement between the American Catholic bishops and four Reformed “ecclesial communities”, including the mainline Presbyterian Church USA,  appears to ignore the Vatican’s concerns about the mode of baptism, according to CatholicCulture.org. (The Catholic participant perhaps best known to readers is Father Thomas Weinandy, a Capuchin, the Reformed Dr. Richard Mouw of Fuller seminary. Here is the Catholic bishops’ press release on the dialogue .)

The Vatican’s difficulty will, I fully realize, appear to be one of those “angels-dancing-on-the-heads-of-pins” questions, but it’s really not, but explaining why not is not so easy and I’m not going to try here. This is more an fyi kind of story.

The Catholic-Reformed dialogue recently produced a statement titled These Living Waters: Common Agreement on Mutual Recognition of Baptism . The statement declares that:

In order for a baptism to be valid, it must be administered by someone authorized to do so, using water and the Trinitarian formula. Typically, baptism is administered by an ordained minister or priest, within a worship service, using water (either dipping the baptizand into the water or pouring or sprinkling the water on the baptizand), and following the command of Jesus to baptize people of all nations “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19).

To this the Catholic signers added that “Baptism must be administered with water and in the name of the Triune God since ‘entry into the life of the Most Holy Trinity through configuration to the Paschal mystery of Christ’ is signified and enacted in the sacrament.”

The difficulty is over the possibility of invalid baptisms performed by sprinkling in which the water does not flow, important as signifying living water. That the Vatican seems to have thought not adequately dealt with in the official report.

For those who are interested, recent “On the Square” articles on ecumenical subjects include the Catholic priest David Poecking’s The Skeleton of Genuine Reconciliation , the Reformed theologian and pastor Peter Leithart’s Priesthood of Believers , and my No Mere Christianity .

Articles by David Mills

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