Tomi Karttunen: Does a Formal Declaration on the Recognition of Baptism Make Sense? What Would Be the Consequences – theological and practical?

The Baptism as Sacrament of Unity

”I … beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of our calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” (Eph. 4:2-6)


The baptism is thus the foundational sacrament of unity, fundamental regarding fellowship with God and fellowship among Christians. The recognition of baptism is crucial regarding ecclesiology and other Christian doctrines in that context. From the Lutheran point of view, it is that especially because of its soteriological significance. Faith, baptism and baptismal education are parts of the same whole: being and living as a Christian.


The doctrine regarding baptism is in an intimate connection with the basic truths of faith: Trinity, Christology, ecclesiology, soteriology, sacramentology, understanding the word of God, birth and structure of faith and the whole life of a Christian from birth to grave, from time to eternity. It is important to see that, though in the historical Christian traditions the importance of the baptism as instrument of grace is widely recognized, it is not an abstract act, but a sacrament of Christian life. Luther underlined that the life of a Christian is daily repentance on the basis of the baptismal grace.


Recognizing the baptism is recognizing the other as a Christian, if it is believed and taught that the baptism is the basis of church membership, being as a member of a local parish or congregation a part of the Church of Christ, body of Christ. In our Lutheran understanding the baptism integrates the baptized into a concrete local congregation, which is not a platonic idea, because the church is body of Christ, incarnated and resurrected. Christ is in his Church really present through the Holy Spirit in this created world through word, sacraments and ministry serving them. The mystery of baptism is a sacrament of faith and incarnation. At the same time, it is based on the work of the Holy Spirit through the word of God in a hidden but real and effective way. Through the faith as presence of Christ in us, through the word in Spirit the faith receives the gifts of salvation, above all Christ himself in a holistic way. He is the basis of our new birth as a Christian, as a disciple of Christ, who is sent into the world and nourished by the word, prayer and Eucharist within the Christian fellowship, in the Church as body of Christ.


As well known, from an ecumenical point of view the significant point of debate is the dilemma between understanding the baptism as instrument of grace also for infants and an understanding of the baptism possible only for those who themselves deliberately can make a conscious decision on the basis of their personal faith in Jesus and receive the water baptism.


The Lima Document (BEM) and the Baptism

Baptism, Eucharist, Ministry is the most significant document of multilateral ecumenism. It has stimulated discussion and steps of progress in all three areas: baptism, eucharist and ministry. It has decreased the amount of rebaptisms, promoted increasing convergence regarding the eucharist, for example regarding the dealing with eucharistic elements and the epiclesis, but also in the questions concerning ministry: ministry of deacon, women’s ordination and episcopal ministry. BEM from its part made also possible the birth of the communion of the Porvoo churches.


The key thought of BEM on the baptism is participation in Christ. It is apparent already in the first article, but especially in the article six:

6. Administered in obedience to our Lord, baptism is a sign and seal of our common discipleship. Through baptism, Christians are brought into union with Christ, with each other and with the Church of every time and place. Our common baptism, which unites us to Christ in faith, is thus a basic bond of unity. We are one people and are called to confess and serve one Lord in each place and in all the world. The union with Christ which we share through baptism has important implications for Christian unity. “There is... one baptism, one God and Father of us all ...” (Eph. 4:4—6).When baptismal unity is realized in one holy, catholic, apostolic Church, a genuine Christian witness can be made to the healing and reconciling love of God. Therefore, our one baptism into Christ constitutes a call to the churches to overcome their divisions and visibly manifest their fellowship.


Although clear convergence can be found from this point of view, BEM also states the preliminary stage of its results:

”COMMENTARY (6)… The need to recover baptismal unity is at the heart of the ecumenical task as it is central for the realization of genuine partnership within the Christian



On different understandings of the baptism BEM states:

”COMMENTARY (12)… the real distinction is between those who baptize people at any age and those who baptize only those able to make a confession of faith for themselves. The differences between infant and believers’ baptism become less sharp when it is recognized that both forms of baptism embody God’s own initiative in Christ and express a response of faith made within the believing community.


The thought regarding the connectedness of baptism and faith has jointly been recognized in the bilateral dialogues of ELCF with the Evangelical Free Church, with Pentecostals and with the Baptists. For instance in the theological dialogue with the Baptists in 2009 it was jointly stated:

”Faith and baptism belong together. According to both traditions, they join to Christ and give a spiritual to function in a congregation. The common priesthood is carried out in the worship of everyday life, but also in the various congregational ministries”.


Although there are Christian traditions, which take part in the Faith and Order Commission work, although they don’t have water baptism in use – for example the Quakers – BEM clearly represents the classical tradition in this:


”17. Baptism is administered with water in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. 18. In the celebration of baptism the symbolic dimension of water should be taken seriously and not minimalized. The act of immersion can vividly express the reality that in baptism the Christian participates in the death, burial and resurrection of Christ..”


The document takes a stand also regarding the main features of the baptismal liturgy:


” 20. Within any comprehensive order of baptism at least the following elements should find a place: the proclamation of the scriptures referring to baptism; an invocation of the Holy Spirit; a renunciation of evil; a profession of faith in Christ and the Holy Trinity; the use of water; a declaration that the persons baptized have acquired a new identity as sons and daughters of God, and as members of the Church, called to be witnesses of the Gospel. Some churches consider that Christian initiation is not complete without the sealing of the baptized with the gift of the Holy Spirit and participation in holy



The Post BEM Development

In the summer 1988 there was a Faith and Order consultation in Turku, Finland in which the responses from the churches to the Lima document were elaborated. In the analysis the conclusion was that there are especially nine problem fields, which prevent the agreement on the baptism: ”1. The activity of the Holy Spirit before and after the baptism and at the moment of the baptism, 2. The gift of God and the human response, 3. Terminology ‘infant baptism – believers’ baptism’, 4. Alternative baptismal practices, 5. Childrens’ eucharistic admission, 6. Terminology ’sign’ / ’symbol’ (’mystery’), 7. The primary Agent of the baptism, 8. Sin and forgiveness in the baptism and 9. Original sin.”


Behind these factors there seemt to be the relationship to the sacraments in general in the life of the churches and the Christian communities and the sacramentality in general. An indication of this is that in the responses of the churches a primary difficulty still was the understanding of the relationship between baptism and faith. Already had been dealt with the accusations that the thinking in BEM was too “sacramental” and was given thought to the problem, how it could be responded to the criticism on a thought model, which was during centuries been developed in the Western and Eastern traditions, which emphasizes the punctual influence of the sacrament. Samuel Salmi calls it in his dissertation ”punctual sacramentrealism”.


It is perhaps surprising that in the answers the ultimate example of a tradition which emphasizes the sacrament is not the Catholic or Orthodox tradition but Lutheran tradition. Geoffrey Wainwright analyzes: ”In the answers can simple be recognized that most Christians are glad, when they can recognize that ’God does everything’ for our salvation. At the same time they are not willing to go as far as the Lutherans to say that ‘God makes everything alone’.”


This criticism has been listened to also in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland and taken into consideration. The general ecumenical development has been followed and from the Lutheran tradition the idea of “daily baptism” or “daily repentance” as return to the grace of baptism has been raised up. For instance in the theological dialogue with the Finnish Methodists it is stated in the report Partakers of Christ (2010) emphasizing the thought of Christ participation:”82… In Lutheran theology, the effect of baptism which is simultaneously instantaneous and lasting is described in terms of partaking of Christ. The grace granted by baptism is on the one hand absolute, because baptism joins that person with Christ’s work of atonement. However, the effect of baptism must be executed in faith and life. From this perspective, growing in the grace of baptism is an on-going process. Because of its effect, the sacrament of baptism is not only an external sign but has an impact through God’s own presence. In baptism, God’s presence is the presence of God’s Word, that is Christ, in the water of the baptism.”


The idea of connecting baptism and Christian life together is the point of orientation regarding also in the Faith and Order document One Baptism: Towards Mutual Recognition (2011).


Towards Mutual Recognition of One Christian Baptism

The document One Baptism sets as its task to ”…explore the close relation between baptism and the believer’s life-long growth into Christ, as a basis for a greater mutual recognition of baptism. It also addresses issues in baptismal understanding and practice which cause difficulty within churches and hinder the mutual recognition of baptism among churches today.” In order to accomplish this task the document aims to 1) clarify the meaning of mutual recognition of baptism, 2) to put the consequences of mutual recognition into practice and 3) to clarify issues which still prevent such recognition.


It is well known – and that is why we are here today – as a consequence of BEM there are formal agreements on the recognition of baptism locally and nationally for example in the United States (2000), Poland (2000), Germany (2007), Portugal (2014) and Switzerland (2014). In Finland the Evangelical Lutheran Church has agreements with the Churches within the Lutheran World Federation, with the Anglicans of the Porvoo Communion, with the Finnish Methodists, with the churches in the German Evangelical Church and with the Church of Scotland which included the recognition of our Christian baptism. The Anglicans and Lutherans of the Porvoo Communion are treated as members of 

our church on the basis our communion.


Our Christian baptism is the basis of communion also with the Roman Catholic Church, although we don’t have – I hope not yet but in the future we have – such an agreement, which would make Eucharistic communion possible, except in some critical situations of pastoral exceptions. When Pope Francis visited the German Lutheran Congregation in Rome recently he answered to Lutheran on the significance of our joint baptism: “… but do we not have the same Baptism? And if we have the same Baptism, we should walk together. … When you pray together, this Baptism grows and becomes strong; when you teach your children who Jesus is … you do the same thing, in both a Lutheran and Catholic language, but it is the same thing.”


In the Finnish-Swedish Lutheran-Catholic dialogue report Justification in the Life of the Church (2010) it jointly concluded:

”(179) Catholics and Lutherans recognize each others’ baptism, even though full and visible ecclesial communion is as yet lacking. The remaining differences do not affect the full sacramental communion in baptism. That the liturgical forms may vary is legitimate and this depends on different traditions. The only thing necessary for a valid baptism is the act of baptism itself in water in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.74 Here is a fundamental unity between Christians. Pope John Paul II could therefore say, at the ecumenical Service of Prayer at Turku on 5th June 1989, “Who am I? Just like all of you, I am a Christian, and in baptism I have received the grace that unites me with Jesus Christ, our Lord. Through baptism, I am your brother in Christ.”75.”


In Finland also the Orthodox Church recognizes the Christian baptism of for example of the Lutherans and Catholics. I would suppose that this includes also the Anglicans and Methodists as well. The Catholics are not even chrismated when entering the Orthodox Church, but the Lutherans are chrismated, because we don’t have the sacrament of confirmation with anointing with the holy oil in the way the Catholics have. More and more widely it is recognized that in the Christian initiation the interconnectedness of the sacramental services in various phases of life: baptism, chrismation/confirmation and eucharist. On the basis of the idea of interconnectedness, the differences in the understanding and in the practice of baptism are perhaps not divisive anymore in practice.


Acording to One Baptism, signs of progress within the multilateral ecumenism are the rediscovery of the joint catechumenate practice, that is teaching before the baptism, including the ecumenical preparation of the baptized for the baptism. Yet in Finland there is not at least systematic cooperation in the catechumenate teaching as far as I know. Internationally the common basis is broader also therefore that water is used in the baptism more generously – including more frequent use of immersion fonts. In Finland we have been in the Lutheran church rather cautious from this point of view. Internationally there are also common baptismal certificates as a sign of ecumenical interconnection through baptism. As far as I know, in Finland this idea is not in use. Perhaps the Finnish Ecumenical Council could promote this concrete signs of our our togetherness on the basis of our Common Christian baptism. We have examples of practical cooperation in Christian adult education, but more could probably be done.


Regarding the actual mutual recognition One Baptism differentiates three dimensions: 1) churches recognizing each other as churches, that is, as authentic expressions of the One Church of Jesus Christ; or 2) churches recognize the baptism of a person from one church who seeks entrance into another church; or 3) persons recognizing one another individually as Christians.


In the horizon of BEM it is emphasized that the mutual recognition of baptism is based on the recognition of the apostolicity in the other church. Apostolicity indicates transparence and continuity in faith, life, witness and in the ministry of the apostolic community, chosen and sent by Christ. The recognition of the baptism thus presupposes: 1) The definition of the apostolicity of the baptismal service itself. Many, but not all churches – anyway most of the Christianity – recognize that the heart of the baptism is in the use of water and in the baptism into the name of the Triune God Father and Son and the Holy Spirit; 2) The definition of the apostolicity in the broader context of Christian initiation; 3) The definition of the apostolicity in the life and witness of a church, which baptizes and teaches new Christians.


It seems that an essential step forward has been taken after BEM regarding the opposite between ”sacrament” and ”ordinance”. The terms as such can’t be seen as church-dividing. One Baptism concludes: ”30. Most traditions, whether they us e the term ’sacrament’ or ’ordinance’, affirm that these events are both instrumental (in that God uses them to bring about a new reality), and expressive (of an already-existing reality). Some traditions emphasize the instrumental dimension, recognizing baptism as an action in which God transforms the life of the candidate as he or she is brought into the Christian community. Others emphasize the expressive dimension. They see in baptism a God-given and eloquent demonstration, within the Christian community, of the gospel and its saving power for the person who, being already a believer through his or her encounter and continuing relationship with Christ, is then baptized.” The understanding of the baptism as sacrament and as ordinance can thus be seen as different approaches, which are not mutually exclusive. Both perspectives can, according to One Baptism, be regarded as essential in the understanding of the full meaning of the baptism.


As practical applications of the intimate connection between baptism and Christian faith and life is the custom to commemorate own’s own Christian baptism. Also in the Finnish Lutheran Church there are instructions in the manual for the commemoration of the baptism. In the liturgical guidelines it is also emphasized that the use of the the Easter candle within the worship life is a visible sign of the baptism. Also the confirmation is connected with the lifelong growth in and into Christ and through that to the idea of the apostolicity of the whole church. The Eucharist is the culmination of Christian initiation, which leads forward to grow in and into Christ and his body. It can even be said that  Voidaan jopa sanoa, että ”64. Theologically and liturgically, membership appears to be ’incomplete’ prior to admission to the eucharist …”. The document rightly underlines that as a general rule, “…the historic order of reception of baptism before reception of the eucharist should be observed for the sake of the unity of the church”.


The churches emphasize generally the primacy of God initiative in their baptismal theology. As an example of the problems of the cognitive, the conscious nature of the faith underlying approach are raised up those who are too young to articulate their faith, the children, and those because they are disabled and therefore perhaps never capable of articulating their faith.


In comparison to the Lima document, BEM, One Baptism develops further the ecumenical endeavour to recognize one Christian baptism by setting the Christian initiation in the baptism into the context of the lifelong growth into Christ. Thus, concerning rebaptisms the document concludes that, if infant baptism is understood in the triple form of growing in faith, baptism and Christian initiation and in the context of the lifelong growth of the believer into Christ, it can be asked: ”Is it appropriate to require the baptism of those who, in their previous church, were numbered among the baptized?” and ”Does the requirement for rebaptism take sufficient account of God’s action in a person’s life, from the time of their prior baptism until now?”.


Already Samuel Salmi came into the conclusion in his dissertation, on the basis of Geoffrey Wainwright’s analysis, that an important reason for differing understandings lies within the concept of ”sacrament” and ”sacramentality” and in this connection in the relationship between baptism and faith. This integrates the reflections into the broader framework of Christian life, which is intimately linked with ecclesiology. Accordingly, the emphasis of the work of the Faith and Order commission was during the years 1993-2013 in the ecclesiological project, which was harvested in the convergence document The Church: Towards a Common Vision (2012). It integrates the ecclesiologal work during two decades, which was inspired by the churches’ responses to BEM. On the basis of that document can now in a better way also the baptism be seen in the light of the salvation plan of God, in which the essential instrument is the church of the triune God. The Church document states: ”3. God’s plan to save the world … is carried out through the sending of the Son and the Holy Spirit. This saving activity of the Holy Trinity is essential to an adequate understanding of the Church.”


In the second ecumenical synod in Constantinople 381 was given a canon, the seventh canon, which states that every baptism, which is administered by water in the name of the triune God should be regarded as a proper, right Christian baptism. Together with the word from Ephesians ”one Lord, one faith, one baptism” this early church consens is a good basis to work towards the mutual recognition of one Christian baptism within the Finnish Ecumenical Council. Could there be a wish that allo members of the Finnish Ecumenical Councils – perhaps also some observes – could join to this kind of mutual recognition?


As we know, the recognition of baptism doesn’t mean full ecclesial communion and not necessarily even Eucharistic intercommunion, but it gives us hope and encourages us to work more deliberately in order to promote Christian witness and service together. It means that we recognize each other as Christians and want to act according to our Saviours will: “That they may all be one … so that the world may believe” (John 17:21). This could be a sign of repentance and gratitude, an act of healing of memories and as such a good way to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Finnish Ecumenical Council.


Yet we may and should ask, whether those who practice only believers’ baptism, would feel themselves as excluded, when such a declaration would be published? At least we should try to integrate those churches and Christian communities in a way, which would express our common ground. We all emphasize that faith, baptism and growing in faith, that is living as Christian, as a disciple of Christ belong together.



The Church: Towards a Common Vision



Faith and Order paper No. 214. WCC. Kristuksesta osalliset


Suomen evankelis-luterilaisen kirkon, Suomen metodistikirkon ja Finlands svenska metodistkyrkan oppikeskustelut. K


One Baptism: Towards Mutual Recognition



Faith and Order Paper No. 210. WCC

Salmi, Samuel


 ”Yksi Herra, yksi usko, yksi kaste”. Partisipaatioajatuksen tulkinnat Faith and Order -liikkeen kastedialogeissa Lundista 1955 Budapestiin 1989. STKSJ 170. Helsinki.

Vanhurskauttaminen kirkon elämässä


Ruotsin ja Suomen luterilais-katolisen dialogiryhmän raportti. Kirkkohallitus.


Rev. Dr Tomi Karttunen

Consultation on Baptism 2n
d December 2015

Salmi 1990, 207.

Salmi 1990, 199.

Salmi 1990, 183.

One Baptism, 1.

One Baptism, 3.

One Baptism, 3.

One Baptism, 4.

One Baptism, 4–5.

One Baptism, 7–8.

One Baptism, 11–12, 17.

One Baptism, 14.

One Baptism, 15.

One Baptism, 18. 



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