Theology or Bible-based Common Sense

A few weeks back there was a news item that caught my attention. And, over the past few weeks I have frequently thought about it, mulling over the details and wondering how we have reached this stage in the “Christian faith” (note the quotation marks). Let me summarize the news item in case you missed it.

It happened in mid-February of this year … PHOENIX — The priest was beloved by his parishioners — yet for years he made a one-word ritual mistake, repeatedly, that has caused confusion and anxiety for thousands of Catholics in the Phoenix area now worrying that they were improperly baptized.

Under scrutiny are baptisms performed by the Rev. Andres Arango, who served in Arizona for 16 years. Catholic officials estimate that thousands of baptisms are now presumed to be invalid because he used incorrect wording, and they say those affected may need to be re-baptized. Some may feel obliged to have other church ceremonies performed again, even including marriage. Arango’s error was in saying, “We baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” when he should have begun the sentence by saying, “I baptize you.” The difference is theologically crucial, the Vatican ruled in 2020, because it’s not the “we” of the congregation doing the baptizing but the “I” of Jesus Christ, working through the priest.

With two Master’s degrees from recognized seminaries in my nation I do understand the theological issues involved. However, I can’t help but ask, “Would Jesus really care?” Is it not the heart of the people that matters not some words of a formula used in a Church ritual?

Does this not bring to mind Jesus’ comments … Matthew 15:6-9 NET You have nullified the word of God on account of your tradition. Hypocrites! Isaiah prophesied correctly about you when he said, This people honours me with their lips, but their heart is far from me, and they worship me in vain, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”

Really, do we think Jesus will reject people just because a priest – in a sacramental ritual (note the word ritual) – used the word “we” instead of “I”? This is the Jesus who welcomed Children who had not been baptized and used them as an example of what the Kingdom was all about. Do we really think Jesus would reject a person because they were not baptized with the right formula? This is Jesus who welcomed the thief on the cross into His Kingdom while dying on the cross next to Him without being baptized.

I understand the theology. I was once a priest in a major worldwide denomination who held to the same theology. The teaching is that there are two sacraments (church rituals) that are necessary for salvation – Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper (Mass, the Eucharist). Two outward rituals that open the door into Heaven if done correctly. Really, now?

Is this the Jesus we see in the New Testament? Is this really the heart of God who sent His Son that “whosoever believes” would be saved? Is an outward sacrament as important (or important at all) when compared to the condition of the heart and the call to repentance? Did Jesus require people to be baptized to be a part of the Church that He was and still is building? How about the issue of baptizing just true believers and not young children? And, why just a sprinkling of water and not total immersion as we see in the history of the early Church? So many things to stumble over. So many man-made traditions that really have nothing to do with a personal relationship with Jesus.  

Jesus said: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and my load is not hard to carry” (Matthew 11:28-30 NET).

The Message Version reads: ”Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

I was one who was tired and burned out on religion. That is why I am no longer a priest in that denomination. But I am a born again believer who was convicted of his sin, experienced godly sorrow, repented, and received forgiveness (2 Corinthians 7:8-10). And I know from the teachings of the Bible (not the traditions of men) that I am a child of God and walking with Jesus as I fulfill the divine destiny that is on my life. Nothing to do with baptism or some man-made, tradition or formula. The news article goes on to say that now people are being rebaptized. In some cases, because the baptismal phrasing was wrong priests are having to be baptized again and then ordained a second time because the wrong formula when they were 6 days old makes their ordination (and call from God) invalid. And, of course, everything they did as a priest is also called into question. The list of things you can trip over increases as you work through the theology of “We” verses “I” in the baptismal formula.

Doesn’t it just make you want to scream, “Get a life!” So much concern and guilt over something that has absolutely no connection to whether you are in God’s grace and will enter Heaven when you die. So much religion controlling people’s lives and instilling guilt instead of grace.