Canadian churches mark 40 years of recognizing one baptism

 — November 19, 201519 novembre 2015

Baptism of Jesus. 6th-century mosaic detail from the ceiling of the Arian Baptistery in Ravenna. Photo: Lawrence OP/Flickr
Baptism of Jesus. 6th-century mosaic detail from the ceiling of the Arian Baptistery in Ravenna. Photo: Lawrence OP/Flickr
by Matt Gardner,

In 1975, five major Christian churches in Canada reached an agreement recognizing the validity of each other’s baptisms. Forty years later, the mutual recognition of baptism by the Presbyterian, Lutheran, United, Roman Catholic and Anglican (PLURA) churches stands as a historic milestone in the ongoing ecumenical movement.

A news release from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) on September 11, 1975 noted that the agreement followed an ecumenical study of baptism by the Joint Working Group of the Canadian Council of Churches and the CCCB. Responding to the report, each church agreed that “baptism would be recognized when conferred according to the norms of the churches, with flowing water, by pouring, sprinkling or immersion, accompanied by the Trinitarian formula [i.e. in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit].”

Archdeacon Bruce Myers, ecumenical and interfaith coordinator for the Anglican Church of Canada, underscored the role of mutual recognition of baptism in bringing members of different churches closer together.

“When each of us is baptized, it’s always into a particular church, a local community of faith that exists within a denomination,” Myers said. “But also you’re being baptized into the one holy catholic and apostolic church that is universal.”

“What this agreement helped do was give official sanction to that within the Canadian context and allow, when appropriate, for the interchangeability of church members, so that if for whatever reason you happened to move from one denomination to another, you wouldn’t have your original baptism questioned … You would be received as somebody already baptized into the body of Christ, who’s now going to live out their Christian journey within this different denomination.”

The origins of the mutual recognition of baptism agreement and the modern ecumenical movement began with the Second Vatican Council, informally known as Vatican II, prior to which the Roman Catholic Church had a more reserved stance towards baptism. Catherine E. Clifford, professor of systematic theology at St. Paul University in Ottawa, noted that before Vatican II, other Christians who wished to be received into the Catholic Church were most often conditionally re-baptized.

While intra-Protestant ecumenical efforts had existed prior to Vatican II, the changed stance of the world’s largest Christian denomination enabled the Catholic Church to become part of the ecumenical conversation. Beginning with shared work on poverty and social justice, the PLURA churches eventually moved towards mutual recognition of baptism.

“One of the foundations of Catholic ecumenical commitment that’s stated very clearly at Vatican II and in the Decree on Ecumenism is that we recognize that we’re already bound together sacramentally with other Christians through baptism,” Clifford said.

“That also creates a context of existing ecclesial communion,” she added. “It might not be full communion, but it’s real, genuine sacramental communion and communion in the same confessional faith.”

Mutual recognition of baptism paved the way for later agreements such as the Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry text published by the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches in 1982, which followed several years of multilateral theological dialogue in which the churches attempted to come to an agreement on the three titular aspects of the church’s life.

The Anglican and Lutheran experience in Canada is representative of ecumenical progress made in the past four decades. Since 2001, the Anglican Church of Canada and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) have been in full communion, which Myers described as the “ultimate expression” of churches recognizing each other as churches in the fullest sense, including the full recognition of their baptisms.

“It’s a part of the ecumenical instinct to move toward unity,” said the Rev. Andre Lavergne, assistant to the ELCIC national bishop, ecumenical and interfaith.

“Visible unity of the church is the goal,” he added. “Whether it’s about baptism or it’s about poverty or it’s about full communion, they’re all examples, and full communion is simply churches working together further down the road.”

Despite the mutual recognition of baptism, some unresolved issues remain. When they reached the agreement in 1975, the PLURA churches stated their intention to create a common baptismal certificate in addition to those already in use.

That pledge has yet to be acted upon—an oversight Lavergne noted in good humour.

“I think it’s absolutely hilarious that the churches could agree on something as theologically important as baptism, and they couldn’t agree on the piece of paper that said it was done the right way,” he said with a chuckle.

Another issue revolves around how the adult baptism (also called believer’s baptism) practiced by churches such as those in the Anabaptist tradition fits into the 1975 agreement, which only concerns infant baptism. [ note: churches that baptize infants can generally recognize believer’s baptism, but reciprocity remains elusive.] Ongoing conversations with Baptists and Mennonites may yet lead to further developments down the road.

For Myers, the current need is to deepen ecumenical relationships at all levels of the church.

“Even 100 years ago, Catholics and Anglicans and Presbyterians fully recognizing the validity of each other’s baptisms and the implications of that would have been unthinkable,” Myers said. “So the fact that an agreement 40 years ago like that was possible was in itself astounding.”

He added, “I think the task for my generation of ecumenists is helping our churches receive and assimilate and fully, or more fully, live into the agreements we have with … our ecumenical partners, and give them living expression … not just at the national level or the diocesan level, but in the congregations.

“That’s where the real life and mission of the church is lived out on a daily basis, and that’s really where the bones of these agreements need to take on flesh and be incarnated.”

Posted: November 19, 2015 • Permanent link: Add a comment
Categories: NewsIn this article: baptism, Canada, Christian unity, ecumenism
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Francis visits the Lutheran community of Rome: it is time for reconciled diversity

 — November 16, 201516 novembre 2015

Pastor Jeans-Martin Kruse, pastor of Christuskirche in Rome and Pope Francis at vespers, Sunday, November 15, 2015Yesterday afternoon the Holy Father met with the evangelical Lutheran community of Rome in the Christuskirche, where he was warmly welcomed by Pastor Jeans-Martin Kruse, who in his welcome discourse also recalled the visits to the same [church] by St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.

Francis then answered questions from three members of the community, a child and two women, and after the vespers prayer, with the reading from the Gospel of St. Matthew (25, 31, 46), he pronounced an off-the-cuff homily in which he emphasised that Lutherans and Catholics must ask mutual forgiveness for persecutions against each other and for the scandal of divisions.

The first question to which the Pope responded was from a child who wanted to know what he liked the most about being the Pope. “The thing I like best, sincerely, is being a pastor”, Francis replied. “I like being the Pope in the style of a parish priest. Service: I like it, in the sense that I feel good, when I visit the sick, when I speak with people who are desperate or sad. I like going to prisons … to speak with detainees… Every time I enter a prison I ask myself, ‘Why them and not me?’. And I am aware of the salvation of Jesus Christ, His love for me. Because He saved me. I am no less a sinner than they are, but the Lord took me by the hand. And when I go into a prison I am happy. Being a Pope is being a bishop, being a pastor. If a Pope is not also a bishop, if a Pope is not also a pastor, he may be a very intelligent person, very important and hold great influence in society, but I think that inside he will not be happy”. … Read more » … À suivre »

Historic gathering of global Christian leaders urges churches and governments to address growing concern for persecution of Christians

 — November 7, 20157 novembre 2015

An historic consultation of church leaders, drawn from 56 nations, to focus on intensifying ‘discrimination, persecution and violence’ against Christian communities around the world has called on churches globally to pray, support and be in solidarity with those suffering persecution due to their faith. In a two pronged response the leaders: offered “repentance” for times when churches had “persecuted each other and other religious communities in history”; and, urged churches “to urgently strengthen the solidarity of all Christians” in the face of discrimination, persecution and martyrdom in the 21st century. In a greeting from the Vatican, Pope Francis said, “I think with great sadness of the escalating discrimination, and persecution against Christians in the Middle East, Africa and Asia and elsewhere throughout the world. “In various parts of the world, the witness to Christ, even to the shedding of blood, has become a shared experience of Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans, Protestants, Evangelicals and Pentecostals,” he said. The consultation also called on governments to “respect and protect the freedom of religion and belief of all people as a fundamental human right.” … Read more » … À suivre »

Lutheran-Catholic ‘Declaration on the Way: Church, Ministry and Eucharist’

 — October 30, 201530 octobre 2015

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“Pope Francis in his recent visit to the United States emphasized again and again the need for and importance of dialogue. This Declaration on the Way represents in concrete form an opportunity for Lutherans and Catholics to join together now in a unifying manner on a way finally to full communion,” said Bishop Denis J. Madden, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, Catholic co-chair of the task force creating the declaration.

“Five hundred years ago wars were fought over the very issues about which Lutherans and Roman Catholics have now achieved consensus,” said ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton. “Church, ministry and Eucharist have been areas of disagreement and even separation between our two churches, and we still have work to do both theologically and pastorally as we examine the questions. The declaration is so exciting because it shows us 32 important points where already we can say there are not church-dividing issues between us, and it gives us both hope and direction for the future,” she said. … Read more » … À suivre »

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 — October 30, 201530 octobre 2015

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In a communiqué released October 26, the bishops said this meeting would “pay particular attention to the theology of marriage, the nature of episcopacy, and the synod’s legislative process” and “wrestle with how to honour our roles as guardians of the Church’s faith and discipline and signs of unity both locally and universally.”

The question of legislative process — how General Synod 2016 will approach the divisive vote on whether or not to allow same-sex marriage — has raised some anxiety among bishops, and was brought up in the communiqué.

“We are concerned that parliamentary procedure may not be the most helpful way to discern the mind of the Church, or of the Spirit, in this matter,” it stated. “We would ask those in charge of designing the process whereby the draft resolution comes to the floor…to consider ways in which trust and understanding can be deepened and promoted.” … Read more » … À suivre »

Anglican bishops respond to authorized lay ministry in ELCIC

 — October 29, 201529 octobre 2015

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada's decision to allow authorized lay people to preside over the Eucharist in some circumstances has caused concern in some Anglican circles. Photo: Lawrence OP/FlickrWhen the Anglican House of Bishops met in Niagara Falls, Ont., in mid-October, one of the first items on the agenda was the policy of authorized lay ministry adopted by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) during its National Convention this summer.

Sometimes called “lay presidency,” authorized lay ministry is a dispensation by which—in extraordinary circumstances—lay people can preside over services of the eucharist. While it can hardly be considered part of standard Lutheran practice, the convention voted in July to allow it in heavily circumscribed circumstances.

In an interview with the Anglican Journal, ELCIC National Bishop Susan Johnson said that the measures were brought in to meet a serious need.

“We find ourselves with occasional situations where it’s difficult and/or impossible to provide regular word and sacrament ministry,” she said, explaining that after considering a number of possibilities, including greater use of reserve sacraments and local ordination, authorized lay ministry was seen to be the “best compromise.” … Read more » … À suivre »

Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders call on new Government to focus on palliative care instead of euthanasia and assisted suicide

 — October 29, 201529 octobre 2015

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