I Acknowledge One Baptism

Another part of the third main section of the present Creed focusing upon the Holy Spirit and His work in the holy Church concerns holy baptism. The phrase runs, “I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins.” Here we note in passing a change of verb, with the accompanying nuance of meaning—previous items in the Creed were introduced with the verb “I believe” (Greek pisteuo). This item is introduced with the Greek verb omologeo—to “acknowledge or confess.” That is, though we believe in God, in His Son, in His Spirit, and even in His Church as objects of faith, we do not believe in baptism in the same way. Rather, we acknowledge and accept that we all receive the same baptism, which bestows remission of sins. Acknowledging is not the same as believing.

Some people suggest that the point of the phrase “I acknowledge one baptism” is that that no one may be baptized more than once, or be baptized with a second baptism. That is true, generally speaking, but it is not, I suggest, the reason for including this phrase in the Creed. Rather, confessing “one baptism” is like confessing “one Church”—the point of confessing “one church” is not that there could be two churches or two equally-valid denominations (no one ever thought of that), but that wherever one went in the world, the apostolic church was one and the same. The unity of the Church transcended geography. It is the same with baptism—regardless of where in the world one was baptized and with whatever rituals the church in that part of the world used to baptize, everyone received the same baptism. Baptism in the Church bestowed the same remission of sins wherever one lived. Because the Church was universally one, its baptism was one also, and the salvation offered us in the baptismal waters was the same wherever one lived.

This is more important than one might think at first, since baptism defined one’s faith. A Mosaic baptism (to be “baptized into Moses”; 1 Cor. 10:2) meant that the baptized person was a disciple of Moses. A Johannine baptism (to be baptized into John’s baptism; Acts 19:3) meant that the baptized person was a disciple of John. If baptisms were not one, but if they differed according to the region in which one was baptized, then faith would be defined by region. A baptism in Cappadocia, for example, would be a Cappadocian baptism, and one would be a Cappadocian Christian, with one’s fundamental ecclesiastical allegiance to one’s ethnic Cappadocia. A baptism in Rome would be a Roman baptism, making one a Roman Christian, with one’s ultimate allegiance to the city of Rome. A baptism in Greece would make the neophyte a Greek Christian, owing ultimate allegiance to Greece. Ethnic tribalism would be made into a theological and ecclesial principle, and the Church would be divided along ethnic lines. That would be terrible, wouldn’t it?

But in fact, baptism is not defined in terms of geography or ethnos, but in terms of Christ. “As many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:27-28). This one-ness is rooted in and expressed by the one trans-ethnic baptism. Wherever one lives in the world, whatever ethnic tribe to which one belongs, and whatever the rituals the church in that part of the world uses to baptize, everyone receives the same baptism. Each person baptized puts on the same Christ, and receives the same remission of sins, and is filled with the same Holy Spirit.

Tribal loyalties are very strong. Patriotism (that is, love for one’s native land and the familiar things there which one values) is a potent force, both for good and for ill. Since patriotism is essentially nothing more than love of home, it is not to be scorned or denounced. In the early church, such patriotism, where it did not center on Rome and Roman citizenship, centered on one’s hometown city. Paul expressed such hometown patriotism. When asked about his citizenship, he answered that he was “from Tarsus, a citizen of no mean city” (Acts 21:39). You can almost see his chest swelling a bit with pride when he mentioned his native Tarsus. Patriotism is good.

But patriotism is not theological, and it is transcended in our experience of the Kingdom. Though it is a good thing to feel proud of being from Tarsus, or from America, or from Russia, or from any native land, we Christians know that ultimately “our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20), and that in Christ, it doesn’t matter under which earthly flag we stand. The one baptism which we all share makes us all one.

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Fr. Lawrence was formerly an Anglican priest, graduating from Wycliffe…
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