The Process of Christian Initiation

Christians base their approach to Christian initiation, that is, what is to be expected from a new Christian, on several scriptures.

The first set of scriptures which determines Christian initiation is from the Acts of the Apostles and from the Gospels according to Mark and John.

Acts 16:30-31
Then he brought them out and said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" And they said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus and you and your household will be saved."
Mk 1:15
This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.
Jn 5:24
Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes in the one who sent me has eternal life and will not come to condemnation, but has passed from death to life.

In response to these scriptures, Protestant and Evangelical Christians profess belief and acceptance of all that Jesus taught as necessary to meet the requirement of Christian initiation. They exact that the Christian believe Jesus and in Jesus, that he is Lord, that he died, rose again, defeated death and sin, and that through him sins are forgiven.

Catholic Christians express their response to these scriptures by professing belief and acceptance in Jesus as Lord, and all that is contained in the Apostles Creed. Roman Catholic Christians must profess belief in God the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth. They must believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord who was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. That Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. That he also descended to the dead. On the third day that he rose again. That he ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. That he will come again to judge the living and the dead. Catholic Christians must believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.

A second set of scriptures also indicates requirements for Christian initiation.

Rom 10:9-10
For, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.

The Protestant and Evangelical Christian response to this scripture is to exact from the new Christian a confession on the lips.

Catholic Christians respond to the scripture by exacting the same detailed profession of faith as articulated in the Apostles and Nicene Creeds. Praying the Nicene Creed is a recurring and key element of Catholic weekly liturgies.

Another scripture in this second set is from Mark's Gospel:

Mk 1:15
Repent, and believe in the gospel.

Protestant and Evangelical Christians respond to this scripture by exacting from the new Christian the repentance of sinfulness.

Catholic Christians elicit a specific acknowledgment of the rejection of Satan, all his works and all his pomps.

A final scripture from the second set is found in the Acts of the Apostles:

Acts 4:12
There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.

Protestant and Evangelical Christians elicit the confession of Jesus by name.

Catholic Christians elicit the same as is clear from the Apostles Creed.

The third and final scripture set which determines the process of Christian initiation is from John's Gospel.

Jn 3:5
Jesus answered, "Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit."

The Protestant and Evangelical Christian response is to put emphasis on a "born-again" experience on the part of the new Christian.

The Roman Catholic Church has always taught that with Christian initiation, new divine life enters the Christian and transforms his/her life.

There is one remaining difference in emphasis in Christian initiation among Christians.

Protestant and Evangelical Christians place emphasis on the necessity of faith only, with baptism not rigidly connected to the Christian initiation.

Eph 2:8
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God

Catholic Christian emphasis is on the intimate connection between faith and baptism.

1 Pet 3:20-21
God patiently waited in the days of Noah during the building of the ark, in which a few persons, eight in all, were saved through water. This prefigured baptism, which saves you now.

For Protestant and Evangelical Christians, faith is a gift of God, unmerited, and Christian initiation is a one-time event.

For Catholic Christians, faith is also a gift of God, unmerited, and in baptism, it is Christ who baptizes, and Christian initiation is, as the word implies, the beginning of a process.

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By Paul Flanagan and Robert Schihl.
Catholic Biblical Apologetics, © Copyright 1985-2004, Paul Flanagan and Robert Schihl

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture texts are taken from the New American Bible with Revised New Testament and Revised Psalms © 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

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Last Updated: July 17, 2004