Letter #4 to an Agnostic Friend: Interlude on Baptism

Dear friend,

In my previous letter, I discussed ideas from philosophy about the existence of God.

What does it mean to be a Christian?

I’m going to “jump ahead” in this letter and address a question that will come up if you continue down the path of becoming a Christian.

You may have already reached the point where you think you want to become a Christian, or you may reach it in a month or a year, but when you do, you will want to read and think about this letter.

What does it mean for you to be a Christian?

Do you need to say a prayer, or one prayer per day, or multiple prayers per day?

If you need to say one prayer at first, is it the sinner’s prayer that you may have heard about or recall from an old Sunday school class you went to at a Protestant church?

The sinner’s prayer has these components:

  1. Acknowledging one’s sinfulness and need for forgiveness
  2. Recognizing Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the only way to salvation
  3. Expressing faith in Jesus Christ and His sacrifice on the Cross
  4. Requesting forgiveness and salvation from God
  5. Inviting Jesus Christ to come into one’s life to be Lord and Savior

You can say this prayer in your own words—there is no fixed form of it—and in fact this prayer does not show up in the Bible anywhere, but rather is a synthesis of Christian teaching on how a person of the age of reason needs to repent and believe in Jesus Christ.

Now at this point, once you’ve said this prayer and sincerely meant it, many Protestant denominations would declare that you are “saved” and that nothing that happens afterward in your life until you die can ever take away your salvation.

That sounds like a pretty good deal: say one prayer, one time, and you are in forever!

But that is not what the Catholic Church teaches (nor the Eastern Orthodox Churches, nor even some Protestant denominations).

So we at once are faced with a dilemma: how does one become a Christian, and does one have to do something on an ongoing basis to stay Christian?

For instance, is it essential or necessary for you to go to a church, in order to be a Christian?

If so, which church, and how frequently does one have to go?

Many Protestants go to “Bedside Baptist” where they never go to church, or very rarely, since they believe that they can be a Christian just as well in their own home, without the need for a church or group of other Christians.

And I have never found a Protestant who would claim that a Christian has to go to church every Sunday. Some get close to saying it, but most don’t.

But, and here’s that dilemma rearing its head again, the Catholic Church claims that a Christian needs to go to church (specifically, Mass or Divine Liturgy) every Sunday, unless they have a serious reason not to (e.g. sickness).

Push that dilemma onto the stack, put it on the back burner, and let’s examine the question of what it means to be a Christian from another angle.

Does your life have to change, morally speaking, when you become a Christian?

If so, how?

It would seem strange, I think you’ll agree, if your life did not have to change when going from agnostic to Christian. I mean, what’s the point of becoming a Christian if you are already doing everything right and good as an agnostic?

So intuitively we know that your life has to change in some ways, and this requirement to change is one of the reasons that people are averse to becoming Christians. Change is difficult, unpleasant, requires will power and effort, and so we as humans like to avoid it if at all possible.

But just like with physical health, when we find ourselves sick, overweight, unhealthy, low energy, and weak, we know that to become healthy we must take action. The things that we did to get us into the unhealthy state are not going to suddenly change in their effects and make us healthy.

We have to start changing what we eat, change when we eat perhaps (like intermittent fasting), begin to exercise, lift weights, and quit being couch potatoes.

As an agnostic, you have been spiritually sick, because you have been without God, and so to become spiritually healthy, it will require changing your life, making different decisions about things that affect your spiritual health.

But how does one know what constitutes spiritually healthy practices?

That’s a big question, but let’s start with one key aspect of it: the question of Baptism.

Does one have to be baptized to become a Christian?

Jesus says in Mark 16:16, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”

So belief and baptism are tied together and are ordinarily required for salvation.

I should be clear: that is what the Catholic Church teaches and has taught for 2,000 years.

But in the 1500s, when Protestantism started, many Protestant denominations began to reject the belief that baptism was needed for salvation.


Baptism is one of the seven Sacraments in the Catholic Church (and in the Eastern Orthodox Churches).

The Catholic Church teaches that God, through baptism, regenerates the soul of the one baptized, forgives their sins, infuses into them the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love, and that the Holy Spirit (who is God, the Third Person of the Trinity) comes to dwell within their souls.

Protestants rejected this belief, and now for most Protestants, baptism is an external sign to the broader community of the internal decision that a person has made to become a Christian.

Even though they reject baptismal regeneration, most Protestants (not all) agree that Baptism is important and that, while only symbolic, one should do it, because Jesus said so.

That raises the question for you: have you been baptized? Were you baptized when you were little, even a baby, and if so, how and where?

Baptism can only be done once (the Bible says so), and the valid form and matter is with the words “in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” as water is poured over the person or they are immersed in water (hence, water is necessary).

You may need to ask your parents, or your siblings, or an uncle or aunt, whether you were baptized or not and if so where it was done. Many churches, even Protestant ones, keep records of who they baptized and they can also tell you if it was done in the proper Trinitarian formula.

As you read the Bible and pray, you may feel a conviction from God to get baptized. If you have not been baptized, you should get baptized.

But, and here’s a sticking point, where do you do it?

The short answer is: you should investigate the claims and evidence for the Catholic Church, enter formation to become Catholic (if you were not baptized Catholic when you were younger), and then be baptized and receive First Communion in the Catholic Church.

That’s the best thing to do.

But becoming Catholic is not a la carte, is not a cafeteria line where you can choose one dogma but reject another one, or be baptized but not really believe in what the Catholic Church teaches.

In this way, Protestantism is “easier,” because many Protestant churches would let you come up to the front at the end of the service, declare that you have made a decision to follow Jesus, and in a few weeks they would baptize you. Some would ask you questions, some wouldn’t. Some would want to know if you’d already been baptized. Some wouldn’t.

I wanted to be baptized in my early 20s and, since most of my friends were Baptist, and they seemed good to me, I was baptized at a Baptist church. The next year, I became Catholic. The Catholic Church investigated my baptism, recognized that it was valid, and did not baptize me again.

So, objectively speaking, I think it is better to be baptized somewhere than not be, but the best is to become Catholic and be baptized in the Church.

We have gotten to the broader question of how to know the content of divine revelation. What has God shown us to be true? And how do we know it?

I will save that exploration for a later letter. In the meantime, pray for God to show you His will in regard to baptism and identifying the areas of your life and behavior which are sinful and contrary to the truth.

God bless,

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