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Baptisms mutually recognized in European and American churches

17 April 2014

In an ecumenical harvest, a spate of European and North American church bodies are entering agreements recognizing each other’s baptisms.

On the day after Easter, a day on which many Christian traditions receive catechumens through the rite of baptism, the Swiss churches (Roman Catholic, Reformed, Methodist, Old Catholic, Anglican and Lutheran) will sign an agreement on the mutual recognition of baptism.

The signing ceremony, the culmination of an intense ecumenical interchange sponsored by the Council of Christian Churches in Switzerland, will take place in Riva San Vitale, Ticino, site of the oldest Christian building in Switzerland.

Among the many divisive historical issues about baptism have been the essential elements of the rite and its sacramental character, the baptismal formula, the validity of infant baptisms, and the question of rebaptism.

Earlier this year, during the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, several Portuguese churches entered a similar pact.  The Anglican Church of Portugal (the Lusitanian Church) hosted the signing, which also included Portuguese church leaders from the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, and the Methodist and Presbyterian churches.

In the prior year, major U.S. denominations of the Reformed tradition, including the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Reformed Church in America, the Christian Reformed Church in North America and the United Church of Christ, signed an agreement in Austin, Texas, with the National Conference of Catholic Bishops recognizing the validity of each other’s practice of baptism.

Faith & Order's study text: One Baptism, on recent ecumenical developments regarding baptism

Dagmar Heller's recent book on historical challenges and agreements related to baptism

2013 resolution of Swiss Protestant churches about recognition