Invalid Baptisms And An Incorrect Formula: Why Andres Arango Is Not Wrong

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Reverend Andres Arango, a priest of the Diocese of Phoenix, has been in the news for some weeks due to the recent controversy surrounding the words he used with regard to numerous baptisms. According to the diocese where the minister serves as priest, he has made an incorrect doctrinal statement in baptism, thus invalidating all baptisms made using the statement.

As a result, those baptized by the priest will have to be baptized again bc their first baptism is invalid. Arango has baptized many faithful over 20 years. If his baptismal statement has been in error, as the diocese now says, then nearly every person Arango ever baptized will have to be baptized again.

But this issue of invalid baptism is important to examine because it gives us pause to examine our theological doctrines and whether or not they adhere to God’s Word. Though Roman Catholics believe they are correct and Reverend Andres Arango is wrong, perhaps a closer examination may find the situation favors the reverse perspective.

But we cannot make a decision either way until we examine the reason for the controversy and the theology surrounding it.

First, let’s take a look at what has been said concerning Rev. Arango’s statement, then we’ll examine why it is right or wrong according to Scripture.

First, the diocese’s response to Arango.

phoenix diocese responds to arango invalid baptism error

“It is with sincere pastoral concern that I inform the faithful that baptisms performed by Reverend Andres Arango, a priest of the Diocese of Phoenix, are invalid…The issue with using ‘We’ is that it is not the community that baptizes a person, rather, it is Christ, and Him alone, who presides at all of the sacraments, and so it is Christ Jesus who baptizes. I do not believe Fr. Andres had any intentions to harm the faithful or deprive them of the grace of baptism and the sacraments. On behalf of our local Church, I too am sincerely sorry that this error has resulted in disruption to the sacramental lives of a number of the faithful. This is why I pledge to take every step necessary to remedy the situation for everyone impacted…If you were baptized using the wrong words, that means your baptism is invalid, and you are not baptized. You will need to be baptized…It may seem legalistic, but the words that are spoken (the sacramental form), along with the actions that are performed and the materials used (the sacramental matter) are a crucial aspect of every sacrament. Baptism is a requirement for salvation,” wrote Bishop Thomas Olmstead of Phoenix to Phoenix diocese members in a letter on January 14, 2022. (Quoted from Kevin J. Jones, “Phoenix priest who botched baptisms for decades apologizes, seeks to make amends.” Catholic News Agency, posted February 7, 2022 at 5:22pm)

From these words above, a few things can be seen. First, Reverend Arango used “We baptize you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” in his baptismal statement over the years. According to the diocese, it is not “we baptize you” but rather, “Christ baptizes you.” Next, the diocese is saying that, since the words of the baptism statement are wrong, the baptism is invalid and those who underwent these “invalid baptisms” need to be baptized again to correct the previous doctrinal error.

But is that the case? Let’s go deeper.

is “we baptize you” an erroneous statement?

If a Pastor says “we baptize you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” an erroneous statement?

Not at all.

First, note that all the members of the Triune Godhead (that is, God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit) are all mentioned. The diocese says that “it is not the community that baptizes a person, rather, it is Christ, and Him alone, who presides at all of the sacraments, and so it is Christ Jesus who baptizes.”

On one hand, it’s understandable why Roman Catholics would make such a statement: after all, they believe in some measure that Christ Jesus is physically present in the sacraments, that it is His body and blood that are being consumed (transubstantiation). Others believe that the body and blood of our Lord Jesus are “with” the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper (Eucharist), a view called consubstantiation.

Protestants don’t waste their time engaging in such theological debate. We know that the bread and wine do not change into the body and blood of the Lord at the Lord’s Supper. When Jesus says “this is my body” (bread) and “this is my blood” (cup), we know that Jesus was not saying that the bread is literally His body and the wine is literally His blood. The pagan world has accused Christians in times past for being “cannibals,” though that isn’t true.

When Jesus mentioned His body and His blood, He was referring to the act of crucifixion. When He said that “take eat, this is My body,” He was using the bread as a representation or symbol of His body. In other words, the Last Supper was a celebration of His death for the sins of mankind, that He died and by so dying and rising, redeemed man back to God and justified us by faith.

Eating the bread and drinking the cup were memorial acts designed as a way to remember Jesus’ death for us. Jesus said “Do this in remembrance of Me” (1 Corinthians 11:24-25), a reminder that the Last Supper or Holy Communion is done to remember the act of Crucifixion, not as the Crucifixion itself. We Protestants know the difference between a meal and a crucifixion.

To us, the Catholic debate over transubstantiation and consubstantiation is the same as “straining a gnat and swallowing a camel,” to use Jesus’ words about the scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 23:24). And so, when it comes to this current debate surrounding “we baptize” versus “Christ baptizes,” we are not flustered because it is essentially the same thing. Roman Catholics are worried about who is doing the baptizing — and being more strict than even Scripture is in the process.

straining a gnat and swallowing a camel: why “We baptize” is a correct theological statement

Is there anything essentially wrong with “we baptize”?

No, not at all.

In fact, if you’ll notice, Jesus is mentioned in the Godhead of the baptismal statement as “the Son.” So Jesus’ presence is recognized already. Do we need to say the same statement twice in a baptismal recitation in order to acknowledge Christ’s presence in the baptism? Is Jesus not there because He’s disgusted over the fact we didn’t mention His name twice?

To Protestants, this is the equivalent of “straining a gnat and swallowing a camel.” And yes, they do the exact same thing in their own doctrinal statement on the matter in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s August 6, 2020 Doctrinal Note.

Next, even in Scripture, we see others having authority to baptize. When Jesus comes to be baptized of His first cousin, John the Baptist, we read these words: “I baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1:8, NKJV). So John uses the personal pronoun “I” to refer to himself, though he acknowledges that Jesus’ baptism will be of the Spirit and not of the water. Jesus’ baptism is the greater of the two, John says in so many words.

But still, John doesn’t neglect ownership of his responsibility to baptize with water. Is John wrong because he said “I baptize with water” (John 1:25-26)? How could he go against God’s mission for him and not do what he was sent to do (John 1:33)?

And when Jesus comes on the scene and chooses his twelve disciples, it is the disciples who baptize according to the words of John 4:2. Yes, Jesus gets credit for the baptisms in John 4:1, but John 4:2 clearly states that “though Jesus Himself did not baptize, but His disciples.” There it is, as clear as day that Christ gets credit for all baptisms though it is the disciples who do them. However, does Christ getting credit for the baptisms mean that it is wrong to use “I” or “we” in reference to the humans doing the baptisms? Not according to Scripture.

John clarifies in the words of John 4:2 that Jesus is the Teacher, and all leaders are known for the work of their disciples; however, the disciples did the actual work. John doesn’t want us to mistake Jesus’ baptism credit to think that the disciples didn’t have any responsibilities.

human baptisms in the name of jesus: division in the church at corinth

11 For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you. 12 Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?

14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 lest anyone should say that I had baptized in my own name. 16 Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas. Besides, I do not know whether I baptized any other. 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect.” (1 Corinthians 1:11-17, NKJV)

In the words of 1 Corinthians 1:11-17, Paul acknowledges the division in the church at Corinth, with some arguing who they follow: “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Christ.” Paul goes on to ask the congregation whether or not they were baptized in the name of Paul. Why does he ask this? To get the Corinthians to focus not on the human agents that baptized them, but rather, the Christ in whose name they were being baptized. Humans baptized them, but their baptisms were “in the name of Jesus Christ.” Paul didn’t want them to confuse human baptizers with the God of their salvation. No man is as great as Jesus.

And yet, while they were baptized in the name of Jesus, it was important to not forget those who had baptized them. This is why we see Paul ultimately own up to baptizing some members of the congregation there, such as Crispus, Gaius, and Stephanas’ entire household (1 Corinthians 1:14-16). Paul indeed baptized these few but he didn’t remember baptizing any others. He goes on to say that God called him not to baptize, but to preach the gospel — essentially leaving the baptismal work to the elders and pastors of that local Corinthian congregation.

jesus leaves baptisms to disciples in the great commission (Matthew 28:18-20)

Last but not least, we should examine the words of our Lord in what we call “The Great Commission.” It is the last set of instructions the Lord left the disciples on earth. These same disciples then went on with the work of building the Lord’s church.

18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen. (Matthew 28:18-20)

Let’s look at a few things in Matthew 28:18-20. First, to whom is Jesus speaking? He’s speaking to the disciples, the original eleven. At this point, Judas has already gone and betrayed Jesus, handing Him over for thirty pieces of silver. Jesus has been tried by the court and found guilty of treason (though He is perfectly innocent), and condemned to death by crucifixion.

Judas comes to the realization that Jesus is innocent and decides to commit suicide by hanging. Then Jesus, having been convicted, is crucified but at this point has risen from the dead and is giving His final words to the disciples before His ascension back into glory.

So Jesus is speaking to the disciples. When He gives the commands to “go therefore and make disciples, baptizing them and teaching them,” He’s not talking to Himself, but rather, the disciples. They are to go into the world and make disciples, not Jesus. They are to baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, not Jesus. They are to teach these new converts to observe all that Christ commanded, not Jesus. No matter the credit Jesus receives, He has already done the work of dying on the cross for our sins and rising for our justification. It is now up to us to go and tell the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He has already done His earthly work; now we must do ours.

And when Jesus says, “And lo, I am with you always,” it is to the disciples that Jesus is speaking. He has chosen them to do the work, but He will be with them as they do it. Christ is always with us, but He will not do the mission work for us. He has given it to us to do, and we’d better be busy doing it when He returns. Like the disciples, we have been given our orders, our “marching papers.

Let’s get to it.

wrapping it all up

As we have seen in the words of Scripture, it is up to the Church, the human believers, to go and do the work of the ministry. We are to preach the good news of the gospel, to baptize new converts, and to train them so that they will go out and do the same. We, the Church collectively, are to go out and fulfill the Great Commission. Yes, we are exerting physical energy for the work of God, but in the end, all the glory goes to God. Yet and still, the Good Lord will reward us for all that we do in His name. Even though all the glory belongs to Him, He still rewards our faithfulness to His call.

What an awesome God we serve!

When it comes to the Roman Catholic denomination and its strong belief about Christ baptizing, it appears as though the denomination has declared baptisms invalid falsely. The baptismal statement Reverend Arango has said for years includes the Triune Godhead and all three Trinity members. It acknowledges that he isn’t baptizing without the vested power of the church of which he is a part. With his acknowledgment of the Blessed Trinity and the church and faith to which he belongs, Arango has done no harm to the baptism of any person.

Those who were baptized, if they confess Jesus is Lord and believe in their hearts that God raised Jesus from the dead, they are saved (Romans 10:9). I am just as sure about the validity of their baptisms and professions of faith as I am sure about Jesus returning for His own.

Even though humans are doing the baptisms, and even in using “I baptize” or “we baptize,” it is Jesus who gets all the glory. And yet, saying “we (the church) baptize you” isn’t any less God-glorifying than saying “Christ baptizes you.” The truth of the matter is that we, the Church, are the hands and feet of Jesus. To be sure, we can only go where the Good Lord allows us to go, but He invites us to take part in His salvific mission. Although He is mighty to save despite us, He chooses not to save without us.

Soli Deo Gloria!