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May 04, 2005



This very morning I had to take issue with a morning radio program here in Nashville when the host insisted that "Evangelism" by its very definition meant converting people. As if "proselytize" and "evangelize" were merely synonymous.

I don't understand why these churches don't appreciate spreading the Good News for it's own sake and letting the Lord do the rest rather than for "winning souls" at any cost.



It's not in their mindset, partly because they believe that if a person misses a chance to accept Christ, they might not get another one.

One of the nicest things that happened to me on my journey into Catholicism is that on two different times, different priests reassured me, "In God's time." Coming from a religious culture that only saw NOW as the time to make the decision, I lapped it up.


Isn't this just the logic of the Evangelical approach to the sacraments? That baptism is an act of public witness, whereas praying to "receive Christ" is the event that brings salvation.

In my college days attending a Baptist church, it didn't make sense to me that people who believed that baptism wasn't required for salvation -- people who had a somewhat negative approach to the sacraments -- would bother doing it at all.

In that congregation, they actually didn't put much stress on it: many who attended services there were students who had not made a commitment to a denomination.

Rod Dreher

The Baptists have more problems: the president of Baylor University admits to being a proud financial supporter of a Planned Parenthood child sex ed program.

About Catholic priests saying, "In God's time," a friend known to lots of Catholic bloggers tells a story about approaching a Catholic priest at a parish on Capitol Hill when he was a young teenager, and asking to receive instruction in the faith. The priest sent him away -- I think because he came from a Baptist family, and the priest told him he needed to be a better Baptist. My friend later got involved in gay activism, and found his way to the faith only years later. If that priest hadn't shut the door on him, my friend wonders, how different might his life have turned out.

Zhou De-Ming

In the related article the "baptismal ratio" in an interesting statistic.

More troubling, Rainer asserts, is the spike in congregational baptism ratios -– “How many members does it take to reach one person for Christ in a year? -– which he regards as the preferred “measurement of evangelistic health since it takes into consideration church size.”

In 1950, one person was baptized for every 19 members of SBC churches. In 1978, the baptismal ratio increased to 36 to 1, and by 2003 the number had climbed to 43 to 1. A lower ratio is desired.

“The trend in total baptisms in the Southern Baptist Convention thus depicted a clear pattern of plateau. But the more revealing measurement of baptism ratios reveals consistent evangelistic deterioration,” Rainer argues.

So now it takes 43 SBC members to make one new baptism. How many Catholics does it take? Smarty-pants answer: 2 (one called Mom, the other called Dad).

If, as reported, maybe half the SBC members are not "Christians," then they just need to evangelize themselves, and, Bingo! all the stats look much better. But as they evangelize themselves, and baptize the non-Christians in their midst, then the "baptismal ratio" will keep climbing! To get the last not-yet-Christian in their midst baptized, the ratio could be something like 50,000,000!


Of course, baptism makes on "ontologically" a Christian. When they say half their membership isn't Christian, what they really mean is "not practicing their faith in the world."


You oughta be more worried about the millions of people who aren't Christian and who don't understand Christianity. Seriously, there are a lot of people who die in ignorance for want of someone to open the door to understanding. That's terrible.

Catholics are very lazy about evangelization.


Besides we have the same problem with the 50% factor that they do. I think maybe they're more honest about it though.


Although it is in nobody's interest to minimize the differences between Catholics and Baptists regarding baptismal theology (which do seem more insoluble than other theological differences we have with Protestants), we can at least begin some sort of dialogue. Let me quote something that I've written earlier:

"... some of the Greek Fathers and (I think) all of the Syrian Fathers distinguished between what we might call a 'full' and 'less full' possession of the Spirit. While the 'less full' possession comes with our baptism, 'fullness' only comes when we begin to lead lives of real self-emptying. The Syrian Father Philoxenus of Mabbug even said, 'You have two baptisms. One is the baptism of grace which arises from the water; the other is the baptism of your own free will' (Discourse 9.276). Of course, Philoxenus did not mean that one should get baptized on multiple occasions; he was simply suggesting that our baptisms need to be unfolded at a future moment when we decide to engage in serious discipleship. This might make for an interesting point of dialogue with our Evangelical friends who insist on the necessity of being born-again."

Perhaps we can talk with Baptists about our acknowledgment that our baptisms do need to be "unfolded." Of course, the charismatic movement has long talked about a "baptism in the spirit," which should not diminish sacramental baptism while being an event of deeper conversion that is often accompanied by spiritual gifts.




Be careful not to miss the point here. The point *isn't* that Baptist baptism is not Catholic baptism. So let's not bash the Baptists okay? The point is that they're not getting the baptisms they used to--ie. their member to baptism ratio is rising. What's ours, I wonder?


My first thought was SBC, parent of Southwestern Bell et al. I was worried b/c we've got a lot of projects going for them right now. Glad it's just the baptists.


I think that part of the problem of the Baptists not getting more baptisms is that they train for sprints and not marathons. The push is to get new commitments to Christ, ie baptisms, and don't have enough for the long term Christian. The person who brings in others is the excited person, not the one worn down by problems.

Too much, did I see Bible studies being simplifed, and very little challenging stuff. Too often, I saw young Christians pushed into places of service, (thinking to help them become more faithful) only to lose them.

And I wonder whether the statistics show how many of the baptisms are re-done because according to the standards of the local church, they weren't done properly or the person was really too young to make the decision (not an infant either but an elementary aged person at the time of his first one). Sadly to say, one of the bigger battles I saw, was over that very problem.


I've done a little reading in Baptist history, for a research paper at college, and many of my relatives are Baptists.

Baptists glory in arguments. None of this namby-pamby harmony for them! The records of the Southern Baptists in California are filled with energetic arguments over all kinds of issues, from use of church funds to buy an office typewriter to acceptance of new members that might or might not have been baptized properly by a minister who had himself been baptized properly...

And when they were finished arguing they usually sat down together to a dinner of fried chicken, prepared by the ladies of the congregation. Sometimes, of course, they splintered; that's why there have been any number of Baptist subsets: Southern Baptists, American Baptists, General Baptists, Free Will Baptists, Missionary Baptists, Seventh-Day Baptists...

Really, if Baptists were not arguing and occasionally splintering, then I would start to worry about them.


I think that part of the problem of the Baptists not getting more baptisms is that they train for sprints and not marathons. The push is to get new commitments to Christ, ie baptisms, and don't have enough for the long term Christian.

This is a perceptive point.

There is so much energy invested in getting that commitment, that public witness of baptism. You're dunked and you're saved. This leads to all kinds of unfortunate antinomian tendencies, which serious Baptists are concerned about.

OTOH, I can say from personal observation that many SBC churches make some effort on followup, even sending deacons to the home on friendly visits.

I think the RCIA approach has a lot to be said for it. It not only catechizes the convert better but prepares them for a long haul approach to living their faith.

OTOH, for all the SBC's problems, they do make a stronger commitment to evangelization than we generally do, even if I would not proceed in quite the same manner as they do. In that regard, we could a little something from them as we try to live out John Paul II's call for a new evangelization.

Steve Cavanaugh

When I lived in Vermont, the husband of one of my coworkers was a Southern Baptist minister. They had moved to the area to plant a church. In addition to caring for his small congregation, he worked full-time as a welder, while his wife worked in the hospital kitchen with me. The family rented a house, and got no support from their small congregation.

We would get together occasionally to chat and to play chess. While we would certainly be far apart on many issues, and on what issues were important (like 6-day creationism), I couldn't help but be impressed with their commitment to evangelism and to living out their faith.

As for the original post's talking about increasing ratio of baptists to baptisms, that may not really show a decrease in evangelism in absolute numbers: simply that there always was a core group that were involved in evangelism, and now that there are more people in the SBC (the second largest "denomination" in the USA, after Catholics) that ratio of evangelists to members is increasing. But as Paul noted, no all are called to be apostles, nor evangelists, nor teachers.

Gerard E.

A more modified and subdued version of Benny Hinn Syndrome- pack out hockey arenas, line up lots of people on stage for healings, pile up letters requesting miracles on the production set. Meanwhile, The Global Catholic Network mostly features people wearing robes, standing at lecterns, lecturing for a half-hour. Until those programs are interrupted to cover the life and death of a robed celibate man who inspired an estimated four million people to his funeral. No Mrs. Pope on the production set in teased blonde hair and subdued jewelry begging for money to help 'the ministry.' As a fellow correspondent noted above, it's a spring, not a marathon. As Sly And The Family Stone noted in 1968, Different Strokes For Different Folks. And so on, and so on, and scooby-dooby-doo-ooo....


"And when they were finished arguing they usually sat down together to a dinner of fried chicken, prepared by the ladies of the congregation."

Ah, I do wish we had more fried chicken dinners in Catholic parishes . . . . With sweet tea. And biscuits. Okay, now I'm hungry.

Seriously, though, I was raised as a Southern Baptist and one thing that always struck me about the denomination was the emphasis on getting people in the door-- getting them to make a profession of faith and be baptized. After that, you were left hanging a bit. There was often good "discipleship training" during Bible studies, etc., but the actual worship services almost always revolved around a sermon encouraging unbelievers to accept Christ, followed by the "invitation." The invitation was a hymn sung by the congregation while the pastor stood at the front of the church, waiting for someone who had been moved by the message to step down and accept the Lord. On those days when someone did, I have to admit, it was really nice. Everyone was very excited and welcoming, and there were often tears of joy. On those days when no one came down, though (which far outnumbered the days when someone did), the invitation got rather painful. Sometimes the pastor would put up his hand to stop the singing, while the piano and organ would continue to play softly in the background. He would explain that he truly felt that someone had been moved by the Spirit, and needed to step forward. Then we'd resume the singing. If no one came down even after that, man, it was depressing.

Still, I agree with Richard that there is much to be learned from the Baptists' zeal. If they can work up so much excitement over a genuine but incomplete understanding of Christ, how much more should we Catholics, who know the fullness of the faith, overflow with joy and energy! To the new evangelization!

Jay Anderson

The Baptists have more problems: the president of Baylor University admits to being a proud financial supporter of a Planned Parenthood child sex ed program.

Ah, my undergraduate alma mater. My guess is that the "interim" president may not last until the next president is appointed.

I think that part of the problem of the Baptists not getting more baptisms is that they train for sprints and not marathons. The push is to get new commitments to Christ, ie baptisms, and don't have enough for the long term Christian.

And Catholics are better at this how? Oh yes, we have the Sacraments, which is certainly key to salvation. But can we really say that we do a better job of evangelizing and then making disciples of people than the Baptists do?

Having been involved in Baptist ministry of some sort for about 20 years before becoming Catholic, I would say no.


The Baptists have more problems: the president of Baylor University admits to being a proud financial supporter of a Planned Parenthood child sex ed program.

Rod -- this guy has only been named interim starting June 1. As you know, there is a lot of manuevering over the fate of Baylor these days. The chairman of the Board of Regents has stated that they are hoping to have someone permanent in place in the fall. I would not assume that this guy will be the one.

Drake Tungsten

US Catholic stats

From the 2003 & 2004 Official Catholic Directory, as quoted at various places online:

66,407,702 US Catholic population
1,086,503 US Catholic baptisms (both infant and adult)
61.1 "Baptism ratio": Members/Baptism

67,259,768 US Catholic population
1,061,970 US Catholic baptisms (both infant and adult)
63.3 "Baptism ratio": Members/Baptism


speaking as a SB, the point is discipleship - learning.

Baptism is the first (should be)sign of a committment to follow Jesus in Adult believers.

The real issue is Jay's point - not just getting them in the door, but helping them becom disciples - learners.


I think that part of the problem of the Baptists not getting more baptisms is that they train for sprints and not marathons.

It would really help to know where the finish line is in this race


as a current Baylor student, and a recent convert to Catholicism (wow... went to the big ol' baptist college and became Catholic... my family still gripes about it) i'll definitely be following this.

among other things, they've not introduced this "interim president" to the student body yet. so none of us actually know anything except what we see in other sources - and this one ain't promising, i'll tell you that. i'll be here all summer, so i'll be watching him - but it does appear that Baylor's gone out of the frying pan into the fire (our last president had budget/monetary problems, this "interim" guy has moral issues... great)

tongue in cheek/ of course everyone knows that the reason Baylor's going down the tubes is that almost 15% of the University is those heathen, idol-worshipping Catholics
/end tongue in cheek


It is hard to understand why your have such comments about the baptist. When so many of your priest continue to molest little boys. Is this not worse than slow to baptise?

Zhou De-Ming

Dear Lawrence,

Are you saying that the sexual abuse issue is so great that we should not discuss anything else? (I disagree.)

Or are you saying that there is not sexual abuse by Southern Baptist Clergy? (I also disagree, and would be glad to provide references to news articles and commentary from within the Southern Baptist Convention which has even more problems than the Catholic Church with ministerial accountability.)



Chill out. Until your non-sequitor of a comment, this had been a rather cordial thread. The commentary about our Baptist brethren herein has been rather tame and even been balanced by self-criticism of Catholics.


Not that one problem is greater than the other but all being said so far was how bad things is with southern baptist. Dont get so offended. Just thought before you spend so much time knocking how many the baptist baptise there is other more pressing issues. Such as praying to the vergin mary. My bible teaches that only through Jesus can we be saved.


Fellow Catholics, stop bashing the Baptists. You're only getting what you deserve here. Chill. We're not doing so hot, you remember.


Who was bashing Baptists? I suppose I can't speak for others, but I was not. In case anyone mistook my post about how Baptists like to argue for "bashing," it certainly was not intended that way. When I said Baptists glory in arguing, it was meant as a compliment, not as an insult.

As I said, many of my relatives are Baptists, I have attended Baptist churches from time to time, and I admire them greatly.

Many Christians value harmony so greatly that they are willing to paper over differences to maintain the appearance of unity. Baptists don't do that. Baptists stick up for what they believe, and they're proud of it. I may not agree with Baptists about every point of theology. (Who could? Baptists don't agree with each other about every point of doctrine.) But you know where you stand with Baptists. For the most part, I'd take fellowship with Baptists over fellowship with Catholics, any day.

Just wanted to make things clear regarding my post at least.

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