The Catholic Church teaches that baptism actually does something to the soul in an objective sense: it removes the punishment for sins committed up to that point in life; it removes the punishment for original sin; it makes the person a new creature; it imparts sanctifying grace.
But I know that a lot of Protestants don’t hold that view. They believe baptism is a symbolic action but not that it does anything objective to the soul.
I’ve thought about this difference a lot, and I’ve come to the conclusion that baptism really isn’t just a symbol to most Protestants. It is that they believe that baptism is a public demonstration that the person has entered into the Christian life. They have freely chosen to follow Christ and baptism is the public act that demonstrates this. So it looks to me like, generally speaking, Protestants baptize while attributing to it what Catholics call confirmation. This difference explains why Protestants will very often rebaptize somebody. They want the person to make a public statement regarding entering into the Christian life. This explains why some Protestants argue that baptism is not necessary for salvation (which is my mother’s position). If it is only a public act regarding the free choice to live as a Christian, then I would have to agree with that argument.
Catholics want everybody to be baptized because it does something objective to the soul. On the other hand, we acknowledge that there are times when somebody could still be saved without being baptized. Catholics recognize Protestant baptisms, but only as baptisms, not as confirmations. This is because when the Protestant was baptized, the objective actions that I mentioned above actually did take place (assuming a few details that I won’t go into here but are usually used). Any baptized Protestant who converts to Catholic is not rebaptized since it is not necessary, but they must make a public act of faith and be confirmed. They do this as part of the sacrament of confirmation.
Here is a table I made to help distinguish the Catholic view from the Protestant view. It doesn’t necessarily apply to all Protestants–they aren’t a monolithic group and it can be difficult to generalize about them, but I think it works pretty well for many of them.
|Name of act||Catholic view||Protestant view (generally)|
|Baptism||Does something objective to the soul (see above); a sacrament that imparts grace; obedience to the scriptures||Public confirmation that the person accepts Christ and freely chooses to live as a Christian; obedience to the scriptures|
|Confirmation||Public confirmation that the person accepts Christ and freely chooses to live as a Christian; a sacrament that imparts grace; obedience to the scriptures||Not applicable; not acknowledged as a distinct and separate act|
Here are a few scripture verses that distinguish baptism from confirmation: