Is Roman Catholic baptism valid?

I saw this clip from Ligonier regarding the validity of Roman Catholic baptism:

It’s an interesting question from the position of this Baptist because Sproul outlines two views on the question from a Presbyterian point of view.

There were those who reckon a trinitarian baptism is valid and doesn’t rest in the person doing the baptising, but in the promises of God, and so Roman Catholic baptism is valid and doesn’t require a re-baptism into Presbyterianism. But there are those who argue, because the Roman Catholic church anathematised the gospel, all of her sacraments were invalidated and so any baptism done in the Roman Catholic church are not true baptisms at all and thus baptism would be required to join the Presbyterians. Sproul himself says of his own position: ‘if a person who had an evangelical baptism as an infant wants me to re-baptize him, I won’t do it. If a person who was baptized in a Roman Catholic environment as an infant doesn’t believe in the validity of that baptism and asks me to baptize him, I usually will.’

As a baptist, I find these sorts of questions funny. Presbyterians (I understand Anglicans too) will often accept the baptism of a church that has anathematised the gospel because it was trinitarian. I wonder if they would also recognise the baptism of wildly liberal churches, that are still nonetheless trinitarian, on the same grounds? I suppose, if you are Anglican, you are forced to say ‘yes’ because such are within your communion and you are – despite their departure from the gospel altogether – still in some sort of fellowship with them and bound to accept those who have been baptised within your communion, even if it is in and by a church that has long departed from any credible belief in the gospel.

I, of course, wouldn’t accept a Roman Catholic baptism as valid. Nor would I accept the baptism of an adult in a thoroughgoing liberal Baptist church either (if such a person had later become a believer and were looking to join a Bible-believing church). But then, nor would I accept the baptism of a sound Presbyterian or Anglican church either. None of them are practising baptism and all of them have one particular thing in common.

I agree with RC Sproul (by way of Augustine), ‘the validity of the baptism is not determined by the one who administers it’. So, if a believer is baptised by a pastor who later falls away from the faith and begins to renounce the gospel, it doesn’t render all his previous baptisms null and void. If someone is baptised by someone who later, it becomes apparent, was never a believer we don’t have to re-baptise all the people they previously baptised. The baptism isn’t valid because the person doing the dunking was kosher. This much is certainly true. So, to assume that Roman Catholic baptism is invalid because the church, or the one’s administering it, aren’t believers in the same gospel is a misstep.

But what the Roman Catholic, the Presbyterian, the Anglican and the liberal Baptist all have in common is a lack of genuine faith on the part of the one being baptised. The validity of baptism is not grounded in the one doing the baptising, it is rooted in the one being baptised. Baptism is – in every example we have of it being carried out in the New Testament – an act that follows professed faith, it never precedes it. It is something that is granted on profession of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and belief in his gospel. Anyone who is baptised apart from this has not actually been baptised at all.

To baptise someone who has never professed faith is to give them a passport without citizenship. They may have a document, but it is invalidated because they don’t have the one thing that the document is supposed to signify. Without faith, we haven’t really performed a baptism at all because we lack the primary thing that baptism points toward.

So, for that reason, I wouldn’t recognise a Roman Catholic baptism because the babies they baptise did not profess faith at the point of their baptism. Likewise, I wouldn’t recognise a liberal Baptist Church baptism either because the false gospel they proclaim, if believed at the time, meant that faith in Christ and citizenship in the people of God didn’t exist. By the same token, it is why I don’t recognise Anglican or Presbyterian infant baptism too. I would, however, recognise their adult sprinklings as irregular, but valid, baptism. I don’t think it is the pattern we should follow, I don’t think it is what is commanded in scripture when it comes to baptism itself, but I do recognise the existence of faith in the one being baptised and can live with the fact that the sign may not be fulsome, it isn’t totally without significance in such circumstances.

But if a church doesn’t believe the gospel, those who believe whatever they proclaim and are baptised according to what they teach are not being baptised into the faith once for all delivered to the saints. If there is not such faith on display, it is hard to recognise as valid the baptism of someone who does not belong. Baptism is, after all, the sign of the New Covenant which we enter, the New Testament tells us again and again, by faith. Without it, we haven’t entered at all.

If we aren’t in the covenant because there is no faith on our part, we have no business receiving the covenant signs. Likewise, we cannot recognise covenant signs as valid when others divvy them out to those who have not entered the covenant by faith. If faith marks entry to the covenant, baptism to the church, we have no business bringing into the church those who have not yet been brought into the covenant by faith.