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Why Your Reformed/Calvinist/Evangelical/Baptist Friends Disagree with the Lutheran Doctrine of Baptism (And Why It Makes Them Cranky When You Assert It!)

January 25th, 2013 15 comments

IMG_1263What is Baptism according to the witness of the New Testament? What does it give or what is the good of it? How is Baptism related to the faith of the one to be baptized? Is it necessary for salvation or not? What may we answer first of all is that according to the clear teaching of the New Testament Baptism is the “washing of regeneration.” The early church, which always simply identified Baptism with regeneration, and the church of all times, with the exception of the Reformed communities, have understood Titus 3: 5 in this way— and rightly so. There Baptism is “the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit.” In Baptism the Holy Spirit is bestowed; we are “baptized into one body” (1   Cor. 12: 13). According to Rom. 6: 3, the baptized are baptized into Christ’s death. Those are all realities that happen not alongside of Baptism but in it. Water Baptism in the New Testament, as long as it is Baptism into Christ, in the name of Christ, is Spirit Baptism; it is being born anew and at the same time from above “of water and the Spirit” (John 3: 5). The New Testament knows nothing of a being born again without Baptism or apart from Baptism. Baptism is therefore not a sign but a means of regeneration. To regard it only as a sign of a regeneration that also may take place without it or apart from it is unbiblical.

What is it that prompts the Reformed doctrine? We may observe something similar in the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper. On the one hand the pure symbolism of Zwingli is rejected. He saw Baptism as merely a sign professing that one is a Christian, just as the white cross worn on the garment of a Swiss Confederate made him recognizable as a Swiss Confederate [LCC 24: 131]. On the other hand, along with the Roman sacramental doctrine of an opus operatum, the Lutheran— and New Testament— identification of sign and action is also rejected. At the bottom of all this lies the antipathy of Calvin and his predecessors in medieval theology against the idea that an external, physical action can produce spiritual effects, such as the forgiveness of sins. This is first of all a secular, philosophical presupposition, and second, it misunderstands the significance of the Word of God in Baptism. “For without the Word of God the water is simple water and no Baptism. But with the Word of God it is Baptism, that is, a gracious water of life and a washing of regeneration” (SC IV).

Also in Catholic doctrine the Word as the forma is inseparably tied up with the sacrament; indeed, it is what makes the sacrament a sacrament. This is in harmony with the words of Augustine, which time and again are quoted by all churches in the West: “The word comes to the element and makes the sacrament.” Where Luther differs from the Catholic doctrine of Baptism he says himself in the Smalcald Articles, distinguishing himself from both the Thomists and the Scotists: We do not agree with Thomas and the Dominicans who forget the Word [God’s institution] and say that God has joined to the water a spiritual power which, through the water, washes away sin. Nor do we agree with Scotus and the Franciscans who teach that Baptism washes sin away through the assistance of the divine will, as if the washing takes place only through God’s will and not at all through the Word and water. (SA III V 2– 3).

With Luther everything depends on the intimate connection of Word and water: “God is surely a God of life. Because He is there in this water, it cannot but be the very water of life, which puts death and hell to flight and makes alive with the life that has no end” (WA 52: 102.29). Luther has no need to demonstrate first that this presence of God or Christ can be no other presence than that which happens in His Word. All effects of Baptism are effects of the Word combined with the water for Luther and the Lutheran Church. The Reformed opposition to this Lutheran understanding of Baptism is therefore nothing else than opposition to the Lutheran doctrine of the means of grace as a whole. They are opposing the fact that God does not give His Spirit, and therewith forgiveness of sins, life and salvation, to anyone apart from the external means of His grace, apart from the external Word, apart from Baptism, or apart from the Lord’s Supper. “The power of Jesus Christ, which is the only power of Baptism, is not bound to the administration of Baptism” (Barth, 14f.). … As was often the case, Luther’s way was the lonely way between Rome and the Enthusiasts. Over against the Enthusiasts, among whom he lumped Zwingli and his followers, as he would also have done with the Calvinists had they been part of his experience, he firmly held to the Sacrament of Baptism and everything that belongs with it: infant Baptism, necessity for salvation, and regeneration. Over against Rome he firmly held to the sola fide: Forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given only to faith. Just as in the Sacrament of the Altar only he receives forgiveness of sins and so also life and salvation who has faith in “these words,” that is, in the promise: “Given and shed for the forgiveness of sins,” so it is true of Baptism: “It works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.” And this is not talking about some future faith that is then confessed at confirmation, so that this would be a necessary completion of Baptism. … Luther goes his lonely way between the hierarchical safeguards of Rome and the psychological safeguards of the Enthusiasts. It is the lonely way of the reformer, who heeds only the Word and God and counts on this Word for everything, even for what is humanly impossible. Only in this way can he and the Lutheran Church hold together the objectivity of the sacrament and the sola fide, whereby we do not forget that justifying faith

— Herman Sasse. Letters to Lutheran Pastors-Volume 1: Letter 4: Holy Baptism. Concordia Publishing House. Kindle Edition. 2013.

Categories: baptism

Does the Bible Teach Infants Should be Baptized?

October 20th, 2010 3 comments

From Martin Chemnitz’ Enchiridion.

Does Infant Baptism Have Basis in the Word of God?

Yes. For Christ declares regarding little children, Mt 19:14; Mk 10:14: Of such is the kingdom of heaven, or the kingdom of God. And no one who is born of flesh can enter the kingdom of God unless he is reborn, Jn 3:3. And this regeneration and rebirth takes place by water and the Spirit, Jn 3:5. For Baptism is the washing of regeneration of the Holy Spirit, Tts 3:5. Since, then, Christ wants little children to become partakers of the kingdom of heaven, and that must take place through Baptism, it is surely Christ’s meaning, will, and command, that little children be baptized. For the promise of the kingdom of God must be applied through a certain means or instrument instituted by God Himself. For the promise without application profits no one. Therefore also the promise of the kingdom of heaven, which is given to infants (Mk 10:14) must be applied to them through a certain means. Now, Scripture declares that this means is Baptism. Jn 3:5; Tts 3:5.

Second, Christ also wants infants to be saved, for He says: It is not the will of the heavenly Father that one of these little ones should perish, Mt 18:14. But the heavenly Father saved [us] by the washing of regeneration, Tts 3:5. It is therefore the will of God that infants be baptized and that they do not perish, but be saved.

Third, infants are conceived and born in sins, so that by nature they are children of wrath, Ps 51:5; Eph 2:3. Therefore they must obtain forgiveness of sins, so that they do not perish but be saved, Lk 1:77; Ro 4:7. But Baptism is the divine means by which sins are forgiven and washed away, Acts 2:38; 22:16.

Fourth, Christ wants and commands little children to be brought to Him, that He might bless them, Mk 10:14, 16. Now, one asks: How is this done? And Scripture declares that they who are baptized put on Christ in Baptism, Gl 3:27. For they are baptized into His death and resurrection, Ro 6:3; 1 Ptr 3:21. Christ cleanses and sanctifies the church, for which He gave Himself, through the washing of water by the Word, Eph 5:26. And this very thing is true blessing, Gl 4:14; Eph 1:3. It follows, therefore, that Christ’s command is that infants be baptized.

Fifth, Baptism of the New Testament succeeded circumcision of the Old Testament, Cl 2:11–12. Therefore, just as in the Old Testament the covenant of divine grace was applied and sealed through circumcision not only to adults but also to infants, Gn 17:10, 12, so also now in the New Testament that grace should rightly be applied and confirmed as by a seal both to infants as well as adults through Baptism, since the grace of God was made not less but rather more abundant and richer in the New Testament.

Sixth, Is 49:22 prophesies that in the New Testament not only adults would be implanted in the church, but behold, he says, they shall bring your sons in [their] arms and your daughters shall they carry on [their] shoulders. And Peter says Acts 2:39 after he had baptized adults: This promise was made to you and to your children. In this way also the apostles baptized entire households, Acts 16:33; 1 Co 1:16. But where a household or family is mentioned infants are surely not excluded.It is therefore clear and manifest from this that the doctrine of infant baptism is not only orthodox but also altogether useful and necessary and gives very sweet comfort to parents and children.

Martin Chemnitz and Luther Poellot, Ministry, Word, and Sacraments : An Enchiridion, electronic ed., 116-17 (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999).

The Fathers Speak: Be Careful Not to Despise Baptism

July 3rd, 2010 Comments off

“It is not the water [of Baptism] that bestows (for in that case it were a thing more exalted than all of creation) but the command of God, and the visitation of the Holy Spirit that comes sacramentally to set us free. But water serves to express the cleansing. For since we hope, when we wash with water, to make our bodies clean after we have become soiled by dirt or mud, so we apply water also in the sacramental action. There it displays the spiritual brightness that is subject to our senses…Despise not, therefore, the divine bath, nor think lightly of it, as a common thing simply because it makes use of water. For the power that operates is mighty, and the things that are accomplished by it are wonderful!”

— Gregory of Nyssa, On the Baptism of Christ, NPNF 2 5:175.

Categories: baptism, Church Fathers

The Fathers Speak: Baptism is the Sacrament of Regeneration

June 14th, 2010 6 comments

I’m going to start regularly offering quotes and snippets from the writings of the Early Church Fathers. Starting…now. And, if you want to understand how/why Lutherans cherish and value the wisdom and teaching of the Church Fathers, here is a helpful article by Carl Beckwith explaining how we read and use the writings of the Fathers based on Martin Chemnitz’ discussion of this topic in his Loci Theologici: beckwithchemnitzchurchfathersjustification-4

“The sacrament of baptism is most assuredly the sacrament of regeneration. But just as one who never lived cannot die, adn one who has not did cannot rise again, so too one who was never born cannot be reborn.”

— Augustine
On the Merits and Forgiveness of Sins and on Infant Baptism 2.27.43

Categories: baptism, Church Fathers

When Does Faith Begin? Lutheranism’s “Lonely Way” on Baptism

April 25th, 2010 10 comments

When would you say that faith begins, on the basis of which we should venture to baptize? Perhaps at the present age of confirmation? Or in little children when they can confess with the mouth, as Thomas Muenzer of old would have it? Why, it would be the equivalent of turning the miracle wrought by the Holy Spirit into a psychologically perceptible fact, if any attempt were made here to fix a time-limit for the working of the Spirit.  Here, too, Luther goes his lonely way between Rome with its hierarchical, and the enthusiasts with their psychological sanctions—the lonely way of the Reformer who heeds only the Word and God and trusts that this Word can do all things, even the humanly impossible. In this way, and only in this way, has Luther and the Lutheran Church after him been able to hold both the objectivity of the sacrament and the sola fide, not forgetting that justifying faith is not a matter of a single moment but the content of an entire human life. For this faith certainly is not the individual act of surrender to God, consciously felt and experienced at certain moments of our life, but it is the continuing trust—though overshadowed again and again—in the Gospel promise of grace; just as repentance according to the evangelical conception is not a single act but something that goes on continually throughout our life. So too our baptism is not a finished act, but it goes with us throughout our life. To be a Christian does not mean simply to have been baptized sometime in the past, but it means to live in the power of Baptism and to return to it again and again. As is well known, the Small Catechism answers the question: “What does such baptizing with water signify?” by saying:

It signifies that the old Adam in us, by daily contrition and repentance should be drowned and die, with all sins and evil lusts, and that a new man daily come forth and arise, who shall live in righteousness and purity before God forever.

Just as we who are sinners and righteous at the same time live by daily contrition and repentance and by daily forgiveness of sins, so too our dying and rising again with Christ, that real though incomprehensible anticipation of an eschatological event which takes place in Baptism, is something that determines our entire life. This, over against Rome and against the enthusiasts, was Luther’s understanding of Baptism and of the faith that accepts Baptism. We embrace it not only at one given moment, whether it be at the moment we are baptized, or at the moment of confirmation, or any other given moment of our life that might be named, but we embrace it or should embrace it throughout our entire life, every day anew. This is the reason why Luther recognized no additional sacrament to supplement Baptism, whether it be confirmation or repentance, which would be anything else but a return to Baptism.

Sasse, Letters to Lutheran Pastors, IV

Evidence for Infant Baptism in the Early Church

August 20th, 2009 6 comments

778-baptism-oneChristian Churches that do not baptize infants take a good deal of offense at those of us who do. What is the witness of the early church in regard to the baptism of infants? Turns out there is quite a bit, both from the writings of the church fathers and inscriptions that have been found on the tombs of infants and very young children. Here is a selection of such evidence:

Evidence for Infant Baptism in the Church Fathers and Inscriptions

The following is intended not as irrefutable evidence, nor as the first line of an apologetic for infant baptism. It is certainly neither. The Scriptures themselves, especially the Scriptural teaching of sin, grace, and faith, form the clear basis for the practice. However these passages do present the clear practice of infant baptism in the ancient church of the second through the fourth centuries.

The Fathers

Irenaeus: For he came to save all by means of himself — all, I say, who by him are born again to God — infants, children, adolescents, young men, and old men. (Against Heresies II.22.4)

Hippolytus: And they shall baptize the little children first. And if they can answer for themselves, let them answer. But if they cannot, let their parents answer or someone from their family. And next they shall baptism the grown men; and last the women. (Apostolic Tradition 21.3-5)

Origen: I take this occasion to discuss something which our brothers often inquire about. Infants are baptized for the remission of sins. Of what kinds? Or when did they sin? But since “No one is exempt from stain,” one removes the stain by the mystery of baptism. For this reason infants are baptized. For “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Homily on Luke 14:5).

[After quoting Psalm 51:5 and Job 14:4] These verses may be adduced when it is asked why, since the baptism of the church is given for the remission of sins, baptism according to the practice of the church is given even to infants; since indeed if there is in infants nothing which ought to pertain to forgiveness and mercy, the grace of baptism would be superfluous. (Homily on Leviticus 8:3).

[After quoting Leviticus 12:8 and Psalm 51:5] For this also the church had a tradition from the apostles, to give baptism even to infants. For they to whom the secrets of the divine mysteries were given knew that there is in all persons the natural stains of sin which must be washed away by the water and the Spirit. On account of these stains the body itself is called the body of sin. (Commentary on Romans 5:9)

Cyprian: In respect of the case of infants, which you say ought not to be baptized within the second or third day after birth, and that the law of ancient circumcision should be regarded, so that you think that one who is just born should not be baptized and sanctified within the eighth day, we all thought very differently in our council. For in this course which you thought was to be taken, no one agreed; but we all rather judge that the mercy and grace of God is not to be refused to any one born of man… Spiritual circumcision ought not to be hindered by carnal circumcision… we ought to shrink from hindering an infant, who, being lately born, has not sinned, except in that, being born after the flesh according to Adam, he has contracted the contagion of the ancient death at its earliest birth, who approaches the more easily on this very account to the reception of the forgiveness of sins – that to him are remitted, not his own sins, but the sins of another” (Letter 58 to Fidus).

Augustine: For from the infant newly born to the old man bent with age, as there is none shut out from baptism, so there is none who in baptism does not die to sin. (Enchiridion; ch. 43)

The Inscriptions

Here the words of Everett Ferguson are appropriate: “Early Christian inscriptions, which in the largest numbers come from the environs of Rome, furnish some instances of child and infant baptism for the third century . . . Nearly all the early Christian inscriptions are epitaphs. A considerable number of these are for the graves of children. The vast majority give no evidence whether the child was baptized or not . . . Actually the word “baptism” is seldom used. The idea is expressed by “received grace,” “made a believer” or “neophyte” (newly planted ” used to mean “newly baptized”) — from Everett Ferguson, Early Christians Speak: Faith and Life in the First Three Centuries; Revised Edition (Abilene: ACU Press, 1984) .

To the sacred dead. Florentius made this monument to his worthy son Appronianus, who lived one year, nine months, and five days. Since he was dearly loved by his grandmother, and she saw that he was going to die, she asked from the church that he might depart from the world a believer. (ILCV I:1343, from the third century; edited by E. Diehl (second edition; Berlin, 1961))

Postumius Eutenion, a believer, who obtained holy grace the day before his birthday at a very late hour and died. He lived six years and was buried on the fifth of Ides of July on the day of Jupiter on which he was born. His soul is with the saints in peace. Felicissimus, Eutheria, and Festa his grandmother to their worthy son Postumius. (ILCV I:1524, from the early fourth century)

Sweet Tyche lived one year, ten months, fifteen days, Received [grace] on the eighth day before the Kalends. Gave up [her soul] on the same day. (Inscriptiones latinae christianae veteres, Vol. I number 1531)

Irene who lived with her parents ten months and six days received [grace] seven days before the Ides of April and gave up [her soul] on the Ides of April. (ILCV I:1532)

To Proiecto, neophyte infant, who lived two years seven months. (ILCV I:1484)

Source

Photo courtesy of Don Danz, www.DanzFamily.com

Categories: baptism