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(6 posts)

The Biblical View

Monday··2010·06·07 · 10 Comments
A couple of weeks ago, Ligonier Ministries’ Renewing Your Mind radio program broadcast a couple of old lectures—not really sermons, and not really a “debate” (as they were billed), either—on baptism. R. C. Sproul presented the traditional view of infant baptism, and John MacArthur presented the biblical doctrine of the baptism of believers alone. Now, if I was one of the Truly Reformed, I’d be annoyed by that last sentence, particularly by the adjectives. Of course, this is my blog, and I’m not pretending any kind of impartiality. I am also not introducing two speakers presenting opposing views, so I am under no burden to appear fair and unbiased. However, if that was the situation, describing the opposing views as I did above—even though that is exactly how I see it—would be prejudicial, and inappropriate for the moment. Consider, then, how the two messages were described on the Ligonier website: Baptism Debate With R.C. Sproul and John MacArthur The church’s practice of infant baptism came under attack in the sixteenth century. Since that time, many Christian churches have rallied against the practice, administering baptism only to believing adults. From Ligonier Ministries” 1998 National Conference, Drs. John MacArthur Jr. and R.C. Sproul discuss their views on the Biblical meaning and mode of Christian baptism. Dr. MacArthur presents the credo-baptist position and Dr. Sproul presents the historic paedo(infant)-baptist position. That’s “the credo-baptist position” vs. the “historic paedo(infant)-baptist position.” That really didn’t bother me at first, but after a comment about it was made on another blog, I began to think more about what the word “historic” means: Main Entry: his·tor·ic Pronunciation: \hi-’stȯr-ik, -’stär-\ Function: adjective Date: 1594 : historical: as a : famous or important in history <historic battlefields> b : having great and lasting importance <a historic occasion> c : known or established in the past <historic interest rates> d : dating from or preserved from a past time or culture <historic buildings> <historic artifacts> So which view is more “historic”? I’ll grant that paedobaptism is an historic practice, but, by Dr. Sproul’s own admission, we don’t find it documented until the third century. Credobaptism, we all know, is explicitly documented in the New Testament. Paedobaptism is clearly not the historic position. To Ligonier’s credit, the original Renewing Your Mind introductions did not use quite so prejudicial a term. The original audience heard the following descriptions: the Protestant views of infant baptism the traditional doctrine of infant baptism the traditional Protestant case for infant baptism the classical Protestant view of infant baptism the classical Protestant case for infant baptism the Protestant case for infant baptism the traditional view of believer’s baptism Those descriptions still indicate some bias—there is a “case for” infant baptism, but only a “view of” believer’s baptism—but I don’t find them quite so irksome. After all, the earliest Protestants were paedobaptists. Somewhat humorous to me, though, is the reference to the “classical Protestant view.” [ahem] Excuse me, Mr. Ligonier-Announcer, but wouldn’t that be the Lutheran view? Well, be that as it may, I’ve rambled on for some five hundred words without getting to the issue that is really on my mind. We could go back and forth indefinitely on which is the historic view, or the (historical, classical, or what-you-will) Protestant view. Those discussions are not entirely irrelevant, but neither are they decisive. What we really want to know is which view is biblical. Luther famously declared that popes and councils can err. He also proved that reformers can err. Reformed churchmen would point to his doctrine of baptismal regeneration as proof of that. Among his other errors, also recognized by the Reformed, were his insistence on the real presence of the body and blood of Christ in the Lord’s Supper (transconsubstantiation), and the perpetual virginity of Mary. Calvin also either believed in or considered it unnecessary to deny the perpetual virginity. The Church Fathers present a wide variety of oddities (consider where Matthew 18:7–9 took Origen!). The Fathers and Reformers, valuable as they are, must be left in their places. So I think it’s unfortunate that those terms (historic, classical, traditional, Protestant) were used at all. Being Protestant is of great importance to me. That the Reformation was and remains necessary and right is a presupposition in any of my discussions. Yet the bottom line is not being Protestant, or (mostly) Reformed. The bottom line is being biblical. I’m sure Drs. Sproul and MacArthur would agree.

Lutheran Baptism

Wednesday··2010·09·08 · 3 Comments
A reader, knowing of my background in the Lutheran church, recently sent me this question (paraphrased): My daughter and I recently attended a Missouri Synod Lutheran church. During the service, the pastor said something that caught our attention. He made a comment in reference to baptism “giving” faith to someone. I am fairly certain that if I asked a Lutheran if baptism saves, he’d say “no.” But how does that correspond with the remark about baptism “giving” faith? My daughter asked me that later, after the service. I didn’t have an answer, and I told her I’d look into it. What would you tell her if she asked you? I can’t speak for the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. I come from another denomination that is not as high-church as the LCMS, that (I think) does not emphasize the sacraments quite as much, but don’t quote me on that. So I don’t know how a LCMS pastor would explain it. I can only offer the following statement from the LCMS website: Baptism, too, is applied for the remission of sins and is therefore a washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost. Before offering any of my own comments, I think it would be best to quote the Lutheran confessions, accepted by the LCMS and, as far as I know, all evangelical Lutheran denominations.* Luther’s Small Catechism: [Baptism] works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives everlasting salvation to all who believe, as the word and promise of God declare. —The Book of Concord, trans. and ed. Theodore G. Tappert (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959), 348–349. The Augsburg Confession: It is taught that Baptism is necessary and that grace is offered through it. Children, too, should be baptized, for in Baptism are committed to God and are acceptable to him. —Ibid., 33. The Apology of the Augsburg Confession: Baptism is necessary to salvation; children are to be baptized; the baptism of children is not in useless, but is necessary and efficacious for salvation. . . . It is most certain that the promise of salvation also applies to little children. It does not apply to those who are outside of Christ’s church, where there is neither Word nor sacraments, because Christ regenerates through Word and sacrament. Therefore it is necessary to baptize children, so that the promise of salvation might be applied to them, according to Christ’s command, (Matt. 28:19): “Baptize all nations.” Just as here salvation is offered to all, so Baptism is offered to all—men, women, children, and infants. Therefore it clearly follows that infants should be baptized because salvation is offered with Baptism. —Ibid., 178. Luther’s Large Catechism: . . . since we now know what Baptism is and how it is to be regarded, we must also learn for what purpose it was instituted, that is, what benefits, gifts, and effects it brings. Nor can we understand this better than from the words of Christ quoted above, “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved.” To put it most simply, the power, work, fruit, and purpose of Baptism is to save. . . . To be saved, we know, is nothing else than to be delivered from sin, death, and the devil, and to enter into the kingdom of Christ, and to live with Him forever. —Ibid., 439. The Lutheran link between salvation and baptism should be pretty obvious. Returning to the original question, I don’t see a statement in the confessions explicitly saying that baptism gives faith (although I may have missed it); however, Dr. Mueller (an LCMS theologian), in his Christian Dogmatics, explains: In agreement with the Romanists are all the Romanizing Protestants who claim that Baptism indeed works regeneration, but without actually kindling faith. They thus regard baptismal grace as conferred without a receiving means on the part of man, whereas Scripture teaches very clearly that there can be no regeneration without faith in the forgiveness of sins secured by Christ, John 1, 12. 13; 3, 5. 14. 15; 1 John 5, 1, and offered and conveyed to men by the means of grace the Lutheran Church, on the other hand, teaches correctly that Baptism is a means of regeneration for the reason that it offers and conveys forgiveness of sins and works and strengthens faith through its gracious Gospel offer. All (Romanists and Romanizing Protestants) who deny that Baptism is primo loco [in the first place] a means of justification by faith in the proffered grace intermingle Law and Gospel by making Baptism a means of sanctification, not by faith, but by works. —John Theodore Mueller, Christian Dogmatics (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1955), 439. It seems to me that Mueller is working backwards from the assumption that baptism saves, therefore deducing—correctly, if the premise be granted—that baptism gives faith. Lutherans are quick to distance themselves from Catholic baptism, saying that the water, administered by a priest, does not save ex opere operato. The sacrament is always spoken of as water and the Word, the Word making the water efficacious. However, this seems to me that they are still teaching baptismal regeneration ex opere operato, with the difference that the power is in the Word, rather than in the church.† The straight answer is that you probably won’t get a straight, simple answer from most Lutherans. They do believe in baptismal regeneration, but when asked, most will try to nuance their answer so as to avoid sounding Catholic. Most won’t come right out and admit baptismal regeneration, but will rather say that it works faith. If you’re left with any doubt as to the importance of baptism to the Lutheran, it should be revealing to note that pastors will rush to the hospital to administer emergency baptisms on babies who might not survive. This is so important that, in the event that the pastor isn’t available, the Concordia Hymnal includes an Order of Baptismal Service in cases of Emergency that includes the following preface: When a new-born child is in danger of death, the minister should promptly be called to baptize it. In such case he shall use as much of the common Order for Baptism as the circumstances allow. But where the danger is very great, and no minister is within reach, the father of the child, or some other Christian man or woman, may baptize it. But they shall not do so, except in extreme necessity . . . —The Concordia Hymnal (Augsburg Publishing House, 1960), 429. I have, on several occasions, asked Lutheran pastors about this. When asked what happens to the baptized baby who dies, they will, without hesitating, declare that baby to be in heaven. But what happens to the unbaptized baby who dies? “I can’t say. We have to trust that child to God’s mercy.” * I do not, in any case, refer to the apostate Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. I don’t know what they would say, nor do I care. † I don’t mean to imply here that Lutheran baptism is really no different from Roman Catholic baptism, even though, by the language they use, I think they really are asking for it. That would not be fair or accurate.

Baptism in 1 Peter 3

Following my post earlier this week on the Lutheran doctrine of baptismal regeneration, I thought it would be good to address some of the texts they use to justify it. Offhand, two come to mind: Titus 3:5–7 and 1 Peter 3:18–22. Since I honestly don’t know why anyone would think Titus 3 is about baptism, I’ll go straight to 1 Peter. For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; 19 in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, 20 who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water. 21 Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him. Peter has spent the first part of the chapter admonishing his readers to live righteously, not in order to gain any merit for themselves—“by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified” (Romans 3:20)—but for the sake of the gospel. They are to be prepared, so that when they are persecuted for righteousness, the will be able to give a defense, not of themselves, but of the gospel, “the hope that is in you,” the cause for which they are being persecuted. That hope, that gospel, is that “Christ died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; in which he also went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water.” This is a rather curious passage. It’s hard to say exactly what Christ said or where he went to say it. But that is hardly the point. We are reminded here of the wickedness of man in the time of Noah (see Genesis 6:1–7) and the catastrophic judgment that came upon them for their wickedness. And we are reminded that a chosen few were “brought safely through the water.” Now Peter gets to our point: “Corresponding to that,”—or better, “The like figure” (KJV) —“baptism now saves you.” We need to pause now to consider what the word baptize means. It is a word that, unfortunately, translators have chosen not to translate, so we tend to think of it almost exclusively as water baptism. (This is where Lutheran hermeneutics fail: the presupposition that “baptism” always refers to water, and conversely, as in the Titus 3 passage mentioned above, water always means baptism.) To baptize means to submerge. A sunken ship is baptized. It can mean to cleanse or wash by immersion. It is not always associated with water. Christ, speaking of his crucifixion and burial, said, “I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is accomplished!” (Luke 12:50, cf. Mark 10:38–39) This is exactly the baptism spoken of by Peter. So, to summarize in the briefest possible way: The physical salvation of Noah and his family through the flood is an antetype (αντιτυπον, literally a pretype or prefigure, translated “the like figure” in the KJV) of our spiritual salvation through the death of Christ. The flood is the judgment of God. The ark is Christ. Jesus said, “I have a baptism to undergo.” If we “have been crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:20), and “raised us up with him” (Ephesians 2:5–6; Colossians 3:1), we have gone through that baptism (flood) with him, in him; he is our ark. Therefore, “a few . . . were brought safely through the water. Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you . . . through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” It’s not about water baptism at all. It’s about the cross, and union with Christ, of which water baptism is—and the ark was—a symbol.

A Visible Sermon

Mark Dever provides the simplest possible definition of baptism: Among Baptists, baptism has never been treated as an essential conduit for God’s grace. Rather, they have regarded it as a command given to new believers and therefore the normal means for marking and celebrating their salvation. Baptism is a visible sermon, informed by the Word, and entirely dependent on God’s Spirit to create the spiritual reality it depicts. In the baptism of a believer, “there is the blessing of God’s favor that comes with all obedience, as well as the joy that comes through public profession of one’s faith, and the reassurance of having a clear physical picture of dying and rising with Christ and of washing away sins.” —Mark Dever, The Church: The Gospel Made Visible (B & H, 2012), 107. That simple statement requires an answer to the question, “What sermon does baptism preach?” I attempted to answer that here: Baptism in 1 Peter 3.

The Baptism of the Sin-Bearer

Then Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him. But John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” But Jesus answering said to him, “Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he permitted Him. —Matthew 3:13–15 This testimony is replete with meaning, whether we consider the occasion of it or the import of the terms. It may be called a key to that large class of passages which speak of Christ’s obedience as the righteousness of His people, or represent Him as made of God unto us righteousness, because He was first of all made sin for us (2 Cor. v. 21). As to the occasion which called forth this saying, we find it uttered on the memorable day of Christ’s baptism, when he came to the Baptist, the new Elias*, the culminating point of the Old Testament prophecy, and its voice. John may be regarded here as the living expression of the law and of the prophets, which had during many ages witnessed to the coming Messiah, and which now, by their greatest representative, were to introduce the Christ into His office. As the Lord Jesus recognised them, so they were to inaugurate Him as the truth of the prophecies, and as the substance of the types or shadows. So close in every point of view is the connection, rightly apprehended, of the old and new economy, that the one is incomplete without the other. But though Jesus was fully conscious of His mission from the day when the boy of twelve first trod the courts of the temple, and declared that He must be about His Father’s business, He would take no steps towards the public discharge of His office till He was formally inaugurated into it by an authorized prophet on the one hand, and by divine testimony on the other . . . The Baptist, as a sinner, feeling that it rather became him to exchange places with Jesus, and to be not the giver but the receiver in the interview, refused, for a time, to confer his baptism on the Redeemer. He could not conceive what the Christ had to do with a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins,—what it was to Him, or He to it. But that reluctance was overcome by the explanation which our Lord subjoined:—”suffer it to be so now”—that is (for the now is emphatic), in my present state of humiliation, and as an action suited only to my state of substitution in the room of sinners. . . . But the Lord subjoins an explanation as to the principle and end for which He sought John’s baptism: “For thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness.” It is not the special act of baptism to which alone allusion is here made. The language is more general, though the occasion was particular. There is nothing to warrant the limitation of the words, which must be accepted in the full force of the phraseology. The Lord had a public confession to make; and the words here used furnish a key to the whole action. We must then, first of all, notice the import of these His words of confession: it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. The Lord virtually says, “It is not unworthy of the Son of God to go down so far; for it is not a question of dignity or pre-eminence, but of fulfilling all righteousness.” The reception of baptism was only a voluntary act, and not a service personally necessary or required on His own account; for He acted of free choice when He became incarnate. But it became Him to fulfil His undertaking, and in doing so He was not free to omit this or any part of His work; for though he was under no obligation to take the flesh, yet there arose a certain duty from His engagement to the Father, from His mediatorial office, and from the old prophecies. There was a certain hypothetical necessity or propriety which required His acting as He now did, if the end was to be gained. It may be thus put: “It becometh me to appear in the likeness of a sinner, and to fulfil all righteousness.” —George Smeaton, Christ’s Doctrine of the Atonement (Banner of Truth, 2009), 128–130. * Elijah

The Substance of the Sacraments

The atonement is described as the substance of the sacraments. They have neither significance nor value, except as they presuppose the great fact of a vicarious sacrifice for sin; and to keep the atonement perpetually before the eye of the Church, as the one fact on which our entire salvation rests, not only at the commencement, but also during the course of the Christian’s pilgrimage, the Lord deemed it fitting to institute these two sacraments in the Church. Thus the Christian disciple sees the atonement everywhere, and finds it in every Church institution. It is the one great fact from which he starts, and to which he ever returns. a. We shall notice this fact, first in connection with baptism, which is by no means limited to the idea that it is a sign of reception into the Christian Church. If nothing further than this were implied, there could be no reference to the atonement. But it involves much more. Not to adduce the subsequent statements of the apostles, which affirm that they who are baptized into Christ are baptized into His death (Rom. vi. 3), the Lord’s own sayings upon the point are not obscure. Thus, when He speaks of His disciples baptizing in His name, as well as in the name of the Father and of the Spirit, He plainly alludes to a peculiar relation to Himself in His official capacity (Matt. xxviii. 19); and when He said, “I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it is accomplished!” (Luke xii. 50), He gave His own authoritative exposition of the meaning and import of John’s baptism, as it was administered to Himself. It was a symbol of the way in which Christ was to pass under the heaviest sufferings; and He submitted to the symbol as a token of the readiness with which He submitted to undergo the reality. The baptismal water was an emblem, in Christ’s case, of the punitive justice of God, under which He passed. Christ, the surety, was baptized in His official capacity, and His people are considered to have undergone this punishment in Him for the remission of sins. The water of baptism is a symbol of the shed blood of the crucified surety on whom the curse no more rests. It is blood that has passed through death and the application of which takes away the guilt of sin. The symbol can mean nothing else but this, that His death was ours; the only difference between John’s baptism and that of the Christian Church being, that the former was a baptism for a suffering yet future, while the latter is a baptism into that which is finished. Baptism intimates a fellowship with Christ in His death. The grand fundamental idea of baptism, though not to the exclusion of other allusions, is, that His death was a propitiatory death, and that His people died with Him; and this is specially developed by the apostles (comp. Rom. vi. 4; 1 Pet. iii. 21). b. The same thing holds true of the Lord’s Supper, intended to keep alive, through all the ages till the second coming of Christ, the great fact of His expiatory death. Its primary design was not to commemorate His office as a teacher, but to commemorate and to symbolize His great sacrifice, when He died to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. The words used by Him in connection with it are so express and clear to this effect, that no doubt as to their meaning remains on any mind interpreting words according to their precise significance. They who have a right to the Supper eat and drink spiritually of the body and blood of the Lord, not as He was still laden with the guilt of sin and still under obligation to fulfil the divine law, but as having purged our sins and now entitled to all the glory which falls to Him and His redeemed as the reward of His agony. They identify themselves with Him as passing through death for them. When Christians receive the bread and wine by faith, they are supposed to be made partakers of His vicarious death, and are regarded as united to Him, and as having undergone, in and with Him, all that He endured. Thus, according to the purpose of Christ, both these symbolic actions of the Christian Church refer to the atonement; and they are meant to attest it, whenever they are solemnized. As they perpetually return in the services of the Christian Church, they keep before the eye of believers this great fundamental truth till the Lord come. The meaning of the atonement, its nature, and effects of every kind, the utility of the atonement and its necessity, are all proclaimed anew by every repetition of these sacraments, which are appropriate to the different stages of the Christian life, the one to its commencement, the other to its progress. These provisions keep up a constant remembrance of the cross, shewing that the eye is never to be turned away from the crucified substitute, and are accompanied with the word given to explain them. Hence we may see the rank and place that belong to the atonement. —George Smeaton, Christ’s Doctrine of the Atonement (Banner of Truth, 2009), 393–396. Related: Baptism in 1 Peter 3


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