Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Development of Doctrine and Baptismal Regeneration

Getting back to the idea of Development of Doctrine. It is a complex argument with multiple threads and many points where someone might challenge you. Still when you grasp the whole of it there is a sense of awe. One thread is being discussed at CtC. It has to do with baptismal regeneration. The pattern is always the same. The argument is to show that a particular doctrine is a corruption of historical Christian teaching. That is to say the reformed teaching on baptism cannot be reconciled with the belief of the church at a certain time in history. Bryan Cross puts it this way:
According to PCA pastor Wes White, the doctrine of baptismal regeneration is “impossible in the Reformed system.” By noting this, he intends to show that we should reject the doctrine of baptismal regeneration. But if the evidence for the truth of the doctrine of baptismal regeneration is stronger than the evidence for the truth of the “Reformed system,” then the incompatibility of the doctrine of baptismal regeneration and the Reformed system serves as evidence against the Reformed system.
Dr Cross does a good job of finding quotes from many early church fathers showing they did believe the doctrine of baptismal regeneration. There is some work to do here because protestants have an amazing capacity to avoid some of the most obvious truths about the early church fathers.

But Newman goes further than this. He finds that showing protestant Christianity in any of it's forms is different from historical Christianity is the easy part. Protestants often fail to contemplate the significance of that. Just like they fail to ask how they can know they have the right flavor of "biblical" Christianity. It is just as easy not to ask if Christianity was wrong once why can't it be wrong now? But to the extent they do think about these questions the answer is mostly a response of, "Sure there are problems but I believe in Jesus and this is the best I can do as far as doctrine goes."

Newman tackles that question. Is there really no Christian faith that can say it has never been corrupted?  If that were true it would be a pretty good reason to doubt the divinity of Jesus. Why did He allow His gospel to become such a mess? If the gospel really is the power of God for our salvation then would God not want to preserve it?

Now, in the simplest form, the question of has the Catholic faith or the Orthodox faith changed since the time of the early church has to be answered with a Yes. Certainly the council of Nicaea changed the faith. It clarified the doctrine of the trinity. But clarifying is not a problem. Even teaching a deep and fuller version of the same doctrine is not a problem. We get a problem only when it becomes impossible to hold that the previous teaching was right. Paul never corrupted the teaching of Jesus because it is possible to hold they were both teaching truth. Nicaea never corrupted the teaching of the New Testament for the same reason.

Newman called these changes that don't corrupt the faith "developments". So the question Newman asked could be phrased as:
Can any Christian faith be understood as an unbroken series of developments from the time of Christ to the present?
Now Newman knew there would be some subjective judgements involved in answering this question. But he wanted to keep that to a minimum. So he introduced a series of criteria or notes to more objectively determine what is a corruption and what is a development. Things get quite complicated from there. But if you understand the difference between a corruption and a development you can remove a lot of the complexity.

So the attack on protestantism is not enough. Protestants are used to having their beliefs attacked. What is needed is to show the Catholic faith passes the test that you would expect the true faith to pass. That is the test of non-contradiction.


  1. Dear Baptist/evangelical brothers and sisters in Christ,

    I ask you to consider these points:

    1. When God said that he would preserve his Word, what did he mean? Did he mean that he would preserve the original papyrus and parchment upon which his Word was written? If so, then his Word has disappeared as none of the original manuscripts remain.

    Did he mean that he would preserve his word in the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek only? He would not preserve his Word when it was translated into all the other languages of the world?

    Or did God mean that he would preserve his Word…the message/the words…the Gospel: the free gift of salvation, and the true doctrines of the Christian Faith? Would God allow his Word/his message to mankind to be so polluted by translation errors that no translation, into any other language from the three original languages, continues to convey his true words?

    2. There is NO translation of the Bible, from the original ancient languages, into ANY language, ANYWHERE on earth, that translates the Bible as the Baptists/evangelicals believe it should be translated.

    No Bible translation on earth translates Acts 2:38 as, “Repent and believe in Jesus Christ every one of you and you will receive the Holy Ghost. Then be baptized as a public profession of your faith.”

    Why would God allow EVERY English translation of the Bible throughout history to be mistranslated or use such confusing language as to suggest that God forgives sins in Baptism? And not only all English translations, ALL translations of the Bible have retained these “mistranslations or confusing wording”.

    Do you honestly believe that God would allow his Word to be so polluted with translation errors that EVERY Bible in the world, if read in its simple, plain interpretation, would tell the people of the world that God forgives sins in water baptism??

    3. Why is there not one single piece of evidence from the early Christians that indicates that ANYONE in the 800-1,000 years after Christ believed that: Water baptism is ONLY a public profession of faith/act of obedience; sins are NOT forgiven in water baptism? Yes, you will find statements by these early Christians that salvation is by faith, but do Baptists and evangelicals really understand how a sinner obtains saving faith? THAT IS THE MILLION DOLLAR QUESTION, MY FRIENDS! Does the sinner produce faith by his own free will or does God provide faith and belief as a gift, and if God does provide faith and belief as a free gift, with no strings attached, WHEN exactly does God give it?

    4. Is it possible that: Baptist-like believers, at some point near or after 1,000 AD, were reading the Bible and came across verses that read “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved” and “Call upon the name of the Lord and you will be saved” and established their doctrine of Salvation/Justification first, based on these and similar verses alone, and then, looked at the issue of water baptism, and since the idea that God forgives sins in water baptism didn’t seem to fit with the verses just mentioned, these early Baptists re-interpreted these verses to fit with their already established doctrine, instead of believing the “baptism verses” literally?

    Is it possible that BOTH groups of verses are literally correct?? If we believe God’s Word literally, he says that he saves/forgives sins when sinners believe/call AND when they are baptized? Why not believe that God can give the free gift of salvation in both situations: when a sinner hears the Gospel and believes and when a sinner is baptized?

    Should we re-interpret God’s plain, simple words just because they don’t seem to make sense to us?

    God bless you and keep you!

  2. Thanks for the comment. I responded in a new post here: