Monday, June 10, 2013

Baptismal Regeneration

Gary from a blog called Luther Was Not Born Again has responded to something I wrote on Baptismal Regeneration and Development of Doctrine. That article is very old so I thought I would bring the response forward.
Dear Baptist/evangelical brothers and sisters in Christ,

I ask you to consider these points:
I am actually Catholic, not Baptist or evangelical. I doubt many of them read this blog.The original post was Dr Bryan Cross addressing Presbyterian pastor Wes White. So we have a lot of traditions around here. A lot of different teachings on Baptism.
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?
Gary here conflates the ideas of translation and interpretive tradition. Translation does not need to be just language to language like from Koine Greek to English. It could be from biblical English to practical, modern English. But the point he makes is a good one. Did God just leave the scriptures here on earth or does He continue  to be concerned with how His word is translated and taught?
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??
Again, he is concerned with translations, like there is some sort of gift of infallibility there. It is natural when you believe in Sola Scriptura and you are not trained in the biblical languages to be concerned about translation. You are really at the translators mercy. When somebody claims the Greek really says something different then what seemed like a solid biblical argument can instantly become flimsy. So he appeals, not to the intelligence of the translators, but to the grace of God. God would not allow all English translations to be misleading.

He is right that God does give us grace to prevent His word from being corrupted but that is not the way it works. He does not give us linguistic experts we can trust. He gives s spiritual leaders we can trust.

He does make a good point that baptismal regeneration does seem like the most natural reading of scripture. That you have to explain why texts that seem to tie baptism to salvation don't really mean that. Being consistent with the plain reading of scripture is supposed to be one of the strenghts of Protestantism. It does not always work out that way. Typically, Protestants can see this in other Protestant traditions. Here you have a Lutheran pointing out the problem in Baptist theology. It exists in them all. The plain meaning of scripture is just not the best way to be certain who is right. It would work here. Baptismal regeneration is the right doctrine and it is most consistent with scripture.
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?
It is interesting that he goes back to the first 800-1000 years of Christianity. It is on his side. Baptismal Regeneration was the universal doctrine of the church during that time. But what about when it is not on his side? What about the Lutheran understanding of the role of ecumenical councils? What about the role of the pope and bishops? What about Sola Fide?

On the last point David Anders has an article on various doctrines that the early church agreed on that contradict Justification By Faith Alone. Just one example of how suggesting Christian tradition in some form is trustworthy will get a protestant in trouble. Christians tradition teaches doctrines protestants want to reject. Yet they see the logic in appealing to it when it is on their side. If God leads His church then looking at how God has led His church should tell us something about God.
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?
Of course this is what happened. I don't think the year 1000 has much to do with it. This is more about the radical reformation in the late 16th century. After Luther and Calvin challenged the Catholic church then the Anabaptist movement challenged them. That was the process. What is wrong with it? Trying to make various parts of scripture fit is something theologians do a lot. Often it involves deciding where to start. One biblical idea is seen as literally true and another one is seen as true only in terms of analogy. But which one is which? The bible does not tell us.
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?
The "both" solution is not as simple as it seems. Salvation is tied to many things in scripture, faith, baptism, Eucharist, good works, predestination, etc. It does not deal with the questions of what happens when someone has some of these and not others. Where does our assurance of salvation come from? Luther was obsessed with that question.

The truth is our assurance is found in our connection to the body of Christ, the church. We can be sure about things that are physical and visible. It is pretty hard to be sure of things like faith that are purely psychological. Do you believe in God enough or are your doubts too serious and too frequent? I believe in God enough to submit to baptism, to come to mass as often as the church tells me is appropriate, to go to confession when the church says it is needed, to avoid what the church teaches are gravely immoral actions. These things are all rooted in faith. Their power comes from God's grace. Yet we are made certain they are enough because the church accepts them as enough.

Without knowing which church is true than how can you know your baptism is valid? Baptismal Regeneration is the truth but it makes that question important. Is infant baptism OK? Do you need a priest or can anyone do it? Do you need to be immersed or is sprinkling OK? If you believe in Baptismal Regeneration then these questions need solid answers. The prevailing theological opinion of your denomination is not good enough. You need to know you have received the washing of regeneration that Titus 3:5 talks about or the being born of water and the spirit that John 3:5 talks about.

Protestantism has no way to answer those questions with any certainty. That is why Baptismal Regeneration is not a common belief for protestants even though it is taught by scripture and confirmed by tradition. I am not sure why Gary thinks his Luther an denomination can give him assurance on the matter.
God bless you and keep you!
  Thanks for the good wishes Gary.


  1. Hmmm...very interesting. My post on your blog was not directed at Catholics but to any Baptists who were trying to sway your readers to believe otherwise. Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and Eastern Orthodox Christians stand together on the crucial issue of baptismal regeneration.

    Lutherans and Roman Catholics actually have much more in common than Lutherans and other Protestants. We believe in baptismal regeneration. We believe that Jesus Christ is truly present, body and spirit, in the bread and wine of the Holy Sacrament of the Lord's Supper. We believe that sins are forgiven in the Sacrament. We are the only Protestants who hold these two "catholic" doctrines.

    We Lutherans consider ourselves Catholic, just not Roman Catholic.

    So how are we different?

    Lutherans do NOT believe that "sola scriptura" means that the Bible is the only authority on Christian doctrine. However, unlike Roman Catholics we believe that the Bible is the only FINAL authority. Church Councils and bishops certainly are valuable authorities. But the pope and Church Councils are not EQUAL authorities to Scripture.

    Look at the early Christian Church in the first 300 years after Christ. The bishop of Rome had no higher status than the bishop of Antioch or the bishop of Alexandria. No bishop placed his word as equal to God's Word.

    The bishop of Rome gained power and influence once Christianity was made the official religion of the Roman Empire. Then with the fall of the Eastern Byzantine Empire, the eastern bishops lost influence, while the power of the bishop of Rome increased to the point that he ruled essentially as a secular ruler.

    The early Church Fathers say NOTHING about the bishop of Rome having authority over the entire Christian Church!

    The idea that the bishop of Rome is the "vicar" of Christ on earth, possessing not only total control over the entire (western) Church but total civil control also brought the West in the sixteenth century such corruption and vice equal to any brothel or criminal mob.

    Martin Luther, a devout Catholic, was appalled by what he saw on his visit to Rome. He was even more appalled when Pope Leo X sent his emissaries to Germany to raise money to build St. Peter's by telling people that they good buy an indulgence, which would absolve them, or a loved one, of the temporal punishment of sins (decreased time in Purgatory).

    Luther spoke out against abuse and corruption. Did the pope heed his advice, and "clean house" in the Church? No, he excommunicated Luther, and along with him, other devout Catholics, seeking a return to the faith of the Early Church.

    That is why the Lutheran Church exists today. We did not leave the Holy Mother Church. We were kicked out my corrupt, immoral Churchmen.

    The Church you know today as the Roman Catholic Church today, is not the same Church as it was in the days of Luther. It soon saw that if it did not want to lose all of Northern Europe it would have to clean up its act, thus the Council of Trent.

    And by the way, the Pope and conservative Lutherans have so much in common that talks have begun on reconciliation. The Pope has lost hope in the liberal Protestants.

    1. Thanks for the reply Gary. Sorry I am a bit slow getting to this.

      I responded to this in a new post