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Baptism: A Sacrament or An Ordinance? A defense of the Lutheran approach to baptism in light of Baptist arguments Introduction: The doctrine of baptism stands as one of the most important topics in churches across Christendom. For the majority of Western Christians, “through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God; we become members of Christ”.1 During the Reformation, Catholic teachers and priests approved the ninth article of the Augsburg Confessions and did not debate the doctrine with Lutheran pastors.2 Martin Luther speaks of baptism as divine, holy, and blessed water united with the heavenly Word of God that gives all the promises of God. For Lutheran Theology, baptism is a sacrament. Meaning that through it we are made pure and innocent in the eyes of God and the guilt of our sins is removed from us.3 On the other hand, the majority of protestants deny the efficacy of baptism to grant forgiveness of sins and to unite sinners with Christ. This approach to baptism was championed by the radical reformer group known as “Anabaptists”. Baltasar Hubmair followed the argumentation of Zwingli by saying that nothing of this world can cleanse the soul, therefore it is faith in Christ that washes away sins.4 Hence, baptism is an outward public testimony of the inner baptism by the Spirit.5 It is here that the concept of baptism as an ordinance is popularized. This view is one of the major distinctives of 1 Catechism of the Catholic Church; Section Two, Chapter One, Article One, paragraph 1213 Robert Kolb, Timothy J. Wengert, and Charles P. Arand, The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2000), 183. (Apology of the Augsburg Confession, article IX, section 1) 3 Gerhard O. Forde, Where God Meets Man: Luther’s Down-to-Earth Approach to the Gospel (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1972), 77. 4 Balthasar Hubmaier, Gespräch, 210, cited in Armour, Anabaptist Baptism, 30; cited in Allison, Gregg, Historical Theology: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 5 Ibid., 2 the Baptist Denomination as shown in multiple of their confessions.6 What follows from here is an explanation of baptism as a sacrament and as an ordinance followed by an evaluation of Baptist arguments for their position. Baptism as a Sacrament: How do the Lutheran Confessions define what is a sacrament? Article VII of the Augsburg Confession states that the church is where “the gospel is purely preached and the holy sacraments are administered according to the gospel.”7 Therefore, the sacraments are not a minor issue, rather, a big component and mark of a true church. As we look into what the Lutheran Church teaches about baptism, we have to take a step back and understand what a sacrament is according to its confessions. In the XIII article of the Augsburg Confession, we read: Concerning the use of sacraments it is taught that the sacraments are instituted not only to be signs by which people may recognize Christians outwardly, but also as signs and testimonies of God’s will toward us in order thereby to awaken and strengthen our faith. That is why they also require faith and are rightly used when received in faith for the strengthening of faith.8 6 For example: London Baptist Confession, Baptist Faith and Message, The Philadelphia Confession. 7 Robert Kolb, Timothy J. Wengert, and Charles P. Arand, The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2000), 42. (Augsburg Confession, Chapter XII, section 1) 8 Robert Kolb, Timothy J. Wengert, and Charles P. Arand, The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2000), 46. (Augsburg Confession, Article XIII, section 1 and 2). From this article we learn that the sacraments are signs by which may recognize Christians outwardly and the promises of God by which he awakens and strengthens our faith. In the Apology of the Augsburg Confession by Phillip Melanchthon, he says that we can easily define what the sacraments are because they are rites that are commanded by God and have a promised attach to them.9 The reason why not every church rite is a sacrament is because most rites do not have divine institution and therefore cannot be sure of grace because humans have no authority over it. We can be sure that those rites instituted by God that have a promised attach to them grant us grace because God never lies and always keeps his promises.10 Besides the promise of God, what else makes a rite a sacrament? For the Confessions, it also has to be visible. Melanchthon explains, “For just as the Word enters through the ear in order to strike the heart, so also the rite enters through the eye in order to move the heart.”11 For example, the washing of feet instituted by our Lord is not a sacrament because it does not have a promise of forgiveness of sins attach to it. This is why the Apology rejects those rites categorized as sacrament in the Catholic Church that do not have a divine institution or a promise of forgiveness of sins. We can conclude from the confessions that a sacrament is a visible rite with divine institution that has a promise of grace attach to it. The sacraments are baptism, the 9 Robert Kolb, Timothy J. Wengert, and Charles P. Arand, The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2000), 219. (Apology of the Augsburg Confession, article XIII, section 3) 10 11 Numbers 23:19 Robert Kolb, Timothy J. Wengert, and Charles P. Arand, The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2000), 219. (Apology of the Augsburg Confession, article XIII, section 5) supper, and absolution. All these three rites are visible signs with a divine institution that has a promise of forgiveness of sins.12 Biblical support for baptism as a sacrament When it comes to biblical support for baptism being a sacrament, we have to ask two questions: is baptism connected with salvation? Is baptism a human work? If baptism is connected to salvation and its not a human work, then the Lutheran position stands firm and solid in Scripture. To explain the harmony of the Lutheran confessions with Holy Scripture, I will turn to a section in G. H. Gerberding’s book The Way of Salvation in the Lutheran Church. He starts by saying we must read Scripture Holistically because even the heretics can point out verses that seem to support their ideas.13 Alongside this principle, we take passages in their natural, plain, and literal sense unless there is something in the text or context that makes us take it figurative.14 He proceeds to enlist the major baptismal texts in Scripture; these are: Matt. 28:19, Mark 16:16, John 3:5, Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16, Gal. 3:27, Eph. 5:25-26, Col. 2:12, Titus 3:5, 1 Pet. 3:21. I will quote the paragraph that proceeds the textual evidence from Gerberding because he poses keys questions for the reader. “All we now ask of the reader is to examine these passages carefully, to compare them one with the other and to ask himself: What do they teach? What is the meaning which a plain, unprejudiced reader, who has implicit confidence in the Word and power of God, would derive from them? Can he say, "There is nothing in baptism?" "It is of no consequence." "It is only a Church 12 Matthew 28:19, Luke 22:19, John 20:23. These are just a few examples of either divine institution or promise of grace. 13 Gerberding, G. H. (George Henry). The Way of Salvation in the Lutheran Church (p. 16). Kindle Edition. 14 Ibid. ceremony, without any particular blessing in it." Or do the words clearly teach it is nothing more than a sign—an outward sign—of an invisible grace?”15 The teaching and harmony of these passages is so clear that any attempt to remove saving grace from them is an exegetical suicide. We will examine how certain Baptist theologians go around the clear teaching of these passages soon. What can we learn from these passages of Scripture? That baptism is a gift and work from God. Take Eph. 5:25-26 for example: Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word. Here, Paul explains that Christ has washed his bride with water. Lenski explains in his exegetical commentary that “Paul knows only a baptism that actually cleanses (aorist) and thereby actually sanctifies (aorist), which is the aim and purpose effected by Christ’s love and his giving himself in our stead (also aorist). Moreover, it should be noted that the subject is Christ. He applies this means to us, he cleanses, etc. Baptism is his act and not ours. It is not a mere symbol, not a mere act of obedience on our part to an ordinance and a command.”16 How does Paul know that Christ uses water to cleanse us from sin? Because that was preached to him by Ananias in Acts 22:16: And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.’ Once again, we see the connection between baptism and washing of sins.17 15 Ibid., 17 R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistles to the Galatians, to the Ephesians and to the Philippians (Columbus, O.: Lutheran Book Concern, 1937), 632. 17 A short comment must be added to this passage. It is true that “be baptized and wash away your sins” is a command. Some may use this to say that baptism is a human work of obedience because Ananias is commanding Paul to do something. To this I respond that it proves too much because to be consistent, it makes faith and belief in God a human work too. In Acts 16:31, Paul commands the jailer to believe in the Lord. 16 Due to the length of this essay, we cannot dive into the other key texts. However, we can do a summary of the textual harmony between water and the Spirit. From the beginning of creation, the Spirit has been seen hovering over the waters (Gen. 1:2). Then, as the people of Israel are given enter into a covenant with the Lord, some acts of defilement require water for purification (Num 19:10–13; 31:23–24; Lev 11, 22:4–6; 17:15; 15:6-8, 11-12, 16, 21-22, 25-27; 14:8-9).18 Naaman goes into the water seven times (the number of the Spirit) and is made clean from his decease (2 Kings 5:14). Isa. 4:4 and Ezek. 36:25-27 connect water with a spiritual cleansing and renewal of the heart. John the Baptist proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Mark 1:4, Matt. 3:6, Luke 3:3). In his discord with Nicodemus, Jesus tells him that one must be born of water and the Spirit in order to see the kingdom (John 3:5). After his resurrection, the Lord commands his followers to make disciples by baptizing them in the name of the Triune God (Matt. 28:19). At Pentecost, Peter gives comfort to torment souls by telling them to repent and be baptized to receive the Holy Spirit and forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38). Later in the primitive church, Paul expands the meaning of baptism by connecting it to salvation in Romans 6:3 because all of them readers who have been baptized into Christ were baptized into his death. Baptism as an Ordinance: Now that we have finished our survey of Lutheran theology, we can see the other side of the debate. It is relatively hard to come up with a definition of baptism that every Baptist agrees on because there is not one single document that binds everyone in that 18 Benjamin Espinoza, “Baptism,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016). denomination. In order to come with an understanding of baptism from a Baptist perspective, we will use common systematic texts used in Baptist/Evangelical contexts and the Baptist Faith and Message from 2000. First, let’s define what ordinances are. “An ordinance is an act: 1. commanded by the Lord Jesus in the Gospels and given by him for his followers to practice (Matt 26:17-30; Mark 14:12-26; Luke 22:7-23); 2. passed on as a tradition by Jesus’ authorized agents, the apostles, in the letters to the churches (1 Cor 10:14-22; 11:17- 34); and 3. practiced by the early church in the history of the church recorded in Acts (2:42, 46; 20:7, 11). Thus, only baptism and the Lord’s Supper can be considered ordinances of the Christian church. Ordinances are symbolic acts which set forth primary facts of the Christian faith and are obligatory for all who believe in Jesus Christ. Baptism dramatically pictures our entering into covenant relationship with God through Jesus Christ by faith, and the Lord’s Supper portrays our continuing in this relationship”.19 Though both Lutherans and Baptists may agree that sacraments and ordinances are Christians rites for the Church, they would disagree on the nature and direction of such. For Lutherans, God uses those rites to forgive sins and give grace to his people. For Baptists, it is an act of obedience from the person to God. For Lutherans, it is God coming to us. For Baptists, it is us going to others and express God’s grace in our lives. One text explains that some believe that “we continue to practice baptism simply because Christ commanded it and because it serves as a form of proclamation. It confirms the fact of one’s salvation to oneself and affirms it to others.” 20 It does not 19 Peter Gentry, An Exposition from the Faculty of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary on The Baptist Faith and Message 2000, 25. 20 Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology 3rd edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013), 1187 digital edition. convey any spiritual gifts or saving grace because it presupposes salvation though joining a local church can be considered a gift. Wayne Grudem argues for the position that “baptism is appropriately administered only to those who give a believable profession of faith in Jesus Christ”21 in his systematic text. He later adds that baptism is a “symbol of beginning the Christian life” and therefore should be administered to those who have made a profession of faith in Jesus. So, even though some Baptists would say that baptism may offer some sort of grace (for example: church membership), they would not accept the premise that baptism forgives sins or conveys regeneration. The book “Believers Baptism” adds a unique way of understanding Baptist theology by adding that “It is not the insistence that baptismal recipients be believers that distinguishes Baptist theology, but the definition of a ‘believer’ as a person who confesses Christ freely and intelligently with his or her own mouth. Given the history of the doctrine, the best descriptive term the position of both Anabaptists and Baptists is not “believer baptism” but “confessor baptism.”22 This adds a peculiar understanding to the doctrine of baptism because they grant that infants may believe in Christ without having a reflexive faith. I think this is the strongest position from Baptist theology. The Baptist Faith and Message from 2000 says about Baptism: “Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer’s faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Savior, the believer’s death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus. It is a testimony to his faith in the final resurrection of 21 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic, 1994) Thomas Schneider and Shawn Wright, Believers Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2006), 323. 22 the dead. Being a church ordinance, it is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord’s Supper.” Commenting on this article, Brad Waggoner says: Based on this and other passages, Southern Baptist scholars have strongly held that baptism is a public expression of an inward reality of having been unified with Christ. His death represents our death to self, and his resurrection represents our having been raised new creatures who are no longer under the curse and enslavement of sin (Col 2:12). In other words, we have viewed baptism as an act of obedience (which is why we refer to it as an ordinance) and as a symbolic event (which is why we have rejected the term sacrament). The Southern Baptist understanding of baptism stands in conflict with the official doctrine of traditional Roman Catholicism and even some Protestant groups who teach that in the act of baptism there is the impartation of grace ex opera operato, without preexisting faith. This belief that grace is imparted to the subject of baptism is why it is called a sacrament. As Southern Baptists we have historically rejected any notion of sacramental grace in baptism as this idea runs counter to the clear doctrine of salvation in Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone.23 Evaluating Baptist arguments: For this section of the paper, I’ve decided to take a look at several objections to baptismal grace and arguments for baptism as an ordinance. I will be using Millard 23 Brad Waggoner, An Exposition from the Faculty of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary on The Baptist Faith and Message 2000, 25. Erickson as my reference point because he sets several of these in his systematic text. The first question that he asks is what is the meaning of baptism. He quotes Mark 16 and says the following: “In Mark 16:16 we read, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned”; note, however, that the second half of the verse does not mention baptism at all: “but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Beyond this, however, the entire verse (and indeed the whole passage, vv. 9–20) is not found in the best texts.”24 His main reason to reject baptismal grace in this text is that there is no condemnation of the lack of baptism. The problem is that we don’t get our theology from what the text *does not* say but from what *does* say. A combination of belief and baptism results in salvation. This is in accord with the later Petrian discourse in Acts 2. The second passage he evaluates is John 3:5. “Note that the emphasis throughout the passage is on the Spirit and that there is no further reference to water. The key factor is the contrast between the supernatural (Spirit) and the natural (flesh): “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit” (v. 6). Jesus explains that to be born anew is to be born of the Spirit. This working of the Spirit, like the blowing of the wind, is not fully comprehensible (vv. 7–8). In view of the overall context, it appears that being born of water is synonymous with being born of the Spirit.”25 He agrees that water and Spirit are synonymous but denies that this is a reference to baptism. His reason behind this is because the emphasis is on the Spirit and not on water. However, if they are synonymous, they are referencing the same thing. Lutherans do not believe there is 24 Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology 3rd edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013), 1189 digital edition. 25 Ibid., 1190 something special about the water per se. Baptism save because the Word and Spirit of God are present. The third passage he quotes is 1 Peter 3:21. “Note that this verse is actually a denial that the rite of baptism has any effect in itself. It saves only in that it is “the pledge of a good conscience toward God,” an act of faith acknowledging dependence on him. The real basis of our salvation is Christ’s resurrection.”26 Let us look at the broader context of this verse and take a closer look at it. For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20 because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. 21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him. The argument is that Christ suffered for sins and that he descended into hell to preach to the spirit who disobeyed during the time of Noah. Just as Noah and eight people were saved from the wrath of God by the waters, so are we through baptism. The Greek for the phrase “which corresponds to this” is ἀντίτυπος (antitype). Types and antitypes are a major theme in the Scriptures. Types are a present reality that points to a greater reality, namely, the antitype. Just take a quick survey over Hebrews and you’ll see that the earthly temple and priests were a type of the greater temple and priest, the antitype Jesus. With this in mind, we can understand better the argument in 1 Peter 3. Noah and 26 Ibid., his family were saved from an earthly reality, the flood, through the waters. In the same way, we are saved from a spiritual reality, the judgement of God, through the waters of baptism. The waters in Noah’s day were a present reality of a better spiritual truth, that the waters in which the Triune Name are declared save you. Another claim is that the rite of baptism is only a picture of salvation because Peter says that it does not remove dirt from the flesh. The problem with this accusation is that it does not flow from the text. There were plenty washing rites that symbolized purification in the OT (Num 19:10–13; 31:23–24; Lev 11, 22:4–6; 17:15; 15:6-8, 11-12, 16, 21-22, 25-27; 14:8-9). It would have made more sense to quote any of these passages if baptism is another symbolic rite. These rites did remove dirt from the flesh. However, Peter uses the flood as his example. The salvation in Noah’s day was not symbolic, the flood was a real event. Second, baptism saves not because there is water alone but because the Word and Spirit are connected with the waters. Baptism doesn’t remove dirt from the flesh because it is not water alone. As a matter of fact, the line “not as a removal of the dirt from the body” supports the Lutheran position because it explains that baptism is not just a physical action. Baptism gives us a “good conscience towards God” because we can be sure that he has forgiven our sins and has saved us. Commenting on several passages in Acts, Erickson says, “While there is a close and important connection between repentance and conversion on the one hand, and baptism on the other, these passages in Acts seem to indicate that the connection is not inseparable or absolute. Thus, unlike repentance and conversion, baptism is not indispensable to salvation. It seems, rather, that baptism may be an expression or a consequence of conversion.”27 He turns his attention to the early sermons recorded in the book. The first sermon has a mention of baptism as a means to receive forgiveness and the Holy Spirit. However, Acts 3 does not mention baptism at all. This is no problem to us because we recognize that not every text that speaks of salvation includes all the elements involved in it. For example, Romans 10: 9-10 mentions confession of Jesus as Lord and belief in the heart but it does not mention repentance. Are we to teach that repentance is not important? By no means. A final argument from Erickson says: Moreover, certain specific difficulties attach to the concept of baptismal regeneration. When all the implications are spelled out, this concept contradicts the principle of salvation by grace, which is so clearly taught in the New Testament. The insistence that baptism is necessary for salvation is something of a parallel to the insistence of the Judaizers that circumcision was necessary for salvation, a contention that Paul vigorously rejected in Galatians 5:1–12.28 In Galatians 3, Paul argues with his audience that salvation does not come through the law nor circumcision. He ends his argument by saying, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. Paul does not put baptism and circumcision in the same category. He makes a difference between Law and Gospel. Circumcision was never intended to save, it was just the type of the visible sign to come, a better covenant. Hence, the allegation that baptism and circumcision play the same role in both covenants is not supported by the text itself. 27 28 Ibid., 1191 Ibid., Conclusion: As we have seen, Baptist objections to sacramental grace are not a problem to Lutheran theology. At first glance they might seem like it, but once we dig enough, we see they flow from a wrong understanding of what we mean by sacraments and a misunderstanding of justification by faith alone. For it was the champion of the reformation who taught that “It worketh forgiveness of sins, delivers from death2 and the devil, and confers everlasting salvation4 on all who believe, as the word and promise of God declare.”29 We can have faith that Christ has saved us because he has sealed his name on us. Baptism is how God brings justification to us; faith is how we receive it. 29 Martin Luther, Luther’s Small Catechism, with Proof-Texts, Additions and Appendices: For the Use of Church, School and Family (Philadelphia: The Lutheran Bookstore, 1882), 21.