Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Here's an interesting theological question

One of the hallmarks of Lutherans worldwide is the belief that baptism works forgiveness of sins, and without going into my own position (basically the immersist/Baptistic view), one thought that occurred to me is that Luther was baptized into the Catholic church as an infant, and yet into his adult life came to find our Savior the "jailor and hangman of my soul", and later on came to believe that the Pope was an Antichrist.

And so it is very interesting; did not Luther himself know from bitter personal experience that his own baptism was not terribly efficacious until the book of Romans opened his eyes to salvation by faith, and did not Luther himself know that the head of the organization which had sprinkled him was working strongly against the Gospel?  And yet Lutherans not only affirm baptisms as a means of grace, but also honor Catholic baptisms.

I'll be waiting for WB to point out some idiosyncracies of my fellow immersists now!


Gino said...

you are confusing baptismal understandings.

luther believed in the same baptism of regeneration that the cathlolics do, and lutherans still hold to that doctrine.

evangeical lutherans, on the other hand, do not. they are very unluther in that regard. luther, and calvin, were so insistent upon the doctrine of regeneration that their follwers thought it a fitting punishemnt for deniers (the baptists) to be drowned for this heresy.

W.B. Picklesworth said...

Bubba, last point first. The means of baptizing is of no importance. Dip, sprinkle, dunk, splash... What matters is the result, drowning. The sinner drowns by being connected to Christ's death by the promise that is given at baptism.

Second point, you are making a mistake in presuming to know that his baptism "was not terribly efficacious." You don't know that.

Lutheran theology attempts to locate forgiveness of sins and salvation as objective realities given via means (communion, absolution, baptism) instituted by God. This, as opposed to subjective means (a decision or a commitment). Why? Because by locating forgiveness and salvation in subjective experiences we remain focused on ourselves as the prime movers, the ones who are ultimately responsible. By locating forgiveness and salvation outside of ourselves, purely in the promises of God, we look to him.

Luther, in his childhood and young adulthood, was taught that his salvation resided in his own actions, that is why he became a monk. But he recognized that this was subjective. At what point had he confessed well enough? At what point did he have faith unto salvation? He didn't know. He certainly wasn't taught that his baptism was an objective promise to which he could cling. But that is what we teach. And so I tell it to you. Bubba, you have been given a promise by God in your baptism. Sinner though you are, he has chosen you to be his child. Praise be to God!

Gino said...

"What matters is the result, drowning. The sinner drowns by being connected to Christ's death by the promise that is given at baptism."

i like that.

Bike Bubba said...

WB; given that immersion is a burial, not a drowning....never mind that I've yet to see someone drown by sprinkling. :^)

OK, that aside, point well taken that it's hard to judge whether Luther's baptism was efficacious. That said, if we admit what the Word says--that a tree can be judged by its fruits--then Luther's experience prior to 1517 is problematic at best for the thesis that his baptism was efficacious.

W.B. Picklesworth said...

You haven't someone drown by sprinkling? I've seen it a few times already this year. Since they are infants they don't put up much of a fight.

As for your second point, quite to the contrary. His baptism was so darn efficacious that it created an amazing faith that helped change the world. After he started the Reformation his knowledge of theology changed, but God's promise to him in baptism never wavered one iota. "Martin, for the sake of my son, I choose you."

Bike Bubba said...

That's the rub, WB. When I review Christ's parable of the fruitless tree, I find Him describing the tree being cut down after a year or two of fruitlessness after being pruned and fertilized.

Luther's 34 years prior to 1517 differ a lot from this, and hence I have to believe that his faith sprouted not in 1483 when he was apparently sprinkled, but rather around 1517 when he finally understood the message of salvation by faith.

Gino said...

you are confusing baptisms.

what baptism means to you and the immersists is something very different from the patristic/apostolic churches' understanding of the same word.

Bike Bubba said...

Not confused here, Gino, but absolutely the doctrines are different.

What I'm trying to do, though, is process a very simple and fascinating question; does Luther's acceptance of the doctrine of baptism as a sacrament reasonably flow from his experience of having suffered for 34 years in an experience of believing salvation involved his own works?

Now it could be latent salvation via baptism, as Ben says, or one could argue that what really happened is that Luther got saved in his 30s. Either way, it's a fascinating thing to ponder, no?

tobin said...

The way I understood Lutheran's view on baptism is that it provides a "means" for understanding our depravity later in life. I've been told flat out by more than one Lutheran pastor that they don't believe it saves (that is by grace alone), but that it helps the child find faith later when they're able to understand. A comment I heard once from an Evangelical Lutheran pastor was that he "was afraid that too many people in the church were depending on their baptism to get them to Heaven."

Obviously, still a different doctrine than the Baptist immersion methods. But believing that it's necessary for salvation is not what I've observed.

Gino said...

was a jew a jew if he wasnt circumsized? the issue is the same.

losing a foreskin didnt give salvation to the jew, but it set him apart as having membership in God's family, he was Of The Chosen.

regenerative baptism instead of leaving a physical mark, washes away the stain of sin that every man possesses at birth. for a small child, it certainly does save.
for an older person, capable of sin, it doesnt not save in and of itself.

Luther taught regenerative baptism, and Lutherans (and calvinists) still do, exception being ELC.

W.B. Picklesworth said...

Bubba, I went back to read some of your post again. Is your original argument that baptism doesn't save, it is faith that saves?

Most Baptists that I have spoken with have said that an infant isn't capable of belief. Therefore they must come to understanding in order to come to faith. Would that be a fair presentation of the argument?

If so, that brings up an interesting point, actually two. Is faith generated within the person? Strictly speaking, is comprehension necessary for faith?

I wonder if getting answers to those two questions might help clarify matters. For the record, I answer "No" to both questions.

Bike Bubba said...

Ben, that's pretty fair; and that leaves (here is the idiosyncracies of the Immersist!) a question of the standing of the infant prior to cognition. I'm inclined to appeal to the passage where David says that he will go to Bathsheba's deceased baby, but the baby cannot come to him. If we can infer that David was going to Heaven, we ought to infer that the child would, too; that there is some mystery of God's mercy for the unknowing infant at work.

And regarding faith? Well, its root is to "persuade," so I'd have to argue that there must be some awareness involved. See here.

That still leaves, of course, the question of whether Luther could have faith for many years without knowing it, and without it bearing fruit. I'm saying "no."

pentamom said...

Don't know what the Lutherans do with this, but the Reformed view is that the effects of baptism are not tightly time-linked -- so the fact that faith was worked in Luther *at some point* is more relevant than the fact that it was not fully worked in him at or shortly after his baptism.

IOW, I don't expect you to agree, but that particular criticism leaves this Reformed gal pretty unmoved. ;-)

Bike Bubba said...

Understood fully. That said, I'd be interested in seeing a good view of how one's salvation can be "latent" in bearing fruit for decades. To me, that seems utterly inconsistent with John's warning to the Pharisees, and with Christ's parables (and Paul's description) of what will be done with unfruitful vines. They don't warn that the next generation will cut them down, but rather note that a year or so will be given after pruning and fertilizing.

And yes, this same thought ought to be applied to the "immersist" side as well, as there are a lot of people I've known whose major fruit is warming a pew. I don't know that our Lord is going to get much wine or oil out of that, to put it mildly.

MainiacJoe said...

Why is this question so important to all of you? Each of you, how do you see the other positions as being harmful? (Or, if you don't see them as harmful, why care what they believe?) Thank you.

Bike Bubba said...

Well, if immersion does save an infant, shouldn't the Immersist be convinced of that--save the kids a lot of trouble in their lives?--and if it does not, should not the paedo-baptists learn that and save themselves a lot of trauma, too?

MainiacJoe said...

I'm not following you -- please be more specific

Bike Bubba said...

That's what the discussion is about; Luther, despite 34 years of what he called a basic spiritual desolation, nevertheless affirmed the claim that infant baptism has a part in salvation. The discussion is centered--or at least I'm trying to keep it there--around the question of whether we can be saved without fruit.

Now if salvation can be latent, that is a wonderful reassurance for those whose infants (or larger children) were baptised, but do not seem to be walking with Christ. If, however, ongoing fruit is required, we have a situation which ought to sober both sides of the argument as well.

W.B. Picklesworth said...

Mainiac Joe, I believe that God works salvation in people by giving them promises that do not depend on their own goodness. By connecting fruit to this matter of baptism, it makes God's promises conditional. If God's promises are conditional, then I'm in trouble because I'm a schmuck.

Bubba, I share your desire for fruit to be manifest in the lives of Christians. However, if visible fruit is to be the criterium, then I am still subject to the law, and if I am still subject to the law, then I am still dead in my sins.

Put another way, I'd rather with the danger of anti-nomianism, than with semi-Pelagianism.

Put another way, I'll trust God entirely for salvation and teach my flock the same. I'll also trust God that he will work fruit in them, as indeed the Book promises.

Put yet another way, Christians are going to retain a strong whiff of sin, but the Lutheran disregards the condemnation of the law (even though it is accurate) by saying, "You are assuredly correct that there is some sin still attached to me (That is the Old Adam), but you have no authority over me. For you see, I have died. In baptism I have been put to death with my Lord Jesus (and made into a new creation apart from the law) and surely I will be raised with him as well."

Bike Bubba said...

If fruit is a matter of the law, then why does our Lord require it in the Gospels? Why does James say that faith without works is dead?

Bike Bubba said...

Ben, another way of saying this is that while works do not save you, you will have good works if you are saved.

Agreed 100% that it's one small mistake to legalism and works righteousness, and another small mistake to antinomianism. But isn't it the balance Scripture demands?

And agreed as well; we could posit that Luther had other works that would qualify as fruit of conversion. It just doesn't seem right that he lived all those years viewing Christ as a "hangman of his soul" if he were indeed redeemed already.

MainiacJoe said...

Thank you.

I get the impression that fruit inspection is mainly intended for the fruit-inspector's good. It is is a pragmatic way for us to tell false teachers from true ones (Jesus) and to assess our own walk with God (James). Salvation however (or of you want to be more specific regeneration) is a matter of atonement and judging the heart, both of which only God can do. I think a lot of the trouble the topic in this thread causes in general comes when men try to usurp God's role by using fruit to judge others' salvation or to usurp faith's role by using fruit to assure ourselves of our salvation.

W.B. Picklesworth said...

"If fruit is a matter of the law, then why does our Lord require it in the Gospels?" The answer is in the word you just used, "require." Anything that is required is law. And if it is required, then it is absolutely necessary. And if this is all there was, then we would surely perish because we cannot fulfill the requirements. As Paul notes in Galatians, he who wants to keep a tidbit of the law is liable for the whole darn thing. With the law we die.

Why does Jesus require it? Because the law is good, as Paul notes; it points to what is good and right and perfect. But because there is no mercy in the law it is no good thing for us, but our enemy. It goes about its job, which is to accuse, to condemn and to kill.

Fruit is great, but fruit cannot come from the law, from obligation, from requirement. Fruit can only come from being a branch that is attached to the vine. The branch does to produce the fruit, but only bears that which the vine gives it. So yes, I trust that there will be good fruit because I have faith that God is at work in his people. But I do not trust in the fruit for that is idolatry.