“Have you been Born Again? Catholic Reflections on a Protestant Doctrine, or How Calvin’s view of Salvation destroyed his Doctrine of the Church”

Mar 14th, 2012 | By | Category: Featured Articles

When I first began to study Calvin in earnest, I was puzzled by what seemed a glaring omission in his writings and sermons. He never counseled his readers and listeners to be “Born Again.” This struck me as odd because I knew our denomination (PCA) considered Calvin to be our true founder. I also knew that the evangelical doctrine of “New Birth” (regeneration), understood as the moment of personal, conscious conversion, was the linchpin, the central dogma of our congregation. As an Evangelical Presbyterian, I had grown up constantly hearing these exhortations to be “Born Again.” My pastors and teachers revered evangelistic luminaries like Billy Graham and Bill Bright right along with the great Lion of Geneva.


Religious Camp Meeting
Watercolor by J. Maze Burbank, c. 1839

It was simply inconceivable to me that the great John Calvin did not know how to be saved! Nevertheless, as I kept studying, a clear but shocking picture emerged. Calvin knew no conversionistic account of Christian initiation. His was a vastly more ecclesial, sacramental view of the Christian life – one begun in baptism, and nourished through the Eucharist. It was not conversion but the Eucharist, Calvin held, which “brings an undoubted assurance of eternal life.”1

Ultimately, these discoveries – along with renewed study of Scripture and the Church Fathers – led me away from evangelicalism and the PCA, and into the Catholic Church. (See How John Calvin Made me a Catholic.) And today, I realize that I am not the first one to note these incongruities in the Reformed tradition. There is, in fact, a vast literature playing off Calvin against his heirs, or alternately defending them against the charge of innovation.2 Within the Reformed world, there is ongoing disagreement over the extent and implications of these tensions.3 What few historians dispute, however, is that modern evangelicalism breathes a different air from traditional Calvinism.4 Mark Noll’s assessment of the emerging evangelicalism of the 19th century is not far off the mark:

It is not an exaggeration to claim that this nineteenth-century Protestant evangelicalism differed from the religion of the Protestant Reformation as much as sixteenth-century Reformation Protestantism differed from the Roman Catholic theology from which it emerged.5

For my own purposes, it became something of a passion to trace this evolution in Protestant doctrine. How did we get from an ecclesial, sacramental view of Reformation (what Philip Schaff would call The Principle of Protestantism) to an ideology of denominationalism in which the form of Church is seen as accidental to Christian identity and only “new birth” counts as important?

There are many factors in this evolution of doctrine, of course, and probably no one has done more work on this question than Mark Noll. I highly recommend his book America’s God for those who want a detailed analysis. In this article, I want to highlight only one factor that I think has poignancy for Reformed/Catholic dialogue and readers of this website. My goal is simply to identify key moments in the evolution of the Reformed understanding of being “Born again.” My thesis: that Calvin’s view of salvation was ultimately destructive of his ecclesiology, particularly in the Anglo-American context. I would not go so far as to say that it was necessarily destructive. Obviously, Reformed doctrine evolved differently in France than in England, differently in Hungary than in Holland. But, subjected to particular historical pressures, Calvinism’s great weak point (as I see it) could not hold.

Calvin saw regeneration in an ecclesiological context, united to liturgy, sacraments, and authority. Ecclesiology was to some extent constitutive for his understanding of regeneration. Eventually, however, regeneration came unhinged from this context. The Reformed doctrine of new birth became, instead, constitutive of Reformed ecclesiology. Once this happened, Calvin’s high ecclesiology became impossible.

Understanding Calvin’s Theological Context

Calvin’s theological concerns were different from Luther’s. Luther’s major preoccupation was to ease his troubled conscience. Calvin’s major concern was to unify the nascent Protestant movement in doctrine and liturgy, and to purify Christian worship of “superstition.” As a young man, he was also exercised by social disorder, for which he blamed Papal “Tyranny and superstition.” He believed that submission to proper theological authority and a purified liturgy would bring social equity.6

It is difficult to overestimate how important liturgy and worship were to this view of Reformation. Controlling the administration of and access to the sacraments was probably Calvin’s single greatest concern in his practical ministry from the 1530s to the 1550s. Major controversies in Geneva, such as the explosion over baptismal names, are almost inconceivable to modern Protestants, but were issues of the greatest moment for the time.7

Early Calvinist attempts to control prayer and devotion sound almost ludicrous today, but must be judged against Calvin’s horror of disorder and “superstition.” Consider the following account of an altercation between a 17th century Calvinist pastor and one of his flock:

Curiosity led a [Reformed] minister into [the church of] Saint André [in Bordeaux] … As he entered a little before vespers, he looked around the hall and noticed a man of his acquaintance praying in a corner of the chapel on his knees … The minister, therefore, seeing one of his flock, whom he noticed in the corner of the church, called him before the Consistory … where he asked him, “You know well what I saw you doing in the church yesterday? Aren’t you ashamed?” “If you saw me there,” the other replied, “weren’t you there too?” “Yes,” answered the minister, “but I was not praying to God like you were.” “Certainly,” he replied, “I had not known until now that it was bad to pray to God.”8

Calvinists today likely cannot even understand the pastor’s concern. He worried that praying in a church when there was no liturgy suggested superstition. It was too reminiscent of the Catholic practice of hallowing shrines and sacred spaces. When one studies the records of the Genevan consistory under Calvin, cases like this emerge with some frequency.

Calvin on Baptism and Regeneration

We need to keep this context in mind when considering Calvin’s doctrine of regeneration. Calvin understood quite well the Patristic doctrine of baptismal regeneration. (See Church Fathers on Baptismal Regeneration.) Luther, too, affirmed that regeneration comes through baptism. Calvin had no intention of departing from the traditional view that salvation is communicated in and through the Church and her sacraments. What he objected to was an unthinking, “superstitious” reception of the sacraments.

For Calvin, baptism was the normative means of salvation. “It is true,” Calvin writes quite bluntly, “that, by neglecting baptism we are excluded from salvation.”9 “All these graces,” Calvin writes, “are conferred on us, when it pleases him to incorporate us into his kingdom by Baptism. “[T]he truth and substance of baptism is comprised in [Christ] … as he communicates his riches and blessings by his word, so he distributes them by his Sacraments.”10 God, regenerating us in baptism, ingrafts us into the fellowship of His Church, and makes us His by adoption.11

There were two challenges for Calvin in this close identity between the Church and salvation. The first was to make the sacraments intrinsically efficacious without denying the need for personal understanding or appropriation. In this, he was guided by his fear of unthinking “superstition.” His solution was ultimately to limit the efficacy of the sacraments to those who put forth no obstacles. Commenting on Titus 3:5, Calvin writes:

Although by baptism wicked men are neither washed nor renewed, yet it retains that power, so far as relates to God, because, although they reject the grace of God, still it is offered to them. But here Paul addresses believers, in whom baptism is always efficacious, and in whom, therefore, it is properly connected with its truth and efficacy.12

The second challenge, to Calvin, involved the issues of predestination, perseverance, and assurance. The key innovation in Reformed soteriology is the claim that regeneration is co-extensive with election. In Calvin’s soteriology, all the regenerate will necessarily persevere.13 He also taught that “certainty of election” was possible and desirable.14 It is manifest, however, that not all the baptized persevere. How to unite a high doctrine of baptism’s efficacy with a doctrine of perseverance, election, and assurance of salvation? Calvin’s solution was typically ecclesiological. Communion with the Church and reception of the sacraments are signs of election. Those who do not persevere are those who ultimately break fellowship with the Church or refuse her discipline. (It should be obvious that this ecclesiological emphasis poses difficulties for any absolute assurance of salvation. Calvin never resolved this tension.)]15

The case of Pierre Mygerandi and his sister Jane provides a good example. On April 20, 1542 Pierre and Jane were called before the Genevan Consistory about a domestic conflict. In the course of the investigation, Jane was asked both whether she had received communion, and why. She responded appropriately that she received Communion “for the love of Our Lord.” However, she must also have revealed some scruples, because the Consistory admonished “that she not go looking for her damnation, considering that she has received and confesses having received Holy Communion.”16

Calvin was very sensitive to the charge that his doctrine of election might be a threat to his doctrine of the sacraments. In his Secunda defensio piae et orthodoxae de sacramentis fidei contra Ioachimi Westphali calumnies (1556), Calvin responds to this charge, stating quite explicitly that the faithful are not to find their assurance in election, but rather to find their election in the liturgical ministry of word and sacraments. He writes:

He [Westphal] says, that the effect of baptism is brought into doubt by me, because I suspend it on predestination, whereas Scripture directs us to the word and sacraments, and leads by this way to the certainty of predestination and salvation. But had he not here introduced a fiction of his own, which never came into my mind, there ‘was no occasion for dispute. I have written much, and the Lord has employed me in various kinds of discussion. If out of my lucubrations he can produce a syllable in which I teach that we ought to begin with predestination in seeking assurance of salvation, I am ready to remain dumb. That secret election was mentioned by me in passing, I admit. But to what end? Was it either to lead pious minds away from hearing the promise or looking at the signs? There was nothing of which I was more careful than to confine them entirely within the word. What? While I so often inculcate that grace is offered by the sacraments, do I not invite them there to seek the seal of their salvation?17

The problem that Calvin did not anticipate or fully appreciate was this: what of those who, through no fault of their own, are excluded from the “proper” celebration of the sacraments? As we shall see, this was precisely the issue that began the dissolution of Calvinist ecclesiology.

The Puritan Innovation

Puritanism began as an attempt to reform the liturgy and sacraments of the Anglican Church along Calvinist lines. When this failed, English Calvinists were faced with a dilemma: how to confront questions of assurance and election without the “proper” ecclesiological context? Patrick Colinson summarizes the development of Puritanism this way:

The theological achievement of the Puritans, from William Perkins onwards, can be roughly interpreted as the adaptation and domestication of Calvinism to fit the condition of voluntary Christians, whose independence of the ordered, disciplined life of the Church Calvin would have found strange and disturbing.18

Their solution was a turn inward. “Self contemplation,” as Newman would later call it, or introspection, became the principle method for discerning regeneration and election. Hence, Perry Miller’s famous quip: “Protestantism liberated men from the treadmill of indulgences and penances, but cast them on the iron couch of introspection.”19

It is important to realize that this Puritan turn inwards corresponds in no way to the revivalistic, “pray-to-receive-Christ” type of Born-Againism of modern evangelicalism. Instead, Puritan writers produced a slew of publications designed to aid in this discernment of spirits. They were intended to identify the interior signs of regeneration and election. Pastors like Richard Greenham, Richard Rogers, Arthur Dent, William Ames, and the indomitable William Perkins produced works with titles like A treatise Tending unto a Declaration Whether a Man be in the Estate of Damnation or Salvation, The Plain Man’s Pathway to Heaven, or A Christian and plaine treatise of the manner and order of predestination. A few generations later Jonathan Edwards would produce highly sophisticated works in this vein, his most famous being Religious Affections.20

Different authors listed different criteria, but by the time of the Westminster Confession (1646), there was a consensus that interior experience could convey infallible knowledge of election. The confession speaks of:

[A]n infallible assurance of faith, founded upon the divine truth of the promises of salvation, the inward evidence of those graces unto which these promises are made, the testimony of the Spirit of adoption witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God; which Spirit is the earnest of our inheritance, whereby we are sealed to the day of redemption. (WCF XVIII).

The question of assurance was certainly not unfamiliar to Calvin, but the frame of reference Puritanism suggested was very foreign to his way of thinking. Nowhere was this difference more in evidence than New England.

New England Ecclesiology

The Calvinists of New England drew out the ecclesial consequences of this new emphasis on interior experience and assurance. Puritan separatists sought to overcome their exclusion from the national church by “covenanting” with fellow “saints” to form autonomus congregations. The key to this ecclesiology was the conviction that one could reliably identify “the saints.” The novelty of “the New England Way,” therefore, was to make regeneration the condition of Church membership, rather than initiation into the Church the condition of regeneration. By 1636, most of the congregations of New England restricted membership to “visible saints.” This led ultimately, and ironically, to denying baptism to the children of those who could not “prove” their election. Authorities in Massachusetts created a concession in the form of the “half-way covenant,” allowing baptism for the children of the “unregenerate.” However, this was not universally accepted.

The insistence on assurance and interiority did not immediately destroy either objective church polity or morality, but the seeds were sown. The Antinomian controversy of the 1630s spoke directly to this issue. Anne Hutchinson and her supporters denied that legal evidences or “duties” could be of any value in ascertaining the state of one’s soul. They preferred immediate religious experience. Although Hutchinson’s position was condemned as heretical, it would later become the norm.

The death knell of traditional, Reformed ecclesiology sounded with the brilliant work of Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758). Edwards synthesized the best in Puritan thought with a keen philosophical sense, and produced one of the most profound set of reflections on religious experience. However, his strong advocacy of interior experience finally turned Reformed ecclesiology on its head. Breaking with the logic of the half-way covenant, Edwards insisted that the sacraments be denied to all who could not attest to their conversion. Edwards’s doctrine led directly to the logic of the First Great Awakening: above all, work for discernible “conversions.”21

In the work of Edwards’s co-laborer and revivalist George Whitefield (1714-1770), the logic of “conversionism” finally bears its fruit. The destruction of any distinctive ecclesiology follows as a matter of course. Whitefield insisted on offering communion to any who showed the signs of conversion, regardless of their ecclesial affiliation. His position is telling:

I saw regenerate souls among the Baptists, among the Presbyterians, among the Independents, and among the Church [i.e., Anglican] folks — all children of God, and yet all born again in a different way of worship: and who can tell which is the most evangelical.

And again,

It was best to preach the new birth, and the power of godliness, and not to insist so much on the form: for people would never be brought to one mind as to that; nor did Jesus Christ ever intend it.22

New England Puritanism insisted on discerning the marks of election/regeneration, and saw this as essential to constituting a true, visible Church. However, the half-way covenant still allowed for the possibility of a mixed congregation, one containing both”Tares and Wheat.” Edwards rejected the half-way covenant, and pushed Puritan ecclesiology closer simply to identifying “true Church” with the discernibly regenerate. By making the marks of regeneration essentially interior (“religious affections”) rather than sacramental, he prepared the way for a radical, redefinition of “true Church.” Whitefield’s denominationalism now follows logically. The true Church is simply the one containing all those possessing the (self-attested) interior marks of regeneration.

Innovations of the Second Great Awakening

The innovations of the First Great Awakening led directly to the innovations of the second. If signs of regeneration can be reliably discerned apart from any normative conception of Church or sacrament, then why cannot any type of means be employed to produce them? The leaders of the Second Great Awakening applied this exact argument, holding that men could be brought to show these signs of regeneration through deliberate, revivalistic measures. Institutions like the “anxious bench” and the altar call were the direct results of this thinking.

These new measures led to further refinements in the concept of regeneration itself. Edwards and the Puritans held that regeneration, as the fruit of the Spirit, is ultimately mysterious and dependent on the sovereign mercies of God, even if the signs of regeneration are readily apparent. Theologians of the Second Great Awakening, by contrast, saw that the new measures worked. They could reliably produce these signs. What does this signify for the meaning of regeneration itself?

The Premier theorist of the Second Great Awakening, Charles Grandison Finney, inventor of the “anxious bench,” reasons as follows:

I remark, then, that regeneration must consist, doubtless, in a change of the disposition of the mind — a voluntary consecration to God . . . I remark, again, in other words, that regeneration consists in a change in the ultimate intention, or end of life. The mind, in regeneration, withdraws itself from seeking, as the ultimate disposition and end, the gratification of self, and choose a higher end than itself. Its disposition is changed from supreme selfishness to an entire devotion of the whole being to the great end for which God lives, and for which he made man to live. Regeneration, then, consists in ceasing to live to sin and for selfishness, and to live to and for God.23

This is a far cry from the Patristic notion of regeneration, or even Calvin’s doctrine, in which regeneration is brought about by our union with Christ by the Holy Spirit through baptism and incorporation into the visible Church. Finney’s “measures” moved the concepts of regeneration and Christian initiation in a distinctively individual and psychological direction, even if many Protestants were unwilling to follow all his theological conclusions. Most importantly, Finney defended the idea that regeneration is something that can be chosen and effected immediately entirely through mental processes. And while he may have relied on quasi-liturgical methods – like the anxious bench – to influence those processes, there is no reason, given his premises, that any method at all be normative.

Finney placed a strong emphasis on the ethical component of conversion. Others influenced by him preferred to emphasize the more Calvinist elements of assurance and grace. What they inherited from the era of Finney, then, was the emphasis on personal decision and instantaneous change – leading, in this case, to assurance more than ethical transformation. A simple, unemotional, voluntary consecration to God – even the recitation of a formula – privately, apart from church – now counts as Christian initiation. Thus, the birth of “the sinner’s prayer.”

Paul Harrison Chitwood has identified D. L. Moody (1837-1899) as the evangelist who first used such formulaic methods to define Christian conversion and initiation.24 After Moody, however, the practice and the doctrine it implies became commonplace. Billy Graham presents a version of this in his book Peace with God. Bill Bright, the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, makes this doctrine central to his famous pamphlet The Four Spiritual Laws. The website of Campus Crusade, for example, explains that one receives Christ, and experiences regeneration, immediately through an act of the will. It suggests a specific prayer to effect this, and follows it with the exhortation: “Now that you have received Christ . . .”25

Ecclesiological Implications

Calvin made regeneration depend upon the ministrations of the Church. In Puritanism, we saw ecclesiology depend upon regeneration. However, the Puritans maintained belief in an objective polity and sacramental life. In modern evangelicalism, the revivalist thesis is carried to its logical conclusion. The Church, the bride of Christ, with which one must be in communion, is redefined as an entirely invisible affair, merely the set of those redeemed by Christ through personal conversion. Visible schism thus becomes a conceptual impossibility. Denominationalism is affirmed as a matter of principle.

Consider the Amsterdam Declaration, issued by Amsterdam 2000 (organized by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association):

The one, universal church is a transnational, transcultural, transdenominational and multi-ethnic family of the household of faith. In the widest sense the church includes all the redeemed of all the ages, being the one body of Christ extended throughout time as well as space. Here in the world, the church becomes visible in all local congregations that meet to do together the things that according to scripture the church does.26 (Emphasis mine)

The National Association of Evangelicals provides an even more interesting example. In its statement of faith, the NAE does not even include an article on the Church, but rather this nebulous declaration: ” We believe in the spiritual unity of believers in our Lord Jesus Christ.”27

In its most extreme form, this evangelical ecclesiology devolves into popular rants against any Church. This is not new. We find essentially the same thing in the well-known revivalist Billy Sunday (1862-1935):

Jesus said: “Come to me,” not to the Church; to me, not to a creed; to me, not to a preacher; to me, not to an evangelist; to me, not to a priest; to me, not to a pope; “Come to me and I will give you rest.” Faith in Jesus Christ saves you, not faith in the Church.28

Assessment

They key innovations in Reformed soteriology were the identification of election with regeneration, and the claim that absolute assurance of salvation was possible. (Catholic tradition, by contrast, has always allowed that the regenerate may lose sanctifying grace. Catholics, therefore, profess to having assurance and hope, but not absolute assurance.) Calvin tried, furthermore, to unite this view of election and assurance with a high view of church and sacrament.

The great difficulty with Calvin’s view, as I see it, is that you can have either an absolute (though ultimately subjective and spurious) assurance of salvation or an objective certainty in the nature of a visible Church, the means of grace, and the content of revelation. You cannot have both.

If I am inwardly and infallibly assured of my union with Christ, then I must by definition disregard any possible “defeaters” arising from my contingent, historical relationship to the visible church. By contrast, if my assurance can be potentially marred by any judgment of the Church regarding my own worthiness to be admitted to communion or by any disagreement over dogma or morals, or even by my own apparent perseverance or defection, then my assurance by definition cannot be absolute and infallible.

The history of Geneva is very interesting in this regard. Throughout the 1540s, as opposition to Calvin grew more and more vociferous, Calvin evidenced an increasing willingness to link the exercise of church discipline and authority to his doctrine of predestination. The Genevan populace, by contrast, was increasingly insistent that the ministers could not read their hearts. The tension inherent in Reformed theology was playing out.

Calvin was deeply concerned with the question of visible unity, “denominationalism,” authority and sacraments. In his Petit Traicté (1540), he depicts the inter-Protestant disputes about the Eucharist as positively injurious to salvation. His solution to doctrinal disagreement was for the laity to submit with implicit faith to the teaching authority of the Reformed “Magisterium.” He was also quite clear that a verdict of excommunication should be an infallible “defeater” to any false assurance of salvation. He repeatedly taught that the excommunicated were “estranged from the Church, and thus, from Christ.”29

As early as 1537, Calvin had described those who resist ministerial authority as heretics.30 The Institutes, likewise, describes submission to the Church as a sign of election. The elect are “joined and bound together by such great agreement of minds that no sort of disagreement or division may intrude.” “We cannot disagree with our brethren,” Calvin adds, “without at the same time disagreeing with Christ.” The elect are “bent to obedience,” but the reprobate are “obdurate” and “unteachable.” The purpose of discipline, therefore, is to restrain those who “rage against the doctrine of Christ.”31

Calvin eventually went so far as to teach that the judgment of pastors effectively defines the limits of God’s election:

We see that those who have charge of the word of God, their office is to discern what is good in order to approve it and what is bad in order to condemn it. And when men submit themselves to the doctrine that we preach, we [should] regard them as those in whom God is working [i.e., the elect]. On the contrary, those who draw themselves back, we [must] hold them in derision.32

The response of Geneva’s laity is telling. Between 1541 and 1546, there were no mass protests against Calvin’s authority or theology. However, there were numerous individuals who opposed the new ministers on theological grounds. The 1541 Ordonnances of Geneva had forbidden “dogmatizing against the received doctrine.” Both the pastors and magistrates felt it necessary to restate this prohibition in 1546. Legislation from that year identified “contradicting the word of God” as an offense specifically meriting censure before the consistory.33

The consistory also leveled numerous undefined charges of “blasphemy” and “words against the ministers” throughout this period.34 Any statement against “God, the word, or the ministers” could qualify for the indictment.35 Moreover, though many of those summoned to the consistory were inarticulate, they seem to have taken great offense at the notion that the ministers could read their hearts. To state the case more theologically, they rejected the idea that the consistory could accurately define the boundaries of God’s election.

A certain Jane Pertennaz, for example, protested to the consistory that she “is not excommunicated and separated from the church … and no one will ever know her faith but God.” On February 18, 1546, similarly, Jehan Bosson protested, “that he had the Gospel in his heart as much as the ministers, and as many books.” In one of the most striking statements, a woman protested before the consistory on March 4, 1546 “that she did not hold at all to this [new] law, and wanted only the law of God.”36

My personal favorite: Jane Pignier had no scruples about the church and denied calling Calvin a false prophet. However, she did want to know “whether it is necessary to believe if the preachers say there is no water in the Rhône.”37

The practical problem with Calvinist doctrine, evidenced throughout its history, is that it creates an insoluble division between “real Christians” and Christians in name only. Thus, it potentially marginalizes the objective elements of Church, faith, and sacraments that all Christians visibly share. It sets up a conflict between subjective, interior “evidences” of grace and those that are objective. It pits “those of us who know we have the Spirit” against everyone else.

Calvin sought to resolve these conflicts through the exercise of Church discipline and an insistence on the objective efficacy of the sacraments.38 The Puritans took a similar approach, restricting Church membership to those who were “really” Christians. The Evangelical tradition has sought to resolve the tension by denying or severely limiting the significance of the visible Church altogether.

It was precisely this division that led the young John Henry Newman to abandon his Calvinism. In considering Sumner’s Apostolical Preaching¸ he realized that Scripture does not divide the Church in this way. While Catholics believe that the Church contains both wheat and tares (those who will ultimately be saved, and those who will not), the identity of these parties is not presently revealed to us. Both wheat and tares, moreover, are truly members of the Church militant. With his characteristic clarity, Newman sums up this difference between Calvinism and the Catholic Church:

Calvinists make a sharp separation between the elect and the world; there is much in this that is parallel or cognate to the Catholic doctrine; but they go on to say, as I understand them, very differently from Catholicism, — that the converted and the unconverted can be discriminated by man, that the justified are conscious of their state of justification, and that the regenerate cannot fall away. Catholics on the other hand shade and soften the awful antagonism between good and evil, which is one of their dogmas, by holding that there are different degrees of justification, that there is a great difference in point of gravity between sin and sin, that there is the possibility and the danger of falling away, and that there is no certain knowledge given to any one that he is simply in a state of grace, and much less that he is to persevere to the end.[xxxiv]39

Newman realized, as well, that the Calvinist system, at least as practiced in the Church of England in the nineteenth century, was utterly destructive of ecclesiology and objective truth. It placed a priority on the subjective experience of grace, rather than focusing on the objective content of revelation and the means of grace. Nineteenth-century Calvinism was, thus, something of the stepsister to nineteenth century liberalism:

So now we have the two views of doctrine clearly before us: — the ancient and universal teaching of the Church, which insists on the Objects and fruits of faith, and considers the spiritual character of that faith itself sufficiently secured, if these are as they should be; and the method, now in esteem, of attempting instead to secure directly and primarily that “mind of the Spirit,” which may savingly receive the truths, and fulfil the obedience of the Gospel.40

I once doubted Newman’s conclusions. After all, my evangelical Church had insisted upon both doctrinal clarity and the assurance of faith. Indeed, the leading theologian of twentieth century Evangelicalism, Carl F. H. Henry, vociferously argued that the evangelical doctrines of Biblical inspiration and inerrancy were the only remedy for liberal subjectivism. His multi-volume God, Revelation, and Authority was an extended defense of that thesis. Henry also co-founded Christianity Today to provide a rigorous, ongoing critique of theological liberalism.

In view of CT‘s origins, I found it ironic and sad when senior CT writer Mark Galli gave up the fight for doctrinal certainty. He effectively ceded Henry’s signature issue to liberalism. In a recent article, Galli rejected the motives of those who turn to Rome for doctrinal certainty. Unlike Henry, however, he argued that the search for doctrinal certainly is fundamentally illusive. He strongly implied that issues like “homosexuality, the nature of the atonement, the prosperity gospel, the place of women in church leadership, [and] the historicity of Adam” simply cannot be answered clearly. When forced to choose between doctrinal certainty and Evangelical spirituality, he chose the latter.

I now believe that Galli’s kind of skepticism is ultimately inevitable if one insists on subjective assurance of the Spirit as an absolute priority. Objective certainty about identity of the Church and the content of revelation, or subjective (and spurious) assurance of salvation. You cannot have both. Calvin was unable to hold them together. The history of Evangelicalism, in part, is the unfolding of this tension.

Conclusion

This article has surveyed the development of a theme in Reformed theology: the progressive destruction of ecclesiology as it conflicts with the peculiar Reformed accents given to regeneration and assurance. I argue that Calvin sought to unite two conflicting priorities: an absolute assurance of salvation and the absolute necessity of visible Church and sacrament. The working out of this tension in the Anglo-American context resulted in the victory of the former over the latter.

I have not sought to touch on all the nuances of assurance, election, predestination, or the sacraments, but merely to highlight key moments in the evolution of Anglo-American Calvinist theology. Nor would I argue that these contingent, historical facts are somehow necessarily implied by the themes of Calvin’s theology. Both Lutheranism and the wider history of Calvinism evidence other ways of resolving the conflict.41 Nevertheless, I would claim that the conflict itself is necessary, even if its resolution is not.

For the Reformed reader, I would now ask, “How do you feel about the convoluted continuity between Calvin and Billy Graham? What does it mean to be born again? And how do you know? What role do sacraments play? What do you make of the inability of the Reformed tradition to make consistent sense of Scripture on these issues?”

As a very young child, I believed that salvation came through recitation of a mantra: the sinner’s prayer. As I grew older, I learned to nuance this with a more thorough understanding of the doctrines of grace, justification, and election. Eventually, the question of sacraments arose. And then the relationship between assurance and the moral life. As I surveyed the Reformed tradition, I learned that there was literally no consistent way of framing these issues. As clear as I once thought salvation was, I learned that there was simply no universal Protestant answer to the question, “How do I get to Heaven.” Now I thank Heaven for the clarity of the Catholic Church.

  1. Inst. 4.15.5; 4.17.1; 4.17.32. []
  2. R.T. Kendall would be representative of the discontinuity thesis; Richard Muller of continuity. See, for example, R.T. Kendall, Calvin and English Calvinism to 1649 (Oxford: OUP, 1981), and Richard Muller, Christ and the Decree: Christology and Predestination in Reformed Theology from Calvin to Perkins (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1988). []
  3. The current doctrinal controversy in the PCA over the Federal Vision Theology is another witness to these tensions in Reformed theology. []
  4. Some helpful introductions to evangelicalism and its emphasis on “born again” spirituality include David Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s (New York: Routledge, 1989); Mark Noll, American Evangelical Christianity: An Introduction (Oxford: Blackwell, 2001); Alister McGrath,. Evangelicalism and the Future of Christianity. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1995. []
  5. Mark A. Noll, America’s God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln (Oxford: OUP, 2002), 3. []
  6. There have been numerous studies of Calvin’s social concern. Among the more important are Marc-Edouard Chenevière, La pensée politique de Calvin (Geneva: Labor et Fides, 1937); André Bieler, La pensée économique et sociale de Calvin (Geneva: Librairie de l’Université, 1961); Josef Bohatec, Calvin und das Recht (Feudingen in Westfalen: Buchdruckereri uverlagsanstalt, 1934); Fred Graham, The Constructive Revolutionary: John Calvin and His Socio-Economic Impact (Richmond: John Knox Press, 1971); Elsie Anne McKee, John Calvin on the Diaconate and Liturgical Almsgiving. (Geneva: Droz, 1984); Jeanine Olson, Calvin and Social Welfare: Deacons and the Bourse Française. (Sellingsgrove, PA: Susquehana University Press; London: Associated University Press, 1989). Calvin’s condemnation of popular superstition as a cause of disorder recurs throughout his corpus. For specific examples, however, see Joannis Calvini Opera Selecta. Edited Petrus Barth. 4 vols. (München: Chr. Kaiser, 1926) 1: 467 (cited hereafter as OS); Ioannis Calvini Opera quae supersunt omnia. Edited by Guilielmus Baum, Eduardus Cunitz, and Eduardus Reuss, for the Corpus Reformatorum. 59 vols. (Brunswick: 1863-1900), 6: 472-473 (cited hereafter as CO). []
  7. Karen Spierling, Infant Baptism in Reformation Geneva: The Shaping of a Community, 1536-1564 (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 2009). []
  8. Florimond de Raemond, Histoire de la naissance, progrez et decadence de l’hérésie de ce siècle (Rouen: Chez P. La Motte, 1628-1629), 999; cited in Thomas Lambert, “Preaching, Praying and Policing the Reform in Sixteenth-Century Geneva.” (Ph.D. diss., University of Wisconsin, Madison, 1998.), 280. []
  9. Comm. John 3:5; CO 47: 55. []
  10. CO 6: 187. Incorporation into Christ is incorporation into the church, for Calvin, although this creates a tension in his theology concerning those who leave the Church. Egil Grislis, “Calvin’s Doctrine of Baptism,” Church History 31 (1962): 47, 56. []
  11. Inst. 4.17.1 []
  12. Comm. Titus 3:5; CO 52: 431. []
  13. Inst. 3.21.7 []
  14. Inst. 3.24.4 []
  15. “We are taught . . . that call and faith are of little account unless perseverance be added.” Inst. 3.24.6. “Yet it daily happens that those who seemed to be Christ’s fall away from him again, and hasten to destruction.” Inst. 3.24.7. []
  16. Registres du consistoire de Genève au temps de Calvin I: 42-43 (cited hereafter as RCG); Registers of the Consistory of Geneva in the time of Calvin I: 46-47 (cited hereafter as RCGT). []
  17. CO 9: 118-119; CTS 2: 343. []
  18. Collinson, Godly People: Essays in English Protestantism and Puritanism (London, 1983), 539, cited in Philip Benedict, Christ’s Churches Purely Reformed: A Social History of Calvinism (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002), 318. []
  19. Roger Williams: His Contribution to the American Tradition, (New York, Bobbs-Merrill, 1953), 207. []
  20. Benedict, Christ’s Churches, 318-320. []
  21. Noll, America’s God, 41-44. []
  22. Journals (London: Banner of Truth, 1960), 458, Cited in Mark Noll, The Rise of Evangelicalism: The Age of Edwards, Whitefield and the Wesleys (Downers Grove: IVP, 2003), 13-15. []
  23. http://www.revival-library.org/catalogues/miscellanies/sermons/finney.html
    []
  24. Paul Harrison Chitwood, “The Sinner’s Prayer: An Historical and Theological Analysis,” (Dissertation, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2001). []
  25. (http://www.campuscrusade.com/fourlawseng.htm) []
  26. Cited in J. I. Packer and Thomas Oden, One Faith: The Evangelical Consensus (Downers Grove: IVP, 2004), 207. []
  27. http://www.nae.net/about-us/statement-of-faith []
  28. Edwin Scott Gaustad and Mark Noll, A Documentary History of Religion in America: Since 1877 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983), 283. []
  29. Inst. 4.12.9. []
  30. OS Vol. 1: 390-391, 397, 411-415; See also Inst. 4.3.1 []
  31. Inst. 3.24.14; 4.12.1; 4.17.33; 4.17.38. []
  32. CO 6: 48: “En cela nous voyons que ceulx qui ont charge de la parolle de Dieu, leur office est de discerner ce qui est bon pour l’approuver et ce qui est meschant pour le condampner. Et quant les hommes se rengent à la doctrine que nous portons que alors nous les regardions comme ceulx en qui Dieu besogne. Au contraire ceulx qui s’en retirent que nous les ayons en mespris.” []
  33. Registres de la Compagnie des Pasteurs de Genève 1: 12, 17 (cited hereafter as RCP). []
  34. RCG II: 8, 11, 20, 21, 22, 29, 33, 51, 57, 108, 132, 142, 155, 202, 229. []
  35. RCG II: 21. []
  36. RCG I: 26-27, 85-86, 198, 205, 283; RCGT I: 30-31, 92, 142, 209, 216, 301; RCG II: 142: “qu’il avoit autant d’Evangile en son cueur que led. ministres, et autant de livres que luy.” RCG II, 154: “qu’elle n’estoyt point de ceste loy, mail volloyt estre seulement de celle de Dieu.” This last remark should not necessarily be taken as an affirmation of the principle of sola scriptura. Throughout the consistory records, dissidents contrast the phrase “cette loi” with the previous regime, not with the “Law” of God. []
  37. RCG I: 102, 210, 293; RCGT I: 108-109, 222, 313; RCG II, 18, 229. []
  38. This is a very involved topic. In sum, however, Calvin ended up appealing to the same kind of subjective, illusive criteria that he decried in popular resistance to his theology. In the final analysis, he “knew” that his interpretation of Scripture was correct, and therefore, authoritative. His was literally a divine, prophetic authority. On this topic, see Max Engammare “Calvin: a Prophet without a Prophecy.” Church History: Studies in Christianity and Culture 67 (1998): 643-661. []
  39. http://www.newmanreader.org/works/apologia/part3.html []
  40. http://www.newmanreader.org/works/parochial/volume2/sermon15.html []
  41. On this topic, see Randall Zachman, The Assurance of Faith: Conscience in the Theology of Martin Luther and John Calvin (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 2005), 7. []
Tags: , , ,

147 comments
Leave a comment »

  1. Consider the Amsterdam Declaration, issued by Amsterdam 2000 (organized by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association):

    The one, universal church is a transnational, transcultural, transdenominational and multi-ethnic family of the household of faith. In the widest sense the church includes all the redeemed of all the ages, being the one body of Christ extended throughout time as well as space. Here in the world, the church becomes visible in all local congregations that meet to do together the things that according to scripture the church does.

    How does one take a dispute between two Christians to this nebulous “universal church” for her to rule upon? And how could this “transdenominational household of faith” ever excommunicate anybody? Obviously this so-called “universal church” is merely an abstract idea, and not a real church that speaks with authority, nor anything remotely like a real church that can formally define doctrine and excommunicate both heretics and schismatics. Which means that this “universal church” can’t possibly be the church that Jesus Christ founded, since His church is vested with the power to both define dogma, and excommunicate heretics that refuse to “listen even to the church”.

    As early as 1537, Calvin had described those who resist ministerial authority as heretics. The Institutes, likewise, describes submission to the Church as a sign of election.

    That is what heretics do – resist authority, and refuse to “listen even to the church”. But the real question is what church has the authority to define what constitutes heresy, and what church has the power to excommunicates unrepentant heretics? The scriptures explicitly teach the church that has the authority to do both these things is the church that was personally founded by Jesus Christ.

    When John Calvin began teaching that John Calvin had the power to define doctrine, and that John Calvin had the authority to excommunicate anyone that dared to disagree with John Calvin, John Calvin was also implicitly claiming by these actions that he was the church that Jesus Christ personally founded. Which, to me, exposes John Calvin for what he really was; a man with a huge ego that claimed an authority that he had no right to claim. John Calvin had no more authority to define doctrine than did Charles Taze Russell, Mary Baker Eddy or Ellen Gould White!

    The elect are “bent to obedience,” but the reprobate are “obdurate” and “unteachable.” The purpose of discipline, therefore, is to restrain those who “rage against the doctrine of Christ.”

    How ironic! John Calvin can only be described as “obdurate” in his resistance to the ministers of the church that Jesus Christ personally founded. So why didn’t Calvin think that he was reprobate? Why did John Calvin think that the only person that he needed to listen to was John Calvin? Isn’t doing that the very essence of being unteachable?

  2. […] David Anders’ latest article at Called to Communion, fascinating as always. […]

  3. Dr. Anders,

    I found this article fascinating. I was surprised to read Calvin’s statements that seemed to support baptismal regeneration. From reading this paper by Dr. Philip Cary (http://www.scribd.com/doc/2269563/Sola-Fide-Luther-and-Calvin-by-Phillip-Cary), I had been under the impression that while Luther connected sola fide directly to baptism, Calvin stressed that personal faith was what regenerated you, not baptism. But it seems more complicated than that.

    If you have time to read Dr. Cary’s paper, and if it doesn’t cause an off-topic tangent, I’d be interested in hearing any response you have to it.

  4. Hi Devin,

    I looked at Cary’s article. It seems to me that he conflates Calvin and Calvinism. Furthermore, I think he takes a rather truncated view of Calvin – restricting himself to isolated passages from the Institutes.

    Obviously, I think there is MUCH more discontinuity in the Reformed tradition than that. I even think there is a lot more discontinuity in Calvin himself.

    When I did my Calvin research, I started with the early 1530s and worked my way to ’64. Along the way, I found a lot of changes in Calvin’s thinking.

    To sum up: Calvin gets more and more authoritarian and more and more ecclesiastical in his thinking the older he gets. And I think some of his earliest statements about religious authority and the laity are completely at odds with later emphases. I think the same goes for Calvin and Dort.
    CalvinISM was an attempt to make sense of Calvin, just as Lutheranism and Luther are not the same thing.

    -David

  5. Dr. Anders,

    Very well written article, erudite and clear. Thank you. I am living the tention between being obedient to my Reformed Church that says,”if you add anything to the complete satisifaction of Christ, you are apostate” and the Roman Church that says, “you must receive the sacraments in the view we declare and be part of our visible union or you will not be saved”. Talk about a rock and a hard place! I’m told that I could still be saved while inside the Roman church as long as I still beleive in sola fide. I think this way of thinking is to make sense out of the large amount of Catholics that would be going to hell otherwise and for the number of people who would necessarily be lost before the Reformation. I tried following this way of thinking, and it doesn’t seem possible that those within the Catholic Church are ignorant, in the Reformed paradigm, that they are encouraged towards works. Maybe people really are saying to themselves, ” I don’t care what the Church say, I know that I don’t have to do any works to earn my salvation. I love you my Lord and know that you paid it all and I am saved my grace.” while coming to church, but it seems to me that for the most part, especially with those ignorant of the debates, they are loving their God, confessing their sins, receiving the sacraments, and doing their best, aided by the Holy Spirit to live Christian lives.

    This is the tention since the Reformation.
    I miss my uncomplicated life of loving Jesus.

    1.) I wonder if this is the right time to ask about the difference between the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Church. Is the EO in schism from Rome or is it the other way around, or neither?

    2.) Also, is it plausible that Luther had uncovered what the gospel really is by the direction of the Holy Spirit? Truth doesn’t have to be where there is a larger conglomeration,right?

  6. Hi Alicia,

    Thanks for reading and commenting. A few thoughts:

    Your struggle seems to be between a Protestant doctrine of salvation, on the one hand, and a Catholic doctrine of authority and sacrament on the other. Do I have that right?

    If I am reading your question accurately, I think you will see from the above article that I think that is the wrong dichotomy.

    Let me ask you, “Why do you think sola fide is true?” Or maybe, do you think sola fide is true?

    In my own life, it was the investigation of this question that led me,ultimately, to the Catholic Church. see http://chnetwork.org/2012/02/a-protestant-historian-discovers-the-catholic-church-conversion-story-of-a-david-anders-ph-d/

    I eventually came to realize that the Catholic view of the Church is not simply an answer to the authority question, but to everything. The Church is simply the sacrament of Christ’s presence on earth – to save, teach, guide, etc. As St. Gregory of Nyssa said, “He who beholds the Church beholds Christ.”

    I also think this is pretty uncomplicated. You can fully enjoy your devotional love of Jesus AND be freed of the headache of trying to figure everything out for yourself within the loving fold of Christ’s Church.

    As far as the EO is concerned, we really need a full article on this. But, briefly, the main area of disagreement between East and West is over the extent and nature of the Pope’s jurisdiction. The East wants to see the Pope as simply the most honored among all bishops. The Catholic Church understands that he is that, but more.

    I became Catholic, rather than Orthodox, because I am persuaded that the Church’s claims for the Pope are true. The Papacy is a divine institution (Matt. 16:18), and I find plenty of evidence in the 1st 5 centuries of the Church that the Fathers understood and believed this. I don’t see the East actually and fully denying this until the 11th century or later. Thus, I believe the East is in Schism from Rome, not the other way around.

    Please keep reading and writing,

    David

  7. Hi Alicia,

    You wrote that your Reformed pastors tell you: ”if you add anything to the complete satisifaction of Christ, you are apostate.” I am wondering if you have investigated what the early Christians thought on this topic?

    I wrote an article a while back ( http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2011/03/tradition-i-and-sola-fide-2/) that looks at this question. This is ultimately what brought me to Catholicism. I realized that the early church knew absolutely nothing about this Protestant doctrine. What does this suggest about Christ’s promise? That the gates of hell would not prevail? This, in turn, forced me to look at Scripture again, with new eyes, to really determine if Paul taught Sola Fide.

    -David

  8. Thank you, Dr. Anders, I will read the article you suggest.

    I have my Pauline presuppositions, and I find it hard not to hear his voice through my own filter, but I will attempt it. The only thing that makes it possible for me to safelyt give it a shot, is that there has already been controversy over Paul within my own Reformed circles ( The New Perspective, and N.T. Wright) giving me courage to take that step the via St. Peter.

  9. Yes, N.T. Wright was very important to me, as well. Also Krister Stendahl.

    This passage from Stendahl was very helpful to me:

    “It has always been a puzzling fact that Paul meant so relatively little for the thinking of the church during the first 350 years of its history. To be sure, he is honoured and quoted, but – in the theological perspective of the west – it seems that Paul’s great insight into justification by faith was forgotten . . .
    A decisive reason for this state of affairs may well have been that up to the time of Augustine the Church was by and large under the impression that Paul dealt with those issues with which he actually deals: 1) What happens to the Law (the Torah, the actual Law fo Moses, not the principle of legalism) when the Messiah has come? 2) What are the ramifications of the Messiah’s arrival for the relation between Jews and Gentiles?”
    FromPaul Among Jews and Gentiles, 83-84.

  10. Alicia (re:#5),

    The following words from you really bring back poignant memories for me of my last days in Protestantism (and I’m not implying anything about your situation with that comment– it is simply a comment about my own experience):

    I’m told that I could still be saved while inside the Roman church as long as I still beleive in sola fide. I think this way of thinking is to make sense out of the large amount of Catholics that would be going to hell otherwise and for the number of people who would necessarily be lost before the Reformation. I tried following this way of thinking, and it doesn’t seem possible that those within the Catholic Church are ignorant, in the Reformed paradigm, that they are encouraged towards works. Maybe people really are saying to themselves, ” I don’t care what the Church say, I know that I don’t have to do any works to earn my salvation. I love you my Lord and know that you paid it all and I am saved my grace.” while coming to church, but it seems to me that for the most part, especially with those ignorant of the debates, they are loving their God, confessing their sins, receiving the sacraments, and doing their best, aided by the Holy Spirit to live Christian lives.

    Alicia, for months before I returned to the Catholic Church, I regularly met with one of my Protestant elders (a wonderful, Godly man who, previously had been training me to be a “Biblical Counselor). Together, at each of these meetings, he and I prayed, and studied through Scripture, the early Church Fathers, Protestant and Catholic apologetics, etc. This man strongly believed that, in deliberately returning to the “Roman church,” I would be committing apostasy– denying the Gospel. To his credit, given his beliefs about my situation, he met with me for hours upon hours– sometimes, for as much as four hours in one meeting. This continued for months, with both of us being willing to meet, pray, study, and talk, in-depth, about what we were studying, both together, and in our own personal time.

    These meetings were serious stuff– and rightly so. From the Reformed viewpoint of my elder, my eternal salvation was at stake. Increasingly, from my developing viewpoint, I agreed that my eternal salvation was at stake, but I was coming to agree, from the other side of the Reformation. From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

    “Outside the Church there is no salvation”

    846
    How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated by the Church Fathers?335 Re-formulated positively, it means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body:

    Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.336

    Now, these above passages, from the Catechism, do *not* say that only Catholics will be saved. (The surrounding passages of the Catechism are helpful in clarifying that. ) However, it is clearly stated that for anyone who comes to believe that the Catholic Church *is* the Church that Christ founded, as necessary for salvation, then that person must enter, and remain in, the Church, or he/she cannot be saved. The reason that such a person could not be saved is that he/she would not be obeying Christ on a matter that is necessary for salvation. If someone does not yet believe that the Catholic Church is what she claims to be, then there is not yet a necessity to enter the Church. However, there is a necessity to make a very serious effort to investigate her claims. Culpability for not doing so is not mine to judge in individual cases, and I thank God for that. God alone knows the hearts of individuals.

    However, you are already at the point of serious investigation into the Church’s claims, and as such, I encourage you, in Christian love, to press forward, not letting fear stop you. (I know of what I speak here. I lost much in returning to the Church. Much. I gained even more– immeasurably more. I don’t regret returning– at all.)

    When I finally did return to the Church, my Protestant elders, again, to their credit, acted on their Reformed convictions, by sending me strongly worded letters, saying that I had made shipwreck of my faith, committed apostasy, and so on. They urged me, in these letters, to return to a “Biblical church”– if not to theirs, then at least to another one teaching the “5 Sola’s” of the Reformation, i.e. what they considered to be the “Biblical Gospel.” (Justification by faith alone in Christ alone being the heart of that Reformed Gospel.)

    However, I simply *could not* return to any ecclesial community which teaches justification by faith alone. Such a doctrine is not objectively taught in Scripture. For 1,500 years, before the Reformation, the Catholic Church had taught, through both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, the *apostolic* teaching on justification– and it was/is *not* Luther’s teaching on the matter.

    Alicia, I am intrigued by your speculation, above, that perhaps most Catholics actually embrace certain Reformed doctrines (whether they consciously are aware of it or not). Having been back in the Catholic Church for for almost two years now, in my experience, this is *not* the case– and it is a very good thing. Speculating on the thoughts of “Reformed” Catholics, you mention the concept of “earning one’s salvation.” This phrase indicates a very *Protestant idea* of the *Catholic teaching* on salvation– and respectfully, it is an inaccurate idea. I truly hope that you are reading, and engaging with, both Scripture and the Catechism on these issues. It may not be likely that you will get accurate articulations of Catholic teaching from strongly committed Reformed Protestants. It can certainly happen (Dr. Carl Trueman is much better on Catholic teaching than many of his fellow Reformed, though he’s still less than accurate on some points), but in many cases, it may not be likely.

    I am continuing to pray for you, my sister in Christ.

  11. Alicia,

    P.S. to my comment #10: I forgot to mention that part of the reason your words, “I’m told that I could still be saved while inside the Roman church as long as I still beleive in sola fide,” resonated with me is that, after I returned to the Catholic Church, some of my Protestant friends came to me and affirmed their belief that I was “still saved.”

    However, for some of these friends, their affirmation of my “continued” salvation seemed to be on the condition that I still held to Protestant teachings, *as* a member of the Catholic Church. One Protestant friend even suggested to me that I could help the Catholic Church to be more Biblical and Christ-focused (because I had been a Protestant). He seemed to be completely sincere– and as such, he also seemed to have utterly no idea how unintentionally insulting his suggestion was to the Catholic Church and her teachings, and to Catholics, both laity and clergy.

    There is no *more* Biblical and Christ-focused Church *than* the Catholic Church, because Christ founded the Church, and the Church wrote and codified the New Testament canon, under the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit.

  12. Been busy at work, and giving up most social media sites for Lent has been a blessing because I am able to be more productive. However, I took a moment to glance over this. This is the the heart of why I made it back to Rome. The more a “relationship with God” becomes more individually focused, what exactly is the role of the church? It becomes no longer the **means of salvation** and grace through the sacraments but a glorified fellowship group that’s a **supplement to** the salvation experience and Christian walk. But after examining Scripture and Tradition, I’ve seen the implications of Unam Sanctum even more — that outside the church there is no salvation.

  13. Dr. Anders (and everyone),

    Thank you for this article. I am particularly intrigued by the sections, in your article, under the respective headings, “The Puritan Innovation” and “New England Ecclesiology.”

    For almost all of my years as a five-point-Calvinistic Protestant, I was a “Reformed Baptist”– though I know that many Reformed people do not accept RB’s as *being* “Reformed”– and, in some important ways, they are correct in that assessment!

    During these years as a Calvinistic Baptist, I was a member of two different ecclesial communities, respectively, at different points (due to a geographical move). The first one was a very consciously Calvinistic yet also consciously *Baptist* community. (Contradictions abound in that concept, I know!) There, both elders and regular members were required to affirm and sign The New Hampshire Confession of Faith.

    My second Calvinistic community was a “non-denominational” one, in which the elders were required to affirm and teach five-point Calvinism, signing on to a very detailed Statement of Faith which was approximately thirty pages long. However, the other members were only required to sign a much more basic Statement of Faith– of one or two pages, with, from what I remember, nothing explicitly Calvinistic in it. This bothered me at the time, even deeply so, but I accepted it with little complaint, in submission to my elders.

    The theological and practical differences between these two above Protestant communities (both affirming five-point Calvinism) were striking. In the first one, serious introspection was strongly encouraged, as part of determining whether one was “truly saved, one of the elect.” Moreover, this introspection was to be ongoing, as one could possibly be self-deceived (perhaps, fooling oneself) about one’s calling and election unto salvation. As you might imagine, this was a pretty intense community of people. However, this was not always, or even most of the time, a “bad” sort of intensity. They were very concerned about being obedient to God’s teachings in the Bible, and especially, in *radically* following Christ’s commands in their lives.

    In a certain sense, this community was full of Protestants wanting to be Catholic Saints– *not* in the sense of their accepting distinctively Catholic teachings and practices, but simply in the sense of their following Christ’s teachings very seriously, even radically, in public and private life. I felt very much at home in this congregation. In honesty, if I had never left it, I might never have embarked upon the journey which led me back to the Catholic Church.

    At the same time though, there was a darker side, at times, in retrospect, to the somewhat “Puritan-esque” quality of this community. (And we were encouraged to read a good bit of the Puritans!) As one example, dating/courtship between men and women could be quite a “detailed” matter, and somewhat “regulated,” in terms of specific teachings and admonishments from the elders on how the process should be conducted… to the point that single men were sometimes unsure of how to approach and talk with single women in the congregation (whether or not there was even romantic interest involved). As a *seeming result* of this state of affairs, at least during the time that I was a member, men and women rarely married from *within* the congregation. People married, of course, but not too much from within that community. (I have heard that things have changed, to an extent, in the almost six years since I have been gone– and I truly thank God for that.)

    Looking back, for all of the serious Christ-focusedness of that community, my Christian life, as a member of it, was more “legalistic,” in many ways, than my life has been since returning to the Catholic Church. To be sure, the elders taught us that our justification, imputed righteousness, and salvation were from Christ alone, in accordance with Reformational thinking, but the Puritan-like tendencies of the teaching (and how it was lived out among the congregation) had strong elements of legalism.

    Certain things were taught as matters of “prudential wisdom and judgment,” in terms of one’s behavior and choices– they were taught as important to seriously, prayerfully consider but ultimately as matters of Christian liberty, in other words– but they were not really lived out as “matters of Christian liberty” in public and private interaction, in my personal experience, in this community.

    I am sure that there are very comparable realities in some Catholic parishes, and I don’t mean to deny or downplay this likely fact. It is ironic to me, though, especially in light of Protestant misconceptions about Catholic “legalism,” that an ultimately ecclesiastically (and theologically, in a certain sense, though it was Calvinistic) *autonomous Baptist* congregation could have such tendencies toward legalism.

    The second Calvinistic, yet “non-denominational,” community was a good bit less intense, both theologically and practically. Much of the preaching seemed more Lutheran than Calvinistic. We were not encouraged as much in the direction of introspection, of “making one’s calling and election sure” through self-examination. As a matter of fact, we were encouraged, much more, to *not* look at ourselves so much but rather, to “look to the Cross.”

    To be fair, self-examination of one’s life and conscience were not altogether *discouraged* by the elders. They were seen as one part of the Christian life– but a much smaller part than was emphasized in my earlier Reformed Baptist community. Again, the emphasis was much more “Lutheran”– repeated exhortations to “look to the Cross” if we were troubled about our salvation.

    I had absolutely no idea of it at the time, but in retrospect, the discontinuity between my two Calvinistic communities (the introspective, Puritan-like Reformed Baptists, and the less personally introspective, “neo-Lutheran” non-denominationals) was used, I think, by God, to lead me into increasing discomfort about the serious theological and practical differences in the *whole* of Protestantism, both within, and far outside of, “Calvinistic churches.”

    Quite unexpectedly to me, at the time, God was using that discomfort, and a wonderful Catholic convert named Dr. Peter Kreeft (whose writings I hadn’t read much of, or even thought much about, for many years), and, not least in order of importance, a serious re-examination of Scripture itself, to lead me to question Protestantism *itself*. I am thankful to God for His work in my life which led me back to the Catholic Church. Soli Deo Gloria!

  14. Dear Dr. Anders,

    Thanks very much for your contributions to CtC! This article in particular I found to be very fascinating. My wife and I enjoyed a good conversation discussing your thesis, so please know that your hard work is of not only theological significance but also interpersonal significance as well. :-) If you don’t mind, I have a few particular questions related to issues you bring up in the course of this article:

    1) I was unaware that Calvin had such a “high” view of baptism! Is there any way you might briefly describe the difference(s) between Calvin’s view of baptism and the Catholic/EO view of baptismal regeneration? As you describe Calvin’s view in the article, it sounds very similar to the Catholic view – but I imagine there are at least a few nuances between them, yes? For example, did Calvin think that baptism brought about some sort of ontological change? If so, was it an ontological change in all persons, or in only those persons among the elect? Are there any other particularly significant differences between Calvin’s & the Catholic views of baptism that one should be aware of?

    2) Given the kind of high ecclesiology that Calvin had (and in particular its strong ties to his views of regeneration), what were Calvin’s views on Christians in other churches (say, Lutherans) in this respect? In other words, if being part of the church, accepting the church’s sacraments, and submitting to its discipline are markers of regeneration, did it matter which church one was submitting to, accepting sacraments from, etc? If one were submitting to a Lutheran church (and accepting its sacraments), did that also indicate regeneration or did only submitting to and accepting sacraments from Calvin’s church suffice to indicate regeneration?

    3) I must admit that I am completely lost with respect to the example of Jane Pignier that you mention. :-p Specifically, it seems rather doubtful that Mme. Pignier had just come from a « Sermon sur l’eau dans le Rhône » ;-) and was forced to deal with the waterlessness of the Rhone as a pressing theological matter. Was Mme. Pignier trying to imply that if her ministers taught her something which was plainly false then she had no obligation to submit to them ? Was there some other larger point which she was trying (however inarticulately) to make? It seems like a silly question for Mme. Pignier to ask, and although sometimes people really do ask silly questions I’ve often found that there’s some larger point trying to emerge. Is that true in this case?

    I know these are not necessarily simple questions, so feel free to answer at as great (or as little) length as you are able to. Once again thanks for writing and I hope you have a blessed Friday! =)

    Yours Sincerely,
    Benjamin

  15. Hi Benjamin,

    To be honest with you, I think Calvin’s view of the sacraments is very problematic – bordering on incoherent. He wants to hold that the material elements themselves do nothing but signify, but that God has promised to conjoin his own salvific work to these signs in a way that is reliable, but not automatic, magical, or ex opere operato. So, it seems to me, he really wants it both ways. He wants sacraments that promise something real, and that can be relied upon, but, at the same time, he wants to deny that the effect necessarily follows the sign.

    As far as other “denominations” are concerned, Calvin was adamant that “Anabaptists” are going to hell. Lutherans, however, he had more tolerance for. There was a third group, however, that he had little patience for: Reformed Christians in his own congregation that disagreed with him. For more on this, please see my article “How John Calvin Made Me a Catholic.”

    With Respect to Jane Pignier:

    The City Council and the Pastors were repeatedly hammering on the obligation of laypeople to accept the doctrinal, the “magisterial” authority of the pastors. Eventually, they went so far as to declare Calvin’s Institutes the received doctrine of the Church. Publicly disagreeing with it was a criminal offense. Pignier was voicing a very valid question: “How far does that authority extend? Do I have to believe everything they say, no matter how absurd?”

    Again, if you look at the other article, you will see a historical episode in which these concerns played out vividly – The Bolsec Controversy over predestination.

    Thanks for commenting,

    David

  16. Benjamin,

    I want to revise that “incoherent” statement above. Calvin is not really incoherent. There is a sine qua non quality to his doctrine that is very clear. To refuse the sacraments is to put yourself outside of salvation. God has bound himself to bring salvation TO THOSE HE SAVES via the sacramental signs. However, he has not bound himself to work savingly in all who receive the sacraments. Thus, there is a necessary connection of sacrament to grace in the life of the elect, but not in the non-elect. The connection is real, but not ex opere operato.

    -David

  17. Thank you Dr. Anders, I will see if I can find Krister Stendahl’s “Paul Among Jews and Gentiles”

    Is his writing approved by the CC? I guess this doesn’t matter if this view seems to be what is held to be a correct understanding of Paul already.
    I have never been able to figure out Paul. He seemed contrite….you’d have to feel bad about yourself once you learned that you had persecuted those of the same faith. But then he also appears to have a robust self image, if he can tell us to imitate him as he imitates Christ.
    The Reformed hermeneutic is pretty tightly packaged and logical, fitting well with our modern self-consciousness, this is true, but when you consider that it was sin after all that God wants to save us from one can hardly help reading Paul in this way. Humble thyself in the sight of the Lord; there is no good in you; none is righteous, no not one……and all that. Hard to see oneself in a different light.

  18. John Calvin writes:

    Although by baptism wicked men are neither washed nor renewed, yet it retains that power, so far as relates to God, because, although they reject the grace of God, still it is offered to them. But here Paul addresses believers, in whom baptism is always efficacious, and in whom, therefore, it is properly connected with its truth and efficacy.

    If, by “wicked men”, Calvin means wicked adults that have no desire to be converted, then, it seems to me, that what Calvin said above is the same as what the Catholic Church teaches – ex opere operato, ex opere operantis.

    EX OPERE OPERATO
    A term defined by the Council of Trent to describe how the sacraments confer the grace they signify. Trent condemned the following proposition: “That grace is not conferred ex opere operato by the sacraments of the New Law” (Denzinger 1608). Literally the expression means “from the work performed,” stating that grace is always conferred by a sacrament, in virtue of the rite performed and not as a mere sign that grace has already been given, or that the sacrament stimulates the faith of the recipient and thus occasions the obtaining of grace, or that what determines the grace is the virtue of either the minister or recipient of a sacrament. Provided no obstacle (obex) is placed in the way, every sacrament properly administered confers the grace intended by the sacrament. In a true sense the sacraments are instrumental causes of grace.

    EX OPERE OPERANTIS
    A term mainly applied to the good dispositions with which a sacrament is received, to distinguish it from the ex opere operato, which is the built-in efficacy of a sacrament properly conferred. …

    Ref: Modern Catholic Dictionary, by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
    http://www.therealpresence.org/cgi-bin/getdefinition.pl

    Calvin believed that adult believers should be baptized so that they can receive the grace of God offered to them in the Sacrament of Baptism. That is surprising to me; that Calvin believed that the Sacrament of Baptism brings the adult believer into a state of grace. But it is even more surprising to me that Calvin also believed that infants should be baptized:

    In his most renowned work, Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin takes up this issue endeavouring to prove that infant baptism is a divine institution(Wendel 324). Calvin declares that “infants cannot be deprived of it [baptism] without open violation of the will of God”(Inst.4, 16, 8).

    … One of the more reasonable and biblical objections to infant baptism is made by those who regard baptism as a sacrament of repentance and faith. These advocates of believer’s baptism avow that baptism must be preceded by faith and repentance(Inst.4, 16, 23). These people argue that since this is not possible in the infancy stage, “we must guard against admitting infants into the fellowship of baptism”(Inst.4, 16, 20). Calvin refutes “these darts” by directing our attention to the testimonies of Scripture that show that circumcision was also a sign of repentance (Jer.4:4; 9:25; Deut.10:16; 30:6). If God communicated circumcision to infants as a sacrament of repentance and faith, as Calvin argues, it does not seem absurd if they are now made participants in baptism. Although infants, at the very moment they were circumcised, did not comprehend what the sign meant, “they were truly circumcised to the mortification of their corrupt and defiled nature”(Inst.4, 16, 20). Likewise, infants are baptized into “future repentance and faith” and “the seed of both lies hidden within them by the secret working of the Spirit”(Inst.4, 16, 20). To refuse infants baptism then, according to Calvin, is to “rage openly at God’s institution”(Inst.4, 16, 20).

    Ref: John Calvin: Infant Baptism, by Rev. Bryn MacPhail
    http://www.reformedtheology.ca/baptism.html

    Dr. Anders, you write:

    There were two challenges for Calvin in this close identity between the Church and salvation. The first was to make the sacraments intrinsically efficacious without denying the need for personal understanding or appropriation. In this, he was guided by his fear of unthinking “superstition.” His solution was ultimately to limit the efficacy of the sacraments to those who put forth no obstacles.

    I don’t object to this – the sacraments should not be administered or received superstitiously, and if an adult places an obstacle in the way (such as his unbelief), the Sacrament of Baptism would not be efficacious for him. So far, so good. But Calvin also believed that infants should be baptized, and so I assume that Calvin believed that infant baptism could be administered in a non-superstitious manner. Now infants can not be “believers”, nor can they put forth an obstacle that would limit the efficacy of the Sacrament of Baptism. So it seems to me, that if an infant was given the Sacrament of Baptism in a non-superstitious manner, that the Sacrament of Baptism would always be efficacious for that infant, and the infant would receive the grace of God conferred by the Sacrament of Baptism, the grace of regeneration.

    Calvin is not really incoherent. There is a sine qua non quality to his doctrine that is very clear. To refuse the sacraments is to put yourself outside of salvation. God has bound himself to bring salvation TO THOSE HE SAVES via the sacramental signs.

    Dr. Anders, you did not address the issue of infant baptism in your article, but I would like to ask you a question about that. Is Calvin’s understanding of the efficacy of the Sacrament of Baptism in regards to infants really coherent?

    If Calvin believed that the Sacrament of Baptism was to be administered to infants, and that this Sacrament was intrinsically efficacious, then it follows that these baptized infants always receive the grace of God that the Sacrament confers upon the unregenerate. But if these infants receive the grace of God and are regenerated, how is it that a child that was validly baptized could ever fail to persevere to the end in Calvin’s scheme of things? Obviously, not all infants that are validly baptized become holy “believers” when they become adults.

  19. Alicia, RE#17

    I sympathize with your feelings toward Paul. I, like Dr. Anders, was heavily influenced by NT Wright (and the New Perspective on Paul) in my journey to the RCC. One thing he stresses is that what Paul was dealing with was not primarily “how am I made right before a holy God,” as Luther would have us believe, but rather “how has God made two peoples under the old covenant (Jew and Gentile) now one people (under the New Covenant Church)?” This makes reading Paul quite different.

    Also, one thing I noticed in my Reformed churches was that there seemed to be a tendency to read the Gospels in light of Paul’s Epistles, instead of the other way around and reading Paul’s Epistles in light of what was recorded in the Gospels. Again, makes reading Paul quite different.

    Shalom,

    Aaron Goodrich

  20. David,

    You hit the nail on the head with Calvin and his murkiness on this matter has been felt deeply in the Reformed world ever since. A Reformed minister, especially one who aims to have a high view of the Sacraments, performs the Sacraments in doubt. In other words, he cannot really tell you what the Sacrament has actually done in a particular case. Thus, the Reformed cannot really derive genuine comfort from the Sacraments, despite Calvin’s desire to do just that, because the qualifier is always “the elect”. Thus, if one is not elect then the Sacraments, say Baptism, only accomplished getting you wet. If you ate of the Supper, you ate not the Body of the Lord, but only the bread. It is fascinating as a Catholic that it is the Catholic who is accused of turning inward, toward the self, yet, as a Catholic have complete confidence in the Sacraments, not based on the worthiness of the minister or even me the receiver, but based on the promise and power of God. Yet, it is the Reformed who, even in the best of scenarios in seeking comfort from the Sacraments, is moved not outward but inward, toward an introspection in seeking discern whether or not he is among the elect. Great article.

  21. Alicia (re:#17),

    Having once been a *firmly* convinced Calvinist (for years), I can empathize with your thoughts here:

    The Reformed hermeneutic is pretty tightly packaged and logical, fitting well with our modern self-consciousness, this is true, but when you consider that it was sin after all that God wants to save us from one can hardly help reading Paul in this way. Humble thyself in the sight of the Lord; there is no good in you; none is righteous, no not one……and all that. Hard to see oneself in a different light.

    I have “been there.” I have studied the Bible as a Calvinist, and the theology seemed so clearly *there* to me, right in the Scriptures. In part, it was Biblical study and exegesis which *brought* me to Calvinism. (In retrospect, I see *major* problems and holes in that study and exegesis…) I can empathize with how Reformed thinking seems so “solidly Biblical.” Reformed preachers and teachers know how to teach the Scriptures… or, at least, some of the Scriptures.

    Which brings me to my next point. In my experience, Reformed people have a horror of “proof-texting.” They disdain it in those of other theological paradigms, and they try to avoid it themselves. However, I have lived as both a Calvinist and a Catholic, and I have seen that, for better *and* for worse, the Reformed paradigm is *built* on proof-texting– or, at best, on “proof-passaging.”

    In retrospect, I ask myself, why did my Calvinist pastors/elders almost always go to Pauline passages to teach us about salvation (how to be saved) and to Jesus, to tell us how to *live* in light of our *already-permanent justification and salvation*?

    In most of the Reformed preaching and teaching that I heard and read, it was as if Paul was our model evangelist of the true “Biblical Gospel,” and Jesus was, by comparison, our “Christian living” ethicist! Something was wrong…

    It became more and more obvious to me that something *was* wrong, when I finally, consciously, took off my “Reformed glasses” for a fresh look at Scripture itself. I began to see, with “new eyes,” Job being described as a man who was “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.” (Job 1:1, ESV) I remembered my pastor preaching about this verse, “exegetically,” reminding us that *no one* is righteous, other than through the imputed righteousness of Christ… which flies explicitly in the face of what the verse actually says about Job!

    Not that Job was a morally good person *apart* from God’s grace, to be sure– all goodness on our part is ultimately from God. However, the verse does speak of Job being a morally good person, and there is absolutely no *hint* of imputed righteousness in it. One may well posit that this is so, because Job lived, and the Old Testament was written, so long before the coming of Christ and His death and resurrection.

    However, the more that I read and studied of the Bible without my “Reformed glasses,” the Lutheran concept of imputed righteousness appeared, more and more, to be a “doctrine/tradition of man,” built upon proof-texting, and the Catholic teaching of infused righteousness showed itself to be the more *holistically Biblical* teaching.

    In the Reformed paradigm, what does it finally mean to say (as Scripture does) that “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working”? If all Christians have Christ’s *perfect* righteousness imputed to them, then no Christian’s prayer is any more “powerful” than any other Christian’s prayer! Such a concept flies in the face of this verse.

    There are so many more examples… I could write for hours upon hours, for days, weeks, and months, about how imputed righteousness does not hold together, in light of the whole of Scripture. I will gladly give more thorough examples in another comment, if you want, Alicia, as I don’t want to be guilty of proof-texting myself. (!)

    In the passages of St. Paul, to which you referred, about none of us being righteous, he is making a point about our utter, desperate dependence on God, for any of our goodness (both ontological and moral goodness). St. Paul is not preparing the “Biblical ground,” so to speak, for such Reformed sermons as Jonathan Edwards’s “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”

  22. “In most of the Reformed preaching and teaching that I heard and read, it was as if Paul was our model evangelist of the true “Biblical Gospel,” and Jesus was, by comparison, our “Christian living” ethicist! Something was wrong… ”

    I think you are very observant Christopher. I have noticed that I don’t hear much from the gospels.
    Paul is comfortable, well trodden ground,as would be expected reading from a more modern introspective approach. I read Edwards, sermon and it made sense. Heck, our whole American Evangelical experience is this definition of what “grace” entails.
    I am having a hard time with what exactly occured in Christ’s passion. I read Anslem and it is the paying of a debt( penal), and in Aquinas it was a his meriting salvation not only for himself but for all His members( whatever this means). I don’t think Calvin was far off himself by following this line.

    This is all so new to me, and I don’t know how to deal with it all.

    Christopher, I appreciate that all this resonates with your own experience. Thank you for the encouragement. I was listening to Catholic Answers last evening and because of an encouragement on the program, I am anticipating the joy of following God on this journey. He is good. I am presently wrestling with much doubt and am looking to Edith Stein and Alisdair MacIntyre for help. My world has been turned upside down.

    You all understand.

    Bless You!
    Alicia

  23. Alicia (re:#22),

    I probably should be in bed right now (past 2 am here), but my girlfriend is sick, and I’ve been praying for her and sending texts to encourage her (she’s up too, where she is), so– here I am!

    I’m glad for any encouragement that I can offer you. Thanks be to God (that’s “Catholic-speak” for “Praise God!”– although some Catholics also say the latter)! :-)

    I am so, so glad to hear that you are seeking the help of the communion of saints, both on earth and in Heaven. The Saints in Heaven were a help to me in my times of near-paralytic fears about returning to the Catholic Church. (They were also a help to me in some times of deep, painful loneliness, after returning to the Church and losing most of my Protestant friends, *before* I had had a chance to make Catholic friends, apart from over the internet!) You mentioned St. Edith Stein. She can be a great help to you in dealing with your suffering, especially as she suffered so much in her life– indeed, unto death.

    Speaking of suffering, Alicia, I will share a detail here that I don’t mention often on blogs (as it just doesn’t come up often)– I have the physical disability of Cerebral Palsy, which, for me, entails using a wheelchair, much of the time, and which also involves various physical pains and more than a few career and social-related difficulties. I share these realities of my life, not to ask for your, or anyone’s, sympathy or pity, but to say, simply, that I know suffering– and therefore, tonight, I will offer my suffering up to God to hopefully help you, in your confusion and suffering, during this part of your spiritual journey (and of course, I’m also offering up my suffering for the good of my girlfriend’s physical health!).

    About your questions on Christ’s Passion, the following article from CTC might help you, as it compares Catholic and Reformed conceptions of the Atonement: http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2010/04/catholic-and-reformed-conceptions-of-the-atonement/

    I’ll pray for you before I (finally) collapse into sleep tonight/this morning, Lord willing!

  24. Christopher,
    Do rest, my new friend. God bless you! I will pray for your girfriend too.

  25. Everyone,

    Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

    I remember the Sunday that my Protestant “main preaching elder/pastor” (we didn’t say “senior pastor”) mentioned St. Patrick, in his sermon, as a “great missionary.”

    By that point, I had begun to re-examine aspects of my Calvinist Protestantism (in light of the whole of Scripture), and I had started looking into the Church Fathers. I knew enough to intuit that St. Patrick had almost certainly held important beliefs with which we Protestants would strongly disagree. I also knew that our congregation paid to send our Protestant missionaries over to Catholic countries– and not to encourage the citizens in their Catholic faith. Finally, I knew that generally speaking, in this ecclesial community, Catholicism was considered to be either not “Christian” at all, or a highly paganized, heresy-ridden, pitiable form of Christianity from which people should be rescued by the “true, Biblical” (Protestant Calvinist) Gospel.

    Why, then, in light of the above, would our elder/pastor extol St. Patrick as a “great missionary”? I could only think that this elder had not spent much serious time with the Church Fathers. I myself had not gotten very deeply into reading them yet, but I could already see that they were not (so to speak) missionaries wanting to rescue Catholics from their Catholicism! How amazing it is that God can use almost anything (even an aside about St. Patrick in a Protestant sermon!) to spur people on in more seriously investigating the claims of the Catholic Church… Thanks be to Him!

  26. Alicia (re:#24),

    God bless you too! I did finally get some sleep , and I may take a nap today, soon, as well. Thanks so much for praying for my girlfriend!

  27. Tom Riello, you wrote:

    You hit the nail on the head with Calvin and his murkiness on this matter has been felt deeply in the Reformed world ever since. A Reformed minister, especially one who aims to have a high view of the Sacraments, performs the Sacraments in doubt. In other words, he cannot really tell you what the Sacrament has actually done in a particular case.

    I have a question about a particular case – the case of two parents that belong to a “Reformed” church that desire to have their newly born infant baptized. What would the minister of the Sacrament hope that this sacrament would do for the infant?

    It seems to me, that one key point made by Dr. Anders is that it may be a mistake to conflate Calvin with Calvinism. Which raises two questions for me:

    In the particular case of infant baptism, what is the Sacrament of Baptism supposed to do for the infant, according to John Calvin?

    In our era, suppose that a Reformed pastor administers the Sacrament of Baptism to an infant, and the infant’s parents are already members of his church. Does the Pastor “perform the Sacrament in doubt”?

    What I am trying to understand in asking these questions is why an infant should be baptized, and what does that Sacrament do for the infant (according to Calvin, and according to modern day Calvinists). I am not assuming that both these questions would have the same answer, but that is because I don’t really know that much about Calvin’s personal beliefs nor the personal beliefs of Calvinists of our era.

    I read this article to try and answer my own questions:

    Why Does the Orthodox Presbyterian Church Baptize Infants?

    Ref: http://www.opc.org/cce/tracts/WhyInfantBaptism.html

    The author of the article argues that it is “scriptural” to baptize infants, and, in my opinion, he makes a good argument for that being the case. But it seems to me that the author of this article thinks that giving the Sacrament of Baptism to an infant is merely a “sign” that the infant is member of God’s church:

    from the article quoted above:

    The church of the Old Testament and the church of the New Testament are, in essence, the same church …

    In the New Testament era, God has taken the sign of circumcision and changed it to baptism …

    The author seems to be arguing that just as infant circumcision was a sign given to a boy that he was part of the “church of Israel”, so to baptism is given to an infant as a sign that he or she is a member of the church of God. Leaving aside the question of whether or not the church of the OT and the NT are “in essence the same church”, I would like to focus upon the sign of circumcision, and what it signified. Circumcision was indeed a sign, but circumcision of the flesh never bestowed grace upon the infant that was circumcised. Ceremonial circumcision under the Old Law was a type that pointed to an antitype of the NT, the Sacrament of Baptism. The NT antitype does what the OT type could never do – bestow saving grace upon the individual.

    All this questioning has a point, and it has to do with the saving grace of God. If the modern day Calvinist denies that infant baptism is a means established by Christ for bestowing saving grace upon their infants, then the Calvinist understanding of the Sacrament of Baptism is fundamentally at odds with what the Catholic Church (and the Orthodox Churches) believe. And that raises a question for me. If Calvinists of our era do not believe that the Sacrament of Baptism bestows the saving grace of God upon their infants, and if they have absolutely no intention of ever administering the Sacrament of Baptism for that reason, then is that Calvinist baptism valid?

    Baptism, as it is practiced by Unitarians and Oneness Pentecostals, is considered invalid by that Catholic Church because these Protestant Churches don’t believe in the Trinity, and because of that, they can’t possible have the form of the Sacrament correct. But the Catholic Church also teaches that beside correct form, correct intention is also necessary for a Sacrament to be validly administered and received. (Correct intention is what keeps a Sacrament from being administered “superstitiously”). From what I understand about modern day Calvinist beliefs regarding infant baptism, the proper intention is utterly lacking. But then, I could be wrong about that since I don’t really know for sure what modern day Calvinists actually believe about infant baptism. Hence my questions, which I hope someone with a Calvinist background can answer.

    Patrick Colinson summarizes the development of Puritanism this way:

    The theological achievement of the Puritans, from William Perkins onwards, can be roughly interpreted as the adaptation and domestication of Calvinism to fit the condition of voluntary Christians, whose independence of the ordered, disciplined life of the Church Calvin would have found strange and disturbing.

    Did the Puritans baptize their infants? If so, why did they do that?

  28. Mateo #27 What you said: “From what I understand about modern day Calvinist beliefs regarding infant baptism, the proper intention is utterly lacking. But then, I could be wrong about that since I don’t really know for sure what modern day Calvinists actually believe about infant baptism. Hence my questions, which I hope someone with a Calvinist background can answer. ”

    I’ve wondered the same thing. Maybe it’s “valid” because Protestants are considered to be separate brethren who are yet more near to “Catholicity” than the rest of the world being that we hold to a correct belief in the God who has revealed himself as being trinity and unity. Maybe some vestige of grace can and does make its way into the Protestant sacraments purely in trust that the God who commands can bring something to pass.
    To me it is disturbingly telling, that if a parent actually believed that God did impart grace to their child through the instrument of baptism, that they would be considered superstitious, rather that having faith. But if a baptized child grows up and denies the faith, fault is in the person and his disbelief or his falling into sin, and not in the God who through the sacraments didn’t make good on the thing that was being signified. This has always made me wonder why, if one who is not a believer can bring further condemnation to himself by partaking of the Holy Bread and Wine if it is “the thing” in signification only.
    Catholics don’t think that the sacraments as received by the Protestants are devoid of all their mysterious power, do they?

  29. Hello Mateo,

    You wrote (#27):

    But the Catholic Church also teaches that beside correct form, correct intention is also necessary for a Sacrament to be validly administered and received. (Correct intention is what keeps a Sacrament from being administered “superstitiously”). From what I understand about modern day Calvinist beliefs regarding infant baptism, the proper intention is utterly lacking.

    Please see here for more information about how the Church views Protestant baptisms, including the question of proper intentions.

    Peace,

    Fred

  30. I’m confused. Must a catholic be born again to enter heaven and must he believe that Christ alone died for his sins and rose again? Would a catholic be saved if he did this only?

  31. Dr. Anders,

    Though at times in the past some Reformed groups have been (mistakenly, I believe) inordinately focused on absoluteness of assurance, few I have encountered would do so today. A reasonableness of assurance, sure, but more than that pushes to incoherency arguments born from our limited natures. (As A. A. Hodge says about the “infallible assurance” spoken of in the WCF: “…this infallible assurance is not of the essence of faith; that, on the contrary, a man may be a true believer and yet destitute of this assurance.”) What we do believe in is the Perseverance of the Saints: that the Christ to whom we entrust our lives will never forsake us. To my mind, this is no soteriological “innovation,” but the express teaching of Augustine:

    http://www.lightshinesindarkness.com/augustine_perseverance.htm

    (Yes, I understand that his concepts of regeneration and justification are processes rather than events. But the key element here is perseverance. With it intact, whether the others are processes or events—for the most part, anyway—becomes a difference without a distinction: in other words, it comes down largely to semantics.)

    You are quite correct that many have forgotten the importance of the visible church in the process of salvation. It is, after all, there in black and white in the WCF:

    “The visible Church . . . is the Kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation” (Westminster Confession of Faith, 25.2).

    Some Reformed theologians have indeed issued calls back to this valid Reformational standard, e.g., Michael Glodo, former OT professor at RTS Orlando:

    http://www.the-highway.com/articleApr06.html

    I don’t think, however, that traditionally there ever was a polarity between regeneration and membership. The visible church was for the regenerate and vice-versa. Neither one is constitutive of the other.

    I take it you have never been in a stone-cold-dead Mainstream Protestant church (or a liberal Catholic parish, for that matter). If you had, you would understand that limiting membership to those who are at least slightly orthodox in their beliefs and slightly serious about following Jesus is like a breath of fresh air. Good grief, it’s common sense. The church is for Christians. No evangelical church I know of requires some sort of dramatic conversion. Conservative Protestant membership classes differ very little from RCIA classes. You are required to claim belief and exhibit an openness to repentance. That’s about it.

    One thing you don’t make clear that I believe you should. There are many Protestantisms (as there are many Catholicisms). About all that is left of the definition of “Protestant” is someone who has some tangential connection to a form of Christianity that is not Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox. I’m guessing the news media would probably even proclaim Mitt Romney a “Protestant.” I shouldn’t have to answer for Charles Finney (whom the Reformed consider heterodox [i.e., Pelagian] and thus not Christian, let alone evangelical or Protestant) any more than you should have to answer for Hans Küng and the like.

    “How do I feel about the convoluted continuity between Calvin and Billy Graham? What does it mean to be born again? And how do I know? What role do sacraments play? What do I make of the inability of the Reformed tradition to make consistent sense of Scripture on these issues?”

    I don’t understand. Billy Graham is not Reformed. Why should there be any great continuity between him and Calvin? In spite of your experience in the PCA, American revivalism–centered around a self-initiated “decision” for Christ–is not the Reformed way. The Reformed “work out their salvation with fear and trembling”…they persevere. It’s not a one-time deal (other than in terms of justification). As much as I adore Whitefield, his methods of working outside of churches (and often contending with local churches) were probably counter-productive.

    How do I know that I’m saved? How do you know that you’re saved (have been saved—are being saved—hope to be saved)? For me, the Holy Spirit bears witness with my spirit that this is so. He is incredibly active in my life in ways that I have not asked for and cannot run from far enough or fast enough to evade. He has revealed himself to me through the church, through the Sacraments, and through his Word. (The Sacraments are means of grace, whereby he ministers to me, strengthening me, nourishing me, encouraging me. I believe in the real, corporeal presence of Christ in the Eucharist, mediated spiritually and beneficial only through faith. As far as I can ascertain, this is also what Lutherans, Presbyterians, Anglicans, and yes, even Catholics believe, in spite of the various convoluted explanations of a demonstrably similar event.) The last question is a silly one to ask. I don’t know anyone in the Reformed camp who finds the slightest inability to make consistent sense of Scripture on these issues.

    Lastly, and this has bugged me more than a little bit of late. Please do your homework on Jefferson Bethke and his spoken-word video before pronouncing judgment on it. It’s not particularly difficult: he has gone out of his way to clear up the misunderstandings of his use of the word “religion.” In certain Protestant circles, it simply means a corrupt, self-righteous, hypocritical, going-through-the-motions sort of spirituality. If you actually listen to the video, he confesses his love for the church (and is himself quite active within his local church). Catholics hear the word “religion” and think liturgy and ritual and polity. Bethke wasn’t addressing the RC church in any direct sense.

    Other thoughts:
    1. The Roman church also has its own notion of the invisible church.
    From the catechism:
    1267 Baptism makes us members of the Body of Christ: “Therefore . . . we are members one of another.” Baptism incorporates us into the Church. From the baptismal fonts is born the one People of God of the New Covenant, which transcends all the natural or human limits of nations, cultures, races, and sexes: “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.”
    1271 …”Baptism therefore constitutes the sacramental bond of unity existing among all who through it are reborn.”
    (Or as Augustine put it: ‘How many sheep there are without, how many wolves within!’)

    2. In biographical accounts, the “conversions” of most of the major Reformers are described: Luther, sometime between 1512 and 1516; Zwingli, in 1519; and Calvin, in either 1532 or 1533.

    3. Reformed “regeneration” carries with it the notion of [final] justification, so it’s not at all the same thing as RC “baptismal regeneration.” Almost all Lutherans and many Anglicans believe in “baptismal regeneration” which carries with it church membership but not justification. Even the Roman church does not believe this early “regeneration” is sufficient unto salvation. Read your catechism: making the faith one’s own, conversion, repentance—these are all as necessary as they are in the Reformed churches.

    4. To be honest, I find it incredible that you found Reformed tradition inconsistent on the question of salvation. One of the most frequent critiques of Calvinism is that it is too highly systematized. It’s certainly more consistent than RC soteriology. (Do Jesuits and Dominicans agree on anything?) Also, to be frank, I find it odd that you expected a clear consensus on salvation from “Protestants.” Starting with the Radical Reformation on down to the current charismatic theological chaos, there has been no accountability on who can count themselves as “Protestant.” It has been estimated that 2/3 of evangelicalism is semi-Pelagian. Pretty much all of Mainstream Protestantism is irrefutably apostate. There aren’t that many valid descendents of the Reformers left. But amongst those who are, the concept of sola fide and the order of the ordo salutis are fairly uniform. (Contrast the RC “acceptance” of sola fide in the JDDJ with its anathematization of the same at Trent…never officially retracted. And in spite of Benedict’s recent kind words in support of Luther, anathemas reign supreme everywhere I have been able to take the current temperature in local parishes and online. Also, contrast the de facto retraction of “ex ecclesiam nulla salus” at Vatican II with its vehement espousal amongst the many pre-Vatican RC’s in my vicinity. Which side of those fences are you on?)

    In the love of Christ,

    –Eric

  32. “When I first began to study Calvin in earnest, I was puzzled by what seemed a glaring omission in his writings and sermons. He never counseled his readers and listeners to be “Born Again.”

    Well, the 16th Century isn’t the 21st Century. Why would you expect that a state church fresh out of Roman Catholicism would sound like a Billy Graham crusade? That’s what’s called… anachronism.

    Note the following from Calvin’s letter to Cardinal Sadoleto:

    “I will not now enter upon a full discussion, which would require a large volume; but if you would look into the Catechism which I myself drew up for the Genevese, when I held the office of Pastor among them, three words would silence you. Here, however, I will briefly explain to you how we speak on this subject.

    First, We bid a man begin by examining himself, and this not in a superficial and perfunctory manner, but to sist his conscience before the tribunal of God, and when sufficiently convinced of his iniquity, to reflect on the strictness of the sentence pronounced upon all sinners. Thus confounded and amazed at his misery, he is prostrated and humbled before God; and, casting away all self-confidence, groans as if given up to final perdition. Then we show that the only haven of safety is in the mercy of God, as manifested in Christ, in whom every part of our salvation is complete. As all mankind are, in the sight of God, lost sinners, we hold that Christ is their only righteousness, since, by his obedience, he has wiped off our transgressions; by his sacrifice, appeased the divine anger; by his blood, washed away our stains; by his cross, borne our curse; and by his death, made satisfaction for us. We maintain that in this way man is reconciled in Christ to God the Father, by no merit of his own, by no value of works, but by gratuitous mercy. When we embrace Christ by faith, and come, as it were, into communion with him, this we term, after the manner of Scripture, the righteousness of faith.”

    One question in regard to your view of Calvin and baptism: how influenced are you by Federal Vision studies into Calvin? As I researched your view of Calvin on Baptism, it seemed very similar to the Federal Vision “revision” of Calvin’s views on the sacraments.

  33. Hi James,

    Thanks for interacting with the article. I’m not sure what significance you attach to the quote from the letter to Sadoleto. However, I’m sure you know that this letter is much discussed and debated in the biographical literature on Calvin. Ganoczy, for one, spends a good deal of time investigating Calvin’s “conversion,” and what content to ascribe to this. I won’t go into my own views on the matter at present, since I’m not sure what you are getting at.

    As far as the charge of anachronism: I agree that modern, Evangelical appropriation of Calvin is often highly anachronistic. Isn’t that the point of the article? And this isn’t limited to the layman. When I was in seminary (Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) I found a very anachronistic, and ahistorical reading of Calvin. If you’ve read my other post (How John Calvin Made me a Catholic), you will see how reading Calvin gave me a much broader and more “catholic” view of the Church and theology than I had gotten as an evangelical. And, for that I am grateful.

    As far as federal vision – I was influenced very little by the Federal Vision. I was barely aware of its existence while in graduate school. (I knew of Doug Wilson, but read very little of his work.) My approach to Calvin was influenced far more by Alexandre Ganoczy, Milner, Oberman, Max Engammare, Robert Kingdon and his school, and by direct reading of the texts.

    Thanks again,

    David

  34. Honestly, the article is very confusing. I don’t know if it is talking about the doctrine of regeneration or the doctrine of assurance. It has no focus and the content is far from reaching it’s title.

    For the Reformed reader, I would now ask, “How do you feel about the convoluted continuity between Calvin and Billy Graham? What does it mean to be born again? And how do you know? What role do sacraments play? What do you make of the inability of the Reformed tradition to make consistent sense of Scripture on these issues?”

    1) Billy Graham does not hold to the doctrine of grace. His doctrine is Arminian so there is no convuluted continuity to begin with.
    2) Regeneration is an act of God in which he imparts new spiritual life to a spiritually dead person.
    3) The necessary result of regeneration is saving faith defined in WCF Chapter XIV. Since it is an act of God, our human eyes can only see its effects. Thus, assurance of salvation involves regeneration is first and foremost built upon the divine promises of Jesus Christ that whosoever believes in him have life. Assurance is the gift of God towards his children and grows as he conforms them to their Savior Jesus Christ.
    4) Baptism does not cause regeneration.
    5) The reformed tradition is very rich in explaining regeneration and assurance. The reformed biblical exegesis on these topics are coherent. I don’t find the same in Romanism. It is wanting of a biblical defense on its stand.

    David said:

    As clear as I once thought salvation was, I learned that there was simply no universal Protestant answer to the question, “How do I get to Heaven.” Now I thank Heaven for the clarity of the Catholic Church.

    I believe there is a universal Protestant answer of “How do I get to Heaven”. It is by the effectual grace of God through faith in the finished work of Christ not of works so that no man can boast. It is this biblical answer that stands in contrast to Romanism’s salvation that makes the grace of God a mere “trying to save” as it’s efficacy depends upon human works built upon the system of sacramentalism and ritualism.

  35. Hi Joey,

    Thanks for reading. Sorry if you found the argument confusing.
    As far as the clarity of Protestant doctrine is concerned – I grant you the clarity of the Protestant view of atonement/justification. In the diptych of Redemption: Accomplished and Applied – I think the Protestant view is pretty clear on “accomplished.” My comment was aimed more at “applied.” I find a good deal of variety in the Reformed tradition – outlined above.

    Thanks again,
    David

  36. Dear Eric,

    Thanks for commenting. You have said a lot that needs response. I can’t touch on everything that merits it right now (other obligations pressing). However, I will respond to your first remark:

    “Though at times in the past some Reformed groups have been (mistakenly, I believe) inordinately focused on absoluteness of assurance, few I have encountered would do so today.”

    Are you familiar with Evangelism Explosion, from Dr. James Kennedy? This program was making the rounds when I was an Evangelical. The evangelistic method is based on two questions, the first of which is: “Are you sure that, if you should die today, that you will definitely go to heaven?”

    Perhaps this is not as prominent today in evangelical churches? I grant you that I don’t see it very much in the likes of Rick Warren, who seems more focused on delivering “purpose” than assurance.

    Nevertheless, I think assurance is clearly an extremely important part of the historic Reformed tradition and has played a disproportionate role in the development of American Christianity. Would you agree?

    Thanks again,

    David

  37. Dr. Anders,

    Thanks so much for your reply.

    I have over the years been involved to one extent or another with about a half dozen PCA churches. Bless their hearts, but–in spite of the rich tradition of Whitefield and Edwards and Carey–evangelism is not exactly a forte of the Reformed nowadays. Nobody preached against D. James Kennedy, but nobody pushed EE either. I do know of one PCA couple, friends of mine, whose church got into it. It’s good training in presenting the gospel through learning appropriate Bible verses, but it’s completely non-denominational in its focus. Coral Ridge is probably more Reformed now that Tchividjian is in charge. Kennedy was more into straightforward evangelism and political activism.

    I do believe that assurance was pushed much more by the Puritans than by current Reformed churches. I also believe, however, that one of the natural consequences of accepting the doctrine of Perseverance is a calming sort of assurance. When I was more of a mainstream evangelical, I would have the ups and downs of assurance you speak of. Many people I know of relate to “deciding” for Christ umpty-billion times, never quite feeling like it “took.” I actually tried to get into Wheaton, where you went for undergrad, back in the mid eighties, I think. They didn’t let me in because I couldn’t express confidence in my conversion: I was expecting something “dramatic” and couldn’t will it to happen. (I told them I loved Christ, wanted to live my life solely for him, and would have no trouble following their strict rules. My admissions counselor said it was the longest interview he had ever had!) But back to assurance, one of my PCA pastors actually preached strenuously against the stereotyped over-confidence found in some Reformed circles. I may be wrong, but even the Puritans may well have meant something more along the lines of “clear and genuine” when they spoke of the “infallibility” of assurance.

    I forgot to mention in my last note that Calvin speaks against the Catholic notion of “baptismal regeneration” in the Institutes 4.15. Nevertheless, baptism and regeneration are tied together in some ways in WCF 28.5 and 28.6. Some modern Reformed churches have become rather anti-sacramental and anti-liturgical under the influence of Puritanism and the Great Awakenings. It’s a pity as far as I’m concerned. Unlike you, however, I don’t believe such a development is incipient in the teachings of Calvin. For the most part, Lutheranism has not had the same sort of unraveling due to much different historical environments.

    One question that I have for you after looking into your transition to Catholicism a little more: did you give up your evangelicalism before crossing the Tiber? You speak glowingly of NPP, which emergent and FV evangelicals might, but no one in the mainstream would. Your influences in your research into Calvin are all Catholic, mainstream Protestant, or downright secular…no evangelicals. (In other words, as I would say, no actual Calvinists.) Also, if you were at all committed to your Reformed upbringing, why did you choose Wheaton and TEDS? Why not RTS, or Covenant, or Westminster? Had you already started parting ways? Were your experiences in the PCA less than positive?

    I have a graduate degree in Religion from a secular university, so I know the drill. The research of Evangelical scholars is termed “devotional” in nature and academically unacceptable. Evangelicals are routinely discriminated against in hiring at pretty much every department of Religion in the country (in terms of state universities). In fact, I do not know of a single one currently employed. Now, that might have been different had you gone to Notre Dame or Harvard or Princeton or Johns Hopkins. But you went to Iowa. How much were you influenced by that decision? Do you even know? Were you involved in an evangelical fellowship of any kind while in Iowa City?

    All the best,

    –Eric

  38. Pam (re:#:30),

    You asked:

    Must a catholic be born again to enter heaven and must he believe that Christ alone died for his sins and rose again?

    Yes, and yes, to both of your above questions (unless, regarding the second question, the circumstances are extraordinary, such as those of severely cognitively impaired persons who are not even able to comprehend the Christian claims about Christ.)

    In Catholic teaching (which is the Scriptural teaching, we believe, as Catholics), in order for a person to be “born again,” more than simply a verbal profession of faith in Christ is needed. (This does mean that Catholics do not trust in *Christ alone* for our salvation though. We do trust in Him alone.)

    Jesus tells Nicodemus about being “born again,” here, in John 3:3 (RSV):

    Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

    The RSV translation uses “born anew,” rather than “born again,” but the concept is the same, as Nicodemus, bewildered, asks Jesus in the next verse:

    “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”

    Christ then answers him:

    Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.

    In the early centuries of Christianity, the “water” in Jesus’s reply to Nicodemus was understood to mean that of baptism. (“The Spirit,” obviously, refers to the Holy Spirit.) The Catholic Church practices the baptism of infants based, partially, on Our Lord’s words to Nicodemus.

    Also, in 1 Peter 3:18-20 (RSV), the author writes of Christ’s perfect sacrifice, mentioning Noah’s ark, which *physically* saved its inhabitants from the flood:

    For Christ also died for sins once for all, 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; in which he went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water.

    Then, in verse 20, Peter mentions our baptism– again, in the context of Christ’s perfect sacrifice, and Noah’s ark:

    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 clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him.

    The verse could not be more clear. Baptism is a part of salvation. Does this take away from Christ’s perfect sacrifice for sins on the Cross? No, not at all– because baptism has its ultimate *efficacy* in the *context* of Christ’s perfect sacrifice.

    To your last question, you asked:

    Would a catholic be saved if he did this only?

    In context, the “this” of your question referred to a person’s holding to the belief that “Christ alone died for his sins and rose again.” As I mentioned above, Catholics do believe that Christ alone died for our sins, and we believe that He rose again. The Church teaches, and has always taught, through Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, that Christ alone died for our sins and rose again, and that we must trust in *Him alone*, following no *competing idols*– least of all, ourselves, in vain attempts to “work our way to Heaven.”

    However, the Church has *also* always taught, in accordance with Sacred Scripture, that while Christ alone died for our sins, and we must trust in Him alone, “faith alone” (whether that “faith” is a *verbally professed* trust in Christ alone, or “head knowledge” of Christ alone) does not justify and does not ultimately save. There are multitudes of Biblical passages which attest to this truth, but the clearest one is James 2:1-24, which explicitly tells us that man is *not justified by faith alone*.

    As a Protestant, I held to the explanation that in this passage, James is only referring to works as the external “evidence” of our “already being justified (permanently) before God.” However, this explanation flies in the face of the passage itself. If God had wanted us to believe that we are justified by faith alone, why would he inspire James to explicitly tell us that we are *not* justified by faith alone?

  39. Pam,

    P.S. I made an unfortunate typing mistake in the fourth or fifth sentence of my reply to you, but I hope that I made it abundantly clear, in the *rest* of my comment (and even in the very next sentence!) that Catholics *do* trust in Christ alone for our salvation. This trust in Christ alone, however, does not necessarily mean the “faith alone” of many Protestants, which they believe “permanently justifies” them before God. I explain this in greater detail in my comment to you, #37. Blessings to you in Christ, sister.

  40. Also, Pam, I meant to actually *type* 1 Peter 3:21 (rather than 1 Peter 3:20), when I quoted that verse. I apologize for typing and posting my comment in a rush. I hope that it is understandable, for the most part, apart from my mistakes.

  41. Eric,
    Thanks again for the discussion.

    As far as my commitment to “Reformed” identity: I was raised in the PCA, at the flagship church, actually (Briarwood Presbyterian Church). As I experienced it, the Church always deferred to the WCF as our doctrinal basis. Gross deviations from WCF would have disqualified anyone from ministry. However, the leadership had a broadminded approach to other evangelical denominations. So, they would have had no problem supporting inter-denominational ministries, like Campus Crusade, for example. That’s the mindset I had. Calvinism is TRUE, but heaven is not a doctrinal exam. What counts is relationship to Christ, and new birth.

    I chose Wheaton because of its sterling reputation in the evangelical world, and I found the faculty to share the same broadly evangelical, bedrock reformed attitude I grew up with. I chose Trinity for the same reason – in fact, many of my Wheaton faculty were Trinity grads. As you probably know, Trinity was formed almost in protest against the perceived liberal tendencies emerging at Fuller.

    I chose Iowa for basically two reasons – 1) They gave me a great scholarship, 2) They gave me almost complete freedom to study whatever I wanted, with whatever presuppositions or methodology I chose. In other words, I could be as evangelical as I wanted. There were a good number of evangelicals who passed through Iowa, particularly under the tutelage of Theodore Bozeman (a leading scholar of Puritanism). It was a marvelous place to study, with absolutely no ill will towards evangelicalism at all. On the contrary, I think the faculty saw us as somewhat kindred intellectual spirits, since we were interested in intellectual history and truth. (Postmodernism was frowned on.)

    For me, the “cognitive dissonance” was not a result of secular Calvin studies of NPP. It was from the primary sources. I had grown up with the standard Protestant narrative – early church, defection, Reformation recovery. I just tested that narrative against the actual texts of the Christian tradition and found it wanting. NPP just confirmed what I was already discovering on my own. And, I DID consult evangelical scholarship – really in an attempt to salvage my faith.

    Where I did benefit from mainstream Calvin studies was in gaining a much better appreciation of Calvin’s historical and social context. In seminary, we read the Institutes as if it were some kind of Summa. In grad school, I read it (in all its editions, sequentially) and all Calvin’s works, as a witness to the evolving theological consciousness of Protestantism’s greatest theologian.

    Also, I agree with your statement that the evolution of American Protestantism was not necessarily implied by Calvin’s theology. I think I stated that at least twice in the article above. I merely argued that this particular, historical evolution came about as tensions in Calvin’s though worked their way out in practice. Obviously, they didn’t have to work out this way everywhere.

    Finally, as you have stated that assurance is not so important any more – what significance do you attach to that? Is this a commonality you now share with the Catholic tradition? I hope so. I think that the “infallible assurance” of the WCF is a harmful doctrine, harmful spiritually, philosophically, and ecumenically. If you have abandoned it, so much the better.

    Thanks again for writing and reading,

    David

  42. Christopher,
    No problem with typo mistakes. What work outside of the death and resurrection of Christ must you do to be justified i.e. saved (James 2:24)? Was James teaching that we must add works to what Jesus did for us on the cross?

  43. Pam (re:#42),

    Thank you for your reply. I *think* that I understand the first question that you asked, but given the phrasing, I’m not entirely certain. You wrote:

    What work outside of the death and resurrection of Christ must you do to be justified i.e. saved (James 2:24)

    Of course, the death and resurrection and Christ are not works that *we* do. I don’t think that you meant to say that, in quite that way, but I don’t want to assume. Certainly, we must believe in, and genuinely trust in, His death on the Cross for us and His resurrection. Christ is the one salvific mediator between God and man. No one goes to the Father except through Christ. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. We cannot add to the salvific work that He did for us on the Cross. Therefore, we must trust in Him alone for our salvation.

    Some of the very important questions that follow from that last statement, though, are:

    What does it mean to truly trust in Christ? What does that trust look like? What are the implications of trusting in Him? Do we simply get to *decide* what those implications are, from our personal Bible reading and interpretation, and from the theologians we choose to listen to and read? Has he left any way for us to know what trusting in Him means and looks like, other than through our personal interpretations of the Bible, from our study of it, and from books on the Bible?

    Catholics believe that He has left a way for us to know the answers to the above questions (other than *only* through our own Biblical study, as good and important as that is!)– but that is getting ahead of things at this point.

    Let’s think about Paul and James on the issues of justification and works. Paul seems to say (to Protestants) that we are justified by faith alone. In this understanding of Scripture, our works do not play *any* role in our justification. Works are simply the *evidence* that we already have been permanently justified before God. That is the Protestant understanding of justification that I received (and which I was taught by others, for years) from my own study of the Bible.

    However, in retrospect, I am convinced that I did not study this issue of justification carefully enough, for years, as a Protestant. I was sure of my position, but closer study should have led me to rethink it. James states, very clearly, that man is justified *not by faith alone*– and if one looks closely and carefully at Paul’s many passages on works, and at the surrounding passages, he is almost always addressing conflicts between Jewish Christians and Gentiles, in which the Jewish Christians were attempting to require Gentiles to be circumcised, or to take part in other Jewish *ceremonial* works, in order to be part of the new Christian community. Paul is telling these Jewish Christians that circumcision and other such ceremonial works are not required for Christians. Faith in Christ, though, obviously is required. That is what it means to be a Christian– to trust in Him. Again, though, what does that trust mean, and what does it look like?

    James gives us some very strong hints. He tells us that man is not justified by faith alone, and that faith without works is dead. This means that the faith in Christ alone, the faith which actually *saves*, is a faith which necessarily involves good works– because if our professed faith in Christ alone *doesn’t* involve good works, James tells us that it is dead.

    This is not “adding to” Christ’s work on the Cross. This is genuine faith *in* that work on the Cross. This is the faith that justifies us before God, a faith which shows itself in good works.

    Over and over again in Scripture, believers in Christ are exhorted to do good works– not to save ourselves, but because we truly *do* trust in Christ alone. If we claim to trust in Christ, and to be “perfectly righteous” before God, due to trusting in Him, James tells us that that faith is *useless and dead*. Man is not justified by faith alone but by faith working through love. That is the simple, Biblical truth.

    However, how can I know that this interpretation is correct? How can I know that I have not embraced heresy, in submitting to what seems, to me, to be the clear Biblical truth? God has provided a way for me, and for you, to know. That way is explained (and compared to Protestantism) in this Called To Communion article, “Christ Founded a Visible Church”: http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2009/06/christ-founded-a-visible-church/

  44. Pam,

    P.S. Above, I meant to type, “Of course, the death and resurrection *of* Christ are not works that *we* do. It was probably clear enough, but I just want to be sure. Blessings to you.

  45. Pam (#42)

    What work outside of the death and resurrection of Christ must you do to be justified i.e. saved (James 2:24)

    No work that you do outside of the death and resurrection of Christ can justify you. Only works done in Christ justify you – and all those works, which are mystically part of His death and resurrection – indeed, of His whole life – are your justification.

    Today (26 March) is the Solemnity of the Annunciation. It is this that is where our justification lies – in God’s becoming Man. To be sure, that ‘becoming’ – the Incarnation – reaches its fulfilment in terms of the earthly life of Christ in His death and resurrection. But it does not stop there. The Church is the Body of Christ, and we, its members, the members of that Body. Our works done in Christ are the continuation of His work on earth, through His mystical Body, the Church – and justification – which is corporal and not just individual – finds its outworking in the life – and suffering – of the members of the Body – when done in Christ.

    So that – and I hope Christopher will agree with me here – yes, the death and resurrection of Christ in His natural body are not works that we do, but – as St Paul makes clear repeatedly by uniting his own sufferings with the sufferings of Christ – in the sense that we are members of His mysical Body, the death and resurrection of Christ are works that we do – for all our works, when done in Christ, are the works of Christ.

    “It is not I that live, but Christ lives in me.”

    jj

  46. JJ (re:#45),

    I do agree with you (in your writing to Pam) that our works are the “works” of Christ (although not His *salvific work* on the Cross, obviously– only He could do that perfect work!), in that we, as members of the Church in this world, are acting as His mystical Body *to* this world… in evangelism/missions, works of mercy and charity, etc.

    Christ alone saves, and His salvific work is absolutely perfect, *and* yet, somehow, we fill up what is lacking in His afflictions (according to Scripture, literally, in Colossians 1:24) through being the members of His mystical Body, to and for each other, and to and for the world.

    Ok, no more typing tonight– I am tired and resting in Christ! :-)

  47. Christopher (#46)

    I do agree with you (in your writing to Pam) that our works are the “works” of Christ (although not His *salvific work* on the Cross, obviously– only He could do that perfect work!), in that we, as members of the Church in this world, are acting as His mystical Body *to* this world… in evangelism/missions, works of mercy and charity, etc.

    Yes, well…

    Christ alone saves, and His salvific work is absolutely perfect, *and* yet, somehow, we fill up what is lacking in His afflictions (according to Scripture, literally, in Colossians 1:24) through being the members of His mystical Body, to and for each other, and to and for the world.

    This mysterious thing that Catholics do called “offering it up” – it does seem to me that in some mysterious way, our own sufferings – because they are united with Christ’s perfect suffering – become salvific. Maybe I am wrong, but that is how I read things like Romans 8:17:

    Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

    Certainly it is widespread in Catholic spirituality to talk about offering our sufferings for our own sins and for the sins of others. It seems to me that the depth of the implications of the Incarnation are unplumbable.

    Ok, no more typing tonight– I am tired and resting in Christ! :-)

    What?! Going to bed at a quarter to 4 in the afternoon??!! Oh, I forgot about you poor guys on the wrong side of the world :-)

    Good night from New Zealand, where Tomorrow happens first!

    jj

  48. JJ (re:#47),

    Very briefly (as I am still tired but feeling a *bit* rejuvenated after some resting and listening to the beautiful music of the group, The Innocence Mission– they’re Catholics!), you wrote:

    This mysterious thing that Catholics do called “offering it up” – it does seem to me that in some mysterious way, our own sufferings – because they are united with Christ’s perfect suffering – become salvific. Maybe I am wrong, but that is how I read things like Romans 8:17

    and:

    Certainly it is widespread in Catholic spirituality to talk about offering our sufferings for our own sins and for the sins of others. It seems to me that the depth of the implications of the Incarnation are unplumbable.

    John, in writing to our Protestant sister, Pam, what I am trying to make clear is that in Catholic teaching and thinking, Christ’s sacrificial work on the Cross for our salvation is affirmed as *perfect and finished*.

    The Catholic affirmation of Christ’s one-time, perfect, finished, sacrificial work on the Cross does not negate *other* truths of the faith, such as “offering it up,” or, for that matter, the reality of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

    On “offering it up” (offering up our sufferings to God for the good of others), Colossians 1:24 (RSV) gives part of the Biblical foundation for this concept:

    Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church

    (Source: http://www.blueletterbible.org/Bible.cfm?b=Colossians&c=1&t=RSV)

    In a *purely salvific* sense, there is nothing strictly *lacking* in Christ’s afflictions. God does not *have* to involve us in the salvation of others. It is not as though Christ’s work on the Cross for our salvation is *deficient* in any way. This is what I am trying to explain to Pam as part of our Catholic Christian faith.

    Due to His graciousness though, God *does* involve us in the salvation of others, in many different ways. In 1 Corinthians 9:22-23, St. Paul writes:

    To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

    (Source: http://www.biblestudytools.com/rsv/1-corinthians/passage.aspx?q=1-corinthians+9:19-23)

    St. Paul is not writing of “saving some” here, as though Christ’s work on the Cross is somehow not perfect, and Paul has to “add” something to it. However, God has graciously chosen to *involve* St. Paul in others’ salvation, through the Apostles’ preaching and witness. It’s the great Catholic “both/and”– Christ *alone* saves anyone who *is* saved, and yet, God still grants us the *privilege* of being involved in peoples’ salvation, in various ways (sometimes requiring suffering on our part, which we can also offer up to God for the good of those people).

    Ok, now I am tired again from typing, hehe– but it’s a glorious tiredness, serving Our Lord and others, by His grace! :-) Thanks be to God! Back to resting– this time, for the night! :-)

  49. Christopher (#48)

    John, in writing to our Protestant sister, Pam, what I am trying to make clear is that in Catholic teaching and thinking, Christ’s sacrificial work on the Cross for our salvation is affirmed as *perfect and finished*.

    Absolutely agree, 100%. That, of course, is the only thing that makes anything else possible.

    And, though I am sure I expressed it badly, what I wanted to say was to correct the idea that there could be any work …outside of the death and resurrection of Christ… that could possibly aid our salvation. The old creation is “dead in trespasses and sins.” When Adam and Eve fell, the world fell.

    And when Christ arose, all who join themselves to Him arise! The Incarnation is the glorious fact of the new creation; the Death and Resurrection of the Incarnate One the incredible good news of our own dying in Him and rising in Him – and of all our works finding their value in His One Work.

    The only reason I said that was to say that, yes, works matter, but, no, they do not and cannot) add one iota to what the Christ has done.

    jj

  50. Thank you Dr Anders.

    David Anders’ witness is my favourite that EWTN’s Journey Home ever broadcast – http://www.ewtn.com/vondemand/audio/seriessearchprog.asp?pgnu=4&SeriesID=-6892289

    Go to: David Anders 2/8/2010

    I found it especially useful because near the end he contrasts between the subjective experience of, “If only I have faith, I know I’m saved. How do I know I have saving faith? I must have works. But how much should works play into it?” Then he talks about having certainty from emotion, which can always be called into question.

    He contrasts this with the Catholic experience, marked by it’s objectivity: You confess your sins, you mean it, they’re gone. No emotion, no worrying about works. Just a sincere purpose of amendment.

    I wish you wrote more often for this blog. This article especially helpful for showing how biblical the Catholic views on baptism are.

    Here’s my brief thesis: When people criticize Catholicism as being ‘un-biblical’, what they often mean is that it’s superstitious to them.

    For example, the bible explicitly states that baptism saves you (1 Pet 3:21), but let’s not take that literally. In John 1, Jesus enters the waters and the spirit comes upon him. This is known as ‘baptism’. Then he asks people to be ‘born of water and the spirit’ (John 3:5), mandating it, and his apostles go about baptizing. It seems if we’re going to read these verses in context, as well as Romans 6:1-3, Titus 3:5, Ephesians 5:25 etc.

    A person once said to me that is you cross-reference Ezekiel with Ephesians you find that water and spirit really means accepting Jesus as personal Lord and Savior. It took a lot of cross-referencing and ripping texts out of context.

    The German theologian, Scheeben (the greatest modern Catholic theologian, to my mind), wrote a beautiful introduction in the book ‘The Mysteries of Christianity’, where he talks about God’s redemption being so sublime, we can only access some of its mysteries through faith… reason takes you far, but faith takes you to the sublime.

    As JPII said, ‘Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves.’

    David Anders’ piece can be used to demonstrate how rationalism can impact on biblical exegesis.

    Two things I hope to read from David Anders in the future:

    1. A detailed explanation of how ‘The New Perspectives on Paul’ influenced his conversion.
    2. How Augustine influenced his conversion… and why do so many Calvinists relate to him?

    Frank from Australia.

  51. David

    There is no way I would have time to take on your entire thesis here, but I would challenge your opening comment…

    “He [John Calvin] never counseled his readers and listeners to be “Born Again.” ”

    To the contrary, I found nine references in Calvin’s “Institutes of the Christian Religion” which specifically use the words “born again” and in these, he further commends that we must be born again. For example, “Christ teaches that we are to be born again, not of the Spirit and of water, but of water and of the Spirit.” Not only does he teach that we must be born again, but he clarifies the theological understanding regarding (in his view) the errors of the Roman Church regarding salvation, regeneration, sanctification and related topics.

    Whether you agree with Calvin or the Roman Church, broad mis-statements such as you made in your opening comment should be avoided on both sides. Hopefully, we are all seeking truth.

    Blessings
    Curt

  52. Hi Curt,

    Thanks for the comments. I hope it is clear from the context what I’m talking about. Obviously, I’m not denying that Calvin had a doctrine of regeneration, nor that he considered regeneration to be necessary for salvation. Rather, Calvin did not have a conversionistic account of Christian initiation. This is simply not what he’s talking about when he speaks of being born again or regenerate.
    Still, your observation is pertinent and reminds me of the dangers of arguing for universal negatives, or broad generalizations. My grad professors always warned me about this. :-)

    Thanks again,
    David

  53. Hi David

    Thanks for your reply… and broad reach is by no means a disease that we have not all, at some times, been afflicted! To your point, it is true enough, “Calvin did not have a conversionistic account of Christian initiation”, yet your subsequent conclusion that “John Calvin did not know how to be saved” could not be further from the truth. Nearly his entire core thesis contains the means of salvation. It may not agree with your current understanding or belief, but that does not nullify his understanding. It is, I think, an unfair measure of the reformation to expect that all theological points would be perfectly resolved by the first reformers when the Roman Church had failed to do so in its first 1500 years… thus, by the way, requiring the need for reformation in the first place.

    Blessings
    Curt

  54. Hi Curt,

    My comment was intended – again, in context – to present my subjective point of view as an evangelical studying Calvin. Having been told that “praying to receive Christ” is normative, I found Calvin’s more sacramental account of Christian initiation to be foreign to my experience of Protestantism.

    Naturally, as a Catholic now, I still think Calvin got it wrong, but for different reasons.

    -David

  55. Some good stuff here. But some reservations:

    I cringe when I read lines like ‘We believed Calvin was our founder…’ I have never met a Protestant who thought of any man as the founder of their church, since they don’t think of churches as organizational in the same way as Catholics do. That is why dirt on Calvin or Luther is hardly scandalous. They were not saints or popes. I think the line suggests you were straining for a doctrinal firmness simply not promised.

    On assurance, I don’t think anyone nowadays takes it as much for than ‘confidence.’ Of course you cannot *know,* apart from some crazy supernatural confirmation. But you can trust and believe promises not based on works.

    Lastly, do you honestly think Calvinism of today is any more a departure from the original than the new CCC is from the Baltimore catechism? The church of today teaches a Balthasarian near universalism, for example, a huge leap from Trent’s day. Salvation Outside the Church has been affirmed in broad stroke where it was once vociferously denied. The assumption now is if you are essentially nice and baptized, you are good to go: years back masturbation and missing mass were mortal sins that could damn the soul. All the churches have changed, Rome as much as an Calvinistic sect. The difference being Calvin never claimed to be more than a fallible man. Whereas Rome blinked at Vatican II. Check out David Wells Revolution in Rome (IVP). Out of print, but no one ever answered its points. Both Calvin and Old Rome would have condemned Benedict’s Assisi overtures, for example. A change that reflects doctrinal ‘developments.’

  56. Joe,

    You said: “years back masturbation and missing mass were mortal sins that could damn the soul.”

    Those are still mortal sins. Mortal sins can still damn the soul.

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  57. Joe (re:#55),

    Your statement that the Catholic Church “of today” teaches a “Balthasarian near universalism” leads me to ask you two questions. They are sincere questions. I’m not presuming to know the answers.

    Have you spent *serious* time reading and studying the Catechism of the Catholic Church (i.e. not simply dipping into a section here and a section there)?

    Have you actually read much of the work of Hans Urs Von Balthasar (as opposed to trusting what some people *claim* that he wrote and believed)?

    About the Catholic Church’s supposed recent “near-universalism,” the Catechism most definitely still teaches the concepts of mortal sin and Hell. As long as the capacity of free choice is part of the human will, Hell is still a possibility for human beings. This is clearly stated in the Catechism.

    However, the Church has never definitely declared who is in Hell and who is not in Hell. She did not do so for the 1, 940 years leading up to Vatican II, and she hasn’t done so in the years since then. She does tell us how *not* to go to Hell (avoiding moral sin is a must, with the Sacrament of Confession/Reconciliation available if one fails in this regard), but she doesn’t tell us who is in Hell.

    The most recent edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church still teaches “No Salvation Outside the Church.” That teaching can *never* be changed. There can be development in how it is *formulated*, which is what exists in the Catechism– a re-formulation of the teaching, not a change in its substance.

    In Vatican II, there was a deepening of the understanding that Protestants are “imperfectly joined” to the Church, by their Trinitarian baptisms and faith in Christ. The imperfect joining of Protestants to the Church means that their salvation *does come through* the Church. (Of course, salvation comes through Christ, but we understand the Church to be founded by Christ, and thus, in that sense, salvation comes through the Church.) Any salvation that comes to anyone, ultimately, comes through the Catholic Church, even as that person may not be a *formal member* of the Catholic. Lest you think that that statement sounds wishy-washy, try it out on a committed Protestant *opponent* of the Catholic Church, and watch the reaction!

    In the 1940s, pre-Vatican II, Father Leonard Feeney taught that Protestants were damned for not being formal members of the Catholic Church– and he was excommunicated. Throughout the history of the Church, there has been the understanding that, as the Catechism states, God has bound Himself to the Sacraments (of the Church), but He, Himself, is not bound *by* them. He can save a person who is in a state of invincible ignorance about the Church. However, that person must be following God very seriously, to the best of his/her understanding– which is a much taller order than it may seem. By comparison, it is much “easier” to be saved as a formal and practicing member of the Catholic Church, with access to her Sacraments.

    Again though, *any* salvation that comes to *anyone* comes through Christ and the Catholic Church, including to those who are not formal members of it. For an example (from my former ecclesial affiliation), there may well be many surprised Reformed Baptists in Purgatory (and thus, on the way to Heaven!) who, in their earthly lifetimes, misunderstood and hated the Catholic Church, yet in eternity, will find that their salvation was due to being imperfectly joined *to* the Church (with the proviso, again, that salvation through Christ and salvation through the Church are not at odds but two sides of the same coin). If one comes to believe, though, that the Catholic Church is what she claims to be, and one does not *formally join* her, then one cannot be saved. This is clearly taught in the Catechism.

    How many people will fail to reach Heaven, because they refused, for whatever reason, to act on the leading of the Holy Spirit into formal membership in the Catholic Church? Only God knows the answer to that question. I don’t want to speculate on it. I can only say that when that time came for *me*, in 2010, I knew that it was a matter of my eternal soul. The earliest Church Fathers testified to this, as did the most recent Catechism. I had to return to the Church, or I would have been in serious danger of eternal damnation.

  58. Joe,

    P.S. to my comment #57– if you want to see some *very* “pre-Vatican II” recognition of non-Catholic Christians *as* Christians, read this CTC post: http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2010/07/st-augustine-on-non-catholic-christians-as-brothers/

  59. Christianity Today, in an article called The New Conversion: Why We ‘Become Christians’ Differently Today, talks about just this issue discussed here. Here’s a quote:

    …evangelicals are moving toward a thorough reenvisioning of the nature of conversion and redemption. Increasingly, there is appreciation that conversion is a complex experience by which a person is initiated into a common life with the people of God who together seek the in-breaking of the kingdom, both in this life and in the world to come. This experience is mediated by the church and thus necessarily includes baptism as a rite of initiation.

    Shalom,

    Aaron Goodrich

  60. Hey Christopher

    We meet again! Hope you’re feeling well.

    You said…

    The most recent edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church still teaches “No Salvation Outside the Church.” That teaching can *never* be changed. There can be development in how it is *formulated*, which is what exists in the Catechism– a re-formulation of the teaching, not a change in its substance.

    In Vatican II, there was a deepening of the understanding that Protestants are “imperfectly joined” to the Church, by their Trinitarian baptisms and faith in Christ.

    I love the double speak! The pre-Vatican Church was definitive… no salvation outside the Church; particularly for those heathen Protestants! This wasn’t selling well in the modern world, so… ahem… ok you guys are imperfectly joined to the “real” church. This reminds me of other theological hocus pocus like “marriage annulments” and the like. Purely slight of hand to cover embarrasing booboos without admitting that maybe some humans got it wrong. Gasp! As a Protestant, I thank the Catholic Church for the new and improved “formula” that recognizes that God works in many ways and might even be big enough to work outside of the Catholic Church… and maybe even in the Protestant church! Gasp!

    Blessings
    Curt

  61. Can anyone here help me to understand the Catholic position better?

    If baptism causes the new birth and regenerates and we are “reborn as sons of God”, what are the (outward, visible or observable) effects of that new birth? Why is there so often no difference between unbaptized children/persons who grow up in non-Christian homes and those who are born into nominal or even practicing Christian/Catholic homes and who are baptized?

    Does not the NT say that if anyone is in Christ he is a new creature (cf. 2 Cor 5:17)?

    What about the claimed fulfillment of OT prohecies in the new covenant? “And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” (Ez 36:27) “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord.” (Jer 31:33 f.)

    Isn’t the new birth clearly connected with ethical consequences and real change of spiritual life and outward conduct?

    Thanks in advance,
    Tim-Christian

  62. Dear Tim,

    Great question! You are absolutely correct that regeneration is connected with real ethical consequences, change of life and conduct.

    One of the things that came to trouble me about the Reformed and/or Protestant position was the logical problem inherent in holding that regeneration and election are co-extensive, and, yet, that the regenerate continue to be totally depraved, and subject to original sin. Thus, for Protestants, the actions of the regenerate are intrinsically deeply offensive to God, though God overlooks them on account of Christ’s merits.

    The Catholic position, by contrast, is that baptism removes the stain of original sin, and imparts sanctifying grace (because of the merits of Christ’s passion). The newly baptized Christian is objectively and truly acceptable to God on this account, and has received the graces necessary to continue in that life and to be a new person. However, this regeneration is not of itself an infallible guarantor of salvation or election. The baptized can fall away, and back into the state of mortal sin, in which they are not pleasing to God, and cannot be saved unless they repent. Thus, free will and perseverance play an indispensable role. Rather like the old adage – You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. The graces are there. We must use them.

    Thanks,

    David

  63. If baptism causes the new birth and regenerates and we are “reborn as sons of God”, what are the (outward, visible or observable) effects of that new birth? Why is there so often no difference between unbaptized children/persons who grow up in non-Christian homes and those who are born into nominal or even practicing Christian/Catholic homes and who are baptized?

    Tim, interesting question. I often have wondered this, too.

    David, could you respond specifically to this question? Is it the faith of the person being baptized or the faith of the parents of the baptized that matters, or is it strictly the act of baptism that regenerates? This is one doctrine that confuses me, though I do want to believe along with the Church.

    By my own experience, I believed and had a spiritual transformation (I mean I was truly born again – my eyes were opened) before I was ever baptized, and noticed no change after baptism. How do I view this within the Church’s teachings? I want to be in line with the Church on this.

  64. Thank you, David.

    So then, you say that it’s perfectly possible that someone is born again in and through baptism as an infant without ever actualizing it, without ever having the outward, visible and/or observable fruits later on? One can be filled with sanctifying grace without having an outward effect of becoming more holy, loving, faithful etc.?

    But does not the new birth involve a change of heart (cf. Ez 36:26) that *necessarily* results in a renewed conduct? Isn’t the Lord *causing* us to walk in his statutes and to be careful to obey his rules (cf. Ez 36:27)? Aren’t we “his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:10)? Isn’t it God who works in us, both to will and to work for his good pleasure (cf. Phil 2:13)?

    You see, I have a bit of trouble saying that, on the one hand, baptism is the instrumental cause of regeneration (and thus *really* causes it) and, on the other, saying that its visible effectualness is limited in the way you described. Shouldn’t we think that if God bears us anew by water, spirit and word that that new birth really has the effect He wishes? “So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (Is 55:11)

    Thanks.

    PS. I’m not a native speaker – so I beg your pardon if anything said is wrong or even unintelligible. Greetings from Germany.

  65. Hi Tim,

    Thanks again for writing. I think your question suggests a slight misunderstanding of the Catholic position. You seem to equate “Outward and visible” with “real” or “actual” with respect to regeneration.

    Do Catholics believe that regeneration brings about a ‘real,’ ‘actual’ change of heart, as well as status before God – Yes!
    Does this mean it will always be visible or recognizable to human eyes – No.
    So, the baptized infant is actually, and really put into right relationship with God, is renewed internally, and receives the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit. But it is quite possible that this child may die before ever manifesting visible, heroic charity. And, it is also possible that the child may fall into mortal sin, and thus no longer be in a state of grace.

    This understanding of baptism and regeneration (which is not my personal invention, but the faith of the Church fathers, St. Paul, and the Catholic Church) is perfectly compatible with your concern that God’s grace bear visible fruit. Every act of charity done for the love of God is evidence of God’s grace at work in the heart.

    Your line of questioning seems to suggest that one who is born again can never again fall into sin. Is that your position?

    -David

  66. Hi David,

    no, I’m neither into perfectionism nor am I (here) concerned with the regeneration of those who die in infancy and therefore cannot give outward evidence of the new birth.

    What’s troubling me is those persons who were allegedly regenerated in infant baptism but then, afterwards, never ever come to faith in Christ nor ever exercise a godly conduct. I mean, that’s what makes the doctrine of baptismal regeneration a bit implausible since scripture teaches that those who are born again, born of God, made alive in/with Christ etc. give evidence of that very fact.

    So, to say that someone has been objectively regenerated but then never experiences the fact that he/she has been filled with the Spirit and sanctifying grace is a bit dubious, isn’t it? You have to be born again in order to see the kingdom of God – but can you be born again and *still* be blind at the same time? I mean, it’s not like all the cradle Catholics and Lutherans over here experience a dramatic de-conversion or commit acts of apostasy. It’s more like they never really were aware of the things of God and the kingdom. But supposedly they are all born again … You see what my problem with the position is?

    Are we to judge by the fruits – except when it comes to the new birth?

    Thanks,
    Tim-Christian

  67. Hi David,

    I can see that you are very passionate about theology, and that is to be commended! As a young Reformed guy (PCA), I of course have several objections. First, I think you misunderstand the traditional Reformed viewpoints: both our theological views and our view of church history. I lament the fact that there are so many negative anecdotal stories concerning Reformed churches; we are certainly “simultaneously saints and sinners” (to quote Luther). I don’t have the time to go into every objection I have to this article, but the ones that really jump out are equating Calvin to the Reformed faith (a mistake even some Reformed people make), and discussing revivalistic nonsense as if it sprouted from Reformed thought.

    To rebut, I would venture that there have been a number of disagreeable individuals that have arisen out of the Roman Catholic Church as well. In fact, we know from history that the very “popes” you claim have Biblical authority to lead the church have been some of the most vile and corrupt individuals in history.

    Because I believe fully that Christ’s kingdom is built on the hearts of men and women, and not in a particular institution, I would like to respectfully offer these questions to my Roman Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ:

    1. How do you reconcile your view of papal authority with events such as the crusades? What about papal bulls that stand in direct contradiction with each other? What about the Catholic church’s mistreatment of Galileo? I could go on here, but that is enough for now.

    2. How do you reconcile your view of papal authority with Acts 15 (the counsel of elders in Jerusalem). When there was a theological controversy, why didn’t Peter (a circumciser) just issue a ruling. If Peter is your “first Pope,” that would be consistent with popes generally being theologically incorrect.

    3. You seem to have an incredibly superstitious view of the sacraments. How do you reconcile this with “by faith alone?” Seemingly the primary ground you have to refute “by faith alone” (for the sake of argument) can be found in James, and James doesn’t exactly say “even the demons believe…and don’t take the sacraments!” Instead, he is more focussed on orphans and widows and “faith in action.”

    In Christ,

    Sam

  68. Dear Tim,

    You wrote: “So, to say that someone has been objectively regenerated but then never experiences the fact that he/she has been filled with the Spirit and sanctifying grace is a bit dubious, isn’t it?”

    The answer to your question depends a great deal on what you mean by “experience.” Objectively, the baptized person EXPERIENCES the complete remission of sin, participation in the divine nature, and the infusion of sanctifying grace. By experience, I mean that baptism actually causes these things to take place in the soul.

    However, the Catholic Church also teaches that sanctifying grace can be lost. Thus, in the cases you mention, if someone is baptized, but receives no formation, no instruction, no continuing use of the means of grace, then it is much more likely that that person will fall away when they attain the age of reason, and not have recourse to the means of returning to the life of grace (confession, penance).

    It seems that you think regeneration must always include some specified, visible content that necessarily endures for some minimal period. Is that so? I don’t know why you would think that. Clearly, St. Paul held that the regenerate were capable of “walking according to the flesh,” in which state they “would not inherit the kingdom of God.” Thus, he exhorted them to “keep in step with the Spirit,” i.e., to persevere. – Not a forgone conclusion.

    Clearly, the evidence you seek of baptismal regeneration is available in the lives of the saints – even of Child saints. But the absence of such visible evidence does not mean that the graces themselves are absent. Think of the saint who sleeps – no visible evidence of Grace, yet grace continues to inhere in the soul. This is what the baptized infant is like. Reason (one pre-condition for mortal sin) sleeps, yet the graces are present.

    Does this help?

    David

  69. David, although you responded to Tim and not to me, I thank you for your explanation in comment #68. It was helpful.

  70. Hi Samuel,

    Thanks for writing. I’m glad you raise the question of Calvin’s relationship to the Reformed Tradition. As you note from the article, the discontinuity between Calvin and subsequent Reformed Christians is a major concern of mine. You seem to think this discontinuity is so great that Calvin cannot be considered truly “Reformed.” Is this correct?

    If I have read you properly, it raises interesting questions about your normative conception of “Reformed.” I suppose you know that, etymologically and historically, the Eglise Reformee (Reformed Church) in France had extremely close ties to Calvin. He composed the Gallican Confession for the French Reformed Churches. French translations of his writings were widely circulated in the kingdom, and Geneva supplied much of their pastoral staff. From a historical point of view, I think it would be extremely difficult to maintain the Calvin and the French “Reformed” Church were somehow discontinuous to such an extent that we should deny any familial relationship. Clearly, the history of scholarship on “Reformed” is not with you – From J.T. McNeil, to Philip Benedict – the History of “Calvinism” and the history of the “Reformed Church” have been treated as almost synonymous – excepting, perhaps, the German/Swiss history of the tradition.

    But, it doesn’t really matter whether or not you consider Calvin “reformed.” The point of my article was not to argue for any normative conception of what is or isn’t Reformed, but to trace lines of historical continuity.

    As such, your objection to my references to revivalism I think are misplaced. Clearly, any die-hard 17th-century, non-Puritan Reformed Christian (like the “Old Light” Reformed in America) will likewise object to Revivalism. But that doesn’t mean that revivalism has no historical connection to Calvinism or the Reformed tradition. You may find the connection to be a corruption, rather than a development. That’s fine. (I do, too.) But a connection there is nonetheless.

    You said you had a number of objections to the article, but you don’t mention them. Given that my thesis is largely historical, and not normative for the definition of “Reformed,” do you dispute the line of historical development I lay out? If so, where am I wrong?

    However, if your objections are largely normative – i.e., “revivalists are not’Reformed,” then I don’t have a dog in that fight. It doesn’t matter to me whether or not revivalists are Reformed. My only point is that revivalism arose out of specific historical circumstances in which Calvinism/Puritanism played an essential role.

    As to your comments on the Papacy, this is a great site to engage such questions, but I wonder if this article is the best thread. Perhaps you should read and interact with some of our articles on the visible church, the hierarchy, and apostolic tradition. See the index listed above.

    Thanks again for writing,

    David

  71. Hi Kim,

    I don’t mean to neglect you.
    It is important to realize that your spiritual renewal/conversion prior to baptism is very much a work of the Holy Spirit and the grace of God. This is the teaching of the Church. No one can merit the grace of justification. The desire for baptism is, itself, the gift of God.

    -David

  72. Sam,

    On your 3 questions:

    1. The crusades and Galileo both involve many incidents and not just one. They can all be analyzed and commented upon. But the important thing to note is that infallibility is not attached to these papal decisions. So even if you prove they were all bad decisions (and some clearly were) then what have you proves about the legitimacy of the papacy? Catholics don’t claim popes never make bad decisions so you have not given any reason to reject the doctrine.

    2. Ecumenical councils are ways to discern God’s will. Discussion happen and sometimes even the pope can change his mind at the council. It is not clear to me that Peter did this in Acts 15 but what if he did? Again, it does not make it impossible to believe the doctrine of the papacy. You ask why he didn’t “issue a ruling?” If he indeed was in the circumciser camp then the Holy Spirit might have intervened to prevent him from doing just that. Remember, we don’t believe a pope cannot hold a false theological opinion. Just that he will not teach a falsehood authoritatively. The fact that a pope “could have” taught falsehood and did not is evidence for infallibility and not against it.

    3. The reason a life of faith is a sacramental life is precisely because we don’t view the sacraments as “incredibly superstitious.” We don’t control God. We open ourselves up to God’s grace and allow that to control us.

    Anyway take a look here:

    http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2010/07/st-augustine-on-law-and-grace/

  73. Thanks, David. Number 71 is also helpful. I’m just trying to plug all of these things in to the puzzle so I have a right view. This is all so confusing and exhilarating. Sometimes I feel like I’m hanging on for dear life! So many things I am rethinking and trying to understand from a Catholic perspective.

  74. Dear David,

    thank you for taking the time. I really appreciate it. And yes, your answers helped me to understand the Catholic position better; even though I have to admit that the view expressed in WCF 13.1 makes more sense to me – at least prima facie ;-)

    “They who are effectually called and regenerated, having a new heart and a new spirit created in them, are further sanctified, *really and personally*, through the virtue of Christ’s death and resurrection, by his Word and Spirit dwelling in them; the dominion of the whole body of sin is destroyed, and the several lusts thereof are more and more weakened and mortified, and they more and more quickened and strengthened, in all saving graces, to the practice of true holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.”

    Methinks, in the end it all comes down (again) to the evaluation of the relation between divine sovereignty and the creatures will …

    Thanks,
    Tim

  75. David,

    Thanks for your response. What I meant by not equating Calvin with “Reformed” is that Calvin is one of many “Reformed” theologians; granted, he is one of tremendous influence in Reformed circles. However, I don’t know of anyone that would argue that Calvin was right on 100% of his biblical exegesis, or that he had a particularly pleasant personality. The Reformed traditions holds to Sola Scriptura, not Sola Calvin. Calvin was just one of the first theologians post-Reformation to really flesh Scripture out outside of the oppressive influence of Rome. To that end, I would argue against your view of what really influenced the Second Great Awakening (which we both probably think is one of the darkest times in American religion). I should think that Calvin’s soterieology no more influenced the Second Great Awakening than the Catholic view of baptismal regeneration influenced the Church of Christ/early Restorationists of the period that also held the baptismal regeneration view. They are both (in my view) misapplications and misinterpretations of the canon. Now, as to what is to be done about the terrible shape American Christianity is in, I like what Catholic author Ross Douthat has to say in his new book: http://www.amazon.com/Bad-Religion-Became-Nation-Heretics/dp/1439178305.

  76. Randy,

    Thank you for your response. In order to keep our discussion on the topic of this article, I would like to focus on your response regarding the sacraments. Just briefly, regarding papal authority, Peter actually did authoritatively teach that circumcision was necessary for salvation. Take a look at Galatians 2:11-21. Peter was authoritatively leading people astray- and Paul openly rebuked him. Outside of his inspired epistles, no Apostle was on the wrong side of things more consistently than Peter in the canon (teaching circumcision, telling Jesus he “shall not die,” denying Christ). I think Peter’s flaws paint a beautiful picture of how we are saved by grace, the church being built on his Great Confession, and the authority to “bind and loose” being given to the Apostles based on the confession that Jesus is Lord. We would all be lucky to be 1/2 the Christ followers that Peter was.

    Regarding the sacraments (or as the Reformed tradition would hold, the “ordinary means of grace”), I do not dispute that all Christians are to live sacrificial lives. However, we are talking about wine, bread, and water here: ordinary things our Lord uses to remind us of his work and grace in our lives. Take a look at other signs of God’s covenants: (1) rainbows; (2) cutting of foreskin; (3) passover, etc. for comparison. The sacraments are highly important in our lives, especially communion (to help us examine and regulate our behavior), but they are not magical. They are ordinary means provided by God to remind of things that are extraordinary.

    You won’t find many Reformed people who don’t hold a high view of Christ’s church. Confusing Reformed people with the revivalist/emergent nonsense that holds sway today is certainly an error. We love the institution started by Christ: one, holy “c”atholic, and apostolic. We love the discipline, and the means of grace the church provides. However, we hold a high view of man’s sinful nature—earthly power tends to corrupt—therefore we follow the apostolic model of governance by a plurality of elders to avoid many of the witness-slandering problems I pointed out in the historic papacy.

    Granted, we will not solve our theological gap here on the internet, or probably in this lifetime. This is just the two cents of one young Reformed guy.

  77. Hi Sam,

    I said more than once in the article that Calvin was not personally responsible for revivalism. I emphasized that Reformed Christianity developed differently under different historical conditions. Calvinism in France, German, and Hungary is clearly not Calvinism in America and England.

    The point of the article was to show how the particular historical circumstances of Puritanism and America (concern for assurance, alienation from the state church, etc.) resulted in revivalism. However, these were clearly articulated against a background of Calvinist soteriology.

    Thanks,

    David

  78. Dr. Anders,

    Do you think the Evangelical emphasis on being “born again” logically and inevitably leads to the devaluation of the sacraments?

    Being born and raised and evangelical Quaker, I believe we followed this principle to its logical conclusion, which is to throw the sacraments out the window as unnecessary distractions. It looks like Calvin was trying to reconcile the tensions, as many others have done down through the ages since then. But once the personal conversion experience becomes the linchpin, as you described it, water baptism begins to appear more and more arbitrary. I’m always reminded of Flannery O’Connor’s quip, that if the sacraments are just symbols, then to hell with them.

    Shortly after my reconciliation with the Church, my ex-pastor invited me to dinner to discuss my decisions and rationales. When I began to refer to the sacraments and baptism in particular, he replied, “Personally, I prefer not to major on the minors.”

  79. Sam #76:

    Peter actually did authoritatively teach that circumcision was necessary for salvation.

    I think there is authority and there is authority. If my bishop teaches something, it is authoritative – except his teaching is under that of the Church. If the Pope teaches something, but he is not teaching it as something that all Christians are required to believe, then I ought to respect his teaching as authoritative in the sense that I may not lightly doubt it – but it is not necessarily a matter of faith.

    Pope Benedict, in one of his recent (excellent!) books on Jesus, says clearly in there that he is expressing his opinion in these matters. I ought to err on the side of believing that he is right, because, after all, he is the Pope – but he might not be.

    But when Pius defined the bodily Assumption of Mary he made it clear that it was a matter of faith.

    In addition, if the Pope – or my bishop, for the matter of that – ordains something to be obeyed – not the same as something to be believed – then I am obliged to obey him, short of committing sin. The latest form of the canon law says all Catholics are to refrain from eating flesh meat on Fridays – but it also allows local bishops to substitute another form of penance. My bishop – the New Zealand bishops together, in fact – has said we may substitute another form of penance, so we may. They did the same in Britain – but it is said that the British bishops – or at least the English ones – are thinking of removing that possibility. In that case, British – or English, perhaps – Catholic will again be required to refrain from flesh meat on Fridays. They are not at all required to believe that this is a matter of faith, which, in fact, it is not, nor even to believe that it is a good thing.

    So authority is a matter of who and under what circumstances and what sort of thing. Definitions by the Pope, or by Councils in union with the Pope, may define dogmas. We must then believe them. They may issue statements of truth that, however, are not necessarily dogmatic, and we ought to believe them in the absence of strong reason otherwise. There can, indeed, be difficulties in knowing what category a statement is in, but it’s not usually very hard to discern – and as I said, we ought to err on the side of belief.

    And of course they may issue instructions of disciplinary matter – like Friday abstinence, or priestly celibacy – which we must obey but need in no sense to think are matters of faith – or even necessarily wise.

    I don’t think there are grounds for believing that Peter was, in any of the instance you cite, making some definition that all Christians are required to believe. It is not clear that Peter was even teaching anything at all. All Paul says is that Peter ‘withdrew’ himself from the Gentiles, for fear of the Judaisers. In the cases of Peter’s denying Christ, etc – certainly there is no intention to teach. You might be confusing the dogma of the infallibility of the Pope – he will not teach Christians falsely when, and only when, he defines something for all Christians to believe – and his impeccability – his inability to sin. The latter is, alas, not dogma and tragically, at times, not true.

    jj

  80. Hi Sam,

    I will leave some of the off topic stuff as well.

    You won’t find many Reformed people who don’t hold a high view of Christ’s church.

    What is a high view? If the church is invisible then it has little practical importance. It becomes an abstraction needed only to make sense of scripture passages that refer to the church. The visible, physical church remains a purely human institution.

    Confusing Reformed people with the revivalist/emergent nonsense that holds sway today is certainly an error.

    I don’t know. I have a few pastors in my family that call themselves reformed and are also involved with this revivalist and emergent movements. With no authority there is really nobody to say who is really reformed and who is misusing the term.

    We love the institution started by Christ: one, holy “c”atholic, and apostolic. We love the discipline, and the means of grace the church provides. However, we hold a high view of man’s sinful nature—earthly power tends to corrupt—therefore we follow the apostolic model of governance by a plurality of elders to avoid many of the witness-slandering problems I pointed out in the historic papacy.

    So how does a plurality of elders avoid corruption? I have been an elder in a reformed church. We did out best but we could be corrupted by modernism. So it did make sense to me that God would give His church leaders with a special grace. That is not because we deny man’s sinful nature. It is because we know without that grace any human leadership structure will fail.

    You tried to point out problems in the historic papacy but you failed. At least they are not problems that show this special grace has ever failed. It is quite remarkable that even after 2000 years such examples don’t exist. I know the Jehovah’s Witnesses claim a form of infallibility and after less than 200 years they have many clear contradictions. With the papacy there are often smart guys like you who take their best shot and the examples are easy to explain. You just need to understand what the doctrine actually says and it becomes clear that the alleged problem is not a problem at all.

  81. Baptismal regeneration?

    In the accounts of Jesus‘ baptism the Spirit descends immediately *after* the act of baptism: “And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.” (Mk 1:10)

    In John 3 Jesus explicitly states: “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (Joh 3:8) Then he links the new birth to faith in him and his (coming) crucifixion: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” (Joh 3:14f.) Which is in accord with John’s theology of the new birth in his first epistle: “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God (…).” (1 Joh 5:1a)

    In the Markan version of the Great Commission salvation is connected with faith and baptism while condemnation is due to unbelief only: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mk 16:16) “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” (Joh 3:18)

    In Acts 2 the baptism with the Holy Spirit takes place *apart* from water baptism (cf. Acts 1:5 and Acts 2).

    In Peter’s sermon at Pentecost the forgiveness of sins and the reception of the Spirit is tied to repentance and baptism (but not necessarily with baptism as the instrumental cause): “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38) From the context of Acts it is clear that the effects (forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit) are ascribed in the manner of synecdoche sometimes to faith (10:43), sometimes to repentance (11:18b) and sometimes to baptism (2:38).

    In Acts 6 the Apostles appoint deacons in order to “devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” (Acts 6:4) There is no mention of water baptism here (which, of course, does not necessarily mean that baptism is unimportant or second order but which is odd if one assumes that baptism is the instrumental cause of regeneration).

    The Samaritans (Acts 8:12ff.) and the disciples of John (Acts 19:1ff.) receive the Spirit *after* they have been baptized – in the case of the Samaritans quite some time after they had “received the word of God”; in the latter case Paul asks the disciples of John “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” (Acts 19:2) even before he asks “Into what then were you baptized?” (Acts 19:3).

    Paul and Cornelius and his family receive the Spirit *before* their baptism: “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” (Acts 10:47)

    At the council of the Apostles and elders in Jerusalem Peter argues for the inclusion of Gentiles as follows: “And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith.” (Acts 15:8f.)

    In the cases of Lydia, the Philippian jailor and Crispus there is no explicit mention of the Holy Spirit even though it is said that the Lord opened Lydia’s heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul (cf. Acts 16:14b). In the case of the jailor, Paul and Silas, in their answer to the question “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”, tie salvation to believing in the Lord Jesus (cf. 16:31), say the word and then baptize the jailor and his family. Of Crispus (and others) it is said: “Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized.” (Acts 18:8)

    In Acts 22:16 the washing away of sins is ascribed to baptism *and* calling on the name of the Lord. “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Rom 10:13)

    In the first epistle of Peter baptism saves “as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ (…).” (1 Pet 3:21b)

    In his first letter to the Corinthians Paul writes: “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.” (1 Cor 1:17) Kind of strange thing to say for someone who believes that baptism causes the new birth and is necessary for salvation, isn’t it?

    ———–

    Conclusion: “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” The Sprit cannot be tied instrumentally or ex opera operato to water baptism for there are plenty of examples of baptisms where the Spirit is not communicated through the sacramental act.

    If someone here is able to explain those away, I’ll turn Catholic (no joke) …

  82. Tim,

    1. Mk. 1:10 shows that in the life of Jesus, baptism was the occasion of his endowment with the Spirit who empowered his Messianic mission. Baptism was also the occasion when he was publicly named as God’s Son with whom “I am well pleased.” The implications of this for Christian conversion-initiation are obvious. In the waters of baptism we become God’s sons (adopted sons) and are endued with the Spirit (Gal. 3:27). I’m not sure what you mean by *after* the act of baptism. It all appears to be one event in the narrative. If baptism has the gift of the Spirit as its proper end (and it does), then baptism (as a sacramental event) is not completed until the gift of the Spirit is poured out in fullness. This is why confirmation is considered the completion of baptismal grace.

    2. Yes, John 3:15 associates the new birth with faith. It also associates the new birth with water (3:5). Faith and water go together in the event of conversion-initiation. They are theologically of one piece, like engagement and marriage. The faith that is created by the Holy Spirit has baptismal cleansing and regeneration as its proper end (Acts 8:36-37; 10:47-48). It is a false dichotomy to ask whether regeneration happens at the time of faith, or baptism. It is one and the same, for the Spirit who creates faith, creates that faith with a view to the performance of the sacrament of initiation. Baptism is the event that faith is brought into being to receive. Just as marriage is the *reason* for engagement (though it follows it in time), so also baptism is the reason for faith. Just as the marital bond is initiated in engagement and ratified in the performance of marriage, so regeneration is initiated in faith and ratified in baptism.

    3. Since faith and baptism belong together, the meaning of Mark 16:16 is obvious. Scripture does not promise salvation to those who “believe” but will not be baptized. To highlight the fact that it does not repeat baptism in the second half of the verse just does not seem like a strong argument. Sometimes words are conserved in communicating ideas because the meaning is obvious. Having just stated that believers will be saved (and believers will be baptized), it was sufficient to add that unbelievers will be condemned (it goes without saying that they will not be baptized).

    4. As for Acts 2, obviously the Day of Pentecost is a unique event. It is the eschatological outpouring of the Holy Spirit. To point out that the gathered disciples were not baptized on that occasion not only sets up an arbitrary expectation, but overlooks the fact that they were in all likelihood already baptized, either by Jesus or by one of his apostles (cf. Jn. 3:22; 4:1-2).

    5. As to Acts 2:38, it quite obviously associates baptism with forgiveness and the reception of the Holy Spirit. To pretend otherwise is to engage in the sort of sophistry which is hardly even worth refuting. Both here and in Acts 22:16, forgiveness of sins is associated with water baptism. Yes, it is also connected with repentance and calling on the name of the Lord. As explained above, this all goes together.

    6. As to Acts 6:4, not only is it arbitrary to expect baptism to be mentioned everywhere we think it ought to be, but it is a false dichotomy. The sacraments are the ministry of the “word made visible.” The sacraments are simply the visible word. That’s standard in Reformed theology. What God promises in the preached word is ratified and conferred in the sacraments.

    7. As for Acts 8 and 19, these passages speak of the reception of the Spirit through the laying on of hands. This is performed in the sacrament of confirmation, which is best understood as a completion of baptismal grace. Since Acts 8:12ff. makes it clear that the Samaritans had indeed believed and been baptized, to suggest that the giving of the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands shows that it does not come through baptism would also disconnect the Holy Spirit from faith itself (something I doubt you want to do).

    8. As to Acts 10:47 and 15:8ff. see my comments #2 above.

    9. I don’t think I get your point about Lydia, the Philippian jailer, etc.

    10. As for 1 Peter 3:21, since Peter says that baptism “saves you,” it is hardly helpful to your cause. The good conscience spoken of is the result of the forgiveness and cleansing from sin that baptism confers.

    11. As for 1 Cor. 1:17 cf. 3:5-8. Paul is not denying the necessity or the importance of baptism (cf. Acts 18:8). If Paul were really talking like that, we might as well get rid of the sacraments altogether (join the Quakers). Paul is merely saying to the church at Corinth that his role in their conversion was the preaching of the word. It was left to others to baptize them and “grow” the church.

  83. Tim,

    You may be interested in this C2C article The Church Fathers on Baptismal Regeneration.

  84. @Paul

    Thanks for taking the time.

    If “this all goes together” how then can you baptize infants and declare them to be regenerated and born again when you have not the slightest clue whether they will ever come to faith or exercise repentance? Would you say, to use your analogy, that those babies get married before they even got engaged?

    And how can one say that baptism is THE instrumental cause of regeneration when there are examples of people who were regenerate before they got baptized?

    When it comes to the laying on of hands and confirmation – would you say that Paul got confirmed before he got baptized?

  85. Tim,

    Infant baptism is a different discussion, which would require a separate collection of texts and questions. Obviously, the pattern of conversion will look different for those who are born within the church, as was the case under the Old Covenant. Paul’s discussion of circumcision in Romans 4:11 for example, would not apply at all to infant circumcision (which was the normal custom within the OT church). In any event, I would say yes, infants are engaged (to extend the analogy) when they are baptized, and married when they are confirmed.

    I would not say baptism is THE instrumental cause of regeneration. It is the instrumental cause on the part of God, but faith too is the instrumental cause (faith being operative in and through baptism) on the part of man. Cf. Colossians 2:12.

    It is true, Saul seems to have been confirmed and baptized on the same occasion (Acts 9 and 22), but that is not a big theological problem for me (in the Greek Orthodox church baptism and confirmation are kept together).

  86. Tim-Christian,

    Are you familiar with the seven-year dialog that the Catholic Church has had with certain Reformed Churches regarding the Sacrament of Baptism?

    U.S. Catholics and Presbyterians agree on mutual recognition of baptism

    Louisville, KY — The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) — along with three other Reformed churches — and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) have reached agreement on mutual recognition of each other’s baptisms.

    The historic Common Agreement on Mutual Recognition of Baptism, approved by the USCCB this week, marks the first formal ecumenical agreement the U.S. Catholics have entered with any other church.

    Ref: http://churchexecutive.com/archives/u-s-catholics-and-presbyterians-agree-on-mutual-recognition-of-baptism

    The three other Reformed Churches that have accepted the Common Agreement are the Reformed Church in America (RCA), the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA) and the United Church of Christ (UCC).

    Christian Reformed Church

    Ecumenical Dialogue Reaps Results

    … Titled, “These Living Waters,” the document on baptism is unique, say those who worked on it, by the ways in which “it proposes to the churches a Common Agreement on Mutual Recognition of Baptism.”

    The dialogue couches the Common Agreement on Baptism in a study that embarks on a comprehensive historical overview of sacraments from Roman Catholic and Reformed viewpoints. It then explores the baptismal rites of the two traditions, making note of the historical developments in the rites of both traditions through the centuries.

    Next, the report looks at Roman Catholic, Reformed, and common perspectives on the theology of baptism. Finally, it gives some pastoral recommendations which would give tangible expression of mutual recognition of baptism.

    Ref: http://www.crcna.org/news.cfm?newsid=2250&section=1#

    The full text of the Common Agreement on Mutual Recognition of Baptism can be read here:

    These Living Waters

    BAPTISM DOCUMENT

    7TH ROUND REFORMED-CATHOLIC DIALOGUE

    http://www.ucc.org/synod/resolutions/gs28/Resolution-on-Common-Agreement-on-Mutual-Recognition-of-Baptism.pdf

    http://worship.calvin.edu/dotAsset/a497b155-55fb-4ab2-8049-69801f6605e2.pdf

    The following are excerpts from the Common Agreement

    COMMON AGREEMENT ON MUTUAL RECOGNITION OF BAPTISM
    Roman Catholic-Reformed Church dialogue

    1. Together we affirm that, by the sacrament of Baptism, a person is truly incorporated into the body of Christ (I Corinthians 12:13 and 27; Ephesians 1:22-23), the church. Baptism establishes the bond of unity existing among all who are part of Christ’s body and is therefore the sacramental basis for our efforts to move towards visible unity.

    2. Together we affirm that Baptism is the sacramental gateway into the Christian life, directed toward the fullness of faith and discipleship in Christ. …

    Historical Developments: The Reformation

    In the 16th century, Protestant reformers sought to reform the church according to scripture and with respectful attention to the early church sources they had available at the time. In light of these sources, they retained the central practice of baptism with water in the triune name of God, but amended the medieval baptismal rites in the following major ways: … The implications of these revisions to baptismal practice were twofold: on the one hand, baptism was no longer understood to be necessary for salvation or engrafting into Christ, but on the other hand, reformers in various ways sought to highlight water baptism as a real means of grace that conveyed what it signified: forgiveness of sins and regeneration. …

    Tim-Christian, would you disagree with these quotes from the Common Agreement:

    ”by the sacrament of Baptism, a person is truly incorporated into the body of Christ “

    “ … reformers in various ways sought to highlight water baptism as a real means of grace that conveyed what it signified: forgiveness of sins and regeneration.”

    Tim-Christian, you ask:

    … how then can you baptize infants and declare them to be regenerated and born again when you have not the slightest clue whether they will ever come to faith or exercise repentance?

    That is a good question, and a question that is germane, I believe, to Dr. Anders’s article:

    When I first began to study Calvin in earnest, I was puzzled by what seemed a glaring omission in his writings and sermons. He never counseled his readers and listeners to be “Born Again.” This struck me as odd because I knew our denomination (PCA) considered Calvin to be our true founder. I also knew that the evangelical doctrine of “New Birth” (regeneration), understood as the moment of personal, conscious conversion, was the linchpin, the central dogma of our congregation.

    Tim-Christian, I know that many Reformed sects administer the Sacrament of Baptism to infants, but I don’t know why they give the Sacrament of Baptism to infants. If the Sacrament of Baptism does NOT make the infant “truly incorporated into the body of Christ”, then what, exactly, does it do for the infant? On the other hand, if an infant is indeed “truly incorporated into the body of Christ” by the reception of the Sacrament of Baptism, then how did that infant become incorporated into the body of Christ without being regenerated?

  87. Randy,

    You know, having been an elder in a Reformed congregation, that service and membership in the visible church is one of the natural out workings of the Christian life, something critical to our sanctification (as opposed to justification). Those in glass houses cannot throw stones, as I dare say there are many non-practicing Catholics and Protestants (perhaps baptized at some point, attend services at Easter). How some one can profess to love the Savior and not worship him is beyond me. We have failed largely failed at discipleship.

    A plurality of elders protects against our sinful nature by ensuring that power is not concentrated in the hands of one man or even a few men. That is how unholy wars get started (the crusades), and how great secrecy and corruption are spread in order to protect the allocation of power (current sex scandal coverups). That is not to say that there hasn’t been wide-spread corruption in Reformed systems of government before, either. However, we limit our church governance to what is permitted in scripture; we don’t invent new doctrine e.g. indulgences, salvation for those who fight in the crusades.

    In conclusion of my remarks here (I’ll let Tim handle the Baptismal regeneration argument), I’m not necessarily concerned with the differences in minor points of doctrine as a bar to Christian unity. I would ask the Catholic church to do three things in order to end my family’s protest of their policies; (1) For the Pope to abandon all vestiges of divine authority. I’m not necessarily opposed to having one head of the church, but I will not respect a man who thinks his edicts are divinely inspired when his predecessors have issued edicts in direct contradiction to scripture (e.g. indulgences) ; (2) For the Catholic church to allow their priests and nuns to marry, as they have in the past. Not allowing priests and nuns to marry is a terrible misinterpretation of Paul’s writings on the gifts of celibacy and has led to all sorts of ghastly consequences. “It is not good for man to be alone;” (3) Hammer out what was started in Vatican II on “by faith alone.” The “by faith alone” view of justification is critical to understanding who we are in relation to God almighty.

    I know these three things won’t happen in my lifetime absent Divine intervention, but I certainly hope that they will.

    Good talking with you guys!

    Sam

  88. Tim,

    You also need to deal with the reality of what Romans 6 explicitly states happens at Baptism. Pay particular attention to the tense (past, present, future, future-continuing) of the verbs used. It is pretty hard to read Romans 6 without coming to the conclusion that Baptism is the chief instrument by which GOD initiates the change in our life.

    Not necessarily trying to turn you Catholic, but they have a way better understanding of that chapter than the protestants do.

  89. Great article, David. I read it four times. I was raised in Catholicism and returned after a sojurn in the PCA after reading the ante-Nicean fathers. I think I am now finally beginning to understand present day protestantism as a result of this article. I had read enough of Luther and Calvin so that the evangelicalism in my PCA church confused me. I could not understand how they got to their understanding of “how we are saved” and their two sacraments directly from Calvin. This article was a real mind opener. I am an amateur apologist at my parish and can see how I could use a lot more depth on the topics you covered here in a very concise manner. A CD lecture series on the development of Protestantism, particularly here in the USA, would be a valuable resource to people like me. God bless you.

    Ted J.

  90. Mateo,

    thanks for your reply. I yet have to read the linked texts.

    But to answer your question: I would not disagree with the quotes per se – albeit I have to say that I would understand them in a way that is different from the one intended. Let me explain:

    1. I would agree that “by the sacrament of Baptism, a person is truly incorporated into the body of Christ.” Yet as a Baptist I would disagree with the Presbyterian and Catholic view that infant baptism is true and valid baptism. I do believe that baptism is indispensably linked with conversion, faith, repentance, the new birth etc. Namely in such a way that all of them go together in the NT, which is why in Acts the same effects can alternately be ascribed to baptism, faith, and/or repentance. For instance in Acts 15 when Peter testifies to the conversion of the Gentiles: “And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith.” I think that problems begin to arise when we try to separate what supernaturally belongs together. Like in infant baptism. As we can see from almost every instance in the NT (e.g. the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8) conversion and baptism belong intimately together and can stand almost interchangeably for each other: to be converted is to be baptized and to be baptized is to be converted. Baptism thus is the act of “calling on his name” (cf. Acts 22:16, Rom 10:13) and a brand new believer’s “appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (1 Pet 3:21b) Thus incorporation into the body of Christ is by faith *and* baptism, i.e. Credobaptism: “So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 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.” (Gal 3:24ff.) For St. Paul a convert/believer who rejects baptism and a baptizand without personal faith are likewise unthinkable. And that’s the way, methinks, it should be to us today.

    2. I would agree with the Reformers that water baptism is a means of grace in the sense that it is often used by God to foster sanctification, communicate the Spirit or to bring about certain fruits. But the same things can be said of faith etc. And I would clearly reject the notion of ex opere operato.

    Jeremiah,

    I think that the Baptistic expositions of Romans 6 make perfectly sense of the passage. But I have to say that I’m somewhat troubled with the English translations I have seen so far. In German translations (the approved RCC one included) there is a distinction in the translation of the Greek “εἰς“. I’m not exactly sure if the distinction between the English words “into” and “unto” Is able to render correctly to what I’m referring to, sorry.

    The thing is that in Romans 6 as well as in Colossians 2 baptism is a *burial*. Who is buried? Right, the dead and the dead only! Those who have already (before baptism!) died with Christ, those who have been crucified with him (Rom 6:6; Rom 7:4; Gal 6:14), those who already have been circumcised with a circumcision not made with hands (Col 2:11). The death of Christ on the cross is the believer’s death. Baptism depicts the burial of the dead into the tomb and the resurrection out of the tomb. Moreover, Paul can refer to baptism for the purpose of his exhortation ‘cause he knows that all of his readers have experienced baptism consciously – as well as death and spiritual resurrection by faith in Christ. They all can say with him: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal 2:20)

  91. Tim-Christian, you write:

    I would agree that “by the sacrament of Baptism, a person is truly incorporated into the body of Christ.” Yet as a Baptist I would disagree with the Presbyterian and Catholic view that infant baptism is true and valid baptism.

    A true baptism and a valid baptism would be the same thing, right? Since the majority of the members of both the PCA and the Catholic Church receive the Sacrament of Baptism as infants, then what you are saying is that most members of the PCA and the Catholic Church have never been validly baptized!

    Tim-Christian, what specific Baptist denomination do you belong to? Is this denomination one of the “Calvinistic” Baptist denominations? What does your denomination teach that the Presbyterians and Catholics that have received infant baptism should do so that they can be validly baptized?

    Tim-Christian, I would really be interested to know how your denomination would respond to the point made by Dr. Anders at the beginning of his article; e.g. that John Calvin knew of no “conversionistic account of Christian initiation.”

    When I first began to study Calvin in earnest, I was puzzled by what seemed a glaring omission in his writings and sermons. He never counseled his readers and listeners to be “Born Again.” This struck me as odd because I knew our denomination (PCA) considered Calvin to be our true founder. I also knew that the evangelical doctrine of “New Birth” (regeneration), understood as the moment of personal, conscious conversion, was the linchpin, the central dogma of our congregation. As an Evangelical Presbyterian, I had grown up constantly hearing these exhortations to be “Born Again.” My pastors and teachers revered evangelistic luminaries like Billy Graham and Bill Bright right along with the great Lion of Geneva.

    It was simply inconceivable to me that the great John Calvin did not know how to be saved! Nevertheless, as I kept studying, a clear but shocking picture emerged. Calvin knew no conversionistic account of Christian initiation.

  92. Tim #90

    The early Church debated the question of whether to baptize on the eighth day, ala circumcision. The decision coming from that council was no. At a time of relatively high infant mortality, children could be baptized without any wait, should that be desirable or necessary.

    Being circumcised did not require the eight-day old boy make a profession of faith. It was assumed that he would be raised in the faith, and at his bar mitzvah would accept the adult responsibilities of that faith.

    The early Church was predominantly Jewish, so accommodating their desire to share the salvation they found in Jesus with their children (and these were people who circumcised on the eighth day) would not be a problem.

    The idea of an adult decision (or a similar “age of reason” decision) is a novelty, as in something “new.” I remember reading Zwingli whose pushed this idea. The anabaptists growing out of Zwinglianism agreed to deny baptism to the newborn and infants. If anything like that occurred early than Zwingli, I don’t remember finding it.

    What I do remember reading is the Book of Acts where Peter receives Cornelius and his household into the Church. Were any of Cornelius’ household under the age of reason? It doesn’t say, either way, but they were all baptized into the Church Jesus founded. Peter made sure of that.

    Cordially,

    dt

  93. Mateo,

    1.) “Those who do actually profess repentance towards God, faith in, and obedience to, our Lord Jesus Christ, are the only proper subjects of this ordinance.” (LBC 1689, 29.2) Since (most) Presbyterians and Catholics have been invalidly “baptized” in infancy, the Baptist position is that they need to get validly baptized – not again but for the first time, as believers.

    2.) With all due respect, I do think that this is the weakness in Dr. Anders’ article. We don’t tell people to get (or make themselves) born again; like the Reformers we simply preach the gospel. Those who respond with repentance and faith and (seem to) give evidence get baptized and are considered to be born again. No altar calls, no decisional regeneration – just preaching of the gospel, the ministry of the word and the sacraments. And like Calvin wrote in his response to Cardinal Sadolet: “Wherever, therefore, that righteousness of faith, which we maintain to be gratuitous, is, there too Christ is, and where Christ is, there too is the Spirit of holiness, who regenerates the soul to newness of life.” It’s that newness of life that, in the long run, gives outward evidence (fruits) of the new birth and it’s not necessarily initiated by a spectacular emotional-crusade-altar call-conversion-experience a la Billy Graham. Nevertheless, it is true that most Christians I know are aware of the time they began to believe and look back to it as the moment or period of conversion.

    And here is another problem with the article above, a problem with terminology. John Calvin knew of no “conversionistic account of Christian initiation.” Really? In his Commentary on the Book of Psalms he writes:

    “God by a sudden conversion subdued and brought my mind to a teachable frame, which was more hardened in such matters than might have been expected from one at my early period of life. Having thus received some taste and knowledge of true godliness, I was immediately inflamed with so intense a desire to make progress therein, that although I did not altogether leave off other studies, yet I pursued them with less ardour.”

    Throughout Church history Christians had similar expiriences. Augustine, in his Confessiones, reports about his Tolle-lege-moment in the garden:

    “I neither wished nor needed to read further. At once, with the last words of this sentence, it was as if a light of relief from all anxiety flooded into my heart. All the shadows of doubt were dispelled.”

    Both, Calvin and Augustine, probably would never refer to those moments as their new birth. The problem therefore is not with the “conversionistic accounts” – church history is full of them. It’s with the “initiation”. Of course most people who grew up in an environment where baptismal regeneration and/or paedobaptism is the accepted and unquestionend status quo-doctrine would refer to their infant baptism as the moment of Christian initiation. But is that true? That is the question.

    Thanks,
    Tim

  94. Mateo,

    you wrote:

    “I know that many Reformed sects administer the Sacrament of Baptism to infants, but I don’t know why they give the Sacrament of Baptism to infants. If the Sacrament of Baptism does NOT make the infant “truly incorporated into the body of Christ”, then what, exactly, does it do for the infant?”

    I think we are not that far from each other. I’d rather become a Catholic than a Reformed paedobaptist … ;-)

    Pax tecum

  95. Re: Tim-Christian #93

    Adult converts, like Augustine, often experience an implicit “desire for baptism” before their actual baptism. In this case, the grace of baptism (forgiveness of original sin, gift of faith, incorporation into the body of Christ) can proceed baptism, such that if the catechumen dies before receiving the sacrament, the grace of the sacrament is still given. A person is implicitly incorporated into the Church (through baptism) even before baptism in this case; however, formal incorporation into the Church still occurs at the event of the baptismal sacrament.

    But in another case, such a person could receive a desire for baptism, but then later reject baptism. In this case, the person has rejected the gift of faith which he previously received.

    The case of an infant is quite different. In this case, the infant, who may have no understanding of baptism or conscious understanding of God, receives forgiveness of original sin, incorporation into the Church, and the gift of faith (the seed of faith) at the event of the baptism. This gift of faith, hope and charity received during baptism will grow as these gifts are nourished by the God’s grace working through the parents and the Church.

    Having grown up in a Protestant group that did adult baptism, I find infant baptisms quite beautiful, because the sacrament in this way is pure grace. There’s absolutely nothing the infant had to do to receive God’s sanctifying grace!

    In my experience, the sacraments, experienced as an adult, are not just a single “blip” in time but they have a mysterious timeless dimension to them. The effects of a sacrament seem to extend in time before and after the event. I have heard from other Catholics that they experience sacraments in this same way.

    I remember quite vividly the anticipation of receiving the Eucharist for the first time, and the contrition and humiliation experienced before my first reconciliation. And there was a time after these sacraments before I started to realize or “feel” the effects.

    Hope this helps!
    God bless,
    Jonathan

  96. Donald,

    Jesus commanded the disciples to go “and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Mat 28:19). Yet, this is the same Jesus who said: “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”

    Some, like Zwingli and Calvin, argue that infant baptism has replaced circumcision. Yet it is St. Paul who said that “in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” (Gal 5:6) It is true that the Abrahamic covenant now includes the gentiles for “if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring” (Gal 3:29), but you first have to belong to Christ through faith “for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.” (Gal 3:26) To be in Christ by faith is to be grafted into the promise given to Abraham – not the other way round. “This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.” (Rom 9:8) Only to those who belived in Christ, “who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (Joh 1:12)

    Yes, the early Church debated the question of whether to baptize on the eighth day – around A.D. 253! Church history furthermore shows that, up until the time of Augustine, nearly all the Fathers were baptized in an adult age. Early liturgies and instructions suggest the assumption that baptizands commonly were in an age of reason: “Before baptism, let the one baptizing and the one to be baptized fast, as also any others who are able.” (Didache) “There is general agreement that there is no firm evidence for infant baptism before the latter part of the second century. This fact does not mean that id did not occur, but it does mean that supporters of the practice have a considerable chronological gap to account for. (…) The most plausible explanation for the origin of infant baptism is found in the emergency baptism of sick children expected to die soon so that they would be assured of entrance into the kingdom of heaven. There was a slow extension of baptizing babies as a precautionary measure. It was generally accepted, but questions continued to be raised about its propriety into the fifth century. It became the usual practice in the fifth and sixth centuries.” (Everett Ferguson)

    In the case of the household of Cornelius it is reported that “the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word.” (Acts 10:44b) Therefore Peter’s question — “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” — makes perfectly sense. It’s a common pattern, by the way, when it comes to the household baptisms in Acts. In the case of the Philippian jailor it says that Paul and Silas “spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house.” (Acts 16:32) And also: “Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized.” (Acts 18:8) Of the household of Stephanas (cf. 1 Cor 1:16) it says in 1 Cor 16:15: “You know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints.” Probably no infants there either. The only possible case of infant baptism thus remains the household of Lydia in Acts 16, which, given the previous pattern, is not very likely at all. By hook or by crook, there is no explicit mention of infant baptism in all of Scripture. Maybe not a problem for Roman Catholics but surely for those Reformed paedobaptists who claim to hold to the regulative principle of worship.

    Pax et bonum,
    Tim

  97. Tim-Christian, you write:

    Since (most) Presbyterians and Catholics have been invalidly “baptized” in infancy, the Baptist position is that they need to get validly baptized – not again but for the first time, as believers.

    The Catholic Church also teaches that anyone that has received an invalid baptism would need to receive a valid baptism. So we don’t disagree about the point that invalid baptism necessitates a valid baptism. But Calvin believed that infants could be validly baptized, and your particular “Reformed Baptist” sect does not believe that infants can be validly baptized. How did that break from Calvin’s doctrine come into existence among “Calvinists”? That is the very question that Dr. Anders asks:

    How did we get from an ecclesial, sacramental view of Reformation (what Philip Schaff would call The Principle of Protestantism) to an ideology of denominationalism in which the form of Church is seen as accidental to Christian identity and only “new birth” counts as important?

    To back up your belief that infants cannot be validly baptized, you quote from the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith, which is a document written by the London Puritans. I don’t see how quoting LBC 1689, 29.2 somehow reveals a weakness in Dr. Ander’s article:

    With all due respect, I do think that this is the weakness in Dr. Anders’ article. We don’t tell people to get (or make themselves) born again; like the Reformers we simply preach the gospel. Those who respond with repentance and faith and (seem to) give evidence get baptized and are considered to be born again. No altar calls, no decisional regeneration – just preaching of the gospel, the ministry of the word and the sacraments.

    Who is the “we” that you refer to? I am assuming that “we” refers to a sect of “Particular Baptists”, or to some American sect of “Reformed” Baptists that holds to the innovations of the Particular Baptists of 1689. Is that correct? (It would be helpful to our dialog if you would identify the name of the Baptist sect that you have membership in, so that I wouldn’t have to guess about these things).

    … The creation of the 1689 Confession is linked to Early English Baptist history and the differences between the “General” and “Particular” brands of Baptist belief. In the early 17th century, English Baptists were mainly a loose organisation of churches, rather than an established denomination. With the advent of Arminianism at around the same time, many Baptist churches adopted the stance that a Christian’s salvation was ultimately contingent upon his own choice. These Baptist churches were considered “General Baptists” due to their belief in a “general atonement” for all men without exception. On the other hand, many Baptists rejected the teaching of Arminianism and asserted that a Christian’s salvation was ultimately contingent upon God and his sovereign choice (Grace or Mercy). These Baptists were called “Particular” because they believed that the death of Jesus Christ and his atonement was limited only to those whom God had chosen beforehand. The terms Particular Baptist, Calvinistic Baptist and Reformed Baptist are essentially synonymous.

    Ref: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1689_Baptist_Confession_of_Faith

    Tim-Christian, I don’t see how a quote from the Puritan’s 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith, exposes a weakness in Dr. Anders’ article. I would say, instead, that the fact that you quote from a Puritan confession of faith gives credence to Dr. Anders’s article, for Dr. Anders show that the novelties of the Puritan Innovation led to the novelty of the “New England Way”:

    The novelty of “the New England Way,” therefore, was to make regeneration the condition of Church membership, rather than initiation into the Church the condition of regeneration. By 1636, most of the congregations of New England restricted membership to “visible saints.” This led ultimately, and ironically, to denying baptism to the children of those who could not “prove” their election.

    Calvin taught that baptism was NOT to be denied to infants. Dr. Anders explains how it came to be that Reformed Baptists in America came to the exact opposite belief of John Calvin about this point of doctrine (a point of doctrine that is upheld not only by Calvin, but by every church that has a two thousand year old history – Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, the Ethiopian Copts, The Armenian Christians, the St. Thomas Christians of Kerala India …).

    So, where, exactly, is the weakness in Dr. Ander’s explanation of this how it came to be that in America some “Calvinists” would begin to preach the novelty that infants were to be denied the Sacrament of Baptism?

  98. Dear Jonathan,

    1.) I would even say that adult converts, like Augustine, expirience an explicit desire for baptism. The moment one comes to faith, believes that Jesus is Lord and learns that that same Jesus wants his disciples to be water baptized, is the moment one wants to obey by calling upon the name of the Lord (cf. Acts 22:16) and by making an “appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 3:21). The moment/period of conversion and the act of baptism are thus inseparably linked. No problem with that.

    2.) You wrote that “such a person could receive a desire for baptism, but then later reject baptism. In this case, the person has rejected the gift of faith which he previously received.” So you believe that the Holy Spirit gives the gift of faith and works the desire for baptism but then let’s a child of God perish? I do believe that “as many as were appointed to eternal life believed” (Acts 13;48) and am confident that “that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Phil 1:6) But I know that perseverance and assurance are another cup of tea and could open a whole thread on that one …

    3.) “The case of an infant is quite different …” On that basis one could easily argue for infant communion, infant confirmation (which the East does, I know) and, ta da, infant ordination. To paraphrase and alter your words: >The infant, who may have no understanding of ordination or conscious understanding of God, receives the character indelebilis, incorporation into the special priesthood, and the gift of sanctifying graces (the seed of consecration) at the event of the laying on of hands. This gift of special graces received during ordination will grow as these gifts are nourished by God’s grace working through the parents and the Church.< You see? I don't mean to ridicule your believes but that is not even that far-fetched since infant baptism is believed by Catholics to incorporate into the general priesthood of all believers.

    Pax tecum,
    Tim

  99. Tim-Christian @96,

    Jesus was also the same one who said, “Suffer children to come to me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.”

    Jesus did not tell them to take their infants back to the cry room.

    So the question remains, how are these little infants “the kingdom of God”. In your statements you have yet to positively prove that infant baptism is excluded on Scriptural grounds, and you cannot disprove its practice in the early Church because it was forbade by no-one other than Tertullian who did so on rigorist concerns. I don’t think anyone here wants to advocate, like Tertullian, for their teenagers to “sow their wild oats and then get baptized”. That is Tertullian’s argument against infant baptism, a far cry from yours which if representative of the reasoning of the early Church, we should expect to find in his writings or others.

    I think Donald Todd has given you a very direct inference to the practice in the Book of Acts, and I don’t think your qualifiers exclude the strong possibility that the infants in the jailer’s household were baptized. Your reading requires that either (1) the jailer’s household had no infants or (2) if they did, the infants were refused baptism. Of course, your qualifiers cannot imply (1) — that would prove too much, but your qualifiers do necessarily imply (2). But (2) leaves us in an awkward position as to how Christ treats and/or thinks of infants. Are they “sub-human”, creaturely little things that He will soon embrace, but only later, once they can “hear God’s Word”? While the passages of Scripture you cite prove that circumcision counts no more, they do not prove that baptism for infants count for nothing. The qualitative difference is that circumcision never, in itself, conferred anything. God did not “act through” the quasi-sacrament of circumcision. Circumcision was merely an outward sign (not a sacrament), and God blessed their obedience for using that sign. However, baptism is different. It is not just a symbol. It is a New Covenant reality, with better promises, no longer a shadow but a true promise of God’s abiding help. In, with, and through the Sacrament of Baptism, we are buried with Christ and rise again to new life by the power of the Holy Spirit.

    Unfortunately, the only way we are going to be able to resolve this is through the use of Sacred Tradition. To put it another way, where in the Tradition is the Apostolic practice preserved? Unfortunately, your tradition excludes the possibility of such, so I think you must, on pain of violating sola scriptura, argue that the question of infant baptism is left open. Apparently, the answer to the question is not necessary for salvation since “the whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture” (WCF, Ch.1, VI).

    Setting aside that WCF, Ch.1, VI. cannot be deduced from the principle of WCF, Ch.1, VI., which makes this all rather hazy, there is nonetheless no “good and necessary consequence” in the case for or against infant baptism.

    Peace to you on your journey,

    Brent

  100. Tim #96

    You are starting at the wrong end. The Church wrote the New Testament and decided the canon of scripture. It also interpreted scripture and made binding decisions. You are weighing scripture against the Church of which Jesus is the Head, and of which the Holy Spirit is intended to lead It to all truth.

    Men fail. Catholics fail. The Church of which Jesus is the Head does not fail as twenty centuries of men can now attest. It is still here despite Its sons and despite Its detractors. As Gamaliel noted, “What I suggest, therefore, is that you leave these men alone and let them go. If this enterprise, this movement of theirs, is of human origin it will break up of its own accord; but if it does in fact come from God, you will not only be unable to destroy them, but you might find yourself fighting against God.”

    Since we both like scripture cites, it is Jesus Who said to let the little children come to Him. Infant baptism is obedience to that directive, and it is a Catholic position. It properly reflects the Catholic understanding and purpose of the sacrament of baptism:
    1. Remission of all sins, and for those not yet at the age of reason, of original sin
    2. The grace of regeneration
    3. The infusion of virtues, notably faith, hope and charity
    4. Incorporation into Christ
    5. The right to heaven

    We have grasp this salvation, even as Paul noted that we are supposed to work out our salvation in fear and trembling because it is God Who wants to will and to work in us, much like James’ faith without works is dead. If we fail to do that, we’ll be like the Jews who did not make it out of the desert to the Promised Land.

    At the time of my conversion, there were some very notable things occurring.
    1. I could no longer use the names God, Jesus, Christ, or Jesus Christ as curses or conversational tools.
    2. I wanted to be in the company of people of like mind.
    3. I could not ask God to damn people, especially given my own circumstances at the time of my conversion, nor could I damn them on my own. God did come to save the world, not to condemn it. I was not supposed to be running a separate venue on this item
    4. I discovered that I had wronged my father and admitted my failure.

    God was working in me, creating a clean heart in me, giving me the desire to respond properly to the just demands of the Law, and frankly I wanted that. It is much easier to obey under those circumstances, yet it was not me, but Christ in me doing these things.

    However, as an evangelical Pentecostal, I found that I was in contention with Jesus over His own words, and I was not alone in that contention. He would say one thing, such as this is My Body or whose sins you forgive they are forgiven them, and I would say something else that undid His position. He was working in me, creating the conditions He knew I needed to respond to Him, and I was at cross purposes with Him. A house divided seems an apt description.

    I found the place where His words were held as being true. They weren’t denied, there were no tortured efforts to “understand” what was clearly said, rather I found agreement. Jesus is true so let us be true to Him. I became Catholic and the Church’s book was the messenger for me. Cite Scripture. Cite the fathers. The Scripture came out of the Church. The Fathers were doing their level best to find out what the Holy Spirit was telling the Church as those questions became relevant.

    That is how I see our Lord and how I see His Church.

    I am no longer angry that I was misinformed by the very people I was depending on to bring me to the truth back in my early days. God forgive them for they know not what they do.

    Cordially,
    dt

  101. I will answer to the other comments (Brent, Donald) at length later.

    For now:

    @Mateo

    A.) I’m a member of a congregation of the Bund Evangelisch-Freikirchlicher Gemeinden (BEFG) which is the dominant Baptist alliance here in Germany. We are neither “General” nor “Particular” even though I personally have a strong inclination towards Reformed theology (especially Neo-orthodoxy and Dialectical theology).

    B.) In my previous post I wasn’t constituting the weakness I see with the argumentative flow of the article with the quote from LBC 1689. In point 1.) I was merely answering your question “What does your denomination teach that the Presbyterians and Catholics that have received infant baptism should do so that they can be validly baptized?” I’m dealing with the weakness under point 2.). It consists, methinks, in the fact that under the dominating paradigm of baptismal regeneration and/or infant baptism of course no one identifies the moment of conversion with initiation or new birth – even though there are plenty of “conversionistic accounts” in church history (e.g. Augustine and Calvin). Looked at in that light the shift that appeared in Protestantism/Evangelicalism in the aftermath of the Reformation is not from “sacramental/objective” to “conversionistic/subjective” but from “conversionistic within a framework of sacramental initiation” to “conversionistic in an initiatory sense” (like in the NT, btw). So to say the theology of conversion, so prominent in Evangelicalism today, is already more than inherent in Augustine, Luther, Calvin and many others in between and afterwards.

    Peace,
    Tim

  102. @Brent

    You said: “Jesus did not tell them to take their infants back to the cry room.” Absolutely correct and indisputable: “And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it. And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.” (Mk 10:13ff.)

    Guess what we Baptists do with our children. Right, we bless them, we lay hands on them, and we dedicate them to the Lord (cf. Lk 2:22). Furthermore, we view them as belonging to the kingdom of heaven and as covenantally holy (1 Cor 7:14b). They participate in the covenant membership of the believing parent until they reach the age of reason (which, of course, can vary from child to child). To make a long story short: We treat our children in no other way than Paedobaptists treat theirs — except, we only baptize them on a credible profession of faith.

    Regarding the Oikos formula: Neither can you prove that infants were present, nor can I prove that infants were absent in all cases. Nevertheless, we have to deal with the fact that in three out of four cases in Acts (Cornelius, Philippian jailor, Crispus) there actually *is* a qualifier in the text which suggests that *all* the persons in the household received the word and/or believed before they got baptized.

    And yes, you may be right. Maybe the question will remain open till kingdom come …

    Greetings,
    Tim

  103. Dr. Anders,

    Thank you so much for your article. I enjoy your writing and thinking very much, as I also have a Presbyterian background. However, what does one do when one wants to come to Rome but one is married to a Protestant minister?

  104. Tim-Christian, you write:

    And here is another problem with the article above, a problem with terminology. John Calvin knew of no “conversionistic account of Christian initiation.” Really? In his Commentary on the Book of Psalms he writes:

    “God by a sudden conversion subdued and brought my mind to a teachable frame, which was more hardened in such matters than might have been expected from one at my early period of life. Having thus received some taste and knowledge of true godliness, I was immediately inflamed with so intense a desire to make progress therein, that although I did not altogether leave off other studies, yet I pursued them with less ardour.”

    Let us examine this “problem with terminology.” You make this point: “Throughout Church history Christians had similar experiences.” I accept that point, and in one sense, I would even characterize these spiritual experiences as “conversionistic experiences”. In the terminology of the Catholic Church, a spiritual enlightenment that leads one to a deeper conversion to Christ is an experience of metanoia.

    The Cursillo Movement exists to bring about a metanoia experience to the Cursillista (the person that attends a Cursillo retreat).

    Cursillo is a designated “Lay Movement” of the Catholic Church that normally begins with a person attending a three-day weekend retreat. … The emphasis of the Cursillo Movement is to have people experience God’s love via a beautiful weekend and then develop a closer personal relationship with Him while personally trying to make a positive difference in themselves and the world: their work environment, friends, parish, family.

    Ref: http://www.sanjosecursillo.org/

    ————————

    This Kingdom and this salvation, which are the key words of Jesus Christ’s evangelization, are available to every human being as grace and mercy. And yet at the same time each individual must gain them by force—they belong to the violent, says the Lord (Matthew 11:12; Luke 16:16), through toil and suffering, through a life lived according to the Gospel, through abnegation and the Cross, through the spirit of the beatitudes. But above all each individual gains them through a total interior renewal which the Gospel calls metanoia; it is a radical conversion, a profound change of mind and heart.

    Pope Paul VI

    On Evangelization in the Modern World (#10)

    … “a total interior renewal which the Gospel calls metanoia; it is a radical conversion, a profound change of mind and heart …”

    I think that the “problem with terminology” can be resolved this way:

    Metanoia: a radical conversion, a profound change of mind and heart, a total interior renewal. A metanoia experience is a “conversionistic experience”, a spiritual awakening leads one to desire to be more conformed to Christ .

    What is interesting to me is that after his metanoia/conversionistic experience, John Calvin did not assume that he needed to be rebaptized, because Calvin did not embrace the theology of the Anabaptists of the Radical Reformation. The direct descendants of the Anabaptists are the Amish, Hutterites, and Mennonites. The Reformed Baptist denominations of America are not the descendants of the Anabaptists, they are, instead, the direct descendants of the Calvinists.

    Which leads me to ask, how is that the Reformed Baptists in America ended up embracing the rebaptizing practices of the Anabaptists?

  105. Tim-Christian,

    Before you answer me, I want to make sure we (all of us) are on the same page. Do you acknowledge that Catholic theology has a place for personal, ongoing, conversion to Christ? I’m afraid that the paradigm “conversionistic within a framework of sacramental initiation”vs. “conversionistic in an initiatory sense”, as you put it, is a false dilemma — an unnecessary theologically novel antinomy. To grant you the distinction would inject too much confusion into this discussion. In fact, the paradigm presupposes Dr. Anders critique, which is to say that the goal posts were moved in the theological tradition of the Reformation from Sacramental initiation into the Church to personal, private conversion as the sine qua non of Church membership. Do you deny that your distinction is novel? It is not enough to prove that St. Augustine had a conversion “experience”, because no saint or Catholic would deny that we must all be converted — and that such can be an “experience”. Nevertheless, our confidence is not grounded in that “experience” (subjective) of personal, private conversion but rather in the experience of the public yet personal working of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit in the waters of baptism (objective). For all his disdain of Rome, even Luther would not deny this.

    My children were baptized. They are Christian. However, this does not mean nor does it imply that they need not appropriate the graces of their baptism and come to a personal faith in Christ. Tomorrow, my daughter will receive the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. She loves Jesus. She puts her trust in Him.

    Later in her life, she will have to continually “be converted”. She will have to “pick up her cross and follow Him.” She will have to remember that today, and today only, is the day of salvation. However, I am not helpless as a parent as to that arc of that journey. Like the friends of the paralytic, I gave her to Christ and His Church in Holy Baptism even if I had to lower her into the water myself.

  106. Dear Tim,

    You wrote: “And yes, you may be right. Maybe the question will remain open till kingdom come …”

    A noble admission. This is as far as sola scriptura will get you: not even far enough, as we’re finding in the present case, to answer very basic questions (Who should receive it? What does it do?) about one of the most basic practices of Christians.

    best,
    John

  107. Rebecca,

    Oh my. You are married to a Protestant minister. I am on the verge of making my go of it to Rome, and I am married to a man who threatens divorce if I do. Meanwhile, my heart longs for The Church and the Eucharist. We don’t have it easy. I will pray for you.

    Alicia

  108. Dear John,

    don’t misunderstand me – I’m convinced that Credobaptism is the way of the early church and therefore the way to go today. Yet, I’m humble enough to see that there are dear brothers and sisters in Christ who disagree with me.

    I hope that you, who are convinced of the infallibility of the Catholic Church and live accordingly, are humble enough to consider, at least from time to time, that you may be wrong. In that sense, many questions will remain open till kingdom come …

    A seperated brother in Christ

  109. Dear Brent,

    I totally agree with much of what you said. Yes, I acknowledge that Catholic theology has a place for personal, ongoing, conversion to Christ. After all, I consider Catholics as my brothers and sisters in Christ.

    I already acknowledged that there is a certain kind of a shift from Reformation Protestantism to Evangelicalism when it comes to the theology of conversion. Insofar I agree with Dr. Anders article. Yet, I think that the dimension of that shift should not be overestimated since, as you agree, personal conversion always had its place within Christian biography, hagiography and thus within theology and doxology. In fact, as a Baptist, I only differ from you (and, yes, from Calvin) in that I believe that conversion and baptism as the sacrament of initiation belong together (please notice that conversion not necessarily involves a dramatic and spectacular experience). I do honestly believe that that is the New Testament pattern. To kind of answer your question, I actually do think that conversion within a framework of sacramental infant (!) initiation was the novelty that had to be changed back. Thus the theology of the Reformers has been a necessary and helpful step in that recovery, even though Luther and Calvin didn’t go all the way (and I would probably have ended up within a Genevan prison cell).

    Thank you especially for sharing from your family life. I appreciate that. You wrote: “I am not helpless as a parent as to that arc of that journey.” I agree and I can only repeat what I wrote above (#102): We Baptists bless our chidren, we lay hands on them, and we dedicate them to the Lord (cf. Lk 2:22), we pray for and with them, we teach them the teachings of Christ, we bring them to church and we try to be an example of Christian conduct to them. We view our children as belonging to the kingdom of heaven and as covenantally holy (1 Cor 7:14b). They participate in our covenant membership until they reach the age of reason or accountability (which, of course, can vary from child to child). To make a long story short: We treat our children in no other way than Paedobaptists treat theirs — except, we only baptize them on a credible profession of faith.

    Thank you and God bless,
    Tim

  110. Tim #90,

    You are rather missing the point. You have to take the scripture as it is, not as your theology demands it to be. The whole point of Romans 6 is that because we died and were buried with Christ at our baptism, when we were raised up we were raised with Christ i.e. “…in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”

    The point is that when we were raised up from the baptisimal waters we were raised into the resurrected Life of Christ. The Early Church Fathers were unanimous in agreement on this exegesis.

    Romans 8:11 is even more explicit. “…And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.”

    Baptism is the point at which our old person literally dies and we are immediately infused with the resurrection Life of Christ at that point so that we live. Rom 8:11 indicates this living is not some sort of abstract spiritual idea but a concrete actual life in the physical body which comes from the Holy Spirit.

    This is the point at which I really have problems with reformed theology. It claims “Sola Scriptura” but then proceeds to rearrange passages of the Bible like this which disagree with it. I know of know reformed teachers who actually teach that Baptism does what Romans 6,7 & 8 say it does.

  111. Tim-Chistian, thank you for responding to my request to identify the Baptist sect that you have membership in. I was assuming that you were a member of an American Reformed Baptist sect, and I wrote my last post before I saw your post # 101.

    I am not familiar with the Bund Evangelisch-Freikirchlicher Gemeinden (BEFG), but I did a quick search on the internet to see what I could learn about the BEFG. From what I understand, the BEFG is not a spiritual descendent of the Anabaptists as are the Amish and the Mennonites, but rather, the Free Church German Baptists would trace their roots back through various Calvinist sects. Is that correct?

    A question for me is how it is that the BEFG came to accept the Anabaptist practice of the rebaptism of adults that have received infant baptism.

    Johann Gerhard Oncken seems to be an important figure for the BEFG, and I found an article that discusses his struggle with the idea of administering baptism to adults that had received infant baptism:

    Johann Gerhard Oncken: Germany’s Baptist Pioneer

    The baptism issue

    Impressed by Oncken’s preaching abilities, the Lutheran Church urged him to ‘legalise’ his work by becoming ordained. Other Christian friends promised to finance Oncken’s training. He refused these offers because of doubts regarding the Lutheran doctrines of baptism and the Church. Though a member of a church which taught Covenant Baptism, Oncken began a ten year study of the Bible to search for clarity on baptism’s true meaning. In 1829, Oncken wrote to Robert Haldane of Scotland for advice. Haldane told Oncken to baptise himself as a believer. The German could find no Biblical authority for such an act, and commented on Haldane’s advice with the words, “Even great men are able to err.” He discussed his problems with Matthews and Lange who, at first, resisted the notion of Believer’s baptism but Matthews soon became convinced that he should become baptised by immersion and immediately, resigned form his church and travelled back to England to receive the rite. Meanwhile, Oncken refused to have his children baptised and he and Lange continued to search the Scriptures. Oncken then corresponded with the Baptist historian Ivemy who invited him to London to receive Believer’s baptism. Oncken was, however, too busy preaching to undergo a lengthy journey and, reluctantly, had to decline the invitation. Meanwhile, Oncken was also corresponding with the Baptist leaders in the USA. In 1833 Professor Barnas Sears of Hamilton College visited Germany for further studies and spoke to Oncken on believer’s baptism. At this time, however, Oncken was too busy doing itinerant work for the Edinburgh Bible Society to consider being baptised. Back again in Hamburg in April,1834, Oncken made the final decision and Sears travelled up from Halle where he was studying and baptised Oncken, his wife and a number of his friends in the Elbe.

    Ref: http://evangelica.de/articles/biographies/johann-gerhard-oncken-germanys-baptist-pioneer/

    The above article indicates that the practice of rebaptizing adults that have received infant baptism is a rather recent innovation among the “Free Church” Baptists of Germany. Onken’s personal beliefs about “the baptism issue” were developed through his private interpretation of the bible, and his complicated associations with Protestant teachers in England and America. But personal interpretations of the Bible, and complicated relationships with English and American Protestants also explains how we came to have premillennial dispensationalists, Jehovah Witnesses, Mormons, Christian Scientists, Oneness Pentecostals, and thousands upon thousands of other Protestant sects that teach contradictory doctrine. Just because Gerhard Oncken dedicated over ten years to studying the “baptism issue”, it doesn’t mean that he came to the right conclusion.

    “Even great men are able to err.” – Johann Gerhard Oncken

    So just how did the Free Church Baptists in Germany of our era come to hold the Anabaptist beliefs of the Germans of an earlier era? How did Oncken’s correspondence with American Baptists influence him? And what, really, is the importance of Johann Gerhard Oncken to the members of the BEFG? I sure don’t know the answers to these questions.

    Tim-Christian, from reading my reading on the internet, I get the impression that Johann Gerhard Oncken is an important figure for the members of the BEFG. Is that at an accurate impression?

  112. Rebecca,

    While I am not in a position to respond to your question, I just wanted to let you know I will pray for you.

    Brian

  113. Thank you, Brian, and thank you, Alicia.

  114. Rebecca,

    Reading the account of Scott and Kimberley Hahn in their book “Rome Sweet Home” might be of some help. This book recounts their journey from their different perspectives. While their situation is not an exact parallel to yours, it is a detailed and moving account of their struggle and its happy resolution.

    Have you ever seen the “Journey Home” program on EWTN? This may also be an edifying and encouraging source for you.

    I will pray for you.

    Frank La Rocca

  115. Tim-Christian,

    Four questions:

    1. First, you said, “They participate in our covenant membership until they reach the age of reason or accountability”. Could you explain how they participate?

    2. Do you believe in original sin?

    3. If infant baptism is a novelty, when did the novelty start, and if it was a novelty who squashed its opposition?

    4. What was Jesus before the “age of reason”?

    JMJ,

    Brent

  116. Tim-Christian,

    St. Irenaeus (bishop of Lyon), writing around AD 185, and having earlier traveled to Rome, considered it well understood that Christ came not only to save adults, but to save all “who through Him are born again to God — infants, and children, and boys, and youths, and old men.” (Adv. Haereses II, 22, 4) But for all the early Christians, we are born again through baptism; this is what the passage in John 3 is all about. So, St. Irenaeus’ words can mean nothing other than that infants too were baptized, so that they too might be born again.

    St. Hippolytus of Rome, writing about AD 215, begins setting down the Apostolic Tradition with these words, “This [document] is so that those who are well informed may keep the tradition which has lasted until now, according to the explanation we give of it,”. When he arrives at the subject of baptism, and is explaining how the Church practices baptism, he writes,

    “The children shall be baptized first. All of the children who can answer for themselves, let them answer. If there are any children who cannot answer for themselves, let their parents answer for them, or someone else from their family.” (The Apostolic Tradition, 21)

    He writes about the Church’s practice of infant baptism as if there is no controversy within the Church about it, as if this is simply the way it is done, and has always been done. It is quite possible that St. Polycarp, who had been the disciple of the Apostle John, and who came to Rome toward the very end of his life (AD 155) was still alive when St. Hippolytus was a child. Not only is there no record of St. Polycarp correcting the practice of the Church at Rome regarding infant baptism; there is no record of any bishop correcting any other bishop regarding the practice of infant baptism in the first two centuries. And surely if the Apostles had taught that credo-baptism was essential, there would have been no small controversy as particular churches such as that at Rome took up the practice of infant baptism. Instead, there is no evidence of any controversy about the issue, and this suggests not only that there was no controversy about it, but that the practice of infant baptism we find at the beginning of the third century, was the original practice of the Church, and was sanctioned by the Apostles. Otherwise there would have been variations in practice and disputes regarding the practice, between Churches founded by different Apostles. The continuity and apostolic origins of the practice are confirmed by subsequent testimonies.

    On the subject of infant baptism, around the year AD 248, Origen writes:

    Every soul that is born into flesh is soiled by the filth of wickedness and sin. . . . In the Church, baptism is given for the remission of sins, and, according to the usage of the Church, baptism is given even to infants. If there were nothing in infants which required the remission of sins and nothing in them pertinent to forgiveness, the grace of baptism would seem superfluous.” (Homilies on Leviticus 8:3)

    The Church received from the apostles the tradition of giving baptism even to infants. The apostles, to whom were committed the secrets of the divine sacraments, knew there are in everyone innate strains of [original] sin, which must be washed away through water and the Spirit.” (Commentaries on Romans 5:9)

    Origen lived in Alexandria, but had traveled to Rome, Antioch, Caesarea, and Phoenecia. If infant baptism was only a local practice, he would not have been describing it as a tradition received from the Apostles. He treats infant baptism as a “usage of the Church,” where “Church” here doesn’t mean only a local church, but the universal Church.

    In AD 253, St. Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, in council with sixty-five other bishops of North Africa, wrote a letter to Fidus, who was asking whether it was necessary to wait until the eighth day to baptize the infant, as was the custom of the Jews regarding circumcision. St. Cyprian and these bishops explain the answer in Letter 58. Their answer is that spiritual regeneration should not be withheld to the eighth day, as circumcision was. During the whole discussion, the question was raised: “should infants be baptized.” That was a given. The question was only whether it was necessary to wait till the eighth day.

    St. Augustine’s comments on St. Cyprian’s epistle are even more telling. St. Augustine writes:

    And in the epistle which he [i.e. St. Cyprian] wrote with sixty-six of his joint-bishops to Bishop Fidus, when he [i.e. St. Cyprian] was consulted by him [i.e. Bishop Fidus] in respect of the law of circumcision, whether an infant might be baptized before the eighth day, this matter is treated in such a way as if by a divine forethought the Catholic Church would already confute the Pelagian heretics who would appear so long afterwards. For he who had consulted had no doubt on the subject whether children on birth inherited original sin, which they might wash away by being born again. For be it far from the Christian faith to have at any time doubted on this matter. But he was in doubt whether the washing of regeneration, by which he made no question but that original sin was put away, ought to be given before the eighth day. (Against Two Letters of the Pelagians, Bk IV)

    “Cyprian was not issuing a new decree but was keeping to the most solid belief of the Church in order to correct some who thought that infants ought not be baptized before the eighth day after their birth. . . . He agreed with certain of his fellow bishops that a child is able to be duly baptized as soon as he is born.” (Letters 166, 8.23)

    According to St. Augustine, the Christian faith has never doubted that (1) infants are born with original sin that must be washed away by being born again, and (2) that original sin is washed away through baptism. Even Bishop Fidus, who made the inquiry to St. Cyprian and the sixty-five other bishops, was not asking whether infants should be baptized, but only whether infants must not be baptized before the eighth day after their birth. There is no question here of anyone initiating a new practice by baptizing infants. The testimony of sixty-six bishops on this matter had no debate about infant baptism. No one objected, saying, that was never done in our Church, when the gospel was first brought to us. And since it would be extremely unlikely that they, having been born and raised at the beginning of the third century, would all have independently introduced a novel practice into the Church, contrary to that in which they were raised, their tacit and undebated approval of infant baptism in the middle of the third century is a powerful testimony to the ubiquity of the practice of infant baptism at the end of the second century.

    St. Augustine also wrote:

    “What the universal Church holds, not as instituted by councils but as something always held, is most correctly believed to have been handed down by apostolic authority. … Since others respond for children, so that the celebration of the sacrament may be complete for them, it is certainly availing to them for their consecration, because they themselves are not able to respond.” (On Baptism, Against the Donatists Bk 4, 24)

    “The custom of Mother Church in baptizing infants is certainly not to be scorned, nor is it to be regarded in any way as superfluous, nor is it to be believed that its tradition is anything except apostolic.” (The Literal Interpretation of Genesis 10.23.39)

    Elsewhere, in his work titled Against Julian, St. Augustine quotes St. John Chrysostom, bishop of Constantinople, who in his homilies for neophytes had written:

    You see how many are the benefits of baptism; some think the heavenly grace consists only in the remission of sins, but we have enumerated ten honors. For this reason we baptize even infants, though they are not defiled with sin, in order that there may be given to them holiness, justice, adoption, inheritance, and the brotherhood of Christ, that they may be His members.”

    St. Augustine then writes to Julian:

    Do you, then, dare to set these words of the holy bishop John in opposition to so many statements of his great colleagues, and separate him from their most harmonious society, and constitute him their adversary? Far be it, far be it from us to believe or say such an evil thing of so great a man. Far be it from us, I say, to think that John of Constantinople, on the question of the baptism of infants and their liberation by Christ from the paternal handwriting, should oppose so many great fellow bishops, especially the Roman Innocent, the Carthaginian Cyprian, the Cappadocian Basil, the Nazianzene Gregory, the Gaul Hilary, the Milanese Ambrose. There are other matters on which at times even the most learned and excellent defenders of the Catholic rule do not agree, without breaking the bond of the faith, and one speaks better and more truly about one thing and another about another. But this matter about which we are now speaking pertains to the very foundations of the faith. He who would overthrow in the Christian faith what is written : ‘Since by a man came death, by a man also comes resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made to live,’ strives to take away all that we believe in Christ. Christ is fully the Saviour of infants as well. They shall certainly perish unless redeemed by Him, for without His flesh and blood they cannot have life. This John [of Constantinople], too, thought and believed and learned and taught. (Against Julian, 6)

    In AD 418 the Council of Carthage condemned “whoever says that newborn infants should not be baptized.” And this has been the continual teaching of the Magisterium — see the 1980 CDF document “Instruction on Infant Baptism.”

    We, as Catholics, don’t get to make up the Tradition or set aside the Tradition. We submit to the Tradition, because we believe it has been handed down from the Apostles both in written form (i.e. Scripture) and as unwritten. (See section VIII. Scripture and Tradition) I see many Protestant-Catholic discussions in which this foundational difference between our respective doctrines is overlooked, especially when Catholics seeking to find common ground with Protestants performatively treat Scripture as capable of functioning apart from the Tradition. Overlooking this foundational difference makes the Catholic-Protestant disagreement insoluble and the debate interminable. Disagreements can be truly resolved only at their root, and the root here is a disagreement about the content and authority of Tradition, because that underlies the disagreements concerning the interpretation of Scripture and the normativity for Catholics of practices and beliefs not explicitly stated in Scripture.

    The content of the Tradition with respect to infant baptism is supported by the endurance of the practice of infant baptism even in the schisms from the Church, up until the Reformation. The Church has believed and taught that infants are to be baptized both because of what baptism does, and because of what even infants need. They too come into the world with original sin, not in a state of grace. And without grace, there is no salvation. The denial of infant baptism is either a denial of original sin (by reducing it to concupiscence, rather than recognizing it as the absence of sanctifying grace — see here), and/or by denying baptismal regeneration — a doctrine taught unanimously by the Fathers (see “The Church Fathers on Baptismal Regeneration“). Claiming that infants or children can be saved by nature alone, without grace, is a form of Pelagianism. This issue of infant baptism arose for St. Augustine precisely because the Pelagians were denying original sin. He argues (in book 6 of “Against Julian”) that the Church’s practice of infant baptism demonstrates the truth of original sin, because if babies didn’t have original sin, they wouldn’t need baptism, and the Church wouldn’t be baptizing them. Likewise, those today who deny the need for infant baptism, are either denying original sin and/or denying that Christ provided a means of salvation for children below the age of reason.

    If we [Catholics] didn’t have the Tradition, then perhaps infant baptism would be an open question for Catholics, as it is within Protestantism, still unsettled after five hundred years of intra-Protestant debate over the meaning of Scripture. But for Catholics, the Tradition is very clear on this question, and the Tradition is authoritative. Because we believe that the Holy Spirit dwells within the Church and guides her, we trust the Tradition within the Church as having been handed down from the Apostles, and explicated more deeply over time by the Magisterium, which is guided by the Holy Spirit. Letting go of ecclesial deism allows us to recognize the divine authority of the Tradition, and live under the clarity and freedom that authority provides. We follow Christ by following His Church, not our own interpretation of Scripture. That changes the whole paradigm.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  117. Brent

    To 1. and 2.

    I believe in original sin. “At the very moment that a person begins human existence, which is a good, he or she is confronted by a sin-damaged world. Each of us enters into a situation in which relationality has been hurt. Consequently each person is, from the very start, damaged in relationships and does not engage in them as he or she ought. Sin pursues the human being, and he or she capitulates to it.” (Joseph Ratzinger) The difference with children of believers is that they are born into a situation, an environment in which the hurt relationality has been (or is being) healed by Christ. They have direct access to many blessings, like the preaching of the word, the fellowship of saints etc. Moreover, they participate in covenant membership in that they have a status as covenant children, which distinguishes them from the children of, say, committed non-apostate atheists. In 1Cor 7 Paul says that children of at least one believing parent are to be considered holy – but he does not mention infant baptism, which would have been a boost for his argumentation. Yet he did not.

    Bryan and Brent (question 3)

    I wrote above (#96):

    Church history furthermore shows that, up until the time of Augustine, nearly all the Fathers were baptized in an adult age. Early liturgies and instructions suggest the assumption that baptizands commonly were in an age of reason: “Before baptism, let the one baptizing and the one to be baptized fast, as also any others who are able.” (Didache) “There is general agreement that there is no firm evidence for infant baptism before the latter part of the second century. This fact does not mean that it did not occur, but it does mean that supporters of the practice have a considerable chronological gap to account for. (…) The most plausible explanation for the origin of infant baptism is found in the emergency baptism of sick children expected to die soon so that they would be assured of entrance into the kingdom of heaven. There was a slow extension of baptizing babies as a precautionary measure. It was generally accepted, but questions continued to be raised about its propriety into the fifth century. It became the usual practice in the fifth and sixth centuries.” (Everett Ferguson, “Baptism in the Early Church”)

    In his “Lehrbuch der Geschichte der Alten Kirche” [Textbook on the History of th Ancient Church] German Church historian Karl Suso Frank OFM writes: “In it’s practice of baptism the imperial church retained the earlier developed forms. Still adult baptism was the rule. Even children of Christian parents – among them many of the known Church Fathers – were baptized in an more mature age. Parents however let the priests perform an exorcistic ritual on the children and were committed to a Christian education. From the 5th century onwards infant baptism became more and more common.”

    Even Swiss theologian Hans-Urs von Balthasar in “Kirchenerfahrung dieser Zeit” admitted that the change from a practice of baptizing those who have the decision-making ability to a Christianity without initial decision, into which one is simply born (“in das man sich nicht hinein
    entscheidet, sondern unbewusst hinein-‘geboren’ wird”) is the most weighty decision in Church history („die folgenschwerste aller Entscheidungen der Kirchengeschichte“).

    So, as far as I am concerned be convinced of your own position as the one of the spirit-guided magisterium – but at least admit that a change took place! After all, Bryan, it’s striking that the earliest source you can quote is St. Irenaeus, writing around AD 185 …

    Pax vobiscum,
    Tim

  118. Tim-Christian, (re: #117)

    I presented the testimonies of Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Origen, Cyprian, Chrysostom, and Augustine in support of infant baptism, two of whom explicitly state that this practice has been handed down from the Apostles, and all who lived between one hundred and three hundred years of the death of the last Apostle. You respond by quoting three persons who each lived at least one thousand and eight hundred years after the death of the last Apostle. The testimonies of the persons I cited are far weightier and more credible than is that of those you cited, because the Church Fathers lived in much greater proximity to the Apostles.

    Ferguson’s claim that “Church history furthermore shows that, up until the time of Augustine, nearly all the Fathers were baptized in an adult age” is beside the point, for two reasons. First, because it doesn’t take into consideration what percentage of the Fathers were converts, and second, because it does not recognize that during the fourth century there was a decline in the practice of infant baptism, as is explained in the “Instruction on Infant Baptism” linked in my previous comment:

    Admittedly there was a certain decline in the practice of infant Baptism during the fourth century. At that time even adults postponed their Christian initiation out of apprehension about future sins and fear of public penance, and many parents put off the Baptism of their children for the same reasons. But it must also be noted that Fathers and Doctors such as Basil, Gregory of Nyssa, Ambrose, John Chrysostom, Jerome and Augustine, who were themselves baptized as adults on account of this state of affairs, vigorously reacted against such negligence and begged adults not to postpone Baptism since it is necessary for salvation. Several of them insisted that Baptism should be administered to infants.

    It would be a mistake to use the fourth century decline in the practice of infant baptism [the fourth century being a century in which many Church Fathers were born] as evidence that infant baptism was not apostolic in origin. And Karl Frank’s statement is about the fourth century, so his statement is fully compatible with infant baptism being apostolic in origin.

    Ferguson goes on:

    Early liturgies and instructions suggest the assumption that baptizands commonly were in an age of reason: “Before baptism, let the one baptizing and the one to be baptized fast, as also any others who are able.” (Didache)

    Of course that is talking about the baptism of those who have attained the age of reason. But it would be a mistake on our part to infer by way of an argument from silence that infants were not baptized between the time of the Apostles and the end of the second century, especially given the positive evidence from the Church Fathers (I already presented in my previous comment) that infant baptism is apostolic in origin.

    Ferguson continues:

    “There is general agreement that there is no firm evidence for infant baptism before the latter part of the second century. This fact does not mean that it did not occur, but it does mean that supporters of the practice have a considerable chronological gap to account for. (…)

    Then you added:

    After all, Bryan, it’s striking that the earliest source you can quote is St. Irenaeus, writing around AD 185 …

    It shouldn’t be striking at all, given the paucity of patristic material preserved from the time prior to St. Irenaeus. It should be exactly what is expected, given how few writings, relatively speaking, remain from the early second century. The mistake would be to use the general absence of patristic evidence during that period, as having some bearing on the infant baptism question, that is, as tacit evidence that infant baptism didn’t begin until the late second century. That would be a rather egregious mistake in reasoning from the evidence.

    As for Balthasar, he was mistaken and/or in opposition to the Tradition on other points (see here and here), so he’s not an entirely reliable authority regarding Catholic Tradition. And if he said what you claimed (you provided no reference), then he merely puts himself in one more instance at odds with both the Church Fathers and the teaching of the Catholic Church regarding the apostolic origins of infant baptism.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  119. Bryan,

    I think we’ve arrived at the final point of disagreement. You presented your case, I presented mine.

    Even though I concede that there is strong evidence from the Fathers pro infant baptism (at least from the late 2nd. century onwards), for me the following points remain decisive:

    1. We have the New Testament with *no* clear, explicit mention of infant baptism and a theology that suggests a togetherness of conversion and baptism. The Oikos formulae are ambiguous in this regard (even though I’m not growing tired to say that there are qualifiers pointing to faith and/or recption of the word/Spirit on behalf of *all* members of the particular households).

    2. We have a Syriac church constitution, the “Didache”, from the late 1st./early 2nd century which explicitly mentions baptism (mode, behaviour of the baptizand) but it is completely silent on the matter of infant baptism (what is quite strange assuming the case infant baptism was common and frequently practiced at that time). The same is true for Justin Martyrs “Apology” – explicit mention of baptism, no mention of infant baptism: “As many as are persuaded and believe that what we teach and say is true …”

    3. We have a lot of high class scholars from different church traditions (including RCs) and theological disciplines who have come to the conclusion (or at least suggestion) that infant baptism probably wasn’t original (Ferguson, M. and K. Barth, Ahland, Frank, Balthasar et. al.), even though — granted — most of them regarded it as valid and practiced it.

    PS. Some of the quotes you attributed to Ferguson was actually my ragged stuff … maybe I should start to use the quotation boxes … ;-)

  120. Tim-Christian, (re: #119)

    You wrote:

    Even though I concede that there is strong evidence from the Fathers pro infant baptism (at least from the late 2nd. century onwards), for me the following points remain decisive:

    Those three points could be decisive only if (a) they were incompatible with the baptism of infants being the teaching of the Apostles, and (b) ecclesial deism were true and infant baptism had never become the practice of the whole Church around the world, and (c) the Church had not definitively ruled on the question.

    But, each of the three points you mention is fully compatible with the Apostles having taught infant baptism. Your first point “We have the New Testament with *no* clear, explicit mention of infant baptism …” would be a reason against infant baptism only if the entirety of the Apostolic Tradition was contained in the New Testament. But, as I explained at the link titled “Scripture and Tradition” in comment #116, and as is testified to both by Scripture and by the Fathers, the Apostolic deposit was handed down not only in writing, but also orally. So the absence of an explicit statement in Scripture is not “decisive” evidence that it wasn’t taught and handed down by the Apostles.

    Your second point is an argument from silence in two places: the Didache and St. Justin’s Apology. Arguments from silence are not decisive in general, and especially when there is no reason to expect what is provided to be exhaustive. Moreover, in his first Apology, St. Justin writes, “And many, both men and women, who have been Christ’s disciples from childhood, remain pure at the age of sixty or seventy years.” (Apology 15) There he refers to persons in their sixties and seventies, who have been Christ’s disciples since childhood, implying that they were baptized as children between the years AD 85 and AD 95. What he says there is similar to what St. Polycarp says at his martyrdom in AD 155, when he says, “Eighty and six years have I served Him.” It is believed that St. Polycarp was eighty-six years old at his martyrdom, and St. Polycarp was no Pelagian. So he was likely baptized as an infant in the year AD 69, very close to the time of the martyrdoms of St. Peter and St. Paul.

    Your third point is basically that some scholars have disagreed with the Church’s claim that infant baptism comes from the Apostles. Surely you recognize that the fact the some contemporary scholars deny x, is in no way “decisive” evidence in support of ~x. Otherwise, you can kiss goodbye the Bible and the resurrection and the Exodus and the creation, and, well, the entirety of any historical claim Christianity makes. You will have traded a magisterium of divinely established bishops, for a magisterium of self-established academic overlords under whose ‘authority’ nothing at all has been established, and every last article of faith will be ‘debunked,’ except that they are to be trusted.

    All three points you provide are not decisive, not only because they are fully compatible with the truth of the apostolic origin of infant baptism, but also because what makes them seem decisive to you is a Protestant paradigm according to which (a) everything we need to know is contained explicitly in Scripture, (b) the testimony of the Church Fathers from the second through fourth centuries concerning infant baptism cannot be trusted because ecclesial deism is true, and (c) Christ has provided no authoritative magisterium to guide and instruct His Church on such questions, so we are beholden to the academic magisterium, which in practice works out to selecting those scholars with whom we agree. But using a Protestant paradigm to decide between Catholicism and Protestantism, is what is called “begging the question.” There is no point in even working through the argument, if you load your conclusion into your evaluative methodology. It becomes merely a rationalization of the paradigm you already believe, not a genuine comparison of the two paradigms.

    Your position presupposes ecclesial deism, in that it presupposes that infant baptism was an accretion that infiltrated all the Churches and corrupted the original Apostolic doctrine. This is why all the evidence I laid out from the Fathers in comment #116 carries no weight with you, precisely because for you, they are not to be trusted. So, without the guidance of the Fathers, you are at the mercy of the contemporary academics and their interminable debates, since the authority vacuum must be filled.

    We Catholics are not at the mercy of the competing schools of thought among the academic scholars, in order to know what to do with our infants, and to know what takes place in their souls when we bring them before the Church for baptism, to receive the gift of eternal life. The Church has spoken, very clearly, and infallibly, and thus irrevocably, regarding the question, at the ecumenical Council of Trent, in response to the Anabaptist heresy:

    If anyone denies that infants, newly born from their mothers’ wombs, are to be baptized, even though they be born of baptized parents, or says that they are indeed baptized for the remission of sins, but that they derive nothing of original sin from Adam which must be expiated by the laver of regeneration for the attainment of eternal life, whence it follows that in them the form of baptism for the remission of sins is to be understood not as true but as false, let him be anathema, for what the Apostle has said, by one man sin entered into the world, and by sin death, and so death passed upon all men, in whom all have sinned, is not to be understood otherwise than as the Catholic Church has everywhere and always understood it.

    For in virtue of this rule of faith handed down from the apostles, even infants who could not as yet commit any sin of themselves, are for this reason truly baptized for the remission of sins, in order that in them what they contracted by generation may be washed away by regeneration.

    For, unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven. (Trent 5.4)

    In doing so, Trent remained in continuity with the teaching of the Council of Carthage (AD 418) mentioned above in comment #116, which likewise condemned “whoever says that newborn infants should not be baptized.” So we are not “tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine” proposed in academic journals and books, not only by scholars who stand within heretical traditions but even Catholic scholars. We rest in the authority of the Tradition and the definitive teaching of the Church Christ founded, by the Magisterium He authorized and established to govern His Church until He returns in glory. Ecclesial deism is a thief, because it steals from its adherents the capacity to see the authority of Tradition, to trust the Church Fathers and the Church, and thus to rest in what the Church has handed down and declared.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  121. Frank La Rocca,

    Yes, thank you, I have read Rome Sweet Home and others by Scott Hahn, and have watched/listened to The Journey Home numerous times. I have read just about everything out there. My problem at this point is not my convictions; it is my situation. Thank you.

  122. Dear Rebecca,

    Thank you so much for writing. I think most of us here at CTC have experienced at least some of the anxiety you must feel. I know that my wife and extended family were all opposed to my entering the Church. And several of the CTC contributors had to give up plans for the Protestant pastorate in order to be received into the Church.

    I would counsel and ask a few things in your situation.

    1st – does your husband know where you are in your journey and why? Where does he stand? And in what denomination? I know that your joining the church would be harder on your husband in some denominations than others.

    2nd – If you are persuaded by the claims of the church, then you cannot be permanently idle in your quest, but you don’t have to move tomorrow. You MUST follow your conscience, but you can move forward with grace, tact, and discretion. You have many options. The normal path for converts is to enter R.C.I.A. in the Fall, but exceptions are made all the time. (I didn’t go through R.C.I.A.) You might find it easier to ask for private instruction and/or to be received privately into the Church. I would discuss the issue with an orthodox and sensitive priest, making plain the delicate situation. There will be priests who will work with you on this, and others who might not. Keep looking for one who is eager to help.

    3rd – Are you still receiving the sacraments in your Protestant Church? If you are persuaded that they are not in fact valid sacraments, this is something for you to consider.

    4th – I would encourage you to trust in God’s providence. Most of the converts I know went through some kind of hell when they began the process of entering the Church, but look back on this purgatory as very, very beneficial. They see that God worked in ways they could not have anticipated, and that their suffering bore spiritual fruit they never imagined. Isn’t that a critical Catholic doctrine? That God redeems us through suffering? Trust me – it will not be easy, but it will be ultimately satisfying. At some point, you just have to be like Bunyan’s Pilgrim and run towards the light crying, “Life, life, eternal life.” (Although Bunyan didn’t run in exactly the right direction.)

    God bless you . We all know, more or less, what you are experiencing. Becoming a Catholic was the hardest thing I ever did, but by far the best.

    In Christ’s Church,

    David

  123. Dear Dr. Anders,

    Thank you so much for replying to my post. I can perhaps explain more when I have more time, although I am not comfortable saying too much on a post. However, my husband would lose his job if I were to convert, and yes, he does know where I am on this journey and has been extremely upset about this, to the point that his health has been affected. He has worried about being in a position where he cannot provide for his family. We have children at home, and my decision to enter the Church would affect not just me, but other people in my family. I did talk to a priest about this a couple of years ago, and he told me that he thought that patience was the key. I realize that priests are not infallible (smile), and want to be careful, but I am caught between wanting to run to the Church and thinking that I can’t because of my present circumstances. My situation is sort of the reverse of so many of these pastors who convert, because I am not the breadwinner in my family, and I would put my husband in a terrible position. We are in a very conservative denomination. I wish I could convert tomorrow. It’s been difficult for me, but I’m afraid it’s been more of a purgatory for my poor husband.

    Thank you,
    Rebecca

  124. Rebecca,

    Please be assured of prayers for you and your family in this time of great difficulty.

  125. Tim-Christian, I have been wondering how it came to be that “Calvinists” of the Reformed Baptist denominations came to accept two Anabaptist beliefs that were rejected by John Calvin, namely, the Anabaptist beliefs that infants should not be baptized; and that adults that have received baptism as infants should be rebaptized when they become “born again” through hearing the word of God preached to them.

    I believe that you answered this question in your reply to Brent in your post # 109:

    … I actually do think that conversion within a framework of sacramental infant (!) initiation was the novelty that had to be changed back. Thus the theology of the Reformers has been a necessary and helpful step in that recovery, even though Luther and Calvin didn’t go all the way …

    So, the theology of Luther and Calvin was a “helpful step” in the right direction, but Luther and Calvin didn’t go far enough. But the Radical Reformers of the 16th century did go “all the way”, and it didn’t take the Radical Reformers hundreds of years to realize some of the implications of what Luther and Calvin were preaching:

    … Unlike the Catholics and the more Magisterial Lutheran and Reformed (Zwinglian and Calvinist) Protestant movements, the Radical Reformation generally abandoned the idea of the “Church visible” as distinct from the “Church invisible.” Thus, the Church only consisted of the tiny community of believers, who accepted Jesus Christ and demonstrated this by adult baptism, called “believer’s baptism”.

    While the magisterial reformers wanted to substitute their own learned elite for the learned elite of the Catholic Church, the radical Protestant groups rejected the authority of the institutional “church” organization, almost entirely, as being unBiblical.

    Ref: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radical_Reformation

    If the Anabaptists were right about the need to go all the way as regards “believers baptism”, then what else might the Anabaptists have gotten right in the 16th century? One thing that immediately comes to my mind is the “home church” phenomena that is rapidly taking root in America among evangelical Protestants:

    Why Home Church?

    Home Church provides a simple and wonderful alternative to attending traditional church. The churches in the New Testament were home churches. Throughout the centuries, many people have met in homes. There are millions of people having church in homes today, but you rarely hear of them because they are not advertised or high profile. There are many reasons to have church in homes. Here are a few of the primary reasons …

    “Going To Church” is Not in the Bible

    … Was it considered a church meeting when Jesus would preach to the crowds? Of course it was! The church meetings throughout the New Testament include meetings outside, meetings around a fire, meetings in homes, and meetings in buildings …

    Ref: http://homechurchhelp.com/

    This “home church” phenomena is nothing new (see above – “the radical Protestant groups rejected the authority of the institutional ‘church’ organization, almost entirely, as being unBiblical.”) The Amish don’t build church buildings to worship in, and they have been doing “home church” for centuries, in just the way described at homechurchhelp.com.

    All of the above, it seems to me, is evidence that Dr. Ander’s thesis is correct:

    My thesis: that Calvin’s view of salvation was ultimately destructive of his ecclesiology …

  126. Re: Tim-Christian,

    You said: “But I know that perseverance and assurance are another cup of tea and could open a whole thread on that one …”

    There are quite a few articles about assurance on this website, I recommend checking the index if you want to explore and discuss that area.

    “On that basis one could easily argue for infant communion, infant confirmation … I don’t mean to ridicule your believes but that is not even that far-fetched since infant baptism is believed by Catholics to incorporate into the general priesthood of all believers.”

    The Church sees no theological problem with an infant receiving the Eucharist or confirmation/chrismation, so you’re right that the same argument can be used for the reception of these sacraments. An infant born into the Eastern Catholic Church will receive not just baptism, but all the sacraments of initiation at the same time. BUT you can’t take this argument as far as the sacrament of marriage or the sacrament of holy orders. Not all Christians are called to these vocations.

    Holy orders should not to be confused with the priesthood of all believers (to which all baptized belong). Members of the body all receive special gifts and functions. Serving as a deacon (diakonos), priest (presbyteros), or bishop (episkopos) is a special calling.

  127. Rebecca,

    Is it possible for you to

    1 turn your longing over to Mary?
    2 invite your husband to go through RCIA with you?

    When I started discussing marriage with the woman who would become my wife, she was the daughter of Presbyterian lay missionaries and she was a member of a little anti-Catholic congregation, one might say zealously anti-Catholic in orientation.

    I noted that while she would not have to become Catholic, she would have to help me raise our children as Catholics, and we both wanted children. Fortunately for me, our marriage prep guy was a very good lay deacon who presented the Catholic Church in a way I could not. My wife became Catholic shortly after we were married.

    For a long time, whenever my in-laws smiled at me, their sharpened teeth went on display. They were utterly certain that I had misled their daughter and would be a detriment to our children, and were afraid not to express that sentiment repeatedly.

    1 I am a convert and they did not have a chance. Been there, done that, moved on, and forgave them
    2 We did have children and I may have been a detriment, but not purposely

    Several years into our marriage, an amazing thing happened. My in-laws were in grave trouble. He had the beginnings of dementia and she was well along in alzheimers. He was trying to keep it all together and every moment for him was a bleeding ulcer kind of moment. He could not take care of her in an assisted living apartment by himself or with the limited support that the assisted living people could provide.

    My wife was afraid for her parents’ well-being, so we brought them into our home. It allowed my wife to honor her parents by caring for them. Eventually her mother needed 24-hour nursing care but when that time came, my mother-in-law had her husband and her daughter to visit her nearly daily. Until that time, she was fed, bathed, had clean clothes and bedding, and was taken to the doctor or other events without issue. My wife honored her parents and her parents gave up being angry at me, which was good, if for no other reason than because it was not working anyway.

    I am telling you this because I don’t know how things will work out around you, but I am assured that they will work out well for you and for the good of your family.

    Love God and love your husband.

    God love you.

    Cordially,

    dt

  128. Rebecca,

    I will add to the chorus. I would describe myself as a Reformed Evangelical, attending a PCA church. I am now over a decade investigating the claims of the Catholic Church and with growing doubts that I can honestly remain Protestant. I still have my doubts and concerns about Catholic claims and doctrine, but most of them based on visceral negative bias. My marriage has suffered greatly over this, and I, too, have tried to exercise patience and wisdom in an effort to truly love and care for my wife, but not ignore the call to love/obey my Lord. I have complained loudly and frequently to God – how could He ask me to walk two paths that seem to be so diametrically opposed: loving care for my spouse and loving obedience to Him? I am thankful that He knows our frame, understands our weakness, and is a patient Father. I have on many occasions recalled the image of Abraham with his hand raised to kill his own son. His faith was radically obedient, especially when it made no sense at all and seemed to lead to certain suffering. I have far less courage and faith. I will pray for you today, that God will give you clarity in seeing what God is asking of you, and the courage to obey, whether that means taking the plunge or laying this down for your husband.

    Burton

  129. Tim-Christian, (re: #119)

    I did not see it mentioned, but I wanted to add three points for you to think about with regard to infant baptism.

    1) After reading the quote by St. Irenaeus confirming infant baptism, remember that he was a hearer of St. John the Apostle, and even if that tradition is not accepted as reliable, he was undoubtedly friends with St. Polycarp who was a student of St. John the Apostle.

    2) In Lev. 12:3 we learn that circumcision of eight-day old babies was the way of entering into the Old Covenant. In Col. 2:11-12 we learn that baptism is the new “circumcision” for entering into the New Covenant. I would therefore conclude that baptism is for babies as well as adults.

    3) In Eph. 1:1 and Eph 6:1 we read how St. Paul addresses the “saints” of the Church, and among these were the children he exhorted to obedience. Children become saints of the Church only through baptism.

  130. Alan, Tim, et al

    Re 129, Alan, your point #2 is where I and other Reformers would agree with you. Baptism is a sign of the New Covenant, just as circumcision was a sign of the first Covenant with Abraham. As Presbyterians, we would say that “God’s promises have never depended on our age nor our understanding”… they are unilateral. As such, we baptize the children of believers who are therefore under the Covenant, just as were the children of Abraham. Your references in point #3 confirm this as well. Further, in Acts 16:15 and Acts 16:33, we find examples of new repentent believers and their entire households eing baptized.

  131. Curt Russell, you wrote:

    Baptism is a sign of the New Covenant, just as circumcision was a sign of the first Covenant with Abraham. As Presbyterians, we would say that “God’s promises have never depended on our age nor our understanding”… they are unilateral. As such, we baptize the children of believers who are therefore under the Covenant, just as were the children of Abraham.

    Curt Russell, when your Presbyterian church administers baptism to an infant, don’t Presbyterians believe that a sacrament is administered to an infant?

    Here is how the Catechism of the Catholic Church defines “sacrament”:

    1131 The sacraments are efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us. The visible rites by which the sacraments are celebrated signify and make present the graces proper to each sacrament. They bear fruit in those who receive them with the required dispositions.

    774 The Greek word mysterion was translated into Latin by two terms: mysterium and sacramentum. In later usage the term sacramentum emphasizes the visible sign of the hidden reality of salvation which was indicated by the term mysterium. In this sense, Christ himself is the mystery of salvation: “For there is no other mystery of God, except Christ.” The saving work of his holy and sanctifying humanity is the sacrament of salvation, which is revealed and active in the Church’s sacraments (which the Eastern Churches also call “the holy mysteries”). The seven sacraments are the signs and instruments by which the Holy Spirit spreads the grace of Christ the head throughout the Church which is his Body. The Church, then, both contains and communicates the invisible grace she signifies. It is in this analogical sense, that the Church is called a “sacrament.”

    1084 “Seated at the right hand of the Father” and pouring out the Holy Spirit on his Body which is the Church, Christ now acts through the sacraments he instituted to communicate his grace. The sacraments are perceptible signs (words and actions) accessible to our human nature. By the action of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit they make present efficaciously the grace that they signify.

    Clearly, the Catholic Church teaches that her seven sacraments communicate the grace of the divine life to the recipients of the sacraments, provided that the recipients receive the sacraments with the required dispositions. What I understand about Presbyterian doctrine is this; that Presbyterians believe that there are only two Sacraments; Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. If “sacrament” is restricted to Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, it is my understanding that Presbyterians would not object to the definition of sacraments given above – “The sacraments are perceptible signs (words and actions) accessible to our human nature. By the action of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit they make present efficaciously the grace that they signify.” Please correct me if I am wrong about this.

    In regards to infants that receive a valid Sacrament of Baptism, I have a question about what Presbyterians believe concerning the grace that is communicated to the infant receiving the Sacrament of Baptism.

    It seems to me that the Common Agreement on Mutual Recognition of Baptism implies that grace is indeed communicated to the infant that receives a valid Sacrament of Baptism:

    COMMON AGREEMENT ON MUTUAL RECOGNITION OF BAPTISM
    Roman Catholic-Reformed Church dialogue

    1. Together we affirm that, by the sacrament of Baptism, a person is truly incorporated into the body of Christ (I Corinthians 12:13 and 27; Ephesians 1:22-23), the church.

    Ref: http://worship.calvin.edu/dotAsset/a497b155-55fb-4ab2-8049-69801f6605e2.pdf

    From the Catholic perspective, an infant that is validly baptized receives the grace of regeneration when the infant is baptized. (Which is why Catholics speak about “baptismal regeneration”). Because the infant is always regenerated by the reception of a valid Sacrament of Baptism, it necessarily follows that the infant is also “truly incorporated into the body of Christ.” The doctrine of “baptismal regeneration” is also affirmed by the Eastern Orthodox, the Oriental Orthodox, and, I believe, most Lutherans and Anglicans.

    Curt Russell, I would like to know if Presbyterians also believe in the baptismal regeneration of infants that receive a valid Sacrament of Baptism? If they do not, then how, exactly, does the Sacrament of Baptism make a baptized infant “truly incorporated into the body of Christ”?

  132. The development of the idea of an “invisible” church leads some theologian (ei. RC Sproul) to say “We have the infallible Word of God in a fallible process”

    This is why I’m going to turn Catholic. If the canon of scripture were clarified to us by a visible church (in the years 300-400AD) at what point did this church stop being authoritative. Fundamentally, Christ instituted a “Church”. He did not just want us to have “merely” a Bible. If He did, he would have left us with a systematic theology.

  133. Christopher Lake,

    In comment # 21 to Alicia, you said something to the effect that you could write for “hours” about how imputed righteousness does not hold together. I’m just curious; if you’re willing, could you give specific examples from Scripture that support that view? I’m investigating Catholicism and haven’t seen as much exegesis of specific verses that show the Protestant imputation of Christ’s righteousness to be false.

    –Christie

  134. Christie (re:#133),

    Thank you for the question, sister. I could, indeed, write for hours on the subject of the Scripturally problematic nature of imputed righteousness, and I’d be happy to do so! As a “questioning” Protestant, I spent many, many hours poring over the Bible, studying the issue of justification (which, for Protestants, obviously involves imputed righteousness). If the Catholic Church was wrong on justification, as I had believed her to be for years, honestly, it didn’t matter to me what she might have right– because, for me, even as a questioning Protestant, justification was still the issue on which all other matters turned.

    Ultimately, study of Scripture convinced me that while a Scriptural case could certainly be *made*, and made fairly well, for the historic Reformed Protestant view of justification and imputed righteousness, the Scriptural case for the Catholic view on these matters was/is simply stronger, *if* one takes into account the teachings of Jesus in the Gospel *and* the writings of St. Paul and St. James, rather than focusing mainly on a certain exegetical understanding of various passages, here and there, from Paul’s epistles.

    I write about this issue more (and do some actual Biblical exegesis, which is what you wanted!) over at the thread for the CTC article, “Does the Bible Teach Sola Fide?” Since that article is specifically on the subject in question here, it would probably be best for us to have this discussion there. http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2009/09/does-the-bible-teach-sola-fide/

    Specifically, comments #192 and #212 of mine, on the thread for the article, might be helpful for you. Of course, if you haven’t read the article itself, I recommend that too, because it has direct bearing on the exegetical question of imputed righteousness.

    After reading the article (if you haven’t already), and my comments #192 and #212, if you would like me to go further, exegetically, into the problems that I see with imputed righteousness, I can definitely do so. I’m simply thinking that I and others might have already written some things on the site that could be helpful for you, before I go on write more (which, again, I am happy to do). :-)

    Also, I don’t know if you’ve read the article here on the conflict between The Lord’s Prayer and the Reformed understanding of imputed righteousness, but if not, it could also be helpful in answering your question: http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2010/06/reformed-imputation-and-the-lords-prayer/

    Thanks again, and please let me know if you’d like more exegesis or clarification (over at the “Does the Bible Teach Sola Fide?” thread, as that one is more on-topic for your question). God bless!

  135. P.S. Christie,

    My comment #221 on the “Sola Fide” thread also involves exegesis on imputed righteousness. I was trying to remember all of my relevant comments on the thread, but I but forgot that one! http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2009/09/does-the-bible-teach-sola-fide/

  136. Dear David,

    Thank you for this article. As a Reformed minister there is much in what you write that I wholeheartedly agree with. I have often contrasted what I consider to be the subjective interior criteria of the 17th century Puritans, 18th century Methodists, 19th century revivalists and the weird and wonderful since then with the Reformers emphasis on the objective reality of Christ’s person and work and the means of grace. I despair at times of the chaos and confusion that marks contemporary Evangelicalism and Protestantism which labels have become increasingly redundant because nebulous. However I belong to the Reformed constituency with its clearly defined creedal affirmations where I find (by and large in Scotland at least) a high degree of uniformity in orthodoxy and orthopraxy regardless of what goes on elsewhere! In spite of what you write I can assure you that you would get a pretty uniform answer to your question ‘how do I get to heaven?’ within the Reformed Churches.

    With the exception of Calvin whose theology you set out to critique, I note that you do not really engage with Reformed confessional Christians/theologians. Rather to bolster your thesis you rely mainly on men who would not really be described as Calvinistic or Reformed. I understand that this is part of your criticism of the Reformation – that it has led to a multiplicity of denominations with a vast array of beliefs and behaviours! I share your concern but I reached a different conclusion. The answer to our woes is not to join the Roman Communion but to work for the re-establishment of solidly catholic, confessional and commissional Reformed churches. Here in Scotland the RCC contains liberals and charismatics; traditionalists and modernists and thus to a limited extent mirrors the Protestant mainstream that your piece criticises.

    Your article left me wondering if your eclectic approach, possibly born of your own experience and frustration, has not misled and misinformed you. You write: ‘As clear as I once thought salvation was, I learned that there was simply no universal Protestant answer to the question, “How do I get to Heaven.”’ Every Protestant I know would echo the words of the apostle: ‘believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved…’ You conclude: ‘Now I thank Heaven for the clarity of the Catholic Church.’ Are you truly advocating the clarity of uncertainty? ‘How do I get to heaven’? What says the RCC?

    Yours appreciatively,
    Wayne

  137. Wayne Pearce (#136

    Your article left me wondering if your eclectic approach, possibly born of your own experience and frustration, has not misled and misinformed you. You write: ‘As clear as I once thought salvation was, I learned that there was simply no universal Protestant answer to the question, “How do I get to Heaven.”’ Every Protestant I know would echo the words of the apostle: ‘believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved…’ You conclude: ‘Now I thank Heaven for the clarity of the Catholic Church.’ Are you truly advocating the clarity of uncertainty? ‘How do I get to heaven’? What says the RCC?

    Wayne – this is David’s post and I am butting in here, but I (ex-Reformed, now-Catholic) would like to say that (it seems to me) the important point is not whether it is possible for a particular group of Protestants – the creedal Reformed, in this case – to have a consistent understanding of these things. Many groups – the Jehovah’s Witnesses, for instance – have that. The question is, how do you know the group’s answers are what God wants us to believe? It is a question of authority.

    The reason to be a Catholic isn’t because the Church’s official teachings are consistent – they are, of course, and they are clear, despite the lack of consistency and clarity (as many have pointed out) if you take the opinions of all who call themselves Catholic. It is whether that Church has the right and duty to proclaim things as being from God.

    I learnt the principle of church authority from my Reformed elders. I saw, then, that that meant I had to decide whether, in fact, the particular body I belonged to – amongst, in fact, all the many bodies calling themselves creedal Reformed but split from us (a split happened, in fact, in our New Zealand Reformed Church body during the 20 years that I was Reformed, a split that persists to this day) had any right to that authority. I found that they had it only if in fact I myself was that authority – i.e. their authority depended on the fact that I interpreted the Scriptures in such and such a way and they interpreted them in the same way.

    I came to believe – in considerable part through reading John Henry Newman’s books – that the authority of the Church was corporate; that that authority had to be passed down bishop to bishop; and that at the time of the Reformation, the Reformers broke from that authority and lost it themselves. In short, to submit to Christ’s authoritative Church and the rulers thereof, I had to submit to the (Catholic) Bishop of Auckland.

    That was 19 years ago. I have never regretted it.

    jj

  138. Hi Wayne,

    Thanks for your remarks. I realize, of course, that the confessional reformed folks don’t buy into modern evangelicalism. Neither would Calvin have bought in. But that’s really not at issue in the article, is it? My point about the trajectory of Anglo-American Protestantism is that it was a development of themes in Calvin’s soteriology. I acknowledged that these developments were not universal across the Reformed world: “Obviously, Reformed doctrine evolved differently in France than in England, differently in Hungary than in Holland.”

    Still, I think that Calvin made a few very important innovations that had powerful consequences throughout the Ango-American strain. In particular, making regeneration co-extensive with election, insisting on the possibility of assurance, but allowing for the possibility of false assurance.

    These innovations create certain tensions – these tensions exist in every strain of Reformed Christianity, but they obviously get resolved in different ways in different strains.

    As for your comment about what “every Protestant would say” – well, of course every Catholic would say that too. But they issue is how we interpret and apply those words of Paul, no? Are you denying that there are varying soteriologies within Protestantism?

    As far as theological diversity within Catholicism, I’m not sure how that affects my thesis. Catholics are only bound to believe what is taught authoritatively by the Church’s magisterium. We are not bound by that theological diversity. If some other Catholic dissents from Church teaching, what is that to me?

    Thanks again for reading and commenting,

    David

  139. Thanks John,

    yes I agree with you. It’s a question of authority. And for me the supreme authority must be the infallible Word of God rather than the fallible words of men. I do not discount the authority of the church but it rests on the solid foundation of apostles and prophets with Jesus Christ the chief and head corner stone. I read the words of an Orthodox priest recently who said that the EO interprets scripture in light of tradition. Well I would say to the contrary that we ought to interpret tradition in light of scripture. This is how we ‘test the Spirits’. It is on that basis that I would reject the JWs who mention first and foremost. Of course I could point to the Nicene Creed which was ostensibly formulated in response to Arianism! However for me the scripture not the creed carries supreme authority.

    Now please note that I said we. I am not at liberty to concoct doctrines contrary to the teaching of the Reformed church to which I belong.

    I can empathise at your frustration and dismay with splits within the Reformed confessional churches but they are NOT divided doctrinally and one could easily transfer membership from one congregation to another. I’m not arguing its ideal or even right but it is not such an issue for me. I appreciate your craving for definitive and authoritative pronouncements took you into the RCC but she is not the ultimate authority for Christ is the Sovereign Head of the church rather than the Pope.

    I recently downloaded a couple of free books by John Henry Newman and will read in the coming months but I think I will find JC Ryle more biblical.

    I do not doubt but do not share your conviction that the body of Christ is the RCC. If anything I can’t help but think Roman Catholic is a contradiction of terms! Your claim is to be particular and universal!

    I do believe in catholicity but that necessitates conciliarism!

    Good to discuss these things. I’ll keep reading!
    Wayne

  140. Thanks David,

    Calvin wasn’t the first to make the connection between regeneration and election. Romans 8:30 clearly affirms that salvation is of sovereign grace. Those whom God predestinated (elected), He calls (effectually, which includes regeneration), and those who He call He similarly justifies and will unquestionably glorify. It seems to me that Calvin was in good company! The fact that God alone truly knows those who are His makes false assurance a reality. We are also told to make our call and election sure. Hence one’s conduct ought to match one’s confession. Our Lord says His people will be known by their fruits!

    I would be amazed if there were no tensions within RCism! It was these very tensions that led to the Reformation!

    As for soteriology while there is unquestionably different views within Protestantism I thinks it’s fair to say that we all believe that sinners are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone without the works of the Law!

    Ditto on the issue of what other Protestants believe. We work to proclaim and promote the faith once delivered to the saints. We must leave the increase (and judgement for that matter to the Lord).

    I intend to keep reading. I posted a link to your article on my FB page and am grateful to you for it. Agree with much of what you write but not all.

    God bless,
    Wayne

    PS. Would you consider Hitchcock’s History of the Catholic Church a fair representation of RC history?

  141. ‘and those whom He calls’. Sorry, I really need to read my posts before posting them! Wayne

  142. Hi Wayne,

    Thanks again for writing. I’m wondering about your statement that Scripture should carry supreme authority – meaning, I take it, that Scripture is the final norm – norming tradition and church teaching.

    Could you tell me what divine authority authorizes us to use Scripture in this way?
    As Catholics, we also believe that Scripture is the infallible word of God. However, we note that Scripture nowhere indicates that it is to be used as the rule of faith, deciding all controversies of religion.

    Just wondering where you learned this doctrine.

    Thanks,

    David

  143. Wayne,

    I read the words of an Orthodox priest recently who said that the EO interprets scripture in light of tradition. Well I would say to the contrary that we ought to interpret tradition in light of scripture.

    Can you not see that this idea, that Scripture should interpret tradition, is a tradition? Moreover, I think your statement means something more like, “We ought to correct tradition in light of Scripture.” If it did not, I would expect Tradition to loom large in your theology. What I mean is that, on your statement, Scripture would be there to help you understand some kind of authoritative tradition, if the point of Scripture is to help you interpret tradition. Therefore, it is not.

    Of course, as David Anders implies, Scripture says nothing of the sort. So, where do we get this idea? The answer is tradition, but the question is then from whence did that tradition spring? John Calvin is not a good enough answer.

    Thank you for your gentle spirit, direct language, and peace to you on your journey.

  144. Thanks David,

    Yes, I understand your need to attack the doctrine of the supreme authority of scripture! Does the sacred scripture expressly state the doctrine of sola scriptura for that is what you are getting at right? Well no but then it does not use the words Trinity and Sacrament either but you do not doubt these!

    We are to make God’s word a lamp for our feet and a light for our path (Ps.119:105). God says through His prophet ‘to the Law and to the testimony, if they speak not according to my word there is no light in them’ (Isa.8:20). How often do we read in the scriptures ‘thus says the Lord’? We are expressly told in both Testaments not to add to or take away from God’s word! Did our Lord and Saviour when debunking false teachers and doctrine not say ‘it is written’ referring to the word of God? He never said, what says the church because the visible church had departed from the true faith. Hence Sadduccees took away from and Pharisees and Scribes added to – making void the word of God by their traditions (Mt.15:6) and yet they claimed to be the bona fide custodians of the true faith. As Christians we are called to follow Christ, the Word Incarnate.
    The scriptures are written first and foremost to show that He is the Christ, the Son of God and that by believing we might have life in His name.
    Now, I appreciate that we have greater light than the OT saints. Moreover believers individually and the church collectively has the Spirit in much greater measure – the Spirit who inspired the Scriptures must illuminate them for us and lead us into all truth. However word and Spirit should not be separated.

    We are told to try or test the Spirits? How do we do so but by recourse to the word? We are expressly warned that false teachers (wolves in sheep’ clothing) will infiltrate the church. How can the church identify such people but by the litmus test of scripture? We are to contend for THE faith – that objective body of truth delivered to the saints once and forever. I do not disregard the church. She has formulated creeds, catechisms and confessions in response to error and as a bulwark to orthodoxy and orthopraxy but she comprises fallible men. Hence her creedal formulations must always be subordinate to the infallible word of God.

    Regards,
    Wayne

  145. Thanks Brent, see latest post in response to David’s question. Yes, I concede we have our own traditions but they are formed by recourse to the word of God. I didn’t learn the doctrine from Calvin but from scripture. That our Confession of Faith articulates the doctrine is not of primary but secondary importance. God bless, Wayne

  146. Hi Wayne,

    Thanks for the response. I don’t so much “feel the need to attack the supreme authority of Scripture” as I feel the need to test doctrines against the data of revelation.

    As such, every verse you cited supports the Catholic view of Scripture – namely, that it is a light unto our path, an inspired witness to Christ, etc. But none of those things is at issue between Protestants and Catholics. Nor are we in disagreement over the authority of Jewish tradition.

    The question I posed was – what divine authority has authorized us to consult the 66 book Protestant canon of Scripture as the Rule of Faith? I’m waiting for an answer to this question.

    I also find it telling that you propose the Trinity and the Sacraments as analogies for the doctrine of Scripture. Because, of course, I only know the doctrine of the Trinity from Sacred Tradition and the Teaching authority of the council of Nicaea. Left to myself, I doubt I would have discerned “That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons; nor dividing the Essence.”

    And, of course, when I read the correspondence of St. Athanasius about the Nicene council, I find that one of his principle charges against the Arians was that they wanted to interpret Scripture without the lense of Sacred Tradition.

    Finally, when I consider your remarks about testing the Spirits, I am reminded that St. John in his epistles makes agreement and communion with the apostolic community to be a mark of the Spirit of Truth. Even St. Paul, when he says, “If I or an angel of heaven preach another gospel… ” makes agreement with the original, apostolic kerygma to be the criterion of truth.

    I don’t find the apostles anywhere exhorting Christians to test the authority of apostles against their own subjective interpretation of Scripture. Rather, I find that the apostles give us some pretty straight forward and objective criteria for evaluating religious doctrine, and those criteria include unity, catholicity, tradition, and submission to apostolic authority.

    Thanks again,

    David

  147. Wayne,

    One further clarification.

    St. Paul does not say that all those who are regenerate will necessarily inherit eternal life.
    He does say that all the elect are regenerate. But this does not mean that all the regenerate are elect. To infer this would be the fallacy of affirming the consequent.
    And, considered in the scope of Church history, Calvin was clearly innovative in asserting this.

    -David

Leave Comment

Subscribe without commenting