Reformed Churchmen

We are Confessional Calvinists and a Prayer Book Church-people. In 2012, we remembered the 350th anniversary of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer; also, we remembered the 450th anniversary of John Jewel's sober, scholarly, and Reformed "An Apology of the Church of England." In 2013, we remembered the publication of the "Heidelberg Catechism" and the influence of Reformed theologians in England, including Heinrich Bullinger's Decades. For 2014: Tyndale's NT translation. For 2015, John Roger, Rowland Taylor and Bishop John Hooper's martyrdom, burned at the stakes. Books of the month. December 2014: Alan Jacob's "Book of Common Prayer" at: January 2015: A.F. Pollard's "Thomas Cranmer and the English Reformation: 1489-1556" at: February 2015: Jaspar Ridley's "Thomas Cranmer" at:

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Blog 147: 3.20.28 - 3.20.30 - Blogging the Institutes

Blog 147: 3.20.28 - 3.20.30 - Blogging the Institutes

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Blog 146: 3.20.23 - 3.20.27 - Blogging the Institutes

Blog 146: 3.20.23 - 3.20.27 - Blogging the Institutes

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Smalcald Articles. II.II.16-III.2

The source of Romish doctrine is "evil spirits" and we are glad Luther says it, unlike our fellow theologues today. (We include a map to show some of the geographic directions of Lutheranism. The results of these malignant doctrines and spirits? Masses, vigils, pilgrimmage, and alms as meritorious deeds. Surrender, like James Packer's associates, is not in Luther's Creed. Like Anglo-Papists, the Mass controls it all. The "devil was riding the Pope" like a jackass or donkey; the donkey wasn't Balaam's ass either, although he was wiser than Popish doctrines. Cloisters have no support in Scriptures either, although, if used according to their original intention--education, meditation on Scripture, etc.--they have their place. Relics and other "tomfooleries" abound including collections of dog tooths and bones. One must admire the strength of character that informs Luther. Indulgences and the sale of salvation was one amongst many abuses. The invocation of saints is another abuse of "Anti-Christ." There isn't a whiff of support for this from Scriptures and it attacks Christ. Manglicans need to revisit their history. We would do well to review and master not just the content, but the flavour and ethos of this great jewel of the Reformation.

Smalcald Articles.

16] Secondly. From this it has followed that evil spirits have perpetrated much knavery [exercised their malice] by appearing as the souls of the departed, and with unspeakable [horrible] lies and tricks demanded masses, vigils, pilgrimages, and other alms.
17] All of which we had to receive as articles of faith, and to live accordingly; and the Pope confirmed these things, as also the Mass and all other abominations. Here, too, there is no [cannot and must not be any] yielding or surrendering.

18] Thirdly. [Hence arose] the pilgrimages. Here, too, masses, the remission of sins and the grace of God were sought, for the Mass controlled everything. Now it is indeed certain that such pilgrimages, without the Word of God, have not been commanded us, neither are they necessary, since we can have these things [the soul can be cared for] in a better way, and can omit these pilgrimages without any sin and danger. Why therefore do they leave at home [desert] their own parish [their called ministers, their parishes], the Word of God, wives, children, etc., who are ordained and [attention to whom is necessary and has been] commanded, and run after these unnecessary, uncertain, pernicious will-o'-the-wisps of the devil [and errors]?
19] Unless the devil was riding [made insane] the Pope, causing him to praise and establish these practices, whereby the people again and again revolted from Christ to their own works, and became idolaters, which is worst of all; moreover, it is neither necessary nor commanded, but is senseless and doubtful, and besides harmful. Hence here, too, there can be no yielding or surrendering [to yield or concede anything here is not lawful], etc.
20] And let this be preached, that such pilgrimages are not necessary, but dangerous; and then see what will become of them. [For thus they will perish of their own accord.]

21] Fourthly. Fraternities [or societies], in which cloisters, chapters, vicars have assigned and communicated (by a legal contract and sale) all masses and good works, etc., both for the living and the dead. This is not only altogether a human bauble, without the Word of God, entirely unnecessary and not commanded, but also contrary to the chief article, Of Redemption. Therefore it is in no way to be tolerated.

22] Fifthly. The relics, in which there are found so many falsehoods and tomfooleries concerning the bones of dogs and horses, that even the devil has laughed at such rascalities, ought long ago to have been condemned, even though there were some good in them; and so much the more because they are without the Word of God; being neither commanded nor counseled, they are an entirely unnecessary and useless thing.
23] But the worst is that [they have imagined that] these relics had to work indulgence and the forgiveness of sins [and have revered them] as a good work and service of God, like the Mass, etc.

24] Sixthly. Here belong the precious indulgences granted (but only for money) both to the living and the dead, by which the miserable [sacrilegious and accursed] Judas, or Pope, has sold the merit of Christ, together with the superfluous merits of all saints and of the entire Church, etc. All these things [and every single one of them] are not to be borne, and are not only without the Word of God, without necessity, not commanded, but are against the chief article. For the merit of Christ is [apprehended and] obtained not by our works or pence, but from grace through faith, without money and merit; and is offered [and presented] not through the power of the Pope, but through the preaching of God's Word.

Of the Invocation of Saints.

25] The invocation of saints is also one of the abuses of Antichrist conflicting with the chief article, and destroys the knowledge of Christ. Neither is it commanded nor counseled, nor has it any example [or testimony] in Scripture, and even though it were a precious thing, as it is not [while, on the contrary, it is a most harmful thing], in Christ we have everything a thousandfold better [and surer, so that we are not in need of calling upon the saints].

26] And although the angels in heaven pray for us (as Christ Himself also does), as also do the saints on earth, and perhaps also in heaven, yet it does not follow thence that we should invoke and adore the angels and saints, and fast, hold festivals, celebrate Mass in their honor, make offerings, and establish churches, altars, divine worship, and in still other ways serve them, and regard them as helpers in need [as patrons and intercessors], and divide among them all kinds of help, and ascribe to each one a particular form of assistance, as the Papists teach and do. For this is idolatry, and such honor belongs alone to God.
27] For as a Christian and saint upon earth you can pray for me, not only in one, but in many necessities. But for this reason I am not obliged to adore and invoke you, and celebrate festivals, fast, make oblations, hold masses for your honor [and worship], and put my faith in you for my salvation. I can in other ways indeed honor, love, and thank you in Christ.
28] If now such idolatrous honor were withdrawn from angels and departed saints, the remaining honor would be without harm and would quickly be forgotten. For when advantage and assistance, both bodily and spiritual, are no more to be expected, the saints will not be troubled [the worship of the saints will soon vanish], neither in their graves nor in heaven. For without a reward or out of pure love no one will much remember, or esteem, or honor them [bestow on them divine honor].

29] In short, the Mass itself and anything that proceeds from it, and anything that is attached to it, we cannot tolerate, but must condemn, in order that we may retain the holy Sacrament pure and certain, according to the institution of Christ, employed and received through faith.

Part II, Article III: Of Chapters and Cloisters.

1] That chapters and cloisters [colleges of canons and communistic dwellings], which were formerly founded with the good intention [of our forefathers] to educate learned men and chaste [and modest] women, ought again to be turned to such use, in order that pastors, preachers, and other ministers of the churches may be had, and likewise other necessary persons [fitted] for [the political administration of] the secular government [or for the commonwealth] in cities and countries, and well-educated, maidens for mothers and housekeepers, etc.

2] If they will not serve this purpose, it is better that they be abandoned or razed, rather than [continued and], with their blasphemous services invented by men, regarded as something better than the ordinary Christian life and the offices and callings ordained by God. For all this also is contrary to the first chief article concerning the redemption made through Jesus Christ. Add to this that (like all other human inventions) these have neither been commanded; they are needless and useless, and, besides, afford occasion for dangerous and vain labor [dangerous annoyances and fruitless worship], such services as the prophets call Aven, i.e., pain and labor.

6-Blogging the Old Testament. 2-Image of God

Here begins Part Six. 2-Image of God.

We’ve been talking about man’s purpose in creation and starting to address the phrase Let us make man in our image. What does it mean and why is it important?

We began suggesting what is on offer from some philosophers. We might do well to ask the same about the film and music industries.

Yesterday, while driving, I tuned into a country music station to think about this question. Here was the sense of it. “I went to Sunday School and found Jesus. I’m just a country boy who likes whiskey drinking women. Some gals like me. Some don’t.” This mountain woodsman and hillbilly approach to God and Scriptures is out of the question. We’ll have more to say.

We are not asking about Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life, although our strongest fear is that modern “so-called evangelicalism” is clinically narcissistic; a paradigm change is in order and it must be led by readers with commitment.

Einstein, an alleged agnostic, said somewhere that God’s didn’t roll the dice when he created the heavens and the earth. He also said somewhere that he bowed in simply reference and profound humility before the Mind that put things together. Creation and man in God’s image is purposeful. Let us make man in our image.

Purpose or no purpose?

If no God, no purpose and anything goes. We believe it was Tolstoy who said, “If there is no God, anything goes.” Even Aristotle understood this.

In the beginning, we read of God creating the heavens, the starry host, the sun and moon, the rivers and oceans, dividing the day from the night, birds and animals of all species. We think of that aspect of theology called the sciences: botany, zoology, microbiology, orthinology, ischythology, entomology, astronomy, geology and oceanographic as a few of the fields of human endeavour. All of the creation is followed by the divine benediction in Genesis 1.31: Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. So the evening and morning were the sixth day.

But the pinnacle of Creation is not yet finished. The earth is not populated. There are no people. God, in essence, says, “In this vast domain that reflects My glory and craftsmanship, I see that there is nothing that bears my image.”

Let us make man in Our Image, according to Our Likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

It is not possible that God could have created another God, for then He would not be God and Lord. “God is a Spirit,[1] infinite,[2] eternal,[3] unchangeable,[4] in His being,[5] wisdom,[6] power,[7] holiness,[8] justice,[9] goodness[10] and truth.[11]

We pause to keep God’s essence and attribute in focus as we continue to ask: What does it mean when God said, Let us make man in our image. Creation is a Trinitarian action in time.

Here ends Part Six.

[1] Deuteronomy 4:15-19. Take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves; for ye saw no manner of similitude on the day that the LORD spake unto you in Horeb out of the midst of the fire: Lest ye corrupt yourselves, and make you a graven image, the similitude of any figure, the likeness of male or female, The likeness of any beast that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged fowl that flieth in the air, The likeness of any thing that creepeth on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the waters beneath the earth: And lest thou lift up thine eyes unto heaven, and when thou seest the sun, and the moon, and the stars, even all the host of heaven, shouldest be driven to worship them, and serve them, which the LORD thy God hath divided unto all nations under the whole heaven. Luke 24:39. Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have. John 1:18. No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him. John 4:24. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth. Acts 17:29. Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device.
[2] 1 Kings 8:27. But will God indeed dwell on the earth? behold, the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house that I have builded? Psalm 139:7-10. Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me. Psalm 145:3. Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; and his greatness is unsearchable. Psalm 147:5. Great is our Lord, and of great power: his understanding is infinite. Jeremiah 23:24. Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? saith the LORD. Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the LORD. Romans 11:33-36. O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.
[3] Deuteronomy 33:27. The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms: and he shall thrust out the enemy from before thee; and shall say, Destroy them. Psalm 90:2. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God. Psalm 102:12, 24-27. But thou, O LORD, shalt endure for ever; and thy remembrance unto all generations.... I said, O my God, take me not away in the midst of my days: thy years are throughout all generations. Of old hast thou laid the foundation of the earth: and the heavens are the work of thy hands. They shall perish, but thou shalt endure: yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment; as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed: But thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end. Revelation 1:4, 8. John to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace be unto you, and peace, from him which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before his throne.... I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.
[4] Psalm 33:11. The counsel of the LORD standeth for ever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations. Malachi 3:6. For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed. Hebrews 1:12. And as a vesture shalt thou fold them up, and they shall be changed: but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail. Hebrews 6:17-18. Wherein God, willing more abundantly to show unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath: That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us: Hebrews 13:8. Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever. James 1:17. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.
[5] Exodus 3:14. And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you. Psalm 115:2-3. Wherefore should the heathen say, Where is now their God? But our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased. 1 Timothy 1:17. Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen. 1 Timothy 6:15-16. Which in his times he shall show, who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords; Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen.
[6] [12] Psalm 104:24. O LORD, how manifold are thy works! in wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches. Romans 11:33-34. O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? Hebrews 4:13. Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do. 1 John 3:20. For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.
[7] Genesis 17:1. And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect. Psalm 62:11. God hath spoken once; twice have I heard this; that power belongeth unto God. Jeremiah 32:17. Ah Lord GOD! behold, thou hast made the heaven and the earth by thy great power and stretched out arm, and there is nothing too hard for thee: Matthew 19:26. But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible. Revelation 1:8. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.
[8] Hebrews 1:13. But to which of the angels said he at any time, Sit on my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool? 1 Peter 1:15-16. But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy. 1 John 3:3, 5. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.... And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin. Revelation 15:4. Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name? for thou only art holy: for all nations shall come and worship before thee; for thy judgments are made manifest.
[9]Genesis 18:25. That be far from thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked: and that the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from thee: Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right? Exodus 34:6-7. And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, unto the third and to the fourth generation. Deuteronomy 32:4. He is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he. Psalm 96:13. Before the LORD: for he cometh, for he cometh to judge the earth: he shall judge the world with righteousness, and the people with his truth. Romans 3:5, 26. But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance? (I speak as a man).... To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.
[10] Psalm 103:5. Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things; so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle's. Psalm 107:8. Oh that men would praise the LORD for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men! Matthew 19:7. They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away? Romans 2:4. Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?
[11] Exodus 34:6. And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, Deuteronomy 32:4. He is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he. Psalm 86:15. But thou, O Lord, art a God full of compassion, and gracious, longsuffering, and plenteous in mercy and truth. Psalm 117:2. For his merciful kindness is great toward us: and the truth of the LORD endureth for ever. Praise ye the LORD. Hebrews 6:18. That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie,

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Beza on Jesus: God and Man in one Person, our Savior « Creed:or:Chaos

Beza on Jesus: God and Man in one Person, our Savior « Creed:or:Chaos

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Carl Trueman Blogs the Institutes. 3.20.23-3.20.27: Prayer,

Carl's observations are good and always pastoral. Yet, we will see if there is anything about the Book of Common Prayer.

Blog 146: 3.20.23 - 3.20.27
Posted by Carl Trueman

In these paragraphs, Calvin continues to refute traditional notions of the veneration and intercession of the saints by surveying some of the scripture texts and incidents typically cited in support.

Two things are particularly striking in this discussion. The first is his focus on the trustworthiness of God. For Calvin, this is one of the key points where theology, experience, and practice come together. We pray, we experience God's goodness, and our faith is strengthened because we know that, as God has revealed himself, so shall he be; and we can therefore rely on him being the same God tomorrow as he is today. This, in turn, reinvigorates our prayer life.

The second point Calvin makes is that prayer springs from faith, and faith from hearing God's word. The connection between God's trustworthiness and his word is thus clear; as is also the connection between a healthy prayer life and a healthy church life. Where is it we hear God's word? It is in church, when the word is read and then faithfully proclaimed by the preacher; and thus church, the corporate gathering of believers under the sound of the word, is the crucible out of which true prayer, the prayer of faith, will emerge.

A number of contemporary applications arise out of this discussion of prayer, intercession, and the veneration of the saints. The first is that prayer has a context, a foundation, and a content. Its context is the life and work of the Lord Jesus Christ; its foundation is his sacrificial blood and current intercession in heaven on that basis; and its content is God's word, his promises, his revelation. This is a million miles away from the Oprah Winfrey-style sentimental garbage that talks about prayer, and about praying, but gives no cognitive context, foundation or content to such beyond a sappy hope that everything will turn out right in the end and, in the meantime, everyone will kiss and make up.

Second, it surely relativises the cult of the great leader which is so rife in many evangelical and Reformed circles. True, the prayer of a righteous man availeth much; but there is only one righteous man, and he sits at the right hand of the Father. The idea that some have that there is something special about being in the presence of a particular pastor, or some special blessing associated with the ministry of a particular leader, while is potentially dangerous. It is not the pastor who engenders faith; it is the word of God, and that is the monopoly of no single man; and it is not the quality of the pastor that makes the intercession effective; it is Christ who does so, and he is wherever two or three Christian nobodies gather in his name. As Protestants, we need to make sure that have not excised the Catholic veneration of saints, only to replace it with the veneration of authors, speakers, and other gurus.

Sole Fide Compromised? Martin Luther and the Doctrine of Baptism

Sola Fide Compromised? Martin Luther and the Doctrine of Baptism
D. Patrick RamseyPatrick Ramsey is pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church (OPC) in London, Kentucky.

The name of Martin Luther is perpetually linked to the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Indeed, the mere mention of this great Reformer’s name conjures up thoughts of sola fide. For the leading service he bequeathed to the Church “was the entire destruction of the doctrine of human merit, and the thorough establishment of the great scriptural truth of a purely gratuitous justification, through faith alone.”1 In addition to uncovering this hidden gem, Luther exposed its value in teaching that it is the article upon which the church stands or falls.2

These great contributions, notwithstanding, it is arguable that Luther’s own doctrine of justification by faith alone is compromised by or at least in tension with his doctrine of baptism, particularly his understanding of baptismal regeneration. In addition to Luther’s contemporary Anabaptist opponents, others like Karl Barth and James Atkinson have called attention to this problem.3 While not addressing Luther in particular, a number of Reformed theologians with a robust doctrine of the sacraments have viewed sola fide and baptismal regeneration as incompatible. For example, James Bannerman readily admits to his Baptist opponent that “if Sacraments are regarded as the causes or the means of justification, they are utterly inconsistent with the Protestant doctrine of justification by faith alone.”4 Furthermore, he asserts that it is legalistic to make the sacraments “instruments of justification and the source of faith.”5

Martin Luther, however, is not without his defenders. One of the main burdens of Jonathan Trigg’s recent book on Luther’s theology of baptism, which is based upon his doctoral dissertation, is to demonstrate that “the doctrine of justification by faith is intimately related to—indeed predicated upon—Luther’s understanding of the abiding covenant of baptism.”6 Although it may appear that there are tensions in his thought, “Luther’s baptismal doctrine, properly understood, is one of his sharpest expressions of justification by faith.”7 Similarly, Paul Althaus maintains that Luther’s “doctrine of baptism is basically nothing else than his doctrine of justification in concrete form.”8

Further support comes from Anthony Lane. In his discussion of baptism, one of the key issues involved in the Catholic-Protestant dialogue, Lane faults R. C. Sproul for interpreting the sola fide formula as directed against baptism. After noting that sola fide, as understood by Luther and the other Reformers, was directed against works but not word or sacrament, Lane bids us to remember that “Lutherans believing in baptismal regeneration are some of the most ardent proponents of justification by faith alone.”9 Justification and baptismal efficacy are two separate issues and therefore belief in baptismal regeneration need not conflict with one’s doctrine of sola fide.10

While thankful for Luther’s great contributions to the Church and recognizing that there is no scholarly consensus on this issue, this paper will argue that Luther’s doctrine of baptism is inconsistent with his doctrine of justification by faith alone. This is not to say, however, that Luther himself thought that the two could not be harmonized. Indeed, he vigorously argued that these two doctrines fit nicely together. Nor will this paper argue that Luther’s baptismal doctrine is identical to that of Medieval Christianity or Roman Catholicism as defined by the Council of Trent. Luther made significant advancements concerning baptism. The problem is that he did not go far enough, thereby creating tension with his affirmation of the article upon which the church stands or falls.

In light of this narrow focus, only those writings on baptism after Luther’s reformation breakthrough will be consulted. Pinpointing a date for this event is a notorious problem in Luther studies.11 Scholars have suggested dates ranging from 1513 to 1520. Since Luther was unquestionably an evangelical in 1520, this paper will limit itself to his writings from that time onwards. It should also be noted that although there is a fundamental continuity in Luther’s baptismal thought over the years, there are some changes.12 Therefore, particular attention will be paid to Luther’s catechisms since they express his mature and systematic thought on the subject.13

1. The Efficacy of Baptism: Luther’s Doctrine of Baptismal Regeneration

When discussing Luther and the sacraments, one tends to gravitate towards his views on the Lord’s Supper, and with good reason. It was disagreement over this sacrament, and not baptism, that led to a division among the Protestant Reformers. Nonetheless, it is arguable that baptism held the preeminence in Luther’s thought and affection. With glowing praise, the German Reformer depicts baptism as excellent, glorious, exalted, precious, of greatest importance, and an inexpressible treasure.14 In fact, “no greater jewel . . . can adorn our body and soul than baptism.”15 Luther’s esteem for baptism was more than words. He meant what he said as evidenced by his practice. In times of temptation and anxiety, Luther clung to the fact that he had been baptized. Karl Barth recounts the following story:

It is related of Luther that he had hours during which he was confused about everything—about the Reformation, about his faith, even about the work of Jesus Christ Himself—hours when he knew of nothing else to help him (and help him it did) save the writing in chalk on his table of the two words: Baptizatus sum!16

This admiration for and use of baptism stemmed from Luther’s understanding of its efficacy as he himself tells us.17 And it is not hard to see why this is the case. For as we look at Luther’s teaching on baptism in The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, Concerning Rebaptism, The Small Catechism, The Baptismal Booklet, and The Large Catechism, we will see that baptism accomplishes a substantial amount and so naturally becomes the brightest jewel adorning the Christian.

1.1. The Babylonian Captivity of the Church

Having been excommunicated by the Pope, Martin Luther wrote three tracts in response in 1520, including The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, also known as The Pagan Servitude of the Church. A significant section of this tract is a discourse on baptism, and it is clearly written against the current medieval understanding of this sacrament. In continuity with the medieval Church, Luther affirms that God saves through baptism and that “grace” is “infused” in baptism.18 Yet, Luther differs with the medieval Church in how this is accomplished, which will be discussed in the next section, and what grace is given in baptism.

The medieval Church taught that justification began in baptism and continued by the sacrament of penance.19 Original sin was removed by the water of baptism while actual sin by penance. Jerome’s description of penitence as a second plank after shipwreck was employed to convey this concept. Those who fall into sin do not return again to baptism, the first plank of the ship, but to penitence for the forgiveness of sins.20 By contrast, Luther says that justification begins and ends in baptism. As the sacrament of justification, baptism signifies “death and resurrection, i.e., the fulfilling and completion of justification.”21 In baptism, one truly dies and rises from the dead. Hence, Luther believes that it is reductionistic to view baptism as merely washing away sin.22

Though in one sense justification is complete in baptism, in another sense it is not. It is complete by virtue of God’s promise, yet incomplete in that the justified believer waits in hope for the consummation of his righteousness.23 This accounts for Luther’s assertion that the efficacy of baptism lasts a lifetime and that the Christian life is baptismal in character. Luther writes,
Although you only receive the sacrament of baptism once, you are continually baptized anew by faith, always dying and yet ever living. When you were baptized, your whole body was submerged and then came forth again out of the water. Similarly, the essence of the rite was that grace permeated your whole life, in both body and soul; and that it will bring you forth, at the last day, clothed in the white robe of immortality. It follows that we never lose the sign of baptism nor its force; indeed we are continually being rebaptized, until we attain to the completion of the sign at the last day.24

Consequently, the confessional or any other means of grace does not replace the first plank of baptism. Baptism is for life. The Christian must continually return to the power that baptism exercises.25 “All the sanctification of the Christian is thus nothing else than a completion of baptism.”26

Luther further differs with the medieval Church in that baptism is able to overcome unbelief and resistance to grace. The medieval Church had taught that baptism was always efficacious except in cases where an obstacle is placed by the one being baptized. Luther, however, says that baptism is so powerful it is able to change the hearts of the ungodly, infants and adults alike. In combination with the prayers and faith of the church, all sacraments are “efficacious in giving grace, not only those who offer no resistance, but even to those who resist most obstinately.”27
Thus, according to The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, Luther believed that the medieval Church denigrated the sacrament of baptism by teaching that it did too little: it covered only original sin and was ineffective in certain persons. Contradistinctively, Luther asserted that baptism provided full and complete justification that was to be embraced throughout one’s life and could convert even the most hardened sinner. James Atkinson is therefore correct to point out that with respect to baptism Luther “was more of a sacramentalist than the Romanists themselves.”28

1.2. Concerning Rebaptism

After the Peasants’ War, Martin Luther fired his theological arrows in another direction, viz., the Anabaptists, a growing radical movement that threatened the unity and stability of the Protestant Reformation. In reply to an inquiry from two pastors, Luther wrote a treatise on the subject of rebaptism in December 1527 and January 1528. Not surprisingly, he highlights the efficacy of baptism in this work.

A key component of his defense of infant baptism is the power of baptism to create faith in the infant. Where Christ speaks, there he can call forth spirit and faith. In baptism, Christ not only speaks, he baptizes, and therefore he can certainly call forth spirit and faith in the child. Luther writes,

We can hardly deny that the same Christ is present at baptism and in baptism, in fact is himself the baptizer, who in those days came in his mother’s womb to John. In baptism he can speak as well through the mouth of the priest, as when he spoke through his mother. Since then he is present, speaks, and baptizes, why should not his Word and baptism call forth spirit and faith in the child as then it produced faith in John? He is the same one who speaks and acts then and now.29

According to Luther, infant baptism is “the most certain form of baptism.” Adults can be hypocrites, feigning fidelity to Christ. A little child, however, is incapable of deception. Infant baptism is, therefore, efficacious, which is a primary reason they are brought to the font. Luther writes,

The most certain form of baptism is child baptism. For an adult might deceive and come to Christ as a Judas and have himself baptized. But a child cannot deceive. He comes to Christ in baptism, as John came to him, and as the children were brought to him, that his word and work might be effective in them, move them, and make them holy, because his Word and work cannot be without fruit. Yet it has this effect alone in the child. Were it to fail here it would fail everywhere and be in vain, which is impossible.30

In light of the power of baptism to save infants, Luther argues that it is better to administer baptism to infants, even if it was true that the church throughout the centuries had been mistaken on this issue. In other words, it is better to be safe than sorry. For if it is true that baptism saves yet it is not administered, then the church would be “responsible for all the children who were lost because they were unbaptized—a cruel and terrible thing.”31 But if infant baptism is not right then the church would only “be guilty of no greater sin than the Word of God had been spoken and his sign given in vain.”32

1.3. The Small Catechism and Baptismal Booklet

Based upon his sermons and motivated by pastoral need, Luther wrote his small catechism either at the end of 1528 or early 1529. In the section on the sacrament of baptism, Luther lists the gifts or benefits that baptism grants, namely, forgiveness of sins, redemption from death and the devil, and eternal salvation.33

Appended to The Small Catechism is The Baptismal Booklet. This booklet was originally published in 1523 and based on medieval baptismal rites. It was revised in 1526 and subsequently included in the second edition of The Small Catechism in 1529.34 Luther’s liturgy indicates that the infant prior to baptism is possessed by the devil and a child of sin and wrath, while baptism delivers him from the devil, making him a child of God. Before the sacrament is administered the baptizer commands the unclean spirit to depart to make room for the Holy Spirit. He then asks God to bless the infant with true faith in the Holy Spirit, to give the child spiritual rebirth and the promised kingdom. After the rite, the priest proclaims, “The almighty God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has given birth to you for a second time through water and the Holy Spirit and has forgiven you all your sins, strengthen you with his grace to eternal life.”35

1.4. The Large Catechism

Also known as The German Catechism, this catechism, like its smaller counterpart, was published in 1529. Concerning what benefits, gifts, and effects baptism brings, Luther bases his answer upon Mark 16:16 and says,

This is the simplest way to put it: the power, effect, benefit, fruit, and purpose of baptism is that it saves. For no one is baptized in order to become a prince, but as the words say, ‘to be saved.’ To be saved, as everyone knows, is nothing else than to be delivered from sin, death and the devil, to enter into Christ’s kingdom, and to live with him forever.36

Elsewhere, Luther notes that baptism promises and brings “victory over death and the devil, forgiveness of sin, God’s grace, the entire Christ, and the Holy Spirit with his gifts.”37 The power and effect of baptism, as best signified by the mode of immersion, “is nothing else than the slaying of the old Adam and the resurrection of the new creature, both of which must continue in us our whole life long.”38

1.5. Summary

The sacrament of baptism is no mean thing in the eyes of Luther. Salvation in its entirety is given at the font.39 In baptism, one is made a Christian; reborn; raised from the dead; brought into the Kingdom; given faith; adorned with holiness, righteousness, and wisdom; united to Christ; forgiven; justified; sanctified; and redeemed from sin, death, and the devil.40 Baptism is the place where the “joyful exchange” between Christ and the sinner transpires.41

With such a view of what baptism accomplishes, it is easy to understand why this sacrament receives encomiums from Luther. Yet, how does he avoid, at least to his own satisfaction and that of others, the charge of contradicting the doctrine of justification by faith alone? Indeed, how can it be argued that Luther’s baptismal doctrine is one of his sharpest expressions of justification by faith? Appeals are made to other elements of Luther’s teaching on baptism, which we will now address.

2. Elements of Luther’s Baptismal Doctrine That Are Consistent with Sola Fide
In treating it “in a systematic way,”42 Luther divides the baptismal section of his Large Catechism into three sub-sections, along with an excursus on infant baptism. The second section expounds the efficacy of baptism. The other two sections pertain to the nature and condition of baptism, both of which appear to make Luther’s doctrine of baptismal regeneration compatible with sola fide.

2.1. The Nature of Baptism
Basing his comments on Matt 28:19 and Mark 16:16, Luther emphasizes first of all that baptism is of divine origin. It is not something that man invented. Rather, it is commanded and instituted by God. Thus, baptism may not be despised or regarded as something of no use.

Secondly, Luther notes that baptism is a work of God because we are baptized into God’s name. Although baptism is performed by a man, “it is nevertheless truly God’s own act.”43 Outwardly, the sacrament of baptism may not look like much, but it is of far greater value than any work by the greatest saint by virtue of the fact that God, who works in baptism, is far nobler and better. The value of baptism must not be derived from the act itself but from the value of the one who performs it.44

Thirdly, baptism is water and the word joined together. The addition of the word to the water is what makes baptism a sacrament. Without the word, the water “is not different from the water that the maid uses for cooking.”45 But with the word, the water becomes “divine, holy, heavenly, holy and blessed.”46 In answering his own question of what baptism is, Luther writes in The Large Catechism, “Namely, that it is not simply plain water, but water placed in the setting of God’s Word and commandment and made holy by them. It is nothing else than God’s water, not that the water itself is nobler than other water but that God’s Word and commandment are added to it.”47 Similarly, he writes in The Small Catechism, “Baptism is not simply plain water. Instead it is water enclosed in God’s command and connected with God’s Word.”48

The word that is added to the water in baptism is variously described by Luther, in both catechisms, as command, word, and ordinance. This is somewhat different from his discussion in The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, where he underscores the word “promise.”49 The use of “command” as opposed to “promise” should not be construed as excluding the notion of promise or gospel. Luther stresses the command and divine ordinance of baptism in his catechisms because he is addressing primarily the errors of the Anabaptists whom he believed denigrated the sign.50 Though “command” and “promise” are not identical in meaning, the two are inseparable so that the word, which is added to the water, includes both concepts.51
The presence of the word inseparably joined to the water is what makes baptism, according to Luther, efficacious. Both catechisms assert that water does not grant salvation. After stating, in The Large Catechism, what baptism accomplishes, Luther writes,

Here again you see how baptism is to be regarded as precious and important, for in it we obtain such an inexpressible treasure. This indicates that it cannot be simple, ordinary water, for ordinary water could not have such an effect. But the Word does it, and this shows also, as we said above, that God’s name is in it. And where God’s name is, there must also be life and salvation. Thus it is well described as a divine, blessed, fruitful, and gracious water, for it is through the Word that it receives the power to become the “washing of regeneration,” as St. Paul calls it in Titus 3[:5].52

Defining baptism as God’s work wherein he saves by means of his word or promise is a crucial aspect of Luther’s baptismal doctrine because he thereby avoids the error of Thomas Aquinas and the Dominicans, “who forget the Word (God’s institution) and say that God has placed a spiritual power in the water which, through the water, washes away sin.”53 This ex opere operato understanding of baptism nullifies the roles of promise and faith, perverting the sacrament into a work. Luther writes,

Therefore it cannot be true that there resides in the sacraments a power capable of giving justification, or that they are the “signs” of efficacious grace. All such things are said to the detriment of faith, and in ignorance of the divine promises. . . . In this way, the Romanists have put precepts in place of the sacraments, and works in place of faith. Now, if a sacrament were to give me grace just because I receive that sacrament, then surely I should obtain the grace, not by faith, but by my works. I should not gain the promise in the sacrament, but only the sign instituted and commanded by God.54

Furthermore, by highlighting the divine promise in baptism, Luther is able to stress the necessity of faith. Wherever a divine promise is found, there faith is required.55 Hence, New Testament signs are “accompanied by a word of promise demanding faith.”56 Baptism is God’s work; and “God’s works are salutary and necessary for salvation, and they do not exclude but rather demand faith.”57 Thus, by defining baptism as the word added to the water, Luther avoids, at least from one perspective, turning the sacrament into a work, and so does not contradict the article upon which the Church stands or falls.

2.2. The Condition of Baptism
The third sub-section in the section on baptism in The Large Catechism discusses who receives the gifts and benefits of baptism. Luther’s unequivocal answer is that only the one who believes receives what is offered and promised in baptism. Indeed, “faith alone makes the person worthy to receive the saving, divine water profitably.”58

The need for faith is a note that is heard throughout Luther’s evangelical writings, but perhaps it is loudest in his 1520 treatise The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, as is to be expected considering his audience. Repeatedly and in various ways, Luther stresses the necessity of faith. Devoid of faith, the sacrament is without personal benefit, and it becomes “a stumbling-block not only at the moment we receive baptism but for all our life thereafter.”59 In fact, baptism was instituted to feed faith.60 Therefore, “if you desire to be saved, you must start from faith in the sacraments—anterior to any works.”61 Although he appears to temper his language after the appearance of the Anabaptists, Luther is so adamant about stressing the requirement of faith alone that he is willing to say that the virtue of baptism “lies not so much in the faith or practice of the administrator, as in that of the recipient,” and that the whole effectiveness of New Testaments signs “lies in faith, and not in anything that is done.”62 Moreover, faith is so necessary that it can save even apart from the sacrament.63 Baptism, therefore, justifies only in so far as what is promised is received by faith alone. It is a sacrament of justification simply because it is a sacrament of “a justificatory faith, and not of works.”64 “Thus, baptism justifies nobody, and gives advantage to nobody; rather, faith in the word of the promise to which baptism was conjoined, is what justifies, and so completes, that which the baptism signified.”65
The obvious objection to Luther’s insistence on faith is that it is an argument against infant baptism. Infants cannot exercise faith and therefore either faith is not a necessary condition or baptism does not save them. Luther faces this objection head on from the very beginning, though he does alter his answer over the years.66 Wanting to maintain sola fide and the saving/justifying nature of infant baptism, Luther eventually comes to the settled conclusion that infants receive the Holy Spirit at baptism and believe with their own faith.67

At this stage, it becomes clear why it is sometimes asserted that Luther’s baptismal doctrine is his doctrine of justification by faith. The gospel promise is offered and received by faith alone in baptism. Baptism is not our work, but God’s work; it is not Law but Gospel. Nevertheless, as we continue to explore Luther’s baptismal doctrine the tension with sola fide will heighten.

3. Problems with Luther’s Baptismal Doctrine
Although Luther rejected the Thomistic ex opere operato understanding of baptism, David Scaer notes that for Luther “baptism possesses such an objective reality, that it seems to take on an ex opere operato character.”68 This is certainly the case, at least with respect to “the most certain form of baptism,” viz., infant baptism.69 As we have seen, baptism saves. The word and therefore God’s name is in the water. “And where God’s name is, there must also be life and salvation.”70 Consequently, the water of baptism is salvific. Specifically, the infant is regenerated and given faith, enabling him to be justified.

Karl Barth finds Luther’s position to be problematic.71 As Trigg puts it, “How can Luther’s demand for a conscious, individual fides explicita be reconciled with the statement that the infant ‘becomes a saint in the hands of the priest?’”72 We have seen that Luther’s definitive answer to this problem is that the infant himself has faith. Barth, however, is not convinced, taking issue with the idea of infant faith.73 But even if we grant the notion of infant faith it is still hard to see how Luther avoids the same charge he lays against the Thomists. Baptism is efficacious apart from faith.74 To be sure, one is not technically justified apart from faith as it is given in baptism. Nevertheless, saving grace that necessarily results in justification is automatically given in the sacrament apart from faith. How then does performing the rite of baptism in obedience to God’s command not become a work that God rewards with justification? Undoubtedly, Luther himself would answer that God, and not man, is the one who acts or works in baptism, thereby even preventing faith, which is given in baptism, from becoming a work. Therefore, baptism cannot be characterized as a work we do and that God rewards. Indeed, Jonathan Trigg vigorously argues this point on Luther’s behalf:

To some it has appeared that the tensions surrounding baptism in Luther’s theology are unsustainable. His recognition of baptismal regeneration is seen to be on a collision course with the central discoveries of his reformation breakthrough, above all with his doctrine of justification by faith. Yet Luther’s baptismal doctrine, properly understood, is one of his sharpest expressions of justification by faith. The utter objectivity of baptism as divine word and work prevents the faith which grasps it becoming a self-conscious work of human piety.75

It is still the case, however, that God commands us to baptize and requires us to submit to baptism. Consequently, it is a rite performed and submitted to by man in obedience to God. Thus, it does not seem that Luther can fully evade the charge he lays at the feet of the Thomists.
A related problem is that Luther’s view of the efficacy of baptism is in tension with his belief that baptism signifies and accomplishes full and complete justification. This tension is created by the fact that baptized people apostatize. Since people apostatize then either baptism does not save infants or complete justification is not given in baptism. Though both options are unacceptable to Luther, the fact that the work of baptism is not completed until death lends itself to the latter. Interestingly, in order to resolve this tension, later Lutheranism taught that what is given in baptism can be lost.76

The central problem, however, with Luther’s doctrine of baptism is that, while it is not absolutely necessary, it is ordinarily necessary for salvation. Writing in 1520 against the medieval tradition, Luther willingly acknowledges that one can be saved apart from the sacrament, though not apart from faith.77 He maintains this belief even through his debates with the Anabaptists where he emphasizes the power and necessity of baptism. Noting that the word can exist without the sacrament, but not vice versa, Luther says that “in case of necessity, a man can be saved without the sacrament, but not without the word; this is true of those who desire baptism but die before they can receive it.”78 Similarly, he says in his lectures on Genesis that God is able to save without baptism.79 Examples of salvation apart from baptism include children who die before being baptized; believing adults who are unable to be baptized before death; and persons who believe they were baptized as infants but in reality had not been.80
Apart from these qualifications, Luther unequivocally stressed the importance of baptism for justification. Baptism is the place where God is to be found and so where man is to believe in order to be justified. This is not to say that there is anything inherent in water that makes it efficacious. Just the opposite is true. There is nothing in or about the water that is appealing. However, God has chosen, in accordance with potentia ordinata (ordained power), to save man through the external sign of water.81 In other words, “baptism is a trysting place appointed for the encounter between God and man.”82

Justification, therefore, does not take place prior to but in baptism. This is a point that Luther underscores against the Anabaptists who saw the sacrament as subsequent to conversion.83 Since God works through the sacrament to save the one being baptized, “salvation does not occur in an experience of subjective ecstasy; it happens at the moment the baptized is washed with water in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”84 Baptism is the place “where the Triune God in all his power makes himself concretely present and brings the person being baptized into his kingdom.”85 While acknowledging that Abraham was justified before he received the sacrament, Luther says that his circumcision, like Christ’s baptism, was exceptional. All those who follow after Abraham and Christ are “made righteous by believing the promise and making use of the sacrament in faith.”86 Hence, Tranvik correctly observes that for Luther “baptism is the earthly means by which the believer participates in justification.”87
As the place God has ordained to justify his people, baptism is therefore ordinarily necessary for justification: “God is able to save without Baptism. . . . But in the church we must judge and teach, in accordance with God’s ordered power, that without that outward Baptism no one is saved.”88 Also, against the Anabaptists, Luther accentuates this point. He marshals two main arguments in his Large Catechism. First, baptism needs to be not only observed, but cherished because God commanded and instituted it.89 Second, contrary to the “new spirits” who claim that faith alone saves apart from external things, baptism is necessary for this reason:
Faith must have something to believe—something to which it may cling and upon which it may stand. Thus faith clings to the water and believes it to be baptism, in which there is sheer salvation and life, not through the water, as we have sufficiently stated, but through its incorporation with God’s Word and ordinance and the joining of his name to it. When I believe this, what is it but believing in God as the one who has bestowed and implanted his Word in baptism and has offered us this external thing within which we can grasp this treasure.90
Since justification does not occur apart from the reception of the sacrament of baptism, the doctrine of justification is compromised because we are not justified by faith alone but by faith and baptism. One must believe and be baptized. Luther’s qualifications notwithstanding, his view inevitably turns baptism into a work. This is most clearly seen in the case of an adult. Since forgiveness is ordinarily only given in baptism, when an adult hears and believes the gospel he must remain in an unjustified state until he obeys the command to be baptized. Consequently, faith alone in the promise is not enough for justification. Obedience must be added to faith.
Once again, we can hear Luther and his defenders protesting that baptism is not a work. The only thing man does in baptism is believe, which itself is a gift of God. Baptism is simply the earthly means by which God has chosen to impart salvation. In response, it must be stressed that submission to baptism is an act of obedience to God that is done in addition to believing the gospel. Justification, therefore, is by faith in the gospel plus obedience to God’s command to be baptized. This is contrary to the Scriptures and akin to the Galatian heresy. John 5:24 states that he who hears the word and believes in Jesus has passed from death into life. One is justified at the moment one believes, and not later at baptism. The Galatians had their sins pardoned and received the Holy Spirit when they believed the gospel and not after they had obeyed the law of God (Gal 3:1–9; Acts 13:48, 52; 14:1). In Gal 3:2 (niv) Paul rhetorically asks the Galatians, “I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard?” Paul does not say “by believing and being baptized.” In a passage where Paul is vigorously defending the biblical way of salvation, one would expect Paul to mention baptism. But he does not because the Galatians received the Spirit when they believed what they heard, in contrast to any further work of obedience. James R. White comments,
The reception of the Spirit was a sign, in Paul’s theology, of the redeemed (Ephesians 1:13–14). Therefore, since the presence of the Spirit in a person’s life was evidence of his justification and redemption, Paul asks a logical question: How did the Galatians receive the Spirit, by works of righteousness or by hearing of faith? And since the answer to this question was all too obvious, the only logical conclusion was that any teaching that said righteousness came about only after certain rites or rituals must be false on its face. So it remains today—anyone who adds “requirements” to the gospel such as sacraments, baptism, various forms of obedience, etc., falls into the same error that Paul here attacks.91

Later Lutheranism, and perhaps Luther himself,92 teaches that baptism achieves something different in adults than in children. This “strange position,” as Karl Barth describes it,93 states that baptism works regeneration and faith in infants. But in adults, since they must believe before baptism, it only seals and confirms the grace of God, thereby, oddly enough, approximating the Reformed doctrine of the sacraments.94 Limiting baptismal regeneration to infants, however, does not fully resolve the problem. If infants can truly believe then why is it still necessary for them to receive baptism? Luther himself admits that Christ’s word was able to evoke faith in John while he was in the womb.95 Thus, an infant’s faith in Jesus by means of the spoken gospel should be sufficient for his justification. Adding a further requirement for justification such as obeying the command to baptize, therefore, compromises sola fide.
The final problem to note concerning Luther’s doctrine of baptism is that it fails to escape the sacerdotalism of the medieval Church.96 Since only those called to the priesthood are to administer the sacraments97 and baptism is necessary for justification, the people remain enslaved to the church.98 Alister McGrath’s summary and analysis of the medieval system equally applies to Luther:

In conclusion, it may be stated that the medieval period saw the justification of the sinner firmly linked to the sacramental life of the church, a sound theological link having been established between justification and the sacraments. This linking of justification to the sacramental system of the church has profound theological and pastoral consequences, of which the most important is the tendency to assert iustificatio extra ecclesiam non est [there is no justification outside the church]. Although the theologians of the medieval period were aware that God was not bound by the sacraments, the tendency to emphasise the reliability of the established order of salvation, of which the sacramental system is part, can only have served to convey the impression that the sinner who wishes to be reconciled to God must, de facto, seek the assistance of a priest.99

4. Conclusion

There is no question as to the significant service that Martin Luther rendered to the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. His recovery of the doctrine of justification by faith alone, along with his doctrine of Scripture, stands at the fore of his many accomplishments. All true believers owe a tremendous debt to this great Reformer. Yet, no one this side of eternity is fully sound or completely consistent in doctrine or practice. Indeed, it is possible to be inconsistent with those doctrines we regard to be of the greatest importance. Martin Luther, so we have argued, is a case in point. Although he made noted advancements concerning the doctrine of baptism, especially with his discussion on promise and faith, Luther failed to undo every rope that the medieval sacramental system had used to bind the Christian. By maintaining that baptism is the ordinarily necessary occasion of justification and by holding to an essentially ex opere operato understanding, Martin Luther unwittingly compromised his cherished doctrine of justification by faith alone. Stressing the objectivity of baptism as God’s saving word and work, as does Trigg, is not enough to vindicate Luther. For when baptism becomes the means of justification, responding to the gospel in faith is no longer sufficient. One must believe and be baptized.
The necessity of baptism for justification is by no means a belief of a bygone era or merely a unique tenet of contemporary Lutheranism. It is advocated today, sometimes quite strenuously, by various sections of Protestantism. Those with the loudest voice belong to what is sometimes called “The Restoration Movement,” and are associated with the Christian Church and the Church of Christ. Some teach the absolute necessity of baptism for justification while others like Luther allow for exceptions. An example of the latter is Jack Cottrell, professor of theological studies at Cincinnati Bible College and Seminary.100 It is not surprising then that he paints Luther in a very favorable light.101

From another direction, a controversy has arisen recently among Reformed churches in America over this issue of baptism and justification due to proposals by the so-called Federal Visionists. Some have affirmed a form of baptismal regeneration, viewing baptism as a converting ordinance and/or as ordinarily necessary for entrance into the church and consequently for salvation, including justification.102 Most striking in this regard are the views of Rich Lusk, pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, AL. According to Lusk, baptism is God’s instrument of justification and the means by which the Spirit unites a person to Christ.103 Forgiveness is not granted when one believes the gospel, but later at baptism. Hearing the gospel, faith, repentance, and baptism are a package-deal. Hence, Lusk tentatively suggests that the Apostle Paul was not forgiven on the road to Damascus, but a few days later when he was baptized by Ananias.104

By viewing baptism as the ordinarily necessary instrument and occasion for justification, Restorationists and Federal Visionists fall into the same error as Martin Luther and either contradict (Restorationists) or undermine (Federal Visionists) the doctrine of justification by faith alone. As we have previously noted, God justifies the sinner the moment he believes and thus before baptism. Some attempt to evade this argument by distinguishing between title and possession. The believing sinner has the right to justification before baptism while he possesses it at baptism. But as Robert Dabney points out in his discussion of Alexander Campbell’s doctrine of baptism, this still does not comport with what the Apostle John says, namely, the believing sinner has passed from death to life.105 It is for this reason baptism does not justify, even though it may convey saving grace. William Cunningham writes,

It is a fundamental principle of scriptural doctrine, that justification and regeneration are necessarily and invariably connected with faith, and that they are cotemporaneous with it, whatever may be the precise relation subsisting among them in the order of nature. Whoever has been enabled to believe in Jesus Christ has been justified and regenerated; he has passed through that great ordeal on which salvation depends, and which can occur but once in the history of a soul. And if these principles are well founded, then the spiritual blessings which the sacraments may be instrumental in conveying, can be those only which men still stand in need of, with a view to their salvation, after they have been justified and regenerated by faith.106

As we construct our own view of baptism it is important that we learn from the past. We should learn from our spiritual forefathers, both from their triumphs and their mistakes. One important lesson that we glean from the writings of the great Reformer Martin Luther is that in our worthy quest to highlight the importance of baptism and to seriously wrestle with the biblical passages that connect conversion with baptism, we must be careful not to impinge upon the biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone.

1. William Cunningham, The Reformers and the Theology of the Reformation (1862; repr., Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1989), 101.
2. See Alister E. McGrath, Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification (2d ed.; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 180n3, 448.
3. James Atkinson, Martin Luther and the Birth of Protestantism (Baltimore: Penguin, 1968), 192; Karl Barth, The Teaching of the Church Regarding Baptism (trans. Ernest A. Payne; London: SCM, 1963), 22–29; Church Dogmatics IV/4 (trans. G. W. Bromiley; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1969), 169. See also Jonathan D. Trigg, Baptism in the Theology of Martin Luther (Leiden: Brill, 2001), 4; David P. Scaer, “Luther, Baptism, and the Church today,” CTQ 62 (1998): 251; R. Scott Clark, “Baptism and the Benefits of Christ: The Double Mode of Communion in the Covenant of Grace” The Confessional Presbyterian 2 (2006): 7.
4. James Bannerman, The Church of Christ (2 vols.; 1869; repr., Edmonton, Canada: Still Waters Revival, 1991), 2:25. See also A.A. Hodge, Outlines of Theology (1879; repr., Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1991), 628; R. C. Sproul, Faith Alone: The Evangelical Doctrine of Justification (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1995), 75; Joel Beeke, “The Relation of Faith to Justification,” in Justification by Faith Alone (ed. Don Kistler; Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria, 1995), 89–91.
5. Ibid, 2:40.
6. Trigg, Baptism, 2.
7. Ibid., 226. See also 151.
8. Paul Althaus, The Theology of Martin Luther (trans. Robert C. Schultz; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1966), 356.
9. Anthony N. S. Lane, Justification by Faith in Catholic-Protestant Dialogue: An Evangelical Assessment (London: T&T Clark, 2002), 187.
10. Ibid.
11. See Bernhard Lohse, Martin Luther’s Theology (trans. Roy A. Harrisville; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1999), 85–95.
12. Trigg, Baptism, 10–11, 146–148. See also Althaus, Luther, 364, 369.
13. Trigg, Baptism, 62–66.
14. The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (ed. Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2000), 457, 458.
15. Ibid., 462.
16. Barth, Baptism, 61–62. Thomas Manton: “Luther saith of himself, that when the devil tempted him to despair, or to any doubts and fears about the love of God or his mercy to sinners, he would always answer, Ecce, ego baptizatus sum, et credo in Christum crucifixum: ‘Behold, I am baptized, and believe in Christ crucified’” (“How Ought We to Improve Our Baptism,” in Puritan Sermons 1659–1689 [6 vols.; 1845; repr., Wheaton: Richard Owen Roberts, 1981], 2:99).
17. “No greater jewel, therefore, can adorn our body and soul than baptism, for through it we become completely holy and blessed, which no other kind of life and no work on earth can acquire” (Book of Concord, 462; emphasis mine; see also 459).
18. Martin Luther, “The Pagan Servitude of the Church,” in Martin Luther: Selections from His Writings (ed. John Dillenberger; New York: Doubleday, 1961), 299, 303.
19. McGrath, Iustitia Dei, 91. See also Mark Tranvik, “Luther on Baptism,” LQ 13 (1999): 76.
20. See Martin Luther, “The Pagan Servitude of the Church,” 292.
21. Ibid., 301. See also Tranvik, “Luther on Baptism,” 79; Althaus, Luther, 356.
22. Ibid., 302.
23. McGrath writes, “Luther does not make the distinction between justification and sanctification associated with later Protestantism, treating justification as a process of becoming: fieri est iustificatio. Justification is thus a ‘sort of beginning of God’s creation,’ initium aliquod creaturae eius, by which the Christian waits in hope for the consummation of his righteousness” (Iustitia Dei, 200). See also Alister McGrath, Reformation Thought: An Introduction (2d ed.; Grand Rapids: Baker, 1995), 107.
24. Ibid., 303.
25. Ibid. Cf. Tranvik, “Luther on Baptism,” 87.
26. Althaus, Luther, 355.
27. Ibid., 308.
28. Atkinson, Martin Luther, 191.
29. Martin Luther, Luther’s Works (ed. Jaroslav Pelikan and Helmut T. Lehmann; 55 vols.; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1955–76), 40:242–43. See also 40:245–46.
30. Ibid., 40:244.
31. Ibid., 40:254.
32. Ibid.
33. Book of Concord, 359.
34. Ibid., 371n147.
35. Ibid., 375.
36. Ibid., 459.
37. Ibid., 461.
38. Ibid., 465.
39. Althaus, Luther, 353; Trigg, Baptism, 39.
40. See Trigg, Baptism, 75–77.
41. Heiko Oberman, Luther: Man Between God and the Devil (trans. Eileen Walliser-Schwarzbart; New York: Doubleday, 1989), 227; Tranvik, “Luther on Baptism,” 79.
42. Book of Concord, 457.
43. Ibid. See also 460–61; Luther, “The Pagan Servitude of the Church,” 297; Luther’s Works, 40:239.
44. Book of Concord, 458.
45. Ibid., 459.
46. Ibid., 458.
47. Ibid.
48. Ibid., 359.
49. Luther, “The Pagan Servitude of the Church,” 293.
50. See Book of Concord, 457, 458, 460, where Luther refers to “new spirits” who believe that external things are useless. Cf. Trigg, Baptism, 75.
51. See Trigg, Baptism, 69.
52. Book of Concord, 459–60.
53. Book of Concord, 320.
54. Luther, “The Pagan Servitude of the Church,” 300–301. See also Tranvik, “Luther on Baptism,” 76–77.
55. Ibid., 301.
56. Ibid., 299.
57. Book of Concord, 461.
58. Ibid., 460.
59. Luther, “The Pagan Servitude of the Church,” 293.
60. Ibid., 295.
61. Ibid., 296.
62. Ibid., 298, 299.
63. Ibid., 301.
64. Ibid., 299.
65. Ibid., 300.
66. See Althaus, Luther, 364; John W. Riggs, Baptism in the Reformed Tradition (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2002), 28–29.
67. Ibid., 364–69.
68. Scaer, “Luther, Baptism, and the Church today,” 265. See also Trigg, Baptism, 77.
69. Luther’s Works, 40:244.
70. Book of Concord, 460.
71. Barth, Church Dogmatics IV/4, 169.
72. Trigg, Baptism, 4.
73. Barth, Baptism, 46–47; idem, Church Dogmatics IV/4, 187.
74. J. D. C. Fisher writes, “Thus in order not to contradict his assertion that the sacraments could not confer grace unless there were faith in the recipients, Luther was forced to contend that in some sense infants could have faith. But his argument is not wholly convincing, and seems to attribute to the baptism of an infant an objective efficaciousness inconsistent with what he said elsewhere about the necessity of personal faith,” Christian Initiation: the Reformation Period (Chicago: Hillenbrand, 2007), 5. See also Barth, Church Dogmatics IV/4, 172.
75. Trigg, Baptism, 226. See also Althaus, Luther, 354–56.
76. Clark, “Baptism and the Benefits of Christ,” 7.
77. Luther, “The Pagan Servitude of the Church,” 301.
78. Cited by Althaus, Luther, 349n19.
79. See Luther’s Works, 3:274.
80. Trigg, Baptism, 41, 44; Luther’s Works, 40:258; 3:274.
81. Ibid., 26–27.
82. Ibid., 30.
83. Tranvik, “Luther on Baptism,” 82.
84. Ibid.
85. Ibid., 83.
86. Luther’s Works, 3:87. On the same page Luther writes: “Thus circumcision was enjoined upon Abraham in order that for his descendents it might be a sacrament through which they would be made righteous if they believed the promise which the Lord had attached to it.” Cf. Trigg, Baptism, 41.
87. Tranvik, “Luther on Baptism,” 87.
88. Luther’s Works, 3:274.
89. Book of Concord, 457.
90. Ibid., 460.
91. James R. White, The God Who Justifies (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2001), 297–98.
92. See Book of Concord, 322–23.
93. Barth, Baptism, 46.
94. See Cunningham, The Reformers, 263–64; Henry Jacobs, A Summary of the Christian Faith (Philadelphia: United Lutheran Publication House, 1905), 335.
95. Luther’s Works, 40:242–43.
96. See B. B. Warfield, The Plan of Salvation (repr., Avinger, TX: Simpson, 1989), 62–63.
97. Book of Concord, 46.
98. See Beeke, “The Relation of Faith to Justification,” 90.
99. McGrath, Iustitia Dei, 99.
100. See his Baptism: A Biblical Study (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1989).
101. Jack Cottrell, “The History of Baptism, Part One: From Paul to Luther,” Christian Standard (2004): 7–9.
102. Douglas Wilson finds support for his view of baptismal regeneration in the Westminster Standards. See his Reformed Is Not Enough: Recovering the Objectivity of the Covenant (Moscow, ID: Canon, 2002), 103–7; E. Calvin Beisner, ed., The Auburn Avenue Theology, Pros and Cons: Debating the Federal Vision (Fort Lauderdale, FL: Knox Theological Seminary, 2004). For an opposing view of the Westminster Standards, see D. Patrick Ramsey, “Baptismal Regeneration and the Westminster Confession of Faith,” The Confessional Presbyterian 4 (2008): 183–93.
103. See his internet essays, “Faith, Baptism, and Justification,”, accessed May 6, 2009; “Do I Believe in Baptismal Regeneration?”, accessed May 6, 2009.
104. See his internet essay, “Some Thoughts on the Means of Grace: A Few Proposals”, accessed May 6, 2009.
105. Robert Lewis Dabney, Discussions (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1982), 1:347–48.
106. Cunningham, Reformers, 273.

Dr. Carl Trueman on John Owen

From the Sydney Anglicans, we get this. Carl Trueman gives a video introduction to Puritan theologian John Owen. It’s from Westminster Seminary on YouTube and runs for 10 minutes 20 seconds.

We love much of Owen's writings, but Puritans tossing the 1662 BCP was unnecessary and extremist.

Dr. Carl Trueman on John Owen (Westminster Video Library)
Dr. Carl Trueman, Professor of Historical Theology and Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary, discusses the life and theological importance of the great Reformed English theologian, John Owen.

Smalcald Articles. Second Part. Article II.1-15

The Mass in the Papacy is a great abomination. One will not hear that from Anglicans today in leadership, Jim Packer included. In fact, Jim's go around with the Anglican Church is puny compared to what Luther faced. The silliness of of all the hoorahs over the new Province seceding over gay bishops is that...silly. Meanwhile, we read serious things in the Smalcald Articles that trump these silly Anglicans. For example, one billion Romish sectaries still believe that the sacrifice or work of the Mass frees men from sins, in this life but also in purgatory. Not one word of analysis or inquiry from the modern Manglicans, to wit, that the Mass is nothing else than the fiction of scoundrels unenlightened by St. Paul's epistles. It is Ich-theologie at its finest. In the Mass, one seeks to obtain and merit the remission of sins and grace. In Luther's excellent words: "...this dragon's tail, [I mean] the Mass, has begotten a numerous vermin-brood of manifold idolatries." Here started the traffic and trade of purgatory masses, or Requiem Masses, vigils, weekly, monthly, and yearly celebrations of obsequies. The Mass itself was almost for the dead rather than the living. Articles are not framed from the works and words of ancient men. Otherwise, vestments, relics, etc., would become articles of faith, like the Anglo-Romanists. 2.2.15 closes with this Catholic and Reformational rule: "The Word of God shall establish articles of faith, and no one else, not even an angel." As always, brother Martin is edifying.

The Second Part.

Article II: Of the Mass.

1] That the Mass in the Papacy must be the greatest and most horrible abomination, as it directly and powerfully conflicts with this chief article, and yet above and before all other popish idolatries it has been the chief and most specious. For it has been held that this sacrifice or work of the Mass, even though it be rendered by a wicked [and abandoned] scoundrel, frees men from sins, both in this life and also in purgatory, while only the Lamb of God shall and must do this, as has been said above. Of this article nothing is to be surrendered or conceded, because the first article does not allow it.

2] If, perchance, there were reasonable Papists we might speak moderately and in a friendly way, thus: first, why they so rigidly uphold the Mass. For it is but a pure invention of men, and has not been commanded by God; and every invention of man we may [safely] discard, as Christ declares, Matt. 15:9: In vain do they worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.

3] Secondly. It is an unnecessary thing, which can be omitted without sin and danger.

4] Thirdly. The Sacrament can be received in a better and more blessed way [more acceptable to God], (yea, the only blessed way), according to the institution of Christ. Why, then, do they drive the world to woe and [extreme] misery on account of a fictitious, unnecessary matter, which can be well obtained in another and more blessed way?

5] Let [care be taken that] it be publicly preached to the people that the Mass as men's twaddle [commentitious affair or human figment] can be omitted without sin, and that no one will be condemned who does not observe it, but that he can be saved in a better way without the Mass. I wager [Thus it will come to pass] that the Mass will then collapse of itself, not only among the insane [rude] common people, but also among all pious, Christian, reasonable, God-fearing hearts; and that the more, when they would hear that the Mass is a [very] dangerous thing, fabricated and invented without the will and Word of God.

6] Fourthly. Since such innumerable and unspeakable abuses have arisen in the whole world from the buying and selling of masses, the Mass should by right be relinquished, if for no other purpose than to prevent abuses, even though in itself it had something advantageous and good. How much more ought we to relinquish it, so as to prevent [escape] forever these horrible abuses, since it is altogether unnecessary, useless, and dangerous, and we can obtain everything by a more necessary, profitable, and certain way without the Mass.

7] Fifthly. But since the Mass is nothing else and can be nothing else (as the Canon and all books declare), than a work of men (even of wicked scoundrels), by which one attempts to reconcile himself and others to God, and to obtain and merit the remission of sins and grace (for thus the Mass is observed when it is observed at the very best; otherwise what purpose would it serve?), for this very reason it must and should [certainly] be condemned and rejected. For this directly conflicts with the chief article, which says that it is not a wicked or a godly hireling of the Mass with his own work, but the Lamb of God and the Son of God, that taketh away our sins.

8] But if any one should advance the pretext that as an act of devotion he wishes to administer the Sacrament, or Communion, to himself, he is not in earnest [he would commit a great mistake, and would not be speaking seriously and sincerely]. For if he wishes to commune in sincerity, the surest and best way for him is in the Sacrament administered according to Christ's institution. But that one administer communion to himself is a human notion, uncertain, unnecessary, yea, even prohibited. And he does not know what he is doing, because without the Word of God he obeys a false human opinion and invention.

9] So, too, it is not right (even though the matter were otherwise correct) for one to use the common Sacrament of [belonging to] the Church according to his own private devotion, and without God's Word and apart from the communion of the Church to trifle therewith.

10] This article concerning the Mass will be the whole business of the Council. [The Council will perspire most over, and be occupied with this article concerning the Mass.] For if it were [although it would be] possible for them to concede to us all the other articles, yet they could not concede this. As Campegius said at Augsburg that he would be torn to pieces before he would relinquish the Mass, so, by the help of God, I, too, would suffer myself to be reduced to ashes before I would allow a hireling of the Mass, be he good or bad, to be made equal to Christ Jesus, my Lord and Savior, or to be exalted above Him. Thus we are and remain eternally separated and opposed to one another. They feel well enough that when the Mass falls, the Papacy lies in ruins. Before they will permit this to occur, they will put us all to death if they can.

11] In addition to all this, this dragon's tail, [I mean] the Mass, has begotten a numerous vermin-brood of manifold idolatries.

12] First, purgatory. Here they carried their trade into purgatory by masses for souls, and vigils, and weekly, monthly, and yearly celebrations of obsequies, and finally by the Common Week and All Souls' Day, by soul-baths so that the Mass is used almost alone for the dead, although Christ has instituted the Sacrament alone for the living. Therefore purgatory, and every solemnity, rite, and commerce connected with it, is to be regarded as nothing but a specter of the devil. For it conflicts with the chief article [which teaches] that only Christ, and not the works of men, are to help [set free] souls. Not to mention the fact that nothing has been [divinely] commanded or enjoined upon us concerning the dead. Therefore all this may be safely omitted, even if it were no error and idolatry.

13] The Papists quote here Augustine and some of the Fathers who are said to have written concerning purgatory, and they think that we do not understand for what purpose and to what end they spoke as they did. St. Augustine does not write that there is a purgatory, nor has he a testimony of Scripture to constrain him thereto, but he leaves it in doubt whether there is one, and says that his mother asked to be remembered at the altar or Sacrament. Now, all this is indeed nothing but the devotion of men, and that, too, of individuals, and does not establish an article of faith, which is the prerogative of God alone.

14] Our Papists, however, cite such statements [opinions] of men in order that men should believe in their horrible, blasphemous, and cursed traffic in masses for souls in purgatory [or in sacrifices for the dead and oblations], etc. But they will never prove these things from Augustine. Now, when they have abolished the traffic in masses for purgatory, of which Augustine never dreamt, we will then discuss with them whether the expressions of Augustine without Scripture [being without the warrant of the Word] are to be admitted, and whether the dead should be remembered at the Eucharist.

15] For it will not do to frame articles of faith from the works or words of the holy Fathers; otherwise their kind of fare, of garments, of house, etc., would have to become an article of faith, as was done with relics. [We have, however, another rule, namely] The rule is: The Word of God shall establish articles of faith, and no one else, not even an angel.