I really enjoy talk radio. My absolute favorite radio-talker is a man by the name of Dennis Prager. He is not my favorite simply because I agree with his political views or his understanding of specific events, but because he is truly wise. One of his joys, and great pleasures, is in finding clarity above and beyond finding agreement. I hope to do the same here. While I'd love that all Baptists become Lutheran in their theology after reading this post, I'll be satisfied if those who read it find clarity. I just want Baptists, and the Reformed, to walk away, after reading this, saying, "Ok, I think I understand where Lutherans are coming from now."I think one of the problems here is that Kobra, as he has been wont to do since I have known him, thinks that somehow Baptists have never poked their heads out of their sad little non-conformist circles and seen the world.
We have read, Luther, Kobra, and we find him less than convincing. Prager notwithstanding.
One thing that must be understood is that Lutheranism is a top-down theology. For example, Reformed theologians, when speaking of God, begin with an abstract, philosophical concept of who God is. The Reformed begin to explain their understanding of God through statements like, "God is sovereign," and "God is immutable," etc... Lutherans, on the other hand, do not begin with what Luther might call, "the hidden things of God" but rather, they start to understand God through the incarnation of Christ. Christ is, after all, "the express representation of the Godhead." Further, if you have seen Christ you have seen the Father. Thus, Lutherans begin with Christ and work out from Him when seeking to understand the truth of God.Fair enough, I guess. A little smug, but Lutheranism is itself a little smug. Go on.
Why this is important to understand when approaching the topic of Baptism is that it helps us to see just why God would choose elemental means for the communication of the Gospel. Just as God had to descend from Heaven in Christ, so He now descends again to meet us where we live, face to face in the muck and mire of our fallen world. Only when He does descend are we able to meet Him and receive all the benefits of fellowship with Him--peace, a clean conscience, the washing away of sin. We still, even as Christians, cannot ascend to meet God in the nether regions of a non-elemental world.See: this is where the smugness shows up – in the slipping in of 1 Peter 3 as if that passage says Baptism bestows a clean conscience rather than this:
- Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.
Listen: I don’t mind coming to a place where we have clarity, but what has to be clear here is that the confessional Lutheran approach to that passage is, at best, atomistic as it breaks off the “saves you” from the other things which are “from you” in that passage. I can grasp that the Lutheran reads this passage as baptism bestowing grace; I cannot grasp how he gets there from the text.
The place to start when discussing Christian Baptism is Scripture. We must begin by asking the question, "What does the Bible say?" This question isn't one that first and foremost demands an intricate and nuanced systematic answer. All that it demands is that one look to the passages that address Baptism, and try to first understand them for what they are. What they are, these passages, are simple sentences that carry a simple, grammatical meaning. How these sentences fit into the larger scheme of Lutheran theology can be dealt with in future posts. But first, as one prominent Lutheran professor passionately commands, "Just read the texts!" In doing so I think that we can arrive at a point of clarity.I cannot agree too much with that affirmation. But if we go with “just the texts”, the Lutheran has a lot more reconsidering to do than the Baptist.
Let’s see ...
The first passage one needs to look at is Acts 2:38. Peter has just preached a sermon and now calls for people to react to the words he's spoken. He says:Um, wow. Where to start then?
"And Peter said to them, "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."
What is Baptism for according to this passage? The Greek word eis is translated for in this passage, and it means more specifically into. It is through the act of Baptism that one is united with Christ into his death and resurrection. It would be a grammatical error to read the passage as if it were saying that Baptism were merely a symbol of something that had already occurred. Baptism here is the means by which one enters into remission, and not something that one enters into after remission has taken place. For instance, doesn't the grammar demand that we understand Baptism to be the entrance into remission of sins and not merely the representation of something that has already occurred?
I don’t know anyone who would use this passage to underscore that baptism is “merely a symbol”, and for those who are actually serious about Baptist theology, I don’t know who would say “merely a symbol” in the sense Kobra is here arguing against. What this passage does, in fact, say is that it is repentance and baptism which is “[eis] the forgiveness of your sins”.
Another relevant point here should be noted from the translator’s note for this passage from the NET Bible:
There is debate over the meaning of εἰς in the prepositional phrase εἰς ἄφεσιν τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν ὑμῶν (eis afesin twn Jamartiwn Jumwn, “for/because of/with reference to the forgiveness of your sins”). Although a causal sense has been argued, it is difficult to maintain here. ExSyn 369-71 discusses at least four other ways of dealing with the passage: (1) The baptism referred to here is physical only, and εἰς has the meaning of “for” or “unto.” Such a view suggests that salvation is based on works – an idea that runs counter to the theology of Acts, namely: (a) repentance often precedes baptism (cf. Acts 3:19; 26:20), and (b) salvation is entirely a gift of God, not procured via water baptism (Acts 10:43 [cf. v. 47]; 13:38-39, 48; 15:11; 16:30-31; 20:21; 26:18); (2) The baptism referred to here is spiritual only. Although such a view fits well with the theology of Acts, it does not fit well with the obvious meaning of “baptism” in Acts – especially in this text (cf. 2:41); (3) The text should be repunctuated in light of the shift from second person plural to third person singular back to second person plural again. The idea then would be, “Repent for/with reference to your sins, and let each one of you be baptized…” Such a view is an acceptable way of handling εἰς, but its subtlety and awkwardness count against it; (4) Finally, it is possible that to a first-century Jewish audience (as well as to Peter), the idea of baptism might incorporate both the spiritual reality and the physical symbol. That Peter connects both closely in his thinking is clear from other passages such as Acts 10:47 and 11:15-16. If this interpretation is correct, then Acts 2:38 is saying very little about the specific theological relationship between the symbol and the reality, only that historically they were viewed together. One must look in other places for a theological analysis. For further discussion see R. N. Longenecker, “Acts,” EBC 9:283-85; B. Witherington, Acts, 154-55; F. F. Bruce, The Acts of the Apostles: The Greek Text with Introduction and Commentary, 129-30; BDAG 290 s.v. εἰς 4.f.That is, Kobra’s theological predisposition to this passage isn’t necessarily warranted by the Greek in spite of his retreat to that place.
Also in the book of Acts we find an interesting dialogue between Ananias and the apostle Paul. We are made privy to this as Paul gives his "testimony" or "confession" concerning his shift in behavior. Paul is, in other words, offering an apology for his theological change in thinking. He relays the story of his confrontation by Christ on the road to Damascus. He tells of how he was blinded and sent to the house of Ananias. After speaking with Paul Ananias says to him:What is troubling here is trying to interpret what Ananias did say by what he might have said or by what he didn’t say. I would be wholly-willing to accept at face-value the commendation from Ananias that baptism will “wash away sins” if, indeed, Kobra would be willing to admit that baptism is also Paul’s action of calling upon the Lord. See: Kobra – indeed, the traditional Lutheran approach to this matter – grabs at the saving value apparently implied here without accounting for the “calling on his name” part. Somehow, Scripture says both are necessary – whatever theological explanation we adopt, we should also say both are necessary.
"And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name."
Hadn't Paul's sins already been removed from him? Wouldn't Ananias have done better to say, "And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and testify that your sins have already been washed away, calling on his name." This simply would not make sense.
Later on in Paul's apostolic ministry his teachings on baptism are concordant with both the words of Peter and the words of Ananias. Paul in his letter to the Galatians states:
"For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ."
- 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.
Baptism cannot come before faith – and the Lutheran view simply ignores this.
In the book of Romans he asks his readers:Likewise “all of us” who have been baptized in Rom 6 are the “all of us” who have faith in Rom 5. The precondition of being baptized is faith.
"Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?"
We can talk as long as anyone wants about what happens to us in baptism after we have, as Kobra might say, “clarity” about what constitutes an actual baptism.
So, let this start a discussion on Baptism. It could have been a much more extensive post, but I've found that when participating in internet discussions less can be more. Here are a few starter questions:I’m in for the starter questions, after we have clarified the errors listed above. However, as a sign of good faith, I’ll offer preliminary answers to those question.
Does Baptism deliver the forgiveness of sins that Christ won upon the cross?Yes, when we understand that baptism is the place where a person publicly makes (cf. 1 Peter 3) a plea for a good conscience in Christ.
Where is Baptism mentioned as a mere symbolic act or a representation of what the person being baptized already possesses?Baptism is never mentioned apart from the precondition of faith – it is a consequence of faith, and act of faith. In that, there is nothing “mere” about this act. The question is only if somehow the words “sign” or “symbol” do any injustice to what is said, for example, in 1 Peter 3 where baptism is explicitly said not to be a washing but a plea. We know that it is in fact a washing; if by washing we make a plea, I suggesting the washing represents something else, making it a sign and a seal.
Have at it.