Friday, May 11, 2012

A Response to Some Question on the Sacraments

I got a recent comment on an old post which I felt was worth responding to with a new post because these are some very commonly asked questions:

1) You said one can be justified by faith alone without needing to be baptize (at least in some special cases). Can you provide instances of these?

The typical response to this question is to point to the thief on the cross. Clearly the thief on the cross did not have the opportunity to accept baptism but was received into paradise regardless. This is the only case I can think of, because all others who become believers in the New Testament have the opportunity to receive baptism. True faith will always result in baptism. Luther says that it is not the lack of baptism that damns but the rejection of it. Baptism is the ordinary means of regeneration but not the only means.

2) Can you please enumerate, based on what Luther taught, the benefit(s) of baptism for adults who have already come to faith in Christ?

This is a somewhat complex question. For Luther, everyone in Germany was baptized as an infant. He didn't face the question in the same way we do today. The Lutheran scholastic tradition is somewhat muddled on this question as well, sometimes seeming to promote baptismal regeneration for infants only, and baptism as a sign and assurance of faith for others. This is one of Charles Hodge's main arguments against a Lutheran view of baptismal regeneration, because it has no clear doctrine of baptism for both infants and believers. I would say, in response to this question, that baptism gives the gospel promise in a concrete way for the believer, seals him with the Holy Spirit, and brings the forgiveness of sins. These things are present through the word but are sealed, confirmed, and strengthened through baptism. It seems clear in the book of Acts, and of the way Paul speaks of baptism, that the presence of the Spirit becomes greater through baptism. He is present in a way he is not beforehand.

I also think that one can speak of regeneration as more than a one time act. Luther speaks of the Christian life as continual repentance and renewal. Thus I think it is valid to say that one was both regenerated through the word, and through baptism (which also is accompanied by the word).

3) Again, with regards to those who have trusted in Christ for Salvation and are not yet baptized, are they saved already, or not yet until they are baptized?

They are saved through the word, which is also a means of regeneration. However, they should not neglect the great benefits given through baptism which does not then become a mere symbol.

4) Do Lutherans believe in mortal sin?

Yes. We don't have a list of sins that are mortal, or believe that the believer is constantly falling out of a state of grace. However, continual unrepentant sin can drive away the Spirit and cause the loss of faith. This does not have to be then remedied through satisfaction or works of penance, but is forgiven when one trusts in the gospel promise. The Lutheran fathers do use the language of mortal and venial sin, but not in the Roman Catholic sense.

5) What is Absolution?

Absolution is a proclamation of the Pastor that he forgives all of our sins for the sake of Christ. This is often called the "office of the keys" and is based on Jesus' words in Matthew 16 and John 20, that whatever sins are forgiven by the disciples are also forgiven in heaven. The words of the pastor become the words of Christ, as through human words, God conveys the benefits of the gospel. This is often called by Lutherans a third sacrament.

6) I was baptized in a Baptist church (which holds that baptism is a mere profession of faith). Does Lutherans accept my baptism as valid?

The validity of baptism depends on God's word and promise, not on the faith or life of the minister. This was defended by St. Augustine against the Donatists who held that an unholy man's baptism was invalid. As long as the word was present, and the Triune name invoked, your baptism is valid.


Steve Bricker said...

I'm glad you answered these questions. As an Evangelical now listening to and greatly appreciating Lutheran doctrine, explanations of the correlation between baptism and salvation left me wanting for a better solution from the Lutheran theologians I heard and read. This seems to help.

Jeph said...

Thank you so much for responding to my queries. This helps a lot, but still have some follow-up questions:

1) You said, "Baptism is the ordinary means of regeneration." Is this true concerning only infants? or to adults as well? If for adults the sacrament of baptism is the ordinary means of regeneration, does this mean those who come to trust in Christ will not be regenerated unless they are baptized?

2) You said, "baptism gives the gospel promise in a concrete way for the believer, seals him with the Holy Spirit, and brings the forgiveness of sin." If I understand this statement correctly, this seems to suggest that a person who truly trusts in Christ will not receive the forgiveness of sins unless he is baptized. Yet you also said elsewhere that believers may attain to salvation through the word prior to their obedience to the sacrament of baptism. Can you reconcile this for me?

3) Can you please define what mortal sin is for Lutherans? If a Christian commits a mortal sin, will he be stripped of his justification right away? or the eradication of faith (as a product of constant unrepentant sinning) is necessary for that end?

4) Can a Christian ask for forgiveness directly to the Father through Jesus Christ and be forgiven? Is Absolution absolutely necessary for a Christian to be forgiven of his sins after conversion?

5) How do you see other denominations who hold to justification by faith but do not stress (or affirm) the necessity of the sacraments in Salvation? Do you regard them as your brothers and sisters in Christ?

Good day and God bless!

Martin Yee said...

Hi Jordan,

Thanks. Great Q&A write up. Helps to clarify thoughts. Just wish to add that that for Lutherans baptism is connected very much to justification. They are interlinked. Romans 6 is key. We were buried with Christ through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. That is why baptism is very central to Lutheran soteriology.

J. Dean said...

Hi Jordan,

One of the evangelical responses to the Lutheran view of sacraments is that it becomes salvation by works (i.e.-I'm saved because I take communion or am baptized which therefore earns merit for me). I have to admit that this is a big stumbling block for myself, so I'd like to ask two questions along those lines...

1.) Was this something you struggled with prior to your conversion to Lutheranism (I read your Issues, etc, article-good article btw!)?

2.) How do Lutherans respond to this charge?

Thank you very much. Between you and Rev. Fisk, you've got me THIS close (pinches thumb and forefinger together) to becoming Lutheran.

Martin Yee said...

Just wish to add that baptism in Lutheranism is seen as God's action rather than human work. It is a sacrament in that sense. As such baptism is not just a public profession of faith or a symbolic human act.

God in his divine freedom has chosen to forgive sins in baptism. This is evident in Scripture. But that does not mean that God cannot do the same in other ways as He sees fit. The repentant thief on the cross was saved without baptism. But in baptism we have God's Word of promise attached that this is so. So we need not doubt.

That is why in Matthew 28:19-20, making disciples involves BOTH teaching and baptising. People can be taught the whole torah/commandments/counsel of God but if they don't understand and trust the Gospel promise in baptism it is all in vain. Justification and sanctification goes hand in hand.

Lutherans believe in two kinds of righteousness, for the righteousness before God - man cannot contribute a thing, it is all God's work for us, salvation is a gift of God (Eph 2:8-9). But for the righteousness before man, the fruit of salvation - good works are necessary (James 2:20) and often expressed in the Lutheran concept of Vocation, loving our neighbour. Good works are necessary in the similar sense that it is necessary for the sun to shine. A sun will shine without coercion. So Paul and James are not contradicting each other.

Just a 2 cents worth.


Anonymous said...

J. Dean, I was an adult convert to Lutheranism from Baptist evangelicalism. I wrote a Q&A book about Baptism, basically using all the questions I used to have about Baptism from that perspective, and answering them. A whole chapter is dedicated to issues related to that dear subject to Lutherans, salvation by grace through faith, and its relation to Baptism. Book is free here:

In short, Baptism isn't a human work, but God's work and his free gift of delivering the salvation won on the cross. Just as a person can be saved by a preacher preaching and we don't call THAT "salvation by works" although work and even paychecks are involved, so we don't call God's other delivery methods human works meriting forgiveness, either. If the Word is there and his promise is there, it's effectual.


Anonymous said...

I would like to say that Lutherans believe that baptism is more than just water. Baptism is water combined with the word of God. Moreover, baptism is like a conduit that transports the word of God to people. Lutherans do not believe that the properties of the water is what actually regenerates people. They believe that the word of God in the water is what regenerates people.

I believe that regeneration is entirely God's work, but I don't believe that God uses baptism to regenerate people.

Mr. Mcgranor said...

I was told that to have The Lords Supper at a local Lutheran (Missouri Synod) Church, i must believe that The Supper is the transformed body and blood of Christ. That leaves out Baptists.

Jordan Cooper said...

We do not let those commune at our table who do not confess our view of the Supper.

Jordan Cooper said...

Jeph- I will respond to your questions soon.

J. Dean- I would recommend looking at the book Kelly posted. It will likely have the answers you are looking for.

Anonymous said...

Jordan-I downloaded it. Very good book, gave me a lot to think about.

DavidC said...

re: baptism as means of regeneration, it occured to me that Christ did not ordain believer's baptism until his ascencion; prior to that there was only John's baptism. Was this perhaps the reason the theif on the cross was saved without it?

Nick Lehner said...

Hi Jeph,

I find your insight into the history of Martin Luther and Lutheranism interesting.

My comment and question relate to your 1st answer in the list of questions.

You point to the Thief on the Cross as being a clear example where he could not have the opportunity to accept baptism. How do you know this? Is this only because he is explicitly identified and mentioned as being sentenced to die?

Would you agree being a man, he was alive in the time of John's Baptism?

John's Baptism was prophesied by Isaiah (Isaiah 40:3, referenced and confirmed in Matthew 3:3, Mark 1:3, Luke 3:4, and John 1:23 etc.). In Matthew 3:5 we learn that Jerusalem went to him and the entire region of Judea and the district around the Jordan river went out to be baptized.

Roman Prefects were not allowed to bring to trial as well as render a death sentence outside of their jurisdiction (district so-to-speak). Given that Christ and the thieves (both were thieves, one was found guilty of murder also) died at Calvary (also referred to as Golgotha), this means they were under the jurisdiction effective of Pontius Pilate. This would make that the thieves were of Judea. With the understanding that the entire region of Judea was baptized under John's baptism, the thief

Pilate sent Christ to Herod (Luke 23) since Christ was a Nazarene, of Galilee, in which He could not be tried in the correct jurisdiction according to Roman Law. Herod and his soldiers mocked Christ and couldn't extract a confession worthy of a death sentence so it was deemed ok (from the purpose of human thinking and action and to fulfill prophesy) to send our Lord, Jesus Christ back to Pilate for trial. Herod and Pilate became friendly to one another making this possible.

In John 4 we learn that the Lord had been baptizing more (His disciples were actually) than John was in Judea. Once the Lord found out he left back to Galilee. There is a higher probability that Christ's disciples came in contact with the thieves.

So we have more evidence than to the contrary (historical reference as opposed to a popular assumption) that the thief could have been baptized, but there is more to consider. Regardless of whether the thief was baptized, Christ's commandment to baptize came after His death on the cross. If the understanding is that the thief wasn't baptized, then the commandment could not apply to him. If the understanding is that he was baptized before the commandment, then the application thereof is trivial because it already occurred.

Consider also how 1 Corinthians 15 would apply then. The thief could not believe in the resurrection since it did not occur yet and would occur after the thief died. The thief could have believed it would happen, only if he came in contact with Christ prior and was baptized and understood (i.e. the Lord told him) what was happening then and about to happen in the future.

Would you agree the requirements for faith in God are different under the NT than the OT? The thief died under the old covenant because the new covenant had not come into full effect yet. Colossians 2 explains how the Jews were still subjected to the Law until Christ died. Christ's assurance to the thief at the very least meant God determines salvation. Hebrews 9:16-17 as well as 10:9-10 solidify when the New Covenant comes into effect.

Christ forgave as He willed (which was the Father's will also) in the Old Testament. We find examples in Mark 2, Luke 7 and John 8. At the least this is a case of as He so willed and not a case of faith over baptism. Faith is dead by itself (James 2) but can one have baptism without faith? It's not the Lord's baptism then.

I hope this is not too jumbled alas I believe it is hard enough to draw conclusions in this area. Food for thought brother.