Although I disagree that Justification was the main concern, this is a good article.
On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses concerning clerical abuses and indulgences on the church door at Wittenberg. This famous event is often considered that launching point for the Protestant Reformation.
The chief concern for Luther and the other reformers was the doctrine of justification. It was, to use Calvin’s language, the main hinge on which religion turns.” And the doctrine of justification is no less important today than it was 500 years ago.
There are five key concepts every Protestant should grasp if they are to understanding the reformer’s (and the Bible’s) doctrine of justification.
First, the Christian is simul iustus et peccator. This is Martin Luther’s famous Latin phrase which means “At the same time, justified and a sinner.” The Catechism powerfully reminds us that even though we are right with God, we still violate his commands, feel the sting of conscience, and battle against indwelling sin. On this side of the consummation, we will always be sinning saints, righteous wretches, and on occasion even justified jerks. God does not acquit us of our guilt based upon our works, but because we trust “him who justifies the ungodly” (Rom. 4:5).
Second, our right standing with God is based on an alien righteousness. Alien doesn’t refer to an E.T. spirituality. It means we are justified because of a righteousness that is not our own. I am not right with God because of my righteousness, but because “the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ” has been credited to me. “Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to thy cross I cling; naked, come to thee for dress; helpless, look to thee for grace; foul, I to the Fountain fly; wash me, Savior, or I die” wrote August Toplady in the old hymn. We contribute nothing to our salvation. The name by which every Christian must be called is “The Lord is our righteousness” (Jer. 23:6).
Third, the righteousness of Christ is ours by imputation, not by impartation. That is to say, we are not made holy, or infused with goodness as if we possessed it in ourselves, but rather Christ’s righteousness is credited to our account.
Fourth, we are justified by faith alone. The Catholic Church acknowledged that the Christian was saved by faith; it was the alone part they wouldn’t allow. In fact, the Council of Trent from the 16th century Catholic counter-reformation declared anathema those who believe in either justification by imputation or justification by faith alone. But evangelical faith has always held that “all I need to do is accept the gift of God with a believing heart.” True, justifying faith must show itself in good works. That’s what James 2 is all about. But these works serve as corroborating evidence, not as the ground of our justification. We are justified by faith without deeds of the law (Rom. 3:28; Titus 3:5). The gospel is “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved” (Acts 16:30-31), not “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and cooperate with transforming grace and you shall be saved.” There is nothing we contribute to our salvation but our sin, no merit we bring but Christ’s, and nothing necessary for justification except for faith alone.
Finally, with all this talk about the necessity of faith, the Catechism explains that faith is only an instrumental cause in our salvation. In other words, faith is not what God finds acceptable in us. In fact, strictly speaking, faith itself does not justify. Faith is only the instrument by which we embrace Christ, have communion with him, and share in all his benefits. It is the object of our faith that matters. If you venture out on to a frozen pond, it isn’t your faith that keeps you from crashing into the water. True, it takes faith to step onto the pond, but it it’s the object of your faith, the twelve inches of ice, that keeps you safe. Believe in Christ with all your heart, but don’t put your faith in your faith. Your experience of trusting Christ will ebb and flow. So be sure to rest in Jesus Christ and not your faith in him. He alone is the one who died for our sakes and was raised for our justification. Believe this, and you too will be saved.”
“Apologetics is an answer to the “why” question after you’ve already answered the “what” question. The what question, of course, is, “What is the gospel?” But when you call people to believe in the gospel and they ask, “Why should I believe that?”—then you need apologetics.
I’ve heard plenty of Christians try to answer the why question by going back to the what. “You have to believe because Jesus is the Son of God.” But that’s answering the why with morewhat. Increasingly we live in a time when you can’t avoid the why question. Just giving the what (for example, a vivid gospel presentation) worked in the days when the cultural institutions created an environment in which Christianity just felt true or at least honorable. But in a post-Christendom society, in the marketplace of ideas, you have to explain why this is true, or people will just dismiss it.
Is Apologetics Biblical?
There are plenty of Christians today who nevertheless say: “Don’t do apologetics, just expound the Word of God—preach and the power of the Word will strike people.” Others argue that “belonging comes before believing.” They say apologetics is a rational, Enlightenment approach, not a biblical one. People need to be brought into a community where they can see our love and our deeds, experience worship, have their imaginations captured, and faith will become credible to them.
There is a certain merit to these arguments. It would indeed be overly rationalistic to say that we can prove Christianity so that any rational person would have to believe it. In fact, this approach dishonors the sovereignty of God by bowing to our autonomous human reason. Community and worship are important, because people come to conviction through a combination of heart and mind, a sense of need, thinking things out intellectually, and seeing it in community. But I have also seen many skeptics brought into a warm Christian community and still ask, “But why should I believe you and not an atheist or a Muslim?”
We need to be careful of saying, “Just believe,” because what we’re really saying is, “Believe because I say so.” That sounds like a Nietzschean power play. That’s very different from Paul, who reasoned, argued, and proved in the Book of Acts, and from Peter, who called us to give the reason for our hope in 2 Peter 3:15. If our response is, “Our beliefs may seem utterly irrational to you, but if you see how much we love one another then you’ll want to believe too,” then we’ll sound like a cult. So we do need to do apologetics and answer the why question.
No Neutral Ground
However, the trouble with an exclusively rationalistic apologetic (“I’m going to prove to you that God exists, that Jesus is the Son of God, the Bible is true,” etc.) is that it does, in a sense, put God on trial before supposedly neutral, perfectly rational people sitting objectively on the throne of Reason. That doesn’t fit with what the Bible says about the reality of sin and the always prejudiced, distorted thinking produced by unbelief. On the other hand, an exclusively subjectivist apologetic (“Invite Jesus into your life and he’ll solve all your problems, but I can’t give you any good reasons, just trust with your heart”) also fails to bring conviction of real sin or of need.
There will be no joy in the grace of Jesus unless people see they’re lost. Thus a gospel-shaped apologetic must not simply present Christianity, it must also challenge the non-believer’s worldview and show where it, and they, have a real problem.”
Here is an excellent summary of the Reformed doctrine by B.B. Warfield. The only exception I would take to it, is the “visible” church language and section 21 which says the state must operate off of “human reason”. I think thats a big error. Otherwise, it’s good.
“1. I believe that God, since the creation of His world, has plainly revealed through the things He has made His eternal power and divine nature, and the requirements of His law, so that there is no excuse for unbelief or disobedience on the part of any man; yet however glorious this revelation, it is not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of His will, which is necessary for salvation.
2. I believe that my one aim in life and death should be to glorify God and enjoy Him forever; and that God teaches me how to glorify and enjoy Him in His inerrant Word, that is, the Bible, which He has given by the infallible inspiration of His Holy Spirit in order that I may certainly know what I am to believe concerning Him and what duty He requires of me.
3. I believe that the whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture; unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by alleged new revelations of the Spirit or by traditions of men.
4. I believe that God authenticated His prophets and apostles as agents of revelation by mighty acts of His power employed by Him as signs whereby all men should confess, concerning those who are gifted with such power, “We know you are a teacher sent from God, for no one could do the things you do lest God were with Him”; and I believe that the great outpouring of such miracles displayed in the ministry of Christ and His Apostles signified the breaking into history of God’s promised kingdom, which kingdom, when established in its fullness, will issue in the miraculous renewal of all creation; and that until such time, God is at work bringing men and women into that kingdom through the supernatural work of regeneration.
5. I believe that because God has completed His revelation in Jesus Christ, the former ways of revealing His will are now ceased; and because the final and manifest establishment of His kingdom is yet to come, God does not now choose to publicly display His miraculous power. Nevertheless I believe that God is directly upholding and governing His creation, moment by moment; that God faithfully supplies the needs of His people through His constant providential care; and that He often blesses them with special providences wherein He strengthens their faith and displays His special love for them to the world.
6. I believe that God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth; incomparable in all that He is; one God but three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, my Creator, my Redeemer, and my Sanctifier; in whose power, wisdom, righteousness, goodness, and truth I may safely put my trust.
7. I believe that God has all life, glory, goodness, and blessedness, in and of Himself; and is alone in and unto Himself all-sufficient, not standing in need of me, or deriving any glory from me, but only manifesting His own glory in, by, unto, and upon me in Christ Jesus; and that He has most sovereign dominion over me, to do by me, for me, or upon me whatsoever He pleases.
8. I believe that God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence done to the will of the creature; and trusting in the decree of God, I who am called according to His purpose, I may be assured that all things will work together for my good.
9. I believe that the heavens and the earth, and all that in them is, are the works of God’s hands; and that all that He has made He directs and governs in all their actions, so that they fulfill the end for which they were created, and I who trust in Him shall not be put to shame, but may rest securely in the protection of His almighty love.
10.I believe that God created man after His own image, in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, and that all men owe their Creator thanksgiving and worship; yet God condescended, making a covenant with man, that men might know God, not just as Creator, but as their blessedness and reward. And I believe that while the requirement of this covenant, originating under Adam, was obedience, God was pleased, according to His wise and holy counsel, to permit him to disobey, having purposed to order it to His own glory; so that it was by willfully sinning against God that I, in Adam, lost the rewards of a covenant keeper, and suffer the curses due a covenant breaker. Therefore my only hope of salvation is that Christ the second Adam, has kept the covenant, securing its rewards for the elect, among whom by grace I am numbered.
11. I believe that, being fallen in Adam, my first father, I am by nature a child of wrath, under the condemnation of God and corrupted in body and soul, prone to evil and liable to eternal death; from which dreadful state I cannot be delivered save through the unmerited grace of God my Savior.
12. I believe that God has not left the world to perish in its sin, but out of the great love wherewith He has loved it, has from all eternity graciously chosen unto Himself a multitude which no man can number, to deliver them out of their sin and misery, and of them to build up again in the world His kingdom of righteousness; in which kingdom I may be assured I have my part, if I hold fast to Christ the Lord.
13. I believe that God has redeemed His people unto HimseIf through Jesus Christ our Lord; who, though He was and ever continues to be the eternal Son of God, yet was born of a woman, born under the law, that He might redeem them that are under the law; I believe that He bore the penalty due to my sins in His own body on the tree, and fulfilled in His own person the obedience I owe to the righteousness of God, and now presents me to His Father as His purchased possession, to the praise of the glory of His grace forever; wherefore renouncing all merit of my own, put all my trust only in the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ my redeemer.
14. I believe that Jesus Christ my redeemer, who died for my offenses was raised again for my justification, and ascended into the heavens, where He sits at he right hand of the Father Almighty continually making intercession for his people, and governing the whole world as head over all things for His Church; so that I need fear no evil and may surely know that nothing can snatch me out of His hands and nothing can separate me from His love.
15. I believe that the redemption wrought by the Lord Jesus Christ is effectualy applied to all His people by the Holy Spirit, who works faith in me and thereby unites me to Christ, renews me in the whole man after the image of God, and enables me more and more to die unto sin and to live unto righteousness; until His gracious work having been completed in me, I shall be received into glory; in which great hope abiding, I must ever strive to perfect holiness in the fear of God.
16. I believe that God requires of me, under the gospel, first of all, that, out of a true sense of my sin and misery and apprehension of His mercy in Christ, I should turn with grief and hatred away from sin and receive and rest upon Jesus Christ alone for salvation; that, so being united to Him, I may receive pardon for my sins and be accepted as righteous in God’s sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to me and received by faith alone; thus, and thus only, do I believe I may be received into the number and have a right to all the privileges of the sons of God.
17. I believe that, having been pardoned and accepted for Christ’s sake, it is further required of me that I walk in the Spirit whom He has purchased for me, and by whom love is shed abroad in my heart; fulfilling the obedience I owe to Christ my King; faithfully performing all the duties laid upon me by the holy law of God my heavenly Father; and ever reflecting in my life and conduct the perfect example that has been set me by Christ Jesus my leader, who has died for me and granted to me His Holy Spirit that I may do the good works which God has afore prepared that I should walk in them.
18. I believe that God has established His Church in the world, one and the same in all ages, and now, under the Gospel, has endowed it with the ministry of the Word and the holy ordinances of Baptism, the Lord’s Supper and prayer; in order that through these means, the riches of His grace in the gospel may be known to the world, and by the blessing of Christ and the working of His Spirit in them that by faith receive them, the benefits of redemption may be communicated to His people; wherefore also it is required of me that I attend on these means of grace with diligence, preparation, and prayer, so that through them I may be instructed and strengthened in faith, and in holiness of life and in love; and that I use by best endeavors to carry this gospel and convey these means of grace to the whole world.
19. I believe that the visible Church consists of all those who are united to Christ, the Head of the Church, by profession of their faith, together with their children; and that the visible unity of the body of Christ, though obscured, is not destroyed by its division into different denominations of professing Christians. Therefore I believe that all of these which maintain the Word and Sacraments in their fundamental integrity are to be recognized as true branches of the Church of Jesus Christ.
20. I believe that God alone is Lord of the conscience and has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men, which are in any respect contrary to His Word, or beside it in matters of faith or worship. I believe therefore, that the rights of private judgment in all matters that respect religion are universal and inalienable and that no religious constitution should be supported by the civil power, further than may be necessary for protection and security equal and common to all others.
21. I believe that the Church is God’s spiritual minister for the purpose of redemption and the state is God’s providential minister for the purpose of thisworldly order. The power of the Church is exclusively spiritual; that of the State includes the exercise of force. The constitution of the Church derives exclusively from divine revelation; the constitution of the State must be determined by human reason and the course of providential events. I believe therefore that the Church has no right to construct or modify a government for the State, and the State has no right to frame a creed or polity for the Church.
22. I believe that disciples of Jesus Christ are called to be His witnesses in the world, proclaiming the justice and mercy of God to all men, and making evident His wise and righteous rule over every aspect of human culture. Therefore it is my obligation to search the Scriptures with all the skills God has allotted me, and to seek, within the bounds of my calling, to apply my understanding of His Word to the entire created order, and to all the outworkings of His most wise providence. And I believe that it is my privilege and duty to pursue a vocation in this world that employs my gifts to the glory of God, and for the good of my family, my congregation, my community, and, as God brings opportunity, to any who may be in need.
23. I believe that as Jesus Christ has once come in grace, so also is He to come a second time in glory, to judge the world in righteousness and assign to each his eternal reward; the wicked shall have the fearful but just sentence of condemnation pronounced against them, wherein their consciences shall fully concur, and they shall be cast into hell, to be punished with unspeakable torments, both in body and soul, with the devil and his angels for ever. The righteous in Christ shall be caught up with Christ and there openly acknowledged and acquitted; shall be received into heaven, where they shall fully and forever be freed from all sin and misery; filled with inconceivable joys, made perfectly holy and happy in both body and soul, in the great company of all God’s saints and holy angels, but especially in the immediate vision of God the Father, of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, to all eternity.
24. I believe that if I die in Christ, my soul shall be at death made perfect in holiness and go home to the Lord, and when He shall return in His majesty I shall be raised in glory and made perfectly blessed in the full enjoyment of God to all eternity; encouraged by which blessed hope, it is required of me willingly to take my part in suffering hardships here as a good soldier of Christ Jesus, being assured that if I die with Him I shall also live with Him, if I endure, I shall also reign with Him.”
Doug Wilson has an insightful blog post where he responds to Randy Alcorn’s reluctance to affirm Limited Atonement. Enjoy.
“It is not often that I get to agree with a 4-point Calvinist about limited atonement, so when I do, I ought to seize the opportunity. Right?
First, check out this statement here.
I believe Alcorn is absolutely right that the plain teaching of Scripture trumps our logical mastications. I also believe he is right that the reasoning of many Calvinistic exegetes on passages like 1 John 2:2, 1 Tim. 2:6, Is. 53:6, and 2 Pet. 2:31 seems to set a new standard of special pleading.
Of course you haven’t lived until you see an Arminian preacher sweating over Rom. 8:28-39. But in a similar way, your cup of life has not been lived to the full until you have read A.W. Pink explaining how “God loved the world” means that God actually loved His elect (coupled with the background assumption that the elect are made up of 15-17 people, tops). You see, world means the opposite of what it seems to mean. Our Procrustean theology demands it.
At the same time, I agree with RC Sproul that it is five points or no points. And I am a full five-pointer. And on some days, when I have had some robust hotel coffee, I am a six-and-a-half pointer. What to do?
Not surprisingly, postmillennialism is the answer. Not only does postmillennialism ride to the rescue of the world, it also rides to the rescue of a decrepit, rationalistic Calvinism. Calvinists don’t like to be told that when they are hobbling through the universal texts that they look just like the Arminians hobbling through the sovereignty texts. But they do.
So try this out. The world will be saved. The nations will come to Christ. The families of the earth will turn to the Lord. The earth will be as full of the knowledge of God as the Pacific is wet. Why will all this happen? Because Jesus died so that it would. Jesus died to secure the certainty of it.
Jesus is the savior of the world. He is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He is the propitiation for the sins of the world. There’s more, but you get the drift.
The problem is that Jesus did not die to purchase raffle tickets for everybody. He did not die to give everybody a chance at it, a chance that most will muff. He did not secure options with His blood. Jesus did not die so that anybody could be saved if they chose, but they probably won’t.
Rather, Jesus died to secure salvation, sin-removal, and propitiation for the world. This means that whateverworld means, it is an entity that has been saved, has had its sins cleansed, and has received the blessing of propitiation. This is where the Arminians and four-pointers fail to live up to their own professed standard. They say that they can’t get around Jesus being the propitiation for the sins of the whole world, and then the first thing they do is get around Jesus being the propitiation for the sins of the whole world.
Against this position, Jesus is the propitiation, not could be the propitiation, if you only . . . Against truncated Calvinism, Jesus is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world, not for the sins of some elite Delta Force.
So I don’t want Calvinists to throw away their logic, or as Alcorn put it, their “western” logic. I want them to pick it up. Follow it out farther. No points without five points, yes. And no five points without the sixth point of postmillennialism. This means the starchiest five-point amill guy is in the same logical position as the four-pointers.
So when the knowledge of God fills the earth as the waters cover the sea, we may be content to know that semi-Pelagianism will then be well beneath the waves, in Davy Jones locker. And not until then.””
In compliance with Christ’s command (Matt. 28:19), Christians have always practiced baptism with water into the Triune name of God, marking the incorporation of the person baptized into the church as Christ’s Body (I Cor. 12:12-13).
However, widely differing ideas about baptism exist among professing Christians. Some claim that it automatically washes away previous sin; some think that children are regenerated by it.
At the other extreme, there are those who say that baptism does nothing more than symbolize a person’s own profession of faith in God’s cleansing grace.
The former views see divine power inherent in baptism – yet place it at the disposal of the church. The latter view shifts orientation to man’s action and sees God performing nothing through baptism itself.
The Reformed faith disagrees with each of these lines of thought, holding that the perspective of God’s inspired word on baptism is not only contrary to them, but also much clearer than debates over baptism sometimes pretend. So let us ask, what is the meaning of baptism? And what purpose does it serve?
A Hint from Historical Precedent
Many aspects of new Covenant teaching cannot be properly understood apart from their historical background in the Old Covenant. The comment that Jesus is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” or the fact that the temple veil was torn in two when Jesus died upon the cross are examples. Likewise, the Lord’s Supper celebrated in the New Covenant is to be seen in the light of the Old Covenant’s passover celebration (Luke 21:15-20; I Cor. 5:7-8; 10:16-17; 11:20-29). What Old Covenant precedent might there be for baptism?
Paul answers our question and helps us understand the theological meaning of baptism by pointing us to its historical precedent in Colossians 2:11-12. “In Him you were also circumcised – in putting off of the body of the flesh – not with a circumcision done with hands, but with the circumcision performed by Christ, having been buried with Him in baptism . . ..”
Christians have been circumcised spiritually (not done with hands), and this circumcision has been accomplished by Jesus Christ himself. What is this circumcision? Paul explains immediately: “having been buried with Him in baptism.” Figuratively speaking, Christian baptism is the circumcision performed by Christ. Accordingly, by examining the religious rite of circumcision practiced in the Old Covenant, we can understand the meaning and purpose of baptism in the New Covenant.
1. Like Circumcision, Baptism Shows that We Belong to God as His People.
Circumcision was the mark that someone belonged covenantally to God. It distinguished a person from the unbelieving, Gentile world: “when a stranger sojourns with you and would keep the passover to the Lord, let all his males be circumcised, then let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as one that is born in the land – for no uncircumcised person shall eat of it” (Ex. 12:48).
Likewise, baptism is the sign which distinguishes God’s people from the rebellious world today. The words of the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20) require Christ’s disciples to be differentiated from the world by baptism. It is the mark of conversion to Christianity. Those who “received his word” were baptized and added to the church (Acts 2:41). Setting us apart from a world dead in sin, baptism summons us to walk in “newness of life” (Rom. 6:4).
2. Like Circumcision, Baptism Symbolizes Purification from Defilement.
Man’s sinful condition is called “the uncircumcision of your flesh” by Paul (Col. 2:13). Circumcision symbolized a cutting back and removal of that sinful nature. Thus circumcision was figuratively applied to the lips (Ex. 6:12, 30) and especially the heart (Jer. 4:4). The ancient external rite was literally applied to the male genital organ as an indication that everyone comes into this world at birth as sinfully unclean and unacceptable in God’s sight. There can be no “natural” hope for man’s salvation. He must rely solely on the supernatural, gracious work of God in his behalf.
Likewise, baptism points to the need for the “remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). It assumes our spiritually dirty condition before God. Thus Ananias said to Paul after his conversion, “arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling upon His name” (Acts 22:16). Baptism teaches us that, as filthy in the sight of God, our only hope is in His cleansing grace (cf. I John 1:9).
3. Accordingly, Like Circumcision, Baptism Points to Righteousness Imputed by Faith.
Paul tells us in Romans 4:11 that Abraham “received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while he was in uncircumcision, that he might become the father of all them that believe . . . that righteousness be imputed unto them.” Abraham’s circumcision was God’s testimony in Abraham’s flesh that righteousness cannot be merited by man’s natural efforts – that it must be graciously imputed to the helpless sinner. Abraham was reckoned righteous, therefore, only by trusting in God’s promise and provision – by faith.
This is also the divine testimony in baptism. Those who wish to be justified in the sight of God must “repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins”; those who do so are believers in God’s promise (Acts 2:38-44). “Having believed in God” for promised salvation, the Philippian jailer “was baptized” (Acts 16:30-34). Like Abraham’s circumcision, the jailer’s baptism was a divine sign of justification (righteousness, salvation) by faith.
We must note well that the signs of the covenant, whether circumcision or baptism, – being God’s signs and ordained by Him – are God’s testimony to God’s gracious work of salvation. They declare the objective truth that justification comes only by faith in God’s promise. Circumcision and baptism are not an individual’s personal, subjective testimony to having saving faith for himself. God Himself commanded that circumcision be applied to those whom He perfectly well knew would not have saving faith in Him (e.g., Ishmael in Gen. 17:18-27).
Likewise, in plenty of instances hypocrites who are not true believers have been baptized (cf. Heb. 6:2-6; e.g., Simon Magus in Acts 8:13, 20-23). Even in such cases the covenantal sign was not invalidated; its divine testimony remained true – objectively declaring by circumcision or baptism that defiled sinners (Ishmael, Simon Magus) need God’s gracious cleansing, that justification can come only by faith in His promise.
4. Most Comprehensively then, Like Circumcision, Baptism Signifies Covenantal Union and communion with God.
God said to Abraham “This is My covenant between Me and you . . . every male among you shall be circumcised” (Gen. 17:10), and the substance of God’s covenant promise to Abraham was “to be a God unto you and unto your seed after you” (v. 7). Circumcision placed Abraham and his children in a covenantal relation with God that the unbelieving world did not enjoy. It marked them out as enjoying God’s saving promise in this world – as those about whom God could say “you alone have I known of all the families of the earth” (Amos 3:2). Because of this gracious covenant, Abraham’s children had communion with God. They assembled in the very presence of God. (Ex. 26:22; 29:42-43).
Similarly, Paul says that those who receive the sign of baptism have been “baptized into Christ Jesus” and are “united with Him” (Rom. 6:3, 5). They enjoy covenantal communion with the Savior as His people (e.g., Rev. 3:20), being “by one spirit baptized into one Body” (I Cor. 12:13) – a relationship which cannot be claimed by those in the unbelieving world. God’s people today assemble together in the very presence of God, His angels, and Jesus the mediator of the New Covenant (Heb. 12:22-24).
Here we must take note again of a common misunderstanding of circumcision and baptism, one which arises from a more fundamental, underlying misconception of what it means to have covenantal, underlying misconception of what it means to have covenantal union and communion with the Lord. To be covenantally united with God, although intended by God to bring favor and blessing to His chosen people, carries as well the threat of judgment and curse. God’s covenants involve blessing and cursing, depending upon whether one is a covenant-keeper or a covenant-breaker.
We see this two-sided character of the covenant in both the Old Covenant (e.g., Deut. 27-28; Josh. 8:34) as well as the New (e.g., I Cor. 11:27-32; Heb. 6:4-8). It was just because Israel alone enjoyed God’s loving covenant that the nation had to be judged for its sins (Amos 3:2). Likewise, if the Laodicean church will not repent, it must be rejected (Rev. 3:16).
To be in covenant with God does not automatically imply eternal salvation – certainly not for covenant-breakers. Thus “they are not all Israel who are of Israel” (Rom. 9:6), and even in the New Covenant not all who publicly profess Jesus as “Lord” are savingly known by Him (Matt. 7:21-23). So then, the signs of circumcision and baptism definitely bring their recipients into covenant with God (and what they signify is intended as blessing), but they are not thereby personal guarantees of salvation, except for covenant-keepers. The covenant signs can also bring their recipients under God’s dreadful judgment.
5. Like Circumcision, Baptism is Designed to be Applied to Believers and Their Households.
It is evident from Genesis 17:7-14 that God designed the sign of the covenant to be applied, not only to the believing adult Abraham, but also to his seed, indeed his entire household – “every male among you,” whether born in the house, purchased as a slave, Jewish or Gentile. All those who were part of Abraham’s house were covenantally consecrated (or “holy”) to God in virtue of their connection with Abraham the believer. Accordingly, the Jews circumcised their sons, even as children (on the eighth day). Moreover, since Abraham was to be the believing “father of many nations,” not simply of the Jews (Gen. 17:4-6; 12;3), the covenant promise – and its sign of circumcision – were for converted Gentiles as well (Ex. 12:48-49; cf. Gal. 3:7).
Since baptism is the New Covenant equivalent of circumcision, and since circumcision taught that the children of believers are included under God’s covenant, and since our covenant-keeping God does not change His principles (Ps. 89:34; Matt. 4:4; 5:18; Rom. 15:4; Jas. 1:17), we would fully expect that baptism should be applied – as was circumcision – to believers and their seed or households. This theological inference is inescapable. Further, it is precisely what we find taught in the New Covenant scriptures themselves.
On the day of Pentecost, Peter preached the risen Christ as the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies and covenants. Declaring God’s good news to the Jews – whose self-conception for centuries had been in terms of the Abrahamic covenant (cf. John 8:33, 39) – Peter called on his audience to repent and be baptized. And Peter conspicuously couched his invitation in the structure of God’s promise to Abraham, which we saw above: “For the promise is to you [as believers] and to your children [your seed], and to all that are afar off [the Gentiles]” (Acts 2:39).
The children of believers are to be baptized, then, and addressed as members of the covenant community, the church(e.g., Eph. 1;1; 6:1); Jesus said, “to such [infants] belongs the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:15-16). Paul teaches us that, just like the case of the Old Covenant believer Abraham, the entire household of a New covenant believer is covenantally consecrated (“holy”) to the Lord (I Cor. 7:14). Thus when Lydia became a believer, not only was she herself baptized, but “also her household” (Acts 16:14-15) – as was the “household of Stephannas” (I Cor. 1:16).
The Mode of Baptism Reflects Its Theological Meaning
Our preceding discussion has illustrated how the meaning of Christian baptism corresponds to that of Old Covenant circumcision. Baptism is, for believers and their households, a sign of being in covenantal communion with God as His people (distinguished from the world), an objective divine testimony to the fact that sinners need cleansing from defilement and can be justified only by faith in God’s gracious promise and work. The Biblical mode of baptism – sprinkling or pouring – symbolically fits this message.
In the Old Testament God foreshadowed the redemptive work of Christ through various rites involving the sprinkling of blood. Accordingly, Hebrews 9:10 speaks of certain ceremonial rites connected with the Old Covenant tabernacle – such as sprinkling the blood of bulls (v. 13; cf. Num. 19:17-18), sprinkling the book and people with blood (v. 19; cf. Ex. 24:6, 8), and sprinkling the tabernacles and its vessels with blood (v. 21; cf. Lev. 8:19; 16:14). And Hebrews 9:10 calls these external regulations which anticipated the redeeming work of the Savior “various baptisms [washings] imposed until a time of reformation.”
The New Covenant speaks of our salvation as the “sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ” (I Peter 1:2; cf. Heb. 12:24). And this redemptive work is aligned with our Christian baptism: “let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and having our body washed with pure water” (Heb. 10:22).
Moreover, in the Old Covenant scriptures God promised the coming of the regenerating Holy Spirit in terms of pouring and sprinkling: “I will pour out My Spirit upon all flesh” (Joel 2:28-29). “I will sprinkle clean water on you . . . I will give you a new heart . . . I will put My Spirit within you to walk in My statutes” (Ezek. 36:25-28).
Accordingly the New Testament speaks of our salvation in terms of the “pouring out” of the Holy spirit: “Being therefore exalted to the right hand of God and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you see and hear” (Acts 2:33; cf. 10: 44-45; 11:15-16). And this redemptive act is clearly called baptism by Jesus: “John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days hence” (Acts 1:5; cf. Matt. 3:11; Acts 11:16; I Cor. 12:13).
Baptism by sprinkling or pouring, then, points to God’s covenant wherein helpless, polluted sinners are sprinkled clean by the redemptive blood of Jesus Christ and renewed by the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. In harmony with what we have seen previously, baptism is a testimony to salvation by God’s initiative and promise, anticipated in the Old Covenant and accomplished through the New Covenant work of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.
Efficacy of the Sacraments
Baptists take a minimalist, subjective view of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, seeing them merely as “ordinances” (not “sacraments”) which are nothing more than a memorial to the work of Christ, a testimony to the gospel truth and visible sign of a person’s (subjective) faith in it. By contrast the word of God presents the sacraments as a true “means of grace” which, through the efficacious work of the Holy spirit, convey a blessing to believing recipients – those who keep God’s covenant. Notice how Paul speaks of the sacrament: “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ?” (I Cor. 10:160. The sacrament actually does something in this case blessing covenant-keepers; but Paul also realized that the sacrament carries a corresponding threat of curse for unworthy partakers (I Cor. 11:29).
Far from being superfluous, then, the sacraments intend to convey a distinct blessing beyond that provided by the word alone. In addition to being a sign of the covenant of grace, they also function as a confirmatory seal of it. Notice what Paul says: “And he [Abraham] received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised” (Rom. 4:11).
The sacrament confirms or authenticates (“seals”) that which it points to (“signifies”). It is God’s reassurance to us that sinners are acceptable to Him by means of faith in His promise – parallel to the oath which God added to His word of promise to Abraham (cf. Heb. 6:13-19). This reassurance is provided, of course, only for those who truly keep God’s covenant in faith.
At the other extreme from Baptistic conceptions, there are maximalist views of the sacraments. Roman Catholicism sees the sacraments as necessary – not simply by God’s precept and as conveying the distinct blessing of sealing God’s promise, but as the very means of salvation. The elements of the sacraments are thought to be inherently efficacious in virtue of the church being the depository and dispensary of God’s grace. Thus baptism works automatically to wash away previous sins and will bring its recipient salvation (provided such is not “blocked by mortal sin”). Lutheranism says that, when they are properly applied, the sacraments are in themselves efficacious to those who are susceptible to their blessing: this susceptibility amounts to faith in adults, but simple nonresistance in infants. Accordingly, baptism automatically regenerates infants.
Quite opposite of these ideas, the word of God teaches us that the saving grace signified by the sacraments exists prior to them and is not produced by them. That is, the saving benefit of the sacraments is available apart from them – thus they are not necessary for salvation. Moreover, the efficacy of the sacraments resides in the presence and work of the Holy Spirit (not in the church or the elements or their proper administration). It is through His discriminating, divine agency that the sacraments accomplish their work (either blessing or cursing). Accordingly, they do not bless unworthy recipients.
When Peter speaks of baptism saving us, he immediately explains: “not the washing away of bodily pollution [external surface dirt], but the appeal made to God by a good conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (I Peter 3:21). Without a good conscience through Christ’’ saving work, the external rite brings no saving blessing.
The sacrament brings blessing (rather than curse) when an inward, spiritual condition matches the symbolism of the outward act. As Paul said: “neither is that circumcision which is outward, in the flesh. But . . . circumcision is that of the heart, by the Spirit, not the letter – whose praise is not of men, but of God” (Rom. 2:28-29).
Conclusion: Baptism’s Testimony and Assurance
Given an understanding of the Biblical meaning and purpose of baptism, we can draw of few significant conclusions, things that should come to mind at the celebration of baptism (whether our own or that of others).
1. Baptism issues an evangelistic call. Like circumcision, it testifies that we are all born in sin and, as such, are unclean and unacceptable in the sight of God. Baptism also points to the mercy of God which washes sinners of their pollution and makes them graciously acceptable to Him through the sprinkling of Christ’s blood and regenerating outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Our only hope is in God’s gracious promise of redemption, received by faith. So baptism summons unbelievers to trust in the Savior.
2. Baptism issues a sanctifying call. Those who are baptized need to demonstrate that they are covenant-keepers, those who have living faith in the Savior and seek to serve Him with their lives. As with circumcision, this is true of adults just as much as with children! Baptism conveys blessing only to the faithful, whenever and wherever their baptism was administered. It must not be viewed as a magical rite by which to manipulate God. It only works to bring saving blessing when the recipient of the baptism responds to God’s claim upon his/her life with covenant-keeping faith and obedience.
3. Baptism issues a call to covenant faithfulness. If you are a believer, have you and your children been baptized? The signs of God’s covenant are not optional, as though subject to our own imagined meaning or imagined value. To despise those signs is in itself to despise God’s very covenant (cf. Gen. 17:10, 14; Ex. 4:24-26; John 6:53; Luke 22:20; I Cor. 10:16; 11:27). You need for yourself and your household to affirm and enjoy the privilege of standing in a covenantal relationship with God through baptism. He is the Lord of your family and claims your children as His own. You likewise need to live in every area of your life (family, vocation, finances, education, social relationships, recreations, art, politics, etc.) as someone who is under the mark of God’s covenant and thereby responsible to obey the Lord at every point. Our lives are completely His.
4. Baptism powerfully communicates comfort to the faithful. Whether baptized as an adult convert or as a helpless child, the rite of baptism offers reassurance (whether at the time of administration or later) that God is a forgiving God and will indeed prove true to His promises to those who keep His covenant. There is in baptism not only a visual reinforcement of the gospel message, but more importantly a confirming (sealing) inward work of the Holy Spirit which strengthens our hearts in the condemning presence of sin, authenticating the unfailing promise of salvation from our covenant Lord. It is thereby truly a means of grace for us.
We are all aware of hellfire-and-damnation preachers who rave and scream about the decadence of the world. It can become tiresome to listen to all of that. I think we all respect people who can disagree with others in a spirit of charity, and as a rule, I try to abide by that as much as I can. But when it comes to this question of abortion, my tolerance dissipates. I’m convinced that the matter of abortion facing the American public right now is the greatest wickedness in our nation’s history. It makes me almost ashamed to be an American. I’m ashamed of the medical profession, but I’m most deeply ashamed of the church for its failure to scream literally, “Bloody murder” about abortion.
Abortion is a monstrous evil, and if I know anything about the character of God, I am totally convinced that this is an outrage to him. From the beginning to the end of sacred Scripture, there is a premium on the sanctity of human life. Anytime we see human life cheapened—as it clearly is in the wanton destruction of unborn children— then those who have an appreciation for the value and the dignity of human life need to stand up and protest as loudly as they possibly can.
From a biblical standpoint, the issue focuses on the origin of life. It would be merely sophistry for me to accuse somebody of murder if in fact they were not killing a human life. I think the biblical evidence is manifold that life begins at conception. We see that repeatedly in the literature of the prophets in the Old Testament, in the psalms of David, and in the New Testament where at the meeting of Elizabeth and Mary, after she has conceived Jesus, John the Baptist, as yet unborn, bears witness to the presence of the Messiah, who also is not yet born. Neither one of these are born infants, and yet there is communication taking place. Jeremiah and the apostle Paul both speak of being consecrated and sanctified while they were still in their mothers’ wombs. These and a host of other passages indicate clearly that life begins before birth and, I believe, at conception. I just pray that this nation will sober itself about this and do something to restore the sanctity of life.”
The text of a letter written by Charles Hodge of Princeton Theological Seminary on behalf of the two General Assemblies of the Presbyterian Church in the USA, explaining why the Pope’s invitation to Protestants to send delegates to the first Vatican Council of 1869-70 was being declined.
To Pius the Ninth, Bishop of Rome,
By your encyclical letter dated 1869 you invite Protestants to send delegates to the Council called to meet at Rome during the month of December of the current year. That letter has been brought to the attention of the two General Assemblies of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America. Those Assemblies represent about five thousand ministers and a still larger number of Christian congregations.
Believing as we do, that it is the will of Christ that his Church on earth should be united, and recognizing the duty of doing all we consistently can to promote Christian charity and fellowship, we deem it right briefly to present the reasons which forbid our participation in the deliberations of the approaching Council.
It is not because we have renounced any article of the catholic faith. We are not heretics. We cordially receive all the doctrines contained in that Symbol which is known as the Apostles’ Creed. We regard all doctrinal decisions of the first six ecumenical councils to be consistent with the Word of God, and because of that consistency, we receive them as expressing our faith. We therefore believe the doctrine of the Trinity and of the person of Christ as those doctrines are expressed in the symbols adopted by the Council of Nicea AD321, that of the Council of Constantinople AD381 and more fully that of the Council of Chalcedon AD451. We believe that there are three persons in the Godhead, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are the same in substance and equal in power and glory. We believe that the Eternal Son of God became man by taking to himself a true body and a reasonable soul, and so was, and continues to be, both God and man in two distinct natures and one person forever. We believe that our adorable Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ is the prophet who should come into the world, whose teachings we are bound to believe and on whose promises we rely. He is the High Priest whose infinitely meritorious satisfaction to divine justice, and whose ever prevalent intercession, is the sole ground of the sinner’s justification and acceptance before God. We acknowledge him to be our Lord not only because we are his creatures but also because we are the purchase of his blood. To his authority we are bound to submit, in his care we confide, and to his service all creatures in heaven and earth should be devoted.
We receive all those doctrines concerning sin, grace and predestination, known as Augustinian, which doctrines received the sanction not only of the Council of Carthage and of other provincial Synods, but of the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus AD431, and of Zosimus, bishop of Rome.
We therefore cannot be pronounced heretics without involving in the same condemnation the whole ancient church.
Neither are we schismatics. We cordially recognize as members of Christ’s visible Church on earth, all those who profess the true religion together with their children. We are not only willing but earnest to hold Christian communion with them, provided they do not require, as conditions of such communion, that we profess doctrines which the Word of God condemns, or that we should do what the Word forbids. If in any case any Church prescribes such unscriptural terms of fellowship, the error and the fault is with that church and not with us.
But although we do not decline your invitation because we are either heretics or schismatics, we are nevertheless debarred from accepting it, because we still hold with ever increasing confidence those principles for which our fathers were excommunicated and pronounced accursed by the Council of Trent, which represented, and still represents, the Church over which you preside.
The most important of those principles are: First, that the Word of God, contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only infallible rule of faith and practice. The Council of Trent, however, pronounces Anathema on all who do not receive the teachings of tradition pari pietatis affectu (with equal pious affection) as the Scriptures themselves. This we cannot do without incurring the condemnation which our Lord pronounced on the Pharisees, who made void the Word of God by their traditions (Matt. 15:6).
Secondly, the right of private judgement. When we open the Scriptures, we find that they are addressed to the people. They speak to us. We are commanded to search them (John 5:39), to believe what they teach. We are held personally responsible for our faith. The apostle commands us to pronounce accursed an apostle or an angel from heaven who should teach anything contrary to the divinely authenticated Word of God (Gal. 1:8). He made us the judges, and has placed the rule of judgement into our hands, and holds us responsible for our judgements.
Moreover, we find that the teaching of the Holy Spirit was promised by Christ not to the clergy only, much less to any one order of the clergy exclusively, but to all believers. It is written, ‘Ye shall all be taught of God.’ The Apostle John says to believers: ‘Ye have an unction from the Holy One, and know all things . . . but the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you; and ye need not that any man teach you; but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him’ (1 John 2:20,27). This teaching of the Spirit authenticates itself, as this same apostle teaches us, when he says, ‘He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself (1 John 5:10). ‘I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth’ (1 John 2:21). Private judgement, therefore, is not only a right, but a duty, from which no man can absolve himself, or be absolved by others.
Thirdly, we believe in the universal priesthood of all believers, that is, that all believers have through Christ access by one Spirit unto the Father (Eph. 2:18); that we may come with boldness to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need (Heb. 4:16); ‘Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; and having an high priest over the house of God; let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water’ (Heb. 10:19-22). To admit, therefore, the priesthood of the clergy, whose intervention is necessary to secure for us the remission of sin and other benefits of the redemption of Christ, is to renounce the priesthood of our Lord, or its sufficiency to secure reconciliation with God.
Fourthly, we deny the perpetuity of apostleship. As no man can be an apostle without the Spirit of prophecy, so no man can be an apostle without the gifts of an apostle. Those gifts, as we learn from Scripture, were plenary knowledge of the truth derived from Christ by immediate revelation (Gal.s 1:12), and personal infallibility as teachers and rulers. What the seals of apostleship were Paul teaches us, when he says to the Corinthians, ‘Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds’ (2 Cor. 12:12). As for prelates who claim to be apostles, and who demand the same confidence in their teaching, and the same submission to their authority, as that which is due to the inspired messengers of Christ, without pretending to possess either the gifts or signs of the apostleship, we cannot submit to their claims. This would be rendering to erring men the subjection due to God alone or to his divinely authenticated and infallible messengers.
Much less can we recognize the Bishop of Rome as the vicar of Christ on earth, clothed with the authority over the Church and the world which was exercised by our Lord while here in the flesh. It is plain that no one can be the vicar of Christ who has not the attributes of Christ. To recognize the Bishop of Rome as Christ’s vicar is therefore virtually to recognize him as divine.
We must stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free. We cannot forfeit our salvation by putting man in the place of God, giving one of like passions with ourselves the control of our inward and outward life which is due only to him in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, and in whom dwells all the fulness of the Godhead.
Other and equally cogent reasons might be assigned why we cannot with a good conscience be represented in the proposed Council. But as the Council of Trent, whose canons are still in force, pronounces all accursed who hold the principles above enumerated, nothing further is necessary to show that our declining your invitation is a matter of necessity.
Nevertheless, although we cannot return to the fellowship of the Church of Rome, we desire to live in charity with all men. We love all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity. We regard as Christian brethren all who worship, love and obey him as their God and Saviour, and we hope to be united in heaven with all who unite with us on earth in saying, ‘Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen’ (Rev. 1:6).
Signed on behalf of the two General Assemblies of the Presbyterian Church in the US of America