Does God Work Grace in Baptism?

I’m a Baptist, but kinda barely! I believe baptism is only for those who are receiving it in faith, but the tradition of the Reformation churches persuades me to recognize the baptism of infants! (Not as the norm, but as an irregular expression of the sacrament)… So here’s my 6,700 word paper on why I think most Baptists see baptism as more of a law duty than as a gospel gift.

Check it out, thinkers! Thanks for reading,

-Adam

Baptist Identity and Sacramental Malformation

A Baptist identity is difficult to define and locate within broader church history, but in general there have always been those who practice credobaptism (believers only to be baptized).[1] It was through the Reformation and its subsequent centuries that Baptists articulated a confessional identity under the Protestant umbrella.[2] Among the branching family of Protestant denominations, church radicals (Baptists among them) are those who bore the malice of Rome from one side, and the scorn of the paedobaptist Reformation bodies from the other.[3] Through the sustained three-way tussles between Roman Catholicism (RC[C]), high-church State Protestantism, and the burgeoning free-churches (including Baptists), the sacramental theology (ST)[4] of the Baptists has never been developed and articulated apart from the conscious strain of these polemics.[5]

Perhaps in relation to this, the greater portion of Baptists have tended to exclude the sacraments as means of God’s effectual work of salvation. For the Baptist, sacramental grace is often rejected as having the whiff of Romanism; the Lutheran, Calvinist, and Anglican churches (with their varied STs) may appear to the Baptist as compromised, or otherwise stuck in a sort of incomplete reformation.[6] Because Baptists tend to view the RCC as the arch villain of accretive doctrinal excess (a la “sacred tradition”), any given Baptist doctrine may take a reactionary skew and thus miss or distort key biblical data.[7] In spite of this visceral antipathy, the Baptist is ever a Christian under the authority of Scripture, and so he may be persuaded to re-visit traditional beliefs in the light of Scripture as it has been interpreted within the greater Reformation heritage.

So as to provide the historical and theological background against which Baptists react, I will note the vital connection in RC between ecclesiology and ST, this being near the heart of the Reformation protest. Over against this medieval RC juggernaut, the Lutheran and Calvinist confessional bodies found agreement in the gospel[8] even while confessing their differing expressions of sacramental grace. In this paper I will briefly demonstrate that sacramental grace is not necessarily RC, nor does it necessitate RC ecclesiology. In addition, I will make note of the growing Baptist voices who represent an openness to an embrace of sacramental grace within the outlines of otherwise traditional Baptist theology.

A Question of Ecclesiology

Wherever the true church is found, the saving work of Christ is also found, and there his true sacraments are present (as nearly all churches would agree). The core of the Reformation battle has been the question of the nature and identity of the church Jesus founded (Matt. 16:18), from which flow the considerations of justification, the gospel, etc. If the RCC was not the exclusive, apostolic body of Christ, then the nature and identity of the sacraments would also become questionable—for if access to the sacraments could be gained outside the RC communion, then the church was by definition more or different than what the RC Magisterium had taught it was.[9] The question of ecclesiology, therefore, is the foundational question underlying ST.[10]

The RCC is defined by her claim of “‘apostolic succession’” that “structures the whole liturgical life of the Church and is itself sacramental,” in continuity from Christ and his apostles to the present RC episcopate.[11] The RCC therefore teaches communion with the Bishop of Rome as the full communion with Christ, wherein Jesus is “himself at work” in the sacraments.[12] Any true Christian piety found outside of the RCC is therefore seen as a product of invisible (even unintentional) union with the RCC.[13]

The Reformation churches had to define the church in juxtaposition to this monolithic institution calling itself the “great sacrament of divine communion.”[14] The early Lutherans declared the Pope and his government to have “the marks of Antichrist,” being “an enemy of Christ.”[15] John Calvin devoted a great breadth of his fourth book in Institutes of the Christian Religion to denouncing the papal system—(his successors being no less brutal).[16] Yet if Rome had apostatized, then the jarring question of the identity of the true church had to be answered. On this point the Magisterial reformers agreed: the true church is identified wherever and whenever the Word of God is preached to the people of Christ in accord with the ecumenical creeds, and also where and when the two dominical sacraments are dispensed to Christ’s people as Christ commanded.[17] The question of how the church is to be governed is answered differently throughout Protestantism, yet it has no bearing on this underlying identity of where the church may be found; and here there is basic agreement among orthodox Protestants.

Baptists as Separatists

The Baptist tradition is something of an historical amalgamation of disparate groups, and the modern moniker comes from those in England who were suspicious of the Anglican Church with its state backing.[18] The orthodoxy of state church politics had been virtually unquestioned for more than 1,000 years, but here were the Baptists claiming “a succession of true believers since the time of Christ, but not of institutional continuity.”[19] The modern Baptist identity is likewise “largely a reactive and responsive” heritage with a survival instinct—a body of believers familiar with the shadowy edges of the larger catholic church.[20]

Under the leadership of John Smyth, the proto-Baptist Separatists of Gainsborough found quickly that “it was impossible to exist longer in England” due to persecution from the state and its established church.[21] These Separatists of the early seventeenth century drew up a covenant with one another whose aim was to return the church to a pure New Testament praxis, especially touching baptism.[22] No more would they continue the tradition of paedobaptism, for Europe had been filled with the baptized who knew nothing of the new life in Christ;[23] this apostasy having thrived under the rubric of state-protected, sanctioned, and controlled Christendom.

In the formative years of the early Baptists, the social environment was one of suspicion and fear within and between the various Christian sects and secular rulers. In this context, the Baptist concern with ecclesiology remained at the front of their emerging system of doctrine, Smyth’s confession stating “That the visible church is a mystical figure outwardly, of the true, spiritual invisible church; which consisteth . . . only . . . of the regenerate.”[24] From this foundational free-church ecclesiology, the Baptists were being defined within Protestantism as radicals, and indeed the RCC and even fellow Reformation bodies who had retained forms of a state church had trouble differentiating them from the Anabaptists of the early seventeenth-century.[25]

Baptist Baptism as Separationism

As Smyth had argued, and as his Baptist descendants held, the church is made up of her invisibly regenerate members (read: baptism being a token of an already experienced new birth). The Baptists maintained little respect for the place in the church of those holding external, false professions of faith, and even less respect for the political structures of the churches as they intertwined with secular governments. Accordingly, the ST of the Baptists has reflected this Separatist mentality. Indeed, the beginning of Baptist Protestantism revolved around “how to re-establish right baptismal practice when all existing church officers had abandoned apostolic practice” of credobaptism.[26] The self-baptisms of the early Baptists attests their belief that the true church and her sacraments had been so mutilated over time that a fresh start was necessary.[27] With this clean break even from fellow Reformation bodies, the Baptists defined baptism by inference: if the church is made up only of those who have been spiritually reborn, and who have made personal, cognitive professions of faith in Christ, then baptism is a symbolic, subsequent act in relation to that new birth, not the cause of it. The relation between conversion and baptism, therefore, has been answered by Baptists in conscious contradistinction to the RCC and paedobaptist Reformation churches. Baptism has been taught as a symbolic act of the new birth subsequent to it—for no infant can make its own profession of faith, as the logic goes. Even Augustine, the father of medieval paedobaptism, had to resolve the “tension . . . in the conjunction of faith and infants.”[28] The Baptist answer to “what is baptism?” has therefore been a negative/positive confession: it is not something that is done in and for us, but rather is merely something we do before God as an act of obedience and public confession of faith in Christ.[29] This is baptism as Separationism and as protest to the ecclesiology that underlies paedobaptism.

A General Consensus

From the early seventeenth century up through the present day, most Baptists have held to this ST of baptism-by-inference from believer-only-church ecclesiology. The majority view has been that of baptism as a symbol of regeneration, barring from the doctrine any consideration of effectual grace in the sacrament. Smyth spoke to this effect in his confession, stating “That in Baptism . . . is presented, and figured, the spiritual baptism of Christ,” and “That the outward baptism and supper do not confer, and convey grace and regeneration to the participants…”[30] Later in the same century the Particular (Calvinistic) Baptists wrote similarly upon the doctrine of baptism, which was defined as “an ordinance . . . it being a sign” that “answer[s] the things signified.”[31] This phrase “answer[s] the things signified” reflects the ancillary value of baptism in relation to regeneration. As the century rolled on, this doctrine of baptism had not changed: the confession of 1677/89 shows a conscious protest to its parent documents the Savoy Declaration and the Westminster Confession of Faith when it says “Baptism is an Ordinance . . . a sign of . . . fellowship” with Jesus.[32] Where Savoy and WCF used “sacrament,” the Baptists continued to prefer “Ordinance” as a clear signal of their demurring from sacramental grace.[33]

This perspective has remained a core feature of Baptist ST to this day, being tied to ecclesiology as it has been. Andrew Fuller taught that “Sin is washed away in baptism in the same sense as Christ’s flesh is eaten, and His blood drunk, in the Lord’s Supper: the sign, when rightly used, leads to the thing signified.”[34] Writing in the late nineteenth century, Henry C. Vedder denounced the early corruption of the church as owing to “the attribution of some mystical or magical power to baptism.”[35] To Vedder, the broadening of baptismal rites was the primary means of the eventual total apostasy of the RCC.[36] The twentieth-century giant of Baptist theology Augustus Hopkins Strong was no less forceful in his separation of baptism from the grace it signifies, calling it a “token of [the believer’s] previous entrance into the communion of Christ’s death and resurrection—or, in other words, in token of his regeneration through union with Christ.”[37] In the most recent decades, Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology has stood as a leading compendium of Baptist thought. In his chapter entitled “Means of Grace within the Church,” Grudem acknowledges baptism “becomes a means of grace,” but this is tightly qualified.[38] In Grudem’s estimation, the working of the Spirit in baptism is his work of stirring faith in those present as they realize the things being signified. Here our Baptist is still drawing the line thick between the sign and the thing signified.

As is evident from this brief selection of key Baptists, something vital is being protected behind the doctrine of symbol-only baptism. It may be that this minority group in church history is guardian of the faithful reading of Scripture, or on the other hand it may be a traditional position founded on historical antipathy, in which case a review is not only suggested, but binding. At the present, there is a small cadre of (mostly academy-based) Baptists calling for a review of sacramental grace in the Baptist churches.[39] Yet can a Reformed Baptist remain true to the gospel as a credobaptist if he heeds these voices calling for an embrace of the doctrine of effectual, sacramental grace? Are these mutually exclusive? The Lutheran and Calvinist examples shed needed light on this question.

The Gospel: Without Which (We Have) Nothing

In the grinding of the Reformation the Protestant family splintered into denominational quarrels, yet the gospel of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone was the ecumenical Protestant rallying cry.[40] Paul reminded the Corinthians “of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you…” and this “as of first importance…” (1 Cor. 15:1-3a ESV). The core of the sixteenth-century protest against the RCC rested on questions of the church and her authority, but in a most immediate sense, the marring of the gospel is what brought about the Reformation. Paul had also written to the Galatians to warn “there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:7a-8). The very heart of the Magisterial Reformation was the restoration of the gospel; and to this heritage the later Baptists were adjoined as inheritors. Because of this shared principal, it is discordant to find such a different ST in the Baptist confessions and church life.

The Reformed Baptist confessions of the seventeenth century reflect this shared gospel. Around 160 years before the great Second London Baptist Confession (SLBC) was finalized in 1689, the first Lutherans drew up the Augsburg Confession in an attempt to clarify to the secular authorities what they believed and confessed.[41] Article IV (on justification) declares “people cannot be justified before God by their own . . . works. People are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith…” so they declared to the Emperor, contra RC dogma.[42] The Apology of the Augsburg Confession begins the article on justification calling it “the chief topic of Christian doctrine.”[43] As the gospel is the sine qua non of the Lutheran confessions, so justification is the beating heart of the gospel.[44] By this standard, the gospel is preserved only if nothing is added to the righteousness of Christ imputed through faith alone.

John Calvin, 23 years younger than Luther, looked up to the elder theologian with admiration.[45] Sounding positively Lutheran in his definition and exposition of justification, Calvin wrote:

“A man will be justified by faith when, excluded from the righteousness of works, he by faith lays hold of the righteousness of Christ, and clothed in it appears in the sight of God not as a sinner, but as righteous. Thus we simply interpret justification, as the acceptance with which God receives us into his favor as if we were righteous; and we say that this justification consists in the forgiveness of sins and the imputation of the righteousness of Christ.”[46]

And following in his footsteps, Calvin’s successors enshrined this definition of justification in the Westminster Confession of Faith of 1643.[47] This doctrine of justification through faith alone is also the minimal, essential boundary of the gospel confessed by Reformed Baptists; and as such, a comparison between the SLBC and WCF serves to demonstrate that these Baptists did not seek originality in their confessional standard on justification and the gospel but rather entire reliance on the Lutheran and Calvinist fathers.[48]

A Fork in the Road and Faulty Presuppositions

Here then is the critical juncture for Reformed Baptists. If the Magisterial confessions embrace both the gospel of justification through faith alone and sacramental grace, (although the definitions of how grace is active in the sacraments differ between them), then the issue is not Rome vs. Reformation or heresy vs. orthodoxy, but rather who within the Reformation heritage maintains the best exegetical work. In other words, the Magisterials have consistently read a harmony between the five solas[49] and sacramental grace. As mentioned above, the Baptist tradition is protective of its free-church ecclesiology and credobaptism; so if it can be demonstrated that these are compatible with sacramental grace, and that the Scriptures teach such, then the Baptist tradition is bound to repudiate duty-driven, symbol-only baptism.

Yet from the start the Baptist stumbles. Both Magisterial traditions maintain rich doctrines of paedobaptism, and thus the Baptist objects in reactionary form from following their reasoning.[50] Indeed it would be progress for many Baptists to endeavor reasoning along the lines of the Magisterial traditions at all, as leading Baptists to this day draw a false dichotomy as if sacramental grace were almost exclusively a RC doctrine.[51] One such example comes from Thomas J. Nettles who rails at fellow Baptists leaning toward a sacramental baptism, calling such “a corrupting influence on Baptist ecclesiology and soteriology,” and that “one’s focus [would be] divided between the historic work of Christ on the cross and the present event of baptism”— Nettles claiming “this is real idolatry.”[52]

Another, more egregious example came from Dr. Robert A. Baker during chapel at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (in the early 1960’s). There he thundered “the idea that the grace of God must be mediated by things – sacraments – is a carry-over from crass paganism. It is the spirit of relics, holy bones, shrines, and crusades.” and “the belief that . . . God uses ‘material media’ to transmit that grace is fraught with danger.”[53] Baker’s words are odd considering the pericopes wherein Jesus gave a blind man sight by putting mud on his eyes (John 9:6-7), and where God healed people through means of “handkerchiefs or aprons” that had touched Paul’s body (Acts 19:12 NKJV).

Furthermore, Baker’s connecting of sacramental grace to “crass paganism” is opposite history: the pagan/Gnostic infiltration of the early church brought in a spirit/matter dualism whereby matter was viewed as inherently evil and unholy.[54] It has been this influence of Platonic paganism whereby Christians have been tempted to separate supposedly unholy physical elements from connection to the pure and spiritual realm above.[55] A close look at Baker’s words reveals he connected this “crass paganism” with the distinctly RC elements of medieval history (“relics, holy bones, shrines, and crusades.”) He thereby implemented a false dichotomy: either one is on the side of the RCC with all its Judaizing excesses, or one is with the Baptists. Baker left no place for the STs of the Magisterial Reformation. He tellingly ended his chapel sermon with a bare quotation of Romans 11:6—“If by grace, then is it no more of works…” (KJV).[56] This Yale-educated Baptist judged sacramental grace to be unchangeably wedded to the apostate ST of Rome. Intellect was not Baker’s shortcoming, thus tradition-colored lenses must have been.

Writing as if in response to Baker’s sermon itself, Robert Kolb argues on just how Christian it is to maintain a robust confession of sacramental grace:

“For a [Gnostic] worldview which connects abstract Spirit with the Good and finds the material world inferior if not downright evil, the coming of God, the Good, into human flesh and bones is at least impossible and perhaps blasphemy of the worst sort. For this reason spiritualizing Christians of every age have striven with imagination and verve to squeeze the biblical message into the shapes prescribed by Plato or other spiritualizers.”[57]

Even within the Presbyterian and Calvinist camp there have been Platonic misgivings with an accompanying intramural debate over these five centuries.[58] Yet within these discussions most Calvinists would not outright anathematize sacramental grace.

Baker (like others) indeed laid down the gauntlet on fellow Baptists who might suggest a move toward sacramental grace, yet the underlying argument appears to be a straw man resting on a false dichotomy; Baptists can and should do better than this.

Sacramental without Compromise?

Having formed an identity as Separatists within Protestantism, Baptists have historically resisted ecumenical dialogue and unions.[59] Survival as a minority entails suspicion to outside customs and traditions, yet even so over the past 150 years some Baptist groups have joined ecumenical discussions.[60] It does seem, however, that the Baptist groups who are more likely to be open to “sacramental” grace are also more likely to join ecumenical dialogue, and these groups on average seem less “evangelical.”[61] Harry McBeth observes the “greatest difference” between them being perspectives on baptism—and he notes that the sacramental Baptists even affirm “infant baptism under some circumstances . . . and teach that baptism conveys specific grace.”[62] Against these, he immediately reminds, “the evangelical group . . . would disagree.”[63] It is within this latter group that the Reformed Baptists would be classified—these are confessional, pious, conservative Christians who do not trade detailed, confessional truth for the sake of ecumenical unity. If McBeth has properly distinguished between sacramental and evangelical Baptists, the question is: may evangelical/confessional Baptists also embrace sacramental grace without falling into doctrinal compromise? The question here is not generally the goodness of any given ecumenical movement, but rather if the Reformed Baptist (who already sees ecumenical dialogue as generally leading to the compromise of truth), may embrace sacramental grace without also relinquishing solid confessional boundaries. Framed another way, the question is whether sacramental grace and undiluted Reformed Baptist theology are mutually exclusive.

The issue at stake in exploring a revised ST is that sacramental baptism is the opposite of the tradition of baptism as Separationism (see above). Note here that in his comprehensive work on the recovery of sacramental grace for Baptists, Anthony Cross immediately addresses “Baptism in Ecumenical Discussions” at the front end of the book; the connection between sacramental grace and ecumenical fellowship is broadly assumed when addressing this subject.[64] Of special note is Cross’s recognition of “conversations between the Baptist World Alliance and the Roman Catholic Church which began in 1990,” stemming from “sacramental”—read again, ‘non-evangelical’—Baptists who are willing to move toward (even) Rome through the means of revised ST.[65] This is a horror to the Reformed and evangelical/confessional Baptist, and as such turns him or her away from such obvious compromise of the gospel.[66]

Therefore the way forward for the Reformed Baptist is through an examination of the appropriateness of the categories in use. We have seen those Baptists who are willing to consider sacramental grace castigated for their reputed compromise of the gospel in and through ecumenical dialogue, and we have also seen the long tradition of stouthearted, Separationist, evangelical Baptists who grip the confessions so tightly that the thought of sacramental grace is equated with crass paganism—but here we inquire for a middle way wherein the rich confessionalism of the Reformed Baptist may be informed by that of the Magisterial, gospel-confessing Reformation bodies via Scripture. Few confessional Lutherans or Calvinists would discuss union with the RCC at any meaningful level, and yet these Reformation bodies believe in sacramental grace through baptism. There is, therefore, the possibility of the Reformed Baptist embracing meaningful change in the definition of how grace is received, how salvation is applied, and how God works his sovereign will in and among the church.

Baptism and New Birth

On the front end of this consideration, the Reformed Baptist must disagree with the thesis of Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry where it says “The need” is “to recover baptismal unity . . . as it is central for . . . genuine partnership within the Christian communities.”[67] Rather, paramount in the praxis of Reformed Baptist polity is unity in the experience of the new birth. Baptism is a supporting element of that new birth, whether interpreted sacramentally or as a mere symbol—in either case the Reformed Baptist must refer to the new birth as the focal point of Christian unity. This, then, is the remaining question for the Reformed Baptist: in what way might baptism be instrumental in the creation of saving faith, given that regeneration does not usually happen at the moment of baptism? There is certainly more than enough Scripture to suggest an intimate link between baptism and the new birth, as for instance Paul’s earnest cry “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:3-4 ESV). Given the nature of Baptist theology regarding the progression of the redemptive-historical covenants, credobaptism is the correct conclusion concerning the proper administration of baptism. Even so, the WCF—notwithstanding its paedobaptist Covenant Theology!—offers insightful language on the link between baptism and the new birth:

“The efficacy of Baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered; yet . . . the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited, and conferred, by the Holy Ghost, to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongs unto, according to the counsel of God’s own will, in His appointed time.”[68]

And by this inference drawn from the doctrines of election and regeneration, WCF offers a consideration to Reformed Baptists by which a revised ST is possible. If Scripture teaches that baptism is a means of God’s saving grace, and if credobaptism is the proper mode of baptism, then by inference God applies the grace of baptism in granting saving faith regardless of when in time baptism is administered in reference to the moment of regeneration.

Pushing further this concept of revised categories, it is helpful to consider the relationship in Protestantism between Scripture and tradition. Alister McGrath writes “the magisterial reformers had a very positive understanding of tradition . . . although the radical reformers did indeed adopt the more negative attitude.”[69] One might recognize in the split between Magisterial and radical Reformation the Reformed Baptist living with one foot in each world, stretching theologically toward WCF and Augsburg, yet with the ecclesiological instincts of the Anabaptists. Be that as it may, Reformed Baptists are obligated to return to Scripture alongside their Lutheran and Calvinist brethren, hearing the tradition of the Reformation as touching sacramental grace. If nothing else, it is evident that the gospel has not been lost or compromised by the variant ecclesiology and ST of these communions, and so the sacramental grace of their confessions may be considered as compatible with the otherwise sound, biblical theology of the Reformed Baptists.

Sacramental Considerations

The Baptist heritage has for centuries continued under the pall of reactionary survivalism. Having navigated periods of intense persecution or isolation for holding to a free-church, credobaptist foundation, the consideration of moving back toward the ST of the Magisterial Reformation has often been met with scorn among even the greatest Baptist minds. It was from the state churches of Rome and Reformation that the lowly Baptists received their persecutions, and as such the intimately connected ecclesiology and STs of these communions are viewed through Baptist eyes as a single, functional unit of error, or even apostasy.

As a result, the otherwise sound basis of Baptist theology (a progressive covenant theology) has grown intertwined with the traditions associated with surviving as Separatists. The baptism of Baptists, therefore, is truly separate from those of the Magisterials—yet too often without adequate, critical interaction to support the position.

Baptists have spoken with a general consensus over these four centuries, rejecting paedobaptism along with sacramental grace as if these are inseparable doctrines; in fact there is much room here to explore the Scriptures in new light. No longer are Baptists eking out an identity as those ready to be exterminated by Rome or a hostile queen—in this twenty-first century Baptists cover the globe and live as the majority denomination in many lands. In light of this blessing, there is an opening to refresh old presuppositions under the Reformation banner: the Lutheran and Calvinist confessional traditions have plowed much good ground in reclaiming ST from platonic coloring. Though the paedobaptist conclusions reached by these Magisterial confessions will never be kosher in Baptist houses of worship, yet the blessings of divine grace in the waters of baptism can and should spur Baptist scholastic and pastoral study.

The gospel held dear by those of the confessional Reformation bodies—the gospel of the five solas, the gospel of miraculous, monergistic grace—is not seriously compromised by the definitions of sacramental grace in either Magisterial tradition, be they in error or not. Present and future Baptists at every level of the church must push aside surface-level arguments like those referenced in this paper, for if God has promised to be the primary actor in baptism, then it is a glaring shame each time a Baptist pastor declares the act to be a mere symbol of salvation, or primarily an act of the Christian. In this regard, the lowly free-church Baptist must yield to the Reformation tradition of semper reformanda, seek greater harmony with the testimony of the Scriptures, and sit at the feet of the Magisterial fathers who have written for our common peace in the churches of Jesus Christ.

———————

[1]. Anthony R. Cross, Recovering the Evangelical Sacrament: Baptisma Semper Reformandum (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2013), 15 n. 63. Here Cross cites Peter J. Leithart, a notable Presbyterian scholar, as admitting the early, normative practice of credobaptism in church history. My working assumption in this paper is that the apostolic faith is most accurately represented within the general family of Calvinistic credobaptists; cf. Henry C. Vedder, A Short History of the Baptists (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1891), 57-62.

[2]. Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), s.v. “Baptists”; Justo L. González, The Story of Christianity (Peabody, MA: Prince Press, 2010), 2:151. Here González notes “…in general [Baptists] drew their inspiration from Calvin, Zwingli, and the other Swiss Reformers. Some of the more radical drew on the Anabaptist tradition.”

[3]. The Baptist tradition both precedes and includes the Anabaptists; although strictly speaking Reformed Baptists share more theological pedigree with the Calvinist Reformation. See Ernest A. Payne, The Fellowship of Believers: Baptist Thought and Practice Yesterday and Today (London: Carey Kingsgate Press, 1952), 12, 72-73; Philip Schaff, “The Anabaptists and Mennonites,” in The Creeds of Christendom, ed. Philip Schaff, Volume 1 (1931; repr., Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007), 844; Donald F. Durnbaugh, The Believers’ Church: The History and Character of Radical Protestantism (New York: Macmillan, 1968; repr., Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1985), 88-101; Vedder, Short History, 57-62, 86-87; H. Leon McBeth, The Baptist Heritage (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1987), 20-25.

[4]. Baptists generally refer to the sacraments as “ordinances” to differentiate semantically from the RCC. See Augustus Hopkins Strong, Systematic Theology (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1907; repr., 1976), 930; Robert A. Baker, “Baptist Sacramentalism,” in Chapel Messages, eds. H. C. Brown, Jr. and Charles P. Johnson (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1966), 24.

[5]. Stanley J. Grenz, “Baptism and the Lord’s Supper as Community Acts: Toward a Sacramental Understanding of the Ordinances,” in Baptist Sacramentalism, eds. Anthony R. Cross and Philip E. Thompson, vol. 5, Studies in Baptist History and Thought (Waynesboro, GA: Paternoster Press, 2003), 77; W.T. Whitley, A History of British Baptists (London: Charles Griffin & Company, 1923), 101.

[6]. Baker, “Baptist Sacramentalism,” 24-25; W.T. Conner, Christian Doctrine (Nashville: Broadman, 1937), 273. Notice here Conner excludes the middle, i.e. does not allow for the validity of fellow Reformation churches who hold to the five solas and who also confess sacramental grace.

[7]. Whitley, British, 25 n.*. Here Whitley feels the need to note “one of many signs that…[the RCC] and Baptists are on opposite poles.” Whitley is referred to as “the doyen of Baptist historians…” in Christopher J. Ellis, “The Baptism of Disciples and the Nature of the Church,” in Stanley E. Porter and Anthony R. Cross, eds., Dimensions of Baptism: Biblical and Theological Studies (London: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002), 339.

[8]. These two confessional bodies represent the Magisterial Reformation. Space would not allow a survey of the minor varieties of Baptist interpretations of ST, so I am choosing to interact mainly with the broader Calvinistic (Reformed) Baptist tradition as that Baptist body most closely related to the Magisterial Reformation. Generally any critique of ST that applies to the Reformed Baptist can apply to other Baptist groups.

[9]. Canons and Dogmatic Decrees of the Council of Trent, A.D. 1563, in The Creeds of Christendom, ed. Philip Schaff, Volume 2 (1931; repr., Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007), 119-179ff. Here the synod leaves no room for ecumenical consensus: if a person does not consent wholly and without reservation to the dogmatic decrees of the Magisterium concerning all of ST, i.e. by being a faithful Roman Catholic, then that person is “anathema.”

[10]. Or as Ernest Payne asked, “What is the Church, and what is its relation to the gospel?” Payne, Fellowship, 8; cf. Whitley, British, 4-5.

[11]. Catechism of the Catholic Church, (Città del Vaticano: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1994), para. 1087.

[12]. Ibid., para. 1127.

[13]. Ibid., para. 819.

[14]. Ibid., para. 1108.

[15]. Philip Melanchthon et al., “Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope,” Art. 39, in Paul Timothy McCain et al., eds., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions: A Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord, 2nd ed. (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 300.

[16]. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, book 4, chaps. 5-11 &c., http://www.ccel.org.

[17]. The Augsburg Confession, Arts. VII and VIII, in McCain et al., Concordia, 34; Calvin, Inst., 4.1.9; “The Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England,” Art. XIX, in The Creeds of Christendom, ed. Philip Schaff, Volume 3 (1931; repr., Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007), 499.

[18]. Whitley, British, 19; J. William Angell, “The Baptist Understanding of How Grace is Received,” Southwestern Journal of Theology 28, no. 2 (Spring 1986): 19; Payne, Fellowship, 16, 20-21.

[19]. E. Brooks Holifield, Theology in America: Christian Thought from the Age of the Puritans to the Civil War (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), 277; cf. Whitley, British, 9-12; Vedder, Baptists, 40-44.

[20]. J.H.Y. Briggs, The English Baptists of the Nineteenth Century (Didcot, England: Baptist Historical Society, 1994), 43; cf. Whitley, British, 10-12; Durnbaugh, Believers’, 94-100. Also note McBeth, Heritage, 513-514: the possibility of extreme Separationism in some Baptist groups such as the “Restoration Church” who live communally and in distrust toward all other Christian denominations.

[21]. Whitley, British, 20. The English Separatists became the General Baptists (Arminian), and the Independents became the Particular Baptists (Calvinist), though the distinctive Baptist boundaries for both are virtually identical, such that the history here recounted can help illustrate the ST of Reformed Baptists; although it is not, strictly speaking, the stream of Baptist history that most directly flowed into the Reformed Baptist churches.

[22]. Payne, Fellowship, 17-19.

[23]. Whitley, British, 9-12.

[24]. John Smyth, “The Confession of Faith Published in Certain Conclusions by the Remainders of Mr. Smyth’s Company after his death,” [ca. 1612-1613], Art. 65., in William Joseph McGlothlin, ed., Baptist Confessions of Faith (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1911; repr., Memphis, TN: General Books, LLC, 2012), 25.

[25]. Note the full title of the 1646 First London Confession: “A Confession of Faith of seven Congregations or Churches of Christ in London, which are commonly (but unjustly) called Anabaptists” (London: Matthew Simmons, 1646), as quoted in James M. Renihan, ed., True Confessions: Baptist Documents in the Reformed Family (Owensboro, KY: RBAP, 2004), 3. Renihan here notes the “rumors [abounding] that this burgeoning group of illegal congregations held nefarious views similar to the execrated Anabaptists of Münster…” emphasis original.

[26]. John H.Y. Briggs, “Confessional Identity, Denominational Institutions and Relations with Others: A Study in Changing Contexts,” in Philip E. Thompson and Anthony R. Cross, eds., Studies in Baptist History and Thought, vol. 11, Recycling the Past or Researching History? Studies in Baptist Historiography and Myths (Waynesboro: GA, Paternoster, 2005), 3.

[27]. Ibid., 3; Durnbaugh, Believers’, 69-71.

[28]. Jonathan H. Rainbow, “‘Confessor Baptism’, The Baptismal Doctrine of the Early Anabaptists,” in Thomas R. Schreiner and Shawn D. Wright, eds., Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2006), 190.

[29]. Grenz, “Community Acts,” 80-81.

[30]. Smyth, “The Confession,” Arts. 71., 73., Baptist Confessions, 25.

[31]. A Confession of Faith, 1646, Renihan, ed., True Confessions, 41-42.

[32]. “A Confession of Faith: Put Forth by the Elders and Brethren of Many Congregations of Christians (baptized upon Profession of their Faith) in London and the Country,” CHAP. XXIX (London: Benjamin Harris, 1677), as quoted in James M. Renihan, ed., True Confessions: Baptist Documents in the Reformed Family (Owensboro, KY: RBAP, 2004), 180.

[33]. Ibid.; Grenz, “Community Acts,” 77-80.

[34]. Andrew Fuller, The Works of the Rev. Andrew Fuller (London: B.J. Holdsworth, 1825), 583.

[35]. Vedder, Short History, 29ff.

[36]. Ibid. This again demonstrates the indissoluble link in the Baptist mind between ecclesiology and ST.

[37]. Strong, Systematic, 931.

[38]. Wayne C. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 954.

[39]. Cross, Recovering, 7-8, n. 32.

[40]. E.g. a sound Calvinist perspective on the ongoing vitality of this gospel principal: R. Scott Clark, “Why Is Sola Fide So Important?,” The Heidelblog, April 16, 2015, accessed April 16 2015, http://heidelblog.net/2015/04/why-is-sola-fide-so-important/.

[41]. Paul Timothy McCain, “Editor’s Introduction to The Augsburg Confession,” in McCain et al., Concordia, 21.

[42]. Augsburg, Art. IV, in McCain et al., Concordia, 32-33. In the editor’s remarks on this article, he notes “There is a historic saying in Lutheranism that the Church stands or falls on the article of justification.”

[43]. Philip Melanchthon, The Apology of the Augsburg Confession (1530), Art. IV, in McCain et al., Concordia, 82.

[44]. See also Jacob Andreae, The Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration (1577), Art. III, in McCain et al., Concordia, 536.

[45]. John Calvin, “Letter to Luther (January 21, 1545),” in Selected Works of John Calvin: Tracts and Letters, vol. 4, http://www.reformedliterature.com/calvin-letter-cxxiv-to-luther.php? (accessed April 11, 2015).

[46]. Calvin, Institutes, 3.11.2. cf. pars. 21 & 23.

[47]. Westminster Confession of Faith, chap. XI “Of Justification,” http://www.reformed.org/documents/wcf_with_proofs (accessed April 11, 2015).

[48]. A Confession of Faith, 1677, Renihan, ed., True Confessions, 111-113.

[49]. These are: sola gratia, sola fide, solus Christus, sola Scriptura, soli Deo gloria; being salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, by the authority of Scripture alone, to the glory of God alone. The origin of this ubiquitous summary of Reformation dogma is obscure.

[50]. E.g. Albert Mohler, “Ask Anything Weekend Edition,” The Briefing podcast, February 14, 2015, 1:06ff., https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/albertmohler.com-briefing/id390278738?mt=2&i=335515072 (accessed April 13, 2015). To a listener question as to whether “baptismal regeneration is a gospel issue,” Dr. Mohler begins his reply “[b.r.] is a real problem because according to Scripture, baptism is an act of obedience…” It is readily apparent there is no category for Dr. Mohler of baptism as means of sacramental grace as well as being an act of obedience.

[51]. Ibid.; Conner, Doctrine, 273.

[52]. Thomas J. Nettles, The Baptists: Key People Involved in Forming a Baptist Identity, vol. 3 (Fearn, Ross-shire: Mentor, 2007), 311, quoted in Cross, Evangelical Sacrament, 173.

[53]. Baker, “Sacramentalism,” in Chapel, 25.

[54]. ODCC, s.v. “Gnosticism.”

[55]. Robert Kolb, “The Formula of Concord and contemporary Anabaptists, Spiritualists, and Anti-Trinitarians,” Lutheran Quarterly 15, no. 4 (Winter 2001): 470.

[56]. Baker, “Sacramentalism,” in Chapel, 28.

[57]. Kolb, “Concord,” 470.

[58]. E.g. Ralph Cunnington, “Calvin’s Doctrine of the Lord’s Supper: A Blot upon His Labors as a Public Instructor?,” Westminster Theological Journal 73, no. 2 (Fall 2011): 232. Here Cunnington chastises R.L. Dabney for “neo-Platonic assumptions, a conceptual framework that was shared neither by Jesus nor his hearers.”

[59]. McBeth, Heritage, 515-516.

[60]. Ibid., 496-497.

[61]. Ibid., 511. This distinction drawn by McBeth, and I believe accurately so. Synonyms also may be loosely labeled as liberal (sacramental) and conservative (evangelical).

[62]. Ibid.

[63]. Ibid.

[64]. Cross, Evangelical Sacrament, 10-11 ns. 48-52.

[65]. Ibid., 12.

[66]. Ibid., 13, n. 59.

[67]. Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry 1982-1990, Faith and Order Paper 149 (Geneva: WCC Publications, 1990), 3, as quoted in Cross, Evangelical Sacrament, 14-15; cf. 15 n. 62 wherein Cross notes “This emphasis on baptismal unity, however, does not receive much support from Baptists and many Evangelicals”…they instead affirm a “common faith, not baptism.” Here Cross quotes from Called to be One (London: Churches Together in England, 1996), 67-70.

[68]. WCF, chap. XXVIII sec. VI.

[69]. Alister McGrath, Historical Theology: An Introduction to the History of Christian Thought (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 1998), 181.

Works Cited

1646 First London Confession: A Confession of Faith of seven Congregations or Churches of Christ in London, which are commonly (but unjustly) called Anabaptists. London: Matthew Simmons, 1646. Quoted in True Confessions: Baptist Documents in the Reformed Family, edited by James M. Renihan. Owensboro, KY: RBAP, 2004. Pp. 2-65.

1677 Second London Confession: A Confession of Faith: Put Forth by the Elders and Brethren of Many Congregations of Christians (baptized upon Profession of their Faith) in London and the Country. London: Benjamin Harris, 1677. Quoted in True Confessions: Baptist Documents in the Reformed Family, edited by James M. Renihan. Owensboro, KY: RBAP, 2004. Pp. 67-235.

Andreae, Jacob. The Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration (1577). In Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions: A Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord, 2nd ed., edited by Paul Timothy McCain. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2005. Pp. 503-619.

Angell, J. William. “The Baptist Understanding of How Grace is Received.” Southwestern Journal of Theology 28, no. 2 (Spring 1986): Pp. 18-23.

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Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry 1982-1990, Faith and Order Paper 149. Geneva: WCC Publications, 1990.

Briggs, John H.Y. “Confessional Identity, Denominational Institutions and Relations with Others: A Study in Changing Contexts.” In Studies in Baptist History and Thought, edited by Philip E. Thompson and Anthony R. Cross, Vol. 11. Recycling the Past or Researching History? Studies in Baptist Historiography and Myths. Waynesboro: GA, Paternoster, 2005. Pp. 1-24.

——-. The English Baptists of the Nineteenth Century. Didcot, England: Baptist Historical Society, 1994.

Called to be One. London: Churches Together in England, 1996.

Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion. http://www.ccel.org.

——-. “Letter to Luther (January 21, 1545).” In Selected Works of John Calvin: Tracts and Letters, Vol. 4. Accessed April 11, 2015. http://www.reformedliterature.com/calvin-letter-cxxiv-to-luther.php?.

Canons and Dogmatic Decrees of the Council of Trent, A.D. 1563. In The Creeds of Christendom. Edited by Philip Schaff, Vol. 2. 1931. Reprint, Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007. Pp. 77-206.

Catechism of the Catholic Church. Città del Vaticano: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1994.

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——-. Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope. In Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions: A Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord, 2nd ed., edited by Paul Timothy McCain. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2005. Pp. 289-306.

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3 thoughts on “Does God Work Grace in Baptism?

  1. Thank you so much for writing on this topic. I have contemplated the issue a baptism and how it is viewed in Baptist/evangelical circles as well as in the reformed and Lutheran churches but have not read much about the topic in such depth. I appreciate all the helpful information you provided as well as the historical context you included. I must admit, I will probably have to read this post several more times to get a better handle on this very important issue. Thank you so much for the time and effort you put into this very important article. To God be the glory.

  2. Pingback: Baptism (Cliff-note Version) | Citizen of New Jerusalem

  3. Pingback: The Sacramental Grace of Baptism | Citizen of New Jerusalem

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