Two Baptisms Or One?

I am becoming more and more convinced that the Federal Vision believes in two baptisms. Consider this point: do they expect an infant baptism to work the same way an adult baptism would? This presupposes another question, of course: should our doctrine of baptism be able to take into account all baptisms? The answer to this latter question is yes, since we believe in one baptism, as Ephesians 4:5 tells us, and as the creeds tell us. So the problem for the FV is this: if the sign and the thing signified are tied so closely together that you can’t even insert a credit card in between the two, then how to explain adult baptisms? Does the adult get the thing signified at the time point of faith, or do we have to tell him, “Whoa there, slow down, pardner! You don’t have union with Christ and forgiveness of sins until you’re baptized.” Isn’t that telling an adult that faith alone is not sufficient for justification?

Let’s try a thought experiment that seeks to make infant baptisms and adult baptisms work the same way. Let’s suppose that an adult comes to faith before he receives the sign and seal (like Abraham in Romans 4, for instance). Could this be paralleled in an infant’s life? Sure thing. An infant can trust in its Creator even in the womb (an implication of John the Baptist, not to mention David’s strong language of infant faith in the Psalms). Okay, what about coming to faith after baptism, can that happen? This is also very possible. An adult can fool himself into thinking that he has real faith, and only realizes his mistake after baptism. We would certainly not re-baptize such a person. His faith came after the sign and seal. This also happens with infants, since it happened with me. I came to faith when I was six, though baptized as an infant. And no, no one doubted my words when I said I came to faith. I was always encouraged to hold to what I said. I was encouraged both before and after my conversion to grow up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. My parents did not assume one way or the other whether I was saved or not. In other words, I myself do not fit the FV paradigm.

If one believes, then, that the thing signed and sealed always comes at the time-point of baptism, then one believes in two baptisms, because it never happens that way with an adult, and almost never with an infant. Would a church responsibly baptize an adult who did not have a credible profession of faith? Of course not. In baptizing an adult, the church is required to assume that the thing signified is already present. Therefore, the FV believes in two baptisms. It works one way for infants, and another way for adults. This is not tenable, and it is certainly not confessional. The Westminster standards says that the efficacy of the sacraments is not tied to the moment when they are administered. It comes in God’s own appointed time. That appointed time is when the Holy Spirit comes upon the person in power and changes that person from a citizen of Hell to a citizen of Heaven. That happens by faith alone.

This is why saying that sign and thing signified always or even mostly occur at the same time is very dangerous. Whenever God gives faith-that is when the thing signified and sealed is granted. God is not tied to the moment of baptism to give that.

One commenter long ago wrote on this blog that the FV is a baby-driven theology. I think this is true. Rather than coming at the sacrament in such a way that all forms of it fit the same template, so as to have only one baptism, they think almost exclusively in terms of how a baby experiences baptism, and it is not consistent with how the adult baptism works. They should work the same way.

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308 Comments

  1. March 3, 2011 at 1:02 pm

    Lane,

    I came to faith when I was six, though baptized as an infant…. I myself do not fit the FV paradigm.

    Please allow me to correct you as I think you are confused about your own story. What you meant to say was that you became regenerate as an infant, and at age six you became a pietist.

    Just wanted to clear that up….

  2. Ron Henzel said,

    March 3, 2011 at 1:04 pm

    Lane,

    I think you’ve hit the nail squarely on its head.

  3. David Gray said,

    March 3, 2011 at 2:18 pm

    V. Although it is a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance, yet grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed unto it, as that no person can be regenerated, or saved, without it: or, that all that are baptized are undoubtedly regenerated.

    VI. The efficacy of Baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered; yet, notwithstanding, by the right use of this ordinance, 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.

  4. Phil D. said,

    March 3, 2011 at 2:47 pm

    Q. 91. How do the Sacraments become effectual means of salvation?
    A. The Sacraments become effectual means of salvation, not from any virtue
    in them, or in him that doth administer them; but only by the blessing of Christ,
    and the working of his Spirit in them that by faith receive them.

  5. March 3, 2011 at 2:49 pm

    Reply to Lane:

    Great stuff!

    Reply to Stellman @ 1: That’s hilarious!

  6. Matt Holst said,

    March 3, 2011 at 2:51 pm

    I think it was John Trapp that said “Means should neither be trusted nor neglected”. And it was certainly John Owen who said “The use of means … is ours, the bestowing of the [blessing] is God’s”.

    FV do not get both these statements. Instead, the means (sacraments) are trusted – whereby in the simple performance of them, their efficacy is fully (though apparently not irreversibly!) accomplished in that moment.

    Sounds a bit like ex opere operato to me.

  7. Matt Beatty said,

    March 3, 2011 at 6:19 pm

    Phil,

    So… I assume you’re a baptist, right? How else could baptism profit a faithless child?

  8. Reed Here said,

    March 3, 2011 at 6:24 pm

    Matt: ??? Phil is quoting the Westminster Shorter Catechism.

  9. Phil Derksen said,

    March 3, 2011 at 6:53 pm

    Matt B., all contrived labels aside, you are correct in that I do not believe that baptism spiritually profits faithless children (contra the FV).

  10. Sean Gerety said,

    March 3, 2011 at 8:09 pm

    The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” FVers don’t believe John 3:8 (or much else of the Scriptures). Great post Lane!

  11. March 3, 2011 at 10:11 pm

    Lane,

    In arguing this point years ago with some FV reps, it turned out that they then supported *immediate* baptism of adult converts, to be sure that their sins were forgiven, cf. their reading of Acts 22:16 (Ananias to Saul: “be baptized and wash away your sins.”). I.e., the very same day, to get them into “the covenant” right away.

    One argued for baptizing a whole tribe of adults if the chief converted and would promise that he would catechize them after the fact.

    And one even argued that he would baptize someone who came to Jesus to get their felt needs met (like sickness or poverty), and then only afterwards explain to them about the Law, sin, guilt, forgiveness and the Cross. The key thing was to get united to Christ in baptism as soon as possible. Faith and understanding come later.

    So… they were trying to make adult baptism like infant baptism, but in a bad way.

  12. Reed Here said,

    March 4, 2011 at 6:51 am

    Chris: then these guys are not Presbyterian? I’m not interested in getting into the “whose Bible interpretation is correct,” debate. Simple point, those kinds of views fracture any mutual vows to uphold our Church’s standards.

  13. Chris E said,

    March 4, 2011 at 10:34 am

    Wouldn’t their answer be similiar to that of Lutherans to the same question?

    http://www.lcms.org/pages/internal.asp?NavID=3967

  14. Stephen Breeding said,

    March 4, 2011 at 10:50 am

    Hi Lane,

    You wrote: “In baptizing an adult, the church is required to assume that the thing signified is already present….Whenever God gives faith-that is when the thing signified and sealed is granted….[Infant and adult baptisms] should work the same way.”

    While I don’t fully comprehend the intricacies of FV, I am under the impression that they assume faith is already present in both infants and adults, which seems like a point of consistency on their part. Since you say adult and infant baptisms should work the same way, why is an assumption of faith required from the adult but not the infant, and how is that requirement consistently applied to the two baptisms?

    What do FVers think is necessarily absent prior to baptism? Logically, it can’t be faith and it can’t be salvation, although I suppose it could be aspects of either.

    Thank you,
    Stephen

  15. greenbaggins said,

    March 4, 2011 at 11:30 am

    Chris E, they might try to do so, but it would be unconvincing. Read Peter Leithart’s book The Baptized Body, and you will see just how much efficacy they ascribe to Baptism.

    Stephen, they ascribe forgiveness of sins to baptism. If that is true, then they cannot presume that it is there beforehand. Entrance into the church is entrance into salvation for them. They are quite ambiguous on what infants have before baptism. As to your question about an assumption of faith, in the case of an adult we require it of himself, and in the case of the infant, we require it of their covenantal head. In the case of the parents, it is not a vicarious profession of faith. It is a promise on their part that they will raise the child in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

  16. rich hamlin said,

    March 4, 2011 at 12:39 pm

    The Bible (not merely the FV) ascribes forgiveness of sins to baptism. However, when it does so, it is doing so in sacramental terms, not ascribing causality to the physical act, but merely correlation. If one is true (someone is baptized), then the other is true (they are to be regarded as forgiven). This is not independent of faith any more than the proper reception of the sacrament is. If they thought that the washing of water caused forgiveness, then this controversy would be ended as quickly as your post did.

  17. March 4, 2011 at 12:48 pm

    Reed,

    Only one was a PCA minister, and he based his suggestion of baptizing a chief on Q. 166 of the LC. He also said he was not a missionary so it would never happen; it was just an idea. (Of course, I happen to think ideas are taught and have consequences no matter the setting…)

    Also, in re-reading my post, I think I misrepresented the third situation — they would say the felt-needs person did have faith in Jesus before baptism — only that saving faith does not always present itself as seeking the forgiveness of sins. Of course, I would say the forgiveness of sins is central to the Gospel and I would not baptize an adult convert who did not have that at the center of their desire to be baptized as a seal of their saving faith.

    BTW, because we are a college church, our church often sees more adult baptisms than infant baptisms any given year, so this is a subject we have had to really think through. Thanks, Lane, for the post.

  18. Stephen Breeding said,

    March 4, 2011 at 12:58 pm

    Thank you, Lane.

    It sounds like you are saying the human/ecclesiastical basis for whom to baptize differs between infants and adults, so there is at least a distinction from the human standpoint. Could you clarify what you mean by all forms of baptism fitting the same template if we have different ecclesiastical bases for baptizing different people? I have wondered about this issue from time to time and the answers still elude me.

    Also, how could anyone who claims to be Reformed try to maintain that the timing of the remission of sins is tied directly to physical baptism, since all unbaptized infants would then be Hell-bound? Continuing down the path, to which act in the Old Covenant was remission of sins tied? If circumcision, were all females in the Old Covenant Hell-bound? If the FV fallacies were this simple, I can’t fathom that anyone would pay attention to it. Can you shed any light?

    Thanks again,
    Stephen

  19. March 4, 2011 at 1:04 pm

    Lane,

    Speaking of Leithart, here’s one of my favorite quotes by him:

    “In 27.2, the Westminster Confession says that because of the ‘spiritual relation’ between sacraments and the things they represent, ‘the names and effects of the one are attributed to the other.’ Applied to baptism, this means that when the Bible says that we are baptized into Christ (Rom. 6), it doesn’t necessarily mean that the rite of water baptism engrafts us to Christ but rather means that the ‘thing’ that the sacrament signifies joins us to Christ. Peter doesn’t really mean that ‘baptism now saves you’ (1 Pet. 3:21), but that the spiritual reality of baptism saves.

    “This idea seems perfectly natural, but a moment’s reflection shows how arbitrary the whole procedure is. No matter what the Bible says about baptism, you can always trot out the idea of ‘spiritual relation’ to show that the Bible is speaking ‘sacramentally,’ and doesn’t mean what it seems to say. But you can only do this if you know already—before actually looking at the Bible—what a rite like baptism can and cannot do. If we want to develop a biblical understanding of baptism, we need to begin with what the Scriptures say, no matter how unusual or unbelievable, rather than try to fit the biblical statements into some preconceived notions.”

  20. Reed Here said,

    March 4, 2011 at 1:11 pm

    So Jason, would you conclude that Dr. Leithart denies sacramental union, as expressed in our standards?

  21. Stephen Breeding said,

    March 4, 2011 at 1:16 pm

    Lane, I should have said “forgiveness of sins” as you did rather than “remission of sins”. Remission of sins being tied to actual baptism at least sounds plausible.

  22. March 4, 2011 at 1:25 pm

    Reed,

    I can’t say, but in the quote I posted he certainly seems to be saying that the idea of sacramental union is a mere cop-out used to avoid what the Bible actually teaches about baptism’s efficacy.

  23. Ron Henzel said,

    March 4, 2011 at 3:14 pm

    Rich Hamlin wrote:

    If they thought that the washing of water caused forgiveness, then this controversy would be ended as quickly as your post did.

    And yet Peter Leithart wrote:

    Colossians 2:12 refers to a baptism through or in which we have been buried with Christ, raised through faith in the God who raised the dead. …Paul clearly implies that the baptismal event, whatever it was, raised the dead to new life, granted forgiveness of sins, and canceled debt.

    But what was the baptismal event? Is this baptism water baptism or some overwhelming spiritual event, conversion or something like it?

    Several points favor the conclusion that “baptism” means baptism here. …

    They are circumcised, made alive, and forgiven by sharing in the burial and resurrection of Jesus, and they share in this by water baptism.

    [Peter Leithart, The Baptized Body, (Moscow, ID, USA: Canon Press, 2007), 49-51]

    Still, somehow the controversy hasn’t ended. Perhaps it’s because it’s the people who defend the FV who haven’t really read what the FVists have written, while those who’ve been opposing them actually have.

    Just sayin’…

  24. greenbaggins said,

    March 4, 2011 at 4:22 pm

    Stephen, I wouldn’t actually call it a different ecclesiastical basis, since, in both cases, it is a head of household being baptized. One could always raise test cases that are difficult for this assertion, but I think I would still stand by it even in the difficult cases. The point I’m making in the post, however, has to do with the baptismal efficacy. That has to work the same in infants as it does in adults. The fact that it doesn’t in the FV shows a serious sacramental weakness in their position.

    As to your second paragraph, I absolutely agree with you. This raises the question of why the FV has caught on the way it has. I would say there are several reasons. Firstly, the emptiness of modern evangelicalism is a contributing factor. Secondly, the overly individualistic nature of modern evangelicalism is another factor. Thirdly, there is the perennial human concern to trust in something they can see. The FV is all about objective identification of people. They want to be able to point to people and be able to say that they’re Christians because of their baptisms.

  25. todd said,

    March 4, 2011 at 4:46 pm

    “This raises the question of why the FV has caught on the way it has.”

    Not to start a rabbit trail, but out of curiousity, is FV still gaining ground or is it fizzling out? Just haven’t heard much about it lately. Then again, until this week I had never heard of Rob Bell, so who knows, it may still be gaining ground without some like me noticing.

  26. AJ said,

    March 5, 2011 at 2:19 am

    Let those (Early Church Fathers) who were closer and nearer to Christ and the Apostles speak for themselves and we for our part must take heed of their calls and not from some folks who are 2,000 years later. One access of what they heard and saw from the Apostles themselves about baptism, the sacraments, morality, ethics , salvation and a lot more topics:

    http://www.churchfathers.org/

    Irenaeus (AD – c. 120-180), a disciple of holy bishop Polycarp who was a disciple of John the Evangelist himself.

    “He [Jesus] came to save all through himself; all, I say, who through him are reborn in God: infants, and children, and youths, and old men. Therefore he passed through every age, becoming an infant for infants, sanctifying infants; a child for children, sanctifying those who are of that age . . . [so that] he might be the perfect teacher in all things, perfect not only in respect to the setting forth of truth, perfect also in respect to relative age” (Against Heresies 2:22:4 [A.D. 189]).

    Cyprian of Carthage (A.D. 250)

    “As to what pertains to the case of infants: You [Fidus] said that they ought not to be baptized within the second or third day after their birth, that the old law of circumcision must be taken into consideration, and that you did not think that one should be baptized and sanctified within the eighth day after his birth. In our council it seemed to us far otherwise. No one agreed to the course which you thought should be taken. Rather, we all judge that the mercy and grace of God ought to be denied to no man born” (Letters 64:2 [A.D. 253]).

    John Chrysostom (A.D. 350)

    “You see how many are the benefits of baptism, and some think its heavenly grace consists only in the remission of sins, but we have enumerated ten honors [it bestows]! For this reason we baptize even infants, though they are not defiled by [personal] sins, so that there may be given to them holiness, righteousness, adoption, inheritance, brotherhood with Christ, and that they may be his [Christ’s] members” (Baptismal Catecheses in Augustine, Against Julian 1:6:21 [A.D. 388]).

    Peace and Grace!

  27. Ron Henzel said,

    March 5, 2011 at 7:14 am

    AJ,

    You wrote:

    Let those (Early Church Fathers) who were closer and nearer to Christ and the Apostles speak for themselves and we for our part must take heed of their calls and not from some folks who are 2,000 years later.

    As much as I esteem the Church Fathers and enjoy reading them—especially Augustine and Chrysostom—this kind of affirmation comes off, as I read it at least, as an implicit denial of the perspicuity of Scripture, which I esteem even more. Perhaps you intended no such denial.

    However, the notion that since ancient Christian writers were “closer and nearer to Christ and the Apostles” it warrants treating them with some kind of extra authority in the matter of exegesis is a logical fallacy of high order, especially when one considers how they disagreed amongst themselves.

  28. March 5, 2011 at 8:20 am

    Well, other than the third quote, the early fathers’ quotes prove nothing other than infant baptism anyway. And I am not sure w/o the context what Chrystostom means in his quote. But I agree with Ron. If the early Fathers are always right, why do we hold to Sola Scriptura? Plus the early church often waited for TWO YEARS before baptizing converts and had Bishops early on; so shall we agree with them on some things, but not others? Well, come to think of it: yes. How do we decide? Well… Scripture.

    BTW, rather than saying FV is a baby-centered theology, I think a better summary is that it is a Christendom-centered theology. They like concrete and visible because their ultimate goal is a post-mil Kingdom of glory here on earth before Christ’s return, imho. And you need the Visible to trump the Invisible in order for that to be central. And that is where baptismal efficacy comes in. It’s an odd agenda to marry to evangelical Calvinism, hence all of these spats.

  29. Ron said,

    March 5, 2011 at 9:18 am

    Re: 19 and Leithart’s quote.

    What I like about Leithart is that he is the most clearly articulated among the FV’s, which also makes his arguments the easiest to dismantle.

    Peter Leithart does represent sound Reformed theology in paragraph one prior to expressing his disagreement with it in paragraph two. He is correct that passages such as Romans six that speak to baptism are indeed attributing union with Christ to the work of water; let us never deny that like our non-Reformed brethren often do. Leithart is also correct that confessional folk take such passages as attributing the sign of water to the thing signified, spiritual union with Christ. Where Leithart denies the Reformed tradition is in his denial of that sort of interpretation and consequently in his affirmation of baptismal regeneration. He defends his position by saying we must not come to the text with preconceived notions, and that our understanding about baptism must come from texts about baptism. His error is subtle but clear; it also places himself on the wrong side of Trent on this matter.

    It is hazardous to read only baptism texts in order to get our understanding of water baptism. Are we to conclude that water unites us to Christ in the face of Galatians, which teaches us that faith alone, apart from the ceremonial work of circumcision, baptism’s forerunner, unites us to Christ? May it never be!

    Plain and simple, Leithart happily operates under the fallacy of a false dichotomy. His implicit claim is that if we don’t get our understanding of baptism from baptism texts, then we’re interpreting baptism texts according to preconceived notions. There is another option that is conveniently overlooked by Leithart. We are not only to look at baptism verses but all other Scripture texts that teach on salvation and union with Christ. Leithart sounds Reformed in his hermeneutic in that Scripture is his only authority, but he is not Reformed in theology because of his selective use of Scripture, which lets him proof-text his way to a Romanist understanding of baptism. When we compare Scripture with Scripture we come to appreciate the genius of the Divines and that the names and effects of the sacraments are indeed often in Scripture attributed to the reality of the things they signify.

    In a word, Leithart chooses to interpret the more clear texts in light of the less clear texts. Maybe that is because Leithart himself comes to the subject of baptism with his own preconceived notions that are not informed by the preponderance of texts that refute his position.

  30. Ron said,

    March 5, 2011 at 9:49 am

    This raises the question of why the FV has caught on the way it has. I would say there are several reasons. Firstly, the emptiness of modern evangelicalism is a contributing factor. Secondly, the overly individualistic nature of modern evangelicalism is another factor. Thirdly, there is the perennial human concern to trust in something they can see. The FV is all about objective identification of people. They want to be able to point to people and be able to say that they’re Christians because of their baptisms.

    Lane,

    Those are very insightful remarks. Thank you for distilling them as you have.

    Blessings,

    Ron

  31. Ron Henzel said,

    March 5, 2011 at 10:22 am

    Ron,

    Regarding you comment 29, I am in wholehearted agreement with the vast majority of what you wrote in it. I just can’t figure out how the following sentence fits into it:

    He is correct that passages such as Romans six that speak to baptism are indeed attributing union with Christ to the work of water; let us never deny that like our non-Reformed brethren often do.

    Please clarify—and thanks for your contribution here.

  32. Dean B said,

    March 5, 2011 at 1:01 pm

    Ron

    “It is hazardous to read only baptism texts in order to get our understanding of water baptism.”

    Very good point!

    Good theology begins with a broad understand of all Scriptures. Individual doctrines should not be studied in isolation to the broader teaching of Scripture.

    Scientist studies an insects wing to help understand the insect better, but one gains very little information about an insects wing in isolation to the insect itself. We study the sacraments to understand Christ, but one looses perspective quickly when the sacraments are studied in isolation to the object of our faith.

    The pharisees thought Jesus was subject to the laws of the Sabbath but failed to see He was Lord of the Sabbath. The FV think God is subjected to the laws of water baptism, but fail to see that Jesus is the Lord of Baptism.

    Seen another way the baptists think in order for infant baptism to work the archetypes (circumcision) and the type (baptism) must be practically indistinguishable. Similarly the FV think in order for the sacrament to be a effective it must be effectual and they similarly fail to distinguish between the symbol and the substance.

  33. Phil Derksen said,

    March 5, 2011 at 1:48 pm

    “It is hazardous to read only baptism texts in order to get our understanding of water baptism.”

    Amen. In the same way, each of the WS’s statements on the sacraments must be read in light of others (WCF 28:5, 6 WSC 91, 92, for example.)

  34. Ron said,

    March 5, 2011 at 1:59 pm

    Hi Ron,

    You were asking about this statement of mine: “He is correct that passages such as Romans six that speak to baptism are indeed attributing union with Christ to the work of water; let us never deny that like our non-Reformed brethren often do.”

    What I am saying is that in Scripture, the reality of spiritual union with Christ is sometimes attributed to the working of water baptism, but when take into account the whole of Scripture we can appreciate that in such cases it is not the ceremonial washing but rather what the sacrament signifies, the washing of the Spirit, that cleanses us from all unrighteousness. I have little doubt that Scripture is speaking of water in Romans 6, but then we must also appreciate what the Divines fleshed out so wonderfully, that in such cases the reality is being indexed to the water because of the close relationship between water and the Spirit, but it is the Spirit alone that is sufficient to unite the believer to Christ, and water is not sufficient lest all who are baptized are united to Christ, a monstrosity indeed.

    Also, I wrote this too but it is worded dreadfully: “When we compare Scripture with Scripture we come to appreciate the genius of the Divines and that the names and effects of the sacraments are indeed often in Scripture attributed to the reality of the things they signify.” What I should have written was: “When we compare Scripture with Scripture we come to appreciate the genius of the Divines – that the names and effects of the reality/ (true union with Christ) are indeed often in Scripture attributed to the thing that signifies the reality; in this case water.”

  35. Stephen Breeding said,

    March 5, 2011 at 2:11 pm

    It is unclear to me whether Leithart’s quotes above from his book on Baptism are consistent with the FV joint statement he signed. Both appear to have been completed in 2007. Are the above arguments made on the basis that Leithart is consistent or inconsistent between the two documents? If inconsistent, lunacy seems a fairer argument than heresy. If consistent, could someone distinguish between the baptismal regeneration he denies and the baptismal regeneration he affirms?

    For reference, from the FV joint statement:

    “We affirm that God formally unites a person to Christ and to His covenant people through baptism into the triune Name, and that this baptism obligates such a one to lifelong covenant loyalty to the triune God, each baptized person repenting of his sins and trusting in Christ alone for his salvation. Baptism formally engrafts a person into the Church, which means that baptism is into the Regeneration, that time when the Son of Man sits upon His glorious throne (Matt. 19:28).
    “We deny that baptism automatically guarantees that the baptized will share in the eschatological Church. We deny the common misunderstanding of baptismal regeneration—i.e. that an ‘effectual call’ or rebirth is automatically wrought in the one baptized. Baptism apart from a growing and living faith is not saving, but rather damning. But we deny that trusting God’s promise through baptism elevates baptism to a human work. God gives baptism as assurance of His grace to us personally, as our names are spoken when we are baptized.”

  36. Ron said,

    March 5, 2011 at 4:50 pm

    Anyways, it is better for anyone to err on the side of Apostolic Fathers like St Ignatius of Antioch and St Polycarp of Smyrna that were present when they “conversed with John and with other Apostles, who had seen the Lord” than people 2,000 years later.

    And whose interpretation of the Fathers will you adhere to, AJ, yours? And why not your interpretation of Scripture to see if it squares with your interpretation of the Fathers?

    I know you were addressing Ron H., but I would like to point out that it will do nobody any good to “err” on the side of anybody that ends up being wrong in the end. So let’s not fool ourselves into seeking safe havens among tradition alone. We’ll be judged by the Word who became flesh; so we better wrestle with it now and place Charlie the Commentator beneath it, always. That doesn’t mean that we should not find a rich tradition wherever the truth is found. Indeed we do, which only corroborates the Lord’s promise to build His church. It’s called the “Reformed Tadition”, which is the Fathers coming into their own. God reformed his NT church and Rome departed. FV is simply lost in the wilderness – blind without a cane.

    Cheers,

    The other “Ron”

  37. David Gadbois said,

    March 5, 2011 at 6:26 pm

    I have deleted AJ’s post. I’m not going to let Romanist (or EO) apologists straight out of central casting to derail this thread with off-topic posts that recycle the most tired, cliched objections to sola scriptura. Back to the topic, please, everyone.

  38. Reed Here said,

    March 5, 2011 at 6:27 pm

    Good on ya! (a little Aussie encouragement).

  39. TurretinFan said,

    March 5, 2011 at 7:32 pm

    There are, I think it is fair to say, plenty of other threads where AJ’s comment would be more topical, would be tolerated, and would be answered. Perhaps he’ll consider reposting there.

  40. Andy Gilman said,

    March 5, 2011 at 9:48 pm

    In a series on Covenant Theology, which can be found online, Ligon Duncan said:

    “Understand again that the signs of the covenant all function to reassure believers of the promises that God has made to them in the covenant. Nowhere in the Bible will you find a covenant sign which effects a relationship. A covenant sign always reflects a relationship. Covenant signs do not effect a relationship, they reflect a relationship.

    Now, what do I mean by that? I mean that God, by giving Abraham this covenant sign of circumcision, did not enter into covenant with Abraham by virtue of that covenant sign. No, it is the other way around. God was in relationship with Abraham and in order to reassure Abraham of the promises that He had made to him, He gave him the covenant sign to confirm that promise. Now, right there you automatically see a polemic against a Catholic view of sacraments. The idea that the mere application of the covenant sign actually saved somebody would have boggled the mind of any self-respecting Hebrew, because that is never how a covenant sign ever functioned. That is a concept utterly alien to the thought-world of the Old or the New Testament. Now, our Roman Catholic friends are really defenseless in this particular area. The covenant signs do not effect a relationship, they reflect a relationship. Their function is to reassure us in the weakness of our faith.”

    The FV disagrees with this claim, and insists that water baptism “effects” a relationship. For the FV, babies and adults (though less clearly for adults) are brought “into the covenant” by water baptism.

  41. Ron Henzel said,

    March 6, 2011 at 5:43 am

    Ligon Duncan wrote:

    The idea that the mere application of the covenant sign actually saved somebody would have boggled the mind of any self-respecting Hebrew…

    It is with some trepidation that I would reluctantly point out that I do not believe this this particular sub-point in the good Doctor’s excellent argument is correct. While the words that follow are certainly true—”because that is never how a covenant sign ever functioned”—I think that one of the problems addressed in the New Testament was that of Jews who believed that that was, in fact, how they functioned. They believed that two particular “accidents of birth” (to use a theologically infelicitous phrase) automatically conveyed upon them a special status before God. Furthermore, the fact that the New Testament speaks directly to this issue is further ammunition against those who insist that a covenant sign effects rather than reflects a relationship with God.

    We have John the Baptists declaring, “And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham” (Matt. 3:9, ESV). This is the first “accident of birth” to which I referred.

    And we also have Paul arguing, “For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical” (Rom. 2:28, ESV; cf. 1 Cor. 7:19; Gal. 5:6), which would have been a moot point contributing negligibly at best to Paul’s argument if there were no Jews who believed that the covenant sign of circumcision (the second “accident of birth”) conveyed upon them the special status of being part of God’s people.

    Duncan is certainly correct to say “That is a concept utterly alien to the thought-world of the Old or the New Testament,” but that is different from saying that it was alien to the thought-world of “any self-respecting Hebrew.” On the other hand, if by “self-respecting Hebrew” he meant a Jew who truly understood the biblical teaching on covenant signs, I would say that he could have chosen a phrase that better described such people (who were apparently not easy to find among the Jewish leaders at the time of Jesus), but I would also say…”Oops! Never mind.”

    :-)

  42. Cris Dickason said,

    March 7, 2011 at 12:32 pm

    Just to throw in a couple cents worth. Touching on how/why FV functions in the church. To Chris H @ 11 (and others), Lane @ 24 and the snippet of the FV Joint Stmt @ 35. The FV interest is in being objective, avoiding subjective factors. What could be more objective in the grand christian tradition than baptized = “in.” I have stared down the attraction of this wish for objectivity with respect to professions of faith and church membership (communicant membership).

    In part it is a quest for a “silver bullet” (a one-and-done, cut and dry tool or evaluation). It is in part is a quest for false absolute or comprehensive certainty in this life. It is also a quest to avoid the hard work of actually knowing people and facing the messiness of life in this fallen age. No amount of objective theologizing can avoid doing actual pastoral work; or actual christian fellowship of loving and serving one another.

    The wish is for an objective entry to the local church, because that allows for control over the church members. Thus the FV Stmt: “baptism obligates such a one to lifelong covenant loyalty to the triune God” and that loyalty is expressed in this here local church by submitting to this here local session.

    Many of the leaders of the FV (and the CREC) are very bright guys, they are also controlling guys. I think they expect the baptized hoi polloi to submit to their superior intellects. Implicit faith backed by unswerving external obedience, eh!

  43. Ron said,

    March 7, 2011 at 1:13 pm

    It is a gross misrepresentation to say that FV doctrine undermines the “hard work of actually knowing people and facing the messiness of life in this fallen age.” Moreover, it is false that FV doctrine allows elders to seek to avoid “actual pastoral work; or actual Christian fellowship of loving and serving one another.” FV elders can consistently maintain that one must improve upon his baptism or else face ecclesiastical censure. Lastly, you’re simply confused if you don’t think that “baptism obligates such a one to lifelong covenant loyalty to the triune God.” Baptism is a call to discipleship.

    FV doctrine is troubling, but so are caricatures.

  44. Tim Prussic said,

    March 7, 2011 at 3:08 pm

    I have not read all the comments, and I’m not terribly informed with FV articulations on this issue. With what I am familiar with, however, I have not (not even once) run into the linking of the sign and thing signified in such an airtight way as you present it. This post reads to me like tenuous theological reasoning based upon an articulation of FV baptismal thought that can in no way be called central to the FV churches or churchmen.

    Further, whenever I pop back into the blogs on FV issues (not very often), they seem to read like partisan rah-rah chants. (Not as pleasing, however, as the “Tastes Great! Less Filling! ones of old.) That’s disappointing to me, as you (in particular) used to have useful and substantive conversations with some of the FV guys.

  45. greenbaggins said,

    March 7, 2011 at 3:19 pm

    I do not think you have read my post very fairly, Tim. It was hardly meant as a rah-rah chant. It was meant as a substantive question about the efficacy of baptism. Have you read Leithart’s Baptized Body recently? If you have not, then you might give it another read. Leithart most definitely links sign and thing signified in just such a way. In fact, I would challenge you to find any place in that book that would weaken the link between sign and signified such that my critique would be invalid. Furthermore, my argument would still have an effect if *any* “extra” efficacy (beyond sign and seal) were ascribed to the rite of baptism. Because then, the “extra” efficacy only works in infant baptisms, and not in adult baptisms, hence two baptisms.

    Also, the end of the conversations is not my fault. I came to the understanding that a denial of the law-gospel distinction implies a denial of sola fide. For that, Douglas Wilson called me a C-grade student, a comment for which he has never apologized, but only tried to excuse. Even after I made clear that he might or might not be intentionally doing so and such denial was the result, he still did not retract his comment. This was and is very disappointing, especially since I have never used such rhetoric against him.

  46. Ron said,

    March 7, 2011 at 3:20 pm

    I have not (not even once) run into the linking of the sign and thing signified in such an airtight way as you present it.

    Tim,

    Who is “you”? What is the “airtight” linking to which you refer?

    This post reads to me like tenuous theological reasoning based upon an articulation of FV baptismal thought that can in no way be called central to the FV churches or churchmen.”

    Which post?

    Further, whenever I pop back into the blogs on FV issues (not very often), they seem to read like partisan rah-rah chants. (Not as pleasing, however, as the “Tastes Great! Less Filling! ones of old.) That’s disappointing to me, as you (in particular) used to have useful and substantive conversations with some of the FV guys.

    Lane is the “you”?

    In any case, what are you trying to say, Tim?

  47. Ron said,

    March 7, 2011 at 3:22 pm

    Ah, thank you Lane. Your post wasn’t up when I was writing mine.

  48. Cris Dickason said,

    March 7, 2011 at 3:22 pm

    #43 OK, I’ll admit I was global or universal in my comment (#42), I could have certainly qualified it with “in some cases” or the like, but I don’t think it was a caricature. It is an accurate assessment of a theological and ecclesiastical mind-set operating in some FV churches, an assessment of an approach to which the FV doctrine is particularly congenial.

    The tempting thought is: If we can have an objective rule of thumb for membership, then we can rely on a objective and external factors in our approach to the congregation. As long as they submit to the elders, as long as they don’t grievously sin, then everything stays objective, everything is OK.

  49. Matt Beatty said,

    March 7, 2011 at 3:37 pm

    That’s rich, Lane. You call Doug a false teacher (denying sola fide) and he calls you… hold your breath… a C-grade student and HE owes YOU an apology?

  50. Matt Beatty said,

    March 7, 2011 at 3:37 pm

    And Tim suggestion(s) was right-on, by the way.

  51. greenbaggins said,

    March 7, 2011 at 3:42 pm

    No doubt, Matt, things appear different from the other side of the aisle. I did not use the language of false teacher. I merely said that a denial of law-gospel carries an implicit denial of sola fide. It is inconsistent. This is more than an accepted position in the Reformed world. Calling me a C-grade student for saying this would imply C-grade status for the entire faculty of WSC, most of whom are way better educated than Douglas Wilson (though I certainly do not mean to insult Doug’s intelligence by saying this). And to insult someone’s intelligence over this thing is uncalled for.

  52. Ron said,

    March 7, 2011 at 4:19 pm

    It is an accurate assessment of a theological and ecclesiastical mind-set operating in some FV churches, an assessment of an approach to which the FV doctrine is particularly congenial.

    Cris,

    It would be foolish of me to debate you on your subjective opinion of the “mind-set” operating in “some” FV churches. Notwithstanding, you have yet to show a relative distinction between FV and OPC (for instance) with respect to what is necessary to be considered a “member in good standing”. Objective Baptism places one on the objective rolls and until one shows evidence of unbelief, either in doctrine or lifestyle, they remain on the objective rolls. Inability to improve upon one’s baptism with a credible profession of faith is evidence of a delinquent lifestyle, which is objectively sufficient to remove one from the objective roles. FV is no different than OPC on that front; the only subjective question is how long does a session wait for one to make a profession, but that question is not unique to either camp. Your problems, as they’ve been voiced, are not with FV but with Reformed thought. FV requires no more an objective standard for membership than the OPC.

    FV is not flawed because it regards the baptized roles as God’s heritage. Rather their error is found in their doctrine of regeneration, which suggests that the non-elect can, for a season, enjoy through water baptism the grace of faith and definitive sanctification prior to falling away. Consequently, FV has no place to ground the assurance of salvation that is available to the regenerate because the system allows for even a reprobate to receive the same measure of regeneration and faith as the elect. (Assurance becomes predicated upon the secret decree of perseverance, which cannot be known being a secret.) All of that stands in stark contrast to the biblical teaching – that the Holy Spirit bears witness only with the true believer’s spirit according to the unambiguous word of promise which states that all who God calls, He justifies and will glorify.

  53. Stephen Breeding said,

    March 7, 2011 at 4:35 pm

    Cris,

    Doesn’t the WCF also provide us an “objective rule of thumb for membership”? 25.2: “The visible Church…consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children.” 28.1: “Baptism is…ordained…for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible Church.”

    Also, from the quoted FV statement above: “God gives baptism as assurance of His grace to us personally, as our names are spoken when we are baptized.” It sounds to me like they’re saying that an individual can be personally (i.e., subjectively) assured of salvation as opposed to a person’s salvation being objectively evident to the world. Would you grant them that they acknowledge subjectivity where assurance is concerned?

    Anyone want to tackle my questions in #35?

  54. Matt Beatty said,

    March 7, 2011 at 5:15 pm

    You’re better read than me, Lane. Perhaps you could help a brother by pointing to a place in Calvin, Hodge, etc. where a denial of the Law-Gospel “hermeneutic” (as I think it’s referred to…) is said to be equivalent to a denial of sola fide.

    Or, where within Westminster would I find such an idea?

    Thanks.

  55. March 7, 2011 at 5:18 pm

    If the gospel = law, then we are saved by lawkeeping, not sola fide. Even a C student should be able to comprehend that equation.

  56. Ron said,

    March 7, 2011 at 6:25 pm

    Matt,

    The whole discussion in my estimation is confused.

    Faith is not gospel. Faith is one thing and gospel is another. Faith doesn’t equal gospel in other words. I exercise faith. I don’t exercise gospel. I say that merely to point out that terms need to be defined precisely. It’s my belief that most arguments would disappear if the terms were defined; it’s also my belief that often times we prefer arguing than agreeing. Agreeing requires more nuancing, and arguing often allows us to build fences around walls, the very think we like doing. Nothing could make me happier than seeing this law-gospel discussion progress, but I don’t think it will unless hearts are touched. The issue is not intellectual. How can it be? It’s too basic.

    Obviously there is a difference between (a) Jesus died for our sins and rose again for our justification and (b) the response that the “gospel” demands, faith and repentance. Is that what this is all about, the tagging of terms or the theology behind the terms.

    Regarding terms, the gospel does not always mean in its context: “Jesus died and rose again…” though that is what it means in 1 Cor. 15. Paul, for instance, blisters the Judaizers for corrupting the “gospel” yet what Paul had in mind was not redemption accomplished (as we find in 1 Cor. 15), but rather the manner in which the Savior’s finished work is to be appropriated, which is by faith alone. So, the “gospel” in Galatians and the “gospel” in 1 Corinthians 15 are two different things, yet inexorably related. My point is simply that “gospel” means different things depending on the context. Moreover, the promise that the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15 contemplates (or presupposes) is not the same thing as the literal meaning of “Jesus died for our sins and rose for our justification.” Which is to say, the fact of Jesus’ finished work on the cross is not the same thing as the promise “come to me…and I will give you rest” yet both can be considered “good news”. In the like manner, law need not imply merit.

    For what it’s worth, I would recommend John Frame’s article on law-gospel. I think he’s careful enough to get any meaningful discussion in motion.

  57. March 8, 2011 at 12:42 am

    “FV is not flawed because it regards the baptized roles as God’s heritage. Rather their error is found in their doctrine of regeneration, which suggests that the non-elect can, for a season, enjoy through water baptism the grace of faith and definitive sanctification prior to falling away. Consequently, FV has no place to ground the assurance of salvation that is available to the regenerate because the system allows for even a reprobate to receive the same measure of regeneration and faith as the elect. (Assurance becomes predicated upon the secret decree of perseverance, which cannot be known being a secret.) All of that stands in stark contrast to the biblical teaching – that the Holy Spirit bears witness only with the true believer’s spirit according to the unambiguous word of promise which states that all who God calls, He justifies and will glorify.”

    Ron’s words here bear repeating, for a more acute and concise summary of the error of FV is hard to find.

  58. Matt Beatty said,

    March 8, 2011 at 6:23 am

    Patrick,

    You’re not helping. Doug Wilson (to take an example) doesn’t believe that Gospel = Law. Not even close. There are many “mainstream” Reformed teachers – PCA teaching elders like Tim and David Bayly, for example, who aren’t AT ALL friendly to some aspects of FV and who don’t like Wilson’s this or that… but are wise and charitable enough to see that that’s decidedly NOT what he’s saying.

  59. Matt Beatty said,

    March 8, 2011 at 6:28 am

    Joshua,

    What assurance would you give someone who hears the Word and responds in faith… only to let persecutions rob them of rootedness in Christ (Mk. 4)? How would you tell – at the moment of “regeneration” that their soil is the good kind?

  60. Dean B said,

    March 8, 2011 at 7:06 am

    Matt

    “How would you tell – at the moment of “regeneration” that their soil is the good kind?”

    Assurance is not something TE, RE, or pew people have about someone else. Assurance is for ourselves.

    The answer to your question is nothing. But on the other hand I would tell them – at the moment of regeneration that their soil is the good kind.

  61. Andrew Voelkel said,

    March 8, 2011 at 8:03 am

    [Edited comment]
    Lane: I think you have your theological crosshairs on the wrong guys. Your energies might be better spent defending the reformed view of the church against baptistic attacks like this.

  62. Dean B said,

    March 8, 2011 at 8:19 am

    Andrew

    Fred Zaspel follows new covenant theology not reformed theology. New covenant theology tries to improve the theology of the baptist. The federal vision tries to improve on historic Reformed theology.

    In my opinion Fred is coming closer to the truth while the FV guys are going away from the truth.

  63. Andrew Voelkel said,

    March 8, 2011 at 8:40 am

    Dean: Good point. I agree that we should give people more “slack” who seem to be moving in the right direction.
    FV guys, I thought, were trying to make some improvements, but mostly trying to provide correctives to growing baptistic tendencies in reformed churches. For instance in some PCA churches non-communinng members are reckoned as non-members essentially, and then the entrance rite into the church becomes profession of faith rather than baptism. I am all for correcting FV men where they are wrong (possibly areas where they are trying to improve on historic Reformed theology), but I think we should appreciate the areas where they trying to bring people back to historic Reformed theology.

  64. March 8, 2011 at 8:56 am

    Matt #59,

    “What assurance would you give someone who hears the Word and responds in faith… only to let persecutions rob them of rootedness in Christ (Mk. 4)? How would you tell – at the moment of “regeneration” that their soil is the good kind?”

    How would you tell that they are no longer rooted in Christ? We judge by what we see, not by what we cannot see. Therefore all who exhibit faith and maintain obedience are considered God’s own, and those who depart or remain unrepentant under church discipline are considered outside of God’s own. But in either case assurance comes from the same place–not the minister, not the congregation, nor the individual under consideration, but the Holy Spirit who reveals to the mind of the individual his identity as he peers into the Scriptures seeking to know himself truly by comparing his thoughts and actions to what he finds therein regarding the law of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ.

    See also WCF 14.3, 17.3, and of course, 18.

  65. Matt Beatty said,

    March 8, 2011 at 9:41 am

    The quote from Zaspel above on “efficacy” is breathtaking. And Wilson’s the problem, right?

  66. Ron said,

    March 8, 2011 at 10:05 am

    Matt, not that you aren’t doing so, but we must distinguish between evidence for the session and evidence for an individual.

  67. Doug Sowers said,

    March 8, 2011 at 10:10 am

    Pastor Voelkel;

    Since over half of the (Christian) baptisms mentioned in the New Testament were family baptisms, perhaps you can share with us, the last time you performed a *family baptism*? This is where your argument falls apart. I was raised a Baptist, and have never heard of such a thing. For a man who is so concerned with explicit New Testament testimony this is where your argument falls apart… Can you imagine sharing the Gospel with a man, who accepts the message, and then telling him to be baptized, along with his whole house? (Before you’ve even met the rest of the family?) I didn’t think so. Me thinks you need to re-think the matter.

  68. paigebritton said,

    March 8, 2011 at 10:52 am

    All:
    I removed Andrew’s article-length example of a Baptist position paper from the comments above, as it is both off-topic and not an appropriate submission for the combox. If he can supply me with a link instead, I’ll reinstate it for whoever is interested.

    Doug, this thread is not the place to argue for credobaptism, okay? Let’s stick to the FV question Lane brought up.

    Thanks!
    Paige B.

  69. Matt Beatty said,

    March 8, 2011 at 11:20 am

    Ron,

    What are you talking about? Are you saying the Session has a higher standard than the individual himself does?

    Joshua,

    Let me be crystal-clear: I’m not arguing for “baptismal regeneration” in the way some (not all) FV folk are. What I see is that WESTMINSTER attributes an efficacy to baptism and the Lord’s Supper that most PCA/OPC types are only comfortable granting to the preached word. In each case, there must be (to be the elect, to persevere, etc.) genuine personal faith.

    But too many PCA candidates and pastors, when asked why the Assembly used the word “efficacy” (essentially like Zaspel’s quote that has been removed) have no idea what you’re saying or flat-out deny an efficacy to the sacrament at all. Like Baptist/Zwinglians. Some of us find this odd, to say the least.
    “Therefore all who exhibit faith and maintain obedience are considered God’s own, and those who depart or remain unrepentant under church discipline are considered outside of God’s own.

  70. Ron said,

    March 8, 2011 at 11:21 am

    Since over half of the (Christian) baptisms mentioned in the New Testament were family baptisms, perhaps you can share with us, the last time you performed a *family baptism*?

    Doug, how is it relevant how many household baptism a pastor performs? And for what it’s worth, we should expect that household baptisms would be common place on mission fields (with Reformed pastors) given a head of household conversion.

    Can you imagine sharing the Gospel with a man, who accepts the message, and then telling him to be baptized, along with his whole house? (Before you’ve even met the rest of the family?)

    And what is wrong with that from a paedo-Reformed perspective?

  71. Ron said,

    March 8, 2011 at 11:23 am

    What are you talking about? Are you saying the Session has a higher standard than the individual himself does?

    Matt, what I’m trying to say is that all the session has to go on is external profession and external lifestyle. Individuals need to examine themselves (internally) to see if they are in the faith.

  72. Doug Sowers said,

    March 8, 2011 at 11:59 am

    @ Ron #70;

    I am peado baptist, I was attempting to show that our *baptist* brothers never proform family baptisms, which are all over the place in the NT. Nice pick up Daivd Gray! In other words, I’m all for family baptisms. :) After all, I’m OPC!

  73. Cris Dickason said,

    March 8, 2011 at 12:13 pm

    #52 & 53 – Of course I was expressing my – wait for it – subjective opinion. There’s a sense in which that’s all any of us are offering here: our opinions, or our reactions to opinions or our citations and sources for opinions and conclusions. My point was not to get into a big objective vs subjective bifurcation or debate. That’s one of the problems with the FV.

    My point was to call attention to a correlation between aspects of FV theology and FV ecclesiology. The focused desire for an objective theology, ecclesiology, and covenant in FV sometimes stems from, and sometimes leads to, pastoral concerns and practices. Try this observation: one theological trajectory that led to, finds its home in the FV, is Norman Shepherd’s teaching; which debuted in public, in part, due to his article on “Covenant Context For Evangelism.”

    As to the offered statements on Church & Baptism (WCF 25:2 & 28:1), those are definitions, to be sure, but they are not definitions or descriptions of what is a credible profession of faith, or membership in good standing. Places to begin such, but not comprehensive and exhausting expositions of a profession of faith.

  74. Doug Sowers said,

    March 8, 2011 at 12:15 pm

    @Paige; My feelings are hurt :( I was the first one arguing *against* credo baptism, not for it! But your right, it’s a little off topic, so I see your over arching concern. Anyway, I’m over it, God bless, and keep pressing on Sister!

  75. Ron said,

    March 8, 2011 at 2:37 pm

    Cris, why don’t you just come over to my place w/ that big brush of yours and I’ll put you to work!

    Doug, I have no clue what you were trying to say then. :)

  76. paigebritton said,

    March 8, 2011 at 2:38 pm

    Oh, sorry Doug, misread you. ;)p

  77. greenbaggins said,

    March 8, 2011 at 4:15 pm

    Matt, One place you can start is in Ursinus’s commentary on the Catechism, pp. 2-3. Not only does he lay out the classic law-gospel hermeneutic, but he also says “the doctrine contained in the law and gospel is necessary to lead us to a knowledge of Christ and his benefits” (p. 3). For further quotations, see this post, a three-part post proving that the law/gospel distinction is thoroughly Reformed and confessional: http://greenbaggins.wordpress.com/2008/10/28/is-the-lawgospel-distinction-only-lutheran-part-3/

  78. Cris Dickason said,

    March 8, 2011 at 4:17 pm

    #75 Ron – Your comments are about to drop below the line of conversation becoming those holding office in Christ’s Church. You and I most likely hold to some things that are at different points along the spread of reformed thought. Let’s leave it at that. I won’t engage in this continual sparring where your net is never going to catch my fish. I put some qualifications on my “big brush” but you’re still not satisfied. That is your problem, not mine.

  79. greenbaggins said,

    March 8, 2011 at 4:34 pm

    Zrim, your comment 61 is over the top with the word “fawning.” Please try to lower your rhetorical flourishes a bit.

  80. March 8, 2011 at 4:34 pm

    Matt, sorry you don’t find my comments helpful. I admit some simplification when I typed “law = gospel”. I don’t know of anyone who actually thinks the two words are defined identically. I think you know what I meant though.

    Interesting that the Zaspel red herring was brought up. I (a Covenantal Baptist) recently wrote a refutation of that very article. I thought Zaspel’s arguments, on the whole, were pathetic.

  81. Ron said,

    March 8, 2011 at 5:14 pm

    Cris,

    All you’ve done is beat up on a straw man, which does nobody any good and possibly even some people harm. If you don’t refute the true FV, you don’t refute FV at all. One of the biggest attractions to FV has to do with the inability of so many to refute its viability. You’re not part of the solution – you’re part of the problem. The sooner you get that, the sooner you can be part of the solution.

  82. Doug Sowers said,

    March 8, 2011 at 5:19 pm

    @Lane; are you denying the Puritin belief, that the ceremonial law, was the gospel in figures?

  83. greenbaggins said,

    March 8, 2011 at 6:06 pm

    Doug, no, I wouldn’t.

  84. March 8, 2011 at 9:55 pm

    Well, of course I believe in two baptisms. One is the baptism of the Spirit which happens at regeneration, and the other is baptism in water. They need not occur at the same time at all, and usually don’t. All evangelicals believe in two baptisms. Don’t they?

    So either this means that FV does not teach what you claim it does, or it means that Wilson is not FV. Logic! what do they teach them in these schools?

  85. Ron said,

    March 8, 2011 at 10:19 pm

    Doug,

    Do you confess this doctrine:

    In baptism, We are united (or married) to the crucified, buried, and risen Christ (Rom. 6:1ff), though we can be cut off (or divorced) from him if we are unfaithful (Rom. 11:17ff; cf. Jn. 15:1ff), We are forgiven (Acts 2:38, 22:16; cf. the Nicene Creed), We receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38), We are cleansed (Eph. 5:26), We are regenerated and renewed (Titus 3:5), We are buried and resurrected with Christ (Col. 2:11-12), We are circumcised in heart (Col. 2:11-12), We are joined to the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13), We are clothed with Christ (Gal. 3:27), We are justified and sanctified (1 Cor. 6:11), We are saved (1 Pt. 3:20-21)….

    Those words mean that water baptism is sufficent to justify.

    The quote continues:

    In context, none of these passages teach baptism automatically guarantees salvation. But they do teach that God does a great work in baptism, a work that may be considered the beginnings of salvation for those God has elected to persevere to the end.

    The second quote teaches that the justification one gains through water baptism need not be accompanied by final salvation. In other words, the non-elect share the same existential union with Christ through water baptism and what they lack is the gift of persevering faith.

    Thanks,

    Ron

  86. Doug Sowers said,

    March 8, 2011 at 10:29 pm

    Hi Ron; I believe your asking the other Doug; but just out of curiosity, who wrote that quote above?

    Thanks in advance

  87. Ron said,

    March 8, 2011 at 10:33 pm

    I am most certainly asking the other Doug. :)

    That quote I believe comes from Mr. Lusk.

  88. March 8, 2011 at 10:45 pm

    Ron, as it stands, I disagree with that quote. I agree that water baptism means all those things, but I don’t think it necessarily does any of them. The only time baptism is effectual in any salvific respect is because the recipient is a worthy receiver, which in Westminsterian (and biblical) terms means that he has been given the instrument of true faith.Then and only then is baptism one of the effectual (and secondary) means of saving grace.

  89. Ron said,

    March 8, 2011 at 10:47 pm

    He went on to speak these wonderful words of confusion:

    This, then, is the point: God blesses us in baptism with new life, though baptism itself does not guarantee perseverance. Thus, we must combine the waters of baptism with enduring faith (cf. 1 Cor. 10:1-12). If not, the heavenly waters God has poured out upon us will drown us in a flood of judgment.

    Given that all baptized persons receive the same measure of new life in Christ, it becomes false that all God justifies, he glorifies, since some will fall away from a state of grace. Consequently, those who have the witness of the Spirit cannot know they will make it in the end since some with the same witness don’t. Now this is when the FV begins to peddle backwards and talk about having the same covenantal standing in Christ but not really the same “sap” running through their branches, yet they are pretty clear in other places that baptism really does bring forth union with Christ through the Spirit. Confused or just deceitful? Certainly not confessional.

  90. Ron said,

    March 8, 2011 at 11:00 pm

    Ron, as it stands, I disagree with that quote. I agree that water baptism means all those things, but I don’t think it necessarily does any of them. The only time baptism is effectual in any salvific respect is because the recipient is a worthy receiver, which in Westminsterian (and biblical) terms means that he has been given the instrument of true faith.Then and only then is baptism one of the effectual (and secondary) means of saving grace.

    Doug,

    I have wanted to believe for quite some time that you have in some sense “come clean” on this baptism matter. Maybe you don’t think you have, in that maybe you believe you were always as clear as you are today in what you don’t embrace, but let me say that many of your bedfellows (former bedfellows?) speak in that sort of language even today, years after the crisis. Why haven’t you called them on it, or have you? I think you owe it to the sheep who were swept away in the confusion, if not to yourself and for the sake of the gospel. I think as a leader in a movement, at best you left some folks holding the bag – to clean up a mess that got a good deal of steam due to your popularity.

    Unworthy but His,

    Ron

  91. Roger du Barry said,

    March 9, 2011 at 12:07 am

    Doug, in my reading of the Bible, those who received the Spirit apart from baptism are those who were previously baptised, namely, the apostles and the disciples who were baptised prior to Pentecost. After that epochal event, baptism and the gift of the Spirit are tied. The only exception, as some see exceptions, are those whom Paul laid hands on who had been baptised by John, and had not heard of the resurrection, who then received the Spirit.

    After Pentecost baptism and the gift of he Spirit are tied.

    Peter says in Acts 2 that those who receive baptism also and indeed receive the gift of the Spirit.

    Repent and be baptised everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ, and you will receive the gift of the Spirit.

    Can you or anyone else provide me with a BIBLICAL example of a man who receives the Spirit after Pentecost at a random time unrelated to his baptism?

    Many thanks.

  92. Ron Henzel said,

    March 9, 2011 at 4:30 am

    Roger,

    You wrote:

    Can you or anyone else provide me with a BIBLICAL example of a man who receives the Spirit after Pentecost at a random time unrelated to his baptism?

    Paul answered your question long ago with the following rhetorical question:

    Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?

    [Galatians 3:2, ESV]

    Tying the reception of the Spirit to baptism is an error on the same order as the Galatian heresy of tying salvation to circumcision. Baptism followed the reception of the Spirit (when that reception is explicitly mentioned at all) in the New Testament because the majority of examples provided therein were adults. The two events were related only insofar as those who were regenerated and thus believed responded to the call to be baptized. It is obviously not the case anywhere in the New Testament that regeneration occurred because of baptism.

    The practice of infant baptism is assumed in the New Testament, I believe, but the New Testament does not examine the question of the timing of regeneration or faith in relation to the timing of infant baptism. Neither does the Old Testament provide us with explicit teaching to help us with the timing of regeneration or faith in relation to the timing of infant circumcision. But if baptism and regeneration were not simultaneous events in the New Testament, and they weren’t, it is not unreasonable or unbiblical to assume that regeneration and faith has in most cases followed infant baptism since Pentecost.

  93. Ron Henzel said,

    March 9, 2011 at 4:50 am

    In follow-up to my previous comment:

    While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.

    [Acts 10:44-48, ESV, italics added.]

    And:

    As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?”

    [Acts 11:15-17, ESV, italics and boldness added.]

  94. Ron Henzel said,

    March 9, 2011 at 4:54 am

    Roger,

    One more note: I think Peter’s own interpretation of what happened at Pentecost in Acts 11:15-17 trumps your interpretation of it based on your understanding of what Peter said in Acts 2:38.

  95. March 9, 2011 at 9:43 am

    Roger, Paul said that he had been sent to preach the gospel, not to baptize. Though there was not a large temporal distance, there was a clear conceptual difference. And Cornelius and house were baptized in water because they had already clearly been baptized by the Spirit. Again, it happened on the same day, but there was a clear conceptual distinction.

    Ron, I have been every bit as clear throughout this controversy as I was above, and am willing to be now. As an FV amber ale, I have often wished that the FV oatmeal stouts would qualify their language more than they do (and I have said so). But suppose they were to come back at me and ask me, “Okay, Mr. Qualify What You Say, Mr. Line It Up with Westminster, how’s that working for you? Does it work? And I would hang my head and dig a hole in the carpet with my toe and say, “No, no. You’re right. Qualifying doesn’t do anything.” But then I would brighten up. “John Piper gets it. And a few others!” Then I would sink into despondency again. “But you have to be a Baptist.”

  96. greenbaggins said,

    March 9, 2011 at 9:45 am

    Doug Wilson,

    I appreciate your affirmations here. However, as should be plain, I am not talking about the “two baptisms” you referred to, but rather the two different ways that baptism works in much of FV literature. If you don’t agree with the other FV folk on this, fine. As you have yourself said on numerous occasions, the FV is not monolithic. Are you therefore assuming it is monolithic, and that it is therefore innocent of thinking about baptism in the way described in the post above? If so, I would disagree. If the FV is not monolithic, then it is not an answer to my post to say that it does not describe your position, since it might very well describe other FV writers’ positions. After all, the last time I checked, you were not the only FV writer. Logic, what do they teach at these schools? ;-)

  97. Ron said,

    March 9, 2011 at 10:53 am

    Ron, I have been every bit as clear throughout this controversy as I was above, and am willing to be now. As an FV amber ale, I have often wished that the FV oatmeal stouts would qualify their language more than they do (and I have said so).

    Doug,

    You make it sound as if the others in the FV movement agree with you theologically and that your differences have to do with the way in which positions are stated and qualified. I’m not sure how you can know that you agree with these men theologically without their statements being theologically qualified. Yet, if they have qualified their reckless remarks to you alone and not to the church, then they are simply being stubborn; and in their stubbornness, sowing discord among the brethren. In which case, you need not find them on a personal level delinquent in doctrine but rather delinquent in lifestyle. With respect to the church at large, they are not being stubborn at all. They’re simply delinquent in doctrine.

    But suppose they were to come back at me and ask me, “Okay, Mr. Qualify What You Say, Mr. Line It Up with Westminster, how’s that working for you? Does it work? And I would hang my head and dig a hole in the carpet with my toe and say, “No, no. You’re right. Qualifying doesn’t do anything.” But then I would brighten up. “John Piper gets it. And a few others!” Then I would sink into despondency again. “But you have to be a Baptist.”

    One should not be clear in his doctrinal enunciation because he thinks it is “working” for him, or that it will probably “work” for him. One should desire to be clear in his doctrinal enunciation because God would have it so.

    You make it sound as if the Lusks of the world refuse to qualify their theological statements because they don’t think they will ever be vindicated anyway. Is that really it? Do the FV leaders dig in with their sacerdotal language because they don’t think they’ll get a fair reception should they come clean? That seems to be a pretty low view of these men, but who am I to disagree? It just seems a bit passing strange to me that one would rather continue intentionally denying the gospel with his doctrinal enunciations than take a chance on stating the unequivocal gospel-truth even at the risk of not being treated fairly by his pears should he do so.

    Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate that even presbyters are not always quick to take as one’s final word a man’s elaboration of previous statements. All one has to do is read the transcript of the Kinnaird trial that took place at the presbytery level. Indeed, reputations and unclear remarks are often hard to shed even when clear confessions are made, (which providentially serves as a fine warning to us all to walk more circumspectly in the first place). But back to the main point…What’s the alternative for the one who is in the dock due to his own doing? Is it really available to the man who delights in the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace to dig in further and not make doctrinal clarifications in such cases? Moreover, not only have many within the FV not made clarifying statements – they’ve even on occasion made stronger statements that only solidify their previous ones.

  98. Andy Gilman said,

    March 9, 2011 at 11:57 am

    Ron Henzel, per #41, you may be right about Ligon Duncan’s statement regarding “any self respecting Hebrew.” We would have to ask him what he meant by that.

    In #44 Tim Prussic said:

    Further, whenever I pop back into the blogs on FV issues (not very often), they seem to read like partisan rah-rah chants. (Not as pleasing, however, as the “Tastes Great! Less Filling! ones of old.) That’s disappointing to me, as you (in particular) used to have useful and substantive conversations with some of the FV guys.

    Then Doug Wilson, seeing Tim’s disappointment, comes along in #95 and gives Tim a little FV Amber Ale / FV Oatmeal Stout humor (which he uses to obfuscate) to cheer him up!

    When Doug first appeared in this thread saying:

    Well, of course I believe in two baptisms. One is the baptism of the Spirit which happens at regeneration, and the other is baptism in water. They need not occur at the same time at all, and usually don’t. All evangelicals believe in two baptisms. Don’t they?

    it should then have been made clear to everyone reading along, that reasoning with these men is futile. These FV sacramentalists (“You are starving the children when you don’t allow them to come to the Lord’s Table!”) are emotionally committed to their errors. It’s on the same order as trying to persuade Roman Catholics, gathered in Alabama to witness apparitions of Mary, to see that their Mariology is idolatry.

  99. Ron said,

    March 9, 2011 at 12:37 pm

    Andy re: 98,

    Doug made the point earlier that making theological qualifications, as he has, is often met with skepticism, if not also an unwillingness to interpret the unclear statements by more recently stated elaborations. Thank you for underscoring his point for us so nicely.

    As for your paedocommunion remark – certainly if one is persuaded of the practice of paedocommunion he will think that to withhold the Supper from those who have not yet made a credible profession will be to their detriment. That’s no different than my conviction, which is in agreement with the WCF, that it is a great sin to neglect the ordinance of baptism where children are concerned. However, that conviction of mine is not driven by what might be the consequences of not baptizing an infant. In fact, if speculation pertaining to the consequences of neglect were to inform my theological perspective on infant baptism, then the decision to baptize infants would be for me, at least in part, an emotional one as opposed to a strictly theological one. In the like manner, we must extend the same measure of charity to all who practice paedocommunion – that their practice is not driven by some sort of paschal’s wager type of reasoning. I don’t agree with the practice, but I don’t presume that the practice is driven by a desire to keep children from harm. I trust it is predicated upon more substantive reasons that I don’t accept as valid.

  100. Sean Gerety said,

    March 9, 2011 at 1:46 pm

    In RINE and concerning 1 Peter 3:18-22 “Mr. FV Amber Ale” writes: “Water baptism now saves us. Peter tells us that baptism saves…” (100). These words appear 14 lines after Wilson quoted the passage from Peter, in which Peter denies that water baptism saves us: “The like figure whereunto even baptism does also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Next, Wilson asserts that the Westminster Confession teaches baptismal regeneration: “the Westminster Confession taught baptismal regeneration” (103). He quotes 28.1, which says no such thing. Wilson even asserts his own version of apostolic succession: “There is an apostolic succession in the Church, but it is not a succession delivered through ordination. Rather, it is a succession of baptisms…” (107). But since Wilson’s rite of baptism must be performed by “an authorized representative of the Christian church,” how much different is Wilson’s apostolic succession from Rome’s? To have a succession of legitimate baptisms, one must also have a succession of legitimate authorizations, that is, ordinations. Neither Wilson nor Rome understands that the “successors” of the apostles are the writings of the apostles, that is, the Scriptures.

  101. Dean B said,

    March 9, 2011 at 2:55 pm

    Sean

    Thank you for the reference. I think the context of what DW writes is a little less black and white than you express. http://books.google.com/books?id=G2WTaBMrXLQC&dq=doug+wilson+amazon+reformed+is+not+enough&printsec=frontcover&source=in&hl=en&ei=VeF3Ta_pOInjrAHA1bT0CQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=11&sqi=2&ved=0CGEQ6AEwCg#v=onepage&q&f=false

    However, Pastor Wilson employs a fuzzy logic on page 103 to arrive at a sacramental union that through water baptism one is “grafted into Christ, he has the sign and seal of regeneration, forgiveness of sins, and the obligation to walk in newness of life.”

    This statement is qualified in the following paragraph: “Of course there are baptized covenant members who are not individually regenerate. They are the ones who reject what God is offering to them in baptism. They therefore fall away from the covenant and not from election.”

    How can someone reject something that God offers in baptism if they already possess it in baptism ie regeneration and forgiveness of sins?

    Pastor Wilson should say in baptism we recieve a sacramental union and are sacramental “grafted into Christ, he has the (sacramental) sign and seal of regeneration, (sacramental) forgiveness of sins, and the obligation to walk in newness of life.”

    Then he should add that this sacramental union in baptism no more makes one a Christian than baptizing yourself in your garage makes you a car.

    With these distinctions he would move from being a FV amber ale to a normal reformed and presbyterian pastor. But what would be the fun in that?

  102. Roger du Barry said,

    March 9, 2011 at 4:07 pm

    Doug, in using the Cornelius passage you have not mentioned the fact that Cornelius is a pivotal case, the first Gentile to receive the Spirit and baptism. He is clearly not normative for this reason. The Jewish Church needed a clear sign from God before they would allow the Gentiles in, and the gift of the Spirit was just that. That order of events is never repeated.

    Notice how they marvel when Peter recounts the events to them: Has God granted repentance EVEN TO THE GENTILES?

    Take that into account, and Cornelius simply cannot be used as a brute fact.

    You are ignoring the historical aspect, the change of the order of things from OT Israel to accommodate the incoming Gentiles, and the Jewish attitude to that world changing event.

  103. Roger du Barry said,

    March 9, 2011 at 4:08 pm

    It is obviously not the case anywhere in the New Testament that regeneration occurred because of baptism.

    Obviously. But who said it did?

  104. Doug Sowers said,

    March 9, 2011 at 4:19 pm

    Dean B. Then how do you deal with John 15 and Romans 11? Clearly these branches are connected to Christ in some sense, amen? If Christ is the vine and we are the banches, and Paul warns that without faith, one could be cut off, I would ask you; cut off from Christ, in what sense?

    I’m not sure either, but I have yet to hear an FV critic clearly explain what the connection is to Christ, and how one can be cut off. Maybe you could explain that to me.

    Thanks in advance

  105. Dean B said,

    March 9, 2011 at 4:54 pm

    Doug

    “Clearly these branches are connected to Christ in some sense, amen?”

    The Word Jesus spoke made them clean (John 15:3). Would you maintain that everyone who hears the preaching is sacramentally united to Christ. The sacraments are simply the visible preaching so what is true of the sacraments must be true of the preaching.

    In what sense do you believe someone becomes clean when he hears the preaching?

    When we look at it this way I believe we are apt to arrive at a closer understanding then when we look at what we obtain in baptism.

  106. Ron Henzel said,

    March 10, 2011 at 4:07 am

    Roger,

    In comment 103, you wrote:

    “ It is obviously not the case anywhere in the New Testament that regeneration occurred because of baptism.

    Obviously. But who said it did?

    I was responding to various statements you have made over the course of your commenting history on this blog, but especially the ones you made most recently in comment 91, such as this one:

    …baptism and the gift of the Spirit are tied.

    And this one:

    …those who receive baptism also and indeed receive the gift of the Spirit.

    It is difficult to see how these statements were not intended to describe a cause-and-effect relationship. In any case, it is not baptism that is tied to the gift of the Spirit in the New Testament, as I have shown, but faith.

  107. Ron said,

    March 10, 2011 at 7:43 am

    It is difficult to see how these statements were not intended to describe a cause-and-effect relationship. In any case, it is not baptism that is tied to the gift of the Spirit in the New Testament, as I have shown, but faith.

    Hi Ron,

    I of course agree with you that baptism is not sufficient or necessary for the Holy Spirit. In other words, baptism does not automatically bring the Holy Spirit and one can have the Holy Spirit apart from baptism. We also agree, I’m sure, that regeneration (the work of the Holy Spirit) precedes faith. Just the same, to argue for the causality of “Holy Spirit then Faith” does not appear to me to be an argument against “Water then Holy Spirit”. Let me try to explain.

    When you say baptism is not causally tied to the Holy Spirit but rather faith is, what you are saying (I think) is that baptism does not produce the Holy Spirit but rather the Holy Spirit produces faith. The causal relationship you affirm between faith and the Holy Spirit is that the latter is sufficient and necessary to produce the former. Of course I agree. That premise, however, does not seem to overturn the alleged causal relationship between water and the Holy Spirit, which is what I think Roger is arguing for in his construct. In other words, you seem to be arguing in your causal relationship for that which must produce faith, whereas Roger seems to speaking to the question of what produces the Holy Sprit who in turn produces faith. I would think that you both agree on the causal relationship between the Holy Spirit and Faith – that regeneration precedes faith. I believe Roger is putting forth what he thinks produces the Holy Spirit’s work of regeneration.

  108. David Gray said,

    March 10, 2011 at 7:56 am

    >V. Although it is a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance, yet grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed unto it, as that no person can be regenerated, or saved, without it: or, that all that are baptized are undoubtedly regenerated.

    Anyone who professes to be in agreement with the WCF must concur grace and salvation are ordinarily annexed unto baptism for the elect.

  109. Ron said,

    March 10, 2011 at 8:08 am

    Doug,

    Re: 104 and the vines of John 15 and Romans 11

    Don’t the non-elect within the outward adminstration of the covenant receive Christ, just not by faith? Indeed, they often received the word with gladness (for a while) but there is no true life in them. They receive the Supper but without their hearts being lifted up to the Lord. In that sense, they are attached to the vine but there is no life from the vine flowing through them. They’re in the “visible” church but that’s all. They can even have their lives conformed to the outward manner of Christian life.

    Thoughts?

    Ron

  110. Ron said,

    March 10, 2011 at 8:20 am

    Anyone who professes to be in agreement with the WCF must concur grace and salvation are ordinarily annexed unto baptism for the elect.

    David,

    It is one thing to say that something is a condition and quite another thing to say it’s a cause. For instance, good works is a necessary condition for salvation but it is not a cause of salvation. But allowing for baptism to be a (secondary) cause (as opposed to an accompanying fruit of salvation like works), we must distinguish between it be a converting ordinance and it being a an ordinance that kindles the instrumental cause of salvation, faith. Baptism is a means of grace and we may say that it kindles faith in that it keeps it going in conjunction with the transforming word of God, which interprets baptism lest it be a bare sign like a snake on a pole. Baptism is a mystery. It’s just not magical.

  111. David Gray said,

    March 10, 2011 at 8:58 am

    Ron,

    How do you read the WCF as quoted above?

  112. Ron said,

    March 10, 2011 at 9:17 am

    David,

    I try to take it literally and not read anything into it that’s not there. This is what I find:

    1. It is a great sin (a) not to receive baptism and (b) to keep baptism from our children.

    2. Baptism is not necessary for grace and salvation.

    3. Baptism is not a sufficient condition for regeneration.

  113. Ron said,

    March 10, 2011 at 9:22 am

    Maybe it would be easier to have the statement before us in the same post.

    “(1) Although it is a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance, (2) yet grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed unto it, as that no person can be regenerated, or saved, without it: (3) or that all that are baptized are undoubtedly regenerated.”

    David,

    I try to take it literally and not read anything into it that’s not there. This is what I find:

    1. It is a great sin (a) not to receive baptism and (b) to keep baptism from our children.

    2. Baptism is not necessary for grace and salvation.

    3. Baptism is not a sufficient condition for regeneration.

  114. Sean Gerety said,

    March 10, 2011 at 9:38 am

    Just curious; how many times does the parable of the vine and the branches have to be explained to FV men? Following Dean’s reply to Doug S., IMO part of the problem is the FV’s denial of the category of nominal Christians or Christians in name only. Again from RINE Wilson writes:

    [T]here is no such thing as a merely nominal Christian any more than we can find a man who is a nominal husband. There are many faithless husbands, but if a man is a husband at all, then he is as much a husband as a faithful one. He is a covenant breaker, but this is not the same as saying that he has no covenant to break. In the same way, there are multitudes of faithless Christians, who do not believe what God said at their baptism [96].

    Maybe it’s me just thinking in black and white, but if you reject Wilson’s analysis and accept that there are such a thing as nominal Christians, even some calling themselves “pastors,” it becomes easier to see that the parable of the vine and the branches very much has people like Doug Wilson and his fellow travelers in mind. Now if only the courts in the courts of PCA will wake up and pull out its pruning shears perhaps then people like Doug S. will understand the meaning of this parable (which is necessary if only because FV types think only the things they can see with their eyes are “objective”).

  115. Ron said,

    March 10, 2011 at 9:39 am

    Sean, your point was lost in your zeal to excommunicate.

  116. March 10, 2011 at 9:42 am

    Sean, are Christians in name only, or nominal Christians, connected to Christ in any way?

  117. Ron said,

    March 10, 2011 at 9:56 am

    Doug,

    I find it a dangerous practice to build doctrine on metaphors. Also, “connected to Christ” is not the happiest of terms in my estimation. Certainly you don’t believe that the unregenerate are existentially (to use a Gaffin term) united to Christ. Would it satisfy you simply to say they are partakers of Christ in the outward administration of the covenant (they taste and hear) but that their partaking is not mingled with Spirit wrought faith and consequently, there is no root in them (to borrow from the parable of the sower)?

  118. March 10, 2011 at 10:11 am

    Ron, sure, I am happy with Gaffin’s language. Jesus says in Mark that the unconverted have no root in themselves. I am happy with the way you put it above. I just want to say that this outward administration of the covenant is not unrelated to Christ. It is a branch, not tumbleweed caught in the branches.

    I agree it is dangerous to build doctrine on metaphors, but since Jesus used them so much, it is also dangerous not to. Some scriptural metaphors emphasize the ontological difference between the elect and reprobate (wheat and tares). Amen. Others emphasize the ethical difference (two branches, one with fruit and the other without). Amen again. I don’t want to pit the metaphors against one another — I want to affirm the point of both, straight up.

  119. Sean Gerety said,

    March 10, 2011 at 10:58 am

    Sean, are Christians in name only, or nominal Christians, connected to Christ in any way?

    No, Doug, of course not. How could anyone be connected to Christ apart from faith in Him? Don’t you at least pretend to believe that faith is the alone instrument in justification uniting us to Christ and His finished work or have you finally given up that particular charade completely?

  120. Ron said,

    March 10, 2011 at 11:05 am

    Doug, I’m tracking and can say on that matter, fair enough, if you agree, which I trust you do that although we must reconcile biblical metaphors with themselves, we do well to interpret the metaphors in light of passages that are more direct in their doctrinal import. Nuff said.

    But, while I have you :) – and keeping with the metaphors for a moment, I’m still interested in understanding more clearly whether you think the only significant difference between FV amber and FV oatmeal stout is the amount of transparency in the grog. In other words, are we talking turbidity only, or we talking about a different kind of drink altogether? It seems to me that what you are saying is that if both exhale into the breathalyzer a lower reading might come from you, but that you are both enjoying the same doctrinal beverage. In plain English, you seem to suggest that these fellows are in agreement with your qualifying remarks on the visible-invisible church and the sacraments, and that they are simply being cantankerous. Can you affirm whether that is your general belief? If you give a simple Yes, I probably won’t have a follow-up question. I’ll just remain mystified over why men who have vowed to keep the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace are so reluctant to qualify their remarks for the sake of Christ.

    Finally, if they don’t clarify their remarks in the manner I have believed for a few years now that you have, I would like to see you mark them and withdraw yourself from them until they should repent of their obstinacy. I think such measures taken by you would only serve to corroborate your doctrinal clarifications – maybe even more forcefully than your actual elaborations have done; but I don’t believe that should be your primary motive. I think the motive should be less pragmatic than that. In any case, thank you much for the exchange.

  121. Jim Butler said,

    March 10, 2011 at 11:06 am

    @Sean (#119) — thank you. I thought I was nuts thinking that connection to Christ is by grace alone through faith alone in Him alone.

    jim

  122. Matt Beatty said,

    March 10, 2011 at 12:15 pm

    I would suggest that not a small amount of the FV brouhaha (not to diminish real differences…) could be chalked-up to statements like this:

    “I agree it is dangerous to build doctrine on metaphors, but since Jesus used them so much, it is also dangerous not to…”

    Read contemporary, conservative, Reformed thinking and it is, on balance, very uncomfortable with metaphor. Doug rightly points out that, just like with non-figurative language, we must be careful. But if Jesus uses metaphor to convey TRUTH, so can – must?! – we.

  123. March 10, 2011 at 12:29 pm

    Sean, let me ask again. Do you believe nominal Christians are connected to Christ in ANY way? Do you believe someone can trample the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified?

  124. March 10, 2011 at 12:35 pm

    Ron, I agree with your first paragraph.

    For the FV stouts, I can say that many of them have agreed with many (not all) of my qualifications. In those areas where they differ with me, I think the differences are significant, but do not “strike at the vitals” of the Reformed faith. Most of the differences revolve around my identification of myself as Reformed and as a historic evangelical. In other words, I think the stouts are Reformed men, and historically orthodox. But I think that some of them are not what I would call evangelicals, and that is actually where I believe the real points of difference lie.

  125. Ron said,

    March 10, 2011 at 12:53 pm

    Doug,

    I always considered Reformed a subset of Evangelical in that all Reformed are contained in the set “Evangelical”. How can they be the former and not the latter?

  126. Sean Gerety said,

    March 10, 2011 at 1:30 pm

    Doug, did you just not like my answer? Concerning the passage in Hebrews you reference Calvin says:

    …God cannot govern the Church without purifying it, and without restoring to order the confusion that may be in it. Therefore this governing ought justly to be dreaded by hypocrites, who will then be punished for usurping a place among the faithful, and for perfidiously using the sacred name of God, when the master of the family undertakes himself the care of setting in order his own house. It is in this sense that God is said to arise to judge his people, that is, when he separates the truly godly from hypocrites, (Psalm 1:4;) and in Psalm 125:3, where the Prophet speaks of exterminating hypocrites, that they might no more dare to boast that they were of the Church, because God bore with them; he promises peace to Israel after having executed his judgment.

    Calvin argues that hypocrites are in view in this passage. So let me ask you (and let’s see if you can answer without resorting to analogies, metaphors or beer); Is Jesus Christ united to unbelieving hypocrites? I realize you did affirm this very thing when you wrote “there is no such thing as a merely nominal Christian any more than we can find a man who is a nominal husband,” but since Di Giacomo thinks you’re being treated unfairly I thought I’d ask anyway.

  127. Dean B said,

    March 10, 2011 at 1:43 pm

    Pastor Wilson

    “In other words, I think the stouts are Reformed men, and historically orthodox. But I think that some of them are not what I would call evangelicals, and that is actually where I believe the real points of difference lie.”

    I would have guessed you would said the exact opposite. At least in my mind I think evangelicals occupy a much wider playing field than the Reformed camp.

    Please elaborate on what you intended to communicate in the above quote.

  128. Ron said,

    March 10, 2011 at 1:43 pm

    but since Di Giacomo thinks you’re being treated unfairly I thought I’d ask anyway

    Sean,

    I think I’ve held my opinion on that matter, Sean. What I did say is that your point on the vine and the branches was eclipsed by your zeal and imprecatation.

  129. Dean B said,

    March 10, 2011 at 1:59 pm

    Ron

    Sorry, I did not see your post#125. It appears we seeking the same answer.

  130. Ron said,

    March 10, 2011 at 2:08 pm

    Is Jesus Christ united to unbelieving hypocrites?

    Sean,

    Let me say, again, that I disagree with DW’s choice of terms. I find it ambiguous at best and misleading at worst. I wish he’d quit using such terms especially in a discussion having to do with systematics. It only causes problems. When he unpacks the language though, he agrees even with you, as much as you hate to agree with that. He agreed with my interpretation above having to do with receiving Christ in Word and Sacrament but not by faith. That’s sufficient to be “connected” to Christ given DW’s glossary of terms. I would suspect that being “united” is equivalent to “connected” for DW. Although I find it tedious to navigate through such terms, I’m willing to do so to get to my points. As well, although the terms are annoying to many, it is wrong to call down imprecations (your pruning remark, which is just that) for bad theology when it’s the terms and not the theology you are having an allergic reaction to.

  131. Ron said,

    March 10, 2011 at 2:12 pm

    Dean re: 129, yes, we’re asking the same thing. It seems to me that there is an enormous contradiction burried in that statement.

  132. Sean Gerety said,

    March 10, 2011 at 2:32 pm

    Ron, it is sad and telling that at this late date you think that what Wilson is peddling is just “bad theology.” If that’s all it was then perhaps you might have a point. As it is, I could care less if my pruning remark irritates you or anyone else (in the future you would probably do better to just speak for yourself).

  133. greenbaggins said,

    March 10, 2011 at 2:35 pm

    Sean and Ron, let me just jump in here to say “let’s forget about Sean’s pruning remark and stick with the issues.”

  134. Ron said,

    March 10, 2011 at 2:50 pm

    Ron, it is sad and telling that at this late date you think that what Wilson is peddling is just “bad theology.” If that’s all it was then perhaps you might have a point.

    Sean,

    It would seem that you are not paying very close attention or are choosing to ignore what is being said. I have not suggested that DW is promoting bad theology. In fact, on this thread he has only “peddled” Reformed theology yet not with the happiest of terminology in my estimation. Notwithstanding those issues in terminology, he disagreed with the theology contained in the Lusk quote and agreed that unregenerate persons are not existentially united to Christ. He also agreed that unbelievers are only partakers of Christ in the outward administration of the covenant and that their partaking is not mingled with Spirit wrought faith. Because he uses terms that are not agreeable to us, you wish to fault the theology behind the terms. That only demonstrates an unwillingness or a lack of ability to distinguish the point from that which is not the point.

  135. Ron said,

    March 10, 2011 at 2:54 pm

    Sean and Ron, let me just jump in here to say “let’s forget about Sean’s pruning remark and stick with the issues.”

    Lane,

    I’m happy to let that comment go. I should haven’t presumed to do the job of the moderators.

    Aside from that remark, I thought I was trying to stick to the issues. I also thought I was trying to refine some statements on both sides throughout this thread so that the issues could be stuck to. :)

  136. greenbaggins said,

    March 10, 2011 at 3:08 pm

    Ron, just to be clear here, in making the comment I did, I was trying to head off a derailing of the discussion. I was not trying to imply that people were in fact derailing the issues.

  137. Ron said,

    March 10, 2011 at 3:19 pm

    Sure thing, Lane. I’ll take your comment as preventive not prescriptive. :)

  138. Ron Henzel said,

    March 10, 2011 at 3:34 pm

    Ron,

    In comment 107 you wrote:

    I of course agree with you that baptism is not sufficient or necessary for the Holy Spirit. In other words, baptism does not automatically bring the Holy Spirit and one can have the Holy Spirit apart from baptism. We also agree, I’m sure, that regeneration (the work of the Holy Spirit) precedes faith.

    Amen, and amen!

    Just the same, to argue for the causality of “Holy Spirit then Faith” does not appear to me to be an argument against “Water then Holy Spirit”. Let me try to explain.

    OK.

    When you say baptism is not causally tied to the Holy Spirit but rather faith is, what you are saying (I think) is that baptism does not produce the Holy Spirit but rather the Holy Spirit produces faith.

    Yes, assuming that we’re all using terms in the same sense here (and that, of course, is not always certain), that’s an accurate representation of my meaning.

    The causal relationship you affirm between faith and the Holy Spirit is that the latter is sufficient and necessary to produce the former. Of course I agree. That premise, however, does not seem to overturn the alleged causal relationship between water and the Holy Spirit, which is what I think Roger is arguing for in his construct. In other words, you seem to be arguing in your causal relationship for that which must produce faith, whereas Roger seems to speaking to the question of what produces the Holy Sprit who in turn produces faith. I would think that you both agree on the causal relationship between the Holy Spirit and Faith – that regeneration precedes faith. I believe Roger is putting forth what he thinks produces the Holy Spirit’s work of regeneration.

    I think you make an excellent point, although it’s hard to know whether Roger would agree until he confirms your interpretation. But it sounds quite plausible.

    In the meantime I’d like to take this a step further. Perhaps at least part of the confusion here is due to the fact that Roger has not clarified what he means by “the gift of the Spirit.” To understand the pneumatology of the New Testament I think we need to lay hold of the distinction between the work of the Spirit (e.g., regeneration)—a good theological phrase, but one which I myself haven’t not found in Scripture—and the gift of the Spirit (e.g., the Spirit’s indwelling of the believer).

    Since most Christians aren’t careful to make that distinction, and since it is especially common for baptismal regenerationists to muddy that distinction in verses like Acts 2:38—and since Roger’s statements made him sound an awful lot like a baptismal regenerationist to me, I have responded to him as if he were one. However, now that you’ve got me to thinking about this, it’s quite possible that in his thinking baptism fits into an ordo salutis that looks something like this (if you’ll pardon the following diagram):

    Work of Spirit –> Regeneration –> Faith –> Baptism –> Gift of Spirit

    If this is what he means, then it doesn’t appear to be anywhere near as problematic as a full-blown baptismal regeneration (especially since I assume he’d hold that justification follows faith and not baptism). Still, I think the Apostle Paul would still have problems with it, based on what he wrote in Galatians 3:2, and I also think Peter would have a bone to pick based on what he told the Jerusalem council, which is why I see the following as the actual representation of biblical teaching:

    Work of Spirit –> Regeneration –> Faith –> Gift of Spirit –> Baptism

    But it would be interesting to here from Roger as to whether or not the previous diagram represents his position.

  139. Roger du Barry said,

    March 10, 2011 at 3:57 pm

    The two Rons …

    It is late and I am tired, but here goes. The Spirit works preveniently in the sinner to produce faith. That is not, however, the gift of the Spirit. The man who responds to the gospel of Christ by faith must be baptised, by means of which he receives the remission of his sins and the gift of the Spirit. There are exceptions, but this is the usual way of these things, biblically speaking.

    The normative order we see in scripture – excluding the transition instances of the disciples and Cornelius – is therefore faith, and then baptism, by means of which forgiveness and the Spirit, who brings regeneration, are given.

    The traditional ordo that you are struggling with is correct as far as it goes, given that the premise that it is based upon is recognised, namely, logic. It is a logical order, not necessarily the historical or economical order.

    Work of the Spirit -> faith -> baptism for forgiveness and the gift of the Spirit.

    The sacraments are generally necessary for salvation for the above reasons.

    Ron H, a cause and a means are different things. No-one is arguing for baptism as a cause of grace.

  140. Ron said,

    March 10, 2011 at 4:13 pm

    Ron,

    We “connected” no doubt.

    it’s quite possible that in his thinking baptism fits into an ordo salutis that looks something like this (if you’ll pardon the following diagram):

    Work of Spirit –> Regeneration –> Faith –> Baptism –> Gift of Spirit

    If this is what he means, then it doesn’t appear to be anywhere near as problematic as a full-blown baptismal regeneration (especially since I assume he’d hold that justification follows faith and not baptism).

    In a sense I could hope you’re right, but in another sense I don’t. In either csae, I don’t have a very sanguine view of what might be coming forth. I think we’re looking at a toss-up between a second-blessing doctrine or an ex opere operato one that incorporates some sort of sovereign, unconditional election. Maybe it’s a blend of some sort of Pentecostal-Reformed, with a splash of Lutheranism.

    Perhaps at least part of the confusion here is due to the fact that Roger has not clarified what he means by “the gift of the Spirit.”

    Indeed, and therein lays one of the problems I think.

  141. Dean B said,

    March 10, 2011 at 4:15 pm

    Pastor Keister

    I read Tim Challies review of Rob Bell’s book Love Wins. Tim writes: “Does Rob Bell deny the existence of hell? He would say no. We would say yes. He affirms, but only after redefining. And that’s just a clever form of denial.”

    I believe Tim criticism closely parallels your original observation. After the FV altered the meanings of covenant/church/elect/forgiveness of sins it results in two different sacraments for baptism, one for an adult and one for a child.

    Only after one understand the extent of the redefinitions will one begins to understand how different the system of doctrine for the FV is from the system of doctrine in the WCF.

    Thank you for the time you took to understand the extend of the redefinitions. May God bless you work as you continue to expose these differences.

  142. Ron said,

    March 10, 2011 at 4:16 pm

    Roger,

    I’m going to yield to Ron though you posted the bost of us. I simply saw the potential of you guys talking by each other so I posted Ron this morning.

    Best wishes,

    Ron

  143. Jim Butler said,

    March 10, 2011 at 7:33 pm

    @Doug Wilson re: #123

    Have you read Owen’s treatment of Hebrews 10:29? He argues compellingly that the “He” who was sanctified was Christ, not the apostate.

    jim

  144. Dean B said,

    March 10, 2011 at 11:25 pm

    Jim

    Thank you very much for the reference. It is a compelling case indeed!

    BOQ It is not real or internal sanctification that is here intended, but it is a separation and dedication unto God; in which sense the word is often used. And all the disputes concerning the total and final apostasy from the faith of them who have been really and internally sanctified, from this place, are altogether vain; though that may be said of a man, in aggravation of his sin, which he professeth concerning himself. But the difficulty of this text is, concerning whom these words are spoken: for they may be referred unto the person that is guilty of the sin insisted on; he counts the blood of the covenant, wherewith he himself was sanctified, an unholy thing. For as at the giving of the law, or the establishing of the covenant at Sinai, the people being sprinkled with the blood of the beasts that were offered in sacrifice, were sanctified, or dedicated unto Gel in a peculiar manner; so those who by baptism, and confession of faith in the church of Christ, were separated from all others, were peculiarly dedicated to God thereby. And therefore in this case apostates are said to “deny the Lord that bought them,” or vindicated them from their slavery unto the law by his word and truth for a season, 2 Peter 2:1. But the design of the apostle in the context leads plainly to another application of these words.

    It is Christ himself that is spoken of, who was sanctified and dedicated unto God to be an eternal high priest, by the blood of the covenant which he offered unto God, as I have showed before. The priests of old were dedicated and sanctified unto their office by another, and the sacrifices which he offered for them; they could not sanctify themselves: so were Aaron and his sons sanctified by Moses, antecedently unto their offering any sacrifice themselves. But no outward act of men or angels could unto this purpose pass on the Son of God. He was to be the priest himself, the sacrificer himself, — to dedicate, consecrate, and sanctify himself, by his own sacrifice, in concurrence with the actings of God the Father in his suffering. See John 17:19; Hebrews 2:10, 5:7, 9, 9:11, 12. That precious blood of Christ, wherein or whereby he was sanctified, and dedicated unto God as the eternal high priest of the church, this they esteemed “an unholy thing;” that is, such as would have no such effect as to consecrate him unto God and his office.EOQ http://www.godrules.net/library/owen/131-295owen_v4.htm

    BTW I also believe a good case can be made that Heb 4;10 should be understood, “For he [Christ] who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His.

  145. Jim Butler said,

    March 11, 2011 at 12:11 am

    @Dean B. #144 wrote —

    “BTW I also believe a good case can be made that Heb 4;10 should be understood, “For he [Christ] who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His.”

    I agree.

    jim

  146. Ron Henzel said,

    March 11, 2011 at 3:45 am

    Roger,

    You wrote in comment 139:

    The man who responds to the gospel of Christ by faith must be baptised, by means of which he receives the remission of his sins and the gift of the Spirit. There are exceptions, but this is the usual way of these things, biblically speaking.

    I’m sorry, but by writing this I believe you’ve severed the main artery sustaining justification by faith. If baptism is the means by which the remission of sins is received, then faith alone does not justify. Here you implicitly posit that “the usual way of these things, biblically speaking” is for a person to have faith but not justification (of which remission of sins is prerequisite) if he hasn’t yet been baptized. I hardly believe this can be sustained under any close examination of Scripture.

    You wrote:

    The normative order we see in scripture – excluding the transition instances of the disciples and Cornelius – is therefore faith, and then baptism, by means of which forgiveness and the Spirit, who brings regeneration, are given.

    Here you essentially repeat your assertions that (a) Cornelius cannot be used as a normative example because it was a “transition instance,” and (b) baptism is the means of receiving forgiveness.

    Assertion (a), I believe, is contradicted by Peter’s declaration in Acts 11:15-17 that the reception of the Spirit prior to baptism in Acts 10:44-48 simply repeated the events of Acts 2. The experience of Cornelius and the other Gentiles who believed was no different from what the Jewish believers experienced at Pentecost. That is Peter’s entire point in Acts 11:15-17. He bases his entire case for receiving the Gentiles into the church upon it. Therefore, the Jews must have also received the Spirit prior to baptism in Acts 2, and Acts 2:38 cannot, then, be used to support the notion that the gift of the Spirit follows or depends on baptism, either logically or chronologically.

    And unless you can demonstrate otherwise, I can’s see how assertion (b) avoids the doctrine of justification by works.

    You wrote:

    The traditional ordo that you are struggling with is correct as far as it goes, given that the premise that it is based upon is recognised, namely, logic. It is a logical order, not necessarily the historical or economical order.

    Work of the Spirit -> faith -> baptism for forgiveness and the gift of the Spirit.

    Frankly, Roger, I don’t think I’m “struggling” with the traditional ordo. I’ve been struggling to grasp your position—primarily, I think, because you’ve been so (deliberately?) vague about it up until now—but I’ve had no problem with historic Reformed theology.

    For example, I’ve struggled to determine whether we can call your position baptismal regeneration, and for moment there I was hoping we could avoid that designation, but now it’s not so clear, since, in the ordo you’ve supplied here you’ve left out regeneration. Can a person have faith without regeneration, or do you simply expect us to assume that regeneration is included in the work of the Spirit?

    But two things I do know, biblically speaking: one cannot have biblical faith without also having justification, and one cannot have justification without also having forgiveness. So, by making forgiveness dependent on baptism, your ordo contradicts both Scripture and the historic Reformed confessions and catechisms, where we read:

    Question 72. Is then the external baptism with water the washing away of sin itself?

    Answer: Not at all: for the blood of Jesus Christ only, and the Holy Ghost cleanse us from all sin.

    [Heidelberg Catechism]

    I’m afraid I don’t see how one can separate the concept of a “logical order” from “the historical or economical order.” The economic order is the logical order, and the only time it may not seem to be historical is when elements in that order occur simultaneously in our experience (such as when regeneration, faith, and justification all occur at the same time, as I believe they usually do).

    So we’re back to square one, or maybe even worse, for you appear to be endorsing a form of justification by works.

  147. David Gadbois said,

    March 11, 2011 at 3:45 am

    Doug, your post is deleted. Cool it down.

  148. Sean Gerety said,

    March 11, 2011 at 3:47 am

    Doug S. I’d like to think I answered Doug W.’s question as have others. I also think that it is useful to quote the Reformed stalwarts in response if only to demonstrate to people like you that DW is not one of them (it’s also helpful for me since I had not seen Owen’s take on that passage in Hebrews that Wilson twists). As for debating Wilson I have no doubt that he would clean my clock, but debating me would hardly serve his purpose. But why should Scott Clark or anyone else be obligated to serve Wilson’s purpose? To what end would it serve? But, let’s say you’re right and Wilson cleans Scott Clark’s clock too in a debate. What would that prove? That the Federal Vision Wilson defends in RINE and promotes on the web and from the pulpit is anything other than the “parallel soteriology” that strikes at the vitals of the faith that virtually every Reformed denomination has said it is? I don’t see how that follows?

    However, seeing you evidently did not like my explanation of the parable of the vine and the branches, and seeing that Wilson is either unable or unwilling to answer my question (even though he has through his baptism is marriage metaphor and in a number of other places that I did not cite), let me ask you; Is Jesus Christ united to unbelieving hypocrites?

    Additionally, you ask: How are faithless covenant members cut off from Christ? I guess I don’t understand the question because I thought we were all faithless covenant breakers? Isn’t that the reason why Christ came and died?

  149. March 11, 2011 at 4:04 am

    Question: In comment #88, Doug Wilson said,

    “The only time baptism is effectual in any salvific respect is because the recipient is a worthy receiver, which in Westminsterian (and biblical) terms means that he has been given the instrument of true faith.Then and only then is baptism one of the effectual (and secondary) means of saving grace.”

    This is not WCF doctrine, is it? I did not think WCF teaches that water baptism is ever salvifically effectual, or a means of *saving* grace. I was fairly certain that I understood WCF’s teaching on the subject, that baptism confers confirming/sealing grace, but I was surprised that nobody challenged Doug on this point.

  150. Roger du Barry said,

    March 11, 2011 at 4:40 am

    Ron H, this is the heart of your difficulty: If baptism is the means by which the remission of sins is received, then faith alone does not justify.

    This is a plain non sequitur.

    You are confusing the words and concepts of means and cause. I do not say that baptism is the cause of of justification, but the means of its administration. That is plain, grammatical WCF theology. The sign conveys the thing it signifies to the worthy recipient.

  151. Ron Henzel said,

    March 11, 2011 at 5:16 am

    Roger,

    You wrote:

    You are confusing the words and concepts of means and cause.

    No, I am not. I understood you perfectly. The Bible teaches that faith alone is the means by which we receive justification. Even Romanists acknowledge that God is the sole cause of justification. But they add works to the means, as you add the work of baptism.

  152. Ron Henzel said,

    March 11, 2011 at 6:02 am

    Roger,

    By the way: you already know how distorted I believe your interpretation of the WCF is. And I already know that you think mine is off-base. After all, you did contact my church last year to inform them that I was out-of-accord with the Westminster Standards on baptism. But they knew better.

  153. Roger du Barry said,

    March 11, 2011 at 8:11 am

    Ron; The Bible teaches that faith alone is the means by which we receive justification.

    Nothing of the sort! Faith is the alone instrument. Instrument and means are two different things, just as cause and means are.

  154. Ron said,

    March 11, 2011 at 8:54 am

    “I did not think WCF teaches that water baptism is ever salvifically effectual, or a means of *saving* grace. I was fairly certain that I understood WCF’s teaching on the subject, that baptism confers confirming/sealing grace, but I was surprised that nobody challenged Doug on this point.

    Patrick,

    “Saving” and “salvation” can refer to more than justification. At the very least, confirming and sealing grace would aid in a believer’s progressive sanctification and consequently in his overall “salvation” properly understood. As well, I don’t think it’s problematic among Reformed folk to allow the Holy Spirit to give increase to one’s infant baptism in conjunction with the Word, even as it is brought to mind in the life of the recipient at an age of discretion. Baptism need not accompany conversion but it can. After all, in conjunction with the explanation of baptism by the Word, the ordinance is the gospel in picture form is it not? Finally, Reformed folk allow for infants to become regenerate at the font. What we deny is that the Spirit must accompany water in the life of the elect and certainly in the life of the non-elect.

    Blessings,

    Ron

  155. Dean B said,

    March 11, 2011 at 9:11 am

    Pastor du Barry (#153)

    Do you believe that baptism works in the same way that preaching does in a believers justification? To expand on that thought, since both baptism and preaching are the means then the resulting faith becomes the instrument. It is this instrument [faith] which alone justifies us.

    In these types of statement are you simply emphasizing the concept that God normally uses means [mediate regeneration] and normally does not work without means [immediate regeneration]? Just like nobody would have a problem with understanding that God uses the preaching [means] we should not have a problem about talking about baptism being a means?

    Is that a correct summary of your position or are you getting at something different or would you add to this summary in any way?

  156. Roger du Barry said,

    March 11, 2011 at 9:49 am

    Dean, your summary is excellent.

    The sacraments are visible words of God, just as the spoken gospel is the audible word of God. Both present the gospel of Christ to us. The sacraments must always be accompanied by the word, since they need verbal explanation to be intelligible.

    Your words on mediation are very good. If God wills to feed me he organises food to be grown and harvested, and for me to work for the money to buy it. When we give thanks for the meal that is before us we do not for a minute imagine that God caused to to magically appear on the plate.

    It seems to me that the two Ronnies have a magical view of grace, hence their objection to the ordained means of its gifting.

  157. Doug Sowers said,

    March 11, 2011 at 10:02 am

    Sean: I have only been a totally convinced peado Baptist for about five years. I haven’t been to Seminary; I’m just a laymen. Yet I have battled and debated Arminians for years. Imagine my dismay, when I join the Presbyterian blogs only to see “us” fighting, far more viciously than anything I’ve witnessed with the non-reformed. Some days it’s looked like a food fight! Sean the irony is, you and Wilson, are in agreement on 95% of the doctrinal issues. Yet, you call Pastor Wilson very uncharitable sarcastic divisive names. It’s disheartening!

    When I read RINE, (before I knew it was controversial), I loved it and ate it like candy! It answered a lot of those warning passages that *Arminians* love to throw in our faces. However, once I heard about the controversy with FV, I carefully read Lane’s critique of RINE, and many posts here in Green Baggins and the Puritan board, to see if I had been taken in by false teaching. (It’s happened to me before) Quite frankly, I couldn’t see that anyone laid a glove on Wilson! I couldn’t see the smoking gun! (I have read thousands of back and forth) Of course I became *well* acquainted with you, and Scott Clark. Not in a good way, either.

    Sean, I pray for and yearn, that you (and Clark) would show Christian charity towards your reformed brothers you disagree with. If Pastor Wilson is really wrong, why has it been so hard for you guys to expose him? Why not get someone to debate him? Just so you know, I’m NOT comfortable with some of the language of Lusk, and even Lightheart, although I *think* I know what they mean. They are sticking there necks out trying to define some very difficult passages, and what do we do? Try to destroy them, of course! The world is supposed to know us by our love for one another, and frankly what I see, is the exact opposite.

    Love covers a multitude of sins, amen? Instead of the constant barrage of snide and snarky, comments, let’s set up some real scholarly debates. We should do this on a regular basis, until the greater Presbyterian body has fully vetted these important, very deep issues. I for one am tired of reading people like you and Scott Clark talking right past Douglas Wilson. Or worse yet, saying he is denying Salvation by grace through faith alone. We need to be better than we have been. Sean what’s up with your weird picture? Why not let us see your smiling face? Anyway, I’ll lift you all up in prayer, hoping against hope that the greater Presbyterian denominations will come together in the true knowledge of Christ Jesus in the unity of faith, and unto a mature man.

    Rest in his completed work,

  158. Ron said,

    March 11, 2011 at 10:13 am

    “It seems to me that the two Ronnies have a magical view of grace, hence their objection to the ordained means of its gifting.”

    How does this Ronnie have a magical view of gace, Roger? Please read 154 before responding.

  159. Dean B said,

    March 11, 2011 at 10:43 am

    Pastor du Barry

    I believe we substancially agree with each other on this point.

    To highlight an area where we may disagree is in the following statement made on post 139. “The Spirit works preveniently in the sinner to produce faith. That is not, however, the gift of the Spirit.”

    Do you believe that everyone who comes under the preaching (spoken or visible) recieves a common operation of the Spirit? Then based on this common operation he/she exercises this “preparing” grace to come to full faith?

    I guess I get an ichy trigger finger when I see the word “preveniently”.

    Please clarify your thoughts here and and touch on the way a sinner would move from a common operation of the Spirit to a saving faith. Specifically is it left up to humans or does the common operation of the Spirit differ qualitatively from the saving operation of the Spirit which produces true faith?

    In short do you agree with Canons of Dordt III&IV Art 12?
    And this is the regeneration so highly celebrated in Scripture, and denominated a new creation: a resurrection from the dead, a making alive, which God works in us without our aid. But this is in no wise effected merely by the external preaching of the gospel, by moral suasion, or such a mode of operation, that after God has performed his part, it still remains in the power of man to be regenerated or not, to be converted, or to continue unconverted; but it is evidently a supernatural work, most powerful, and at the same time most delightful, astonishing, mysterious, and ineffable; not inferior in efficacy to creation, or the resurrection from the dead, as the Scripture inspired by the author of this work declares; so that all in whose heart God works in this marvelous manner, are certainly, infallibly, and effectually regenerated, and do actually believe. – Whereupon the will thus renewed, is not only actuated and influenced by God, but in consequence of this influence, becomes itself active. Wherefore also, man is himself rightly said to believe and repent, by virtue of that grace received.

  160. Ron said,

    March 11, 2011 at 10:50 am

    Doug S.,

    I find your post to Sean somewhat simplistic. What jumps out at me first is that you applaud the idea that Sean and DW are in agreement on 95% of their doctrine. Well, I don’t know if I’m in 95% agreement with the Roman communion’s 1994 catechism but I could be if they simply added more to it that happen to be orthodox. (Increase the denominator with more sound doctrine and the numerator grows in kind.) It’s the 5% that we must be concerned with, is it not? Moreover, to invoke “love” on this matter in the manner in which you have hardly needs comment, so I’ll pass.

    As I see it, DW has affirmed to us on this very site Reformed doctrine. The problem, however, is that although he says he disagrees with Lusk, for instance, on what I would consider cardinal tenets of gospel doctrine – he finds those disagreements inconsequential with respect to breaking fellowship, which at least brings into doubt his understanding of what is at stake, and if not worse brings into question what he really believes about the doctrines themselves. DW’s most recent remark that these guys are Reformed but just not Evangelical is beyond me since the gospel is a sine qua non for Reformed theology. Bottom line is, these guys deny the Reformed doctrine of sola fide, which doesn’t seem to bother DW, at least enough to mark and avoid those who have perverted the gospel. As I see it, these men must be marked and avoided for their doctrinal infidelity; whereas I believe DW needs to be avoided due to his unwillingness to withdraw himself from the overtly disorderly and impure.

    Finally, I believe that in some respect DW is more dangerous than the others in that DW is in a position to attract the more thorough going Reformed sheep given his confessional enunciations. If sheep align themselves with DW in toto, then they too will marginalize the gospel if for no other reason than DW’s alliance with those who confound ecclesiology and soteriology.

  161. Doug Sowers said,

    March 11, 2011 at 11:11 am

    Ron, did you read RINE? And did you see red flags? If so, where?

    Thanks in advance :)

  162. Ron said,

    March 11, 2011 at 11:32 am

    Doug,

    I am afraid you are not internalizing my objections and nuancing my concerns.

  163. Doug Sowers said,

    March 11, 2011 at 11:52 am

    Sorry Ron :(

    Are you saying that you wouldn’t fellowship with an Arminian Christian? Because I know people who confess that Jesus is Lord, yet don’t believe in the perseverance of the Saints. Would you advise me, to cut myself off from such a person?

  164. Sean Gerety said,

    March 11, 2011 at 12:19 pm

    @ Doug S. #157

    After all those cries for a debate (I’m sorry to see your post was removed) you didn’t even answer my question. While I’m disappointed, in response to what you did write…

    I carefully read Lane’s critique of RINE, and many posts here in Green Baggins and the Puritan board, to see if I had been taken in by false teaching. (It’s happened to me before) Quite frankly, I couldn’t see that anyone laid a glove on Wilson!

    Maybe you didn’t read carefully enough as Lane exposed a considerable amount of false teaching in RINE, but only after the fact, and in light of the Law/Gospel distinction, did he retract his earlier conclusion that Wilson did not in fact deny justification by faith alone. By God’s grace he came to see that “every proponent of the Joint Federal Vision Statement [which Wilson wrote] denies sola fide.” So, if someone as well read and theologically astute as Lane could be deceived by Wilson at this very point, the very heart of the Gospel, then, yes, it would seem you have been taken in again by false teaching.

    Perhaps if you had first read the response to RINE the late John Robbins and I wrote back in ‘04,<a href="http://www.trinitylectures.org/product_info.php?cPath=21&products_id=136 "Not Reformed at All, you might not have been taken in at all?

    Sean, I pray for and yearn, that you (and Clark) would show Christian charity towards your reformed brothers you disagree with.

    In order to avoid being accused of making any unwarranted imprecatory remarks, let me just cite Galatians 1:9 and leave it at that.

    If Pastor Wilson is really wrong, why has it been so hard for you guys to expose him?

    I realize Wilson is a clever man who uses a lot of ambiguous language, metaphors, analogies, and word pictures and as a result has been very successful in fooling a lot of people, but you know what Abraham Lincoln said. :)

    Why not get someone to debate him?

    I’ll ask again, to what end and what would it prove?

    Just so you know, I’m NOT comfortable with some of the language of Lusk, and even Lightheart, although I *think* I know what they mean. They are sticking there necks out trying to define some very difficult passages, and what do we do? Try to destroy them, of course! The world is supposed to know us by our love for one another, and frankly what I see, is the exact opposite.

    If you were correct about Wilson then you would have a point. As it stands, not so much.

  165. Doug Sowers said,

    March 11, 2011 at 12:51 pm

    Sean; if you’re going to indict Douglas Wilson, then how about John M. Frame as well? Because he doesn’t believe in that Law Gospel distinction, the way Westminster West presently teaches. I mean Sean, if understanding the Gospel means, one has to grasp the Law Gospel hermeneutic then not only is Wilson a heretic, and then so is the huge majority of Presbyterians!

    BTW, that’s what I meant by not laying a glove on him. Lane, as you pointed out, exonerated Pastor Wilson as NOT being a heretic, and then only later, came up with the Law Gospel distinction. I wasn’t convinced; BTW, if the Law Gospel hermeneutic is really the standard, then Ron Di Giacomo would have to be called the “H” word as well!

    You know Sean, I wish we could sit down and have lunch some time, if we talked for an hour or so, we might just start to communicate :)

    Moreover, I think a series of debates would be a good thing, for the reformed community at large. The more, the merrier!

  166. Ron said,

    March 11, 2011 at 1:10 pm

    Are you saying that you wouldn’t fellowship with an Arminian Christian? Because I know people who confess that Jesus is Lord, yet don’t believe in the perseverance of the Saints. Would you advise me, to cut myself off from such a person?

    Doug S.,

    Once again I find your post is terribly simplistic. Let me just say in brief that Scripture draws a sharp distinction between those who are being spooked and those who are doing the bewitching. Ministers of God’s word are held to a different standard than people like yourself. Coupled with that, Scripture gives us at least some semblance of a priority of doctrine. How one appropriates Christ is at the top of the list, hence the anathema we find in Galatians 1, which we do not find in Romans 9 with respect to even an obstinate rejection of possibly the heart of the “five points” of Calvinism.

    It seems to me that you are not trying very hard to advance a discussion.

  167. Roger du Barry said,

    March 11, 2011 at 1:35 pm

    Dean: “In short do you agree with Canons of Dordt III&IV Art 12?

    In short, yes, absolutely.

    Do not be concerned about the word prevenient. It refers to the sovereign work of God whereby he prepares the field for the seed to be effectively sown.

  168. Roger du Barry said,

    March 11, 2011 at 1:41 pm

    158 Ron: To be specific, your understanding of the relation between baptism and regeneration is baptistic. Any Baptist would agree with you. You deny that God uses baptism as the ordained means of communicating salvation. You believe that God gives his gifts arbitrarily, which may or may not include baptism, as the usual modus operandi.

    IMO that is a magical view of grace. It comes down from heaven straight into the heart of man, without any meaningful means apart from the spoken gospel, as normative.

    The WCF does not see it that way at all. God ordinarily works through means, and those means are the word AND the sacraments.

  169. David Gray said,

    March 11, 2011 at 2:45 pm

    >DW’s most recent remark that these guys are Reformed but just not Evangelical is beyond me since the gospel is a sine qua non for Reformed theology.

    In fairness in “Recovering Mother Kirk” D.G. Hart questions whether we can really be evangelical and reformed. I think it is a good question, at least as the term evangelical has been used in my lifetime.

  170. Ron said,

    March 11, 2011 at 3:24 pm

    158 Ron: To be specific, your understanding of the relation between baptism and regeneration is baptistic. Any Baptist would agree with you.

    Roger,

    There’s no argument there so there’s nothing to which I may respond.

    You deny that God uses baptism as the ordained means of communicating salvation.

    I noted that God may be pleased to convert at the font. I also noted that he sanctifies saints by giving increase to baptism in conjunction with the Word. I have no basis to think that God typically converts at the font, as opposed to in the womb (for instance), or on one’s second birthday for that matter. I also have no basis upon which to conclude that God most often gives increase later in life to those who receive the sign of baptism in infancy. God has many tools in his tool box.

    Finally, it’s simply absurd to say that God uses baptism as “THE” ordained means of communicating salvation. There is not one, single ordained means of communicating the benefits of Christ’s salvation. Leaving Word and prayer aside for the moment, your view of baptism would seem to undermine the fact that in the Supper worthy recipients receive and feed upon, Christ crucified, and all benefits of His death. People are fed unto eternal life in the Supper, which means that baptism in not THE ordained means of communicating salvation. That obvious Reformed distinctive makes me wonder whether you are equating conversion with salvation but I’m just not sure.

  171. Ron said,

    March 11, 2011 at 3:26 pm

    I make a modification on this post and I place it in [ ].

    158 Ron: To be specific, your understanding of the relation between baptism and regeneration is baptistic. Any Baptist would agree with you.

    Roger,

    There’s no argument there so there’s nothing to which I may respond.

    You deny that God uses baptism as the ordained means of communicating salvation.

    I noted that God may be pleased to convert at the font. I also noted that he sanctifies saints by giving increase to baptism in conjunction with the Word. I have no basis to think that God typically converts at the font, as opposed to in the womb (for instance), or on one’s second birthday for that matter. I also have no basis upon which to conclude that God most often gives increase later in life [unto conversion] to those who receive the sign of baptism in infancy. God has many tools in his tool box.

    Finally, it’s simply absurd to say that God uses baptism as “THE” ordained means of communicating salvation. There is not one, single ordained means of communicating the benefits of Christ’s salvation. Leaving Word and prayer aside for the moment, your view of baptism would seem to undermine the fact that in the Supper worthy recipients receive and feed upon, Christ crucified, and all benefits of His death. People are fed unto eternal life in the Supper, which means that baptism in not THE ordained means of communicating salvation. That obvious Reformed distinctive makes me wonder whether you are equating conversion with salvation but I’m just not sure.

  172. Dean B said,

    March 11, 2011 at 3:29 pm

    David

    Hart’s desire if for us to identify ourselves as being robustly Reformed rather than plain vanilla, everything goes, just love Jesus evengelicalism. I agree with Hart that we should be proud to drop the evangelical label [which has become almost meaningless today] and embrase our Reformed heritage.

    I agree with you that Hart’s makes a good observation, but Wilson must have something entirely different in mind when he uses these two terms.

  173. Ron said,

    March 11, 2011 at 3:44 pm

    David,

    Darryl is not suggesting we, the Reformed, drop the evangel so let’s not get off track. Let’s now re-calibrate. DW noted that his FV counterparts are Reformed, just not evangelical. The context was the gospel. To deny the gospel is sufficient to deny the Reformed faith. If DW disagrees with his counterparts over the evangelical message, then he disagrees with them on the Reformed faith. After all, one cannot be so Reformed and historically orthodox as not to be concerned with sola fide.

  174. David Gray said,

    March 11, 2011 at 3:56 pm

    >DW noted that his FV counterparts are Reformed, just not evangelical. The context was the gospel. To deny the gospel is sufficient to deny the Reformed faith.

    What do you think DW means when he says his counterparts are Reformed, just not evangelical? I doubt he means he thinks they are denying the gospel.

  175. Ron said,

    March 11, 2011 at 4:09 pm

    David,

    Given the context in which I suggested he mark and avoid those men for disagreeing with him on the gospel of faith alone he said he thought that his differences with them were significant but not “vital” to the Reformed faith. That remark alone is a good indicator that DW does not think that the gospel of “faith alone” is vital to the Reformed faith. But what’s more, he seemed to drive that point home when he went on to say that some of the men are not evangelicals, which is where he said his differences lie with them. In sum, he seems to be saying rather clearly that “faith alone” is not vital to the Reformed faith but that it is vital to the evangelical tradition. I’m all for reading someone in the most charitable light, so please share your thoughts on the matter given the context of these remarks.

  176. David Gadbois said,

    March 11, 2011 at 4:17 pm

    Getting back to Lane’s original point, the FV does indeed have a hard time fitting adult baptisms into their scheme given the Reformed ordo salutis. For adults, we require faith as a condition of baptism, so we assume that those who approach the font must already be regenerate and, indeed, should *already be justified* by their faith. Therefore baptism cannot be said to be any sort of means, cause, or instrument of their justification.

    But you can’t square that up with the baptismal efficacy the FV insists on. Some FV might try to say that adults are an exceptional case, and that normally baptism effects regeneration and justification in infants. But that certainly cannot be the case. The unity of the covenant of grace demands that we are all justified in the same way, under the same required conditions or stipulations. That is, by faith. So it cannot be different conditions for adults and infants.

    Second, adult baptism parallels Abraham’s own circumcision. Justification came before the sacrament, so the sacrament cannot have effected the justification. Yet Paul says in Romans 4 that circumcision was still a sign and seal of his justification. So the language of sign/seal does not imply that the sacraments are in any way effect justification.

  177. greenbaggins said,

    March 11, 2011 at 4:27 pm

    Thanks, David. This post is not primarily about justification, but about baptism, and how baptism works. It is not about the law-gospel distinction. I would ask everyone to hold their horses on that one, because I have some more thoughts on that issue that I want to put out there. Just a hint of where I want to go: there is more than one way of denying the law/gospel distinction, and some are more problematic than others, and there is something of a continuum on the issue.

  178. David Gray said,

    March 11, 2011 at 4:37 pm

    >For adults, we require faith as a condition of baptism, so we assume that those who approach the font must already be regenerate and, indeed, should *already be justified* by their faith. Therefore baptism cannot be said to be any sort of means, cause, or instrument of their justification.

    Of course for those of us who hold to the WCF it specifically states that baptism’s efficacy is not tied to the moment in time in which it takes place.

  179. David Gadbois said,

    March 11, 2011 at 4:45 pm

    David Gray said Of course for those of us who hold to the WCF it specifically states that baptism’s efficacy is not tied to the moment in time in which it takes place.

    That is true, but that doesn’t mean it can go *backwards* in time. Causes can have effects later in time, but not before. And, no, I’m not willing to overturn metaphysics to accomodate idiosyncratic theology. You are trying to make baptism into a fusion-equipped DeLorean.

  180. David Gray said,

    March 11, 2011 at 5:22 pm

    >You are trying to make baptism into a fusion-equipped DeLorean.

    That’s a pretty good line…

  181. Jeff Cagle said,

    March 11, 2011 at 5:46 pm

    David and David (and Roger): If we are thinking about “baptismal efficacy” in a cause-effect sense, we are already in trouble.

    For then the argument becomes “Does baptism *do* something?” — and if Yes, then we get baptismal regeneration; if No, we get an empty sign.

    Much better to follow both Calvin and Ursinus and affirm that baptism *seals the promise* and becomes effective when the promise is received by faith:

    For Paul connects together the word of life and baptism of water, as if he had said, by the gospel the message of our ablution and sanctification is announced; by baptism this message is sealed. And Peter immediately subjoins, that that baptism is ” not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God, which is of faith.” Nay, the only purification which baptism promises is by means of the sprinkling of the blood of Christ, who is figured by water from the resemblance to cleansing and washing. Who, then, can say that we are cleansed by that water which certainly attests that the blood of Christ is our true and only laver? So that we cannot have a better argument to refute the hallucination of those who ascribe the whole to the virtue of water than we derive from the very meaning of baptism, which leads us away as well from the visible element which is presented to our eye, as from all other means, that it may fix our minds on Christ alone. — Calv Inst 4.15.2.

    Seen in this light, there is no difficulty with baptism having its effect prior to administration, or after, or during. For the effect of baptism is not tied to the act of pouring water on someone, but to the promise which it seals.

    Note that the Confession does indeed teach that baptism conveys justification. The language is unmistakable:

    …by the right use of this ordinance, 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 belongeth unto, according to the counsel of God’s own will, in His appointed time.

    This reading of the Confession — that baptism confers justification, but not through the action, but by sealing the promise of God — is supported both by Calvin in his catechisms and again in Inst 4.14 – 15, and also by Ursinus in the commentary on Heidelberg.

    So the efficacy of baptism is not the efficacy of action: Do X, and Y results. No, it is the efficacy of sign: When the reality of the promise is achieved, the sign has had its effect, for it has come true in the recipient. Before, after — it makes no difference. Baptism means the Gospel, and takes its effect when the Gospel is received.

  182. greenbaggins said,

    March 11, 2011 at 6:12 pm

    Jeff, I can agree with most of this, but you lose me when you say “baptism confers justification” even with the extensive qualifiers. The qualifiers in the WS to me seem quite adequate to guard against any view of baptismal efficacy where the rite itself confers the thing signified.

    I think of it this way: the word “baptism” can be used to refer to either the rite by itself, or the sacrament as a whole. The sacrament as a whole consists of sign, thing signified, and the sacramental relationship between the sign and thing signified (which is Spirit-wrought faith). The sign can be present in a person without the thing signified (in the case of the unregenerate baptized), or the thing signified can be present without the sign (in the case of an unbaptized believing adult). Only when the sign is connected to the thing signified by Spirit-wrought faith is the “sacramental circle” complete. Whenever the Spirit connects the sign to the thing signified, that’s when baptism is efficacious. But it is not efficacious in itself. Baptism is efficacious because of the Spirit who connects the two by giving faith to the person. The thing signified is never present without faith. So it is impossible to have the thing signified without having the connection to the sign, even if the sign does not yet exist. It simply waits for the sign in order to be complete.

  183. Ron said,

    March 11, 2011 at 6:49 pm

    David Grey said: Of course for those of us who hold to the WCF it specifically states that baptism’s efficacy is not tied to the moment in time in which it takes place.

    David Gadbois replied: That is true, but that doesn’t mean it can go *backwards* in time. Causes can have effects later in time, but not before.

    The efficacy of baptism is not tied to a moment in time, which means it can have its efficacy after its adminstration. Yet as David Gadbois points out, it’s unreasonable to think that a pagan, for instance, can be converted and then later in time have his credo-baptism effect the conversion that qualified him for baptism. I think that is something for Roger to consider.

  184. Matt Beatty said,

    March 11, 2011 at 6:55 pm

    Lane –

    Can’t wait for the “continuum” of law-gosel denials. That should be interesting, indeed. The list for defrocking grows…

  185. greenbaggins said,

    March 11, 2011 at 7:16 pm

    Matt, sometimes you just need to shut up. You are making an assumption about where I’m going with that that is completely unwarranted. As a matter of fact, I was contemplating whether some forms of denial of the law/gospel distinction might NOT result in a denial of sola fide.

  186. Dean B said,

    March 11, 2011 at 8:50 pm

    Pastor Kiester (#182)

    I agreed with and followed much of the post until the end.

    Did you have in mind “faith” in the two places where I inserted it in the following quote? ““So it is impossible to have the thing signified [Christ] without having the connection to the sign [faith], even if the sign [baptism] does not yet exist. It [faith] simply waits for the sign [baptism] in order to be complete.”

  187. Jeff Cagle said,

    March 11, 2011 at 8:56 pm

    Lane (#182): I think of it this way: the word “baptism” can be used to refer to either the rite by itself, or the sacrament as a whole … Only when the sign is connected to the thing signified by Spirit-wrought faith is the “sacramental circle” complete. Whenever the Spirit connects the sign to the thing signified, that’s when baptism is efficacious.

    Yes, absolutely.

    And when (and only when) baptism is efficacious, by faith, it “confers what it signs”, as the Confession has it.

  188. David Gray said,

    March 11, 2011 at 9:05 pm

    Jeff,

    Your earlier essay on baptism is still an excellent analysis of the efficacy of baptism.

  189. Stuart said,

    March 11, 2011 at 9:26 pm

    Jeff,

    And when (and only when) baptism is efficacious, by faith, it “confers what it signs”, as the Confession has it.

    Obviously the Confession writers used the word “confer” in relation to the sacraments . . .

    27.3 The grace which is exhibited in or by the sacraments rightly used, is not conferred by any power in them; neither doth the efficacy of a sacrament depend upon the piety or intention of him that doth administer it:(1) but upon the work of the Spirit,(2) and the word of institution, which contains, together with a precept authorizing the use thereof, a promise of benefit to worthy receivers.

    28.6 The efficacy of Baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered; yet, not withstanding, by the right use of this ordinance, 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 belongeth unto, according to the counsel of God’s own will, in His appointed time.

    Yet I wonder if the Confession writers really had in mind justification proper when they wrote about “grace . . . conferred.”

    One thing that makes me think about this is the way the word “grace” is sometimes used in the Standards. Without going into a lengthy explanation, I’ll point out one passage to consider.

    Westminster Shorter Catechism question 36 asks, “What are the benefits which in this life do accompany or flow from justification, adoption, and sanctification?” The answer given is “the benefits which in this life do accompany or flow from justification, adoption, and sanctification, are, assurance of God’s love, peace of conscience, joy in the Holy Ghost, increase of grace, and perseverance therein to the end.”

    Obviously “grace” in this context does not equal justification. So when the Confession writers spoke of “grace conferred” in the sacraments, isn’t it possible they meant something other than justification proper? Especially when they took such pains to speak of faith as “the alone instrument of justification”?

    Now what they meant by “grace conferred” is another topic, but I don;t think we have to conclude they were talking about justification.

  190. Ron said,

    March 11, 2011 at 10:06 pm

    As a matter of fact, I was contemplating whether some forms of denial of the law/gospel distinction might NOT result in a denial of sola fide.

    Lane,

    That is how I took your previous post to that one. I think it was clear especially in light of you speaking of a continuum. I appreciate you know my thoughts on “law-gospel” and I also appreciate that you don’t think I deny “faith alone”. Therefore, either I’m inconsistent or appreciate law-gospel in a sense that is not inconsistent with faith alone, which is what I think you’re thinking about posting on at some future time.

  191. Roger du Barry said,

    March 12, 2011 at 12:44 am

    Ron 170: ” I have no basis to think that God typically converts at the font”

    Would the WCF be acceptable?

    Look up the means of grace, and you will find that the WCF immediately teaches us that grace comes to us via the sacraments. Even when the grace does not come at the moment of baptism, for example, it is made clear that when it does come it was through means of the same.

    That is the plain teaching of the WCF. Only after all these things have been taught is it added that grace is not inextricably linked to the same, sensibly leaving room for God to act independently of them.

    This was standard Reformed theology at the time, and only the Baptists contested it.

    Your view is that the link between baptism and grace is arbitrary, and therefore you are a Baptist – in principle if not in allegiance.

    IOW you are not Reformed on this point.

  192. Ron Henzel said,

    March 12, 2011 at 8:12 am

    Roger,

    You wrote in comment 153:

    Nothing of the sort! Faith is the alone instrument. Instrument and means are two different things, just as cause and means are.

    I don’t know where you’re getting this “difference,” but it does not appear to exist either in the English language or Reformed theology. According to Merriam-Webster, “instrument,” when it does not refer to a musical instrument, is defined as “a means whereby something is achieved, performed, or furthered” (italics added). And if you check a thesaurus, you’ll find that the two words are synonymous.

    Furthermore, if you check standard works of Reformed theology you’ll find such statements as:

    Although the sacraments are external means and instruments applying (on the part of God) the promise of grace and justification, this does not hinder faith from being called the internal means and instrument on the part of man for receiving this benefit offered in the word and sealed by the sacraments.

    [Francis Turretin, Institutes of Eclenctic Theology, Volume 2, George Musgrave Giger, trans., (Phillipsburg, NJ, USA: P&R Publishing), 674. Italics and bold added.]

    Notice that Turretin flatly contradicts your insistence that faith can only be called an “instrument” by calling it both means and instrument. Unlike the words “grace and justification,” which he makes clear that they signify two different things, Turretin is using “means and instrument(s)” interchangeably both time he uses that phrase, just as his contemporaries did. For example:

    Q. What is the means or instrument of our justification?
    Ans.
    Faith. “Being justified by faith.” Rom v.1. The dignity is not in faith as a grace, but relatively, as it lays hold on Christ’s merits.

    [Thomas Watson, Body of Divinity George Rogers, rev. (Grand Rapids, MI, USA: reprinted 1979), 158. Italics is in the original; bold added.]

    Not only is it the case, contrary to your insistence, that means and instrument are interchangeable in Reformed theology, but also contrary to your practice, we must carefully define what we mean when we apply these terms, as Bavinck points out:

    Faith, therefore, is not the material or formal cause of justification; it is not even a condition or instrument (instrumental cause) of justification, for it does not relate to justification as, for example, the eye to seeing or the ear to hearing. Faith is not a condition on which, and not an instrument or organ by which, we receive this benefit, but the very act of accepting Christ and all his benefits as he by his Word and Spirit offers them to us, and faith therefore includes the consciousness that he is my Lord and that I am his possession. Faith, therefore, is not an instrument in the true sense, one that serves as the means by which a person accepts Christ, but it is a sure knowledge and firm confidence that the Holy Spirit works in one’s heart and by which he [the Spirit] persuades and assures people that, despite all their sins, they share in Christ and all his benefits.

    [Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 4, John Vriend, trans., (Grand Rapids, MI, USA: Baker Academic, 2008), 221-222.]

    Notice first how Bavinck’s defines “instrument” in terms of “means.”

    Now, of course, neither of us has been as careful as Bavinck is being here, but you, in my opinion, have introduced groundless terminological distinctions (in this case, between “means” and “instrument”) without making the slightest effort to explain what you mean by them. They do not advance your argument because they are fictional in nature.

    So we’re back to the point I made and now reassert with Bavinck’s qualifications in mind, but which you tried to refute on the basis of your little “terminological inexactitude” (hat-tip to Churchill):

    The Bible teaches that faith alone is the means by which we receive justification.

    You apparently have a problem with this statement. Therefore you would seem to be about as far from being Reformed on a central tenet of Reformed theology as one can get. You have a lot of cheek telling other people here on this blog that they are deviating from Reformed theology.

  193. greenbaggins said,

    March 12, 2011 at 8:20 am

    Dean, yes, I agree with your insertions. Ron, yes, I had you in mind in particular. Stuart, that is a debate that I have had with Wes White in particular for a long time. It is possible that “the grace conferred” is the signing and sealing grace, rather than the thing signified. However, it could also refer to the thing signified. I think the latter is more likely, given the context. When it says “the grace offered,” that, I think is the key phrase. The grace offered in the rite (not conferred in the rite, but conferred when the Holy Spirit completes the sacramental circle by giving faith) is the same grace offered in the preaching of the Gospel. Whenever I think of sacramental efficacy, I tend to think of the efficacy of preaching. They are of the same kind, the one oral/aural, the other visual. But they both preach the same gospel. They both offer, or present, the gospel of Jesus Christ. We get into trouble the minute we start thinking that the sacraments have an efficacy that goes beyond the efficacy of the Word. The only real difference between Word and Sacrament is the mode: visual as contrasted with verbal.

    Roger, the link between the sign and thing signified is not arbitrary in the minds of any who are commenting here. God’s grace, when it comes, is never arbitrary. It always comes when God decrees. You tie the grace much more strongly to the time-point of the rite than any of the Reformers did except Luther. And, as I have been saying above, you cannot account for adult baptisms in the way you have outlined.

  194. Ron Henzel said,

    March 12, 2011 at 8:23 am

    Roger,

    It seems to me that the two Ronnies have a magical view of grace, hence their objection to the ordained means of its gifting.

    I have a sovereign view of grace. I believe that the “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8, ESV).

    You, on the other hand, believe that the Spirit ordinarily waits until he sees someone get wet in the administration of baptism. One might conclude that your Spirit does not go where He wishes, but waits for us to perform rituals. How is that not “magical?” How is that Reformed?

  195. Jeff Cagle said,

    March 12, 2011 at 9:33 am

    Stuart,

    What Lane said.

    Here’s some additional evidence that the Confession likely means “justification.” Keep in mind that the Confession frequently borrows ideas and language wholesale from Calvin:

    Calvin: The sacraments present, both to good and to bad men, the grace of God. No falsehood attaches to the promises which they exhibit of the grace of the Holy Spirit. Believers receive what is offered; and if wicked men, by rejecting it, render the offer unprofitable to themselves, their conduct cannot destroy the faithfulness of God, or the true meaning of the sacrament. With strict propriety, then, does Paul, in addressing believers, say, that when they were baptized, they “put on Christ;” just as, in the Epistle to the Romans… — Comm Gal 3.27.

    [Baptism] is given as a pledge of our adoption; for by it we are grafted into the body of Christ, so as to be washed and cleansed by his blood, and then renewed in purity of life by his Holy Spirit. — Gallic Confession

    Master. – But do you attribute nothing more to the water than that it is a figure of ablution?

    Scholar. – I understand it to be a figure, but still so that the reality is annexed to it; for God does not disappoint us when he promises us his gifts. Accordingly, it is certain that both pardon of sins and newness of life are offered to us in baptism, and received by us. — Genevan Catechism.

    Ursinus says similar things as well in the commentary on the HC, Qn 70 – 72. Here’s a teaser:

    There is in baptism a double washing: an external washing with water, and an internal washing with the blood and Spirit of Christ. The internal is signified and sealed by that which is external, and is always joined with it in the proper use of baptism. — Qn 70.

    Basically, I’m following the line of reasoning of Charles Hodge:

    Unless the recipient of this sacrament be insincere, baptism is an act of faith, it is an act in which and by which he receives and appropriates the offered benefits of the redemption of Christ. And, therefore, to baptism may be properly attributed all that in the Scripture is attributed to faith. Baptism washes away sin (Acts xxii. 16); it unites to Christ and makes us the sons of God (Gal. iii. 26, 27) ; we are therein buried with Christ (Rom. vi. 3) ; it is (according to one interpretation of Titus iii.5) the washing of regeneration. But all this is said on the assumption that it is what it purports to be, an act of faith. — Sys Theol v. 3, p. 589.

    All of this came up because of a friendly disagreement between Phil Derksen and me over the efficacy of baptism. My side of the story is here, and I understand that Phil is working on a response.

  196. Ron said,

    March 12, 2011 at 11:13 am

    Roger,

    I have stated that we have no reason to believe that God typically converts at the font. Your objection to that remark was:

    “Even when the grace does not come at the moment of baptism, for example, it is made clear that when it does come it was through means of the same.”

    You acknowledge by those words that conversion need not come at the moment of baptism (at the font).That, however, does not address my assertion that we don’t know whether God typically converts at the font, though you offered it as a refutation of the claim. Accordingly, my claim that we don’t know whether God typically converts at the font has not been refuted. It has even been addressed. Then it got worse. You then contradicted yourself.

    You asserted:

    That is the plain teaching of the WCF. Only after all these things have been taught is it added that grace is not inextricably linked to the same, sensibly leaving room for God to act independently of them.

    What you are saying is that whenever conversion comes after the time of baptism “it was through the means” of baptism. Yet you turn right back around and admit that the Confession has not “inextricably linked” conversion to baptism, “sensibly leaving room for God to act independently…” Your contradictory postulates are (a) that whenever conversion comes it is through the rite of baptism and (b) that conversion is not necessarily linked to baptism. The only way I know to make sense of your position is to interpret you as wanting to say that (a) God may convert apart from baptism only those who have never previously been baptized, and (b) that if one is baptized, then his conversion will necessarily be annexed to his baptism and not to anything else. You’ll appreciate my reluctance to interact with a position that you have not been able to articulate plainly for yourself, for if it is refuted you can simply claim it wasn’t yours in the first place. Just the same, I’ll touch on that position at the bottom of this post.

    Apart from the problems I have already noted, there are more. You wrote:

    “Only after all these things have been taught is it added that grace is not inextricably linked to the same.”

    You actually have that backwards. In paragraph five the Confession notes that conversion is not inexorably tied to baptism. It’s not until the following paragraph (paragraph six) that the Divines speak to the question of future efficacy of past baptism. The sequence of those two paragraphs is inconsequential to me because I must reconcile them to each other regardless of their relative order; I only offer the correction because you obviously find the sequence germane to your position otherwise you wouldn’t have mentioned it.

    When we put all of this together, you acknowledged in your post that conversion need not occur at the font. You even acknowledged that conversion need not be tied to a previous baptism. Yet you also asserted that conversion is always linked to baptism. Consequently, if the Confession agrees with you, then the Confession contradicts itself because certainly you have. As I noted above though, you might be trying to say that whenever there is both a conversion and a previous baptism that the conversion must be linked to the baptism, a position I’ll now address.

    The meat of the matter:

    Just as it is hazardous to build a doctrine of baptism from Scripture simply by examining verses having to do with water, it is equally dangerous to try to build a robust view of baptism by simply looking at one chapter in the Confession.

    Whenever union with Christ is present, so is saving faith (and visa versa). The WCF teaches that saving faith is “ordinarily” wrought by the ministry of the Word. The Confession most unambiguously steps out and discloses a view on God’s ordinary means of conferring the instrumental cause of justification, which is always accompanied by all the benefits of Christ’s work of redemption. There is no mention of the sacraments in this chapter, other than teaching that the sacraments (along with prayer) strengthen, but do not produce, that which we receive by faith (not baptism!). Even more significant is that in its chapter on effectual calling, the Confession also indexes effectually calling not to baptism, but to Word and Spirit. In effectual calling, wrought by Word and Spirit and not baptism, the Confession teaches that God replaces the unbelieving heart of stone with a regenerate heart of flesh, the very thing you want to attribute to the rite of baptism. In a word, the Confession attributes that which baptism signs and seals (the monergistic work of God) not to the sign and seal of baptism but to the effectual working of Word and Spirit. The Sacraments along with prayer serve to strengthen these realities (that are effected by other means than baptism).

    At the very least, you have irreconcilable differences in the Westminster standards. That is because you will not make conscience of the Confession’s teaching that sacraments in general and baptism in particular are “efficacious” in that they “confirm(!)” our interest in Christ, which we inherit through the effectual working of Word and Spirit, which together unite us to Christ. The chapter on the sacraments plainly teaches that baptism is a confirmatory seal and not a converting ordinance. Baptism confirms that which Word promises and Word and Spirit effect. The role of the sacraments are not intended to effect that which the Confession teaches is offered and effected by Word and Spirit, but rather they are to effect the confirmation of what is effected by Word and Spirit. In other words, the Confession teaches that together Word and Spirit effect the reality (union with Christ), and the sacraments effect the confirmation of that effectuated reality. Your position, I’m afraid, not only goes beyond the Confession, you would also have us believe that is the doctrine of the Confession.

    All of that is not to say that conversion cannot be accompanied by baptism or that baptism cannot be given increase by the intelligible Word, resulting in Word-Spirit conversion. Notwithstanding, the Confession explicitly states that the gift of saving faith is ordinarily wrought through the administration of the Word (as opposed to baptism) and that the precursor to faith, effectual calling (wherein a sinner is recreated in Christ) comes not by baptism but by Word and Spirit. The place of the Sacraments in general and baptism in particular is that by Word and Spirit baptism “confirms” that which is granted to us in our effectual calling etc. So, in sum, when we read in chapter 28 of the Confession about the efficacy of baptism, we must interpret “efficacy” according to chapter 27 on the Sacraments, which states most clearly and unambiguously that the role of baptism is to confirm our interest in the offered promise, and not to effect what the promise contemplates. Sacraments effect confirmation, plain and simple. They are not given to make effectual the reality of what is confirmed in the sacrament. Sacraments don’t create; they by grace sustain. Again though, baptism may certainly accompany the converting work of Word and Spirit, but it need not even do that.

  197. Ron said,

    March 12, 2011 at 11:26 am

    Jeff,

    If you would, please read my most recent post to Roger. In particular, where I begin “the meat of the matter.” I’d be interested in your thoughts, as well as Lane’s.

    Thanks,

    Ron

  198. Dean B said,

    March 12, 2011 at 12:57 pm

    Pastor Kiester (#193)

    “Dean, yes, I agree with your insertions.”

    I think it would be very helpful if you could review for us what you communicated in the last sentence in post 182. “It [faith] simply waits for the sign [baptism] in order to be complete [sacramental circle].”

    Specifically, why does the sacramental circle need to be completed for an adult believer if they already have Christ and faith? Is the same thing(s)/element(s) provided for an adult in baptism also given to the infant who recieves recieves baptism even if faith is absent in the child?

    If you choose not to take the time to answers these questions please provide me with a direction to I can get these thoughts cemented in my mind.

  199. todd said,

    March 12, 2011 at 1:43 pm

    Jeff,

    You are not coming across very clearly. Ron stated it well, baptism formally and publicly confirms what is already true on the inside; note the point below of baptism as the benefits of the gospel publicly avowed at baptism verses privately granted before baptism. That is the key. This is Hodge’s point, as well.

    “Baptism is a means of grace, that is, a channel through which the Spirit confers grace; not always, not upon all recipients, nor is it the only channel, nor is it designed as the ordinary means of regeneration. Faith and repentance are the gifts of the Spirit and fruits of regeneration, and yet they are required as conditions of baptism. But if faith, to which all the benefits of redemption are promised, precedes baptism, how can those benefits be said to be conferred, in any case, through baptism? Just as a father may give an estate to his son, and afterwards convey it to him formally by a deed. Besides, the benefits of redemption, the remission of sin, the gift of the Spirit, and the merits of the Redeemer, are not conveyed to the soul once for all. They are reconveyed and reappropriated on every new act of faith, and on every new believing reception of the sacraments. The sinner coming to baptism in the exercise of repentance and faith, takes God the Father to be his Father; God the Son, to be his Saviour; and God the Holy Ghost to be his Sanctifier, and his word to be the rule of his faith and practice. The administrator then, in the name and by the authority of God, washes him with water as a sign of the cleansing from sin by the blood of Christ, and of sanctification by the Holy Spirit; and as a seal to God’s promise to grant him those blessings on the condition of the repentance and faith thus publicly avowed. Whatever he may have experienced or enjoyed before, this is the public conveyance to him of the benefits of the covenant, and his inauguration into the number of the redeemed.” (Charles Hodge – Commentary on Ephesians pg 320ff)

  200. greenbaggins said,

    March 12, 2011 at 1:54 pm

    Dean, receiving the sacrament of baptism for an adult believer is simply fulfilling the Scriptures, where Peter tells the people that they need to repent and be baptized. They don’t need baptism in order to get more saved than they already are, which would be impossible. But they do need the sign, because faith is never as strong as we would like it to be, and we need these visual crutches. So, think of two circles that make up one big circle. The two small circles are the sign and the thing signified, and they are connected by a line, which is faith. In an infant who is baptized, and comes to faith later, the sign is the only thing they have for a while. When the Spirit gives them faith, that connects the sign with the thing signified, and they have the whole sacramental circle. For an adult who has the other circle (the thing signified), they have both the other circle and the line that connects to the sign. Before baptism, they are only missing the sign in order to have the complete picture. Then, when they have the sign, they have a complete picture of salvation: sign plus thing signified plus the connection of faith. Hopefully this is clearer for you. I am trying to make this a visual picture.

  201. Ron said,

    March 12, 2011 at 1:58 pm

    I have a sovereign view of grace. I believe that the “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8, ESV).

    Hi Ron,

    You also believe that where and when the Spirit quickens is in conjunction with God sending the Word. (WCF 10.1; 14.1) In the like manner, Roger will simply say, I would think, that God sends baptism as the forerunner to the Spirit. Both in Roger’s view and ours, although we cannot predict the Spirit’s movement, we can track where the Word is preached and where baptism is administered. As I see it, neither must deny the freedom and mysterious movement of the Spirit. He is like the wind in that regard. And we are the same in that regard – able to track water and Word but not the Spirit’s presence in the ministry of increase. It’s not as if the Spirit is so free that he is not bound to something with respect to conversion. God determines what the Spirit works in conjunction with and not us. Roger thinks it’s baptism and we don’t, which I think gets us back to the question that at least I was trying to address with Roger.

    You, on the other hand, believe that the Spirit ordinarily waits until he sees someone get wet in the administration of baptism.

    To which Roger can say, we believe that the Spirit ordinarily waits until he sees someone come under the adminstration of the Word.

    One might conclude that your Spirit does not go where He wishes, but waits for us to perform rituals.

    And one might conclude that we believe hat the Spirit usually quickens in conjunction with the Word. The point being, the Spirit indeed does go where he wishes, but where he wishes to go with quickening intention is where the ordained means of quickening are indeed present. That leads us to the question at hand, which I tried to address in my post above. Is it Word or is it literal water?

    I hope I’m not missing something. I certainly am not interested in adding confusion. :)

  202. Roger du Barry said,

    March 12, 2011 at 2:00 pm

    Ron, an exception is not a contradiction. It is an exception.

    Ron H, please explain to me how faith is the alone instrument (meaning means according to you) of justification in the WCF, while at the same time the Confession insists that the sacrament of baptism is a means of the same. You are postulating an absurdity.

    Lane, I am delighted to see how you have matured in your sacramental theology.

    When I say that Ron thinks that grace comes arbitrarily, I am commenting on the non-link in his mind between grace and sacrament, I am not saying that grace itself is arbitrary.

  203. Ron said,

    March 12, 2011 at 2:13 pm

    Ron, an exception is not a contradiction. It is an exception.

    Dear Roger,

    Thank for taking the time to offer such an insightful interaction with all I wrote having to with my own position in light of the Westminster standards, as well as the internal critique I offered of your position on the same standards.

    I retract all I said as I have become exceedingly moved by the force of your rejoinder. :)

    Love ya brother,

    Ron

  204. Jeff Cagle said,

    March 12, 2011 at 3:10 pm

    Ron (#197) and Todd (#199):

    I think the confusion here goes all the way back to what I mentioned in #181: If we think of the efficacy of baptism in terms of cause-and-effect, we are already in trouble. But if we think about baptism as the royal seal that testifies to God’s promise, the troubles disappear.

    If baptism’s effect is thought of in terms of an action, then we have to ask the question, What does baptism do? We perform baptism and X happens — what is X?

    Wash away original sin? Then we have baptismal regeneration.

    Grant forgiveness of sins? Then we have sacramentalism (which I think Roger flirts with).

    Confirm what is already true on the inside? Then we have an empty sign. The baptist slogan is “baptism is an outward sign of an inward change.” This is hardly different from what you said, brother Ron!

    So what could X be? It turns out that there’s nothing that properly articulates what baptism does, if we think about action-cause-effect.

    Here’s a mystery. How could Calvin, arch-champion of sola fide, write that by baptism, we are grafted into the body of Christ? Or that in baptism, the forgiveness of sins and newness of life are offered and received by us?

    I argue that to understand this, we have to get away from an action-cause-effect view of sacraments, and view the sacraments as royal seals that testify to God’s promise, as physical sermons that illustrate the Gospel.

    And viewed in this way, what baptism does is what the promise does when received by faith.

    Put it this way. If you preach the gospel to your neighbor, and he believes, then does your preaching justify him? No: God justifies him through his faith. Yes: your preaching supplies the content upon which he believes and is saved.

    So it is with baptism. In baptism, we see the gospel preached. Does baptism justify? No: Not the washing of water. Yes: What baptism proclaims is what we believe in and are saved.

    Linking baptism to the promise in this way makes sense of the Scripture, and makes sense of the Reformers also.

  205. Ron Henzel said,

    March 12, 2011 at 3:48 pm

    Roger,

    In comment 202, you wrote:

    Ron H, please explain to me how faith is the alone instrument (meaning means according to you)…

    And according to Turretin, Watston, and Bavinck, to name a few (as I show in my comment 192).

    …of justification in the WCF, while at the same time the Confession insists that the sacrament of baptism is a means of the same. You are postulating an absurdity.

    Nowhere in WCF 27 (Of the Sacraments), 28 (Of Baptism), or 29 (Of the Lord’s Supper) are either of the sacraments referred to as either an instrument or means of justification. In fact, we do not find the words “instrument,” “means,” or “justification” in any of those chapters. So how can you possibly say that “the Confession insists that the sacrament of baptism is a means of the same [i.e., justification]” (italics added)]? It seems to be you who is “postulating an absurdity” rather than me.

    Once again, you provide assertions that turn out to be fictional, like your distinction between “means” and “instrument.” And so it would also seem that there’s nothing to explain, but I will not take that for granted in your case. Here is the historic Reformed explanation:

    The sacraments are a means of grace in the same way that the word of God is a means of grace. The word of God is not an instrument or means of justification. Therefore the sacraments are not instruments or means of justification. The word of God is the primary means or instrument by which the grace of the Gospel is communicated (literally) to us. The sacraments are the secondary means or instruments by which the grace of the Gospel is communicated (figuratively) to us, because they have the same office (as Calvin put it) as God’s word but carry out that office in a different manner. Therefore, the word and the sacraments are the means or instruments that God’s Spirit uses to bring about and strengthen faith in His elect, and faith, in turn, is the sole means or instrument of justification.

    You also wrote:

    Lane, I am delighted to see how you have matured in your sacramental theology.

    How condescending! It reminds me of something Mark Twain wrote:

    When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished by how much he’d learned in seven years.

    I think the cause of your “delight” here closely parallels the true cause of Twain’s astonishment.

  206. Dean B said,

    March 12, 2011 at 4:05 pm

    Pastor Keister (Sorry for the past misspellings)

    Thank you very much for taking the time to interact with me. It has been beneficial.

    Please critique the following understanding I have gained so far:

    For an adult convert who is baptized their baptism functioning in the same way Communion functions i.e. it strengthens what is already present (true faith).

    On the other hand infant baptism anticipates faith. Once the HS produces a child like faith Baptism nourishes and strengthens the faith until it comes to maturity and makes profession of faith. After profession of faith it the faith is strengthened by Communion instead of Baptism.

    The real difference between adult and infants is that infant baptism merely anticipates a time when the faith will be fed and adult baptism feeds the faith already present.

    In both these scenarios Baptism serves essentially the same function as Communion, and in a real way it can be viewed as our first Communion.

    Thank you

  207. Jeff Cagle said,

    March 12, 2011 at 4:07 pm

    Ron (#196): I wanted to give this separate attention:

    The chapter on the sacraments plainly teaches that baptism is a confirmatory seal and not a converting ordinance. Baptism confirms that which Word promises and Word and Spirit effect. The role of the sacraments are not intended to effect that which the Confession teaches is offered and effected by Word and Spirit, but rather they are to effect the confirmation of what is effected by Word and Spirit.

    The “confirming and not converting” language has precedent in the Reformed literature — Rutherford uses it, and Berkhof echoes it. But that language is focusing on baptism as an action with a definite effect. It is used in opposition to the RC view that the ex opere operato effect of baptism is to remove original sin. So in that sense, I can agree with you.

    But if you stop there, you strip out of the Confession its plain teaching that what is signed in baptism, is to be attributed to baptism as its effect:

    There is, in every sacrament, a spiritual relation, or sacramental union, between the sign and the thing signified: whence it comes to pass, that the names and effects of the one are attributed to the other.

    Baptism signifies the washing away of sins. Whence it comes to pass, the washing away of sins is to be attributed to baptism. This is very plain, no? It is very hard to see how this “really means” that baptism confirms our washing away of sins.

    A second objection. Your reading of “confirming” suggests that what sacraments do is to subjectively strengthen or confirm to us that we are cleansed of sin. But this does not take into account Calvin’s exposition of the sacraments in Inst 4.14-15. The “confirming our interest” that sacraments does for us, is not to confirm to us that we possess genuine faith (how could they do that?!), but to confirm to us that God’s promise is true. The “confirmation” is objective, not subjective. Baptism, an action performed by the Church, acts as a royal seal testifying to the truth of the promise. It is in this way that the sacraments strengthen our faith.

    I would encourage you to reframe the understanding of “confirming” so that it centers on the objective promise of God, and not on the subjective possession of that promise.

    After all: What could it possibly mean to “strengthen” our justification?

    Third objection. Todd reads you as saying that baptism “confirms what is already true on the inside.” Assuming he’s right, then haven’t you created two baptisms from the other side of the door? For what does baptism do in infants? Confirm what is already true on the inside? That cannot be. So then baptism means something different for infants than it does for adults.

    The meat of the matter for me is that there is a small trove of Reformed statements on baptism that clearly attribute cleansing of sins to baptism itself. In my view, those statements need to be given full weight and need to be affirmed without reservation; else we run the risk of revising the Reformed tradition by rewriting the meaning of words. At the same time, those statements need to be interpreted in the context of the abundantly clear sola fide teaching of the Reformation.

    My own way of making peace with this is to entirely abandon thinking of baptism as an action that causes this or that, and to think instead of baptism as a sign that points to the reality of God’s promise. When the promise is received, baptism has had its sacramental effect.

    Ursinus again:

    Q. 72: Is then the external baptism of water, the washing away of sin itself?

    A: Not at all, for the blood of Jesus Christ only, and the Holy Ghost, cleanse us from all sin.

    …there are some forms of speech which are proper, and others which are improper. These forms of speech are called sacramental … Improper or figurative forms of speech are when the sign is said to be the thing itself, as “Baptism is the washing of regeneration;” and when the sacrament is said to confer the thing, or things pertaining to that which is signified, as when baptism is said to save us. All these forms of speech may be said to have this one signification: Baptism is a certain sign of remission of sin and of everlasting life to them that believe. — Comm HC Qn 72.

    What I’m sensing in your argument, Ron, is that you want to eliminate these improper or sacramental ways of speaking; I’m arguing that they belong in our vocabulary, and should be rightly understood.

  208. greenbaggins said,

    March 12, 2011 at 4:21 pm

    Dean, I can agree partway, and believe me, I know just how difficult it is to wrap one’s mind around the sacraments. In a certain sense, it cannot even be done. But even to understand the function of sacraments and what they do is extremely difficult.

    That being said, I agree with the forward looking and backward looking language. Where I would want to modify, perhaps, is that I would say that the benefit of baptism continues all the way throughout life. It doesn’t stop at the time point of faith for the infant who comes to faith. We can always see baptism and be reminded of its significance whenever we see someone else baptized, for instance, or when we are tempted to say that God is a liar. I think Luther made a very appropriate use of baptism when he was tempted by Satan. Satan was telling him that God was a liar, and that His promises weren’t true. In response to this, Luther kept on writing “I have been baptized.” In other words, God was a truth-teller, and was not lying. Just because baptism is only administered once (and the LS many times) does not mean that baptism is only helpful to us once. It is a continual visual aid to us, continually preaching to us, just like the Word of God does (see Jeff’s comments on this).

    Roger, my views on baptism have not changed. What maturity exactly are you talking about?

  209. todd said,

    March 12, 2011 at 4:29 pm

    Jeff, you wrote:

    “Confirm what is already true on the inside? Then we have an empty sign.”

    Who says? As a Christian when I hear the gospel preached, and it confirms in my heart the truths of the gospel and motivates me to persevere, is it an empty sermon?

  210. Jeff Cagle said,

    March 12, 2011 at 4:40 pm

    Todd, the phrase “empty sign” is usually associated with baptist sacramentology. The baptist view is,

    “Baptism is an outward sign of an inward change.”

    The view you’ve articulated is

    “Baptism confirms what is already true on the inside.”

    Is there a difference between those two?

  211. todd said,

    March 12, 2011 at 4:44 pm

    Jeff,

    Baptists tend to see only the man making the confession; not God doing anything in baptism. Reformed see both the man making a public confession in baptism and the Lord confirming the gospel to his soul through baptism, both then and throughout his life.

  212. Ron said,

    March 12, 2011 at 5:33 pm

    Please ignore the post above.

    Jeff,

    We might not be as far apart as you might think. Walk with me here…

    That a sacrament confirms and strengthens does not suggest that what it confirms and strengthens cannot be attributed to the sign and seal, one of your objections. (You do admit with me that a sacrament confirms and strengthens.) For instance, the sacrament of baptism primarily confirms to us objective union with Christ, and the reality of our union with Christ can be said to be a result of our being baptized into Christ. The latter expression attributes the reality to the sign itself, and the former purpose of the sacrament is to sign and seal to us the objective reality of having been burried and risen with Christ. So, with respect to justification, for instance, baptism strengthens us in our pardon but not by strengthening the justification itself – of course not, but by signing and sealing to us the reality of pardon and a right standing in Christ for all who are truly baptized into Christ.

    You say “The ‘confirmation’ is objective, not subjective.” I say what it signs and seals is objective, but the one it signs and seals to gives it a subjective aspect only in that the objective promise is personalized. You are correct in saying “Baptism, an action performed by the Church, acts as a royal seal testifying to the truth of the promise. It is in this way that the sacraments strengthen our faith.” I most certainly agree that baptism testifies to the promise but when you say that this objective promise is to “strengthen our faith” – you have introduced the subjective nature of objective promise no less than I. What you’ve done, which is a good thing, is bring into light the objective emphasis of the sacrament. My point to you is that we mustn’t pit the objective sign against the subjective affect it has in the experience of God’s elect.

    Finally, I’m all for claiming (or re-claiming) sacramental language and I don’t think that anything I said thus far undermines such language. The attributing aspect of sacramental language was not to be found in my post simply because the focus of my discussion was on the causal nature of the sacrament.

    Cheers,

    Ron

  213. Ron said,

    March 12, 2011 at 5:45 pm

    Hey Ron, in 197 when I asked Jeff to take a look at my post to Roger, I intended to address that to you, not Jeff. I thought it was pretty much your argument to Roger’s position so I wanted to draw your intention to it. I’m glad Jeff interacted with it though and as I just wrote to him, I don’t think that he and I are far apart, if we are even apart at all.

  214. Jeff Cagle said,

    March 12, 2011 at 6:52 pm

    Todd (#211): OK, I can see that there’s a distinction there. What then do you make of the following:

    Calvin’s Commentary on Gal 3.27, 1 Pet 3.19-22, and Acts 22.16

    Gallic Confession chap 35, and Genevan catechism questions on baptism (cited above).

    2nd Helvetic 19

    all of which predicate that the “effect of baptism” is cleansing of sin?

    And speaking of Hodge, his commentary on Romans 6.4 is illuminating. On the one hand, Hodge forcefully rejects the idea that the action of baptism is to cleanse. On the other, he also states clearly,

    “The reference [to being buried] is not to the mode of baptism, but to its effect. Our baptism unites us with Christ, so that we died with him and we rose with him” (C Hodge Comm Rom 6.4).

    Why does he say this, if indeed he thinks of baptism as having only the effect of confirming what is already true?

    And even in the commentary to the Ephesians that you quoted, he says

    “How then is it true that baptism washes away sin, unites us to Christ, and secures salvation? The answer again is, that this is true of baptism in the same sense that it is true of the word. God is pleased to connect the benefits of redemption with the believing reception of the truth. And he is pleased to connect these same benefits with the believing reception of baptism. That is, as the Spirit works with and by the truth, so he works with and by baptism, in communicating the blessings of the covenant of grace.” Comm Eph 5.26-27.

    I’m not convinced that the “confirming, not converting” formula does justice to the full doctrine of baptism. It seems to focus only on the ex opere operato side of the equation, and not enough on the sacramental efficacy side of the equation.

  215. todd said,

    March 12, 2011 at 8:05 pm

    Jeff,

    The Hodge quote doesn’t negate the point of confirming. Hodge is speaking of a formal uniting, a ceremony of the uniting, a public avowing of the uniting, but he is also clear the spiritual uniting to Christ is a result of faith alone, not faith and baptism. Baptism communicates the blessings of the covenant of grace. The way it communicates is that God is publicly and objectively making a statement about that man, and then confirming to that’s man’s soul the blessings of the covenant that are already his, which he already partakes of (or he would not even be a candidate for baptism).

    For those of us who did not grow up in a Christian home and converted as adults, the idea of baptism granting anything more than confirmation is utterly absurd. Most of us experienced the new life in Christ, the power and presence of the Spirit, months before our baptism. That is the normal way of things.

  216. Matt Beatty said,

    March 13, 2011 at 3:04 pm

    Todd,

    You said, “Baptism communicates the blessings of the covenant of grace.”

    What would those blessings be for an infant incapable of an expression of personal trust in the Savior?

    And, what are they for the one capable of such an expression?
    Thanks.

  217. todd said,

    March 13, 2011 at 4:01 pm

    Matt,

    For the baby, when he is older and able to understand, it communicates God’s special love and providence toward him in placing him in a Christian home to grow up with the gospel, and that if they believe what baptism pictures they too will be saved like their parent(s). For the adult, it communicates and confirms the gospel promises to his soul, as well as provides a public statement from God and to the church of the man’s status in Christ he received when he believed the gospel.

  218. Jeff Cagle said,

    March 13, 2011 at 4:37 pm

    Todd (#215): For those of us who did not grow up in a Christian home and converted as adults, the idea of baptism granting anything more than confirmation is utterly absurd.

    As one who came to Christ as a pre-teen, I can understand what you are saying. The difficulty seems to be that the statement “baptism conveys justification” is in apparent conflict with “faith is the alone instrument of justification.”

    And if that were so, then I would side with you. Justification is by grace through faith as the alone instrument, period.

    But the apparent conflict is caused by an underlying assumption that baptism is an action that does something.

    It is not. Baptism is not an action that does something; it is a sign that says something. Just as the preached word speaks the promise of God, so baptism provides a physical testimony to that same promise. So the statement “baptism conveys justification” is properly parallel to “The Gospel conveys justification.” Baptism points the soul in the direction of Christ; if the soul believes, baptism has its effect.

    You said above, “The way [baptism] communicates is that God is publicly and objectively making a statement about that man…”

    But this is not exactly the case. In baptism, God is objectively making a statement about His salvation promises. He is testifying that the promise is true, not that the recipient of (water) baptism is necessarily saved.

    If, and only if, the man receives that promise by faith, then the effect of baptism takes place at the moment of faith — whether before or after the administration of baptism. (Consensus Tigurinus art. 19).

    So the resolution, as I see it, is that baptism needs to be viewed as the seal of God’s promise, instead of as an action that performs this or that effect.

    As to Hodge, I place priority on what he says in Sys Theol. 3.20.12, especially his comments concerning the Consensus Tigurinus and Baptism as a Means of Grace.

    This is consistent with what he says in the Eph commentary:

    How does baptism in either of these senses wash away sin? The Protestant and scriptural answer to this question is, that baptism cleanses from sin just as the word does. — Comm Eph 5.27.

    There’s not a lot of room here to read his view of baptismal efficacy as “confirming formally what is already true on the inside.”

    Any teaching that desires to represent the Reformed tradition on baptism must account for two facts (1) The Reformed creeds and catechisms unambiguously attribute cleansing of sin as the sacramental effect of baptism AND (2) at the same time assert that justification is through faith alone.

    Calvin again: Master. – But do you attribute nothing more to the water than that it is a figure of ablution?

    Scholar. – I understand it to be a figure, but still so that the reality is annexed to it; for God does not disappoint us when he promises us his gifts. Accordingly, it is certain that both pardon of sins and newness of life are offered to us in baptism, and received by us.

    It is very hard to understand how Calvin could mean “it is certain that baptism confirms our newness of life.”

    All that said, I want to reaffirm with you that the action of baptism does not justify any more than the action of going swimming.

    Rather, it’s all about the promise signed therein.

  219. David Gray said,

    March 13, 2011 at 5:24 pm

    >>Reformed see both the man making a public confession in baptism and the Lord confirming the gospel to his soul through baptism, both then and throughout his life.

    So Pastor Bordow seems to believe in two baptisms. Or elect infants uniformly have faith at their baptism.

    >>For those of us who did not grow up in a Christian home and converted as adults, the idea of baptism granting anything more than confirmation is utterly absurd. Most of us experienced the new life in Christ, the power and presence of the Spirit, months before our baptism.

    He neglects the WCF teaching that the efficacy of baptism, which he seems to deny, is not tied to the moment of administration. This is very disturbing in an OPC pastor.

  220. Zrim said,

    March 13, 2011 at 7:26 pm

    You [Todd] said above, “The way [baptism] communicates is that God is publicly and objectively making a statement about that man…”

    But this is not exactly the case. In baptism, God is objectively making a statement about His salvation promises. He is testifying that the promise is true, not that the recipient of (water) baptism is necessarily saved.

    Jeff, this is curious. If a man has professed Christ and is then baptized then it would seem to me that God is not only making a general statement about his salvation promises but also that said promises are specifically and personally true for that recipient. Otherwise, if what you’re saying is true, what would keep anyone from baptizing someone who has not professed faith but nevertheless wants to be baptized? I mean, if baptism is just a general statement about God’s salvation promises then it would seem a profession of faith is not necessary. I wonder if this is what informs paedocommunionist thinking.

  221. Ron Henzel said,

    March 13, 2011 at 7:43 pm

    Jeff,

    You wrote:

    The Reformed creeds and catechisms unambiguously attribute cleansing of sin as the sacramental effect of baptism…

    No, they unambiguously attribute the signifying and sealing of the cleansing of sin as the sacramental effect, not the cleansing itself.

    As the Heidelberg Catechism instructs us:

    72. Q. Does this outward washing with water itself wash away sins?

    A. No, only the blood of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit cleanse us from all sins.

    73. Q. Why then does the Holy Spirit call baptism the washing of regeneration and the washing away of sins?

    A. God speaks in this way for a good reason. He wants to teach us that the blood and Spirit of Christ remove our sins just as water takes away dirt from the body. But, even more important, He wants to assure us by this divine pledge and sign that we are as truly cleansed from our sins spiritually as we are bodily washed with water.

    Thus baptism is given to assure us of (i.e., confirm our faith in) our cleansing, not to effect it. And as Calvin wrote:

    For Paul did not mean to signify that our cleansing and salvation are accomplished by water, or that water contains in itself the power to cleanse, regenerate, and renew; nor that here is the cause of salvation, but only that in this sacrament are received the knowledge and certainty of such gifts.

    [Institutes. 4.15.2; Battles 1304. Italics added.]

    According to Calvin, then, the sacramental effect was the knowledge and certainty it gave believers—i.e., the sustaining and confirming of our faith.

    You wrote:

    It is very hard to understand how Calvin could mean “it is certain that baptism confirms our newness of life.”

    I don’t think it’s hard to understand at all. Calvin made it clear that the final court of appeal when it came to understanding what he taught on important topics was his Institutes. In Institutes 4.14.7-13 he repeatedly stresses the confirmatory aspect of the sacraments as key to understanding to their function. I think it’s essential to read that section, and then continue on to the end of 4.14 if we want to get the last word on Calvin’s view of the sacraments in general, and then all the way to the end of 4.17 to get the same for the finer points of baptism and the Lord’s Supper respectively. Over and over the words “confirm” and “confirmation” show how central this idea was for Calvin.

    In 4.14.7, for example, Calvin wrote:

    We have determined, therefore, that sacraments are truly named the testimonies of God’s grace and are like seals of the good will that he feels toward us, which by attesting that good will to us, sustain, nourish, confirm, and increase our faith.

    [Italics added.]

    And in 4.14.9, he wrote:

    As to the confirmation and increase of faith (which I think I have already explained in clear terms), I should therefore like my readers to be reminded that I assign this particular ministry to the sacraments. Not that I suppose there is some secret force or other perpetually seated in them by which they are able to promote or confirm faith by themselves. Rather, I consider that they have been instituted by the Lord to the end that they may serve to establish and increase faith.

    [Italics added.]

    This, in a nutshell, is Calvin’s theology of the sacraments. In Calvin’s thinking, this is how the reality is annexed (i.e. tied or connected) to the sacrament: by aiding our faith, which is the real connection we have to the promises of the Gospel. Thus they have the same office as the word of God (cf. 4.14.17), which is to present the promises of Christ to us so that we will believe.

  222. David Gray said,

    March 13, 2011 at 7:47 pm

    Ron Henzel

    Do you agree then with your Calvin quote that the sacraments were instituted to establish faith?

  223. todd said,

    March 13, 2011 at 7:52 pm

    Jeff,

    What Zrim and Ron H. said.

  224. David Gray said,

    March 13, 2011 at 7:59 pm

    >>What Zrim and Ron H. said.

    So you too believe that the sacraments were instituted to establish faith?

  225. todd said,

    March 13, 2011 at 8:00 pm

    “But the apparent conflict is caused by an underlying assumption that baptism is an action that does something.”

    Jeff, “does something” doesn’t have to mean it changes a person’s spiritual condition or enters them into a covenant relationship, as with FV. God declaring to all a man’s formal entrance into the church is God doing something. God using a visible sign to confirm what is already true inwardly is doing something. Baptism is a means of grace to the person baptized, as well as a sign to the church of how to treat the one baptized.

  226. David Gray said,

    March 13, 2011 at 8:08 pm

    >>God using a visible sign to confirm what is already true inwardly is doing something.

    So you believe all elect infants have faith prior to their baptism?

    Or is it you who believe in two kinds of baptism?

  227. Jeff Cagle said,

    March 13, 2011 at 8:23 pm

    Zrim (#220): I wonder if this is what informs paedocommunionist thinking.

    This is a wild and unnecessary leap!

    If a man has professed Christ and is then baptized then it would seem to me that God is not only making a general statement about his salvation promises but also that said promises are specifically and personally true for that recipient.

    So if a man has professed Christ, God regards his profession as proof positive of saving faith?

    No. The promise given in the sacrament is conditioned upon faith. God knows the heart; we don’t. You’ve confused the outward sign with the inward reality.

  228. Ron Henzel said,

    March 13, 2011 at 8:40 pm

    David,

    Regarding your comments 222, 224, and 226, I would refer you to the dictionary: “establish” does not only mean “to institute” or “to bring into existence.” It can also mean “to make firm or stable,” or “to put on a firm basis.” That’s the way Calvin is using it in the quotation I supplied.

    I strongly suggest you read all of Institutes 4.14.7-17 before drawing conclusions about words that Calvin used isolated from their contexts. Calvin’s teaching on the sacraments is entirely consistent with Heidelberg Catechism Q. & A. 73: they provide assurance to faith, not faith itself. They confirm; they do not convert.

    In fact, as important as they were to Calvin, the sacraments were so secondary in terms of their status as a means of grace that he could write:

    Hence any man is decieved who thinks anything more is conferred upon him through the sacraments than what is offered by God’s Word and received by by in true faith.

    From this something else follows: assurance of salvation does not depend upon participation in the sacrament, as if justification consisted in it. For we know that justification is lodged in Christ alone, and that it is communicated to us no less by the preaching of the gospel than by the seal of the sacrament, and without the latter can stand unimpaired.

    [Institutes 4.14.14; Battles 1290.]

    So even though the sacraments were given to confirm faith, and even though that’s what is meant by both their “sealing” function and their status as “means of grace,” for Calvin they are not absolutely indispensable to that goal. Whenever the Gospel is properly preached, both justification and assurance of salvation are sufficiently communicated to believers.

  229. Ron Henzel said,

    March 13, 2011 at 8:55 pm

    David,

    In comment 226 you wrote:

    So you believe all elect infants have faith prior to their baptism?

    Regarding the objection to infant baptism that argued that infants are capable of neither faith nor repentance, Calvin wrote:

    To sum up, this objection can be solved without difficulty: infants are baptized into future repentance and faith, and even though these have not yet been formed in them, the seed of both lies hidden within them by the secret working of the Spirit.

    [Institutes 4.14.20; Battles 1343.]

    So no, I agree with Calvin: elect infants do not have faith prior to their baptism.

  230. David Gray said,

    March 13, 2011 at 9:05 pm

    >>So no, I agree with Calvin: elect infants do not have faith prior to their baptism.

    Thanks. I was asking Pastor Bordow because his comments seem to require such faith to be present prior to baptism.

  231. Jeff Cagle said,

    March 13, 2011 at 9:06 pm

    JRC: The Reformed creeds and catechisms unambiguously attribute cleansing of sin as the sacramental effect of baptism.

    Ron (#221): No, they unambiguously attribute the signifying and sealing of the cleansing of sin as the sacramental effect, not the cleansing itself.

    I had this whole long response written out, but it comes to this: You’ve confused the “sacramental effect” with “what the sacrament does.”

    What the sacrament *does* is to act as a sign and seal to God’s promise. In the case of baptism, it signs that our sins are cleansed by Christ. It signs the baptism by the HS.

    When the promise is believed, our sins are actually cleansed by Christ. At that moment, says the Confession, the names and effects of the one (cleansing, baptism of HS) are to be attributed to the other.

    That’s the sacramental effect, according to the Confession: the actualization of what the sacrament symbolizes.

    You’ve mistakenly taken it at one remove, by saying that the sacramental effect is to symbolize those things. No: whence the reality comes to pass, the names and effects of the one are attributed to the other.

    If you read Ursinus’ commentary on HC Qn 67 – 73, he spells this out clearly, and makes it clear why you’re pitting two things falsely against each other (“to confirm our faith in our cleansing, not to effect it”).

    About Calvin and the confirming of faith: Yes, absolutely, sacraments confirm the promise of God. But they don’t confirm to us that we have faith, which is what Todd appears to be claiming.

    The “confirming our faith” language is slippery, and it has morphed from what Calvin intended — an objective confirmation to us that God’s promises are true — into something that is much more baptistic — a subjective confirmation that we, personally, are saved.

  232. Ron Henzel said,

    March 13, 2011 at 9:24 pm

    Jeff,

    You wrote:

    When the promise is believed, our sins are actually cleansed by Christ. At that moment, says the Confession, the names and effects of the one (cleansing, baptism of HS) are to be attributed to the other.

    I do not believe that that’s what WCF 27.2 is actually saying. It is not saying that the sacramental union—which results in the fact that “the names and effects of the one [the thing signified] are attributed to the other [the sign]“—takes place “when the promise is believed.” The sacramental union exists even before the promise is believed. I don’t think there’s any other way to read that section of the confession.

    If you’re basing your statement here on the expression “whence it comes to pass” in that section, that is simply another way of saying “and so” (cf. Douglas F. Kelly, Hugh W. McClure, III, and Philip Rollinson, The Westminster Confession of Faith: An Authentic Modern Version, [Signal Mountain, TN, USA: Summertown Texts, 1992], 79).

    So, no: I don’t think I’m confusing the “sacramental effect” with “what the sacrament does”—which, in any case, appears to me to be a distinction without a difference.

  233. Ron said,

    March 13, 2011 at 9:27 pm

    “But they don’t confirm to us that we have faith, which is what Todd appears to be claiming.

    Yes Jeff, baptism doesn’t confirm to us that we have faith, but it does confirm to us that we are in possession of that which faith lays hold of, which is Christ.

  234. Ron said,

    March 13, 2011 at 9:29 pm

    Ron re:232 – Amen.

  235. Jeff Cagle said,

    March 14, 2011 at 12:07 am

    Ron (#232): The point is not about time. The point is about what the term “sacramental effect” means.

    Look, I respect your opinion, and Todd’s, but I think you guys are blinkered on this issue. Clearly, either you are or I am. :)

    So let me lay it out as clearly as possible, and then I need to leave this alone, because it’s bugging me no end.

    (1) The Confession states clearly that (a) the sacraments represent Christ and His benefits; (b) that there is a relationship between the sign and what is signed, so that what is signed is to be attributed to the sign; (c) that baptism signs our ingrafting into Christ.

    From this, it immediately follows that our ingrafting into Christ is to be attributed to our baptism. This is clear and unambiguous.

    (2) And further, this language is attested by secondary documents. I’ve already produced the Gallic Confession, the Consensus Tigurinus, the Genevan Catechism, Ursinus, etc. I give yet more examples below.

    Again, I commend to your attention the blunt words of Calvin in the Genevan Catechism: “Accordingly, it is certain that both pardon of sins and newness of life are offered to us in baptism, and received by us.”

    This is a huge point with me. You’re asking me to abandon the language of the Reformers in favor of a relatively novel doctrine: That baptism is only a formal ratification of what is inwardly true.

    (3) All of the language you have produced about baptism confirming our faith is correct — but beside the point.

    Yes, absolutely, baptism confirms (in the objective sense) our faith. That’s what sacraments are supposed to do.

    So what happens when the sacrament is successful? Our confirmed faith lays hold of Christ and receives His benefits. And then? The effect of receiving Christ and his benefits is attributed to the sign. So we say, “Baptism conveys justification” because baptism signs justification.

    (4) This circumlocution “baptism doesn’t convey justification, it merely confirms it” is clearly seen to be wrong-headed when applied to communion.

    In communion, we receive the sign of feeding on Christ’s body and blood. As Calvin taught (and Mathison has recently and masterfully re-taught), when we receive that sign by faith, we spiritually feed on Christ’s body and blood.

    There is a sign — the bread and wine. There is an effect — spiritually feeding on Christ. The real thing that does the work is our faith. But in sacramental parlance, we say, “In communion, we feed on Christ.”

    It would be ridiculous to start hyper-parsing and saying, “Wait a minute. Communion doesn’t cause us to feed on Christ. It only confirms our faith.” Of course communion confirms our faith! And when our faith is confirmed … we feed on Christ. That’s the office of the sacrament.

    So also here with baptism. There is a sign — the water. There is an effect — the cleansing of our sins and the ingrafting into Christ. The real thing that does the work is our faith. In sacramental parlance, we say, “We are buried with Christ in baptism.” It’s figurative, sacramental language.

    But figurative or not, it’s legitimately Reformed language. The Reformed Confessions and Catechisms and writers were comfortable with just plain saying “Baptism cleanses from sin.”

    And yes, Ron, they really do say that:

    2nd Helvetic: SIGNS TAKE NAME OF THINGS SIGNIFIED. And as we learn out of the Word of God that these signs were instituted for another purpose than the usual use, therefore we teach that they now, in their holy use, take upon them the names of things signified, and are no longer called mere water, bread or wine, but also regeneration or the washing of water

    Heidelberg 71: Question 71. Where has Christ promised us, that he will as certainly wash us by his blood and Spirit, as we are washed with the water of baptism?

    Answer: In the institution of baptism, which is thus expressed: “Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost”, Matt.28:19. And “he that believeth, and is baptized, shall be saved; but he that believeth not, shall be damned.”, Mark 16:16. This promise is also repeated, where the scripture calls baptism “the washing of regenerations” and the washing away of sins. Tit.3:5, Acts 22:16.

    Gallic Confession 35: baptism, is given as a pledge of our adoption; for by it we are grafted into the body of Christ, so as to be washed and cleansed by his blood, and then renewed in purity of life by his Holy Spirit.

    Scots Confession: And so we utterly condemn the vanity of those who affirm the sacraments to be nothing else than naked and bare signs. No, we assuredly believe that by Baptism we are engrafted into Christ Jesus, to be made partakers of his righteousness, by which our sins are covered and remitted, and also that in the Supper rightly used, Christ Jesus is so joined with us that he becomes the very nourishment and food for our souls.

    Calvin said it. Ursinus said it. The Catechism tells us that the “sacraments are effectual means of salvation.” (WLC 161) and that pardon of sin is one of the blessings conferred by baptism (WLC 167).

    What you’re telling me is that I shouldn’t say “baptism conveys justification” because baptism “only confirms faith.”

    And I say, if that language was good enough for Paul, Calvin, Ursinus, and Hodge, then it’s good enough for me. I understand that it’s figurative language. But I also understand that it was important to the Reformers not to denigrate that figurative language. Baptism saves us; not the washing of water, but the pledge of a good conscience towards God.

    You don’t have any problem with sacramental language as applied to communion. Why the strange allergy to sacramental language as applied to baptism?

  236. todd said,

    March 14, 2011 at 12:26 am

    “Look, I respect your opinion, and Todd’s, but I think you guys are blinkered”

    Actually I haven’t had one drink today. Jeff, since we believe you are misreading Calvin and Hodge, can you show your view from Scripture?

  237. Jeff Cagle said,

    March 14, 2011 at 1:27 am

    Todd, sure. Paul says,

    * “All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” (Gal 3.27).

    * And again, “Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.” (Col 2.11 – 12)

    * And again, “Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (Rom 6.3-4).

    Now, we all (excepting AJ above) know and understand that Paul believes fully that justification is by faith alone. Given that, he still is comfortable attributing our burial with Christ and our clothing with Christ to baptism.

    So what are our options for understanding this?

    (1) Paul is contradicting himself. Nope.
    (2) Paul is attributing dual agency to faith and baptism. Nope.
    (3) Paul is speaking figuratively and sacramentally of baptism. Yes.

    And if Paul can do it, then so can we. So *should* we.

    Done.

    (By the way — notwithstanding the breezy style of my argument, I’m walking right down the line of reasoning that Calvin takes in his commentary on each of these passages. Check them out. In each case, he directly attributes the burial with Christ or the clothing with Christ *to baptism*.)

    Now your turn: Given the strong attestation in Reformed documents and creeds that it is proper to say that “baptism cleanses us” or “in baptism, we are ingrafted to Christ”, what cause do you have to argue that this is improper language?

    Where in Scripture does it say, “Baptism does not cleanse us; it merely confirms our faith”? Or that “baptism formally and publicly confirms what is already true on the inside” (especially given that this is not generally true of infants)?

  238. David Gray said,

    March 14, 2011 at 4:57 am

    >>>>God using a visible sign to confirm what is already true inwardly is doing something.

    Pastor Bordow,

    So you believe all elect infants have faith prior to their baptism?

    Or is it you who believe in two kinds of baptism?

  239. Ron Henzel said,

    March 14, 2011 at 5:29 am

    Jeff,

    You wrote:

    From this, it immediately follows that our ingrafting into Christ is to be attributed to our baptism. This is clear and unambiguous.

    Much depends here on what you mean by “attributed.” If you’re simply reminding us of the fact that sacramental language attributes to the sign (baptism) the effects (ingrafting into Christ) of the thing signified (the work of the Spirit), fine. This is simply another way of saying that the Scripture employs the figure of speech known as metonymy when speaking of the sacraments, something which Calvin and other Reformers explicitly affirmed (cf Institutes Institutes 4.14.12; Battles 1287). Such metonymy is akin to the old wedding vow formula, “With this ring I do thee wed.” The ring does not effect the union of husband and wife. Not even the vows effect it. The responses “I do” to the questions “Do you take this man…” and “Do you take this woman…” are what effect it.

    But if you’re saying that the effect of ingrafting into Christ is attributed to baptism because baptism actually effects it: then, far from it! In that case, I think you’ve completely misunderstood the meaning of sacramental language.

    You wrote:

    What you’re telling me is that I shouldn’t say “baptism conveys justification” because baptism “only confirms faith.”

    First of all, I’ve searched through your comments but I have yet to find a single statement from any confession or catechism that contains the wording, “baptism conveys (or confers) justification).” I get more than a little nervous when people use extra-confessional language while claiming to be quoting the confessions. On the other hand, if you carefully supply the same qualifiers that the Reformers and confessions supplied—with the same meaning that they originally had!—it might not be a problem. It all depends on what you mean by “conveys.” Back in comment 218, you wrote:

    Baptism is not an action that does something; it is a sign that says something. Just as the preached word speaks the promise of God, so baptism provides a physical testimony to that same promise. So the statement “baptism conveys justification” is properly parallel to “The Gospel conveys justification.” Baptism points the soul in the direction of Christ; if the soul believes, baptism has its effect.

    I have no problem with this way of wording it, insofar as it goes. Even then, I don’t think it’s adequately qualified. The Reformers and Reformed theologians since their time have been more careful by pointing out that, technically speaking, justification is not an effect of either the Gospel or baptism, nor even of faith, but of the working of God’s Spirit in applying the benefits of Christ to us. The Gospel, faith, and baptism are tools He uses in that work.

    So I’m with Lane:

    Jeff, I can agree with most of this, but you lose me when you say “baptism confers justification” even with the extensive qualifiers.

    [Comment 182]

    And I’ll go one step further: I believe the Reformers and framers of the confessions deliberately avoided referring to baptism as a sign and sealed that conferred or conveyed justification because they knew what confusion it would create among the faithful with respect to the doctrine of justification by faith alone, and they were well aware of how easily such language could be hijacked by the theologically reckless or by false teachers—such as we’re seeing happening today with the Federal Vision.

  240. Jeff Cagle said,

    March 14, 2011 at 7:16 am

    Ron: If you’re simply reminding us of the fact that sacramental language attributes to the sign (baptism) the effects (ingrafting into Christ) of the thing signified (the work of the Spirit), fine.

    That is exactly what I am saying.

    But if you’re saying that the effect of ingrafting into Christ is attributed to baptism because baptism actually effects it: then, far from it!

    And that’s what I’m NOT saying, and thought that I had taken pains to make that clear.

    First of all, I’ve searched through your comments but I have yet to find a single statement from any confession or catechism that contains the wording, “baptism conveys (or confers) justification).”

    Perhaps my shorthand is problematic, but it seems to me that

    by Baptism we are engrafted into Christ Jesus, to be made partakers of his righteousness, by which our sins are covered and remitted

    OR

    Accordingly, it is certain that both pardon of sins and newness of life are offered to us in baptism, and received by us.

    both contain the concept of justification, if not the exact word. No?

    Ron, the specific point that I’m trying to make is that it’s correct to say that “the sacramental effect of baptism is our ingrafting into Christ”, and incorrect to say that “the sacramental effect of baptism is to confirm our ingrafting into Christ.”

    The first is the proper sacramental (and metynomic) language; the second is a kind of meta-language that is trying to describe what baptism does as an action, which is not what the term “sacramental efficacy” refers to. It’s not wrong to say that baptism does indeed confirm to us our ingrafting (in the objective sense of confirming the validity of God’s promise). But it is wrong to oppose this confirmation to the sacramental effect, as if one statement negated the other. And that’s what’s been going on in this discussion: You’ve been citing Calvin concerning confirmation, and using that to negate the many statements about sacramental efficacy; and Todd’s been doing the same with Hodge.

    Keep those issues separate! Sacramental efficacy is all about baptism as a *sign*.

  241. Rich Hamlin said,

    March 14, 2011 at 7:53 am

    Ron Henzel (#229) You quoted Calvin, “…the seed of both lies hidden within them by the secret working of the Spirit.” What do you think this means?

  242. Ron Henzel said,

    March 14, 2011 at 8:32 am

    Rich,

    You wrote:

    Ron Henzel (#229) You quoted Calvin, “…the seed of both lies hidden within them by the secret working of the Spirit.” What do you think this means?

    Well, I’m not at home with my books, but I believe Calvin may be leaving room here for the regeneration of elect infants. You come across the same thing in Turretin, who for the most part tracks with the general outline of Calvin’s approach in the Institutes.

  243. Zrim said,

    March 14, 2011 at 9:05 am

    Jeff, the reason for the paedocommunist connection was that you seemed to be suggesting against Todd that faith is an unnecessary prerequisite for the adult recipient of baptism: “In [adult] baptism, God is objectively making a statement about His salvation promises. He is testifying that the promise is true, not that the recipient of (water) baptism is necessarily saved.”
    It seems similar to paedocommunionist arguments against credo-communionism that faith be present in the recipient. Switch out baptism with communion and it just sounds very similar to those who want non-professing children at the Table. You seem rightly to affirm that the sacraments confirm faith. If that’s true then faith must be a prerequisite for either the baptized child of the covenant to receive communion or the adult convert to receive baptism (the point of Todd’s comment to which you responded).

    I said, “If a man has professed Christ and is then baptized then it would seem to me that God is not only making a general statement about his salvation promises but also that said promises are specifically and personally true for that recipient.”

    To which you responded, So if a man has professed Christ, God regards his profession as proof positive of saving faith?

    That’s not what I said. All I’m saying is that in baptism God’s salvation promises have become a personal reality for the professing recipient, thereby confirming faith.

  244. David Gray said,

    March 14, 2011 at 9:10 am

    >All I’m saying is that in baptism God’s salvation promises have become a personal reality for the professing recipient, thereby confirming faith.

    Which makes it sound like you too have two baptisms as your understanding of baptism seems unlikely to be applicable to infants. Ironic, eh?

  245. todd said,

    March 14, 2011 at 10:45 am

    “Ron, the specific point that I’m trying to make is that it’s correct to say that “the sacramental effect of baptism is our ingrafting into Christ”, and incorrect to say that “the sacramental effect of baptism is to confirm our ingrafting into Christ.”

    Jeff, you are confusing the reformers’ explanation of sacramental language with their explanation of sacramental efficiency and purpose. Berkhof summerizes the Reformed position on baptism this way “Calvin and Reformed theology proceeded on the assumption that baptism is instituted for believers, and does not work but strengthens the new life…Neither does baptism work a special sacramental grace, consisting in this that the recipient is implanted into the body of Jesus Christ. The (adult) believer’s incorporation into mystical union with Christ is also presupposed…The sacrament of baptism strengthens faith…”
    (Systematic Theology pg. 627, 632)

  246. David Gray said,

    March 14, 2011 at 11:08 am

    >>>>God using a visible sign to confirm what is already true inwardly is doing something.

    Pastor Bordow,

    So do you believe all elect infants have faith prior to their baptism?

    Or is it you who believe in two kinds of baptism?

  247. Jeff Cagle said,

    March 14, 2011 at 11:18 am

    Todd, I’ve read Berkhof, and he takes a position that is not the same as Hodge’s. I’ve deliberately adopted Hodge’s view and not Berkhof’s in this matter.

    But as to this, “Jeff, you are confusing the reformers’ explanation of sacramental language with their explanation of sacramental efficiency and purpose.”

    No, I really am not, at least not if “efficiency” is intended to mean “efficacy.”

    The phrase “efficacy of baptism” is used in the Confession:

    The efficacy of Baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered; yet, notwithstanding, by the right use of this ordinance, 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 belongeth unto, according to the counsel of God’s own will, in His appointed time.

    Efficacy clearly means here the conferring of the promised grace. What grace is promised in baptism? The washing away of sins and the baptism of the Spirit and the ingrafting into Christ. That is therefore the meaning of “efficacy of baptism” — the reception of the washing away of sins and the baptism of the Spirit and the ingrafting into Christ.

    This reading is consistent with all of the sources I’ve cited above. And I commend especially to your attention the Consensus Tigurinus article 19:

    As the use of the sacraments will confer nothing more on unbelievers than if they had abstained from it, nay, is only destructive to them, so without their use believers receive the reality which is there figured. Thus the sins of Paul were washed away by baptism, though they had been previously washed away. So likewise baptism was the laver of regeneration to Cornelius, though he had already received the Holy Spirit. So in the Supper Christ communicates himself to us, though he had previously imparted himself, and perpetually remains in us. For seeing that each is enjoined to examine himself, it follows that faith is required of each before coming to the sacrament. Faith is not without Christ; but inasmuch as faith is confirmed and increased by the sacraments, the gifts of God are confirmed in us, and thus Christ in a manner grows in us and we in him.

    Notice carefully the following points:

    * As to requirement, faith is the requirement for the right use of the sacrament.
    * As to action, the sacrament “confirms and strengthens” faith.
    * As to sacramental effect, baptism “washes away sins.”
    * As to timing, the sins are washed away at the moment of faith.

    Todd, what you’re doing is pitting sacramental action against sacramental effect. Those two are not the same and should not be confused. But they will be confused as long as you insist on seeing baptism as “an action that does something” instead of as a “sign that says something.” (Or perhaps it might best be said, as both, separately).

    So:

    Given the strong attestation in Reformed documents and creeds that it is proper to say that “baptism cleanses us” or “in baptism, we are ingrafted to Christ”, what cause do you have to argue that this is improper language?

    Where in Scripture does it say, “Baptism does not cleanse us; it merely confirms our faith”? Or that “baptism formally and publicly confirms what is already true on the inside”?

  248. todd said,

    March 14, 2011 at 11:31 am

    “Those two are not the same and should not be confused. But they will be confused as long as you insist on seeing baptism as “an action that does something” instead of as a “sign that says something.”

    Jeff,

    To say something is to do something. You write above that baptism confirms and strenghtens faith but earlier you rejected that language. And confirming faith is doing something. You’ve lost me.

  249. Jeff Cagle said,

    March 14, 2011 at 12:52 pm

    Todd, when I said that “baptism is not an action that does something, it is a sign that says something”, I was sloganeering a bit, and sloppily at that. Zrim can give me a free punch on the arm.

    To be more precise: I don’t deny that baptism (and communion) confirm our faith in the objective sense of sealing to us the truth of God’s promise.

    What I deny is that the action of sealing our faith is what the Confession means by “baptismal efficacy.” The phrase “efficacy of baptism” specifically refers to the conveying of what is signed in the sacrament. It is the explanation of the phrase

    “In baptism, we are ingrafted into Christ”, which means

    “Baptism signs our ingrafting; when we are by faith ingrafted into Christ, the effect is attributed to baptism. Baptism signs our washing of sins; when by faith our sins are washing, the effect is attributed to baptism.”

    All of those phrases that I’ve been pointing out about baptism saving us, or washing us, or burying us with Christ, all have the same explanation: sacramental efficacy.

    And my objection to your formulation is that you conflate sacramental efficacy with the Rutherford/Cunningham teaching that “baptism is a confirming, not converting ordinance” — which is very true, but refers to a different issue, the issue of dual agency (per Anglican theology, ably represented by Roger here) or of ex opere operato agency (per RC theology).

    And because you are importing theology directed at one issue over into another issue, you end up fighting against, or engaging in significant revisionism with, the Reformers in their plain statements of sacramental efficacy.

    Calvin really *does* say that baptism ingrafts us into Christ and that we receive pardon of sins in baptism. So does Ursinus. So do the various Confessions and Catechisms cited above. So does Hodge.

    But your insistence on “confirming, not creating faith” has no way to make sense of these statements. And that’s because there’s a category error: You want to talk about what baptism does, when efficacy is all about what baptism signs. So you end up saying, “You can’t say that baptism washes our sins away!” — when Scripture and the Reformers already have. You can’t unring that bell.

    Hence my sloppy slogan, which was trying to focus attention on the right question. Here’s a better one: “Sacramental efficacy is all about the sign, not the action.”

    See whether this helps.

  250. todd said,

    March 14, 2011 at 12:59 pm

    Jeff,

    To be honest, after reading your latest post I really don’t understand what you are saying about baptism. I’ll stick with Berkhof’s summary, which I don’t believe is contra Hodge. Maybe others can make more sense of your view than I can.

    Thanks

  251. Jeff Cagle said,

    March 14, 2011 at 1:03 pm

    Sure. I’m sorry I’m not able to be more clear, or more accurate, or whatever the case may be.

  252. Doug Sowers said,

    March 14, 2011 at 1:09 pm

    @Jeff, you were doing really well for a while, I thought. (All joking aside) I was tracking with much of what you said. But as Lane has pointed out, Baptism is not something we can fully comprehend, amen? Hey let’s make a deal, Zrim gets to give you a free punch in the arm, and then I get to give Zrim one, just to even things out. :) LOL!

    Keep pressing on brother

  253. Zrim said,

    March 14, 2011 at 4:45 pm

    Which makes it sound like you too have two baptisms as your understanding of baptism seems unlikely to be applicable to infants.

    David Gray, no, there is only one baptism. There are two different kinds of recipients, adult and infant. And faith is required in both cases. In the adult case it is required on the part of the recipient. In the infant, on the part of the parents.

  254. David Gray said,

    March 14, 2011 at 4:50 pm

    >David Gray, no, there is only one baptism. There are two different kinds of recipients, adult and infant. And faith is required in both cases. In the adult case it is required on the part of the recipient. In the infant, on the part of the parents.

    You really want to argue that the efficacy of baptism is dependent on the faith of the parents rather than the faith of the recipient?

  255. Jeff Cagle said,

    March 16, 2011 at 9:24 am

    Todd and/or Ron,

    If you’re still chewing on this, I chanced to read Bavinck last night. His Reformed Dogmatics, Vol 4 on sacraments and baptism gives a lot of meat on sacramental efficacy and baptismal efficacy in particular.

    He affirms clearly on the one hand that baptism confirms, rather than creating, faith — which latter office is the function of God’s Word.

    And he affirms clearly on the other that baptism is a justifying ordinance: that it confers justification (he uses that term, Ron). And he ties this specifically to the sacramental union between the sign and the thing signified.

    So I don’t know if that will help, but there it is.

    Grace and peace,
    Jeff

  256. Doug Sowers said,

    March 16, 2011 at 12:01 pm

    Sounds like Bavinck would be in agreement with Wilson :) BTW, good work Jeff!

  257. David Gadbois said,

    March 16, 2011 at 12:07 pm

    Jeff Cagle said And he affirms clearly on the other that baptism is a justifying ordinance: that it confers justification (he uses that term, Ron).

    As Ron H. has pointed out before, “confer” does not mean convey.

    This still is no improvement on the Lutheran doctrine of baptismal regeneration, and I’m not sure even they would use the term “justifying ordinance.” But then again my Lutheran is rusty.

  258. Doug Sowers said,

    March 16, 2011 at 1:09 pm

    @David Gadbois

    From Dictionary.com, convey means: to communicate; impart; make known: to convey a wish.

    And confer means: to bestow upon as a gift, favor, honor, etc.: to confer a degree on a graduate.

    They seem close, in fact confer seems much stronger, something FV men like Douglas Wilson would say. What is the scuttlebutt?

  259. Jeff Cagle said,

    March 16, 2011 at 1:10 pm

    David G (#257): If we want to parse words that closely, then …

    con·fer/kənˈfər/Verb
    1. Grant or bestow (a title, degree, benefit, or right).
    2. Have discussions; exchange opinions.

    Given that the Confession uses the term “confer”, it would then mean “grant or bestow.” As in, baptism “grants or bestows” what it signs.

    But if you want to see the difference between the Reformed position and the Lutheran, read Bavinck. He does a thorough job distinguishing the two. Hodge does also.

    <rantmode=”baffled”>

    Guys, I still don’t understand the allergy to saying that “in baptism, we are ingrafted into Christ” or “in baptism, our sins are washed away.”

    Well, no, I do *understand* it. There is a natural reluctance to use language that might imply baptismal regeneration, which we all agree is a non-starter. So you want to avoid an error. That explains the allergy.

    But to avoid the one error, you promote a different kind of error, which is to deny the teaching that in baptism, we receive that which is signified in the sacramental sense that there is a spiritual union between the sign and the thing signified.

    That teaching, as documented above, is the genuine Reformed position, which is why Calvin says things like “in baptism, pardon of sins is offered and received.” If you don’t like that fact, don’t shoot the messenger … I’m just reporting out what the documents say.

    You want to balance that with a clear statement of sola fide? Great, I’m there. Faith is the alone instrument of justification. You want to emphasize that the action of baptism doesn’t justify or regenerate us? Right with you. Baptism does not create faith; nor is it a converting ordinance.

    But changing the meaning of baptismal efficacy to be “confirming to us that we are saved” is really to distort Reformational teaching. There is a spiritual relation between the sign and the thing signified; not between the sign and a confirmation of the thing signified.

    And it’s a mystery, a sacramentum. My sense is that the allergy to “baptism ingrafts us to Christ” language is really an allergy to mystery.

    </rantmode>

    I’m not saying I’ve got it all figured out; I’m just saying that whenever the Reformers explain baptismal efficacy, they explain it in terms of “in baptism, our sins are washed” or “in baptism, we are ingrafted into Christ.”

    I think we have to be forthright in admitting these facts, rather than pushing them under the rug of “what it really means is confirmation of our ingrafting.” That is not an obvious interpretation of what seems to be plain language.

  260. Doug Sowers said,

    March 16, 2011 at 1:36 pm

    Jeff, it’s only too obvious why they don’t like the Reformed perspective. Because this is exactly what Douglas Wilson has been saying, and they all “know” he’s heretical! (Not so much Ron, but Ron H. Gadbois, Gerety, alone with a whole host of others) It will be a blow to many a mans pride, to have to eat crow, and admit, most of the FV men know more about the Confession than they do. Baptism really does connect the recipient to Christ, in some sort of Covenantal way, according to the Bible, and the Reformers. (Not regeneration, but certainly a connection) Wilson has been saying this for years! Keep up the good work Jeff, until then, all we can do is pray, and keep the light on.

  261. David Gray said,

    March 16, 2011 at 1:45 pm

    Jeff Cagle,

    God bless you and Amen.

  262. Jeff Cagle said,

    March 16, 2011 at 2:07 pm

    Doug, I see two differences between the view I’ve articulated and the FV view.

    First, some FVers appear to view baptism as a converting ordinance, conveying justification by creating faith. I’m not entirely sure to what extent this applies to Doug W.

    Second, and more definitely, the FV views baptism as the entrance into the visible church: We bring children into the church by baptizing them. By contrast, my understanding of the Confession is that we baptize children because they are members of the visible church.

  263. David Gadbois said,

    March 16, 2011 at 3:24 pm

    Jeff said Baptism does not create faith; nor is it a converting ordinance.

    But you just said it is a justifying ordinance. You are the one who is not being clear on the actual metaphysical connections.

    And you guys are going to have to do better than simply quote a (modern) dictionary in this case to settle the issue. Again, Ron has covered this issue before with regard to that language and the Westminster Confession.

    You want to balance that with a clear statement of sola fide? Great, I’m there. Faith is the alone instrument of justification.

    But then to turn right around and say that baptism confers justifications is a logical contradiction, if you are going to insist that confer means to effect. But all of this is getting miles away from the Scriptural data concerning sign and seal – language that we see in Romans 4 in regard to Abraham’s circumcision. What is the relationship between the sign and thing signified in that instance? How do FV accounts of efficacy square with this?

    Doug said It will be a blow to many a mans pride, to have to eat crow, and admit, most of the FV men know more about the Confession than they do.

    That’s good material, Doug. You should take your comedy act on the road.

    Baptism really does connect the recipient to Christ, in some sort of Covenantal way, according to the Bible, and the Reformers.

    The problem comes not in admitting that unbelievers can be in the visible administration of the covenant of grace, the problem is that FVers think they can take the word “connected” and drive a diesel truck through it. So you end up with this parallel ordo salutis (Wilkins et al.) and claim that these unbelievers are bone of Christ’s bone, flesh of his flesh (e.g. Leithart).

  264. Zrim said,

    March 16, 2011 at 3:38 pm

    Jeff, you wrote:You want to emphasize that the action of baptism doesn’t justify or regenerate us? Right with you. Baptism does not create faith; nor is it a converting ordinance. But changing the meaning of baptismal efficacy to be “confirming to us that we are saved” is really to distort Reformational teaching. There is a spiritual relation between the sign and the thing signified; not between the sign and a confirmation of the thing signified.

    But the Belgic Confession Article 33 says in part:

    We believe that our good God, mindful of our crudeness and weakness, has ordained sacraments for us to seal his promises in us, to pledge his good will and grace toward us, and also to nourish and sustain our faith.
    He has added these to the Word of the gospel to represent better to our external senses both what he enables us to understand by his Word and what he does inwardly in our hearts, confirming in us the salvation he imparts to us.

    For they are visible signs and seals of something internal and invisible, by means of which God works in us through the power of the Holy Spirit. So they are not empty and hollow signs to fool and deceive us, for their truth is Jesus Christ, without whom they would be nothing.

    Your words are a bit confusing to me. But the BC’s language is clear, especially that second paragraph about “confirming in us the salvation he imparts to us” which seems at odds with you when you say, “But changing the meaning of baptismal efficacy to be ‘confirming to us that we are saved’ is really to distort Reformational teaching.” Well, I take the BC to be Reformational teaching. And it seems to be saying the sacraments are in point of fact given to confirm precisely what you say they don’t.

    The way I have always understood these things is simply to say that, coupled with the power of the Spirit, the preached Word creates faith and the administered sacraments affirm faith. You seem to have a problem with that, and I’m not sure why.

  265. Doug Sowers said,

    March 16, 2011 at 4:37 pm

    @David Gadbois; I think it’s rather obvious, that with the ordinance of baptism, there is an element of mystery, so that even non-FV men like Jeff, Roger, Zrim, Lane, Ron, and Ron H, have a dickens of a time, precisely defining exactly what it does. Can’t we all agree, that none of us can fully rap our minds around this ordinance? I think we should all concede that it does connect us to Christ, in some way. Victory for Wilson! Loss for Sean Gerety, R. Scott Clark, and the TR’s. Can’t we just leave it at that? Oh, and a big thanks to Jeff, for exonerating Wilson’s belief that baptism does in fact connect one to Him; “in some sense”.

    Why is it so hard for you to admit, that Douglas Wilson has never said anything unconfessional, regarding baptism? And if he has, please show me where! Look David; if Jeff, Rodger, Ron, Todd, Lane, Zrim, and Ron H. have had a problems communicating, why are you so quick to condemn Wilson? Moreover, not *one man* on the TR side of equation has been willing to debate Wilson on the subject. If he is really in error, I should think it would be easy for someone, anyone, to prove it!

    Watching this back and forth shows why! It’s enough to give one, a headache. BTW, did you see Wilson’s debate with James White? Didn’t DW comport himself in an exemplary reformed manor? Wasn’t he “reformed” to the bone? You and I, and the whole lot of us, should have been cheering him on. I think it’s time for “us” Reformed folk, to hug, shake hands, and call it a day. You may find that you can lean a lot from Douglas Wilson, I know I have :) I have been observing this matter for the *proverbial* smoking gun for over three years, and I have yet to see anyone’s lay a glove on Wilson, concerning baptism. Just watching you guys talk among yourselves, speaks volumes.

  266. Jeff Cagle said,

    March 16, 2011 at 5:01 pm

    David G (#263): Jeff said Baptism does not create faith; nor is it a converting ordinance.

    But you just said it is a justifying ordinance. You are the one who is not being clear on the actual metaphysical connections.

    OK, I can understand the criticism. So leave me out of it. Here’s Bavinck:

    The Reformed tradition, however, rejected most of the ceremonies that had gradually become associated with baptism and returned to the simplicity of Scripture. They also proceeded from, and attempted to hold on to, the idea that baptism had been instituted for believers and therefore did not effect faith but strengthened it. — H. Bavinck, Ref Dog Vol 4 p. 510.

    There is also substantial agreement with respect to the benefits that in baptism are granted to adult believers … Further elaborated, these benefits are the following:

    1. Justification or the forgiveness of sins …

    While repentance is the way by which the forgiveness secured by Christ comes into our possession and is enjoyed by us, baptism is precisely the proof and pledge of the forgiveness obtained in the way of repentance. Confession of sins and justifying faith, after all, precede baptism. In baptism, therefore, all our sins along with all their guilt and punishment, not only past but also present and future sins, are forgiven, for justification is a juridical act. It implies a change of state and is therefore brought about at once, completely, and forever — ibid 519-520.

    Help me out. Make the metaphysical connections more clear in such a way that we can affirm that

    * Baptism does not effect faith but strengthens it,
    * Forgiveness is secured by justifying faith,
    * In baptism, all our sins (past, present, and future) are forgiven.

    My own attempt to make this clear has been to say that baptism has an action (confirming faith) and a sacramental effect (cleansing of sins). The sacramental effect is mysteriously tied to baptism in its role as a *sign* of cleansing, and the effect is not tied to the moment of administration, but occurs at the moment of saving faith.

    To my mind, this explanation makes sense of 100% of the data, but at the cost of introducing a mysterious and hard-to-comprehend notion of sacramental effect.

    The alternate explanation offered here is that baptismal efficacy does not include justification, but only confirmation of justification. This makes the sacramental effect easier to understand, but at the cost of flatly contradicting all of the statements about the benefits of baptism.

    Caught between those two options, I choose the explanation that covers more of the data but is not quite as simple.

  267. Jeff Cagle said,

    March 16, 2011 at 5:31 pm

    Doug, please do not consider my remarks as vindication of Doug Wilson’s views. I don’t bear him ill will, but I am very much not FV.

    For one thing, I would not argue that baptism “in some sense” connects us to Christ regardless of faith. I’ve been quite clear that the efficacy of the sacraments is bound up with faith, and that those who receive the sacrament without faith, receive nothing.

    For another, I do not locate the time of baptism’s effect to the moment of application. I don’t know about Wilson, but for Lusk it appears that when we are baptized, we are joined to Christ “in some sense.” This temporal connection between the application of baptism and its effect is precisely what I reject.

    So no, I’m not vindicating DW here. Sorry.

  268. greenbaggins said,

    March 16, 2011 at 5:36 pm

    Jeff, there are a number of contextual considerations in Bavinck that make your quotation of him somewhat less than complete. Immediately after the section you quote, he says, “While repentance is the way by which the forgiveness secured by Christ comes into our possession and is enjoyed by us, baptism is precisely the proof and pledge of the forgiveness obtained in the way of repentance. Confession of sins and justifying faith, after all, precede baptism” (p. 520). He clarifies further on the next page: “All these benefits have already been bestowed on the baptized person before baptism in the word of the gospel. They were received on the part of the baptized by faith; but now these benefits are further signified and sealed to them in baptism. Hence the situation must not be pictured as one in which before baptism only a few and in any case not all of these benefits were granted in faith and that the one(s) still lacking are now bestowed in baptism. For the Word contains all the promises, and faith accepts them all. There is not a single grace that is not conveyed by the Word and only by the sacrament.” Wouldn’t you say that this *considerably* modifies the sections that you quoted?

  269. Jeff Cagle said,

    March 16, 2011 at 6:02 pm

    Zrim,

    Sorry to be confusing. Obviously, I’m not as clear as I should be — but I think I’m in good company.

    Zrim: But the BC’s language is clear, especially that second paragraph about “confirming in us the salvation he imparts to us” which seems at odds with you when you say, “But changing the meaning of baptismal efficacy to be ‘confirming to us that we are saved’ is really to distort Reformational teaching.” Well, I take the BC to be Reformational teaching. And it seems to be saying the sacraments are in point of fact given to confirm precisely what you say they don’t.

    Again, the point is not to deny that sacraments confirm our faith. The point is “sacramental efficacy” does not mean “confirming our faith.”

    The term “sacramental efficacy” appears to refer to the connection between the sign and the thing signified, such that we attribute the one to the other.

    In communion, this is clear and uncontroversial: The sign represents feeding on Christ; the spiritual reality is feeding on Christ by faith. So we say, “In communion, we feed on Christ.”

    In baptism, this ought to be clear and uncontroversial also: The sign represents washing away of sins; the spiritual reality is being justified by faith. So we ought to say, “In baptism, our sins are washed away.”

    And Paul does, and Calvin does, and Hodge does, and Bavinck does. But Henzel and Bordow and Gadbois are telling me not to.

    And I think they ought to have a really good reason why not!

    Zrim: The way I have always understood these things is simply to say that, coupled with the power of the Spirit, the preached Word creates faith and the administered sacraments affirm faith. You seem to have a problem with that, and I’m not sure why.

    No problem at all with that. It’s just not what is referred to by “sacramental efficacy.”

    Thus your Belgic Confession:

    So ministers, as far as their work is concerned, give us the sacrament and what is visible, but our Lord gives what the sacrament signifies– namely the invisible gifts and graces; washing, purifying, and cleansing our souls of all filth and unrighteousness; renewing our hearts and filling them with all comfort; giving us true assurance of his fatherly goodness; clothing us with the “new man” and stripping off the “old,” with all its works.

    From Riddlebarger’s commentary on the Belgic found at Riddleblog:

    But the water of baptism cannot actually wash away sin–only the blood of Christ can do this. But where the water of baptism has been applied, so
    too we confidently believe that the blood of Christ has also been applied. Why? Because the word of God promises this! Where the signs and seals are present, by faith, we believe that the reality is present.
    — Comm Art 33

    and again,

    The sacraments are efficacious only because the word says so, and if we come to receive them with the empty hands of faith, eager to take the good things that God has for us, we will receive everything which God has promised, namely all of the saving benefits of Jesus Christ. — ibid

    Our confession also states that [baptism] “washes and cleanses our soul from sin” (based upon verses like Acts 22:16–when Paul addresses the crowd in Jerusalem, “and now what are you waiting for? Get up, be
    baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name”). But it is the next phrase in our confession which catches our attention, when it states that baptism “regenerates us from children of wrath into children of God.” This phrase is taken from Titus 3:5, where Paul speaks of baptism as the bath of
    regeneration–“he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” Paul says this not because the water itself regenerates, but because the water of baptism is the visible sign and seal of the regenerative work of the Holy Spirit.5 Where the sign is applied (the water), so too, we believe, the thing signified (regeneration) is present. Given the use of sacramental language, the sign can be spoken of as the thing
    signified. This is how Paul can call baptism the “bath of regeneration,” and tell the crowd in Jerusalem that baptism washes away sin, when this is the work of the Holy Spirt in applying the blood of Christ.
    — Comm Art 34

    This is what it means for the sacrament to be efficacious. This is the properly called “effect of baptism.”

  270. Jeff Cagle said,

    March 16, 2011 at 6:08 pm

    Lane (#268): The first part you cite is actually in my citation in #266. I just mention that because it was not my intent to cherry-pick, and I included that sentence on purpose to provide context and balance… (sorry – I feel a bit defensive at the moment. :) )

    But to the major point: Bavinck is saying exactly what I’ve been saying:

    * The benefits of Christ come to us by faith as the efficient and alone instrument. Your citations demonstrate that amply.
    * That notwithstanding, the connection between sign and thing signified is such that we may still properly say that the benefit of baptism is justification.

    Is that a fair reading of Bavinck, in your view?

  271. Ron Henzel said,

    March 16, 2011 at 7:42 pm

    Jeff,

    I don’t get it. Why do you keep on writing things like, “…the connection between sign and thing signified is such that we may still properly say that the benefit of baptism is justification”? I’m sure you’ll agree that what we may properly say depends not only on what we mean by what we say, but how we are most likely to be heard. And given the potential for adding to 2,000 years of sacramental confusion, misunderstanding, and outright false teaching, you would never catch me saying anything that sounded anywhere near similar to “the benefit of baptism is justification.”

    The portion of the WSC that explains sacramental language was put there to explain the use of sacramental language in Scripture, not in theological discussions, let alone in pastoral communications, where, because of the perennial misinterpretation of that very language we must be now be precise. WCF 27.2 is essentially asserting that sacramental language is a form of metonymy—i.e., a figure of speech—and thus not to be taken literally. If you go around in 2011 telling uninstructed believers that “the benefit of baptism is justification,” I guarantee you that more than a few of them are going to take you literally—precisely the opposite of the intention of WCF 27.2—and, I would add, the intention of Scripture. And once you supply them with all the necessary qualifications (à la 1 Peter 3:21) to understand what you meant by those words, I further guarantee that they will wonder why you said “the benefit of baptism is justification” in the first place, instead of using words that more effectively communicated what you actually meant.

  272. David Gray said,

    March 16, 2011 at 8:15 pm

    I think that reply to Jeff illustrates a lot of why we are so divided from the early reformers in these matters.

  273. Ron said,

    March 16, 2011 at 8:30 pm

    Please interact w/ this one, Doug S.:

    “Baptism really does connect the recipient to Christ, in some sort of Covenantal way, according to the Bible, and the Reformers.”

    Doug S.,

    Infant baptism makes one culpable by placing him into the visible church where the oracles of God are proclaimed. If one departs (goes out from us), it only proves that he was not truly of us. Yes, we may call such a one a “covenant breaker” but that does not imply that the covenant of grace was established with such a one. The CoG was established only with Christ as the “Second Adam” and the elect chosen in him. (WLC 31)

    FV proponents want to say that they are attached to Christ in some way, but in what way do you say? They are not attached to Christ through the work of regeneration, that’s for sure. Yes, there are non-elect people who are part of the visible church, which in an ontological sense makes them no more attached to Christ than the devil in hell. We didn’t need FV to establish that elementary pont. We all know that such are dead branches and part of the visible church, and we all know that DW is jealous to label them as such as opposed to mere “tumble weed”. Now what more does FV have to say? I’m all ears, Doug. In what sense are DEAD BRANCHES attached to Christ anymore than an overt infidel? Hypocrisy plus water hardly places one in spiritual union with Christ, or is that not the case?

    Finally, it’s not just FV that employs confusing language. Mike Horton could not have been more wrong when he wrote: “The covenant of grace is not made with the elect, but with believers and their children…”

    The covenant of grace is not made with believers and their children. Nor is it made with professing believers and their children. It’s not even made with the elect and their children. The covenant of grace is made with Christ as the Second Adam and in Him with the elect alone. It is to be administered to professing believers and their children, another matter altogether, but it is not made with them. I interact more with Mike’s essay here.

  274. Jeff Cagle said,

    March 16, 2011 at 8:32 pm

    Ron, OK, so the argument is, “We might be misunderstood, so don’t say it.”

    And as a fellow teacher, I can appreciate the argument. But then you have to ask why the Reformers keep on saying things like “in baptism, we are ingrafted into Christ.” Or why systematic theologians like Bavinck say that the benefit of baptism is justification?

    I’m not the only crazy one saying these things!

    The answer to the question seems to be, “Because they are guarding against empty sign theology.”

    Hence Calvin: “Master. – But do you attribute nothing more to the water than that it is a figure of ablution?

    Scholar. – I understand it to be a figure, but still so that the reality is annexed to it; for God does not disappoint us when he promises us his gifts. Accordingly, it is certain that both pardon of sins and newness of life are offered to us in baptism, and received by us. ”

    Ron, you only see one possible error: baptismal regeneration. What I’m suggesting is that your words are just as confusing in the opposite direction, leading people to think that what “sacramental efficacy” means in the Confession is that the sacraments confirm our faith, and that the reality is not in fact annexed to them, but just symbolized by them.

    And *that’s not what the Confession teaches*. It’s Zwinglian sacramentology, in fact.

    We have to get it right. Both of these points are consistently found in Reformed theology:

    (1) Justification is through faith alone, and
    (2) In the right use of the sacraments, what is signed is truly exhibited and conferred.

    We should not pit (1) against (2). It’s that simple.

    Again: if you think I’m being unguarded or unclear, at least listen to someone like Riddlebarger or Bavinck or Hodge. Riddlebarger has no trouble saying “Where the sign is applied (the water), so too, we believe, the thing signified (regeneration) is present. Given the use of sacramental language, the sign can be spoken of as the thing signified.”

    So let’s agree to be as clear as possible, and to neither imply baptismal regeneration, nor imply a lack of connection between sign and thing signified.

    Fair?

  275. David Gadbois said,

    March 16, 2011 at 10:05 pm

    Jeff, I think you are failing to see the implication of the key phrase, “can be spoken of as…” In other words, it is a rhetorical device, “baptism” is a symbol or cipher to speak of the rite of baptism as if it were the spiritual reality of baptism, as if the rite were accomplishing what the Spirit in fact accomplishes. This way of speaking establishes that there are parallel realities going on, but it does not establish a metaphysical cause and effect between the two. Going from such rhetorical language to assuming this establishes a metaphysical connection (e.g. a justifying ordinance) is where the FV trip up.

  276. Doug Sowers said,

    March 16, 2011 at 10:40 pm

    Okay Ron :)

    Where do you see the visible, invisible, church concept being taught in Scripture. I’m not saying that I am against it per se, but where do we see this visible, invisible, distinction in the Bible. After all, we should all agree that Scripture is the final court of appeal, amen?

  277. David Gadbois said,

    March 16, 2011 at 10:45 pm

    Doug said Can’t we all agree, that none of us can fully rap our minds around this ordinance?

    Mystery cannot legitimately be invoked to paper over incoherent or sloppy theology, which is what FV is. They have a very poor grasp of the task of systematic theology.

    I think we should all concede that it does connect us to Christ, in some way.

    But that statement by itself could mean almost anything…or nothing. That’s the problem. Even unbelievers are “somehow” connected to Christ (as Creator and Judge). The word “connect” conveys no useful information about the relation.

    What FVers are *really* saying when they speak of being connected to Christ, is that non-elect covenant members are “in Christ” (implying a spiritual or existential union), not merely “connected” to Him.

    Victory for Wilson! Loss for Sean Gerety, R. Scott Clark, and the TR’s. Can’t we just leave it at that?

    As usual your victory party is premature. R.S. Clark and “TRs” would not deny that unbelievers can be related to Christ in that they are members of the administration of the covenant of grace, even though they might not use the word “connect”.

    Why is it so hard for you to admit, that Douglas Wilson has never said anything unconfessional, regarding baptism?

    You are the one obsessed with Doug Wilson, not me. Lusk and Leithart have been the ones to give the most explicit expression of FV errors regarding baptism. Wilson is the press relations officer for FV, so he is much more smiley-face and careful with what he says.

    Moreover, not *one man* on the TR side of equation has been willing to debate Wilson on the subject. If he is really in error, I should think it would be easy for someone, anyone, to prove it!

    This juvenile plea for an oral debate pops up every few months, as if somehow this is a more definitive format to engage in theological debate. There has been plenty of written debate, and that follows the norm that has governed the church throughout history. The people who call for such debate seem blissfully unaware of the many weaknesses inherent in oral, public debate. Indeed, the potential for obfuscation and spin is much higher in a live setting than with written documents that can be scrutinized in an academic and scholarly manner. Quotations from sources can more easily be ripped out of context, since the respondent cannot consult a library or sources to correct such misrepresentations. Oral debate is especially ill-suited for issues where double-speak, equivocation, and idiosyncratically-defined terms and concepts are in play (the FV’s parallel ordo salutis and “in some sense” everything).

    BTW, did you see Wilson’s debate with James White? Didn’t DW comport himself in an exemplary reformed manor? Wasn’t he “reformed” to the bone?

    Not really. The Reformed have historically considered the church of Rome to be an apostate, false church; that members of the church of Rome lack a credible profession of faith. Romanists were not communed in Reformed churches, and converts to Rome were excommunicated as apostates. The “objectivity” of baptism and the fact that Roman converts were not re-baptized does not overturn these facts.

  278. Doug Sowers said,

    March 16, 2011 at 11:30 pm

    David, did you see Wilson debate White? Didnt you think Wilson did well? Do you really think I’m being juvenile wanting to see some debates? Isn’t that a little harsh, bro? Just look at how Jeff and you guys have been talking past each other on this post. Getting seeminly more confused, the more you write! Not that I havent been blessed, I have been blessed, as well as confused listening to you call each other baptists. LOL! We often misunderstand, since we can’t hear voice inflection. Not that it has to be one, or the other; but why not both? Wouldnt a series of debates be helpful? What is everyone afraid of?

    One thing that does concern me in this debate, is I haven’t seen anyone appeal to the Scripture! It’s always this theologian or that theologian, or the WCF. Not that I am against Calvin, and Bavinck, and the Great Theologians; but I see very little discussion of the actual text of Scripture. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very thankful for Calvin and the Reformers, but why don’t we discuss actual Scripture? If a young believer comes to me, with a question, I like to open the Word, and make my defense, “in the bible:”, not “just” hand him a copy of the WCF. Although I love G.I. Williams work book, and think it’s very useful. It’s just that we should know why we believe what we believe, in the Bible, first and foremost. And only lean of Calvin as support, not our main arguement. IMHO.

  279. Doug Sowers said,

    March 17, 2011 at 4:01 am

    Ron, I am more than willing to interact with you; after all you’re my favorite writer at Green Baggins :) So take it easy on me, okay? I am not nearly as well read as you, on the great reformed writers, but I want to try and build my case from the bible. When I see language where Jesus says: “I am the vine and you are the branches” that illustration implies some “kind of” connection with Christ, yet he warns that fruitless braches will be thrown in the fire.

    Notice verse three, where Jesus says,

    “Already you are *clean* because of the word that I have spoken to you”.

    Does *clean* imply being born again? I would say no, it can’t, unless we want to deny the perseverance of the Saints!

    I have debated Arminians who are quick to point out; “see these branches are “in Christ”! Jesus himself calls them *clean*, so they must be born again! And yet these fruitless branches will be thrown in the fire! John 15 is one of there favorite verses. So the question is, can someone be “clean, and connected to Christ, and bear no fruit? Well, the Bible says YES it’s possible.

    Let’s consider 1 Cor 7:14:

    For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be *unclean*, but as it is, they are holy.

    Notice how an unbeliever is made holy, because of the believing spouse! Notice children are called “clean” and holy! Now, we know that not every baptized child is necessarily born again, or regenerate, amen? Yet the same word “clean” and holy is used to describe children of believers that Christ uses to describe his disciples. Yet we know that not all of the disciples were eternally saved. Judas comes to mind.

    Next, let’s look at 1 Corinthians 10:1

    For I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, an all passed through the sea, an all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.

    This is very important Ron:

    Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.

    All of Israel partook of Christ! They ate and drank of the Christ! In what sense? Well let’s say in a covenantal sense, yet with most of them God wasn’t pleased, because they lacked faith. Can that happen today? Paul says twice, yes it can! In fact, this happened as an example for us!

    Couple that with Romans 11 where Paul warns the New Covenant church at Rome, that just like the Jews who were cut off from Christ, it can happen to New Covenant members, *who lack faith*. I am NOT saying that one can be born of God, and lose there salvation. However, these verses strongly support the fact that within the Covenant community Christ is present in some sense, the whole community partakes of Him because they’re holy, and they are considered covenantly clean! These are the words of Scripture! Couple that with the warning in Hebrews 6 where we hear of people partaking of the Holy Spirit, and falling away and never coming back.

    Scripture sees fit to use words like, “clean”, “holy” being cut off”, and partaking of the Holy Spirit for both the old and new covenant people of God. Couple that with Matthew 7:21 where people prophecy and cast out demons, and yet Jesus will say, “I never knew you”.

    Since Holy Scripture uses this language, I think we would be remiss not to pick up on these words. What’s my point? That there is a type of corporate blessing apart from the world, not to be confused with eternal life, that the people in the Church experience, depending on the purity of there local fellowship. Isn’t that what we see with Israel? Wasn’t they’re exodus from Egypt a type of salvation from the world? Please understand that I’m using salvation in a very broad way, and I’m not confusing it, with eternal life. Otherwise, why would unregenerate children and unbelieving husbands be clean?

    Fire away brother!

  280. Ron Henzel said,

    March 17, 2011 at 4:27 am

    David Gray,

    I think that reply to Jeff illustrates a lot of why we are so divided from the early reformers in these matters.

    I think my reply to Jeff illustrates how I am in perfect harmony with the Reformers on these matters.

    Jeff,

    Back in comment 240, you wrote:

    Ron, the specific point that I’m trying to make is that it’s correct to say that “the sacramental effect of baptism is our ingrafting into Christ”, and incorrect to say that “the sacramental effect of baptism is to confirm our ingrafting into Christ.”

    [Italics added.]

    This, as I see it, has been our main point of contention. In keeping with that, here’s the main part of Bavinck in Volume 4 that I think you missed:

    Baptismal grace exists and can, according to Scripture and the Reformed confession, exist in nothing other than in declaration and confirmation.

    [521; italics and bold added.]

  281. David Gray said,

    March 17, 2011 at 6:10 am

    >I think my reply to Jeff illustrates how I am in perfect harmony with the Reformers on these matters.

    I know, that’s why I wrote what I wrote.

  282. Ron said,

    March 17, 2011 at 6:28 am

    Where do you see the visible, invisible, church concept being taught in Scripture.

    Doug,

    Before I address you, there is a question I put to you above that still needs answering. To use DW’s language, how does a dead branch differ from tumble weed? Or to use my terminology, how does water plus hypocrisy unite one to Christ? I hear all this talk about the unconverted being united to Christ. I just want you to explain what that entails.

    As for the visible-invisible church distinction, it is presupposed throughout both testaments and most clearly put forth in John 15 and Romans 11, the very passages that FV uses to undermine the distinction. We also see it in similar ways in Hebrews 6 and 10, and in John the Baptist’s call of repentance in Matthew 2 and Luke 3. We see it most acutely when we begin to try to reconcile God’s promise of completing a work in the elect, as found in Philippians 1:6, with passages that speak of persons within the church falling away from the faith. If all who are justified will be glorified (Romans 8:30) then those who end up unjustified yet remain within the baptized church must either lose the pardon they had or never had the pardon FV implies comes with baptism and objective status. They were not “truly” of us (1 John 2:9), which again demonstrates a difference between the children of the flesh and the children of promise. (Romans 9) The promise was made to the elect in Christ yet baptized hypocrites are to be regarded as children of promise. Abraham pleaded that God would establish his covenant with Ishmael and God said NO. God chose to establish his covenant with the child of promise who was born of grace, not of works. Notwithstanding, Ishmael was to receive the outward administration of the promise, circumcision, while never to have the inward reality, cleansing from sin. He was marked out as one of God’s yet while not being truly one of God’s. Sometimes God pulls the curtain back and we see the difference between a Judas and a John.

    At the very least, FV claims to hold to the Westminster standards and the standards distinguish between the visible and invisible church in Chapter 25.1.2, so any problem that have should be voiced as a denial of the Confession.

    Notice verse three, where Jesus says, “Already you are *clean* because of the word that I have spoken to you” Does *clean* imply being born again? I would say no, it can’t, unless we want to deny the perseverance of the Saints!

    I would say in that passage clean implies forgiven. You’ll remember that right before that passage (during the same evening after supper) Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. He said that without such washing, his disciples could have no part with him. They needed daily cleansing from sin. Peter misunderstood Jesus and after telling him that he would never wash his feet, he then told Jesus that he needed to be washed all over. (You remember the story). Jesus said that one who has already taken a bath need not be washed except for his feet. The analogy suggests that although one is forever clean in Christ, they must be renewed day by day in order to remain in close communion with the Savior. So, without getting into all the imagery of dirt, feet and world, let me just point out that when Jesus said that they were clean from the word he had spoken (John 15:3) – we must appreciate that the exception of one from literally moments before, Judas. Judas was not clean (from the word that was spoken). (John 13:10) In sum, God’s true converts are cleansed by the word, yet there are unbelievers within the church who aren’t. They’re to be regarded as such by us, though God knows their true status.

    As for an unbelieving spouse being sanctified by the believing spouse, that simply means they are set apart, which brings us fool circle. In the final analyses, what sort of union does the non-elect church member have with Christ? They’re not cleansed from their sin. They don’t have new life. What do they have more than one who would sleep in on Sunday, other than covert hypocrisy?

    Finally, you mentioned a “corporate blessing” that unbelievers receive in the church that is directly proportional to the faithfulness of the congregation. Yes, God’s love toward his people spills over from their lives to the unbelievers who are all around us, but once again, how are these people united to Christ? And what has FV brought to the Reformed tradition other than confusion?

    Best wishes,

    Ron

  283. Jeff Cagle said,

    March 17, 2011 at 6:36 am

    Ron (#281): Let’s have the full quote, then:

    Hence the situation must not be pictured as one in which before baptism only a few and in any case not all of these benefits were granted in faith and that the one(s) still lacking are now bestowed in baptism. For the Word contains all the promises, and faith accepts them all. There is not a single grace that is not conveyed by the Word and only by the sacrament. Incorporation into the body of Christ also occurs through faith and receives its sign and seal in baptism. Baptismal grace exists, and can, according to Scripture and the Reformed confession, exist in nothing other than in declaration and confirmation. — HB, Sys Dog 521.

    What is he talking about here? Is he saying that baptism does not join us to the body, but only confirms that we are joined to the body? No. He is saying that baptism does not provide a benefit that is not already given by faith and in response to the Word. That baptism confirms to us what the word has already declared.

    This is what I’ve been saying all along.

    You’ve got to separate out two different concepts:

    (1) The sacrament confirms what the word says, and

    (2) The sacrament confirms to us our status.

    The former is proper; the latter is not.

    David (#276): Jeff, I think you are failing to see the implication of the key phrase, “can be spoken of as…”

    No, the implication is quite clear: we can speak in this way.

    Could it be that you are failing to see the implication of your argument, which is to say, “You may not speak in this way”?

    Step back and think about it for a minute. I’ve said only that “baptism confers justification in the sense that baptism signs justification, and when the reality occurs by faith, that effect is to be attributed to baptism.”

    I’ve carefully circumscribed this by noting that (1) the sacramental effect does not take place at the moment of baptism, but at the moment of faith; and (2) faith is the alone instrument of justification.

    All of this toes the Confessional line scrupulously.

    What has the response been? “You can’t say that! It will confuse people! Lutheran!”

    There’s something wrong here, and it’s not all on my side.

  284. David Gray said,

    March 17, 2011 at 6:59 am

    Ron,

    Let me elaborate a bit.

    You seem to argue that we can’t use the language that the reformers found necessary because it will lead the gullible into RC error. Is that really a greater danger now than in the dawn of the Reformation? It seems to me that in our Protestant culture far and away the great danger is the error of the Zwinglian, the Baptist, and even worse in the modern evangelical world. And your inability to embrace the reformers’ language allows you to blend much better into that world than the reformers could or would have. For every Reformed Christian we lose to Roman Catholicism we lose scads to baptistic churches. And while the former is worse than the latter the WCF is clear that both are sin.

  285. Jeff Cagle said,

    March 17, 2011 at 7:15 am

    David G, I spoke with more heat than I should have in 284. I apologize.

    Here are the obstacles that prevent me from taking your view. It would help advance the discussion if you or someone else could address them directly:

    (1) Given that faith is the alone instrument of our justification, why do so many different Reformed sources use language such as “in baptism our sins are washed away”? This is not a stray phrase from one isolated source, but a repeated refrain.

    (2) What is the nature of the sacramental union? Calvin describes it as “not a mere sign, but the reality is annexed to it.”

    (3) What does it mean to “attribute the names and effects of the one [spiritual reality] to the other [the sign]“?

    (4) Why does the Confession say, “by the right use of this ordinance, 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 belongeth unto, according to the counsel of God’s own will, in His appointed time. ”

    I’ve argued that the normal, literal meaning of the word “conferred” is to give; the dictionary has “grant or bestow”, which is much the same You believe this to be an incorrect reading.

    In your view, what does the word “confer” mean, and what grounds do you have for your reading?

    Thanks,
    Jeff Cagle

  286. stuart said,

    March 17, 2011 at 10:07 am

    As I’ve been following this discussion (and staying out of it for the most part), I decided to pick up Fesko’s Word, Water, and Spirit.

    Here are just a few interesting quotes that I think have some bearing on this matter (the italics are in Fesko’s original) . . .

    “To say that baptism regenerates and justifies is entirely different from saying the sacraments are effectual means of salvation. The sacraments (note the plural, i.e., not just baptism), and the preaching of the Word and prayer, are effectual means of salvation (LC q. 154). Salvation is a broad, encompassing term that has the entire process of redemption in view, but more specifically the believer’s sanctification, as the sacraments are for the “perfecting of the saints” (25.3). The divines attach saving efficacy to the means of grace, not just baptism. For example, the divines connect the Word to a person’s regeneration, not baptism” ‘The Spirit of God makes the reading, but especially the preaching of the Word, an effectual means of enlightening, convincing, and humbling sinners . . . and establishing their hearts in holiness and comfort through faith unto salvation’ (LC q. 155; cf. SC q. 89). In the same way, the Spirit uses the sacraments as He does the Word, though the Standards do not explicitly state it, they seem to conceive of the sacraments as the visible Word.”

    “This is not to say, however, that the divines did not discuss and debate the way in which God’s grace accompanies the sacrament of baptism. However, the extant records on the debates over baptismal efficacy are a bit sparse and even somewhat cryptic. For example, Jeremiah Whitaker (1599-1654) is recorded as saying: ‘That it does confer grace I do not find, but our divines do hold it . . . When they oppose the Papists, they say it is ore than a sign and seal . . . Chamier says the grace that is signified is exhibited, so it is in the French Confession; it does efficaciter donare. . . . I conceive that it does not confer it ex opere operato.’ Note that the ellipses are part of the original minutes-they are gaps in the record, not editorial elisions.”

    There’s much, much more, of course. You can find this discussion om pgs 130-138 of Fesko’s book.

  287. Ron Henzel said,

    March 17, 2011 at 10:34 am

    Jeff,

    You wrote:

    Is he [Bavinck] saying that baptism does not join us to the body, but only confirms that we are joined to the body? No.

    Actually, Jeff, that’s exactly what I think Bavinck is saying: baptism does not join us to the body, faith joins us to the body, and baptism declares and confirms it.

    Bavinck clearly affirms that “all of these benefits were granted in faith…faith accepts them all…Incorporation into the body of Christ…occurs through faith…” He goes quite a bit out of his way to show us that faith is the sole instrument for all Christ’s benefits and that nothing is left over to be applied by baptism. He then sums it up by writing, “Baptismal grace exists, and can, according to Scripture and the Reformed confession, exist in nothing other than in declaration and confirmation.”

  288. Doug Sowers said,

    March 17, 2011 at 11:28 am

    Thanks Ron; that’s good stuff on the visible invisible distinction that I will have to meditate on. I appreciate your taking the time to explain. I did see one area that needs addressing. If *clean* means forgiveness in John 15:3, then what does the same word mean in 1 Cor 7:14; “otherwise you children wouldn’t be *clean*”. I didn’t see you address that word in that passage. To me, clean is what all children of one believing parent are. This is a type of sanctification from the world. A washing, cleansing, by the Word of God. Obviously it will only eternally benefit a child who apprehends this blessing by grace through faith. But I think for a time, they do partake of Christ, as in Hebrews 6, and 10.

    This is what led me to believe that all Covenant members both regenerate and unregenerate, experience a corporate blessing, or protection, from the world. (A cleansing?) That is how I see as the connection in John 15. And they partake of this connection as long as they remain. Now only regenerate members will remain through the consummation, but it seems to me, that unregenerate branches experience Christ’s presence for a period of time. So that is how I would define connection. Better yet, if you asked me can there be temporary connection, I would say yes.

    Just to let you know, I’m not up to speed on all the FV writers. I read Douglas Wilson’s RINE, and found it very useful. This is why I asked you, if you read it, and did you see any red flags. I went through Lane’s critique of it, and he didn’t condemn the book, until the very end when he determined that Wilson violated the Law Gospel distinction. But that is another matter.

    Blessings,

    Doug

  289. Jeff Cagle said,

    March 17, 2011 at 11:51 am

    Ron H (#287): He goes quite a bit out of his way to show us that faith is the sole instrument for all Christ’s benefits and that nothing is left over to be applied by baptism.

    Yes, duly noted.

    He then sums it up by writing, “Baptismal grace exists, and can, according to Scripture and the Reformed confession, exist in nothing other than in declaration and confirmation.”

    Yes, so stop and put it together for a moment. If he says (a) that faith is the sole instrument that appropriates the benefits of Christ (which I have also said, repeatedly), and (b) that a benefit of baptism is justification (which he says quite clearly, then

    (1) He’s contradicting himself, OR
    (2) He is not speaking of the benefits of baptism in an instrumental sense.

    Which is the point I’ve been hammering home. Baptismal efficacy is not about instrument. And that’s why you keep finding me confusing: You want to read sacramental efficacy as some kind of instrumental efficacy, as if I were saying that the act of baptizing is what causes the effect. That’s not it at all.

    Put it together some more.

    If baptismal efficacy meant “baptism confirms to us our salvation” or “baptism formally ratifies our salvation”, then when does that effect take place? At what moment in time does baptism formally ratify our salvation? Why, when we are baptized, of course.

    But is baptismal efficacy tied to the moment of baptism? No, it is not.

    Therefore, doesn’t it follow that the term “baptismal efficacy” is not referring to confirming or formally ratifying our salvation? For then, the effect would be tied to the moment of application. And it is not.

  290. Jeff Cagle said,

    March 17, 2011 at 11:59 am

    Ron, I think what’s happening is that you are thinking of “efficacy” as “instrumental efficacy.” And because you (rightly!) know that faith is the sole instrument of justification, you reason that statements like “baptism confers justification” are really just short-hand for “baptism confirms to us our justification.” And the various statements about confirmation are in close enough proximity to provide evidence to you for that reading.

    But instrumental efficacy requires coordination in time: First cause, then effect. But we are explicitly told that the effect of baptism is not coordinated in time: both adults and children, we are told in the Confession, receive the “effect of baptism” at a time of God’s own choosing.

    And from common sense, we know that for adults, that time is usually prior to baptism.

    So the flaw in your reasoning is to be thinking about “effect” in an instrumental sense. As long as you are stuck on that, you will have trouble explaining the Confession without fudging the meaning of words like “confer.”

  291. Doug Sowers said,

    March 17, 2011 at 12:39 pm

    Nice work Jeff :)

  292. David Gadbois said,

    March 17, 2011 at 1:45 pm

    Jeff, you are having to postulate an awful lot of metaphysical funny business to make your scheme work. Causes can have effects in the future, which is all the Confession is saying. But you are trying to say that baptism can effect something in the past. Sacraments are wonderful things, for sure, but they cannot time travel.

    So you haven’t gotten around the problem of making baptism co-instrumental with faith. Its just that baptism is operating as a time-traveling instrument.

  293. David Gray said,

    March 17, 2011 at 2:46 pm

    >Causes can have effects in the future, which is all the Confession is saying.

    That isn’t what the Confession says. It is what you personally interpret.

  294. Jeff Cagle said,

    March 17, 2011 at 3:04 pm

    David G (#292):

    It would be more helpful if you could clearly address the questions in #285.

  295. Ron Henzel said,

    March 17, 2011 at 3:07 pm

    Jeff,

    Regarding your comment 289: the most significant premise of your argument about Bavinck is as follows:

    …he says…that a benefit of baptism is justification (which he says quite clearly…

    You are basing this thesis on what you believe Bavinck says “quite clearly,” in turn, on the following citation from his Reformed Dogmatics:

    While repentance is the way by which the forgiveness secured by Christ comes into our possession and is enjoyed by us, baptism is precisely the proof and pledge of the forgiveness obtained in the way of repentance. Confession of sins and justifying faith, after all, precede baptism. In baptism, therefore, all our sins along with all their guilt and punishment, not only past but also present and future sins, are forgiven, for justification is a juridical act. It implies a change of state and is therefore brought about at once, completely, and forever — ibid 519-520.

    [From comment 266; bold and italics mine.]

    But I don’t think Bavinck is saying here “that a benefit of baptism is justification.” He certainly doesn’t use that specific expression.

    Note the word “therefore” here. It draws a conclusion (viz., “In baptism…[we]…are forgiven”) from a premise (viz., “baptism is…the proof and pledge of the forgiveness [that we already have]“). The conclusion is a shorthand way of expressing the premise—nothing more and nothing less. Bavinck is simply saying that the elect are forgiven “in baptism” in the sense that, for them, baptism assures them of the forgiveness they acquired by faith. Anything that the Holy Spirit ordinarily uses to add assurance to our faith is a profound means of grace, indeed.

    We speak in much the same way when we say, for example, that in your deed you hold title to your property. Well, deeds can be forged. Therefore, before the deed is issued, title has to be transferred to the new owner on the records of the proper government body. It is the legal transfer of title that effects ownership, not the printed deed. The printed deed does not actually effect anything, even though it is common to speak as if it does. Nowadays you usually don’t even have to bring a copy of it to a real estate closing. It simply serves, to borrow Bavinck’s language, as “proof and pledge,” primarily for the owner’s benefit.

    You also wrote:

    If baptismal efficacy meant “baptism confirms to us our salvation” or “baptism formally ratifies our salvation”, then when does that effect take place? At what moment in time does baptism formally ratify our salvation? Why, when we are baptized, of course.

    I don’t think this follows logically. I especially do not think it follows the logic of the WCF.

    According to the WCF, the efficacy of baptism is found in its dual role of admitting individuals into the visible church and serving as a sign and a seal of our participation in the covenant of grace, etc. (28.1). This is its efficacy: it functions as a sign (figurative representation or symbol) and seal (assuring confirmation). We don’t need to go outside WCF 28 to define baptismal efficacy. Thus the statement that WCF 28.5 makes with respect to the efficacy of baptism not being tied to the moment of administration refer back to efficacy as defined in 28.1—the signifying and sealing, which serve to represent and confirm. Thus our personal experience of baptismal efficacy occurs when we both grasp the symbol and are assured by the confirmation that baptism is designed to provide—something which may not occur for many years after the baptism is administered. That’s when “baptism confirms to us our salvation” and “formally ratifies our salvation [to us].”

    Thus it does not follow that the result of my view is “that the effect would be tied to the moment of application.”

  296. Ron said,

    March 17, 2011 at 3:10 pm

    Doug,

    Your errors run way too deep for me to deal with in a forum like this one. I’m tempted to get into your last post, but I think you need to digest what’s already been written and then contact me if you like off line. You said you have to meditate a bit more on what I wrote, yet then your reply included some of the same sort of remarks and questions, which I’ve answered in principle already. To begin with, you need to interpret the unclear by the clear but before that, you need to establish what absolute bedrock theology is for you. Then when you come across an unclear statement you’ll be prepared to discern what the verse cannot possibly mean before trying to discern what it does mean. In other words, if you know that one cannot be united to Christ outside of the monergistic work of regeneration and if you know that all who are regenerate will persevere in the faith, then you can know what these verses that are troubling you cannot mean.

    As for RINE, no I haven’t read it. I’m familiar with Doug’s writings though and I’ve never found him precise whether writing on baptism and covenant (“To A Thousand Generations” I think is the title – it’s in my study) or on the will in conversion (his contribution in “Back to Basics” also in my study). My recommendation is that you avoid DW as you are not ready to try to nuance what he’s most likely trying to say (and most likely in confusing terminology).

    How should the confessions be amended? Again, what has DW or any FV brought to the Reformed tradition other than utter confusion and heartache? Mark them all and avoid him would be my advice. After all, what good have they done for you other than place you in a position to be confused over even the most basic Reformed teachings, such as those on the visible and invisible church?

    It’s shameful what these men have done to the church and what’s worse, they continue to do it without shame.

  297. Jeff Cagle said,

    March 17, 2011 at 5:59 pm

    Ron H (#295): First, I very much appreciate your taking some time here. And I appreciate the deed analogy, along with the earlier wedding ring analogy. I think we can find some common ground there.

    A point of factual dispute:

    But I don’t think Bavinck is saying here “that a benefit of baptism is justification.” He certainly doesn’t use that specific expression.

    But Bavinck says, p. 520: “Further elaborated, these benefits are the following:

    1. Justification…
    2. Regeneration, repentance …
    3. Fellowship, not only with Christ himself but also with the church…”

    I find it impossible to accept that Bavinck is *not* saying that a benefit of baptism is justification!

    I mean, do you really see a difference between

    “These benefits are justification, regeneration, and fellowship”

    and

    “A benefit of baptism is justification”? Really?

    Well, to the meat of it.

    Bavinck: While repentance is the way by which the forgiveness secured by Christ comes into our possession and is enjoyed by us, baptism is precisely the proof and pledge of the forgiveness obtained in the way of repentance. Confession of sins and justifying faith, after all, precede baptism. In baptism, therefore, all our sins along with all their guilt and punishment, not only past but also present and future sins, are forgiven, for justification is a juridical act. It implies a change of state and is therefore brought about at once, completely, and forever. — Sys Dog 4, p. 520.

    You: Bavinck is simply saying that the elect are forgiven “in baptism” in the sense that, for them, baptism assures them of the forgiveness they acquired by faith.

    To play Ron H for a moment: He doesn’t use that specific phrase “baptism assures them of forgiveness.”

    No, in fact, he says “In baptism, therefore, all our sins are forgiven”

    Worse yet, under the second benefit, “Scripture clearly teaches that baptism, understood as sign and seal, regenerates and renews the baptized, breaks the power of original sin, and causes them to walk in newness of life.” (p. 520).

    Notably absent is the notion of assurance — which term is also absent in WCoF 28.

    This is a mess, Ron! I can’t seem to articulate baptismal efficacy without creating time-traveling co-instruments, and you can’t seem to articulate baptismal efficacy without contorting phrases like “all our sins are forgiven” into “we are assured that all our sins are forgiven.”

    I think the common ground we have is that baptism is a sign and seal, and that its effect has to do with that signing and sealing.

    On your account, this signing and sealing assures us of the grace received in the reality, so that the efficacy of the sacrament is to provide assurance.

    On my account, this signing and sealing represents to us the grace received in the reality, so that the efficacy of the sacrament is symbolically (only!) said to be the thing itself, when we believe the promise so represented.

    So here’s how it would work pastorally:

    Joey: Am I saved?

    Me: Do you remember seeing Anna baptized last week?

    Joey: Yes.

    Me: What did it mean?

    Joey: That God washes our sins away.

    Me: Yes. And do you believe this?

    Joey: Yes.

    Me: Even your truly terrible sins?

    Joey: Yes.

    Me: Then you have been baptized into Christ.

    Joey: When was I baptized into Christ?

    Me: When you believed. You received the sign when you were a baby, but you received what the sign means when you believed.

    Do you have a problem with any of that?

  298. Jeff Cagle said,

    March 17, 2011 at 6:09 pm

    Doug, not to pile on, but the one single sentence that leapt out to me from the FV Joint Statement, as a sentence that was obviously and indefensibly contra-Confessional (as opposed to hotly contested…) was this one:

    We further affirm that the visible Church is the true Church of Christ, and not an “approximate” Church.

    Coming from the perspective of the Institutes, where Calvin talks of the visible church as “The church as man sees it”, and from the Confession, which states plainly that the visible church is subject to impurity (25.4,5), this was a huge, huge red flag.

    I would go further and say that out of this error flowed all of the rest — “covenantal justification”, “union with Christ in some sense”, and so on.

  299. David Gadbois said,

    March 17, 2011 at 8:06 pm

    David Gray said That isn’t what the Confession says. It is what you personally interpret.

    My point was that it is simply bad systematic theology to fiddle with metaphysics in this way. The Confession need only imply that the sacraments have future effects, by the strict wording.

  300. Ron Henzel said,

    March 17, 2011 at 8:11 pm

    Jeff,

    I think we do have some common ground, but it’s obviously not on the nature of baptismal efficacy and how it’s expressed in the WCF and expounded by Bavinck. We seem to be talking past each other, and we seem to be finding opposite things in the sources we cite. In my opinion, the only way you can support your position is by doing what I believe you’ve done again in comment 297: zoom into the language that sounds similar to your thesis and latch onto it to the exclusion of the massive qualifications which I have pointed out that Bavinck makes in his context. Apparently you think that the language to which you point is more significant than the qualifications to which I point, and I find that puzzling.

    When I back up from your citation from Reformed Dogmatics page 520 above, and read the paragraphs that immediately precede it, it becomes clear to me that Bavinck is elaborating on the benefits granted “in baptism,” and that that phrase “in baptism” is, once again, the same kind of expression we find in such statements as, “In this deed you have title to your property.” On page 519 Bavinck tells us that “in baptism the Father witnesses to us…” and “The Son assures us…” and “The Holy Spirit assures us…” If this isn’t the language of confirmation and assurance, I don’t know what is.

    And what is being confirmed and assured to us at the bottom of page 519? Our participation in the eternal covenant, our adoption, our washing in the blood of Christ, our incorporation into the fellowship of His death and resurrection, our indwelling by the Spirit and sanctification as members of Christ’s body. It further seems pretty clear from my reading of that paragraph that it is the “witness” and “assurance” (Bavinck’s words) that we receive “in baptism” from the three members of the Trinity, and that this witness and assurance points to benefits we’ve already received as believers, which means that the efficacy of baptism is only experienced after one comes to faith. I believe you’d agree with that last statement, but apparently you would not agree with me on the question of (a) what we mean by “efficacy” and now, it also seems, (b) what we means by “baptism.” I’m basing (b) here on the dialogue you presented in comment 297, and I’ll get to that shortly.

    Meanwhile, my analysis of what Bavinck wrote on pages 519-520 is totally consistent with his summary statement on page 521 that “Baptismal grace exists and can…exist in nothing other than in declaration and confirmation.” It seems abundantly clear to me that statements such as these are Bavinck’s definitive explanation for what he means when he enumerates the benefits that are granted to us “in baptism.” Bavinck goes out of his way on pages 520 and earlier to distinguish between the way justification and forgiveness are secured and obtained, on the one hand, and the way they are proven and pledged to us on the other. Faith and repentance secure and obtain them; baptism proves and pledges them to us.

    You wrote:

    This is a mess, Ron! I can’t seem to articulate baptismal efficacy without creating time-traveling co-instruments, and you can’t seem to articulate baptismal efficacy without contorting phrases like “all our sins are forgiven” into “we are assured that all our sins are forgiven.”

    I’m not really sure what you mean when you accuse yourself of articulating baptismal efficacy in a way that creates “time-traveling co-instruments,” although the dialogue you wrote may help me on this point. But far from “contorting phrases,” I believe I’m properly explaining them in their original contexts.

    And now for your dialogue with Joey, which is fine insofar as it goes, but it depends on an equivocation in the meaning of the word “baptism.” Early in the dialogue it refers to the physical act of baptism, while later it refers to baptism in a spiritual sense. Are you referring to the baptism of the Holy Spirit when you respond to Joey in the following lines?:

    Joey: When was I baptized into Christ?

    Me: When you believed. You received the sign when you were a baby, but you received what the sign means when you believed.

    If so, then the answer you give to Joey is describing the efficacy of something other than the water baptism discussed in WCF 28 and by Bavinck in the pages we’ve been citing. In which case, I feel a bit frustrated. It seems that what you’ve been referring to as the “efficacy of baptism” has been the efficacy of Spirit baptism (or at least being spiritually baptized into Christ) all along. For you, it appears, being “baptized into Christ” is “what the sign means,” and is separate from the sign (water baptism) itself.

    I wish you’d made that clear much earlier. It changes the entire conversation.

  301. Jeff Cagle said,

    March 17, 2011 at 8:41 pm

    Ron,

    I’m not really sure what you mean when you accuse yourself of articulating baptismal efficacy in a way that creates “time-traveling co-instruments,”

    That was David G’s criticism from #292.

    Early in the dialogue it refers to the physical act of baptism, while later it refers to baptism in a spiritual sense. Are you referring to the baptism of the Holy Spirit when you respond to Joey in the following lines? … It seems that what you’ve been referring to as the “efficacy of baptism” has been the efficacy of Spirit baptism (or at least being spiritually baptized into Christ) all along.

    YES, exactly. Isn’t that precisely what it means to say, “There is, in every sacrament, a spiritual relation, or sacramental union, between the sign and the thing signified: whence it comes to pass, that the names and effects of the one are attributed to the other”?

    That because baptism is the sign of a reality, that we use the language that properly belongs to the reality, to figuratively apply to the sign?

    Or put it this way: If we are using the deed analogy, then does it not make sense to ask, “When does this deed take effect?” To which the answer would be, “When the title is actually signed over.”

    And analogically, “When does water baptism (the sign) take effect? When Spirit baptism (the thing signified) becomes a reality.”

    To me, that seems the plain and straightforward reading of attributing the effects of the spiritual reality to the sign: A deliberate equivocation, based on the union between sign and thing signified.

    Back to Ursinus:

    * The sacraments sign and seal the promise of the Gospel (objective sign) (Heidelberg C. Qn 67).
    * “A sacramental union … consists in these two things: 1. In a likeness or correspondence between the signs and the things signified … 2. in the joint exhibition and reception of the signs and the things signified.” — Ursinus Comm HC Qn 67.

    Notice that the union is *not* “The thing signified and the confirmation of the thing signified” (though the sacrament does act as an instrument of confirmation!), but the joint exhibition and reception of sign and thing signified.

    * “When baptism is, therefore, said to be the laver or washing of regeneration, to save us, or to wash away sins, it is meant that the external baptism is a sign of the internal … and that this internal baptism is said to be joined with that which is external, in the right and proper use of it.” — Comm HC Qn 74, Theses Concerning Baptism #6.

    Ron, I think you’ve hit on it: there is an equivocation — a purposeful equivocation between sign and thing signified. And this, not confirmation, is what is meant by sacramental efficacy.

  302. Doug Sowers said,

    March 18, 2011 at 12:29 am

    @Jeff; according to G.I. Williams in his WCF work book he defines the visible Church on page 188

    “When we speak of a true visible Church, then, we do not mean that it has the same line of demarcation as belongs to the very body of Christ. It is not the will of God that the true visible Church should posses this attribute. Rather, a true Church visible is such, not because its membership is identical with the elect, but because it professes the true religion, maintains the teaching of the true doctrine and sacraments of the Scripture, and maintains the discipline required by the law of the Lord”.

    Jeff, it would seem that the true visible Church is made up of both hypocrites and the elect. Not elect only, according to Williams.

    BTW, feel free to pile on, let a righteous man strike me on the head; it’s some much needed oil for me. :)

  303. Doug Sowers said,

    March 18, 2011 at 12:30 am

    @Jeff, that by the way is exactly what the FV statement said as well.

  304. Roger du Barry said,

    March 18, 2011 at 1:03 am

    Ron, I have a request. Would you email me your understanding of the language of baptismal efficacy being literal on one hand, but in reality being a metonymy, please?

    Even a short post here will do.

  305. Jeff Cagle said,

    March 18, 2011 at 6:52 am

    Doug #302 — Jeff, it would seem that the true visible Church is made up of both hypocrites and the elect.

    Exactly. Hence, an “approximate” church. True, visible, approximate.

  306. Jeff Cagle said,

    March 18, 2011 at 7:08 am

    To go further:

    * The confession talks about the church as “more or less visible” — certainly approximating language.
    * The insistence that the visible church is not approximate correlates to Wilkins’ treatment of Eph 1 in which he famously declared that the blessings there were spoken “head for head” to all in the visible church, instead of being spoken out of a judgment of charity. That treatment of Eph 1 is then the linchpin for “justified in some sense”, etc.

    So to my mind, the antidote to falling into the “FV dark” vat is to recognize that the visible church, the church as man sees it, is indeed God’s church, but seen darkly through a glass. We charitably judge its professing members to be saved, but we do not elevate our judgment to the level of “true, head for head.”

  307. greenbaggins said,

    March 18, 2011 at 11:01 am

    Jeff (#270), I think it is dangerous to say that one of the benefits of baptism is justification. I think as an unqualified statement it doesn’t get us anywhere much. I think that the Fesko quotation is more to the point. We run into problems when we ascribe to the sacraments a completely different kind of efficacy than the Word has. Of course, they work in a different mode, as I have explained above: sacraments work visually, whereas the Word works aurally. One can say that the Word and the Sacrament present the Gospel. Only when one responds in faith will the entire sacrament be present (sign plus thing signified plus sacramental relationship between the sign and the thing signified). So, it is ambiguous (in terms of the definition of “baptism”) to say that one of the benefits of baptism is justification. The efficacy of the sign depends on the Spirit-wrought faith (which connects sign to thing signified). This is exactly true of the Word as well. The Word is efficacious only when the Spirit works faith in the person. The main problem that I see on this thread is that some people are not being careful enough to connect the Word to the Sacrament. They must never be separated.

  308. Jeff Cagle said,

    March 18, 2011 at 12:47 pm

    Lane, I have directly affirmed each sentence in 307, with the exception of the first. All of the qualifications you desire, I have repeatedly offered.

    The only bee in my bonnet concerns “sacramental efficacy” — does it refer to the fact that there is a union between sign and thing signified, such that reception of the substance is attributed to the sign?

    Or does it refer to confirmation of the thing signified, such that reception of the substance is confirmed to us by the sign?

    It is my belief while sacraments do perform a confirming function, nevertheless, WCoF 27.2 and 28.6 are talking about reception of the substance and not confirmation of it — a reception that is by the sole instrument of faith, at the moment of faith.

    Put it this way: if the Confession, and Calvin, and Hodge, and Bavinck all meant that “baptism confirms our justification”, wouldn’t they have said that simply? And not made all of these confusing statements like “in baptism, all our sins are forgiven”?

    The fact that they consistently use difficult language is proof that they are wrestling with a difficult concept.

    The “baptismal efficacy equals confirmation” formula oversimplifies the matter and places too much daylight between sign and thing signified.

    And the allergy to “baptism confers justification”, likewise, means a resistance to the very language that Calvin felt necessary to guard against empty sign theology.

    IMHO.

    The simplest explanation I could offer would be like this:

    There is a sign; there is a reality. The sign takes effect when the reality occurs. The reception of the reality, which is Christ, occurs by receiving the promise in faith. That faith is created by the word, nourished by the sign.

    Do you have a problem with that summary?


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