Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Baptismal Regeneration?

The Christ commanded his original disciples to go into all the world and preach the gospel about the Kingdom (Mk 16:15) and those who believed the Gospel were to be baptized (Mt 28:19). Among others, baptism symbolizes the believer's identification with the Christ in his death, burial and resurrection: "we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead...we also should walk in newness of life" (Rom 6:4).
Unfortunately, various innovations were gradually introduced regarding baptism: that one must be baptized to be saved; indeed, that baptism itself saves even when administered to infants. This became known as the doctrine of baptismal regeneration. Most Protestants holding these beliefs today are not aware that they originated with the Roman Catholic Church in the Middle Ages.

The Council of Trent (1545-63) stated that while Christ "merited for us justification by His most holy passion...the instrumental cause [of justification/regeneration] is the sacrament of baptism....If anyone says that baptism is...not necessary for salvation, let him be anathema."1 Vatican II (1962-65) reconfirms all of Trent2 and reiterates the necessity of baptism for salvation,3 as does the universal Catechism of the Catholic Church released by the Vatican in 1993: "Baptism is necessary for salvation...the Church does not know of any [other] means...that assures entry into eternal beatitude...." 4

Trent anathematizes all who deny that "the merit of Jesus Christ is applied...to infants by the sacrament of baptism" or who deny that by baptism "the guilt of original sin is remitted...." 5 Today's Code of Canon Law (Canon 849) declares that those baptized are thereby "freed from their sins, are reborn as children of God and... incorporated in the Church." Canon 204 states, "The Christian faithful are those who...have been incorporated in Christ through baptism" and are thereby members of the one, true Catholic Church.6

For centuries before the Reformation, baptismal regeneration was rejected by Non-Catholics whom the Roman Catholic Church therefore persecuted, tortured and slaughtered by the millions. Non-Catholics taught from Scripture that baptism was only for those who had believed the gospel: "teach all nations... baptizing them [who have believed]" (Mt 28:19); "Then they that gladly received his word were baptized" (Acts 2:41); "What doth hinder me to be baptized?... If thou believest [in Jesus] with all thine heart, thou mayest" (Acts 8:35-37). Infants can't believe in Jesus.

Consider Cornelius's household: they heard the gospel, believed it and were baptized. That there were no infants baptized is also clear, for they had all gathered "to hear all things that are commanded thee of God" (Acts 10:33). "The Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard [and, obviously, understood and believed] the word [about the Kingdom]" (v 44); and they spoke with tongues (v 46). That they had "received the Holy Ghost" (v 47) convinced Peter that they were saved. Therefore, he baptized them (v 48).

Nor can infant baptism be supported from the case of the Philippian jailor who "was baptized, he and all his" (Acts 16:33). Again there were no infants present because Paul and Silas preached the gospel "to all that were in his house" (v 32), and "all his house" believed (v 34) and were then baptized.

The early Reformers such as Martin Luther were Catholics who, unfortunately, retained some Catholic dogmas, among them baptismal regeneration and infant baptism. These teachings are still held by some Protestant denominations today. The issue is a serious one. If baptism is essential for regeneration, then to reject that teaching is to be damned!

When Paul reminded the Corinthians of the essential ingredients of the gospel which he preached and by which they had been saved, he made no mention of baptism (1 Cor 15:1-4). In fact, he distinguished between the gospel and baptism: "Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel ..." (1 Cor 1:17). He hadn't baptized most of the Corinthians, couldn't remember whom he had baptized, and was thankful that it had been very few (1 Cor 1:14-16)—a strange attitude if baptism is essential to regeneration! Yet without baptizing them, Paul declared that he was their father in the faith: "in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel" (1 Cor 4:15).

Then what about Mark 16:16: "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved"? 
First of all, this verse does not say that baptism regenerates. Secondly true belief leads to baptism. He who believes wants to follow the commandments of the Christ and thus submit to baptism if possible. However, not all has the possibility of being baptized, like the thief on the cross. On the other hand, a rejection of being baptized, would only show unbelief, IE and unwillingness to follow the commandments of the Christ.

Yes, but Romans 6:4 states, "We are buried with [Jesus Christ] by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead... even so we also should walk in newness of life." That Paul is speaking of the spiritual reality baptism symbolizes, is clear, for he says that through baptism "our old man [sinful life] is crucified with him [Jesus Christ], that the body of sin might be destroyed." As a consequence, he urges believers to "reckon" themselves "to be dead indeed unto sin... Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body" (vv 6-13).

Paul uses similar language concerning himself when he says, "I am crucified with Christ" (Gal 2:20). He is obviously speaking of that same symbolic "baptism" by which a believer have died and been risen with the Christ and have thus passed with him through death into resurrection life. If a believer were literally dead to sin, then he wouldn't need to "reckon" it true or live the new life by faith; he would automatically never sin again. That a Christian may sin shows that water baptism doesn't effect a literal crucifixion with Christ. It portrays a symbolic baptism into the Christ which the believer must live by faith.

Significantly, though Paul baptized a few, Christ himself never baptized anyone in water (Jn 4:2)—very odd if water baptism regenerates. Yes, Christ said a man must be "born [from above] of water and of the Spirit" to be saved (Jn 3:5), but it is unwarranted to assume that "water" here means baptism in water. The Christ wants to "sanctify and cleanse [his church] with the washing of water by the word [of the gospel]" (Eph 5:25-27). Jesus said, "Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken" (Jn 15:3). Like Christ, Paul put water and the Spirit together, referring to the "washing of regeneration" and linking it with the "renewing of the Holy Ghost" (Ti 3:5). A person is born from above by the holy spirit, by the word, the gospel of God, which is sometimes called "water" because of its cleansing power. As Peter said, we are "born again... by the word of God" (1 Pt 1:23).

It was obviously the symbolic cleansing of baptism which Peter communicated to his Jewish audience in his Pentecost sermon: "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins" (Acts 2:38). It is clear that it is not baptism in itself that saves, but that it offered a ceremonial cleansing uniquely applicable to his hebrew hearers who were responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus (Acts 2:36). To be baptized was to be identified before the fanatical Jews of Jerusalem with this hated Jesus Christ, as their passover lamb. Their baptism had a high cost, showing their belief in Jesus being their Christ, it costed them their family and friends and endangered their life. Thus for an Israelite to be publicly baptized at that time was to "wash away [their] sins" (Acts 22:16), as Ananias told Saul.

"The gospel of Christ [about the Kingdom of God] ... is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth [it]" (Rom 1:16). To preach baptismal regeneration is to preach another gospel that cannot regenerate.

1 H. J. Schroeder, trans., The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent (Tan Books, 1978), 33, 53.
2 Vatican Council II, The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents, ed. Austin Flannery, O.P., (Costello Publishing Company, 1988), rev. ed., 412.
3 Ibid, 365.
4 Catechism of the Catholic Church (The Wanderer Press, 1994), 224, 320.
5 Trent, 22, 23, 54.
6 Code of Canon Law (Paulist Press, 1985), 122, 614.

Original by Hunt, Dave , The Berean Call - March 1st, 1995

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