Monday, September 21, 2009

Response to WW14 on FBC March 19, 2009 Baptism Comments

Thanks for your comment, WW14.  Let us pray together to the Lord that he help us find some common ground.  Jesus wants you, I, and all Christians to be unified, a desire for which he offered his death on the cross (see John 17).  So, let's pray that the Holy Spirit help us to understand our positions better through charitable and clear dialogue.

Some of what you have written I've already addressed in other responses.  If there is something that you would like unpacked more than I do here, just ask.

Also, I agree with much of what you have written.  I think your misunderstanding of the Catholic Church's teaching has to do with the way you place limits on certain topics such as salvation.

Anyway, your words are in blue, and I'll respond in line:

I whole-heartidly agree with M~C~3~3.

I agree with much of what he says as well.  He does, however, misunderstand the Catholic Church's teaching, and some of his arguments are against what he *thinks* the Catholic Church teaches but in fact does not.

I do respect your point of view as I have had many family members baptized as infants.  The waters alone cannot save us.

I could not have put it better myself.  But remember, nowhere in scripture is baptism defined as "waters alone."  Jesus defines baptism as "water and spirit" (see John 3:5, and put this teaching in context by examining John 1 through the beginning of 4).  It is the spirit hovering over the waters of baptism that does the saving and the regenerating.

As M~C~3~3 said, you need to look at that entire passage of scripture.

I have.

1 Peter 3:21 goes on to say "(not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,)"

Exactly.  This idea fits perfectly with what Baptism is.  Baptism doesn't save us by washing dirt off our bodies.  Rather, Baptism saves us by creating in us a clean (good) conscience before God.  Baptism washes us spiritually.  But for something to wash us spiritually, there has to be more than water alone at work.  The second part of 1 Peter 3:21 doesn't cancel the clear meaning of the first part of 1 Peter 3:21.

Let's just pretend for a moment that a New Testament author did want to teach that baptism saves us.  Wouldn't the most direct, clear way to do this be to say: "Baptism now saves us"?

Where is the ambiguity in these four words that leave them open to a complete negation of their linguistic meaning?

Do we disagree on what the word "Baptism" means?
Do we disagree on what the word "now" means?
Do we disagree on what the word "saves" means?
Do we disagree on who the "us" is referring to?

Peter tries to drive home the point by showing us how Baptism is the fulfillment of the spectacular story of Noah.  We had people who were saved through water, the same water that washed away sin(ners).  And while on the boat, a dove (a sign of the Holy Spirit) bearing a sign of peace arrived.

Then Peter draws a parallel.  Noah was saved through waters.  So are we, but these waters don't impart a physical washing but a spiritual washing away of sin.  Baptism now saves us.  The Bible says it.  The Holy Spirit inspired Peter to write those words.  Not the Catholic Church.  While I feel badly that well-meaning people find themselves in a denomination that does not accept the clear meaning of those (and other) verses from the Bible, I do hope that given time, prayer, and study, many Christians will come to know the fullness of the Truth, including the fact of baptismal regeneration.

Believers Baptism is a public display showing that I have accepted Jesus, I know I am a sinner and that He died as a sacrifice for my sins, and that He rose again on the third day.

"Believer's Baptism" is a term with a specific connotation and history within Evangelical circles.  The term is rooted in the idea that you believe first and are then baptized.

Since I am not an "Evangelical" (i.e. Protestant) Christian, you'll have to show me that all that you mean by "Believer's Baptism" is coextensive with all the Bible means by "Baptism."

I agree with the Baptist position that people who have reached the age of reason must first make a personal act of faith (belief) before they can be baptized.

We disagree on the following two points:
1.  What Baptism is, exactly.  In other words, is Baptism merely water, or is it water and the Holy Spirit?
2.  Are people below the age of reason (or people who will never reach a state of reason) proper recipients of Baptism?

Rather than have me state the Catholic position, let me encourage you to read the early church fathers on each of these two questions.  Try to discover what the students of the apostles and their successors taught regarding each of these two points.  You can find links to the early church fathers by following the New Advent tab on the right side of this page.  I discuss one of the early church fathers, Tertullian, at the end of my first commenatary on John Piper's sermons on baptism.

The answer of good conscience is the act of displaying your salvation.

I think what you are saying, if I read you correctly, is that Baptism is the "answer of a good conscience" that has already become a good conscience by being saved before the baptism.  

While I can understand how you make that reading, there is one problem with it: the reading assumes the very opposite of what the previous words just said!  You want so badly for this verse to read something like this:  "Baptism does not now save us.  Rather, Baptism is the answer of a good conscience."

But notice, the passage says the opposite: "Baptism now saves us."  So what then are we to make of the second half of 1 Peter 3:21?  The Catholic Church thinks this verse is far less complicated.  It simply takes it at its word: 1) "Baptism now saves us" and 2) Baptism IS the answer/pledge of a good conscience.  (NIV says pledge, which I think gets at the sense of the Greek a bit better.)  The idea is that Baptism is precisely the moment at which we are both saved and we receive a good conscience.  Just like Christians have believed for 2,000 years.  And to seal the deal, notice the parallel literary construction that comes next.  First we have "Baptism now saves us."  How?  "It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ."  What does the "It" refer to?  In the text itself, there is only one choice.  Baptism.  "[Baptism] saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ."  That a pretty powerful thing to connect with Baptism, is it not?  Can we really continue believing that Baptism is "water alone"?  For 1,600 years before there was such a people known as Baptists, Christians have connected water and the Holy Spirit in their understanding of Baptism.  Only (relatively) recently have people come along and introduced the idea that Baptism is water alone.

Romans 5:8-9, which were mentioned in my friends post, says
"8But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
9Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him."

Amen!  I love the book of Romans so much!  (Nothing here contradicts the Catholic Church's teaching on Baptism.  Baptism is the very power of the Blood and the Holy Spirit applied by Jesus Christ himself to our souls.)

Christ was the payment for our sin

Yes, you are exactly right.

, His precious blood is what saved us,

Yes, along with other things, such as rising from the dead.  As St. Paul says, "He was raised for our justification."

not Holy Water.

Holy Water is a "sacramental" that reminds us of our Baptismal vows.  It is the Spirit that hovers over the waters (and, as 1 Peter 3:21 also says, the power of the Resurrection) of Baptism that saves us.  (The Holy Spirit can save, too, right?)

I strongly support my fellow believer as we are brothers in Christ,

I admire your desire to support your fellow believers.  I don't want anything I write to take away that desire.  I hope only to share certain truths with you that were passed down through the centuries by the apostles and their successors.

through the blood and the blood only.

As a Catholic, I hold the Body and Blood of Christ very, very highly.  (John 6)  

Remember, we are saved 100% by grace alone.  This fact doesn't contradict that we are saved by the blood.  And these fact don't contradict that we are saved by Baptism.  The power of Baptism IS the power of the blood IS the power of grace IS the power of Baptism IS the power of the blood, and so on.


Paul Pavao said...

I'm not Catholic, and I've had my share of disagreements with Catholics, but ...

It is humorous that Protestants believe 1 Pet 3:21 says, "Baptism now saves us (but it doesn't really save us."

Doesn't it make much more sense that Peter is explaining how baptism saves us in the parentheses, rather than explaining that he didn't mean what he just said.

Also on the word pledge/answer, I really don't understand either translation. I looked up the Greek word there in every lexicon I could find, even a Liddel-Scott's I had to get from a library.

The word is a noun version of a pretty common verb: "to ask." It's only used once in Scripture. However, Liddel-Scott said it's used twice in other contemporary Greek sources, and it means there what the noun form of "to ask" seems like it would mean: request or plea.

The NASB translates it that way, saying baptism is the plea to God for a good consience. In my words, it's the apostles' version of the sinner's prayer.

That's my 2 cents, I want to ask you about an early Christian quote on the topic of infant baptism. I'll add a comment for that.

Paul Pavao said...

Okay, while you're commenting on such things, let me ask:

Justin Martyr (A.D. 155, Rome) writes in First Apology 61 that the purpose of baptism that they learned from the apostles is:

"at our birth we were born without our knowledge or choice—by our parents coming together—and we were brought up in bad habits and wicked training.
"So that we would not remain the children of necessity and ignorance but become the children of choice and knowledge, and so that we may obtain in the water the forgiveness of sins formerly committed, there is pronounced over the the person who chooses to be born again, and who has repented of their sins, the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe."

It seems like Justin Martyr's giving a reason for baptism that precludes infant baptism.

I know that Irenaeus makes a comment, 30 years later, about infants being born again. I know that everything in the 3rd century is for infant baptism.

Do you have any explanations for this anomaly--the earliest statement that clearly applies to infant baptism--other than they didn't baptize babies in Rome in the mid-2nd century?

Ready said...

Thanks, Paul, for your comments. Looks like you have done even more research into "eperōtēma" than I have. I'll look into it a bit more myself... For now, thanks for your contribution!

Also, I think the Justin text conceals any of his thoughts about infant baptism. He seems to be speaking directly about people who are passed the age of reason, in which case his description is true. I'm also fascinated by the possibility that Justin's explanations are colored, to some extent, by his audience. I haven't studied his first apology deeply enough to draw conclusions in this regard, but my suspicion is that Justin's strategies (and omissions) are as much about his audience as the theological landscape that he (and other early-second century Christians) inhabited.

I could be wrong, though. I'll do some more research on this passage. In the meantime, feel free to weigh in...

Thanks again for your comments!