Monday, August 13, 2007

Baptismal Regeneration 16 -- My Concern or Why I Hold This Doctrine

Why do I care about the doctrine of baptismal regeneration?

For me, it is an attempt to reconcile strong, instrumental language that the New Testament uses to describe baptism while at the same time affirming the clear teaching of the New Testament that one must exercise faith in Christ to be saved. Take Galatians 3:26-27

For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.

Here in two back to back sentences St. Paul says we are Sons of God through faith in Christ and he says we are clothed in Christ when we are baptized. So what is it, are we saved by faith or by baptism? The answer is -- yes.

One way to reconcile these two themes is to ask, "If to have salvation we must have faith in Christ, where do we go to find Christ that we might have faith in him?" My answer is in word and sacrament -- and baptism is one of the sacraments. Think about that for a moment. None of us doubts the efficacious nature of the Word and its ability to bring Christ to us that we might have faith in him. Why, then, would it not be possible for the sacraments to have the same kind of efficacy? Interstingly, St. Augustine and Martin Luther -- both believers in baptismal regeneration -- called the sacraments visible words.

In my view there are two poles regarding how to think of baptismal efficacy. One pole is a the purely memorialist view that says it is not efficacious. The other pole says baptism saves one in the same way a magic incantation saves one. The biblical picture, I believe, is in between these two poles.

By the way, when I say the answer is yes to the tension in Galatians 3:26-27, I do not mean to say we are saved by faith and baptism -- as though baptism is a work added to our faith. I think I would say that one is saved by faith in the Christ who comes to us in baptism.

I must add that in all this there is an element of mystery. I/we simply do not know all that God does in the sacraments. The Holy Spirit blows where he will and he works differently in different people.


+ Alan said...

Helpful stuff man. I think maybe it might also be helpful to expand what we mean by that word "salvation." What do we mean when we say that one is "saved?" I'd say, I guess that salvation is the holistic term for the whole process of transformation into the Image of Christ. What happens at Baptism is the Sacramental initiation of that process, for real - a real giving of some of God's Life essence, His Grace, which by virtue of the connection, first awakens New Life in us.

But then, as you say, the check cashing. Then we continue to "be saved" until we are completely re-made. So, the one second "decision" kind of faith response being "saved" - we're not finding that here. I'm not sure we find it in the Bible, but anyway. Are there subsequent faith responses, maybe several, in our lives? Sure. I hope there are. I guess we can look at those as the process of cashing the check, but not all at once. Just some thoughts to add to the mix. Peace.

Peter said...

Yes -- excellent addendum.