Monday, October 22, 2007

Baptismal Regeneration

The title of this post is a dirty phrase in Reformed circles. Quite dirty. We are caught between the claims of our Western Catholic roots (that baptism washes away the guilt of original sin), and those of later Protestant bleachings of sacramentalism (that it is an entrance symbol for believing adults).

A tradition of disbelief in baptismal regeneration kept my wife and me from looking too far into the conservative branches of Anglicanism many years ago, before I could ever entertain Roman Catholic claims.

The Reformed view teaches that baptism is a type of entrance rite into the Visible Church, and that it is a real means of some grace, but that it does not effect a forgiveness of original sin nor guarantee membership in the church invisible on the part of the infant. Therefore, if a child dies before the age of determination (of faith), their state of salvation is known only to God in his divine and sovereign decree of election. Here, for me, is the rub. At the loss of a child in utero, I was starkly faced with this idea that the salvation or damnation of a child of the kingdom was a horrifying mystery, seemingly random to my pathetic perceptions.

No one in our church or family would tell us that the eternal disposition of our stillborn son was completely indeterminable by man. Stranger still, they would not have been willing to tell us that this child, had he died shortly after baptism, was any more assured of salvation than by his death in the womb. Double election/predestination does not work that way. To posit otherwise is to effectively embrace Baptismal Regeneration (or some effective baptismal regeneration by parental desire, in the case of our stillbirth).


Jim said...

Yeah, although I once challenged a PCA pastor I knew simply to read WCF ch 28.1 at the next baptism in his church. He said he couldn't do it because it would confuse his congregation into think the Confession taught baptismal regeneration. "Precisely," I responded.

The WCF provides that baptism is "not only" for the admission of the baptized person into the church but is "also to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God through Jesus Christ, to walk in newness of life."

That baptism is a "sign and seal . . . of regeneration" means that baptism signals and authenticates the regeneration of the person baptized, a signal and authentication that did not exist prior to baptism. For all human purposes, it seemed to me to teach that regeneration is reckoned concurrent with baptism -- effectively baptismal regeneration.

Thos said...


Thank you for raising that point. The Chapter you referenced (I'm sure you know) goes on to say the seemingly opposite: "Although it be a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance [of baptism], 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."

So churches under the WCOF believe in "baptismal regeneration", but we mean something different than those who believe it to signify (or effectuate) the forgiveness of original sin. The WCOF says on the one hand that it is a "sign and seal... of regeneration" but that on the other hand "grace and salvation are not so inseparably" attached to the act of baptism "that all that are baptized are undoubtedly regenerated." This is a very confusing position to take. In a predestinarian setting, it seems to take any efficacy baptism has away from it. Baptism (infant or otherwise) is a "nice to have" but of course does not affect or influence God's ultimate sovereign election of certain people to salvation and others to reprobation (including infants). If you happen to be predestined, at your baptism you receive some type or degree of grace (but a non-essential amount). If you happen not to be predestined, at your baptism you receive a grace that does not save or regenerate, so you receive a worthless grace.

Peace in Christ,

Tiber Jumper said...

So sorry for the loss of your child. The Catholic church official teaching roughly is that we can't say for sure where the child ends but we entrust he or she to His Mercy.
Calvin of course was baptized as an infant and never was rebaptized.

Thos said...

Tiber Jumper,

Thanks for your thoughts. It was all a while ago. I wasn't out to elicit sympathy, but to observe how the treatment we received from our fellows in church and our families differed from the more academic views of Calvinism on this point. How branches of Christianity deal with the deaths of born and unborn infants is telling. I am comfortable with the Catholic teaching, and that is essentially my view too. It's also the (unbeknownst) de facto view of those who had to talk to us about it.

Peace in Christ,

Gary said...

I grew up a fundamentalist Baptist preacher’s son, very well educated in Baptist doctrine. I became an evangelical in my twenties: same doctrines just with a more positive emphasis. I am now a conservative (confessional) Lutheran.

Why did I become a Lutheran if I was taught, and still believe, that salvation is received through faith alone, in Christ alone? How could I join a Church that believes that God saves and forgives sins in Baptism? Baptism is a work!

I became a conservative Lutheran when I realized that the reason Baptists and evangelicals do not and cannot understand infant baptism and baptismal regeneration is that they do not understand how a sinner obtains FAITH!

As I said above, I was a Baptist preacher’s son. When I was nine years old, I got into trouble, and my mother gave me a well-deserved spanking. After the spanking, she talked to me about sin and that I needed to be saved. She led me in a prayer to ask Jesus to forgive me of my sins, come into my heart, and be my Lord and Savior. I remember feeling so good after finishing that prayer. I was saved!

I was then told that God would now speak to me or move me or lead me to do things to follow his will for my life. All the Christians around me were talking about God moving them, leading them, speaking to them…but I just didn’t have the same intensity of feelings that most of them seemed to have. So when I was about 15, hearing a good Baptist sermon, I asked myself this, “Maybe the reason God doesn’t speak to me like he does other Christians is probably because I am not really saved! I didn’t really believe the first time. Maybe I didn’t fully repent. Maybe I didn’t have enough faith.” So I prayed the equivalent of the Sinner’s Prayer again, with all sincerity and contrition for my sins. I felt that rush of good feelings again. I was happy. I now knew that I was definitely saved!

But then in my early 20′s I attended a non-denominational evangelical church (with Baptist doctrine). The people in this church REALLY had God. They would sway with the hymns, hands toward heaven, their eyes rolling back in the heads. "Wow! God REALLY speaks to these people! So why doesn’t he speak to me like that? There must be something wrong with me, because I don’t FEEL saved anymore!"

I left the Church altogether.

I was not the only Baptist/evangelical to undergo several born again experiences because we didn’t FEEL saved. My mother, the pastor’s wife, several years later, the person who had “led me to Christ”, decided that she wasn’t really saved either, so she repeated her born again experience just to be sure. And several other people in my church repeated their born again experience for the same reason: they weren't sure that they had done it right. If you go on your computer and google “how many times have you prayed the Sinner's Prayer?” you will find other Baptists/evangelicals who have gone through the same experience.

The problem with the Baptist/evangelical Doctrine of Faith is that it is based on US! Our salvation is based on us having the maturity and intelligence to make a free will decision to accept Christ into our hearts, So if later on in life we start to question our salvation due to not FEELING saved, what do we have to fall back on? Ourselves! Did I really repent? Did I really have true faith or was I trusting in my own faith? At nine years old did I really have the maturity to make a decision? MAYBE I DIDN’T DO IT RIGHT! So just to be on the safe side, I’ll sincerely repeat a version of the Sinner’s Prayer, and make 100% sure that, this time, I do everything right!

So, in this plan of salvation, which is supposed to be a FREE gift from God, we turn it into something that depends on us…on us doing the born again experience correctly!
To read the rest of this article, click here:

God bless,
Luther, Baptists, and Evangelicals

Gary said...

Your comments reflect a major misconception that evangelicals and the Reformed have of orthodox Christians. Lutherans do not believe that baptism is necessary (mandatory) for salvation. Not even the Roman Catholic Church believes this. All the saints of the Old Testament, the thief on the cross, and thousand of martyrs down through the centuries have been saved without Baptism. Baptism is not the "how" of salvation!

Lutherans believe that baptism is one of several possible "when"s of salvation, it is not the "how" of salvation. The "how" of salvation is and always has been the power of God's Word/God's declaration of righteousness.

A sinner can be saved by the power of God's Word when he hears the Word preached in a church, preached on TV or radio, reading a Gideon's Bible in a hotel room, or reading a Gospel tract that contains the Word. Salvation is by God's grace alone, through the power of his Word alone, received in faith alone. In each of these situations, the sinner is saved the instant he or she believes. Baptism is NOT mandatory for salvation to occur.

However, the Bible in multiple passages, also states that God uses his Word to save at the time of Baptism.

It is the work of the Holy Spirit, using the Word of God, that works salvation in the sinner's spiritually dead soul, according to the second chapters of Ephesians and Colossians, and the third chapter of Romans. Your "decision for Christ" does not save you, neither does your decision to be baptized.

God saves those whom he has elected, at the time and place of his choosing. Sometimes God saves them while hearing a sermon in church, sometimes at home reading the Word, and sometimes by the power of his Word spoken during Baptism.

God does 100% of the saving. The sinner is a passive participant in his salvation. There is no passage in the New Testament that asks sinners to make a decision for Christ. The Bible states that God quickens sinners, gives them faith, and they believe and repent.

The sinner does not decide to be saved. God decides to save the sinner!

Luther, Baptists, and Evangelicals