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Sasse on the Reformed Teaching on Baptism

July 1, 2011
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Therefore we do not hold with Thomas and the monastic preachers or Dominicans, who forget the Word and say that God has imparted to the water a spiritual power which, through the water, washes away sin. Nor do we agree with Scotus and the Barefoot Monks who teach that by the assistance of the divine will Baptism washes away sins, and that this ablution occurs only through the will of God and by no means through the Word and water. (SA III,V 2-3)

For Luther, everything depends on the close connection of water and the


God, however, is a God of life. Now, because He is in this water, it must be the true aqua vitae that expels death and hell and quickens forever (WA 52.102.9).

But that this presence of God or Christ cannot be any other presence than that in his Word will not need to be proved, we trust, in the case of Luther. All effects of Baptism, in the view of Luther and the Lutheran Church, are effects brought about by the Word connected with the water.

Consequently, the Reformed objection to the Lutheran interpretation of Baptism is none other than the objection to the Lutheran doctrine of the means of grace in general. That God gives his Spirit—and with him forgiveness of sin, life and salvation—to no one without the external means of his grace, without the external Word, without Baptism, without the Lord’s Supper: that is the point against which this objection is directed. “The power of Jesus Christ, which is the only power of Baptism, is not bound to the execution of Baptism” (Barth, op. cit., 14f.). A favorite distinction made by the older Reformed theologians was the one between external baptism by water and internal baptism by the Holy Spirit and the blood of Jesus Christ, which cleanses us from all sin.[1] The reception of both, they said, does not always coincide; it is possible to have the one without the other. Whether an individual receives the Spirit-and-blood baptism together with the water baptism depends upon whether he is one of the predestined or not. This point of view also accounts for the objection to emergency baptism, which has been raised again and again since Calvin, especially against the Weibertaufe (baptism by women, midwives). Even so late a document as the Union Constitution of the Palatinate contains the sentence: “The Protestant Evangelical Christian Church of the Palatinate does not recognize emergency baptism” (E. F. K. Mueller, Die Bekenntnisschriften der Ev.-Reformierten Kirche, 1903, 871).

After all (they say) Baptism cannot give man anything he would not have without Baptism. Salvation and damnation do not in any sense depend upon Baptism, but only upon the question whether a man has been predestinated unto salvation or not. That is classic Reformed doctrine. And even where, as in the school of Barth, the old predestination doctrine has been softened up or surrendered, the conclusion still stands: Baptism has been instituted by Christ—Calvin agrees with Luther and the universal tradition of the Eastern and Western churches that the institution is identical with the baptism of Jesus—hence it must also be practiced as an ordinance of Christ, but it is not necessary for salvation. According to Karl Barth (op. cit., 15), one can only speak of a necessitas praecepti [necessity of command], never of a necessitas medii [necessity of means].


From → Theology

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