Despising Baptism.

Is ‘despise‘ the right word?  by Gregor Winter

If you don’t really believe anything actually happens in Baptism, then…why bother?

 “Because Jesus told us to do it. Because it’s all over the Bible. Because it’s “Christian tradition”? Because it seems like the right thing to do?”

Well… I think that the Scriptures are quite clear that something actually happens in Baptism, and I think that Jesus was NOT into empty religious ritual…‘just because’.

So then, what is going on in Baptism? Could God’s power and God’s grace and God’s Spirit actually be given to the person (what does the Bible say…over 12 years of age???)?

I think so. (maybe it’s over 8 years old???) (what does the Bible say about the right age?)

So…if we’d rather trust in OUR decison, or OUR acceptance of Jesus…then do we “despise” what God would do for us, in Baptism?

Do we war against God’s unmerited favor for us, before we can act on our own?

I think we do.



13 Responses

  1. I think the classic definition of grace, “unmerited favor” is often inadequate. The definition used by the Orthodox is closer to “God’s presence at work in our lives,” which seems to work better if you try substituting the 2 definitions where grace is used in the Bible, and certainly make sense in what God does in baptism.

    I have always found it interesting that when churches “dedicate” infants, they usually pray essentially the same things we do at baptisms; but then the emphasis changes from God to the individual, and baptisms become mere testimonies. It wouldn’t be so bad if they were testimonies to what God has done, but too often, they are testimonies to a person’s commitment.

    Despise may be the right word, at least for some.

  2. Steve,

    It is precisely the despising of baptism and the Gospel. It’s as Forde points out many times concerning the HD of Luther, the old Adam does indeed hold out to the last drop for something “he did” even disguising under “by the grace of God/I thank you God”. When one understands that fundamentally even Arminianism argues against Calvinism that its not synergistic but monergistic, something I discovered when a Calvinist – one has to scratch their heads and wonder as a Calvinist, “how do Arminians EVEN think they are monergist?” When one comes to understand Luther’s BOW, especially with the HD in hand, one sees it, “HEY, even the Calvinist are synergistic and Calvinistic Total Depravity though it sounds like Bondage of the Will, is not really BOW nor is it true to its own name.” THEN, one sees eventually how/why an Arminian dares to argue with a Calvinist that “Hey we are monergist not synergist”. The Calvinist just scowls at that, but is then SHOCKED that Lutheran says, “You Calvinist are synergist TOO!”

    It sounds like a LOT of name calling but its not, it’s the principles behind each that reveal that even though the Calvinist says, “monergism”, his theology is “synergistic” to the bone. Keep in mind that for Luther “forgiveness of sin” was not just “a” doctrine but THE issue. In both Calvinism and Arminianism it’s a side course AFTER “salvation and life” are given. Luther = “WHERE there IS forgiveness of sin, there is life and salvation”. Calvin/Arminian/Rome = “where there is salvation and life, there is forgiveness of sin”. It’s really not more complicated than that. Thus, the Arminian can say, “I’m a monergist BECAUSE its not by “my power” but ‘by the grace of God given that I can believe/do good works, etc…’ That “grace” simply comes enshrouded in the created order. The Calvinist simply shifts this synergism to the “post-conversion” state of being in which “grace” comes and gives the power so that ‘by the grace of God given that I can believe/do good works, etc…’. Romanism puts that synergism not so much as in time pre or post conversion but in the pouring through the means (they call grace) of the sacraments, like gas tank filling up so that, once again we have, ‘by the grace of God given that I can believe/do good works, etc…’. In this way ALL three can say, “I don’t mean I do it (synergism), but that ‘by the grace of God given that I can believe/do good works, etc…’ (monergism)” that way they ALL three have plausible deniability on the subject and can say, “Not I” but “for the grace of God” somewhere in the formula and thus not synergism but monergism.

    But NOTE the subtle craftiness of this false teaching, how the terms “grace” and such are shifted subtly. And the main issue, whether explicitly admitted to or implicitly not admitted to is the “changed being” so that “where there is salvation and life, there is forgiveness of sin” and NOT “Where there IS forgiveness of sin, there is salvation and life”. The synergist, all three, Rome, Arminian, Calvinistic, ALL invert the entire Christian religion. Now they can say, “hey wait a minute we believe in forgiveness too”, but its all very subtly inverted so as to be an entirely different religion. The primary issue for the synergist doctrines is “changed life” which retains the Satanic reversal of the love of God, whereby we impose upon God that his love comes about by the lovable thing (human love) and so disappears when it is not lovable. Yet for Luther God loves the unlovable thing, the GREAT sinner, period, sans change and dies for it. Here Luther brilliantly observes that at the Cross God shows Himself to be TRUE creator again loving the unloving thus re-creating ex nihilo out of nothing such that “let there be” = “I forgive you”, hence the Lutheran confession of “where there IS forgiveness of sin there is salvation and life”. Thus, reversing the Satanic inversion in which man tries to be God and makes things “where there is life and salvation, there is forgiveness” (light coming BEFORE “let there be”).
    Thus, baptism is despised when it is pure Gospel BECAUSE the old Adam hates it and wars with it.

    As to the why bother? I think we are already seeing that definitely in the baptistic camps, it’s a PLAGUE in those false churches, baptism has become almost nothing and here in KY in ‘SB central’, we are finding increasingly baptistic churches and baptistic derivative churches that entirely change baptism or don’t even baptize anymore. In the Reformed churches its held on to a bit more because its locked into the “covenant” stuff so it retains itself more there, BUT the Reformed Supper is hardly celebrated. On average 4 times, at our old PCA it was at least monthly but it was a battle to get it there. So you see the same principle going on, the sacraments don’t really DO anything, therefore they fall to the side over time as men see no value in them other than an occasional defensive position when called out on it.

    Do we really realize God is PRESENT in Baptism and the very flesh and blood of God is present at the altar? We all too easily pretend He is not and fall all too easily in some form of symbolism, whether we actually call it that or not.

  3. Steve, I made a comment over at in regard to the comment you had there about people despising baptism. It got positioned in a weird place on the page, though. It’s the fifth comment from the bottom of the page at the moment, I think.

    Take care!

  4. If one asks says for example one who confesses “believers baptism”, “do you despise the gospel”, they will say, “no”. If you ask “do you despise baptism?” They will say, “no”. However, if you ask the same, “do you despise that baptism regenerates (or similar)”, they will say, “yes” or similar answer why that is false (which is despising). THEN we get at the reality of what is despised baptism which is the Gospel and thus the Gospel as to WHAT IT IS and not just the outer nomenclature.

  5. Larry said….

    “If one asks says for example one who confesses “believers baptism”, “do you despise the gospel”, they will say, “no”. If you ask “do you despise baptism?” They will say, “no”. However, if you ask the same, “do you despise that baptism regenerates (or similar)”, they will say, “yes” or similar answer why that is false (which is despising). THEN we get at the reality of what is despised baptism which is the Gospel and thus the Gospel as to WHAT IT IS and not just the outer nomenclature.”

    Ike’s Comment:

    Larry makes a generally true point, especially within American evangelicalism….where just about every doctrine is stripped down to a shadow of the real thing. But, thankfully, this is not always the case. There is a large “Baptist” movement that holds to a much more Biblical understanding of Baptism than is typically found in American Evangelicalism. Two classic works on Baptism that I would recommend is Beasley Murray’s: “Baptism in the New Testament” and Anthony Cross: “Baptist Sacramentalism”. Both men are Baptists would agree that something actually happens in baptism; We receive Christ and all His benefits (which include the forgiveness of sins and the Holy Spirit). We would point out that baptism as a means of grace has nothing to do with a synergistic understanding of receiving the sacrament. It is by God’s grace alone and the power of His Word that brings about what is promised and held together in baptism.

    But we would also caution not to overestimate baptism. Baptism is not the gospel. God is the Gospel. “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel” (1 Cor,1:13-17). Here, Paul places baptism as subordinate to the gospel in his mission. That is because the gospel is the good news of Jesus….His death, burial & resurrection. We participate in His death and resurrection in baptism. Yet, we must be very careful to distinguish between the means of salvation and the basis of salvation.

    Steve said:

    “So then, what is going on in Baptism? Could Gods power and Gods grace and Gods Spirit actually be given to the person (what does the Bible say…over 12 years of age???)?”

    Ike’s Comment:

    The bible always connects and joins baptism to faith and faith to baptism (both are gifts of God’s grace…they are not something fallen man produces, but receives). You can’t have one without the other. The emphasize of Scripture is that baptism is associated with conversion, saving faith and receiving the objective nature of Christ’s saving work that is applied to His people at conversion. For example, Col. 2:11-12 says: Having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.” Through faith (a gift & work from God, not synergistic cooperation) is an explanation of how we were buried with Christ in baptism and how we were raised with him in baptism: it was and is always “through faith.” Faith is the gift of God causing a conscious experience of the heart yielding to the work of God and it is joined to baptism in this verse. This is something God works monergistically into the heart. Infants are not capable of a conscious experience of faith or a conscious appeal to God in baptism that Scripture so clearly holds together (Col 2:11-12 , 1 Peter 3:21).

    Furthermore, Scripture nowhere advocates, commands or records a single infant baptism. It is therefore impossible to directly prove or support this rite from the Bible. As Schlermaker once wrote: “All traces of infant baptism which one has asserted to be found in the New Testament must first be inserted there”. Those who advocate infant baptism generally want to advocate it from the Word of God and so they use Scriptures in which infant baptism is not mentioned to support it because thats all they have. And that is not a criticism, thats a fact.

    • Hey Steve….where’s my buddy Larry? Hope he’s still around…..wouldn’t be the same w/o him!! Not that you are “boring”……but Larry makes coming here more fun:)

  6. He probably just got busy. He’ll be back, Ike. 😀

  7. Ike,

    I’m still here old friend. I would have to agree in a reciprocate way, you do make it interesting.

    “There is a large “Baptist” movement that holds to a much more…”
    You are correct in that there is a aberrant and teeny tiny pocket of baptist that think this way. One of my best friends and a baptist pastor is like that. I don’t know if I’d call it large though.

    My theory is it distils from a number of baptist having been exposed to some Reformed teachings on the subject and the Reformed teachings that tend to lean in the direction of say someone like Michael Horton (a “Lutheran leaning” Reformed person). Such baptist get just as much castigated as do the those Lutheran leaning Reformed folk.

    However, it ultimately falls flat and gives into human reason, somethings Lutherans would not do, at least not those true to the confessions and definitely not Luther himself. It’s almost a half-way house if you will, even though that is impossible at the end of the day. It ends up contradicting itself. For example in your own words:

    On one hand such baptist would say: “We receive Christ and all His benefits (which include the forgiveness of sins and the Holy Spirit).”

    But then on the other hand: “Baptism is not the gospel. God is the Gospel.”

    And therein lay the poison, as Luther would say. It is in fact the Gospel, the forgiveness of sins is the Gospel, it is why we say, “where there is forgiveness of sin there is life and salvation”. There is no way to “over-estimate” baptism. To say that, the Lutheran would reply is the same thing as saying one “over-estimates” Christ. Christ is baptism, and is God, where His name is, there He is too savingly, one is baptized INTO Christ says Paul, etc…

    Ultimately it’s a holder of a version of “once saved always saved” mingled with double predestination.

    Such baptist sound closer but still miss the point and it’s basically due to letting reason have magisterial position over faith and not a ministerial position under Christ. It’s mitigating Reformed position, that they take, minus infant baptism. Both miss the entire point.

    It’s fault is revealed in that baptism is still defined, sine quo non, by faith as the basis, which it is not. It’s defined by the name of God, with or without faith. A faithless person is still baptized and forgiveness given, yet he rejects it and no faith appropriates it.

    Ultimately the temptation of fallen human reason to resolve why some are saved and some are not, even in baptism, (and not faith alone) creates always one of two heresies, arminianism or Calvinism (in short hand) and both thoroughly synergistic.

    Luther and Lutheranism simple, according to Scripture, refuses to entertain and answer these mysteries (reason subjected unto the revealed Word, aka, Christ and not attempting to be magisterial to Him, aka original sin). They are no more answerable by fallen human reason than is the Trinity, the incarnation, the two natures, the bread/flesh and wine/blood. Faith is thus that gifted creature from above that knows these paradoxes to the utter offense of reason for that very purpose, that reason is slain by the Cross, and faith is created by the same. Man then returns to being the creature and God returns, for the same, to be his God – reversing the fall in which the fundamental original sin was NOT “the negative sins” but man’s seeking to be more pious than God himself, and to know God from above God and thus be as god himself.

    Thus, whenever fallen human reason attempts to resolve ANY article of faith, like said baptist still do, it will always plunge deeper into heresy and false teaching, distilled, it thinks, from Scripture. It’s still attempting to get behind the mysteries of God and know Him from above Him and lord over Him, so it thinks by knowing mysterious not given him to reveal. Such is outside of faith and shear damnable sin. To seek to answer the question, “why some are saved and some are not” in this way in explaining the sacraments is simple original sin repeating itself. It’s looks pious, of course it does, but is the head of all sin and the mother of all more gross immoral sin. Such seeking an answer and giving a doctrinal explanation, is ironically, the mother of Sodom, for example (Paul’s entire point in Romans 1:18-ff). As is all asking and seeking a reasonable doctrine about the articles of faith be it the Trinity, the two natures, the incarnation, baptism and the real body/blood of the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper. Mohamed’s issue with the Trinity was the same issue Calvin had with the Lord’s Supper and the Pope’s with justification by faith alone – fallen reason led them by the nose to a doctrine of demons in various strengths.

  8. Steve or Larry,

    If you have the time, could you explain the difference between Lutheran understanding of Baptism verses a Catholic or Eastern Orthodox view? If you are knowledgeable in this area, I am particularly interested in understanding the Orthodox view.



  9. Ike,

    Steve might be able to help more here, or Bror if he’s got his ears on. I better understand from the Calvinistic side of the house. I know very little of the Orthodox view except snippets and I know a little more of the RC view mainly from reading Luther, Sasse and Chemnitz. It is a good question though and helps “peel apart” the difference. I can give you my digestion of what I understand.

    RC: See’s baptism as a “sacrament” that more or less “fills up the gas tank” in order to begin the PROCESS of being a Christian. Key to this is the similar thing you see in Calvinism in which a process unto salvation is necessary. One stunned me as a baptist finally actually talking to some RCs was that they never spoke the way I was taught as baptist Catholics believe. E.g. they NEVER say, “I think I’m saved by my works”. More stunningly they NEVER say, “I’m saved by being baptized”. Something as a baptist I was constantly taught. I actually NEVER heard that stated until Luther. Over time in talking with RCs it began to don on me, “they don’t trust in their baptism any more than a baptist does”, in fact they speak like a baptist about “good works” and such and “if there are no changed life, then justification didn’t occur”. Thus, for them baptism is the initial “power source” that gets things going. If you talk long enough to a RC and a baptist you will at length find their conversation the same. A stunning example: One time in a journal I was reading a piece by John Piper in which he stated, “God saves us with an eye toward good works”. STUNNING! That’s exactly what during Luther’s day that (I cannot for the life of me recall his name – and we just talked about him in SS) _____ a Roman Catholic theologian/priest at the time said. It is common doctrine. Thus all boiled down you have Rome on one side seeing baptism as the “sacrament” that energizes the PROCESS and the baptist that sees the ordinance of baptism as a sign of the inward reality that is also PROCESS.

    I don’t know much about Grk. Orthodoxy and their doctrine on baptism. They do leave the term better as “mystery”. I think in our modern English understanding that more immediately connotes baptism (as well as the LS) than “sacrament” immediately does. I’m not speaking directly of GO’s doctrine but just the term and English. Sacrament kind of requires some digging and separating to get the Lutheran doctrine on it as opposed to Rome or Calvin, “mystery” more immediately captures, “First of all this is a paradox above us and thus an article of faith, so ‘fallen reason of mine’ beware you will be offended and at length slain by the Cross on this”.

    In a more stark view one can see in the LS better the similarity by different routes that Calvin took versus Rome. Both end up in a ditch of false teaching and thus obscure Christ and Him crucified, just one ditch is on the left and the other on the right. How so? Fallen human reason. Because neither could leave the secrets of God in the mystery, the sacrament, via reason they seek to resolve the tension. That “tension” is the atmosphere, if you will, of faith. Kill the “atmosphere” you choke out faith. So one finds in the sacrament of the LS the finite part (bread and wine) and the infinite part (the body and blood of God – realize that statement alone is a paradox we cannot solve either, i.e. the flesh and blood of God makes no more sense than does “how is bread and wine the body and blood of Christ” = article of faith = slayer of reason). Rome, via reason, attempts to resolve the tension (faith’s atmosphere) by collapsing the finite part into the infinite part, the bread and wine BECOME the body and blood. Calvin/Zwingli/et. Al., via reason, attempt to resolve the tension (again faith’s atmosphere) by eliminating the infinite part, there is located in your hand/mouth only bread and wine. Both eliminate via reasoning, not Scripture, what God has joined to together.

    There’s a story of a Lutheran pastor, no less, once so wanting people to realize Christ was present he basically spoke so greatly of the sacrament so that the congregation would know Jesus was gathered with them that day in worship. But he missed the point entirely that in the sacrament IS the true and very body and blood of Christ.

    Truth be known in all of us we battle this. This is no easy thing to believe. In fact its impossible by one’s own effort or mind to believe. I find constantly that my reason wars with my faith on the way to the altar saying inwardly, “it’s just bread and wine see”. The battle for the faith need not be external, “the pope within me” (borrowing Luther) is my worst enemy and the worst heretic of all!



  10. The Eastern Orthodox refer to all the sacraments as mysteries – points were Heaven and Earth come together in invisible ways. They do not limit the number of sacraments, but do identify 7 main “mysteries,” understanding that we can experience grace in many ways.

    The Eastern Orthodox do not view baptism as symbolic (although the water and the act do have symbolic aspects). In baptism, a person is united with Christ in his death and resurrection, and so is regenerated in baptism; it is literally a person being “born again.” Also, as it states in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, baptism is “for the remission of sins” – a person being baptized is cleansed of all sin. Once baptized, a person is part of the church.

    In practice, baptism must be by immersion, and they are immersed 3 times (even infants are completely immersed), in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. After baptism, baptized is clothed in a white robe or gown to symbolize the new life in Christ. If you ever get a chance to witness an Orthodox baptism, it’s a pretty awesome experience. I believe it is always done as a separate ceremony, not during the morning liturgy.

    In Orthodoxy, baptism is always followed by chrismation, where they are anointed with oil to receive the Holy Spirit, and the Eucharist (at the next regular worship service), regardless of age (I believe infants are given just a drop of wine…).

    While there are differences in practice, the Orthodox view of baptism seems quite close to Luther’s view.

  11. What Alden said did just remind me of a nice concise point Sasse makes in “We Confess The Sacraments”.

    Basically one think in EO protected it from the neoplatonic development of Augustines “sign” “thing signified” theory.

    In the sacraments EO never has a “sign” theory, it never used platonic categories. So that for example Baptism is not a sign but rather “what God does”, God’s work. Thus, they did not so much suffer from this error as there is no room for “sign” in God’s working, its simply God working.

    You will note that even the better Calvinistic exegetes when they even go into the OT passages where God says He’s with His people and in the miraculous acts like the dividing of the Red Sea and Jordan that they are signs signifying His presence with his people but not His actual presence.

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