Validity of this and that baptism...

ShowalterFountain (Tim) Often, our session wrestles with the question whether this or that baptism is valid. For instance, if a young woman has come to faith through the ministry of Campus Crusade here at Indiana University, following which several of her Crusade sisters baptized her in Showalter Fountain, should we require her to be baptized again for membership in Church of the Good Shepherd?

We did.

More common are questions related to the validity of baptisms done by churches holding membership in non-profit religious organizations where the marks of the Church are absent and the organization publicly confesses that, for instance, sodomy and baby-slaughter may be acts of faithfulness before God. From my years in the PC(USA), it will increasingly be true that baptisms under the aegis of these non-profit religious organizations and their affiliates are not done in the Name of the Triune God, but rather using the modalistic language of "Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer." 

Good brother, Andrew Webb, has a helpful blog where he recently wrote about this question, giving a history of the debate among Reformed churches with particular emphasis on North America, and linking to a number of helpful historic documents related to this matter...

Check out the comments section below his post, also. And in connection with the comments, when we consider how far beyond the borders of the Roman Catholic Church the invalidity of Baptisms extends, I'm not sure it's as easy as Pastor Webb tries to make it saying Baptisms are valid unless the church has officially adopted heretical confessions. Or rather, I should say I'm convinced it's not that easy.

Comments

Why try to re-invent the wheel? Didn't Augustine settle this question 1600 years ago, when he argued for the validity of baptism even among schismatics and heretics (On Baptism Against the Donatists)? He said that the validity of baptism was determined by the true Church, even when it wasn't performed in the Church. Besides, who would ever have the authority to determine what church is and is not valid enough to administer true baptism? A minister validly ordained? How will you ever decide that?

In light of CJ's comment,
Assessing the validity of one's baptism is often connected with the conviction of what the baptism does or signifies. As Augustine held a view that practically equates the receiving of baptism with the forgiveness of sins, it is no surprise for him to assert that God's work in baptism cannot be nullified by man's rebellion, even if a person has left the church.
Since baptism signifies something already accomplished by the God, however, the leaders of the local church should weigh the validity of a person's baptism on the spiritual fruits (or lack thereof) following their baptism (including spiritual discernment and submission to the authority of the local church).

It seems to me that the only objective criterion that can be employed to determine the scaramental validity of a given denomination is that denomination's adherence to the historic ecumenical creeds.

That's sacramental.. sorry.

It's a useful neologism you've coined, Don, fitting in somewhere between "experimental" and "scary mental." And I tend to agree that a significant portion even of the reformed Church holds to a scaramental theology.

More to the point, insistence on bloody-minded objectivity at such points is usually failure of spiritual leadership rather than ministry after the Scripturally-mandated pattern of Paul, who, for instance, writes Galatians, then pays for the purification rites of the men at the temple.

I'm not sure you're advocating creeds as our only standard for acceptance of baptism. Perhaps you have additional subjective standards you'd apply as well...

If this is the case, I might be inclined to agree with you. But if you're advocating credal orthodoxy as our only test of baptismal validity we have a problem. That problem is the uniform desire of the human heart to reduce living faith to a legalistic work--and the desire of those called to do the work of shepherding to avoid the hard and dirty duties such a calling entails.

So often pastors and elders seek objective standards (beyond those of Scripture) in order to to avoid their duty to shepherd, to investigate, to discern, to inquire and know, in short, to do the hard work of pastoral ministry...

If we're going to take a stab at a single objective standard for baptisms, why settle for ecumenical creeds? Why not simply require that the baptizing church be officially on record as accepting the Bible?

If we made stated belief in the Word our objective standard at least we'd not end up in the lunacy of accepting baptism by an officially idolatrous and legalistic credal church (such as the RCC) but rejecting baptism by a church which, however misguidedly, avoids creeds in favor of a Bible-only approach yet truly believes and obeys the Word.

Such attempts at objectivity almost always descend into legalism--in this case, verbal assent to a distillation of Scripture truth, rather than living faith, as the measure of the church.

The problem with such an approach to baptism is that it spills over elsewhere. If the test of baptism is formal acceptance of the ecumenical creeds in the baptizing Church, shouldn't the same test serve equally for individuals? Shouldn't we, for instance, simply ask of potential communicants that they profess formal adherence to the ecumenical creeds? If creeds are sauce for the goose shouldn't they be sauce for the gander?

Yet the Scriptural test of legitimacy--both for individual lives and for churches--is not mere profession, but fruit. The first words of Christ to every one of the seven churches of Asia are, "I know your deeds...."

Even so, we're to ignore fruit in favor of formal acceptance of creeds in assessing the validity of baptism? It may make our decisions easier. I doubt it makes them better.

Love,

David

David, I gravitate to the historic creeds as an applicable standard by which to judge the institutional validity of baptisms because the creeds dealt first and formost with Christological issues( the person and work of Christ). A proper understanding of this would seem to me too be at the very heart of a proper understanding of baptism. Also, the Church is an historic institution. I have a very difficult time seeing the Church in the absence of an appreciation this historic continuity.

Yours in Christ,

Don

James, you want to do something more impossible than deciding if each minister is validly ordained - weigh each person's spiritual fruit! I would hate to be in your church. Much spiritual fruit tends to be invisible, and we cannot see inside a person's heart. Trying to do anything other than what Augustine said is a recipe for impossibility. As long as the Biblical formula is used and understand correctly (the Trinitarian formula), there should be a valid baptism.

"Much spiritual fruit tends to be invisible"

Does it? Odd then don't you think that the Bible clearly states that a tree is known by its fruit? The idea of invisible fruit is utter nonsense.

David, while I share your concern about fruit, institutional fruit can be rather difficult to quantify. Where does one draw the line? Also the self designation "Bible believing Church" is a tad amorphous for me.

Love, Don

Dear CJ and James,

Permit me a few comments here which I trust will pertain.

As a disclaimer, let me say that I find extremely thorny this question concerning the validity of baptisms, particularly those done in the Roman Catholic Church, and I am in agreement with Tim's comments here (though perhaps not every detail of Pastor Webb's post). I find the PCA's most recent position papers on this question cogent and well-argued, and yet, if I may be so bold, I'm not wholly convinced by every point in the majority report—though I am also disinclined to trust my own reasonings more than those of my wiser forbearers.

Now, as to the matter of Augustine, a few points. First, it's important to remember that the contexts in which Augustine addressed baptism dealt not so much with the purity or godliness of the respective churches in which the baptisms took place as they did the purity and faithfulness of the ministers administering them. Augustine had little complaint about the outward godliness of the Donatists or heretics (save the pride of the former in their unique "purity"); he was more concerned about the schism they promoted. Thus his comments about the validity of heretical baptism should not lead us to assume that he only required adherence to a formal creed, nor it is self-evident to me that he would have accepted the baptism of liberal "churches" today; rather, I tend to think he would have accepted far more an Arian baptism in his day of a convert with subsequent fruit than he would the baptism in an "orthodox" denomination today of a man who has no fruit.

This leads to my second point, that it's wrong to think that A's belief in baptismal regeneration meant that the subsequent fruitfulness of its recipient was unimportant. Far from it. The 4th century baptismal ceremony was far more significant to its participants than today's generally is, and it was expected to be a defining line in their lives subsequent. Further, St. Augustine distinguished sharply between the validity of baptism and its fruitfulness. As he put it, "It's one thing not to have it [baptism], another not to have it in a useful way" (de bapt. 4.17.24). This is at the heart of how he was able to allow for heretical and schismatic baptism, for a heretic could have a baptism that was valid and yet not ultimately useful for salvation. So, James, this is how he was able to accept as still valid the baptism of a man who subsequently rebelled against the church; it would be wrong to rebaptize such a man, but the baptism would have contributed nothing to his salvation because of his rebellion and lack of faith.

Finally, it's necessary to know that Augustine always cared far more for the practical, moral consequences of faulty doctrine than he did for the propositions themselves. His polemics against the Donatists and Pelagians were motivated not by his irritation at their failure to assent to a particular doctrinal formulation, but rather by his conviction that (1) the pride that motivated both errors was deadly to their souls; (2) that their errors were an affront to Scripture (in the case of the former, to the doctrine of Christ and the church; in the case of the latter, to the doctrine of sin); and (3) that a misunderstanding of baptism was no tempest in a teapot, but a matter that had grave consequences.

Because of this, it's my opinion that Augustine would have eventually renounced the error of baptismal regeneration that plagues him, had he lived long enough to see the damage it would cause to the primacy of faith in salvation, a matter he championed repeatedly. Be that as it may, we must at least understand that a valid and useful baptism required far more for him than assent to creeds; it required persevering faith—and this is the reason I suspect he actually would have ended up denying the useful baptism of even many of today's "orthodox," but fruitless, churches.

Warmly,

Josh

*******
P.S. Here are a few more quotes on the matter:

"...But they who are in the great house after the fashion of vessels to dishonor, both have baptism without profit to themselves, and transmit it without profit to those who follow their example: those, however, receive it with profit, who are united in heart and character, not to their ministers, but to the holy house of God...yet [as for heretics], they possess it, though the possession be of no avail; and it is received from them, even when it is of no profit to those who so receive it, though, in order that it may become of use, they must depart from their heresy or schism, and cleave to that house of God. And this ought to be done, not only by heretics and schismatics, but also by those who are in the house through communion in the sacraments, yet so as to be outside the house through the perversity of their character. For so the sacrament begins to be of profit even to themselves, which previously was of no avail" [de bapt. 7.52].

"Nevertheless, if any one were to press me...to declare what my own opinion was...I should have no hesitation in saying that all men possess baptism who have received it in any place, from any sort of men, provided that it were consecrated in the words of the gospel, and received without deceit on their part with some degree of faith; although it would be of no profit to them for the salvation of their souls if they were without charity, by which they might be grafted into the Catholic Church. For “though I have faith,” says the apostle, “so that I could remove mountains, but have not charity, I am nothing.” Just as already, from the established decrees of our predecessors, I have no hesitation in saying that all those have baptism who, though they receive it deceitfully, yet receive it in the Church, or where the Church is thought to be by those in whose society it is received, of whom it was said, “They went out from us.” But when there was no society of those who so believed, and when the man who received it did not himself hold such belief, but the whole thing was done as a farce, or a comedy, or a jest,—if I were asked whether the baptism which was thus conferred should be approved, I should declare my opinion that we ought to pray for the declaration of God’s judgment through the medium of some revelation seeking it with united prayer and earnest groanings of suppliant devotion, humbly deferring all the time to the decision of those who were to give their judgment after me, in case they should set forth anything as already known and determined" [de bapt. 7.53].

"don't you think that the Bible clearly states that a tree is known by its fruit? The idea of invisible fruit is utter nonsense."

I agree to an extent that we should be able to see fruit, but can you see joy, or peace? Can you see inner understanding, or do you know when someone is praying or fasting? You may think you can, but my problem is more with the idea of judging other people to decide whether they have enough fruit for their baptism to be valid. Who might look at my life and decide that I am not measuring up, and therefore I need to be re-baptized? How much fruit do I need? And how much time do I get? I am trying to point out the problems in such an approach.

Yes, God will judge us for our fruit, or deeds, but He is a perfect judge, and can see what is invisible.

Brothers,

In the matter of judgments required of pastors and elders in the course of our work, I think not only of the Donatist controversy, but also of Edwards and his Northampton conflict, as well as the F-V battle of our own time, and I believe this: we must avoid, on the one hand, the sacramentalism of the Pharisees who claimed Abraham as their father when their father was actually the Devil; and, on the other hand, the proud and loveless utopianism that seeks a pure church with the end result of uprooting wheat with the tares.

Ironically, the cheap grace of some F-V opponents and the incipient (if not actual) sacramentalism of some F-V proponents end up in the same place, both removing the weight of judging fruit from pastors' and elders' work of teaching, preaching, prayer, and pastoral care.

Watchmen are called to keep watch, and it's their duty to warn when their vigilance at the watchtower pays off in the form of noting approaching danger when it's still a long way off. The man who, being made a watchman, salves his bad conscience brought on by his slothfulness in the watchtower with talk of the objectivity of the Covenant and the efficacy of Baptism; or talk of grace's gracefulness and the free imputation of Christ's righteousness and the preservation of the Saints...; why both are equally unfaithful to their calling to keep watch and to warn.

When I had a former Navigator now in middle age and having committed adultery sitting in my office impervious to his wife's sorrow and grief and expressing nothing beyond intellectual assent to his adultery being evil; after several weeks, I finally said to him that the lack of remorse, grief, as well as the presence of other serious unreptanty sin in his life that had become obvious during our conversations all led me to wonder whether he was a Christian? To which he responded, saying, that he'd asked Jesus into his heart years before; that he'd prayed the sinner's prayer and "been saved," and that I had no business saying he wasn't a Christian; that salvation is by grace through faith, and that Jesus did it all for him; and that all of us live by grace, and so on. To which I responded saying that a tree is known by its fruit--not its pedigree or past experience--and that I wasn't saying he wasn't a Christian, but rather asking if he was? And that I myself could see no fruit in his life indicating he was, so I was doubtful...

Well, really, this man seems to me to be a classic case of the lack of compunction of conscience that Luther warned would be a worse state for the church than the Roman Catholicism that he and the others had just escaped. And for myself, I can't see how it matters that this man was deluded by his memory of having prayed the sinner's prayer, rather than being deluded by his intellectual assent to the Reformed doctrines of imputation, regeneration, and endless grace; or being deluded by the F-V or Missouri Synod Lutheran baptism.

All alike seek to escape the weighing of fruit through their own community's shibboleth, and so each of the three poses an equal danger to the immortal souls in the flock.

Love,

"Be that as it may, we must at least understand that a valid and useful baptism required far more than assent to creeds..."

The institutional validity of a baptism is a separate issue from the individual utility of the baptism to the one receiving it. I'm sure all would agree that individuals have received valid baptisms that were ultimately of no avail to them.

Dear Don,

>I'm sure all would agree that individuals have received valid baptisms that were ultimately of no avail to them.

Agreed, but my point is that even for Augustine, whose authority is often claimed here, I think the matter is more difficult than simply approving any baptism done by a church that formally adheres to the orthodox creeds. Rather, at least at some level, a lack of a 'society' that actually believed (as in...a mainline denomination?), and a lack of true belief on the part of the baptized (evidenced, arguably, by his deeds after the fact) introduces some doubt into his mind.

In other words, I think the issues aren't always separate, and that the more this is so, the more necessary and difficult the work of pastors and elders is.

Warmly,

Josh

"I agree to an extent that we should be able to see fruit, but can you see joy, or peace?"

I think both are apparent in all but the most stoic of persons.

"Can you see inner understanding,"

There is no inner understanding that doesn't work itself out in the affairs of daily life. It must.

"or do you know when someone is praying or fasting?"

If by someone you mean just anyone then of course not. But I am in a close community where we know each other.

"You may think you can, but :snip remainder of quote:"

That paragraph is really irrelevant to my point. You spoke of invisible fruit. I pointed out that trees, and persons, are known by their fruit. A person not demonstrating the fruit of Christian faith is at best an unknown entity. The discerning pastor, or brother/sister in inclined to ask questions, not jump to conclusions.

"Yes, God will judge us for our fruit, or deeds, but He is a perfect judge, and can see what is invisible."

The One who sees what is invisible is also the one who told us what to look for. He is also the one who placed shepherds over the body to keep watch over souls.

No one has a check list of essential attributes that one must demonstrate to receive a passing grade save one. By this men will know that you are my disciples….. I trust you know the rest of the passage.

Please humor me with a personal observation:

I find the discussion of subjective fruit assessment to be an ideal one but it fails to work itself out very well in practice.

Indeed, this approach requires such an investment of time as to render it impractical to the point that people usually devise their own shibboleth tests to assist in the endeavor. So the approach is indeed subjective in that the exact form of the test is left up to the discerner and the test may or may not be relevant to the point (even though it will certainly be relevant to the observer). The test is none the less objective in that it produces an "up or down vote" on a given issue.

Moreover, when the issue is moved from the specific (pastor) to the general (elders) more often than not, tests must be employed to keep everyone on the same page or if you prefer, to maintain consistency in assessment.

As a benign example, my last church (charismatic) was great at classifying people according to their fruits. Their definition of fruits were things like emotional worship, singing in the choir, teaching home bible studies, volunteering time in the church office, adherence to dress codes, etc. It was naturally quite a shock when someone who was demonstrating all of these fruits burst forth with a profession of homosexuality or something of equal gravity. And while some of these fruit examples might seem almost humorous, every group seems to have some.

So, while this makes a great academic discussion, the working out in practice seems to me to be another thing entirely.

The characterization of creeds vs. fruit as a discussion of test vs. discernment seems to be an obfuscation of the issue. Everyone employs tests in their discernment. The issue is really about who gets to write the test when functioning on a corporate level (i.e. the Westminster divines or the local board).

Fred, I think you're basically right. In the end all such judgments are subjective because they're not God's. Some, such as credal professions, appear more objective than others, yet subjectivity remains at two points: first, in the origin of the creed, and second and more importantly, in the choosing it as our test. Subjectivity is inevitable even if the test itself appears objective. Good point.

Love,

David

Marc, do you always have to be so insulting? What is your point? You are wrong. Fruit is not always visible. And trying to judge the validity of baptism by fruit is impossible and futile. Fred is right; trying to judge fruit results in legalistic tests being applied against people.

And Josh,

I think you may be reading things into Augustine's "On Baptism..." that he neither said nor implied. It is clear that he believed: 1) Baptism was absolutely essential to salvation; 2) Baptism did not guarantee salvation, because faith/works/obedience were necessary to achieve final salvation; 3)baptism administered by heretics or schismatics was valid, because the validity of baptism derived from God, not from the person administering baptism, or from the person himself (his life, fruit, etc). Baptism, in other words, could be used as judgment, if a person did not persevere in faith. But it was still valid.

Of course, the Reformed view of baptism is different because baptism is separated from salvation, which makes it difficult to use Augustine in discussing baptism at all, but it should not lead to odd ideas such as a person not being validly baptized if he isn't acting like a Christian when he is 30 years old, even though he was baptized as an infant.

And lastly, if baptism is not essential to salvation, why does it matter? I know, because it's a sign, and the sign should match the thing signified. But you will NEVER settle the question, because each pastor/church/denomination will come up with his/its own view, which is not authoritative in the long run, because there is no authority in the Protestant world.

>V. Although it is a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance, 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.

>VI. The efficacy of Baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered; yet, notwithstanding, by the right use of this ordinance, the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited, and conferred, by the Holy Ghost, to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongs unto, according to the counsel of God's own will, in His appointed time

I think the WCF statements, above, on baptism, are hard to square with the notion that "baptism is separated from salvation," merely that they do not operate in the fashion Augustine understood.

"I think the WCF statements, above, on baptism, are hard to square with the notion that "baptism is separated from salvation," merely that they do not operate in the fashion Augustine understood"

You're right, David. I should not have said "separated." I meant that the views are different, as Augustine believed that baptism was necessary for salvation. However, I do have a question. Why is the WCF more authoritative than Augustine? The RCC view on baptism is pretty much identical to Augustine's view. So how does one decide who has the authority to give us the correct view on baptism, especially since we are all reading and trying to interpret the same Scriptures?

>>it should not lead to odd ideas such as a person not being validly baptized if he isn't acting like a Christian when he is 30 years old, even though he was baptized as an infant.

Dear CJ,

Are you speaking of credobaptists' general opposition to paedobaptism? If so, that's a strange way to put it.

Anyhow, no one here has proposed such a thing as your summary above.

>>each pastor/church/denomination will come up with his/its own view, which is not authoritative in the long run, because there is no authority in the Protestant world.

CJ, let's not joke, here. The authority of the Roman Catholic church demonstrated to the watching world over the course of the past fifty years here in America is ...what? That the Pope can play stupid while hosts of priests and bishops bugger altar boys? While your seminaries are filled with sodomites? While every last one of your Roman Catholic politicians takes the Sacrament with impunity while trotting out the "personally opposed" hypocrisy for all the world to see, decade after decade.

And you have the audacity to speak of the Protestant world as lacking authority?

Subscribing for twenty-five years, I never saw the Wanderer's calls to reform heeded or even honored by your purportedly authoritative Roman Catholic Church. Subscribing to E. Michael Jones' Fidelity/Culture Wars for over twenty-five years, I never saw E. Michael Jones supported by church authority here in America as he worked hard to expose any number of heresies and abuses within the Roman Catholic institutions. Take, for instance, the wickedness of Medjugore....

And in case you or our readers don't know, these two publications are the most orthodox Roman Catholic periodicals in America, today. They've been calling for reform for generations, now, and have gone almost completely unheeded.

No, better to say they've been consistently persecuted by church authority.

Sir, I haven't even gotten into ethics, moral theology, and doctrine. Think of all your high-profile Roman Catholic brothers who espouse rank heresy and promote murder-by-healthcare-provider.

All your canards about Roman Catholic unity and authority are dust, mist, and vapor.

And even if you were to want to resort to the doctors of the church, you'd be stuck with seeing how those doctors disagree with each other, but particularly with the church fathers. This is one of the great sub-themes of Calvin's Institutes and if you haven't read them, drop this blog and get to work for the sake of your soul and the souls of your loved ones.

But if you choose to stay, silence about the authority or unity of the Roman Catholic Church. Why, even your supposed ecumenical synod of Vatican II has given the Roman Catholic Church nothing but turmoil and division. Liturgy, anyone?

President Obama honored by Notre Dame, anyone? Daniel McGuire, anyone?

Love, across the Great Divide,

This discussion seems to have switched from one originally concerning valid 'baptizers' to what constitutes a valid 'baptizee.'

When we baptize babies, I'm not sure why we're all of a sudden looking for fruit. I'm all in favor of good fruit in the lives of church members, of course. Use pesticides, if necessary.

> > can you see joy, or peace?"

> I think both are apparent in all but the most stoic of persons.

In some intense situations, a little stoicism may be beneficial to find peace.

> > "Can you see inner understanding"

> There is no inner understanding that doesn't work itself out in the affairs of daily life. It must.

It is sometimes easy to see a lack of inner understanding. Many people wear it on their sleeve. [Well, they wear it, with or without sleeves.]

> "Yes, God will judge us for our fruit, or deeds, but He is a perfect judge, and can see what is invisible."

I'm not so concerned about the invisible good fruit so much as the visible bad fruit. It's everywhere.

> It was naturally quite a shock when someone who was demonstrating all of these fruits burst forth with a profession of homosexuality or something of equal gravity.

Better to have people doing what is expected of them --playing the game-- even if it isn't their personal choice, than to have them outwardly rebelling and leading people astray, selling poisoned apples. Kids in our home are a good example here. They don't get to do whatever they feel like, what the kid down the street does. If the church is a family and people are to obey their elders, it would seem something must be expected.

> if a young woman has come to faith through the ministry of Campus Crusade... following which several of her Crusade sisters baptized her in Showalter Fountain, should we require her to be baptized again...?

Is that because of Campus Crusade, the baptizing sisters, the fountain with the nude woman, or all of the above?

I recently watched a sermon online someone recommended --a large, presumably 'complementarian' Baptist church-- where a woman baptized a child. Upon inquiry, I was told that the woman led the children's ministry. Hmmmm. As a good comp, I suppose she only baptizes children...

Dear Michael,

The practice of women doing baptisms is long established in the Roman Catholic church, and those who are tempted to return to something approaching her Sacramentalism while claiming Calvin as their father should gnash their teeth at Calvin's rejection of such baptisms.

Of course, both their acceptance and Calvin's rejection of this practice is one more indication of the utter and complete rejection of Sacramentalism that's always been at the heart of Scripture and the Reformed church's submission to It.

Tragic, the Lutherans and decayed Presbyterians/Campbellites/Restorationists/some Federal Visionists who have returned to it.

Love,

Dear Tim,

I am not sure I understand this... Do we look at the fruit of someone's life to determine the validity of their Baptism? This does not seem very covenantal to me. If the children of Israel were disobedient in the OT it was a matter of an uncircumcised heart and not a problem with their physical circumcision.

As far as the horror show that is Rome… While pedophile priests were not the problem in 16th century Rome, the Pope certainly turned a blind eye toward the debauched priests of his day and yet Roman baptisms were considered valid by most reformers. And to accept them as valid was actually a strike against the sacradotalism of Rome. Am I correct in this?

Al sends

>>Do we look at the fruit of someone's life to determine the validity of their Baptism?

Dear Al,

I don't, and I don't think I've written anything indicating I do.

>>and yet Roman baptisms were considered valid by most reformers.

As has been pointed out before, the Reformers were pastors, and such decisions were formed in the crucible of their context. Read anything by Calvin and it's very obvious. So we must take the measure of their principles and apply them, insofar as they conform to Scripture, to our own context.

As to my comments about debauched Rome, it was in response to the claim of authority, not this debate over the validity of this and that Baptism, dear brother.

Love,

Thanks Tim... As I said, I was not sure I understood things. I believe I may have conflated your comments with other's in the comment section.

This may be better asked of David B., but if the fruit of a Church can indicate its legitimacy (not sure if this is the same thing as validity) then could an institution with seriously bad fruit be considered legitimate in baptizing individuals? Why would the papists be more legitimate than the women at the fountain? What if they said they believed the Bible?

This discussion is helpful as I think through things related to Easter Orthodoxy as well. Blessings on you both.

al sends

>Marc, do you always have to be so insulting?

Huh? What did I say?

>What is your point?

That the Bible is perfectly clear in stating that a tree is known by its fruit. Frankly I fail to see the difficulty here. Your argument is not with me by with Luke 6, John 15 and other such passages.

>You are wrong. Fruit is not always visible.

CJ you’re simply not paying attention. There is nothing in what I’ve said that should leave anyone with the imression that I think all fruit is visible. An individuals thoughts and prayer life are obvious examples. But that is completely irrelevant and isn’t my point. My point is stated above. A tree, per Scripture, is known by its fruit. Obviously then the life of any individual will display visible fruit for one cannot be known by what is invisible.

>And trying to judge the validity of baptism by fruit is impossible and futile.

Again, you’re not paying attention. I haven’t suggested any such thing. I wouldn’t judge any baptism by looking at an individual. I do doubt the validity of baptisms performed by organizations that I consider outside the faith. Frankly I don’t see how an organization can affirm as de fide the Canons of Trent and be considered anything but a cult. But that is beside the point. My disagreement is with your early statement that “much spiritual fruit tends to be invisible”. Enough Scripture has been noted to put an end to that idea but since that doesn’t seem to be sufficient reason for you why don’t we talk about the illogic of the statement. How can you possibly know that “much” spiritual fruit is invisible? The whole idea is fallacious for how does one quantify what can’t be seen?

You then say "we cannot see inside a person's heart." Well that is true enough but we do see (according to the Bible) that which issues from it. (Prov 4:23) Additionally And “out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks”—or out of the abundance of the heart a person acts. Everything a person does and says is a statement about who they are. But when we’re talking about the heart CJ we’re talking ontology. When speaking of fruit we’re talking economy. It appears that you’re confusing the two. One does what one is or, once again, a tree is known by its fruit. My goodness, even a child is known by his doings, whether his work is pure and whether it is right.

Fred is right; trying to judge fruit results in legalistic tests being applied against people.

It might, but it doesn't always and it doesn't have to. Heb 13 tells the Christian to obey their leaders and be in submission to them for they keep watch over their souls. Do you imagine that pastors preach and teach with no eye, both corporately and individually, to those under their care? What dis it they take note of? Things invisible?

> [Al:] Roman baptisms were considered valid by most reformers.

They went beyond that; they were downright murderous when it came to those who couldn't, in good conscience, consider their Roman baptisms valid.

_Death by "Baptism"_

_On 7 March 1526, the Zürich council had passed an edict that made adult re-baptism punishable by drowning. On 5 January 1527, Felix Manz became the first casualty of the edict, and the first Swiss Anabaptist to be martyred at the hands of other Protestants. While Manz stated that he wished "to bring together those who were willing to accept Christ, obey the Word, and follow in His footsteps, to unite with these by baptism, and to leave the rest in their present conviction", Zwingli and the council accused him of obstinately refusing "to recede from his error and caprice". ...He was taken by boat onto the River Limmat. His hands were bound and pulled behind his knees and a pole was placed between them._

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Felix_Manz

Rome also executed re-baptizers.

_King Ferdinand declared drowning (called the third baptism) "the best antidote to Anabaptism"._

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anabaptist

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Sattler

You will pardon a slight smile if we sound rather Anabaptist on occasion. Such freedom we enjoy -- to discuss these things and not have to worry about being rounded up with our wives and executed by the reformers or the papists, whoever got to us first!

I posted a response to CJ. It was there and then it was gone.

"Are you speaking of credobaptists' general opposition to paedobaptism? If so, that's a strange way to put it."

"Anyhow, no one here has proposed such a thing as your summary above"

Tim,

No, I was just speaking of the attempt to judge people's fruit subjectively. And my summary is just an example of the end result of trying to judge someone's fruit.

I'm not joking, believe me. And I'm talking about magisterial authority. And believe it or not, I'm not Catholic. But if perchance someone were having some serious questions about Protestantism, heaven forbid that he should try to discuss these questions with good Reformed theologians/pastors, etc., because he will get insulted and attacked, never answered. Your comments did not tell me where the authority is in the Protestant Church, except in the individual who must decide these theological questions for himself. And baptism is rather an important one.

Can you not separate the individuals in a church/Church from the Church itself? I don't see how sinners in the RCC negates the magisterial authority of that church, anymore than the sins of Luther/Calvin would negate their teaching authority, if they had any. (I'm not saying they didn't). But you are confusing issues here.

I am now reading the Church Fathers, who are the doctors of the church. Their theology is basically Catholic.

Perhaps I should tell you that I'm not a sir; I'm a ma'am.

And you still haven't told me where the authority is in the Protestant Church. That is the great and burning question. Catholics can disregard the authority of their church, but the authority is still there. (American Catholics especially tend to disregard it). But I can't find it in the Protestant Church. Which is why you folks are arguing about what constitutes valid baptism.

>>heaven forbid that he should try to discuss these questions with good Reformed theologians/pastors, etc., because he will get insulted and attacked, never answered.

Dear CJ,

Thanks for telling me your sex. Isn't it nice--positively civilized, really--for us to know I'm a man and you're a woman? Now, if I only knew whether you were married or single, we'd almost have restored the civility of every past generation to this little spot in our callous and barbarous age.

Speaking of the Roman Catholic church, I find it telling that you speak of "you folks arguing." Why "you" rather than "we?" And no, I don't think you're lying; just that you're rather far down the road that crosses the Tiber (which is not to say you're Protestant or Reformed).

But since you make a claim about us, that we'll never claim or demonstrate authority, let me say that last Lord's Day I preached a sermon in which I explicitly stated the authority given by Christ to the church's officers to forgive and retain sins, to bind and loose. And I claimed this authority and others were explicitly given by our Lord to His Apostles and church officers. So no, we don't lack authority, nor the teaching and preaching and practice of that authority. And when you ask us about it, we're not bashful to tell you what the Bible says and that we live it out in our churches.

As to Roman Catholics and what you now refer to as "magisterial authority," you appear not to have read what I wrote. Whatever you want to call that authority--magisterial or otherwise--that purported authority was not used to protect the altar boys from their sodomite priests and bishops. What I said, quite clearly I thought, is that this authority you as a non-Roman Catholic claim for the Roman Catholic Church is toxic to the souls under her care, starting with pederasty and leading all the way up to the heresy of infusion which blinds men to the grace of God in our Lord Jesus Christ and leads many to Hell. This is what all the Reformers said and I think it bears repeating.

As to your own conclusion that debates over the validity of Baptism prove the absence of authority in the Protestant church, you don't seem to be able to think clearly, dear woman, or to know church history or to have read any current Roman Catholic in-house publications. What do you think Roman Catholics do all day every day? Agree with one another?

And have you nothing to say about the impotence (or, rather, non-existence) of authority in a church that gives the Sacred Host (their words) to the likes of Ted Kennedy as he concludes a lifetime of promoting the slaughter of unborn children?

You say "the church fathers... are the doctors of the church." They aren't.

You say the theology of the church fathers is "basically Catholic." You're right.

Unless, of course, you really meant to say it's "basically Roman Catholic."

If so, you're wrong. And to see your error, you need only read Calvin's Institutes.

Cordially,

I would like to clarify that my comments were not intended to imply that fruits could not or should not be assessed. They can and they should. The problem is with the nebulous “fruit”. Are we to view fruit as Paul describes in Galatians 5 or do we invent our own for the sake of expediency?

Observing and discerning Paul’s fruit is indeed the “hard work of ministry” as it requires time and relationship. However, if one’s idea of discerning fruit is checking off whether someone participated in an ice cream social, then discernment over creed is even more prone to poor “workmanship” (no, I don’t have anything against ice cream).

Mark, it is true that fruit of sanctification and regeneration will be present and observable in someone’s life. What is up for grabs is “how” it will be evident. It is easy to see the fruit of a single man who quits his job and shows up on the doorstep of the church ready for service. It takes a little more looking to see a wife who lays aside the prospect of a lucrative career in order to quietly apply herself to the rearing of godly seed.

On the other side of the coin, if claims of atheism, pantheism, or hatred of the Christian church can be interpreted as reliable signs of reprobation, then I can say, from my observations and experience, that the reprobate can demonstrate kindness, generosity, affection, and can even be selflessly committed to legitimate causes. But as a rule, they don’t get into the apostle’s creed.

The observation of refractory sinfulness is a different issue and, it seems, might preclude the utility of a discussion of fruit entirely. I had a good friend (until recently) who gave himself wholeheartedly to the Sunday school department at a particular church. When he announced his intention (and subsequently proceeded) to leave his wife and children, all of his past “fruit” simply didn’t factor into the assessment. Like Tim’s encounter, he was very mechanical about the sin in his life.

I once heard a deacon explain that he was looking for a particular fruit: service to the church. However, in the next breath he also explained that he was observing with a cautious eye in order to assess if someone was rendering that service in order to make a good impression. Peering into men’s hearts from the sidelines is a tough business.

Respectfully,

Tim,

This is an interesting discussion.

I was unaware that Calvin disallowed emergency baptism. He writes in Institutes IV.15.20:

****
The practice which has been in use for many ages, and even almost from the very commencement of the Church, for laics to baptise, in danger of death, when a minister could not be present in time, cannot, it appears to me, be defended on sufficient grounds.
****

Luther disagreed:

****
If it quickly turns out that the baby, as soon as it comes into the world, is so very ill and weak that it might die before it could be brought to public baptism in the church, the women are permitted to baptize it themselves with appropriate words, namely, "I baptize thee in the name of the father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit."

In this case one should diligently observe the following distinction, namely that the mother of the child should always have at least two or three women or persons called in such an emergency who can bear witness that the child has been baptized. Just as the holy Scripture says, "In the mouths of two or three is all witness."

Afterward, if the child remains alive, they should bring it into the church to the pastor or the deacon and indicate to him that the baby, in an emergency, was baptized by them; and they should request that he confirm and validate their emergency baptism by laying his hands on the infant's head. If this does not occur, as though the baptism performed by the women were improper and invalid, it is nonetheless in and of itself a proper baptism.

(quoted in "Luther on Women: a Sourcebook", page 184, quoting WA TR VI, no 6758)
****

Luther here was staying within the bounds of Christian Tradition. The 1911 Catholic Encyclopedia has this to say on the subject:

****
This right of any person whatsoever to baptize in case of necessity is in accord with the constant tradition and practice of the Church. Tertullian (On Baptism 7) says, speaking of laymen who have an opportunity to administer baptism: "He will be guilty of the loss of a soul, if he neglects to confer what he freely can," St. Jerome (Against the Luciferians 9): "In case of necessity, we know that it is also allowable for a layman [to baptize]; for as a person receives, so may he give," The Fourth Council of the Lateran (cap. Firmiter) decrees: "The Sacrament of Baptism . . . no matter by whom conferred is available to salvation," St. Isidore of Seville (can. Romanus de cons., iv) declares: "The Spirit of God administers the grace of baptism, although it be a pagan who does the baptizing," Pope Nicholas I teaches the Bulgarians (Resp. 104) that baptism by a Jew or a pagan is valid.

Owing to the fact that women are barred from enjoying any species of ecclesiastical jurisdiction, the question necessarily arose concerning their ability to bestow valid baptism. Tertullian (On Baptism 17) strongly opposes the administration of this sacrament by women, but he does not declare it void. In like manner, St. Epiphanius (Hær., lxxix) says of females: "Not even the power of baptizing has been granted to them", but he is speaking of solemn baptism, which is a function of the priesthood. Similar expressions may be found in the writings of other Fathers, but only when they are opposing the grotesque doctrine of some heretics, like the Marcionites, Pepuzians, and Cataphrygians, who wished to make Christian priestesses of women. The authoritative decision of the Church, however, is plain. Pope Urban II (c. Super quibus, xxx, 4) writes, "It is true baptism if a woman in case of necessity baptizes a child in the name of the Trinity." The Florentine decree for the Armenians says explicitly: "In case of necessity, not only a priest or a deacon, but even a layman or woman, nay even a pagan or heretic may confer baptism."
****

"I find it telling that you speak of "you folks arguing." Why "you" rather than "we?"

Tim,

I just said "you folks" because when I came to the blog, you folks were arguing about it. I guess I did start arguing too. But it just seemed to me that each individual had a different theory, and that kind of bothers me. And it reinforces my concern that there is no one authority to settle these things. And yes, I suppose I am rather far down the road, but for various reasons, I haven't yet crossed that river. I am attempting to be very deliberate about things. However, whenever I have attempted to ask questions, I have usually not been answered, but rather insulted. Occasionally, a kind soul attempts to give answers (David Grey is genuinely kind).

As far as your church officers having authority, can they then settle doctrinal questions for the entire Protestant Church, as did the early bishops in council? Where did your church get its authority? The early Church practiced apostolic succession.

I did read your post, but I think you were assuming that I was Catholic and knew all about everything you were talking about. As far as sexual abuse, authority doesn't prevent sin; if it did, Christ's authority would preserve us all from sin. There is sin enough in the Evangelical world that I don't think we should throw stones at the Catholic world. But perhaps I'm not following your argument well.

"As to your own conclusion that debates over the validity of Baptism prove the absence of authority in the Protestant church, you don't seem to be able to think clearly, dear woman, or to know church history or to have read any current Roman Catholic in-house publications. What do you think Roman Catholics do all day every day? Agree with one another?"

You seem to be saying that if I don't agree with you, that I cannot think clearly, which is a little insulting. I have read church history. I do read a good bit. I understand that Catholics discuss and disagree all the time; however, I also am aware that there is one official Catholic position on baptism, and it can be found in the Catholic catechism. There may be many Catholics who would like their church to change her positions on things, but that doesn't change the official teaching of the RCC. The Catholic Church may debate many things, but at some point, an official position may be arrived at; that does not and cannot happen in the Protestant world. Your church's position cannot stand for the entire Church.

I can see that I am not getting through to you with my question about authority.

And I am married. And have been for 29 years.

Dear Mrs. J,

I think you are right in saying I've not been gracious with you. I am sorry. Would you please forgive me?

Warmly in Christ,

>I also am aware that there is one official Catholic position on baptism, and it can be found in the Catholic catechism

And in turn I think it would be fair to state that there is one official Presbyterian position on baptism and it is found in the Westminster Confession of Faith.

Tim,

Certainly I forgive you. Thank you.

And to clarify something above: "As to your own conclusion that debates over the validity of Baptism prove the absence of authority in the Protestant church" - I was not concluding that debates over baptism prove the absence of authority. I was concluding that the fact that the debates cannot result in a definitive answer for all Protestants proved the absence of authority. As David Gray said, there is one official Presbyterian position in the WCF. But it doesn't stand for all Protestants. I'm not sure it even stands for all Presbyterians.

Mrs. J

It seems like this comes down to the question people always have about scripture - if God intended us to obey, why didn't He just make it really clear? Sin has made all of these things unclear to us.

Just because some council has stated something authoritatively doesn't mean each of us aren't also responsible to know the truth even (especially?) if it contradicts the authorities.

I guess I don't have any disagreement with your thinking that it would be nice if there was clear authority and consensus but it sounds a lot like the cry of people I've known who won't obey until it's all crystal clear and use the fact that Christians disagree as a sign that Christianity is untrue.

I know myself and I would dismantle all authority and all of scripture if God hadn't also given me a seldom used/realized ability to just trust Him even when all authorities look plainly sinful and misled.

I remember when I was deciding if I would infant baptize my children. I spent months researching all of this and the result was that I almost never decided, I think my daughter was baptized at 2 years old and the rest of my children right after birth. I hate deciding something unless it's 1000% clear but I just had to decide in faith but I didn't look to the authority in the church so that I wouldn't have to do my own thinking on the subject. I don't hear you saying that either but that's a danger.

-Clint

>>the fact that the debates cannot result in a definitive answer for all Protestants proved the absence of authority. As David Gray said, there is one official Presbyterian position in the WCF. But it doesn't stand for all Protestants. I'm not sure it even stands for all Presbyterians.

Dear Mrs. J.,

Thank you for your forgiveness.

You're right that it doesn't even stand for all Presbyterians, but this proves nothing about authority within the True Church of Jesus Christ. It is our perpetual quest to seek earthly foundations for our security when God has placed faith at the center of our hope and life and has made that faith rest in Him, His Son, His Holy Spirit, His Word, and His Church and her officers.

Those seduced by the arguments of the Orthodox and Roman Catholics about many things, but particularly their much-vaunted unity and authority, have demonstrated to me a worldliness similar to that of the Israelites seeking a king. And the protection and unity that came from their king is a good parallel to the protection and unity that comes from Romes' magisterium and Orthodoxy's patriarchates. Nothing but political machinations, arguments, schism, division, and spiritual impotence. Rome's heresies are no accident, nor their leading souls to Hell for centuries, now.

You want to focus on their unity over what constitutes a valid--or, in their case, an efficacious--Baptism, and use that as the test of unity and authority.

That's incomprehensible to me when their entire church is false. But I'll leave you to it knowing there are many out to seduce souls to what the Reformers referred to as the "Whore of Babylon" who will flatter you for your growing conviction.

I'm sorry, but I haven't the time or inclination to answer them since Calvin, Knox, Turretin, and even Luther have done such a fine job, already.

With affection and warning,

Hi Fred,

Not sure if this post is directed at me or not but at any rate it offers an opportunity to interact.

>I would like to clarify that my comments were not intended to imply that fruits could not or should not be assessed. They can and they should. The problem is with the nebulous “fruit”. Are we to view fruit as Paul describes in Galatians 5 or do we invent our own for the sake of expediency?

I’m assuming that question is rhetorical. Of course there is no standard apart from God’s word. Gal 5, 2Peter 1, the whole of John’s first epistle, love for God’s Law etc.

>Observing and discerning Paul’s fruit is indeed the “hard work of ministry” as it requires time and relationship.

That’s exactly right. That’s why no Christian can exist as an independent island. Body life is absolutely necessary for the Christian. And it’s the type of life that is everywhere present in the writings of the apostle John.

>However, if one’s idea of discerning fruit is checking off whether someone participated in an ice cream social, then discernment over creed is even more prone to poor “workmanship” (no, I don’t have anything against ice cream).

I don’t have any comment on that other than to note that the abuse of any standard doesn’t nullify the standard.

>Mark, it is true that fruit of sanctification and regeneration will be present and observable in someone’s life. What is up for grabs is “how” it will be evident.

I don’t think it’s up for grabs. I think the Bible is perfectly clear. (1Tim 5:24,25) I do think that men err and make mistakes of judgment.

>It is easy to see the fruit of a single man who quits his job and shows up on the doorstep of the church ready for service. It takes a little more looking to see a wife who lays aside the prospect of a lucrative career in order to quietly apply herself to the rearing of godly seed.

You know what Fred, I think that is only true of persons who isolate themselves from the body of Christ or are members of communities where teaching about love and mutual care for the members of the body isn’t preeminent. Close relationships within a church community, the type of relationships that we are exhorted to develop, prevent (for the most part) those types of misunderstandings.

>On the other side of the coin, if claims of atheism, pantheism, or hatred of the Christian church can be interpreted as reliable signs of reprobation, then I can say, from my observations and experience, that the reprobate can demonstrate kindness, generosity, affection, and can even be selflessly committed to legitimate causes. But as a rule, they don’t get into the apostle’s creed.

Atheists can be nice people, some claiming the name of Christ can be jerks and deception is always a possibility for fallible human beings. And the Holy Spirit was perfectly aware of all the limitations of mankind when he wrote that a tree is known by its fruit. So we are fooled on occasion by the deacon, or elder or church secretary, or pastor who abandon their covenant vows, or we see some church leader who is straining gnats and ignoring planks. We all know stories--I can put a name to each of those. But none of the failures, weaknesses, mistakes, misrepresentations whether accidental or intentional abrogate the clear words of Scripture.

Blessings In Christ,

Mark

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