Calvin on Baptism: "hypocrites ...glory in a naked and dead sign"

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Some noticed my comment under another post, that I do not think men should place their children, wives, or themselves under the care of Lutheran pastors and churches, today. Why not?

Principally because modern Lutherans administer, teach, and write about the Sacraments in a way that leads tender souls to trust in the ritual and the elements rather than Jesus Christ. Here's the opening paragraph from a Concordia Publishing House pamplet distributed at no cost in the foyers of Missiouri Synod Lutheran churches around the country. Titled "What About Holy Baptism," it opens with this paragraph:

Suppose for a moment that there was a doctor who had such incredible talent that he could prevent people from dying, and bring those who had died back to life, never to die again. Just imagine how people would do whatever they could to be treated by this doctor! Now consider that in Holy Baptism, God actually does give us the gift of eternal life! Let's learn more about this marvelous blessing. (The pamplet goes on to make statements about the connection between "the Word" and the water, and once or twice faith is mentioned, but the first paragraph is an accurate representation of the whole.)

This is sacramentalism and it destroys souls. Yet sacramentalism is foundational to much of Christendom today. It permeates Lutheranism, Anglicanism, Episcopalianism, and Roman Catholicism, and it is connived at by many Reformed and Presbyterian denominations and pastors. In fact if we're honest we'll admit that the sacramental error is cheek-by-jowl next to every Biblical practice of infant baptism, bedeviling paedobaptist churches just as the sacramentalism of decisional regeneration bedevils credobaptist churches.

It is never, ever right to lead the souls under our care to believe that Baptism saves us...

The grace of Jesus Christ saves us, through faith; and that faith is the gift of God which must always precede Baptism. Saving faith is the only proper ground of applying the sign of initiation into the Covenant. The Lord's Supper and Baptism have never saved anyone and prettying them up with the labels "Eucharist" and "Holy Baptism" don't make them salvific.

As Luther and Calvin warned constantly, sinful men are always tempted to exchange ceremony and ritual for heart religion and saving faith. Thus, promoting our rituals and ceremonies in such a way that hardened or ignorant sheep trust those ceremonies to save them or their children is betrayal of those souls and their children.

What about where the Bible says "Baptism nows saves us?"

Jeremiah warned against uncircumcised hearts and Jesus warned circumcized Jews that their father was the Devil. Can we possibly be so very blind, then, as to trot out this text to make a point that is directly opposed to the entire thrust of the Word of God?

For those Reformed men who are Lutherans and Roman Catholics in drag, here is "Baptism now saves us" in context:

Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you--not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience--through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him. (1Peter 3:21-22)

Note that directly after writing the phrase the Holy Spirit corrects all those sacramentalists who would want to use this text to justify paragraphs like the one above from the Concordia pamphlet. He stops to clarify that it's not the ritual and ceremony that save us, but faith in Jesus Christ.

If we are to speak according to the words of the Holy Spirit, we will always issue this sort of Godly warning to those we are baptizing and those taking part in the ritual and ceremony. Baptism now saves us, but it never has been and never is the water, the naked sign. Saying so is empty deception. As the Apostle Paul writes:

See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority; and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; 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. (Colossians 2:8-12)

The circumcision of Christ was a circumcision made without hands. The baptism of Christ is a baptism made without hands.

So the next time someone justifies the evil doctrine of baptismal regeneration by quoting "baptism now saves you," tell them to finish the sentence. The second half of that declaration made by the Apostle Peter under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit could not be more clear in denouncing the trust in ceremonies and rituals that has permeated Christendom from its very beginning.

Jeremiah knew what it was to war against it in defense of those souls under his care:

Circumcise yourselves to the LORD And remove the foreskins of your heart, Men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, Or else My wrath will go forth like fire And burn with none to quench it, Because of the evil of your deeds. (Jeremiah 4:4)

“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the LORD, “that I will punish all who are circumcised and yet uncircumcised--Egypt and Judah, and Edom and the sons of Ammon, and Moab and all those inhabiting the desert who clip the hair on their temples; for all the nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised of heart.  (Jeremiah 9:25, 26)

Jesus knew what it was to war against it in defense of those souls under His care:

They answered and said to Him, “Abraham is our father.”

Jesus said to them, “If you are Abraham’s children, do the deeds of Abraham. But as it is, you are seeking to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God; this Abraham did not do. You are doing the deeds of your father.”

They said to Him, “We were not born of fornication; we have one Father: God.”

Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and have come from God, for I have not even come on My own initiative, but He sent Me. Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My word. You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I speak the truth, you do not believe Me. Which one of you convicts Me of sin? If I speak truth, why do you not believe Me? He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God.” (John 8:39-47)

The Apostles knew what it was to war against it in defense of those souls under their care:

But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God. (Romans 2:29)

John Calvin knew what it was to war against it in defense of those souls under his care:

As Noah, then, obtained life through death, when in the ark, he was enclosed not otherwise than as it were in the grave, and when the whole world perished, he was preserved together with his small family; so at this day, the death which is set forth in baptism, is to us an entrance into life, nor can salvation be hoped for, except we be separated from the world....

"Not the removal of dirt from the flesh." This was added, because it might be that the greatest part of men would profess the name of Christ; and so it is with us, almost all are introduced into the church by baptism. Thus, what he had said before would not be appropriate, that few at this day are saved by baptism, as God saved only eight by the ark. This objection Peter anticipates, when he testifies that he speaks not of the naked sign, but that the effect must also be connected with it, as though he had said, that what happened in the age of Noah would always be the case, that mankind would rush on to their own destruction, but that the Lord would in a wonderful way deliver His very small flock.

We now see what this connection means; for some one might object and say, “Our baptism is widely different from that of Noah, for it happens that most are at this day baptized.” To this he replies, that the external symbol is not sufficient, except baptism be received really and effectually: and the reality of it will be found only in a few.

...when we speak of sacraments, two things are to be considered, the sign and the thing itself. In baptism the sign is water, but the thing is the washing of the soul by the blood of Christ and the mortifying of the flesh. The institution of Christ includes these two things. Now that the sign appears often inefficacious and fruitless, this happens through the abuse of men, which does not take away the nature of the sacrament. Let us then learn not to tear away the thing signified from the sign. We must at the same time beware of another evil, such as prevails among the Papists; for as they distinguish not as they ought between the thing and the sign, they stop at the outward element, and on that fix their hope of salvation. Therefore the sight of the water takes away their thoughts from the blood of Christ and the power of the Spirit. They do not regard Christ as the only author of all the blessings therein offered to us; they transfer the glory of his death to the water, they tie the secret power of the Spirit to the visible sign.

What then ought we to do? Not to separate what has been joined together by the Lord. We ought to acknowledge in baptism a spiritual washing, we ought to embrace therein the testimony of the remission of sin and the pledge of our renovation, and yet so as to leave to Christ his own honor, and also to the Holy Spirit; so that no part of our salvation should be transferred to the sign. Doubtless when Peter, having mentioned baptism, immediately made this exception, that it is not the putting off of the filth of the flesh, he sufficiently shewed that baptism to some is only the outward act, and that the outward sign of itself avails nothing.

But the answer of a good conscience. The word question, or questioning, is to be taken here for “answer,” or testimony. Now Peter briefly defines the efficacy and use of baptism, when he calls attention to conscience, and expressly requires that confidence which can sustain the sight of God and can stand before his tribunal. For in these words he teaches us that baptism in its main part is spiritual, and then that it includes the remission of sins and renovation of the old man; for how can there be a good and pure conscience until our old man is reformed, and we be renewed in the righteousness of God? and how can we answer before God, unless we rely on and are sustained by a gratuitous pardon of our sins? In short, Peter intended to set forth the effect of baptism, that no one might glory in a naked and dead sign, as hypocrites are wont to do.

This is Calvin's warning against all sacramentalists, whether Roman Catholic or Lutheran or Reformed: "No part of our salvation should be transferred to the sign."

To do so is to separate what Christ has joined together. It is to deny that Jesus Christ is the only Author of all the blessings Baptism offers to us. It is to transfer the glory of Christ's death to the water and to tie the secret power of the Spirit to the visible sign.

There are many who deny Sacraments are signs and seals and that God works through them imparting grace to His true sons. But across history the danger of Sacramentalism has been much, much greater.

It's no gain to prove one's zeal in repenting of one error by commiting oneself to another that is worse.