Saturday, July 7, 2007

In Reality...

I've got a post in my drafts that I've been working on for awhile (and will continue to work on for awhile) about why I'm Lutheran -- the "why" being mainly the Sacraments. I have long desired to spell out my reasons in detail for my confused family and friends, and I am better able to do that in writing better than in conversation. In the meantime, Rebellious Pastor's Wife discusses with a Baptist how baptism now saves you also (1 Peter 3:21)

The title of her post calls to mind one of the turning points for my husband and I in our conversion. The footnote to 1 Peter 3:21 in the NIV Study Bible begins, "In reality..." and goes on to explain how "baptism now saves you" doesn't really mean that baptism saves you. How can you begin a study bible footnote with "in reality"? It belies a fundamental lack of faith in the words of Scripture, as if the Apostle Peter were a bit mistaken about reality and needs the commentator to help him out. That was when the scales began to fall away from our eyes. As evangelical protestants, we claimed to possess the highest view of Scripture, taking the words on the page at face value. But -- in reality -- we were reading our theological presuppositions into the text.

Presuppositions like: baptism is a human work. Human works cannot save. Therefore, baptism cannot save. So, almost unconsciously, we read "baptism" as "the spiritual reality that baptism symbolizes" -- or even "spiritual baptism".

But St. Peter, far from being out of touch with reality, goes on to clarify: "not as a removal of dirt from the body" (because he is talking about an actual physical washing with real water, he specifies that its effect is not ritual outward cleanliness) "but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience" (the remission of sin and guilt). How can water do such great things? "...through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers subject to Him."


The Rebellious Pastor's Wife said...


I noticed that as well when I was looking up things in my Open Bible (the front index is amazing). One of the listings under Baptism was "as figurative regeneration" and then linked to Titus 3:5 " the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit." No figurative there.

I've just started reading a treasure - its "On Communion" by Martin Chemnitz, and he strongly makes the point that dogma cannot be based on figurative language. That was a principle even before Augustine. So to say that baptism is a figurative washing or a symbol of what has already happened, you can't point to a verse and say "that's figurative" but have no where to go where it specifically SAYS it is a symbolic washing.

The same with Holy Communion. Jesus left us His last will and testament on the night that He was betrayed. He was very serious, and He was initiating a brand new practice in His church. You can't look at that and say "He was speaking figuratively" because that is where the doctrine of Holy Communion is born...and there is nothing elsewhere that points to it being figurative. I was surprised at what an easy read it is.

Rebecca said...

That's an excellent point...and its exactly where Baptist theology gets muddy -- baptism cannot be dogma, but then it becomes difficult to make it necessary or even important without making it a "work". Logically, you cannot really have it both ways and giving it up entirely begins to make sense.

The fact that nowhere is there any Scriptural indication that baptism is symbolic vs. the obvious belief by the early church writers that it was NOT symbolic made it pretty plain to me that I was reading those verses through colored glasses.

What really shocked me was how the NIV translation had confused me -- its something like "This symbolizes baptism..." The referent of "this" is the Flood, but somehow the mere presence of the word "symbolizes" automatically called to mind all the teaching I had received about baptism "symbolizing" regeneration, thereby obscuring the meaning. When I actually read the sentences with a little attention to grammatical structure, I learned that baptism was not the symbol, but the reality.