“just baptism” — Lacking supervision, a tale of falling away from Lutheranism
Dr. Gene Veith has brought something up over on his blog concerning a “Lutheran” pastor who has now twice written for Christian Post denying some very Lutheran beliefs (Lord’s Supper, Baptism). This is a sad occasion to be sure, for a man once taught the Faith once delivered to the saints has now publicly written against it. Furthering the problem, the man continues to be a pastor to a congregation that calls itself Lutheran. The congregation belongs to LCMC (Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ). This is an ELCA break off over a decade old. The formative issue for LCMC was the fellowship discussion and declaration with the Episcopal Church- USA and their beliefs about apostolic succession. That being said, there are many congregations who have in the past three or four years joined LCMC over the 2009 ELCA decision to ordain practicing homosexuals.
A few years back I did a presentation on LCMC at a Free Conference. In my studies of the new denomination (although they do not like to call themselves that) I noted how little oversight there was by design, even calling it hyper-congregational. In such an atmosphere congregations could easily become cults of personality. It was also very clear that LCMC was not concerned about what kind of education their clergy received, even allowing and endorsing clergy trained at Baptist seminaries. At the presentation there was also a LCMC clergyman who presented after me and declared that my analysis was spot on. At that time I wondered if he heard my presentation and some of the harsh words of warning I had said.
These two denials of Christian Truth are very common ones that we find among Pentecostal churches and other “Evangelical” churches. I put evangelical in quotes because many of those churches do not know the evangel at all, but only a lawful aberration of it. Here is a quote that forms the basis for the pastor’s denial of baptism:
There are many mature Christians in the world today who believe that Scripture supports the questionable teachings of infant baptism and/or 5-Point Calvinism. I say “questionable” teachings because millions of their fellow believers (including mature believers) question these doctrines and find no support for them in Scripture.
Notice how the determining factor in anything for this pastor is the opinions of men. He literally questions the Scriptures teaching on Baptism based upon millions of fellow believers (whom he deems as “mature”) question the doctrines and find no support for them in Scripture. So if enough people believe a lie, the lie becomes equal to truth in this pastor’s eyes.
It seems that the main trouble here for the author is that many who are baptized depart from the faith later in life. This means for the author that infant baptism is a questionable practice because in his assessment it doesn’t have results. This is the age old error of looking to man’s response to God’s gifts rather than the Divine Institution. He lets the abuse of the gift of God determine whether it is actually a gift from God. The pastor states:
One should be cautious about allowing infant baptism to give you a false sense of security for your loved one. Christianity is much larger than that particular practice. It involves a relationship with Christ through faith. (see Romans 3:21-24) Also, there is good fruit in the life of a born again person. (see Matthew 7:16,17) Does your loved one in question have saving faith in Christ, and good fruit….or just baptism?
This is nothing more than encouraging doubt. Doubt is the enemy of faith. The pastor has taken the bait of evangelical stereotypes of Lutherans and is publicly declaring his approval of it. Note that he has also embraced the evangelical language that goes along with it. He has cast aside the many Scriptures which talk of baptism and its benefits in order to make everything subjective. But that is a key problem with Pentecostalism and other forms of so-called evangelicalism – everything is subjective to your self. When the objective truth of Christ and His gifts are put on the sidelines, there will never be any true comfort, as the sinful nature, world, and devil will be more than happy to bring doubt to your “relationship” with Christ. Original Sin means that your motives will not always be pure, and in that the devil has all the opening he needs to cause doubt in what you have done. Possibly the most horrific two words of the above paragraph is “just baptism”. This is not how St. Paul regarded baptism when he spoke to Christians:
And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. 1 Corinthians 6:11
The text of 1 Cor 6 is clear, Paul does not reference a personal relationship so much as he points them to God’s work of baptism. Note the passive tense in those verbs (were washed, were sanctified, were justified). This is God’s work upon you, work which makes you something now that you previously were not. Notice that even sanctification (something which of course is almost always given to the effort of man in evangelical theology) is a passive and past tense verb – it has happened to you. There are many references that would help this point even further: Titus 3:4-7; Ephesians 5:25-27; Romans 6; Galatians 3:27. The point – the Bible honors Baptism as a great gift of God which does wonder for fallen humanity.
Looking through the book of Acts, it is very clear that baptism is the chief component of conversion and is extolled as a great gift from God. St. Peter of course mentions in his first epistle that “Baptism saves you” (1 Peter 3:21). St. Paul again references the effect of baptism as bringing you into the body of Christ (relationship both to Him and to all fellow baptized) in 1 Corinthians 12. Of course this also fails to consider the centrality of baptism in the teaching of Jesus (Matthew 3; Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:16; John 3). To call baptism “just baptism” is to take a precious gift and teaching from Christ and the apostles and to throw it out.
Now, going to the pastor’s congregational website it is clear. Under their beliefs section they link to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s steps to Christ (decision theology). Somehow they believe that man cannot make it to God, but that man instead “must trust Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and receive Him by personal invitation.” The paradox here is noticeable, but this whole mess is very common when the clear teachings of Scripture are ignored for the flash in the pan, results based lies of revivalism (Church Growth). It is even deeper and darker than that – behind it all is the seething voice of the serpent tempting to leave God and His promise behind, to think that the Holy Spirit working though the means of grace is hogwash, and that instead we must make the kingdom of God come through our work. If someone is speaking against the Holy Spirit and the means of grace (those things which the Spirit uses to create, strengthen, and sustain Christians), than you are not hearing the Holy Spirit’s voice, but an unholy spirit’s voice (and demons are very reasonable, tolerant, and nice in how they lure and destroy).
Two larger points need to be made here. First, this is a very common problem where some sort of accountability (usually through supervision of doctrine) is either not enforced or not considered essential to the faithfulness of a church body. Pastors err, congregations err, church bodies err – they need to have someone to help draw them back from the brink of heresy and apostasy. Even Peter needed Paul. They need someone to point out that the seducing voice they hear is nothing more than the masked serpent voice of the devil of Eden. Second, this is what happens when what you do becomes more important that what you believe. Yes, it is not “deeds” over “creeds”, but even worse, this error creeps in by being lazy with beliefs, assuming that common beliefs are there. Where does the Church find its unity? It finds it in the Faith (what is believed, doctrine) that was once for all given to us in the Word. It will not find its unity in what it does. This is the danger of the “mission” movement, whatever name it uses. Mission will not unite. When mission becomes the primary rallying cry, soon church bodies exist to do nothing more than advance any pragmatic or programmatic solution that will gain more “converts” (including despising the Holy Spirit and the means of grace). The devil can often build a church faster and bigger than Truth can (just ask Noah). Church bodies become more about just supporting whoever belongs with pension and health plans and whatever helps the numbers keep ticking upward. This is what I call becoming an “umbrella church” which can let any number of things exist under its cover.
When doctrine means nothing, practice can mean anything. And finally when practice can mean anything – doctrine will mean nothing (as evidenced by this “Lutheran” pastor who publicly teaches about “just baptism”).
Pray God that we, nor any Christian ever consider that great gift of the watered Word of Holy Baptism to be anything but a eternal treasure. Luther from the Large Catechism:
For it is of the greatest importance that we value Baptism as excellent, glorious, and exalted. We contend and fight for Baptism chiefly because the world is now so full of sects arguing that Baptism is an outward thing and that outward things are of no benefit. 8 But let Baptism be a thoroughly outward thing. Here stand God’s Word and command, which institute, establish, and confirm Baptism. What God institutes and commands cannot be an empty thing. It must be a most precious thing, even though it looked like it had less value than a straw.
Concordia : The Lutheran Confessions, Edited by Paul Timothy McCain (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 424.
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