The Baptist: a conversation

baptim1B: “Well, we don’t really agree with you. You see, we don’t add to the Scriptures. We only use the original King James Version. And we don’t add the idea that Baptism can save.”

Me: “That’s very interesting. I also believe that Scripture shouldn’t be added to, and I would say also that it shouldn’t be subtracted from either. That’s why I believe that baptism does also now save us, not the removal of the filth from the flesh but the answer of a good conscience toward God, by the resurrection of Christ. Just as He says in His Word.”

I didn’t give him the reference. I took him at face value when he stated that he didn’t add to God’s Word, the basic premise of that statement was that he knew God’s Word. And before this point in our conversation he had claimed that he reads the entire Bible every year.

But he missed it the reference. He didn’t know the passage.

B: “You can’t add to God’s Word like that.”

Me: “Like what?”

B: “The Bible doesn’t say that Baptism saves.”

Me: “Isn’t 1 Peter 3: 21 in the King James Version? Those are the word’s I quoted.”

Here he started to look a bit unsettled.

Me: “Even more, I believe that everyone who is baptized into Christ were baptized into His death. Therefore we were buried with Him by baptism into His death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the Glory of the Father, even so we should walk in newness of life.”

Another, uncertain, puzzled look. Like, maybe he wasn’t sure if I were quoting Scripture or just stating things in my own words.

B: “But baptism doesn’t do anything. You can’t add those ideas into the Scripture.”

Me: “Let me see if I understand what you are saying. You read the Bible every year. Right?”

B: “Yes. And I believe what it says.”

Me: “So when Peter and Paul said the words I just quoted about what God does through Baptism, then you believe it? I mean, when Peter says that baptism saves, and Paul says that baptism unites us with Christ in His death and resurrection, you believe what those words say plainly right there without adding to them or subtracting from them?”

B: “But baptism doesn’t save. You can’t add that to God’s Word.”

Me: “But all those who are baptized into Christ have put on Christ. That’s what His apostle says in Galatians 3:27. In context Paul is explaining that the Galatians cannot be saved by the outward observance of the Law, that God makes no distinctions between Jew and Gentile. Rather God bestows faith in Christ on both Jew and Gentile through the gift of Baptism.”

B: “But God’s Word never says that children can be baptized.”

OK, this was a change of direction. A distraction. I think he wanted to reestablish himself and feel more in control of the line of argument he was trying to make.

B: “That’s why we have a dedication for the children instead of baptizing them.”

Me: “So, which passage in Scripture tells you that you should dedicate children?”

B: “Well, children aren’t really able to have faith until they’re a bit older.”

Me: “So you shouldn’t strive to become like one of these little ones who believe in Christ? That’s what Christ specifically tells us to be like in Matthew when the disciples asked about who would be the greatest in heaven. How do you explain Timothy who Paul writes, believe from his infancy, the Greek there is specific about the age. Or about John’s reaction in the womb of his mother?”

B: “Well we don’t deny that God can do special things in certain cases. We just don’t add to the Scriptures.”

Me: “I believe that baptism is a gracious water of life and washing of regeneration as St. Paul says in Titus 3 ‘But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.’ Notice that He says that He saved us through baptism, that washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit. No where does he forbid the baptism of infants. Rather the baptism of infants is already shown in the households baptized in the book of Acts.”

B: “I know that Lutherans will claim that Cornelius’ household means children also, but it doesn’t mention children. We don’t add to Scripture.”

Me: “That’s interesting, because the word ‘Household’ means everyone that the head of house is responsible for: his wife, children — even infants, his slaves, and employees who are under his care. How is it adding to the Scripture to read the words as they are written and understood from context? It seems more like an unwillingness to trust what God actually says. How do you think people are saved?”

I tried to say this as nicely and politely as possible. I didn’t want his frustration to turn into anger. I wanted him to think about what God’s Word actually says about Baptism and about faith.

B: “Well, after serious and sincere reflection a person needs to give his heart to God. It needs to be genuine repentance.”

I thank God for the words of Bo Giertz in his novel The Hammer of God for this next bit:

Me: “What would God want with such a vile and defiled thing as our hearts? We’d have to be more pure than St. Paul who admitted that no clean thing dwelt in his heart. Doesn’t Christ’s Apostle John say that we are not saved by the will of man, and that we didn’t choose Christ, but He chose us? If faith is not possible for a child because it is an act of the will (if I understand you correctly-please correct me if I misunderstand) then all those who die in their sleep are doomed to eternal damnation, all the mentally incapable are likewise doomed. It would serve no purpose to preach to them if the source of conversion is their own will. But faith, in Scripture, is not an act of the human will, it is the gift of God. Surely you remember Ephesians chapter 2?”

B: “Well, yes, faith is a gift, but you need to really be genuinely repentant. And you need to use your reason because faith doesn’t go against reason.”

Me: “Two things: First, how can you ever be sure you’ve repented enough? Second, aren’t you familiar with 1 Corinthians chapter 2 where Paul plainly teaches that our reason is so corrupt that it cannot even see sin without the enlightening power of God through His Word? There he says ‘These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.’

I continued: “It seems like you are saying, and please forgive me if I am misunderstanding–it seems like you think a person can make his own choice to be saved even though God describes our utter inability to do anything like that with words like ‘You were dead in your trespasses and sins’. And from this death and inability he made us alive. He tells us specifically that this is His gift to us, the gift of faith is His to give. And He tells us how He gives it through Baptism when He writes, ‘Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.'”

B was very frustrated, but not angry. The topic changed to travel, the snow storm. I wished him and his family safe travels.

You see, it was his brother’s funeral. In the sermon I did spend a short amount of time on how God had called his brother to faith through baptism, and we need to trust God’s promise. It’s one of those great ironies of Church history that those going by the name Baptist have no faith in Christ’s written Word about His baptism and what He says He does by this Means of Grace. Our conversation was actually much longer and had more detail. But I can only recall the main flow of it and some of the main points.

Funerals are a great opportunity for evangelism. I pray for the dead man’s brother. I pray that he can some day actually believe that He is forgiven only for Christ’s sake and that he is clothed in Christ’s righteousness through the power of God’s Word in Baptism.

For someone so concerned about not adding to God’s Word, he didn’t seem to really know it very well. And he seemed to have no hesitation in ignoring those parts of God’s Word that disagreed with his own theory about how he can make himself righteous by “really repenting.”

About Pastor Joseph Abrahamson

Pastor Joseph Abrahamson serves Faith Ev. Lutheran Church, Clara City, Minnesota (E.L.S.). He and his wife, Mary, have 10 children. Pastor Abrahamson is a graduate of Bethany Lutheran Theological Seminary, and of the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Department of Hebrew and Semitic Studies. He has served on the Faculty/Staff at Bethany Lutheran College teaching Religion, Linguistics, Archaeology, and Self-Defense; and was on Staff at the University of Wisconsin as an Information Processing Consultant (Computer Geek) while doing graduate work in Semitics. Pastor Abrahamson served Clearwater Lutheran Parish (ELS) from 2001 to April 2015.


The Baptist: a conversation — 115 Comments

  1. Jim Hamilton :
    @JH #41
    Who cares what Calvin thinks about baptism? He’s a very poor spokesman for our doctrine, for obvious reasons.

    Perhaps on a blog site like Steadfast, instead of saying “our doctrine”, we should say “Christian doctrine”. Calvin was a Christian who was incorrect on the sacrament of baptism as well as the Lord’s Supper.

  2. @Perry Lund #1

    The point is that citing Calvin in a discussion about Lutheran baptism theology is nonsensical. His view is obviously not Lutheran. It is irrelevant. I do agree that orthodox Lutheran doctrine and orthodox Christian doctrine are synonymous terms.

  3. @Perry Lund #1

    Also, I have no idea if Calvin was a Christian or not. Aside from his very serious errors regarding Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, his obsessive rationalism perverted his teaching about the doctrine of Christ to the point that he essentially denied the personal union. Frankly, followers of Calvin who are saved owe that salvation to the fact that they don’t actually believe in Calvinism. I certainly hope that Calvin himself was saved by such a felicitous inconsistency, but God only knows.

  4. Calvin and Calvinists are saved Christians. To make a Lutheran understanding of the Sacraments necessary for salvation is to become a sectarian fundamentalist, which a Lutheran should not be.

    Interestingly, Calvin’s view of baptism seems to be closer to ours than that of many modern Calvinists.

  5. I withdraw that second comment, but I recalled reading a quote from Calvin some time ago where he seemed to be saying that baptism is regenerative.

  6. @Nicholas Leone #4

    So a person who denies the Incarnation of the Son under the rationalistc axiom that the infinite may not occupy the finite is, in your view, a Christian? Your blanket statement that all Calvinists are saved grossly minimizes the many very serious errors of Calvin and his followers. As I said, if a Calvinist is saved,it is because he actually believes in the true Gospel, not Calvin’s perversion of it. Fortunately, many nominal Calvinists are practical Lutherans.

  7. @Nicholas Leone #4

    A Lutheran should know and treasure the pure doctrine of God as it is correctly summarized and explicated in our Confessions. He should not ignore the terrible errors of false teachers like Calvin and he should not chastise other people for refusing to do so.

  8. “So a person who denies the Incarnation of the Son under the rationalistc axiom that the infinite may not occupy the finite is, in your view, a Christian? ”

    Brother Jim…you need to sincerely repent of this bearing of false witness towards your Christian brothers in the reformed/calvinist camp.

    Pr Wilkin has had Calvinist guests on his show, and I’ve never heard him say anything with this level of venom and hatred towards them, but rather, he calmly and rationally discusses matters with them. Please take a page out of his book.

    As a Lutheran, and I have to say…I am ashamed of you for your viciousness and unkindness, and you do it all in the name of ‘pure doctrine’ of the Gospel, to boot! Astounding. Brother, repent.

  9. @JH #9

    So, in your view, a person who denies the personal union is a Christian? Despite your melodramatic comment, I certainly stand by my remarks. I very much hope that all errorists come to faith in the true Gospel. By the way, may I suggest that you see Pieper on the doctrine of Christ for more information about the disastrous errors of reformed teaching?

  10. @JH #9

    Also, your accusation that I have borne false witness against Calvinists is false. It may be that you are not as familiar with Reformed doctrine as you think you are. My descriptions of Calvin’s doctrine are, unfortunately, accurate.

  11. @JH #9

    Also, I’m not going to have a conversation with a person who hides behind a pseudonym. I’m more than happy to discuss the errors of Reformed doctrine with you, but I’m not going to have a pointless argument with a liberal troll. And, if you are a liberal troll, REPENT, BROTHER, REPENT!

  12. So a person has to agree with Lutheran interpretations of christology to be saved? I didn’t know the Book of Concord etc were inspired. You sound almost as bad as Catholics. The axiom that the infinite cannot occupy the finite is true by definition. If words have no meaning we are all wasting our time. Could it be that you are just a little too sure
    of your position? Don’t you think that when you write 100 pages on the doctrine found in five verses of the Bible, you might be going beyond the meaning of the texts? Paul says you are saved if you confess with your mouth and believe in your heart. You seem to have a checklist of doctrines, as interpreted by Lutherans necessary for entrance into heaven. You are proud to call yourselves conservative Catholics. I think the snake handlers of Appalachia are better interpreters of the Bible than the Catholic Church. @Jim Hamilton #2

  13. @Tim Schenks #40
    Actually, they know Lutheran doctrine better. When you are older and actually consider the passages that differ from Lutheran doctrine, you are better able
    to come to a knowledge of the truth.

  14. “Don’t you think that when you write 100 pages on the doctrine found in five verses of the Bible, you might be going beyond the meaning of the texts?”

    And isn’t this exactly what we Lutherans accuse our reformed/Calvy brothers of doing? Taking their human reason too far?

    Funny how that works one way, but not t’other.

    To any Calvy/Reformed brothers or sisters reading here, please know that not all Lutherans are of the mindset of Jim and his sectarians. Some of us love you and consider you to be of ‘the Faith, which was once for all, delivered to the saints’. We have some differences in our approach to certain doctrinal points, but in the end, we are all His adopted and forgiven children. All labels will be done away with, all errors(and we all have them) corrected.

    Jim..Pieper? Ahh, no. I’ll stick with Luther AND Calvin.Wonderful teachers, the pair of ’em.

    Luther on baptism always linked regeneration to faith and belief(or the hope thereof in the case of infants). I agree with him. This is not unlike what Reformed/Calvinist believe.

    I like Luther’s take on the Supper the best(from the LC): “And we have, in the first place, the clear text in the very words of Christ: Do this in remembrance of Me. These are bidding and commanding words by which all who would be Christians are enjoined to partake of this Sacrament. Therefore, whoever would be a disciple of Christ, with whom He here speaks, must also consider and observe this, not from compulsion, as being forced by men, but in obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ, and to please Him.”

    I don’t worry if Jesus comes down, or we go up. I don’t worry if it’s a heavenly, spiritual, incomprehensible, supernatural presence, for I know our Lord is with us and truly real. Luther is really wonderful in how he simplifies these things, no? I was having real trouble with real presence, but Luther pointing out to me that we are to take our Lord’s words at plain value made so much sense. However the Lord meant them, is how I take them. I try not to read anything into them that is not there. It actually troubles me a tiny bit when ‘true’ is added to the serving of the Supper, because ‘true’ is not a word Jesus used in His serving.

    Calvin in a delightful intellectual read, when one wants a little keener read. I am sure both Luther and Calvin have their doctrinal foibles, but who amoungst us doesn’t, eh, Jim? 😉

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