Saturday, December 6, 2014

Hell Debate: Eternal Conscious Torment or Annihilationism?

A very interesting debate (IMO) between a Calvinist (Chris Date) who embraces conditionalism and an Arminian (Dr. Phil Fernandes) who defends the 'traditional' view (i.e. soul is immortal and the wicked suffer eternal torment in hell).

Hope that those who take the time to view/watch the debate will share their reflections in the combox.

Grace and peace,


Sunday, October 26, 2014

Rethinking Hell: Evangelicals embracing conditionalism

While engaged in some online research concerning the early Church Fathers, I happened upon the above book, via the related website promoting it:

It was the following online article/post that led me to the website:

At the end of the article, there was a link that brought me to another interesting post:

I have known for a number of years now that some Evangelical scholars had embraced conditionalism (e.g. Edward William Fudge, Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, Clark Pinnock, John R. Scott), but I was not aware that there is growing number of Evangelicals who are also adopting the position. Those who endorse the principal of sola scriptura should seriously consider the solid arguments that are being developed by this growing number of Evangelical scholars. Their exegesis of the germane Biblical passages is impressive, as well as their readings of the early Church Fathers. Unlike the novel, 'lone-wolf' interpretations of Timothy Kauffman that were recently examined here at AF concerning baptismal regeneration, the defense of conditionalism presented by this increasing group of Evangelicals needs some in depth reflection...

Grace and peace,


Sunday, October 19, 2014

Timothy Kauffman on baptismal regeneration and the early Church Fathers: my critical examination continues

This post has been delayed by almost a month. Rather than bore readers with all that transpired during the last few weeks, I shall proceed right into the main emphasis of this thread—Timothy Kauffman's novel interpretations concerning baptismal regeneration and the early Church Fathers.

Tim (I will be referring to Timothy as Tim throughout the rest of this post, not out disrespect, but due to the fact that in our combox interactions, he refers to himself as such, so I am assuming that this is his preference) has published the final installment (#6) in his ongoing series, "THAT HE MIGHT PURIFY THE WATER" (link).

The following is the second paragraph of Tim's final installment:

Before we proceed with Methodius of Olympus, the last Ante-Niceæan Father cited by Called to Communion, we thought it would be worthwhile to interact very briefly with David Waltz who blogs at Articuli Fidei and has also commented at this site as well. We appreciate Waltz’s interaction and his willingness to engage on this topic.

Before moving on to Tim's reflections, I would like to say that I too appreciate Tim's, "interaction and his willingness to engage on this topic." Though I have grave concerns concerning a number of his novel interpretations of the early Church Fathers concerning baptism (and as you will see, his take on Dr. Ferguson), I sincerely appreciate the fact that he has been very charitable with me in our discussions, even though I have been quite critical at times. (I also appreciate the fact he has adopted a open policy when it comes to comments on his blog, a policy I firmly believe in, and employ here at AF).

Tim continued his post with:

Waltz responded to our posts, analyzed two fathers that we cited, and concluded that we were really “0 for 2″ in our analysis thus far, due in no small part to his reliance on Dr. Everett Ferguson’s Baptism in the Early Church.  Waltz wrote here last week that Ferguson “is one of the (if not THE) foremost authorities on the NT and early [Church Fathers] teachings concerning baptism,” and thought that “perhaps [we] would not so easily dismiss” him.

I must correct Tim here, my conclusions concerning Justin Martyr and Tertullian were NOT, "due in no small part to his reliance on Dr. Everett Ferguson’s Baptism in the Early Church", but rather, "due in no small part" to my own readings of their contributions on baptism. I cited Dr. Ferguson primarily for three reasons: first, because his assessments mirror my own; second, he is a contemporary patristic scholar, who has done extensive work on the topic of baptism in the early Church Fathers; and third, his reflections are representative of pretty much every patristic scholar who has written on the subject.

Tim then wrote:

But we do dismiss Ferguson, and we do so advisedly. There is very much we could write on this, but we will give only a few examples to make our point. Ferguson’s work is helpful as a resource, but it simply cannot be the final say on baptism in the fathers.

I agree with Tim that, "Ferguson’s work is helpful as a resource, but it simply cannot be the final say on baptism in the fathers"; however, I do not dismiss him as easily (so it seems) as Tim does. Tim goes on to offer a few examples of where he differs with Dr. Ferguson (which I hope to address in upcoming posts), but for now, I would like to explore some of Tim's presuppositions;  presuppositions which I believe have caused Tim to grossly misread the Church Fathers when it comes to the doctrine of baptismal regeneration.

One of Tim's presuppositions is: if a Church Father postulates that regeneration/new birth can occur apart from the sacrament of baptism, then that Church Father cannot believe in baptismal regeneration

Tim has committed a grave error here: the fact that God can, and does, provide other means than the sacrament of baptism to regenerate some of His children does not negate that one can still consistently believe that the sacrament of baptism is the ordinary means by which God regenerates.

A second presupposition which leads Tim to incorrect assessments of the Church Fathers is: if baptism is referred in figures and/or as a sign and seal, then that Church Father cannot also believe in baptismal regeneration.

Once again, such beliefs do not negate that one can also maintain the sacrament of baptism is the ordinary means by which God regenerates. Augustine, Aquinas, Trent and the Catechism of the Catholic Church (to name but a few germane sources within the Catholic tradition), like Tertullian, all affirm that God has provided other means than the sacrament of baptism for the new birth. They use a number of figures when referencing baptism, calling baptism both a sign and a seal, and they do this while also clearly affirming that the sacrament of baptism in the ordinary means that God regenerates.

There is a third presupposition embraced by Tim, which may be the most detrimental one: his belief that the great apostasy spoken of in the NT occurred in the late 4th century.

Tim adamantly maintains that belief in baptismal regeneration is one of the outcomes of this supposed late 4th century apostasy; as such, Tim cannot allow a reading of any of the Church Fathers who wrote prior to this alleged apostasy which would suggest that they believed in baptismal regeneration, for such a reading would force him to jettison his cherished presupposition.

Armed with such presuppositions, one should not be surprised that Tim has developed interpretations of the Church Fathers concerning baptismal regeneration that are novel, and void of any support from patristic scholars.

Moving on, over the last couple of days, I have been rereading all of Tim's selections from the writings of Tertullian, and his novel interpretations of those passages. I have also reread a number of English translations of Tertullian's On Baptism, On Repentance, Against Marcion, and a few other passages that touch on baptism, consulting the Latin where the translations vary. I have come away from these fresh readings even more convinced than before that Tim has made some grave errors in his interpretations of Tertullian; Tim's novel interpretations just don't hold up when one reads Tertullian's writings in their full context.

Since I have already examined the concepts of 'baptism of blood' and 'baptism of desire/repentance' in two previous threads (first; second)—reiterating that belief in such concepts do not preclude one from also believing that the sacrament of baptism is the ordinary means that God uses to regenerate fallen mankind—I would now like to explore what I believe to be is the most important issue at hand: did Tertullian in his writings affirm that the sacrament of baptism regenerates ???

Even though Tim admitted that, "Tertullian spends 20 chapters defending the merits of baptism, its divine origin, the significance of the water, the power to sanctify, remit sins, grant life and secure eternal salvation", he then goes on to deny that such a defense includes the belief that the sacrament of baptism itself is the ordinary means which brings those graces to fruition. He argues that one should not adopt a "plain" reading of Tertullian here because, "Tertullian says more than this".

I ask: does Tertullian's non-"plain" musings negate his "plain" statements on this matter ??? Tim says yes, but I (and pretty much every patristic scholar I have read) say no. Interestingly enough, Tertullian himself castigates the heretic Marcion for negating the belief that the sacrament of baptism truly accomplishes what it is said to bring about. Note the following:

I see no coherence and consistency; no, not even in the very sacrament of his faith [i.e. baptism] ! For what end does baptism serve, according to him ? If the remission of sins, how will he make it evident that he remits sins, when he affords no evidence that he retains them? Because he would retain them, if he performed the functions of a judge. If deliverance from death, how could he deliver from death, who has not delivered to death ? For he must have delivered the sinner to death, if he had from the beginning condemned sin. If the regeneration of man, how can he regenerate, who has never generated ? For the repetition of an act is impossible to him, by whom nothing anytime has been ever done. If the bestowal of the Holy Ghost, how will he bestow the Spirit, who did not at first impart the life ? For the life is in a sense the supplement of the Spirit. He therefore seals man, who had never been unsealed in respect of him ; washes man, who had never been defiled so far as he was concerned ; and into this sacrament of salvation wholly plunges that flesh which is beyond the pale of salvation ! (Against Marcion, 1.28 - ANF volume 3.293.)

Tertullian clearly establishes that one should embrace a "plain" reading of his views on the sacrament of baptism, contrary to what Tim would have us to believe.

I would now like to address Tim's claim, "that the water of the baptismal font is merely a signification of the actual baptism that takes place in the heart."

Tim wrote:

Notice, for example, that Tertullian was so free in his use of figures that he actually has us drinking from the baptismal font unto eternal life. If taken literally, this is a divergence from the command of Christ, for He did not command that we “take and drink” the water of baptism. But if Tertullian is to be taken figuratively—as well he should—the water of baptism that we are to drink is the Word of God and the truth of Christ’s Passion, which revives us, which is to say, regenerates us. This Tertullian plainly states:

“For this tree in a mystery, it was of yore wherewith Moses sweetened the bitter water; whence the People, which was perishing of thirst in the desert, drank and revived; just as we do, who, drawn out from the calamities of the heathendom in which we were tarrying perishing with thirst (that is, deprived of the divine word), drinking, by the faith which is on Him, the baptismal water of the tree of the passion of Christ, have revived—a faith from which Israel has fallen away, ….” (Tertullian, An answer to the Jews, 13)

Note once again that we have a Church Father referring to Christ’s Passion as the “baptismal water,” or the laver of revivification, as it were. This is important because next we shall see that Tertullian insisted that the literal water of baptism ought not be approached until the spiritual water of baptism is already evident in the believer.

Take notice of what Tim is doing in his above interpretation: he is replacing "the baptismal water of the tree of the passion of Christ" with "Christ's Passion as [is] the 'baptismal water'". The "drinking" is no longer a metaphor for the sacrament of baptism (i.e. "the baptismal water"), but has now become solely faith in "Christ's passion". Tim has erroneously gotten rid of the efficacy of the sacrament of baptism, one of the, "two baptisms He sent out from the wound in His pierced side", mentioned by Tertullian in his On Baptism (chapter 16). The "baptismal water" (i.e. sacrament of baptism) is efficacious THROUGH "the tree of the passion of Christ", for "Christ [is], the 'font of the water of life'." From Christ's Passion comes "the water of life"; "the water of life" is not Christ's Passion itself, but flows out from His Passion, Christ being the "font".

Tim also replaced the evidence of true repentance on the part of the believer, with "the spiritual water of baptism", arguing that Tertullian's admonition to postpone the sacrament of baptism until there is solid evidence of true repentance, supports this replacement. This cleaver attempt is flawed, for if Tertullian thought that the sacrament of baptism was merely a "sign" and/or "seal" of something that had already taken place (in other words, the sacrament of baptism has no efficacious effect/s), why such stern warnings from Tertullian ? Fact is, Tertullian argued for the postponement of sacramental baptism because he believed that the effects produced by the sacrament of baptism (e.g. regeneration, forgiveness of sins, union with Christ, et al.) occurs only once. The effects of sacrament of baptism can be lost through post-baptismal sin—i.e. one who has been regenerated through baptism can become unregenerate through sin. And further, Tertullian believed that some post-baptismal sins are unforgivable (e.g. adultery, apostasy, murder), so he wanted to make sure that anyone who submitted to baptism had truly repented of their sins. In other words, Tertullian was not a Calvinist.

However, Tertullian did have a great deal in common with Thomas Aquinas. Like Aquinas, Tertullian believed that the sacrament of baptism regenerated; like Aquinas, he held that the sacrament of baptism receives it's efficacy from Christ's Passion; like Aquinas, he maintained that one could become unregenerate by post-baptismal sin; like Aquinas, he affirmed two other means than the sacrament of baptism by which one can be born-again—i.e. baptism of blood and baptism of repentance. (See appendix below for Aquinas' reflections.)

I sincerely doubt that Tim will jettison his novel interpretations of Tertullian, for I believe that his presuppositions will continue to prevent him from reading Tertullian in a "plain" sense, the very sense that Tertullian himself has asked his readers to embrace when it comes to the sacrament of baptism.

Shall end with a "plain" quote from Tertullian:

Now there is a standing rule that without baptism no man can obtain salvation. It derives in particular from that (well known) pronouncement of our Lord, who says, Except a man be born of water he cannot have life(On Baptism, 12.1)

Grace and peace,


Appendix: Thomas Aquinas Summa Theologica Part 3, Q. 66, Art. 11

On the contrary, on Heb. 6:2, Of the doctrine of Baptisms, the gloss says : He uses the plural, because there is Baptism of Water, of Repentance, and of Blood.

  I answer that, As stated above (Q. 62, A. 5), Baptism of Water has its efficacy from Christ's Passion, to which a man is conformed by Baptism, and also from the Holy Ghost, as first cause. Now although the effect depends on the first cause, the cause far surpasses the effect, nor does it depend on it. Consequently, a man may, without Baptism of Water, receive the sacramental effect from Christ's Passion, in so far as he is conformed to Christ by suffering for Him. Hence it is written (Apoc. vii. 14) : These are they who are come out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes and have made them white in the blood of the Lamb. In like manner a man receives the effect of Baptism by the power of the Holy Ghost, not only without Baptism of Water, but also without Baptism of Blood: forasmuch as his heart is moved by the Holy Ghost to believe in and love God and to repent of his sins: wherefore this is also called Baptism of Repentance. Of this it is written (Isa. iv. 4) If the Lord shall wash away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and shall wash away the blood of Jerusalem out of the midst thereof, by the spirit of judgment, and by the spirit of burning. Thus, therefore, each of these other Baptisms is called Baptism, forasmuch as it takes the place of Baptism. Wherefore Augustine says (De Unico Baptismo Parvulorum iv) : The Blessed Cyprian argues with considerable reason from the thief to whom, though not baptized, it was said: "Today shalt thou be with Me in Paradise" that suffering can take the place of Baptism. Having weighed this in my mind again and again, I perceive that not only can suffering for the name of Christ supply for what was lacking in Baptism, but even faith and conversion of heart, if perchance on account of the stress of the times the celebration of the mystery of Baptism is not practicable.

 Reply to Obj. 1.  The other two Baptisms are included in the Baptism of Water, which derives its efficacy, both from Christ's Passion and from the Holy Ghost. Consequently for this reason the unity of Baptism is not destroyed.

  Reply to Objection 2.  As stated above (Q. 60, A. 1), a sacrament is a kind of sign. The other two, however, are like the Baptism of Water, not, indeed, in the nature of sign, but in the baptismal effect. Consequently they are not sacraments.

  Reply to Objection 3.  Damascene enumerates certain figurative Baptisms. For instance, the Deluge was a figure of our Baptism, in respect of the salvation of the faithful in the Church; since then a few . . . souls were saved in the ark [Vulg.: 'by water'], according to 1 Pt. 3:20. He also mentions the crossing of the Red Sea : which was a figure of our Baptism, in respect of our delivery from the bondage of sin; hence the Apostle says (1 Cor. x. 2) that all . . . were baptized in the cloud and in the sea. And again he mentions the various washings which were customary under the Old Law, which were figures of our Baptism, as to the cleansing from sins: also the Baptism of John, which prepared the way for our Baptism. (Summa Theologica, Pt. III, Q. 66. A. 11; CHRISTIAN CLASSICS - Complete English Edition in Five Volumes, Translated by the Fathers of the English Dominican Province, 1911, 1948, 1981, IV. pp. 2384, 2385—html version available online link.)

Monday, September 15, 2014

Tertullian and the 'baptism of blood'

Earlier today, I noticed that Mr. Kauffman has published a 5th installment in his ongoing series, "THAT HE MIGHT PURIFY THE WATER" (link). In the combox of that thread, Mr. Kauffman denies that one the two baptisms (i.e. baptism of blood) mentioned in chapter 16 of De Baptismo has martyrdom in mind. Mr. Kauffman wrote:

When Tertullian says, “called by water, chosen by blood. … in order that they who believed in His blood might be bathed with the water” there simply is no justification for interpreting this to be a reference to a martyr’s death. The baptism of blood is clearly “belief in his blood,” and this stands in lieu of the fontal bathing when that has not been received.

Dr. Everett Ferguson understands chapter 16 differently than Mr. Kauffman; note the following:

An important modification to the normal necessity of water baptism applied to the times of persecution. Using Christ's comparison of his death with baptism (Luke 12:50), Tertullian says, "We have a second washing (lavacrum), it too a single one, that of blood" (Baptism 16.1). Appealing to 1 John 5:6 and the water and the blood that came from Jesus' side (John 19:34), he adds: "[The Lord] sent forth these two baptism from out of the would of his pierced side," one a washing in water and the other in blood. Blood shed in martyrdom "makes actual a washing which has not been received, and gives back again one that has been lost" by postbaptismal sin (16.1-2). (Baptism In The Early Church, p. 349)

Dr. Ferguson provides a footnote to this section (#46), wherein he writes:

46. Modesty 12 also describes martyrdom as "another baptism" to which Jesus referred in Luke 12:50, and interprets the water and the blood from Jesus' side as the materials of the two baptisms. Scorpiace 12.10 says, "Baptism washes away filth, but martyrdom makes stains truly white." (Ibid.)

Tertullian, in his Apology, penned the now famous phrase, "the blood of the Christians is seed" (chapter 50, English trans. by Thelwall, in ANF 3.55).

And just a bit later he states:

...who, after inquiry, does not embrace our doctrines ? and when he has embraced them, desires not to suffer that he may become partaker of the fulness of God's grace, that he may obtain from God complete forgiveness, by giving in exchange his blood For that secures the remission of all offences. (Ibid.) the baptism of blood, is NOT "a reference to a martyr’s death" ???  I think I will side with the esteemed patristic scholar, Dr. Ferguson, on this, rather than Mr. Kauffman's highly questionable interpretation.

Grace and peace,


Saturday, September 13, 2014

Baptismal regeneration and the early Church Fathers: Tertullian

In this ongoing series on baptismal regeneration and the early Church Fathers (using Mr. Kauffman's attempted rebuttals of Dr. Cross as an introduction of sorts), I am jumping from Justin Martyr to Tertullian (I will examine a few of the CFs between these two in upcoming posts), for the following reason: of all the early CFs who explore the issue of baptism in any depth, Tertullian is the only one who, on the surface, appears to create some difficulties for those who maintain that baptismal regeneration was a consensus teaching among the early Church Fathers.

Mr. Kauffman begins his rebuttal of Dr. Cross's assessment of Tertullian (link), with the following:

The citations that Called to Communion uses from Tertullian’s On Baptism here are too numerous to include, though we encourage our readers to examine them all. Better yet, to read Tertullian’s entire treatise, On Baptism. We have included only one citation, above, so our readers can at least get a taste of Tertullian’s writing, and Called to Communion‘s evidence from him.

On Baptism was written in response to the “viper of the Cainite heresy, lately conversant in this quarter, [which] has carried away a great number with her most venomous doctrine, making it her first aim to destroy baptism” (Tertullian, On Baptism, chapter 1). Tertullian spends 20 chapters defending the merits of baptism, its divine origin, the significance of the water, the power to sanctify, remit sins, grant life and secure eternal salvation. Here Called to Communion seems to have read Tertullian for what he plainly says as he implores Christians, with soaring rhetoric and impassioned reasoning, not to dispense with a command of Christ by stumbling into the Cainite heresy.

So far, so good. Mr. Kauffman has done a pretty good job of summarizing the content of Tertullian's treatise, De Baptismo (though he did leave out two important aspects of "the merits of baptism" included by Tertullian: rebirth, and the necessity of baptism for salvation).

[NOTE: For online texts and resources concerning Tertullian, I highly recommend THIS WEBSITE.]

He then writes:

But Tertullian says more than this, and we find that he knew very well that the power of regeneration emanates from the Cross, and that baptism, the baptism of the Cross, “stands in lieu of the fontal bathing”:

“These two baptisms He sent out from the wound in His pierced side, in order that they who believed in His blood might be bathed with the water; they who had been bathed in the water might likewise drink the blood. This is the baptism which both stands in lieu of the fontal bathing when that has not been received, and restores it when lost.” (Tertullian, On Baptism, Chapter 16)

Even here in On Baptism, Tertullian is tipping his hand, and showing that his own soaring rhetoric is hyperbolic, and he hints at his conviction (which he elsewhere states explicitly) that the water of the baptismal font is merely a signification of the actual baptism that takes place in the heart.

Rather than, "tipping his hand, and showing that his own soaring rhetoric is hyperbolic", Tertullian is here mentioning (without an in depth analysis) the Catholic concept of 'baptism of blood'; note the following:

Baptism of blood is the martyrdom of an unbaptized person that, because of the patient acceptance of a violent death or an attack leading to death, constitutes the confessing of the Christian faith or the practice of Christian virtue. Christ himself contended that martyrdom, like perfect love, contains justifying power (e.g. Mt 10:32, 10:39; Jn 12:25). Fathers of the Church, namely Tertullian and St. Cyprian, regarded martyrdom as a legitimate substitute for sacramental baptism. (Our Sunday Visitor's Encyclopedia of Catholic Doctrine, 1997, p. 47.)

Mr. Kauffman sure seems to be either ignorant of the fact that Catholic dogma does not limit the means of salvation to sacramental baptism only, or he is purposefully being deceptive here. In fact, all of his arguments against Tertullian affirming baptismal regeneration proceed under the assumption that Catholicism teaches sacramental baptism is the only means by which one can be saved. Mr. Kauffman's remaining arguments are quite easily deflected if one keeps in mind that 'baptism of blood' and 'baptism of desire' are viable options for salvation within Catholic thought.

So, the question that needs to asked is not whether Tertullian believed that salvation can take place apart from sacramental baptism, but rather, whether or not Tertullian's teaching on sacramental baptism is best described as baptismal regeneration. An objective reading of Tertullian's take sacramental baptism clearly reveals that his view falls under the rubric of baptismal regeneration. Since even Mr. Kauffman himself affirms that Tertullian in his De Baptismo, "spends 20 chapters defending the merits of baptism, its divine origin, the significance of the water, the power to sanctify, remit sins, grant life and secure eternal salvation", to which one should add rebirth and the necessity of baptism for salvation, the affirmation that Tertullian taught the doctrine of baptismal regeneration is the only accurate conclusion that one can maintain.

The patristic scholar, Dr. Everett Ferguson, confirms this conclusion; note the following:

Tertullian summarizes the doctrine of baptism in listing the items that he found inexplicable if one accepted Marcion's teachings: remission of sins, deliverance from death, regeneration (regeneratio), and bestowal of the Holy Spirit (Against Marcion 1.28.2-3)...

Tertullian most often expresses the significance of baptism in terms of forgiveness or cleansing from sins...

Tertullian further associated baptism with regeneration and new birth...

These benefits attributed to baptism underscores its necessity. Tertullian declares that "it is prescribed that without baptism no person can obtain salvation" (Baptism 12.1.) This standing rule derives from the Lord's pronouncement in John 3:5, "Except one be borm of water he cannot have life." Shortly thereafter Tertullian quotes both Matthew 28:19 and John 3:5 (this time more fully and more accurately) in support of the necessity of baptism. (Baptism in the Early Church, 2009, pp. 346, 347, 349.)

Contra Mr. Kauffman's view that Tertullian did not teach baptismal regerneration, we see just the opposite. So far in our examination of Mr. Kauffman's rebuttals, we find that he is zero for two. In the next installment of this series, we will look at Irenaeus (the Lord willing).

Grace and peace,


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Baptismal regeneration and the early Church Fathers: introduction and Justin Martyr

While watching the US Open over the weekend, I 'multi-tasked', looking in on some websites that I have not visited for awhile. A thread at Beggars All posted August 25th, 2014 by Ken Temple concerning baptismal regeneration (LINK) caught my eye. Ken linked to a couple of posts (there are now four) published on the blog, Out of His Mouth, which is owned and operated, "by a former Roman Catholic, Timothy F. Kauffman, with a passion for wielding the sword of truth in defense of the faith, and refuting the errors in which he himself was once enslaved."  Mr. Kauffman is now a conservative Calvinist, and is, "currently a member at Southwood Presbyterian Church (PCA)."

Mr. Kauffman's four-part series, "THAT HE MIGHT PURIFY THE WATER" (first; second; third; fourth), is an attempt to rebut a thread published by the Catholic apologist Dr. Bryan Cross (link), which took the position that the early Church Fathers believed in baptismal regeneration. Mr. Kauffman writes under the presuppositions that, "Roman Catholicism was formed out of a great apostasy that took place in the late 4th century", and, "Roman Catholicism constituted the falling away that Paul prophesied in 2 Thessalonians 2:3."

His position that "a great apostasy that took place in the late 4th century" seems to be unique within the Reformed tradition (at least I have not seen it before, though there may be a few others who embrace it), and I suspect that it is this premise which drives his attempt to "prove" that the pre-late 4th century Church Fathers did not teach baptismal regeneration. Clearly, Mr. Kauffman approaches the early Church Fathers with an anti-Catholic bias.

Before I begin my critical examination of Mr. Kauffman's interpretations of a number of early Church Fathers on baptism, I would first like to establish what baptismal regeneration means. Note the following:

baptismal regeneration The belief that salvation is conferred through baptism (see John 3:5 Titus 3:5). This view has been prominent in Roman Catholicism and Lutheranism. (Donald K. McKim, Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms, 1996, p. 26.)

Baptismal Regeneration. Twice in the NT a connection is made between water, or washing in water, and regeneration. In John 3:3 we are told that a man must be born of water and the Spirit to enter the kingdom of God. And in Titus 3:5 we read that we are saved "by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit." In view of these passages, of the inter-relationship of baptism with Christ's resurrection, and of the fact that it is the sacrament of initiation, it is inevitable that there should be some equation between baptism and regeneration. This equation is most strongly made in the phrase "baptismal regeneration." (G.W. Bromiley, in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell, 1984, p. 119.)

The Catholic understanding of baptism is that it includes regeneration (i.e. born again/rebirth). The following selections from two respected Catholic sources should be sufficient to confirm this:

Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit (vitae spiritualis ianua), and the door which gives access to the other sacraments. Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission: "Baptism is the sacrament of regeneration through water in the word." (The Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition, 1997, p. 312.)

Baptism is, therefore, the sacrament by which we are born again of water and the Holy Ghost, that is, by which we receive in a new and spiritual life, the dignity of adoption as sons of God and heirs of God's kingdom. (The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1907, Vol. 2, p. 259.)

[It is important to keep in mind that those who embrace baptismal regeneration (in one form or another—e.g. Catholics, the Eastern Orthodox churches, Lutherans, many Anglicans, and some Reformed folk), adamantly maintain that it is means of grace (e.g. Augustine and Martin Luther—see THIS THREAD), and not a 'work', sometimes referring to baptism as "baptismal grace".]

Time to move onto Mr. Kauffman's musings; in his first post, he examines Ignatius, the Epistle of Barnabas, the Shepard of Hermas and Justin Martyr. The first three only briefly mention/allude to baptism, so I am going to focus on Justin Martyr.

After quoting from Dr. Cross's section on Justin Martyr, Mr. Kauffman writes:

We marvel that Called to Communion offers this as evidence for Baptismal Regeneration. Justin Martyr sees the baptism as a public “dedication” made by those who already “had been made new through Christ.” Again, the rebirth—i.e., “had been made new”—was “through Christ,” and the water baptism was a “dedication” that followed the renewal. That Justin Martyr is not speaking of regeneration by the act of baptism, but rather that those who are regenerated are baptized, is plainly evident in his closing sentence:

“And this washing is called illumination, because they who learn these things are illuminated in their understandings. And in the name of Jesus Christ, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and in the name of the Holy Ghost, who through the prophets foretold all things about Jesus, he who is illuminated is washed.” (Justin Martyr, First Apology, 61)

This is one the most skewed, twisted, error-ridden, misreading of a Church Father I have yet to encounter. Mr. Kaufffman places "illumination" (Gr. phōtismos) BEFORE baptism; Justin does the exact opposite, equating "illumination" with "this washing" (i.e. baptism - see also 1 Apology 65.1). The one who is "illumined", "is washed" (Gr. louetai ), present tense, not "will be washed", future tense. Mr. Kauffman also places "the rebirth" before baptism; but Justin equates "the rebirth" (and "remission of sins") with "the washing" (i.e. baptism): "eis anagennēsin loutron" (1 Apology 66.1 - Migne PG, Tomus 6, p. 428).

My read of Justin is exactly the same as the one foremost authorities on NT and early patristic baptism, Dr. Everett Ferguson, who wrote:

Justin identifies the conversion baptism as the time when one is made new (61.1). His preferred way of describing this experience of newness is shown by the repeated use of the words "regeneration" (rebirth) and "be regenerated" (born again). He draws the comparison of this new generation with physical generation inasmuch as both involve moisture (water of baptism and the moist seed of sexual union) is evident from Justin, Hermas and others that John 3:3-5 reflected language in widespread use in the early decades of the church as referring to baptism. (Baptism In The Early Church, pp. 240, 241.)

Dr. Ferguson then goes on to demonstrate that "illumination" was "a technical term for baptism" in Justin's thought (p. 241). He ends his treatment on Justin with: "Baptism meant especially a forgiveness of sins, a regeneration, and an enlightenment." (Page 244.)

Shall end here for now, noting that I am not aware of ANY patristic scholar who has interpreted Justin's take on baptism as Mr. Kauffman has, suggesting to me that his polemical reading is seriously flawed. In my next thread (the Lord willing), I will examine Tertullian's view on baptism.

Grace and peace,


P.S. I will resume my musings on Mormonism after some reflections on baptismal regeneration in the early Church Fathers.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Is Mormonism Christian ?

Is Mormonism Christian ? Putting aside for now the premise that those who attempt to answer this question should first define how they understand what the term Christian means and whether or not they believe that the term Christian demands more than one meaning, it has been my experience (via articles, books, message boards and personal conversations) that many who have answered this question have done so with little clarification and consistency. For instance, the majority of Evangelicals who have answered this question have done so with a resounding NO, maintaining that the term Christian has only one meaning: someone who has been "born again"; and for one to be "born again" one must accept "the Gospel" and "the doctrine of the Trinity" as understood within the confines of conservative Evangelicalism—i.e. "the Gospel" = justification by faith alone (in Christ's atoning sacrifice and bodily resurrection), through imputation alone (imputation of 'Christ's righteousness' to the believer forensically speaking); "the doctrine of the Trinity" = one 'being' who is God existing in three 'persons'. Since Mormonism rejects "the Gospel" and "the doctrine of the Trinity", those who believe in Mormonism cannot be "born again"; as such, Mormonism cannot be "Christian".

Now, this view is problematic for some important reasons: first, the Evangelical understanding "the Gospel" was non-existent until the 16th century, meaning that if the Evangelical presuppositions are correct, there were virtually no Christians, to our knowledge, between 100 A.D. and 1517 A.D.; second, faithful members of the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Mennonite churches are not Christian, because they reject the conservative Evangelical understanding of "the Gospel"; third, some modern Evangelical scholars have raised serious doubts about the "justification by faith alone, through imputation alone" construct; and fourth, the accepted Evangelical understanding of "the doctrine of the Trinity" did not exist until Augustine of Hippo formulated it in the late 4th century/early 5th century, and a large number of Evangelical scholars are now calling into question this so-called "Latin/Western" development.

Having called into question the validity of the underlying presuppositions of the conservative, Evangelical worldview, which have precipitated a negative answer to the question at hand, I shall now turn to the Catholic paradigm. Back on June 5, 2001 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith ruled that baptisms performed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were not valid (see THIS THREAD for germane information on this topic).

In the document, "The Question of the Validity of Baptism Conferred in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints", Fr. Ladaria wrote:

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has given a negative response to a "Dubium"regarding the validity of Baptism conferred in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,more commonly known as the Mormons. Given that this decision changes the past practice of not questioning the validity of such Baptism, it seems appropriate to explain the reasons that have led to this decision and to the resulting change of practice.

Note that, "this decision changes the past practice of not questioning the validity of such Baptism", which means that prior to June 5, 2001, LDS baptisms were valid in the eyes of the RCC.

With this in mind, the four articles which were published in the respected Catholic journal First Things, that dealt with the subject of Mormonism and Christianity, should give one cause for reflection (first; second; third; fourth).

The first article, "Is Mormonism Christian ?", by Richard John Neuhaus, was published in March 2000, which means that LDS baptisms at that time were considered valid by the Catholic Church, but Neuhaus answers the question with an emphatic NO. Note the following:

...Mormonism is inexplicable apart from Christianity and the peculiar permutations of Protestant Christianity in nineteenth-century America. It may in this sense be viewed as a Christian derivative. It might be called a Christian heresy, except heresy is typically a deviation within the story of the Great Tradition that Mormonism rejects tout court. Or Mormonism may be viewed as a Christian apostasy.

The second, is a dialogue between Bruce D. Porter, who "is a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints" and Gerald R. McDermott, who "is Jordan-Trexler Professor of Religion at Roanoke College", and was published in October 2008.  McDermott, ends his contribution with:

In sum, then, Mormon beliefs diverge widely from historic Christian orthodoxy. The Book of Mormon, which is Mormonism’s principal source for its claim to new revelation and a new prophet, lacks credibility. And the Jesus proclaimed by Joseph Smith and his followers is different in significant ways from the Jesus of the New Testament: Smith’s Jesus is a God distinct from God the Father; he was once merely a man and not God; he is of the same species as human beings; and his being and acts are limited by coeternal matter and laws.

The intent of this essay is not to say that individual Mormons will be barred from sitting with Abraham and the saints at the marriage supper of the Lamb. We are saved by a merciful Trinity, not by our theology. But the distinguished scholar of Mormonism Jan Shipps was only partly right when she wrote that Mormonism is a departure from the existing Christian tradition as much as early Christianity was a departure from Judaism. For if Christianity is a shoot grafted onto the olive tree of Judaism, Mormonism as it stands cannot be successfully grafted onto either.

The third, "Mormonism Obsessed With Christ", by Stephen H. Webb, was published in February 2012, well after the Catholic Church's negative decision concerning the validity of LDS baptisms; and yet, the stance taken by Webb is less hostile than that of Neuhaus.

And the fourth, "Mormons and Christianity: Asking the Right Questions", by Howard P. Kainz, is interesting; note the following:

Evidently, the more we know about Mormonism, the more we can see that we have been asking the wrong question . From the Mormon point of view, the question to be asked is not, “Are Mormons Christian?” but, in view of the alleged apostasy in early Christianity after the death of the Apostles, a more appropriate question would be: “Are any non-Mormons Christian?”

Posing this question changes the criteria by which we can evaluate Mormon claims, and helps put some of the more exaggerated fears of orthodox Christians into perspective. Yes, Catholics and Protestants are viewed by Mormons as practicing an incomplete Christianity (at best). This offers justification, for instance, for the Mormon practice of “baptizing the dead,” in order to bring them into communion with Jesus Christ and the Latter-day Saints. But this paradigm also means that Christians need not fear that a Mormon in the White House would not align himself with Christianity; the only reasonable fear would be that a biased Mormon occupant would look down on them as less than Christian. But fortunately Mormons, in spite of their desire to convert the world, are not noted for extreme intolerance or for an inability to work with other persuasions for the common good.
(Bold emphasis in the original.)

It seems to me that 'the Catholic answer' to the question is a bit difficult discern; perhaps it would be better to say that there are 'Catholic answers' to the question. The change in the Catholic assessment of LDS baptism back in 2001 is certainly an important one for the Catholic who attempts to address the question, and yet, one should keep in mind that the 2001 decision is not an infallible/irreformable one. This, to which we can add that the document written by Fr. Ladaria is not completely accurate, raises some concerns for me.

So, what should be the answer ? IMO, the answer is a complex one and cannot be answered without a significant number of qualifications. For those who have already formulated a response, I would like to suggest that you take serious look at the Christianity of the 2nd and 3rd centuries, as represented by the writings Church Fathers of that period, and then consistently apply the presuppositions you used to evaluate Mormonism, asking the same question of them—I think you will find that your presuppositions are a 'doubled-edged sword'—your answer should be same for both. I am sure that this view will be unsettling to many, but I cannot help but maintain that I am being consistent with my evaluation.

Looking forward to a spirited and respectful discussion...

Grace and peace,