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)...it 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,

David

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

20 comments:

guy fawkes said...

David,
Thanks for doing the heavy lifting.
I have skimmed kauffman's articles but don't have the patience or interest in doing the work needed to refute him.
I have a history of being sent on wild goose chases over the fathers by William Webster. After falling for his slight-of-hand shenanigans, I decided not to bother ever again with Protestant of J.W. claims on the fathers.
I am enjoying your efforts though.
Thanks.

Rory said...

Hey guy fawkes. Have I seen you over at St. Louis Catholic? Probably a different "guy". Heh.

In the early 90's, I was a former Baptist minister who would have been happy to be kind of a high church Reformed type. I preferred not to believe in a complete apostasy as the Mormons do. I also was open to Catholic claims.

It was around that time that the complete series of Church Fathers translated by mostly Anglicans became available through Hendriksen and I bought the whole thing. I read all of the first two or three volumes which featured all the extant writings up to the time of Tertullian. Having done a little thinking about implications of apostasy through Mormon contact, I was sensitive to the need to either follow the course historically that led to continuity, or to be forced into admitting apostasy.

There were other factors which played into my eventual conversion to the Catholic faith. But seeing what the early Fathers, with St. Justin Martyr as the earliest Father saying things about things water baptism that sounded like he thought water baptism was salvific.

But that's not all. He obviously believed, as opposed to the Calvinist I would have been pleased to be, that each of us through our free wills merit rewards and chastisement:

"We have learned from the prophets, and we hold it to be true, that punishments and chastisements, and good rewards are rendered according to the merit of each man's actions. Since if it be not so, but all things happen by fate, neither is anything at all in our own power. For if it be fated that this man, e.g., be good, and this other evil, neither is the former meritorious nor the latter to be blamed. And again, unless the human race have the power of avoiding evil and choosing good by free choice, they are not accountable for their actions, of whatever kind they be."

(First Apology, Ch. 43)

You still haven't seen what he says about baptism before he contradicts the Reformed guys on freedom of the will. The passage on baptism is at ch. 61. I couldn't think of a way to avoid coming away from that thinking that Justin believed in baptismal regeneration. But Dave has already shown that almost everybody can see the same thing.

I then moved on to St. Justin's doctrine of the Eucharist, in ch. 66:

"And this food is called amongst us the Eucharist, of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which has been blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.

If you want to believe what St. Justin believed, and I did, that seems like a hat trick against being Reformed to me. If Justin was a proto-Calvinist, he had a mighty ineffective of way communicating it. He sure made me think he disagreed with their views on those three critical areas of dispute. I am not completely baffled as to why Reformed people twist the Fathers to suit their own peculiar beliefs. It is hard to explain why nobody believed what you now do for the first fifteen hundred years of Christianity. At least the Mormons have an explanation for why there is no historical tradition supporting LDS beliefs.

Reading these claims, it seems to have gotten to the absurd place where you could do a switcheroo and quote the Council of Trent as though it was Augustine or Athanasius. If the Reformed "historian" thought it came from a Church Father, they would figure out why the Council of Trent disagreed with the Catholic doctrine...of the Council of Trent.

David Waltz said...

Hi Guy,

So good of you to drop by and share some of your thoughts. I can certainly relate to the following that you posted:

== I have a history of being sent on wild goose chases over the fathers by William Webster.==

I use to live near Bill. In addition to reading most of his anti-Catholic publications, I had a few personal conversations with him. He was a nice enough guy in person, but it did not take me too long to realize that he was reading the Church Fathers (and the Bible) with such an anti-Catholic bias that it was impossible for him to be objective.

But Bill was not just anti-Catholic; ultimately, he became so convinced that his personal interpretation of the Bible (and Church history) was better than pretty much any existing church/denomination, so he started his own church !!!


Grace and peace,

David

David Waltz said...

Hi Rory,

Thanks much for taking the time to share some of your own pre-Catholic studies of the CFs. The following parallels some of my own reflections:

== I am not completely baffled as to why Reformed people twist the Fathers to suit their own peculiar beliefs. It is hard to explain why nobody believed what you now do for the first fifteen hundred years of Christianity. At least the Mormons have an explanation for why there is no historical tradition supporting LDS beliefs.==

I also appreciated your final paragraph:

==Reading these claims, it seems to have gotten to the absurd place where you could do a switcheroo and quote the Council of Trent as though it was Augustine or Athanasius. If the Reformed "historian" thought it came from a Church Father, they would figure out why the Council of Trent disagreed with the Catholic doctrine...of the Council of Trent.==

At first glance, it sounds a bit over-the-top, but for those of us who have experience(s) with a number of anti-Catholic Reformed apologists (and I have had plenty), it sure seems to be spot-on—well said.


Grace and peace,

David

Ken said...

Hi David and Guy and Roy,
I used to think Justin Martyr First Apology 61 was clear for baptismal regeneration, and by the way, William Webster, in his book "The church of Rome at the Bar of History" and other places also believes that baptismal regeneration is the only unanimous belief of the early church fathers, of those issues that divide RCs and Protestants.

I can see what you are saying David, but Justin himself seems to be unclear and contradictory with himself, and Tim Kauffman has at least poked enough holes in it as not to be so dogmatic as Ferguson and others as yourself assert.

Justin's first Apology 61: (with my comments interspersed)
"I will also relate the manner in which we dedicated ourselves to God when we had been made new through Christ;. . . "


Kauffman emphasizes the aspect of the person "dedicating" themselves to God. (sounds like hearing, learning, repentance and faith first, as is Biblical) It is definitely contrary to infant baptism. "when" can mean generally "at the same time so much that the washing/baptism takes place right after the period of learning and praying, etc. or it can mean "after" or "immediately after". The emphasis later on the person being convinced and having understanding and repenting and praying and fasting before the actual baptism is an emphasis that gives a very baptistic flavor. “when we had been mad new through Christ” – sounds like the being made new comes first, then the dedication is the baptism ceremony in the church or among believers gathered together in a place. (near a river ?, etc,).

". . . lest, if we omit this, we seem to be unfair in the explanation we are making. As many as are persuaded and believe that what we teach and say is true, and undertake to be able to live accordingly, are instructed to pray and to entreat God with fasting, for the remission of their sins that are past, we praying and fasting with them. Then
they are brought by us where there is water, and are regenerated in the same manner in which we were ourselves regenerated. "
[I admit this last part sounds like baptismal regeneration.]
Continued

Ken said...


For, in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they then

[emphasis on the repentance and faith first, then the baptism]

" receive the washing with water. For Christ also said, "Unless you be born again, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven." John 3:5 Now, that it is impossible for those who have once been born to enter into their mothers' wombs, is manifest to all. And how those who have sinned and repent shall escape their sins, is declared by Esaias the prophet, as I wrote above; he thus speaks: "Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from your souls; learn to do well; judge the fatherless, and plead for the widow: and come and let us reason together, says the Lord. And though your sins be as scarlet, I will make them white like wool; and though they be as crimson, I will make them white as snow. But if you refuse and rebel, the sword shall devour you: for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it." Isaiah 1:16-20

And for this [rite] we have learned from the apostles this reason. Since at our birth we were born without our own knowledge or choice, by our parents coming together, and were brought up in bad habits and wicked training; in order that we may not remain the children of necessity and of ignorance, but may become the children of choice and knowledge, and may obtain in the water the remission of sins formerly committed, there is pronounced over him who chooses to be born again, and has repented of his sins,

[emphasis on decision and choice and repentance, which shows there was a time of hearing the message and learning and wresting with the meaning]

the name of God the Father and Lord of the universe; he who leads to the laver the person that is to be washed calling him by this name alone. For no one can utter the name of the ineffable God; and if any one dare to say that there is a name, he raves with a hopeless madness.

And this washing is called illumination,

[this phrase seems to agree with what you are saying]
Continued

Ken said...

because they who learn these things are illuminated in their understandings.


[But this phrase seems to contradict that - that the illumination takes place before the washing, but the washing / baptism seems to be understood as a kind of a seal, that without it, it is not yet complete. A Baptist can agree that a person who has heard the gospel, repented and believed, will at some point follow the Lord in baptism and joining a local church of Christians. A person who is unwilling to be baptized according to Matthew 28:19 shows that their so called “repentance and faith” is not real and they are not truly converted. Or they were not instructed properly. ]

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.

You make a big deal that the future tense is not used, but many times we in English present tense for future intention/meaning, and the Greek present also has examples of that. Farsi has this also. If you know another language, you can see this. You can see it is English also, "yes, I am coming to your house tonight" - actually means, "Yes, I will come to your house tonight."

Overall, Justin seems to treat baptism as the final stage in the process, like a seal. A Baptist can agree with that, as long as the repentance and faith is seen as the point of justification and regeneration, and that water baptism is like a seal and a symbol of internal reality, and part of the obedience that comes after true conversion. Without the follow-through of baptism and joining a local church, one has legitimate grounds for questioning how sincere or real the faith and repentance is.

David, also in your list of Protestants who believe in baptismal regeneration, you left out the "Churches of Christ".

Ken said...

Sorry for typos:

You make a big deal that the future tense is not used, but many times we in English use present tense for future intention/meaning, and the Greek present also has examples of that. Farsi has this also. If you know another language, you can see this. You can see it in English also, "yes, I am coming to your house tonight" - actually means, "Yes, I will come to your house tonight."

Ken said...

In the Bromiley quote, the reference should be John 3:5. I don't know if Bromiley made that mistake or you mis-typed it. Justin quotes John 3:3, not 3:5, but it seems he was referring to 3:5.

Justin seems to me to have not exegeted John 3:5 properly, and from there, the mistake seems to get repeated in church history. But baptism is so closely tied with the point of repentance (Matthew 3, Luke 3, Acts 2:38, 1 Peter 3:21); and along with all the external works emphasis of the RC church in history, the true meaning was eclipsed and hidden until the baptist movement.

Also, part of Jesus' point to Nicodemus is that just as you did not choose to be born the first time, you don't choose to be born again the second time, the Spirit of God must do His work, and you cannot control Him - John 3:8 - like the wind/breath; and obvious allusion to Ezekiel 36:25-27 and possibly Ezekiel 37 - the dead bones come alive by the preached word, accompanied by the sovereign Spirit making them alive.

Ken said...

My main point in just linking to the articles was that there was finally an analysis of the issue from a Protestant perspective that sees the problem with baptismal regeneration and the contradiction it makes to repentance and faith as the point of justification/initial sanctification. I have not seen anyone else at least try to push back at the baptismal regeneration claims.

David Waltz said...

Hi Ken,

So good to see you back !!!

I am getting ready for a trip that my wife and I will be heading out on tomorrow morning, so I will not be able to respond at length to your comments until my return (Saturday, the Lord willing.)

But, I did notice the following:

== In the Bromiley quote, the reference should be John 3:5. I don't know if Bromiley made that mistake or you mis-typed it. Justin quotes John 3:3, not 3:5, but it seems he was referring to 3:5. ==

The original reads John 3:3...I agree with you that it should probably be John 3:5.

Hope to continue the dialogue upon my return...


God bless,

David

guy fawkes said...

David, Rory and Ken,

I love the tid-bit about Wm. Webster believing the Fathers on Baptismal regeneration.
Since the Reformed argument against baptismal regeneration stems from their views on grace, predestination, limited atonement, etc., I suppose one could cut to the chase and demonstrate the Fathers were not Calvinists and so could not hold to the denial of baptismal regeneration offered by Kauffman.
Why do Calvinists dislike B.R.? Because if someone receives grace once and later falls away, their whole understanding of only the elect ever receiving grace crumbles. Yet the idea of OSAS was a 16th century innovation unsupported by scripture and Tradition.

Ken said...

Hi Guy,
I think the Reformed argument against Baptismal regeneration has more to do with all the verses that say we are saved by grace alone, justified by faith (alone = apart from works or ceremonies or rituals), as in Acts 13:38-39

"Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through Him forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and through Him everyone who believes is justified from all things, from which you could not be justified through the Law of Moses."

"cleansing their hearts by faith" - Acts 15:9

Romans 3:28
Romans 4:1-16
Ephesians 2:8-9
Galatians 2:16

Romans 5:1 - "Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ."

John 3:15-16
John 5:24 - whoever believes has passed out of judgment into eternal life.

1 John 5:12-13

Paul clearly differentiates the gospel from baptism - 1 Corinthians chapter 1 - "I was not sent to baptize, but to preach the gospel" and " I am glad I baptized no one except for . . . "

baptism seems to be the external rite and symbol of the spiritual reality of faith and regeneration by the Holy Spirit that has already taken place, and then the person is taught and instructed and then baptized before witnesses in the church that he or she is following the Lord and joining a local church.

James White has a good rebuttal of baptismal regeneration.

http://www.aomin.org/aoblog/index.php/2012/12/06/a-brief-rebuttal-of-baptismal-regeneration-vintage/

Ken said...

Other good articles dealing with the exegesis of passages that are claimed to teach baptismal regeneration:

http://www.reformedapologeticsministries.com/2014/03/baptismal-regeneration-justification.html

http://www.samstorms.com/all-articles/post/john-3:5---part-i

http://www.samstorms.com/all-articles/post/john-3:5---part-ii

http://www.samstorms.com/all-articles/post/acts-2:38

http://vintage.aomin.org/NotByWorks.html

Justin Martyr seems to agree somewhat, that the person first has to hear, understand, learn, think, repent, believe - "has been illuminated in their understanding" - that the Holy Spirit has made the person alive and new, but that the baptism is the final stage, like a seal.

guy fawkes said...

Hi Ken,
You mentioned james White having a good rebuttal to Baptismal regeneration. Fine. There are several Baptist vs Church of Christ debates on utube in which the Baptists lose every time. Although the CofC errs on lot of points, when it comes to the necessity of baptism by precept ( for adults ), they are right.
You might enjoy James White's five day debate with Arminian Steve Gregg too. White gets so flustered he starts sulking and refuses to respond to Gregg who never so much as messes his hair in the debate.

David Waltz said...

Hi Guy (Jim),

When you get the time, could you provide the links to the debates that you mentioned ?

As for, "the exegesis of passages that are claimed to teach baptismal regeneration", I would like to recommend Dr. Richard C. H. Lenski's 12 volume NT commentary set. Lenski, a conservative Lutheran scholar, digs deeply into the Greek, but does so in a way that even those who cannot read Greek can understand.

He deftly deals with all the passages that teach baptismal regeneration—in their context—with his arguments and exegesis establishing a defense for baptismal regeneration that is quite solid, if not virtually 'bullet-proof'.

I MAY type-up all the relevant passages from Lenski's commentaries in the future...


Grace and peace,

David

Ken said...

Guy wrote:
"There are several Baptist vs Church of Christ debates on utube in which the Baptists lose every time. "

In your opinion the Baptists loose; but we would have to see them to judge if that is really true.

Although the CofC errs on lot of points, when it comes to the necessity of baptism by precept ( for adults ), they are right.

Necessity of baptism for what? (justification?, or proving that one is truly a believer ?, Discipleship?) One who claims to believe in Christ and then stubbornly refuses to be baptised and join a local church is showing that they were not truly justified.

Necessity in the process of discipleship and sanctification is different than the belief that being dunked in the water with the name of the Trinity said over them (Matthew 28:19) actually causes the new birth. Water baptism is rather the external symbol of the internal reality of the new birth by the Spirit. (1 Cor. 12:13; Romans 6:1-6)


You might enjoy James White's five day debate with Arminian Steve Gregg too. White gets so flustered he starts sulking and refuses to respond to Gregg who never so much as messes his hair in the debate.

I listened to that at the time it happened, as I have listened to almost all of the Dividing Line shows for years. I don't remember thinking, "Dr. White is getting flustered" or your take on it.

Ken said...

I MAY type-up all the relevant passages from Lenski's commentaries in the future...

That would be interesting.

Ken said...

I found this to be a very good treatment of John 3:5; and he interacts with Lenski.

https://www.dbts.edu/journals/1999/McCabe.pdf

guy fawkes said...

David,
You really gotta check out Tim's latest article in which he goes on about (St. Francis of Assisi!!! ) endorsing bread worship when he wrote Adoro Te Devote!
An anti-Catholic Methodist named Bob switches sides in the comments corrects Tim by saying Transubstantiation saves Catholics from this nasty slur.
The failure to identify Aquinas as the writer of the hymn exposes Tim's shoddy scholarship.