The New Covenant, Baptism, and Properly-Realized Eschatology

Posted by on June 1, 2014 in Baptism, Covenant Theology, Ecclesiology, Eschatology, Featured, Gospel, Incarnation, Means of Grace, Presbyterianism, Redemptive History, Reformed Theology, Sacraments | 51 comments

The question of whether or not to baptize infants has been a very divisive issue throughout the history of Protestantism, dividing Protestantism roughly in half between Lutheran/Reformed and Baptist/Non-Denominational traditions. But instead of writing a post on how Sola Scriptura has been unable to address this “church-dividing issue,” I will instead focus on another issue, specifically the Reformed understanding of infant baptism and why it’s very problematic.

I should start off by saying Thanks be to God that so many Protestants have retained the orthodox practice of infant baptism. In doing so, it’s no exaggeration to say tens of millions of infants have received sanctifying grace, and thus received a very blessed start to their earthly lives. Even though the Bible doesn’t speak directly upon the subject, Lutherans and Reformed have recognized the key reason for infant baptism, which is the simple fact that children of adult believers need a way to be brought into the New Covenant. It’s ridiculous to think that salvation is closed off for all those under the age of 8 simply because they weren’t mature enough to understand and embrace the Gospel. Baptism thus functions similarly to circumcision, in which a Jewish child didn’t have to wait until after childhood to become a member of God’s Old Testament family. That said, as I investigated this issue from the Reformed perspective, I noticed that the Reformed position runs into a serious dilemma, which is the main subject of this post that I’ll now get into.

As most are aware, the Reformed officially teach that only the elect are granted the gift of salvation. Even those who once appeared to be elect and living a Christian life but later fell away (and never returned) are understood by the Reformed as having “never been saved in the first place.” Though this might seem harsh, such conclusions do logically flow from their specific understanding of other doctrines, such as their unique view of on the Atonement. But the question then arises: If baptism inducts a child into the New Covenant, and yet not every child is elect, then doesn’t this mean it’s possible have someone who was never saved and yet who is also a legitimate member of the New Covenant? It certainly seems so, especially since the Reformed do not teach that baptism is a sure sign of election.

The dilemma that the Reformed are in, as I see it, is that they’re forced to conclude that being in the New Covenant isn’t directly tied to salvation. Such a conclusion should not sit well with anyone. The very essence of being in the New Covenant is salvation, especially in terms of having sins forgiven, being given a new heart, and an infusion of Love and the Holy Spirit (see Jeremiah 31:33-34 and Eze 36:25-27). Indeed, being in the New Covenant is being a member of Christ’s Mystical Body, and God forbid we say Christ’s Body doesn’t directly have anything to do with salvation. The Reformed are logically forced to either say that (a) the New Covenant is merely of a temporal nature and only bestows temporal blessings, or (b) that there is a division within the New Covenant, split between a saving half and non-saving half. And since both of these options are basically espousing the same error, the dilemma isn’t resolved with either of the two options.

Taking the second of the two options, the Reformed might say that baptism truly does induct one into the “Visible Church” (a distinction Scripture doesn’t really make), but this no guarantee of being in the “Invisible Church” (where only the elect are members of and only through it does grace flow). But again, this forces a sharp division within the Body of Christ, almost as if to say Christ’s humanity is not divinized by His Divinity. It means being a part of the “Visible Church” is only incidental to Salvation, not a core part of it, as if Christ’s humanity was trivial part of our salvation. It ultimately means the baptized infant is not truly a member of the New Covenant. And such a view also trivializes baptism, reducing it from a sign and seal of grace, with all the language of forgiveness and new life stripped away, resulting in something little more than a punch card.

A Reformed might appeal to the example of Romans 9:6, where Paul teaches that not all who were members of “fleshly” Israel were also members of “spiritual” Israel. In other words, just because someone was physically circumcised didn’t mean their heart was circumcised. While there is truth to the idea that being in the Old Covenant in a “visible” sense didn’t mean you had saving faith, the problem here is that this parallel does not carry over to the New Covenant. The Old Covenant never did save in and of itself, it did not provide for the forgiveness of sins. But the New Covenant does save in and of itself. Being a member of “spiritual Israel” by having a circumcised heart was synonymous with being in the New Covenant. So really, the New Covenant overlapped with the Old Covenant, with each having a different function (and thus the two weren’t in “competition” with each other). So the Reformed cannot push the Romans 9:6 distinction equally on the New Covenant as Paul did on the Old, and in doing so they really make Christian baptism not much different than physical circumcision (which is heresy, cf. Col 2:11-12).

In conclusion, while the Reformed are correct in teaching that infants should be baptized, this also shows that the Reformed understanding of salvation (specifically their claim that only the elect receive saving grace) cannot be correct. Thoughts?

(Please, no debate about whether or not infant baptism is Biblical, since that’s not the issue. In this discussion, infant baptism is a given, assumed to be true in order to evaluate the Reformed covenantal paradigm.)

51 Comments

  1. Please note that this piece was posted by Nick (one of CCC’s new authors).

  2. Jason,
    I posted this elsewhere but will repost it here. The same logic you speak of is not confined to Baptism alone,
    http://robinphillips.blogspot.pt/2012/06/james-jordan-on-lords-supper.html

    As bad, if not worse it this,
    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/2013/11/can-a-calvinist-pray-for-his-child-to-be-elect/

  3. Jim,

    Just to clarify, it’s not “I” who am speaking here, but Nick. In other words, it is Nick who is speaking here, not “I.” To summarize… never mind, you get the point!

  4. Thanks for the clarification Jason.

    Nick,
    The next question is to ask if covenant membership is necessary for salvation, I just heard Dave Anders talk about John’s Calvin’s high view of ecclesiology. He went on to say that today church membership is not even a necessity for Protestants today due to the logic of JBFA.
    Anyway, here is a link for a debate between John MacArthur and RC Sproul in case any one has never heard it.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2VzUOiNtgio

  5. All sorts of problems here:

    On making the visible church incidental to salvation:

    WCF 25.2:

    2. The visible church, which is also catholic or universal under the gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.

    Since V2 at least, the Reformed have had a much higher view of the necessity of membership in the visible church than Rome. No one has to be a member of the visible church in Roman Catholicism anymore to be saved. There are vast numbers of heathen who never join the visible church but are saved because they are following the light they have. That’s certainly the prevailing interpretation of Lumen Gentium. For Rome nowadays, salvation is ordinarily possible outside the visible church. Not so for the Reformed. Those who are saved outside the visible church are a very small number, consisting of those who may be converted but have no opportunity to join a visible church.

    Visible church is now incidental to Rome. There’s no real point to it, as there is no real point to missions for Rome. Don’t tell those peaceful, loving Muslims, Buddhists, or pagans about Christ and his church. You only give them the chance to reject it and be condemned. Otherwise they’re on the way to heaven.

    6. The efficacy of baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered; yet, notwithstanding, by the right use of this ordinance, the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited, and conferred, by the Holy Ghost, to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongeth unto, according to the counsel of God’s own will, in his appointed time.

    Baptism for the Reformed does truly convey grace, but not necessarily at the point it is administered. To say otherwise is to make baptism a rite of magic. And frankly, the idea of a baptism of desire doesn’t fit well with an ex opere operato understanding of baptism, especially when vast numbers of people have it. Again, what is necessary about the visible church if one can be and is baptized without it. You can say God’s hands are not tied by the sacraments, and that is well and good, but that then undercuts severely the critique of the Reformed for not tying the grace to the moment of administration.

    And as far as the visible vs. invisible church, even Rome is ultimately going to admit that one can be baptized into the visible church and yet is not a part of the invisible church. Think of the businessman who makes a profession of faith in a heavily Roman Catholic area because it will help him make business connections. Only he (and God) knows that he doesn’t believe. That person is no less a part of the visible covenant than the true believer.

  6. Robert,

    Let’s not get sidetracked on ‘salvation outside the church’ of those who are outside through no fault of their own, either in Reformed or Catholic theology. The issue is whether, under normal circumstances, being a member of the visible Church actually does something in the realm of salvation, or whether it’s ‘just there’.

    You had quoted the WCF 25.2 to demonstrate that for the Reformed, the visible church is necessary to be a member of for salvation. But the issue being addressed in the opening post is whether being in the visible Church corresponds to any actual saving effects, so unless that’s addressed, simply saying it’s necessary to be a member of the visible Church doesn’t automatically correspond to a coherent theological position.

    You then quoted another part of the WCF and concluded: “Baptism for the Reformed does truly convey grace, but not necessarily at the point it is administered. To say otherwise is to make baptism a rite of magic.

    The problem with this claim is that you must either say (a) that baptizing infants does not necessarily bring them into the New Covenant, which would undercut the whole point of IB, or (b) that receiving grace and being inducted into the NC are not the same thing, which goes right back to the issue at hand.

    You concluded by saying:

    And as far as the visible vs. invisible church, even Rome is ultimately going to admit that one can be baptized into the visible church and yet is not a part of the invisible church. Think of the businessman who makes a profession of faith in a heavily Roman Catholic area because it will help him make business connections. Only he (and God) knows that he doesn’t believe. That person is no less a part of the visible covenant than the true believer.

    The visible/invisible distinction doesn’t carry over from the Reformed onto the Catholic view very well. A better analogy is a dead branch versus a living branch of a tree. You need to distinguish between two different things here: Someone who never really believed in the first place versus someone who did believe and receive baptism but later fell away. A businessman who makes a false profession and does not receive baptism validly is not technically a member of the Church, whether he goes through the motions or not. Such a man was never truly a branch on the tree. So for you to say “that person is no less a part of the visible covenant than a true believer” is not an accurate understanding.

    Now if the businessman at one point did have interest in becoming Catholic, even for the wrong motives, and did get validly baptized, then he is a genuine member of the Church, but if he commits any mortal sins he’d correspond to a real-yet-dead branch on the tree. The key detail here is that in the Catholic view, saving graces were available to the businessman at the time of his baptism, and would only be forfeited if he committed grave sin, linking membership in the NC with the reception of grace. But in the Reformed view, it doesn’t seem that grace necessarily accompanies baptism, meaning that either baptism doesn’t necessarily bring one into the NC (and thus undermining IB), or else there’s a sharp distinction between being inducted into the NC and receiving grace.

  7. Robert,
    “And frankly, the idea of a baptism of desire doesn’t fit well with an ex opere operato understanding of baptism, especially when vast numbers of people have it.”

    Again, the sacraments also work “ex opere operantis”.

    What is needed for heaven is sanctifying grace. It can be given out side the Sacrament.
    What can’t be given outside the Sacrament ( what Baptism of Blood or Desire do not convey) is the Character.
    If a catechumen dies before getting wet and has perfect Charity, he is saved. If he lives and wants to receive any of the other sacraments, he needs the Character. If he lives and spurns the Character, he loses the grace.
    Desire implies a desire for that Baptismal Character. At least, implicitly.

    ( I seem to recall we talked about this in the past ).

  8. Robert,
    “Baptism for the Reformed does truly convey grace,”

    What is grace?

  9. Nick, you write:

    … being in the New Covenant is being a member of Christ’s Mystical Body, and God forbid we say Christ’s Body doesn’t directly have anything to do with salvation.

    That is an excellent point. The Catholic Church and various Reformed Churches entered into a six year dialog and came to a mutual recognition of the validity of the Sacrament of Baptism that each church administers. The first point of agreement in the Common Agreement on Mutual Recognition of Baptism – Roman Catholic-Reformed Church Dialog, Round VII states this:

    Together we affirm that, by the sacrament of Baptism, a person is truly incorporated into the body of Christ (I Corinthians 12:13 and 27; Ephesians 1:22-23), the church.

    Reference: Ref: http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/ecumenical-and-interreligious/ecumenical/reformed/upload/OFFICIAL-Common-Agreement-on-Mutual-Recognition-of-Baptism-Roman-Catholic-Reformed-Church-Dialogue-2011.pdf

    From the above, we see that the Calvinists agree that infant baptism incorporates the baptized infant into the body of Christ.

    Nick, you then write:

    The Reformed are logically forced to either say that (a) the New Covenant is merely of a temporal nature and only bestows temporal blessings, or (b) that there is a division within the New Covenant, split between a saving half and non-saving half. And since both of these options are basically espousing the same error, the dilemma isn’t resolved with either of the two options.
    .
    Taking the second of the two options, the Reformed might say that baptism truly does induct one into the “Visible Church” (a distinction Scripture doesn’t really make), but this no guarantee of being in the “Invisible Church” (where only the elect are members of and only through it does grace flow).

    Point three of the Common Agreement on Mutual Recognition of Baptism – Roman Catholic-Reformed Church Dialog, Round VII states this:

    Together we affirm that incorporation into the universal church by baptism is brought about by celebrating the sacrament within a particular Christian community.

    The Catholic Church and the Calvinists agree that infant baptism brings about the incorporation of the baptized infant into the universal church. Your point is a good one, if an infant is incorporated into the universal church by receiving a valid sacrament of baptism, how could a baptized infant be both in universal church and not be in the “invisible church”? Calvinism teaches contradiction on this point. Supposedly, it is possible for a baptized infant to be incorporated into the Body of Christ; be a member of the universal church; and also NOT be regenerated. The Calvinists need to explain how unregenerated individuals are part of the Body of Christ.

  10. Robert, you write:

    Baptism for the Reformed does truly convey grace, but not necessarily at the point it is administered.

    Robert, this sounds like a lot of double-talk. If you can, explain to us what grace is received by an infant that has been both created by God for damnation, and has been validly baptized in a Calvinist church.

  11. The problem with this claim is that you must either say (a) that baptizing infants does not necessarily bring them into the New Covenant, which would undercut the whole point of IB, or (b) that receiving grace and being inducted into the NC are not the same thing,

    Nick,

    Not sure what you mean by “being inducted into the NC?” We are brought into covenant with God – is this what you mean?

    And what exactly do you mean by “receiving grace?” That’s a term I certainly recognize but there are different ways we can receive grace and there is even a sense in which pagans receive grace. So maybe you can elaborate.

    What we Reformed believe is that when we are baptized we are received into the covenant community and admitted into the visible Church. But that does not save us. We know this because when Paul goes fastidiously through the mechanism by which we are justified into God’s sight, baptism is not mentioned. Baptism saves us sacramentally – that is, it is a sign of what God does and God’s uses it to build His Church. But it does not bring us into saving relationship with Christ and again we know that because we are told numerous times in the Pauline corpus (and other epistles) how we are made right with God without any mention of baptism.

    I realize that there are some verses you might challenge some of my statements above with (i.e. I Cor 6:11). Happy to talk about them if you wish.

    The efficacy of baptism is one of those few areas within historic theology where there are some significant differences. But I think that all Reformed folks would agree that there is a degree of mystery as to how God applies baptism in our lives. And we agree that it is a mistake to make a causal connection between baptism and salvation. As Robert points out that makes baptism a rite of magic where faith plays no necessary part.

    The Reformed are logically forced to either say that (a) the New Covenant is merely of a temporal nature and only bestows temporal blessings, or (b) that there is a division within the New Covenant, split between a saving half and non-saving half.

    So again you are using the wrong term here. There is no division of the NC. But there are people who have a sign of baptism placed on them who are not Christ’s sheep. Christ says He only knows and prays for His sheep. But there are many of those non sheep who have been baptized and are living in the visible Church. If someone is not of Christ’s it does not matter how many priests apply how many gallons of holy water – there is no magic in the water or the right itself. The separation of baptism and saving faith is what we see as the central error of RC theology concerning baptism.

  12. I just found this article on Dr. C. Matthew McMahon’s website:
    A Catechism on Infant Inclusion in the Covenant

    Some clutch quotations:

    THE CATECHISM

    Question 1: Are Infants of believers included in the Covenant of Grace?

    Answer: Yes, children are included in the Covenant of Grace, and the visible church.[1]

    Question 2: Upon what Grounds are children part of the Covenant of Grace?

    Answer: By two reasons: the promises of God [2] and the command of God.[3]

    Question 3: What is the promise of God?

    Answer: That God would be a God to Abraham and his descendants after him for an everlasting covenant,[4] and that the children of believers are entitled to such a promise since it was made with Abraham and his children.[5]

    Question 4: What is the command of God?

    Answer: The command of God compels all believing parents to have the sign of the covenant of God placed on their children.[6]

    Question 5: How are the promises of God applicable to children since they are born sinful and depraved?

    Answer: The promises of God are applicable to the children of believers since Christian parents presumptively believe their children are regenerate based on the Word of God and the command of God.[7]

    Question 6: Does this presumption (that the children of believers are regenerate) negate the reality that these children are conceived in sin, or demonstrate an inconsistency with Total Depravity?

    Answer: No. Children of believing parents are conceived in sin, corrupt, depraved and in need of salvation, [8] but their parents presume them to be regenerate, yet are actually regenerate by sovereign election at a time only God knows, if at all; [9] they are to be considered Christians by their parents based on the promise God has made to them, that God will in fact save them and be a God to them; [10] and this view is not inconsistent with Total Depravity since sovereign grace is the means by which God will regenerate and save a child. [11]

    Question 7: Are infants of believing parents to be considered Christians?

    Answer: Yes.

    Question 8: Why are infants of believing parents to be considered Christians?

    Answer: Based on the command and promise of God, they are to be distinguished from the visible world,[12] and are united with believers in the church,[13] being federally holy before God [14] and marked by the covenant sign of circumcision [15] (as in the case of the patriarchs and Israelites) or of baptism [16] (as in the case of the covenant realized in Christ).

    Question 9: Are infants of believing parents to be considered as members of the invisible church or the visible church or both?

    Answer: Infants of believing parents are presumed to be in the invisible church [17] and are actually part of the visible church. [18]

    Question 10: Are all children of believing parents infallibly saved?

    Answer: No. They are presumed saved by the parents based on the promises, but may in fact demonstrate their apostasy after the age of discretion, [19] showing themselves in need of saving faith. [20]

    Question 11: Is this contradictory?

    Answer: No. Christian parents presume the regeneration of their children based on the precepts of the Word of God and do not have prior information concerning the decreed eternal destiny of any fellow human being, much less their own children.

    Question 12: Is the account of when Abraham circumcised Ishmael inconsistent with the view that infants of believing parents should be presumed regenerate (though he knew that God told him Ishmael would be cast out)?

    Answer: No. The sign is administered by way of promise and command. Though the promise would be realized in Isaac, [21] the command still rendered Abraham duty-bound to administer the sign of the covenant on Ishmael, [22] sealing the curses of the covenant upon him as a reprobate. [23]

    Question 13: In presuming that infants of believing parents are regenerate, does this mean they have an active and actual faith whereby they do good works, understand the Word of God, and meditate on it?

    Answer: Infants do not have actual faith, but habitual faith, or faith of habit; for as an acorn possesses in it all the properties of a giant oak tree, so infants possess all the properties necessary for faith as “seed faith” (a faith implanted in them by God and dormant until they reach an age in which they are able to rationally think); infants are unable to discern between their left hand and right hand, [24] not capable of acts of faith, [25] and not capable of hearing or meditating on the Word. [26]

    Question 14: Are infants of believing parents part of the Kingdom of God?

    Answer: Yes. Christ says the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to them, [27] which demonstrates that a real “seed faith” is in them since no one is able to enter the Kingdom of heaven without it [28].

    Question 15: Why does God desire Christian parents to presume their infants are regenerate?

    Answer: God desires that Christian parents rely on his revealed Word [29] which includes the children of believing parents in the Covenant of Grace

    Question 16: May a child of believing parents, after the age of discretion, ultimately be lost?

    Answer: God may, by an eternal decree of reprobation, account them lost forever (which is different than His will of precept that Christians are to obey) such as in the case of Ishmael, Esau or others, who outwardly demonstrated their rebellion and reprobation. [30]

    This is quite a fascinating response (there’s more quotes if you follow the link, but this is the main stuff). This response is in some ways better and in some ways worse than what’s already been said (i.e. that infants are truly inducted into the Church by baptism, but only the visible church).

    It is better because there is clear emphasis that these baptized children are assumed/presumed to be truly saved, incorporated into the invisible church. But it’s somewhat worse because the all-or-nothing approach lends the conclusion to be that you presume election unless some proof comes up suggesting otherwise, at which point you must conclude that the baptism did nothing to the infant (meaning that of all the babies who are baptized, only certain ones were actually baptized, the rest just got wet).

    In the end, this response still doesn’t solve the dilemma, but rather shifts the subject over to that of assurance, specifically the issue of presuming one’s election. The astonishing thing about this though is that it acts as if believing parents are somehow entitled to elect children, which is understandable but not consistent with the Reformed view of election. All that talk about ‘presuming election’ is really outrageous when you think about it.

  13. One way out of the conundrum of explaining how the infants predestined for damnation receive grace, would be to argue that God predestines only the elect to receive sacramental baptism. Which, it seems to me, is what one of Taylor Marshall’s friend offered to him as an explanation when he was a Calvinist:

    Does God Predestine Infant Baptisms?
    .
    When I was a Calvinist, I began to call myself a “Reformed Catholic.” I wanted to be Reformed, but I wanted to take the church and the sacraments seriously. Of course, if one follows the Westminster Confession, he cannot hold to an Anabaptistic understanding of sacraments. He is bound to hold that the sacraments have a sort of efficacy.
    .
    I believed in infant baptism but I did not then believe in baptismal regeneration. The reason for this was clear. Only the elect are regenerated. It is obvious that not everyone who is baptized as an infant demonstrates the behavior of regeneration in adulthood. Therefore, baptismal regeneration was, in my mind, false.
    .
    The guiding principle for me was that God’s positive decree of predestination sealed the number of the elect. The action of sacraments, then, could not be perfectly related to human salvation. I nonetheless recognized the language of the Westminster Confession regarding it’s moderate stance on regeneration and baptism. I did not assent to baptism as the “instrumental cause” of regeneration, which is the definition of the Council of Trent. The decree of predestination always held the preeminence.
    .
    One day, however, a PCA friend asked, “Well does not God predestine all those infant baptisms?” I had not thought of baptism in this light. Of course, God’s sovereignty included both decrees – that of each particular baptism and that of the salvation of the predestinate.
    .
    This forced me to meditate on the disconnect between the economy of salvation and the sacramental economy. If the two were entirely distinct, then the sacraments were superflous and completely unneeded. However, my ecclesiology was high enough to know that this conclusion was false.
    .
    Reference: http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2012/01/does-god-predestine-infant-baptisms/

    God predestines only the elect to receive Sacramental Baptism. An interesting concept, to be sure, but that would mean that would mean that since the Calvinists are recognizing that Catholic baptisms are valid, that all baptized Catholics must also be members of the elect …

  14. Andrew,

    You asked:

    Not sure what you mean by “being inducted into the NC?” We are brought into covenant with God – is this what you mean?

    And what exactly do you mean by “receiving grace?” That’s a term I certainly recognize but there are different ways we can receive grace and there is even a sense in which pagans receive grace. So maybe you can elaborate.

    Yes, being brought into the New Covenant. By “receiving grace” I mean sanctifying grace (which the Reformed don’t exactly believe in), but regardless the reception of New Covenant grace of any sort is soteric.

    What we Reformed believe is that when we are baptized we are received into the covenant community and admitted into the visible Church. But that does not save us. We know this because when Paul goes fastidiously through the mechanism by which we are justified into God’s sight, baptism is not mentioned. Baptism saves us sacramentally – that is, it is a sign of what God does and God’s uses it to build His Church. But it does not bring us into saving relationship with Christ and again we know that because we are told numerous times in the Pauline corpus (and other epistles) how we are made right with God without any mention of baptism.

    When you say by baptism you are “received into the covenant community and admitted into the visible Church. But that does not save us,” this is precisely the issue I originally brought up, namely the idea that being in the visible Church is incidental to salvation. I don’t even think you can proper say “Baptism saves us sacramentally,” because ‘save’ is a soteric term, and you cannot speak of saving in a non-salvific way.

    I realize that there are some verses you might challenge some of my statements above with (i.e. I Cor 6:11). Happy to talk about them if you wish.

    I don’t think there’s any need to go into those texts. Catholics read the texts on Baptism as actually bringing out the transformation Scripture describes, e.t. washed, sanctified, justified. The Protestants deny baptismal regeneration, so that’s not going to change here. If anything, I challenge you to find a verse that describes Baptism in merely terms of bringing someone into the visible Church but nothing more.

    The Reformed are logically forced to either say that (a) the New Covenant is merely of a temporal nature and only bestows temporal blessings, or (b) that there is a division within the New Covenant, split between a saving half and non-saving half.

    So again you are using the wrong term here. There is no division of the NC. But there are people who have a sign of baptism placed on them who are not Christ’s sheep. Christ says He only knows and prays for His sheep. But there are many of those non sheep who have been baptized and are living in the visible Church. If someone is not of Christ’s it does not matter how many priests apply how many gallons of holy water – there is no magic in the water or the right itself. The separation of baptism and saving faith is what we see as the central error of RC theology concerning baptism.

    If there is “no division in the NC” then you’re saying the Visible Church is distinct and even incidental to the New Covenant. That’s a problem, a serious one, because it’s a Nestorian view of the Church as the *Body* of Christ. You’re saying Covenant isn’t synonymous with Christ’s Body, but rather simply partially overlaps.

    At the very least, if you cannot accept the theological/Christological problems, at least show me some texts where “body” or “church” are mentioned in Scripture where the clear implication is ‘invisible body’ or ‘invisible church’. I don’t think such texts exist, and if they don’t, then you’ve made up a distinction that’s not Scriptural. Ephesians 5 is especially worth mentioning:

    Eph 5: 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

    25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.[a] 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.

    Paul here is speaking of the Incarnation, the “washing of water with the word” (sure sounds like baptism), and parallels this to a husbands “flesh”. Sure sounds like a visible entity, with visible sacraments. Yet how does a visible/invisible distinction fit here theologically or exegetically? Is Christ the head of both his visible body and head of his invisible body?

  15. Nick you write:

    The astonishing thing about this though is that it acts as if believing parents are somehow entitled to elect children, which is understandable but not consistent with the Reformed view of election. All that talk about ‘presuming election’ is really outrageous when you think about it.

    The Calvinists are indeed inconsistent on this point. Bryan Cross makes this comment in Tom Riello’s Called To Communion article “Supernatural or Natural Birth?”:

    … in Calvinism, parents can do nothing to ensure that if their child dies before reaching the age of reason, that child will go to heaven. In Catholicism, by contrast, parents can do something to ensure this very thing. That is, according to the Catholic Church, parents who have their child validly baptized, can know that if that child dies before he or she reaches the age of reason, that child will go to heaven. In Calvinism, parents whose baptized child dies before that child reaches the age of reason, do not know whether that child is in heaven or hell. Whether or not they baptized the child is irrelevant, within Calvinism, not only because Calvinism denies baptismal regeneration, but also because even if some relation between baptism and regeneration is granted, the two events are not (for Calvinists) simultaneous, so the regeneration can take place years after the baptism, and thus the baptized child can die while still unregenerate. …
    .
    Reference: http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2009/11/supernatural-or-natural-birth/

  16. Nick, you write to Andrew McCallum:

    When you say by baptism you are “received into the covenant community and admitted into the visible Church. But that does not save us,” this is precisely the issue I originally brought up, namely the idea that being in the visible Church is incidental to salvation. I don’t even think you can proper say “Baptism saves us sacramentally,” because ‘save’ is a soteric term, and you cannot speak of saving in a non-salvific way.

    Amen. In addition to Ephesians 5, which you quoted above, the Common Agreement on Mutual Recognition of Baptism – Roman Catholic-Reformed Church Dialog, Round VII says this about the body of Christ and the church:

    Together we affirm that, by the sacrament of Baptism, a person is truly incorporated into the body of Christ (I Corinthians 12:13 and 27; Ephesians 1:22-23), the church.

    The scriptures referenced above are:

    For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body — Jews or Greeks, slaves or free — and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
    I Corinthians 12:13
    .
    Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
    I Corinthians 12:27
    .
    … he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church,
    which is his body, the fulness of him who fills all in all.
    Ephesians 1:22-23

    The Calvinists teach that the non-regenerated have nothing but hatred of God until they are regenerated. But it is impossible to be in the body of Christ, and also be filled with hatred of God, since those in the body of Christ are “made to drink of one Spirit”.

  17. Andrew,

    Greetings,

    ,”But it does not bring us into saving relationship with Christ and again we know that because we are told numerous times in the Pauline corpus (and other epistles) how we are made right with God without any mention of baptism.”

    What about those times in the Gospels where we are told Baptism is necessary as means ( Jn 3:1-21) and as precept ( Mark 16:16)?
    Seems like Jesus’ words must be filtered through JBFA>

  18. Robert,
    I am curious about this business of Baptism giving grace outside of its reception.

    We believe the Character I mentioned does this too. What do you mean?

    About this mysterious Character, I recall a “small t” tradition that says Mary was Baptized.
    Why? She had no sin, right? ( I know you don’t believe this .)

    Mary was Baptized so she could receive the Eucharist from John in later years.
    Because of the Character, she was able to be Confirmed on Pentecost by tongues of fire along with the Apostles. She didn’t receive any of the other sacraments as she couldn’t be ordained nor could she have sins removed in Confession or Anointing.

    One picture a thousand words! The Character is needed. Grace too but that can be given outside of the sacrament as may ( or may not ) have happened in the cases of Cornelius and Apollos.

    In my area there are some Protestant churches, including the Anglican one, that practice open Communion with each other . One American church even gives their Eucharist to the non-Baptized!! This demonstrates to me that this concept of the Character is completely absent among Protestants.

  19. Robert,

    This Baptism business reminds me of what you said a couple of weeks ago about the 3 classes of people;
    (1) The non elect who never hear the Gospel
    (2) The non elect who hear the Gospel
    (3) The elect who hear the Gospel

    You said the non elect who hear the Gospel are worse off than those who never hear the Gospel and reject it. I assume it is the same with Baptism, right?
    So, it appears to me the Baptists are more consistent that the Presbyterians.

    By the way, this is the feast of the Martyrs of Uganda. I just came from Mass where the priest mentioned, ” the martyrs and their companions”. A group of about 50 boys, Catholic and Protestant catechumens, were martyred in the late 19th century in Uganda. I am not sure if the Protestant boys are “companions” or officially canonized martyrs as they were outside the visible Catholic Church. I don’t know if the Protestants had been Baptized yet or received a Baptism of Blood. The question of how explicit their desire to be Baptized into the Catholic Church or if their blood being shed supplied for any lack is an interesting one. Still, had they survived, Baptism of water and Spirit would have been necessary for them to continue receiving the sacraments and growing in grace.

  20. Mateo,

    That’s what I think AndrewM and Robert need to address, since I know of no Biblical text that speaks of Baptism simply bringing one into the visible Church alone. In fact, aside from Ephesians 5b, I think this is another pretty decisive text:

    27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

    Given what Paul says in verse 27, the only options on the table are:

    (1) That all who were baptized have been Justified.

    (2) That only those baptized and elect have been Justified; the rest just got wet.

    (3) That all who were baptized, elect and non-elect, did indeed “put on Christ,” but this refers to the visible Church.

    Evaluating these options, it seems only #1 makes any sense. It seems that most Reformed would go with option #2, but that completely destroys the whole point of IB and especially it’s parallel to circumcision, since a good number of those babies only got wet and nothing more. As for option #3, when Paul says all who have been baptized have “put on Christ,” he is clearly speaking in the context of Justification here, so arguing visible Church is going to be pretty tough, if not outright eisegesis.

    (Note that if “putting on Christ” refers to “imputing Christ’s righteousness,” then Paul just assigned the instrumental cause to Baptism. Though if you look how Paul speaks of putting on Christ elsewhere, there’s nothing imputational about it.)

  21. By “receiving grace” I mean sanctifying grace (which the Reformed don’t exactly believe in), but regardless the reception of New Covenant grace of any sort is soteric.

    Nick,

    Are you sure you don’t mean justifying grace rather than “sanctifying grace?” Isn’t the distinction between the RC and Reformed theology of baptism centered on the relationship between baptism and justification? You believe that baptism is the instrumental cause of initial justification, right? And we deny this. So why speak of “sanctifying grace?”

    When you say by baptism you are “received into the covenant community and admitted into the visible Church. But that does not save us,” this is precisely the issue I originally brought up, namely the idea that being in the visible Church is incidental to salvation.

    Baptism is hardly incidental in the Reformed understanding. If someone starts off their Christian journey by thumbing their nose at the way Christ told us to enter His Church it’s a pretty clear indication that the person has no interest in what Christ says. Someone who rejects baptism rejects Christ’s direct command. That does not mean that it is impossible to get into Heaven without baptism, otherwise the thief on the cross could not have entered Christ’s kingdom. But such are special cases.

    I don’t even think you can proper say “Baptism saves us sacramentally,” because ‘save’ is a soteric term, and you cannot speak of saving in a non-salvific way.

    But we can speak of things which represent salvation and things that God uses to accomplish His purposes in salvation. That it seems to me is what we mean by a sacrament. And I don’t think you would disagree that a sacrament represents the reality that it signifies. That is, the washing of water is a sign of the washing away of sin. Not too controversial, right? But the RC position goes beyond this and says that baptism is an instrumental cause of this salvation, or at least an instrumental cause of initial justification. Baptism in the RC mind is an actual washing away of sin, at least for some limited and undefined period of time since this salvation that is accomplished by baptism is only “initial.” Which to my mind raises the question as what purpose initial justification accomplishes if the believer loses this justification and must gain it back again by good works and sacramental works that operate in synergy with God’s grace.

    …. I challenge you to find a verse that describes Baptism in merely terms of bringing someone into the visible Church but nothing more.

    The texts which speak to the Apostles baptizing folks don’t tell us what that baptism did. So when the Philippian jailer was baptized his family was also baptized, but was this because his whole family was being brought into the congregation at Phillipi or because his whole family’s sins were being absolved right there and then? While it’s true that the whole family was become part of the congregation I don’t think we can make the case for the later from this or any similar text. And maybe the initial justification of these folks that the Apostles baptized was in view but I don’t see that we can make that case from these texts. If we want to know what it is that justifies we need to go to other texts which speak directly to the instrumental cause of justification.

    If there is “no division in the NC” then you’re saying the Visible Church is distinct and even incidental to the New Covenant. That’s a problem, a serious one, because it’s a Nestorian view of the Church as the *Body* of Christ. You’re saying Covenant isn’t synonymous with Christ’s Body, but rather simply partially overlaps

    I’m not speaking of the NC at all here. I still think you are making some terminology and maybe category errors here. The Visible Church is what God ordained as an institution within the New Covenant community. There is no separation within Reformed theology, they are intimately associated. What we are surely saying is that within the Visible Church there are false professors, those who rejected Christ and were not made one with Christ. Christ does after all say that there will be people who come to Him on judgment day who have been part of His Church and done amazing works, but that Christ never knew them. So we are saying that baptism that is not accompanied by faith accomplishes nothing at all. Throwing water at someone who is not Christ’s sheep does not make him/her Christ’s sheep. And if the baptized pagan gets no benefit from baptism this hardly undermines the covenant that God has made with his people.

  22. Good evening Jim,

    What about those times in the Gospels where we are told Baptism is necessary as means ( Jn 3:1-21) and as precept ( Mark 16:16)?

    On John 3, I see Jesus saying that we must be born by water AND Spirit. So it’s not just water which saves, right? We Reformed are making the case that water apart from the Spirit does nothing.

    Same thing for Mark – you have to be baptized but you have to believe as well. Faith must accompany water or nothing happens.

    Cheers….

  23. Hello again Andrew,

    We Catholic do indeed agree that water alone does not save.
    Jesus’ words to Nicodemus are quite clear that regeneration comes about by water AND Spirit. The aqueous solution of H2o must not be left out as the text says Jesus goes on to an area where there was “much water” and His Apostles administered Baptism as His ministers.
    I really think Jesus shows that Baptism is not merely an occasion of grace but the actual cause. The water should no more be spurned as an an instrumental cause than the sacred humanity of Christ’

    I don’t mean to put words in your mouth but I think non Catholics have a problem with the” stuff” of sacraments. I think we should recall that had Adam not sinned, grace would have been transmitted from one generation to the next in a very carnal way. Also, since no one can administer a sacrament to himself, they remind us that salvation is corporate.

    As for Mark 16, I think we both agree that salvation is a free gift. Even Faith is not necessary in the case of a baby as he or she carries no personal sin or heretical notions as an obstacle to grace to the font. A profession of Faith in Jesus is necessary for adult converts only.

    In closing, let me just say that, for the fathers, Baptism was the “amniosis” of the Church. We are born into ( not out of ( the Church ) when we are regenerated in its waters.
    Ciao

  24. Andrew,
    Continuing on with the idea of Baptism’s necessity as precept, the are some very interesting utube debates between Baptists and Church of Christ ministers. In my opinion, the C of C always win hands down. Peter’s words on Pentecost, Ananias’ to Paul, and of course, Mark 16 are pretty clear.
    Still, the necessity of Baptism as means of regeneration is our sticking point.
    Back to the idea of water Baptism conveying grace, the idea of matter and spirit combining might be a problem for angels but for men, it makes perfect sense.

    Christ’s human nature was not swallowed up in His divinity. The one mediator is the man Jesus Christ. It seems to me Quakers and Calvinists have a tendency to downplay this. Calvinists’ denial of synergy, if carried to its logical conclusion, becomes monophysitism or monotheletism, don’t you think?

    Nick mentioned the putting on of Christ, being Baptized in Christ’s death. Indeed. But the strongest imagery, because of water being used, is that of birth.
    The Council of Trent was very clear that justification is being transferred from the family of Adam to that of God. Becoming partakers of the Divine nature, the laver of regeneration, calling God ” Abba”, Jesus’ words to Nicodemus and to the Beloved Disciple from the cross, His parable of the Prodigal Son, all convey the idea of family relationship, of becoming a new creature elevated to a higher state of being.

    In short, Baptism actually does something. It doesn’t just symbolize what was done in God’s eternal decree. And it is not true that the grace of Baptism is always lost. Only God knows how many holy people, and I am not just speaking of the Fatima kids, keep their Baptismal innocence. ( The crusader king of France is reputed to have never committed a mortal sin. Even the gangster Dutch Schultz never committed a sin after his Baptism. I would bet Joan of Arc could be added to this list. )

    Finally, once again, none of the other sacraments can be received until one has been marked with the priestly seal of Baptism. If Baptism is inefficaceous for the non-elect, so is the Eucharist. The sacraments, the Church and the Incarnation itself are rendered superfluous.
    One must answer why God didn’t just create us already in heaven or hell.

  25. Nick,

    You said, “In conclusion, while the Reformed are correct in teaching that infants should be baptized, this also shows that the Reformed understanding of salvation (specifically their claim that only the elect receive saving grace) cannot be correct. Thoughts?”

    Well, this post and your call to ‘thoughts’ have taken this turn for me while doing some research;

    What if these divisions on infant baptism might actually/eventually push the envelope for orthodox Reformed to understand that their understanding of salvation is incorrect and invariably push them into returning home into full communion? When they continue to combat these new waves of thinking, it forces them to delve deeper into their theology and I wonder/hope/trust that the Holy Spirit will guide them into the Way, the Truth, and the Life. And we know and believe in God’s Providential plan, that in all things He works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Rom 8:28

    My thought this morning is, “what if the excruciating passion of the Mystical Body of Christ (the Church Militant on Earth) brings about the beautiful redeeming grace to those who persecute it, just as salvation was brought to mankind through the Crucifixion of our Lord – no one saw that coming.

    677 The Church will enter the glory of the kingdom only through this final Passover, when she will follow her Lord in his death and Resurrection.

    Interesting examples from frustrated Protestants below fighting the divisions:

    http://www.nccopc.org/baptism.html

    http://www.faithtacoma.org/doctrine/covenant.aspx

  26. @Andrew:
    The idea that one must gain one’s justification back by sacramental and good works operating in synergy with God’s grace is a condemned heresy (Pelagianism, the belief that one can earn the initial grace of justification), not Catholic belief. If you don’t even understand the Catholic belief, then you should instead talk about what you believe, not what we believe. What do you mean when you say baptism is a “sacrament” of washing away sins, particularly if that doesn’t actually happen? How are saying that baptism is a sign of washing away sins and saying that the instrumental cause of justification (i.e. washing away sins) any different?

    The exegesis on Christ saying that He “never knew” those who fell away is tendentious. It’s a perfectly legitimate interpretation to say that this is isn’t intended as a literal statement of never having a relationship. Rather, it is repudiation of the entire relationship (akin to a father saying “you are not my son” to his offspring). The latter makes much more sense in context, as well as within Scripture as a whole.

  27. +JMJ+

    Andrew McCallum wrote:

    Baptism is hardly incidental in the Reformed understanding. If someone starts off their Christian journey by thumbing their nose at the way Christ told us to enter His Church it’s a pretty clear indication that the person has no interest in what Christ says.

    You affirm that the “Christian Journey” begins prior to Church. Though to say that Christian Identity precedes (Visible) Church certainly fits with the Visible Church/Invisible Church Distinction, doesn’t the position that you’re staking here regarding Baptism simply suspend the V/I-D in order to strengthen Baptism’s essentiality?

  28. Andrew McCallum, you write:

    But we can speak of things which represent salvation and things that God uses to accomplish His purposes in salvation. That it seems to me is what we mean by a sacrament. And I don’t think you would disagree that a sacrament represents the reality that it signifies. That is, the washing of water is a sign of the washing away of sin. Not too controversial, right?

    We are discussing infant baptism here. Explain to us what, exactly, is the new “reality” is for the non-elect infant that has been validly baptized! What has changed?

    Baptism is hardly incidental in the Reformed understanding. If someone starts off their Christian journey by thumbing their nose at the way Christ told us to enter His Church it’s a pretty clear indication that the person has no interest in what Christ says.

    We are discussing infant baptism. Infants cannot “thumb their nose” at Christ. An infant is baptized in a Calvinist church because of their parent’s desire to have their infant baptized.

    … we are saying that baptism that is not accompanied by faith accomplishes nothing at all.
    .
    Throwing water at someone who is not Christ’s sheep does not make him/her Christ’s sheep.

    Since infants cannot manifest faith in any way, it seems to me that this is an explicit admission that in Calvinism, infant baptism “accomplishes nothing at all.” It is the parents of the infants that want the water “thown” on their children in Calvinist churches. It seems obvious to me that in spite of what Calvinsts say, infant baptism is entirely incidental to the Calvinism of our era, . The Calvinists assert that baptism bestows grace, but they also seem completely unable to define, what, exactly, that grace is, and what that grace does. If you can, explain to us what grace an infant receives when their Calvinist parent have water thrown on their babies!

    Contrary to Calvinism, the orthodox understanding of infant baptism is that the Sacrament of Baptism washes away original sin. The infant is baptized into the body of Christ, and “made to drink of the one Spirit”. The orthodox understanding of infant baptism is that the infant is “born again” by water and Spirit, that is, the infant has been baptismally regenerated by the sacrament. But Calvinism rejects all orthodox understanding of infant baptism for mere novelties that no one ever heard of until the Calvinists began preaching them.

    No Church Father denied the doctrine of baptismal regeneration, but Calvinism does exactly that. For evidence of what the Church Fathers actually taught about baptismal regeneration see this article by Bryan Cross posted at Called to Communion:

    The Church Fathers on Baptismal Regeneration
    .
    According to PCA pastor Wes White, the doctrine of baptismal regeneration is “impossible in the Reformed system.”1 By noting this, he intends to show that we should reject the doctrine of baptismal regeneration. But if the evidence for the truth of the doctrine of baptismal regeneration is stronger than the evidence for the truth of the “Reformed system,” then the incompatibility of the doctrine of baptismal regeneration and the Reformed system serves as evidence against the Reformed system. Here I present both Patristic and Scriptural evidence for the truth of the doctrine of baptismal regeneration. …
    .
    Reference: http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2010/06/the-church-fathers-on-baptismal-regeneration/

    Andrew McCallum, you write:

    But the RC position goes beyond this and says that baptism is an instrumental cause of this salvation, or at least an instrumental cause of initial justification.

    The Catholic understanding is that Christ is the minister of the Sacrament Baptism; the Sacrament that Christ established on earth as an instrument for forgiving all sin so that men can be born again into the Kingdom of God.

    And if the baptized pagan gets no benefit from baptism …

    It is a novelty of Calvinism that pagan babies get no benefit from baptism. You are begging the question by assuming that the Calvinist novelties are what one should believe.

    On John 3, I see Jesus saying that we must be born by water AND Spirit. So it’s not just water which saves, right? We Reformed are making the case that water apart from the Spirit does nothing.</blockquote?

    The water is a sign of the grace that the Sacrament of Baptism bestows.

    Same thing for Mark – you have to be baptized but you have to believe as well. Faith must accompany water or nothing happens.

    You are now arguing like a Mennonite Anabaptist. No infant should be baptized if this is what you really believe.

  29. Nick you write this in your commentary of Dr. C. Matthew McMahon’s “A Catechism on Infant Inclusion in the Covenant” :

    … there is clear emphasis that these baptized children are assumed/presumed to be truly saved, incorporated into the invisible church. But it’s somewhat worse because the all-or-nothing approach lends the conclusion to be that you presume election unless some proof comes up suggesting otherwise, at which point you must conclude that the baptism did nothing to the infant (meaning that of all the babies who are baptized, only certain ones were actually baptized, the rest just got wet). … The astonishing thing about this though is that it acts as if believing parents are somehow entitled to elect children, which is understandable but not consistent with the Reformed view of election. All that talk about ‘presuming election’ is really outrageous when you think about it.

    I agree. It is outrageous that the Calvinists would have the arrogance to presume that they are so special that when a Calvinist mother gives birth to an infant, that her infant is so special that the infant doesn’t really need to be baptized to be saved. This is outrageous because it so violently contradicts what, prior to Calvinism, all orthodox Christians believed about why their infants needed to be baptized. I posted a quote earlier from Bryan Cross about why the Calvinists have no basis for presuming that their infants are “truly saved”.

    … in Calvinism, parents can do nothing to ensure that if their child dies before reaching the age of reason, that child will go to heaven. … In Calvinism, parents whose baptized child dies before that child reaches the age of reason, do not know whether that child is in heaven or hell. Whether or not they baptized the child is irrelevant, within Calvinism, not only because Calvinism denies baptismal regeneration, but also because even if some relation between baptism and regeneration is granted, the two events are not (for Calvinists) simultaneous, so the regeneration can take place years after the baptism, and thus the baptized child can die while still unregenerate. …
    .
    Reference: http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2009/11/supernatural-or-natural-birth/

    In the comment boxes to the above CTC article, Tom Brown and Bryan Cross discuss why this Calvinist presumption about the salvation of their baptized children is really no comfort at all, because it is entirely ad hoc:

    Tom Brown: I’m perplexed by WCF XVIII.2-3 … I note that it refers to the first person only, so under the Reformed system, you cannot be infallibly assured of your wife’s salvation any more than your child’s, but you can be infallibly assured for yourself. … You can be greatly assured of your wife’s salvation because of her faith, but you do not know if it is “true” faith. If she became apostate, you would say she never had “true” faith. … As for parents being assured, I want to note that a parent’s ability to be so assured (or not) is not probative of the truth of Catholicism or Calvinism. I’m a little unclear what you get by having this assurance, besides the peace of mind.

    Bryan Cross : I completely agree. My point was to show a difference between the Calvinist and Catholic positions, and also to show an inconsistency between theology and practice in Calvinist pastoral practice. The common pastoral practice is to appeal to covenant membership as grounds for comfort for parents whose baptized children died prior to attaining the age of reason. But the theology does not justify drawing comfort from that (or giving comfort on that basis), because covenant membership does not allow us to justifiably draw any conclusions about the likelihood of those children being regenerate / elect-to-glory.

    Tom Brown: I understand some Calvinists argue that many (or even all) deceased covenant children are saved on account of God’s great grace. I cannot defend this position against the critique you offer above. It seems that some Calvinists are prepared to find an ad hoc exception to the normal rules about sanctification.

    Bryan Cross : I agree. My point is that if we are going to say that God does something, then we need some basis or ground for it (other than wishful thinking). It seems to me that ad hoccomfort is no comfort at all, as soon as those receiving it recognize it as ad hoc.

  30. We Catholic do indeed agree that water alone does not save.
    Jesus’ words to Nicodemus are quite clear that regeneration comes about by water AND Spirit.

    Ok then Jim, so given what you say here, now consider Nick’s challenge to me:

    When you say by baptism you are “received into the covenant community and admitted into the visible Church. But that does not save us,” this is precisely the issue I originally brought up, namely the idea that being in the visible Church is incidental to salvation.

    So I’m saying to Nick that baptism without faith does not save and he takes me to be saying that being in the VC is incidental to salvation. Can you comment on Nick’s assertion given your insistence that “water alone does not save?” It sounds like you too believe that someone could be baptized but none one of Christ’s sheep.

    I really think Jesus shows that Baptism is not merely an occasion of grace but the actual cause.

    A cause of what? Is someone justified because they are baptized? So then concerning the question you raised to me earlier, God uses baptism, but then does he use it to justify? And to answer that question we have to go to the many texts which speak specifically to the matter of justification. What do the Apostles have to say explicitly about the basis of our justification?

    ….since no one can administer a sacrament to himself, they remind us that salvation is corporate.

    Yes. The fact that God saves entire households is a testimony to what you are saying is true.

    Not sure I understand the “amniosis” comment.

    …..In short, Baptism actually does something.

    I realize that I’m significantly truncating your thoughts here by citing this one partial comment of yours, but I wanted to say that we Reformed agree here. God really does use baptism and does use it to build His Church. And it is a corporate thing, it’s not just about personal salvation. But the Reformed have in general left the matter of how God uses baptism as a matter of mystery. Our issues with the RCC is over her answer as to how baptism is used by God.

    If Baptism is inefficaceous for the non-elect, so is the Eucharist. The sacraments, the Church and the Incarnation itself are rendered superfluous.

    So what is the essential problem with God instituting a sacrament that is only efficacious for just Christ’s sheep? The gospel Christ preached fell on many ears but only some responded and thus the preaching of the Word was only efficacious in some hearts. So likewise the Reformed hold that the sacraments are physically received by many, but it only works in the hearts of those who are Christ’s sheep. But you believe that the sacraments must be efficacious for all, the sheep and the goats. Why?

    Jonathan,
    The idea that one must gain one’s justification back by sacramental and good works operating in synergy with God’s grace is a condemned heresy (Pelagianism, the belief that one can earn the initial grace of justification), not Catholic belief.

    In my “synergy” comment that you are responding to I was not referring to initial justification, as such is explicated in Catholic sources. I think that was quite clear from my comment.

    What do you mean when you say baptism is a “sacrament” of washing away sins, particularly if that doesn’t actually happen?

    And that question just reflects on what Jim and I were talking about – what does a sacrament do? Does it effect what it pictures in the sacrament? Is the picture of reality the sole cause of the substance of that reality? Does water itself justify? It seems to me that the texts which speak about baptism don’t give us much of an answer.

    Wosbald/Mateo – Need to leave off the discussion right now. Maybe I can get to your comments tomorrow AM.

    Cheers….

  31. @Andrew:
    It’s not true of subsequent justification either. The easiest way to think of penance is as a second justification; all the rules concerning grace that apply to initial justification apply equally to the sacrament of confession. In other words, confession is an “initial justification” in the sense of remission of sins (reestablishing communion with God), even though it is not “initial” in the sense of being the first ever. So, just as it would be Pelagian to say that one could earn the grace of baptism, so it would be Pelagian to say that one could earn the grace of second justification, i.e., the sacrament of penance.

  32. Andrew,
    Perhaps I had better fine tune my statement on the sacraments. I don’t mean to take the focus of Baptism but I think the example of the Eucharist might clarify what I mean.
    I assume you know that when the priests pronounces the words of institution over the bread and wine, the elements are changed whether anyone in the church believes it or not. That is what we mean by “Real Presence”.
    At the reception of the Eucharist, everyone receives Christ, believers and unbelievers, those in a state of grace and those who aren’t. If mouse were to nibble its way into the tabernacle or a bird swoop down over the altar and fly of with a Host, the animal would also.
    However, how efficacious that reception of the species is depends on the worthiness and devotion of the recipient. As St. Paul says, one can eat or drink unto their condemnation. ( of course nothings happens to bird or mouse ).
    Here is a link I posted on the first day of this discussion that hi-lites the other extreme of our position. http://robinphillips.blogspot.pt/2012/06/james-jordan-on-lords-supper.html

    In the case of Baptism, Confirmation and Ordination, the Character I spoke about is given whether the recipient is in a state of grace or not. Couples who exchange vows, whether in a state of grace or not, become married. They don’t receive an increase in sanctifying grace though, Not at that time. ( However, in the case of people who have their fingers crossed behind their backs and explicitly intend not to receive these sacraments but are faking it, don’t. A bigamist who already has a wife wouldn’t not become married to two women, for instance. )

    Yes indeed, Baptism does justify. As for those passages in scripture that speak of justification without explicitly mentioning Baptism, I am sure you mean Faith Alone. However, Faith means believing all the Church teaches.
    If an adult says he has faith but rejects Baptism out of ignorance of what the Church teaches, he may or may not be justified. We don’t know and neither does he. Faith infused with perfect Charity can justify before/without the water ever touching a person. But who can tell if their Charity ( which always implies a desire to receive the Sacrament ) is sufficiently perfect?

    Now here is the part I think you may be interested in; In the Sacrament, a person has the assurance of receiving sanctifying grace and the seal.
    Baptism is an objective sign that a person was forgiven/regenerated/justified, and sealed with the Character and is a member of the Church.

    As for what Nick said, I should allow him to speak for himself. All I will says is a person is saved or brought to initial justification at Baptism. Whether or not that person keeps Baptismal innocence is another issue. But I think you are right to say we can regain the grace lost by post Baptismal sin through the Sacrament of Penance or again, if not a Catholic, perfect Charity ( again, who would be so presumptuous to think their Charity is perfect outside the Sacrament though?)

    I hope I haven’t completely confused you. If I have, I will rely on my fellow Catholics to untangle things.

  33. Andrew,
    Just to bring the focus back onto infants Baptism, here is a link to a debate on infant Baptism between John MacArthur and R.C. Sproul. Although Sproul ( of course you know this ) is in favor of it, at 1:16:38 of the recording, he says we must never think Baptism justifies.
    How then is Baptism anymore than OT circumcision? Aren’t the OT shadows and types supposed to be fulfilled in the NT?
    The Sacraments of the New Covenant do what the Old Testament ones never could. They actually contain and convey sanctifying grace.
    The OT ceremonies didn’t justify because they weren’t supposed to. In Baptism the Holy Spirit and Charity ( the Love of/for God ) are poured forth into our hearts and this keeps the the Law.

  34. Andrew,
    One more thing. Correct me if I am wrong, but don’t the Reformed say the OT Law and its rites couldn’t justify because nobody was able to perform all the requirements of the OT perfectly?

    We would say the Law could be kept as their are several examples of just or righteous men and women mentioned in the Bible. But what saved them is what saves us now, grace.

    Unless Baptism goes beyond mere circumcision, what was circumcision a sign of? In the OT, circumcision gave one a right to the land and other temporal benefits.
    In order to do this it had to leave and indelible mark of inheritance on the male’s body.

    Baptism leaves a physical and indelible mark on the soul. This is why it can be administered only once. Although many sects re-Baptize for the forgiveness of sin, we don’t. ( I heard an FLDS woman on TV two nights ago say she had been Baptized nine times!)

    Was the OT rite to be spiritualized away in the NT? If so, why was it, or any of the other very physical OT ceremonies, ever instituted in the first place?

    The amniosis comment was in reference to the fathers who referred to Baptism as the amniosis of the Church. The Baptismal font was also called ” the womb of Mary” as she was the super-type of the Church. Entry into the Church, the New Covenant, is a birth, a regeneration to the family of God.

    As for synergy, I mentioned that we must remember that sacraments are an extension of the Incarnation. We must never become monophysites and see the sacred Humanity spiritualized or swallowed up in the divinity. The Reformers ( especially Zwingli ) had a very anti- flesh attitude town the “stuff” of the sacraments.
    You know, it is interesting, June is the month of the Sacred Heart. This devotion was established specifically to combat the calvinizing influence of Jansenism.
    Where I live, the whole country is gearing up for the biggest religious procession of the year, the feast of Corpo de Deus, complete with cops, cavalry, drums and bugles, rose petals strewn on the streets, hundreds of clergy marching with the Host for 3 hours through the streets of downtown. It’s all about God assuming our nature, not just for a while but forever and the spiritual gifts given via the flesh in the sacraments.
    So, again Andrew, Baptism really DOES something.

  35. Jonathan,

    It’s not true of subsequent justification either. The easiest way to think of penance is as a second justification; all the rules concerning grace that apply to initial justification apply equally to the sacrament of confession. In other words, confession is an “initial justification” in the sense of remission of sins (reestablishing communion with God), even though it is not “initial” in the sense of being the first ever. So, just as it would be Pelagian to say that one could earn the grace of baptism, so it would be Pelagian to say that one could earn the grace of second justification, i.e., the sacrament of penance.

    But the problem is that in the sacrament works are prescribed. If one goes to confession, is prescribed works, and then does not do them, is he justified again? It would seem not.

  36. Jim,

    One more thing. Correct me if I am wrong, but don’t the Reformed say the OT Law and its rites couldn’t justify because nobody was able to perform all the requirements of the OT perfectly?

    Yes.

    We would say the Law could be kept as their are several examples of just or righteous men and women mentioned in the Bible. But what saved them is what saves us now, grace.

    These just and righteous men offered sacrifices to atone for their sin. If the law could be kept, there’s no reason for a sacrificial system.

  37. @Robert:
    No, he leaves confession justified (assuming all mortal sins were confessed) no matter whether he does the penance or not. The absolution removes the sin entirely.

  38. Jonathan,

    No, he leaves confession justified (assuming all mortal sins were confessed) no matter whether he does the penance or not. The absolution removes the sin entirely.

    Interesting. Sounds suspiciously like the easy-believism that Protestants are sometimes accused of. Of course, the issue is that if the sin is gone, so should all debt both eternal and temporal.

  39. I’ve been busy with work but will try to catch up on any comments addressed to me.

  40. Robert, you write:

    … if the sin is gone, so should all debt both eternal and temporal …

    Says who? The Sacrament of Confession does remit the eternal punishment due to sin, but not the temporal punishment due to sin. The temporal punishment due to sin is also called the “remains of sin” in Catholic theology. It should not be controversial to assert that after one goes to Confession, there will still be the remains of sin to deal with.

    Take, as an example, a man that has been a raging alcoholic for the last twenty years. The alcoholic finally makes the decision to get sober. He joins AA and begins practicing the twelve steps. The alcoholic also goes to Confession on the same day he joins AA. The Sacrament of Confession will forgive the eternal punishment due the sins that were committed by the alcoholic. But when the alcoholic leaves the confessional, it will not be as if the last twenty years of his life never happened. All the wreckage that twenty years of alcoholism has caused will still be there to deal with. Which is why there is a step 8 in the twelve step program:

    8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

    The other steps in the twelve step program are necessary to live a life of sobriety. These steps can be thought of as steps that need to be taken to remove the remains of sin (for example, the recovering alcoholic needs to overcome the stinking thinking of the practicing alcoholic, and that takes work and grace).

    Some alcoholics that are Evangelical Protestantism are prone to practice what those in AA call “two stepping”, that is. the Protestants will make the first step of AA, and then try to go straight to step twelve without working all the intervening steps. Step 1 and Step 12 are:

    1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
    .
    12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

    Evangelical Protestantism is good for helping alcoholics make step one, which is the first step in a spiritual awakening. But Evangelical Protestantism can really get in the way of practicing the rest of the steps, because some strains of Evangelical Protestant will tell you that if you get “saved” (which is really step one), all the other problems in your life will instantly disappear. But that is not reality, because the remains of sin will be there to deal with after one gets “saved”.

    I have seen alcoholics try to “two step” in Evangelical Protestant churches. The alcoholic will make the altar call to get saved, and they are making the altar call because they are hoping that all their problems disappear if they get saved. I have even watched alcoholics come to church drunk because they needed to be drunk to get the courage to make the altar call. Turning to Jesus to overcome one’s alcoholism – that is a good thing, to be sure. But the Catholic teaching about the remains of sin is not just a Catholic thing; it is a reality thing. Two stepping doesn’t produce sobriety.

  41. Robert,
    The Just man falls 7 times a day. These fallings cannot be mortal sins or we wouldn’t call such a man just.

    Original, mortal and venial sins are not different because of degree but rather, they are all different categories.
    All mortal sins can be avoided. Not so with venial sins.

    Unless I am mistaken, the OT sacrificial system was about venial or even unintentional sin. There was no offering for, say, murder or adultery.

  42. The consequence of our sin can be deadly – not only for ourselves, but for those we have sinned against. This is the heart of the matter.

    We learn in the Sacrament of Reconciliation how to ask for forgiveness, how God forgives us, how to forgive others, and how to repent.

    The half truth of forgiveness and mercy is such a disappointment because it lacks healing, renewal and, most importantly, the ability to bear fruit (which in the end, is what we will be judged on).

  43. Mateo,

    The alcoholic thing is a good analogy.

    There is another angle to it though that I heard a priest give in a homily years ago.
    Nathan told David that his adultery and murder had “cause the nations to mock the Lord”.
    Sin doesn’t actually hurt God. However, it affects God’s “accidental glory” or the glory we creature give Him. We need to glorify Him, not the other way around.

    Every time we watch the news and see some scoundrel get away with murder or see an injustice to a child go unpunished, we cynically grumble, “how can God allow this? Is He good? Does He care? Does He even exist?”

    By the same token, whenever we read of an act of heroism or generosity, take the case of Mother Theresa for example, we say to ourselves, ” There is goodness in the world. Life is not pointless. God exists”.

    By patiently enduring a red light, a broken shoe lace, a dead battery,whatever, by offering it up without cursing, we restore God’s glory in the world. In our own eyes anyway.

    By doing penance, we increase in our generosity to God. Charity grows and we become sanctified.

    This explains how two men can into the confessional and tell the same sin, receive the same penance and yet, one man has more temporal punishment taken away than another.

  44. Gang, Happy Pentecost!

    Have we exhausted the topic of Baptism? We have barely touched on it.
    Previously, I mentioned the case of Jewish gangster Dutch Schultz who scandalized everyone by being baptized as he was dying of gunshot wounds. All temporal and eternal punishment washed away, he went straight to heaven.

    How about John Wayne? He was Baptized ( or received into the Church anyway ) on his death bed.

    Is everyone aware of the strange case of Edgardo Mortara? It turns out that in the 19th century in the Papal Sates, a little Jewish kid was being baby sat by a Catholic woman. The babysitter, without telling the parents, baptized the child.
    Later, when it came to light, the authorities confiscated the boy so he could be raised Catholic as the Jewish parents were against it.
    As bizarre as the story is, because Baptism actually does something, the child had really become a Catholic due to the Character on his soul.
    The Pope had no other option than to do what appeared to be a gross violation of parental rights. Lots to be gleaned from that story.

    Anyway, the glaring question for Presbyterians is why do they bother to Baptize anyone, adult or child.
    John MacArthur, a Baptist, quips that in the case of a baby, it doesn’t change his election.
    Mac says the Protestant churches are full of baptized non Christians and non baptized Christians. That’s how low a view of the Sacrament some Protestants have. This gave rise to national churches which has caused the break up of Europe. WOW! Has he got it wrong.
    ( Cardinal George says that the rise of Congregationalism, where each little church is autonomous, has caused the proliferation of heretical doctrines among Protestants and has lead it away from Christianity altogether ).

    What about Limbo?

    MacArthur and Sproul seem to say that all babies of Christian parents who die go to heaven. Where do they get the biblical support for this? If all babies are good for heaven, when do they contract Original Sin? At birth? When they commit their first actual sin? Ever?

    For Presbyterians, the question goes further than just Baptism. The next question is to ask is if non elect receive grace* or the presence of Christ at all in their Eucharist. ( Hence the article on the Presbyterian minister who doesn’t bother to say the words over the bread and wine as it doesn’t affect anyone’s election anyway ).

    I don’t think we have scratched the surface of this topic yet.

    * What is “grace” for a Presbyterian? “Unmerited Favor”? How does one grow in unmerited favor? How can one fall from unmerited favor? How does one find “unmerited favor” in the eyes of God due to their humility? How could Mary have the quality or “Charis” if grace is only unmerited favor? How did Jerome get it so wrong?

  45. Hi Nick,

    Proposition one : Baptism equals membership in the New Covenant equals justification equals election
    (and more).

    Proposition two : The justified – elect can merit eternal damnation as a result of their behavior.

    To contemplate these propositions, I recommend 1 Cor 10: 1 – 13. Paul uses the term “all ” in verses 1 – 4 precisely to prevent the front pews from pointing fingers at the back pews ( at the motley non elect). Then Paul switches to the first person plural (we, us, our) in verses 6 – 11. He thus includes himself among the elect people of God who must heed warnings about behavior which results in damnation. Would this not support proposition two?

  46. So sorry folks that I wasn’t able to keep up with this Baptism thread. But a long discussion has taken place in Part 2 of this ‘series’, touching upon a related theme.

    I do want to add something that could be significant, and that is the possibility that the Reformed don’t believe Baptism does anything *to* the infant, but merely recognizes something already true about the infant. For example, if I throw a birthday party for you, that party doesn’t make you a year older, it merely recognizes that you already are. In this situation (denying Baptism operates ex opere operato, causing the inducting of the infant into the New Covenant), it would mean the infant is already a member of the New Covenant and Baptism merely makes this a public celebration of that internal reality. The problem here, among other things, is that it would mean a person (child) becomes a member of the New Covenant in virtue of natural birth or natural conception from (at least one) believing parent, i.e that being a member is a matter of biology. That sounds dangerously similar to the Judaizer heresy, where biological lineage carried the Old Covenant blessings.

  47. One important note I should also add is the wording of the Westminster Confession on this point:

    I. Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ,[1] **not only** for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible Church;[2] but also to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace,[3] of his ingrafting into Christ,[4] of regeneration,[5] of remission of sins,[6] and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in the newness of life.[7] Which sacrament is, by Christ’s own appointment, to be continued in His Church until the end of the world.[8]

    This text says that baptizing an infant is NOT limited to inducting them into the New Covenant, but ALSO INCLUDES being a sign of being in the covenant of grace, being in Christ, and having sins forgiven. This is logical in so far as the Bible never says Baptism bestows one blessing on one person and another blessing on another person. This is significant because it undercuts the whole notion that Infant Baptism is merely relating to the visible Church, but actually suggests/implies the infant is entitled to (or even a sharer of) the spiritual gifts of salvation. But how presumptuous and dangerous is it to go marking someone with a sign that you don’t really know if it applies to them or not? It’s like a Reformed pastor telling his children that Christ died for them when in fact he doesn’t know if they are elect or not.

  48. Nick,

    You don’t understand what the confession is teaching. Baptism is a sign and seal of realities that only come if the individual has faith.

    In any case, ex opere operato baptismal regeneration is far closer to the Judaizing heresy than any Protestant understanding, for the Judaizer’s held that one’s identity and salvation was dependent on circumcision, the mere administration of which guarantees the reality. In baptismal regeneration ex opere operato, the mere administration of the sign guarantees the reality, at least for infants.

    Circumcision for the Judaizers guaranteed salvation except for apostasy. The Roman view of what baptism does is not materially different.

  49. Robert,

    You said:

    You don’t understand what the confession is teaching. Baptism is a sign and seal of realities that only come if the individual has faith.

    Here’s the hang-up though: Why baptize an infant if the whole signification doesn’t necessarily apply to them? Do you throw a graduation party for an infant even if you don’t know if they will ever graduate?

    In baptismal regeneration ex opere operato, the mere administration of the sign guarantees the reality, at least for infants.

    That’s the Catholic understanding. But isn’t the Reformed understanding basically the same, except that instead of regeneration you replace it with “admission into the visible church”? In other words, the Reformed seem to be saying: ‘In baptismal integration (into the visible Church) ex opere operato, the mere administration of the sacrament guarantees the reality (i.e. admission into the visible Church), at least for infants.”

    I see the Reformed as espousing baptism ex opere operato, **except they replace** regeneration with ‘admission into the visible Church’. But I also see the Reformed being contradictory on this point, first by denying any sense of ‘ex opere operato, and second in the wording of the WCF which doesn’t limit the effects of baptism to mere admission into the visible Church.

  50. Nick,

    Here’s the hang-up though: Why baptize an infant if the whole signification doesn’t necessarily apply to them? Do you throw a graduation party for an infant even if you don’t know if they will ever graduate?

    Apparently God does things differently than we do. God told Abraham to circumcise Ishmael, who was not the child of promise and not an inheritor of salvation. Same with Esau.

    That’s the Catholic understanding. But isn’t the Reformed understanding basically the same, except that instead of regeneration you replace it with “admission into the visible church”? In other words, the Reformed seem to be saying: ‘In baptismal integration (into the visible Church) ex opere operato, the mere administration of the sacrament guarantees the reality (i.e. admission into the visible Church), at least for infants.”
    I see the Reformed as espousing baptism ex opere operato, **except they replace** regeneration with ‘admission into the visible Church’. But I also see the Reformed being contradictory on this point, first by denying any sense of ‘ex opere operato, and second in the wording of the WCF which doesn’t limit the effects of baptism to mere admission into the visible Church.

    Baptism doesn’t work any spiritual benefit to one’s eternal salvation apart from faith, so to say ex opere operato in the Reformed context is misplaced. Although, you would be correct to say that a validly administered baptism admits one to the visible covenant community automatically. Even so, admission to the external community isn’t enough for salvation. By and large Rome would agree with this, otherwise no one who was baptized should be able to fall away.

    The problem is taking the reference to baptism in isolation from the rest of the confession. The confession is quite clear that all of the benefits of the covenant of grace come only to those who believe. This shouldn’t even be that controversial on a RC position because one presumably can’t be saved if one persistently rejects Christ.

    The difference is what baptism actually accomplishes apart from the faith of the recipient. For the Reformed, the only spiritual reality conveyed if the person never comes to personal faith is judgment. For the RC, that baby is justified apart from personal trust in Christ.

  51. Robert,

    You said:

    Why baptize an infant if the whole signification doesn’t necessarily apply to them?

    Apparently God does things differently than we do. God told Abraham to circumcise Ishmael, who was not the child of promise and not an inheritor of salvation. Same with Esau.

    I don’t think that’s a satisfactory answer. In this case, you would have God saying it’s ok to put a reprobate through a sacred ceremony that signifies God’s saving work for that person. And this is where it’s important to make a careful distinction between what circumcision does/signifies versus what baptism does/signifies, because they do *not* do/signify the same thing in substance with only the outward ceremony being different.

    The circumcision of Genesis 17 was not a soteric action; it did not pertain (directly) to the forgiveness of sins. Instead, it was the entrance rite into the covenant which promised temporal blessings, such as Land, Lineage, etc. The text clearly says in terms of lineage, this will carry through Isaac, but the text also clearly says that parallel to this will be a blessing of Ishmael’s linage. There is no indication of reprobation or God’s disfavor upon Ishmael in Genesis 17, but rather just the opposite. In Genesis 21 there is a departing of ways, but no indication of reprobation; again, just the opposite. There are simply no parallels to draw here of someone going through the ceremony and only being a member of the visible but not invisible communion. The only parallel that possibly might count is in Genesis 21:8-10 where Ishmael “laughed” at Issac (probably in a mocking tone, boasting of himself being elder son and thus entitled to first inheritance rights), which resulted in his expulsion from the community. That could be seen as an OT type of excommunication.

    As for Esau, again, at most the circumstances would suggest an excommunication, but not a circumcision only unto visible communion without genuine entitlement to the covenant blessings. In fact, Esau *lost* his birthright and *lost* his blessing, which would make no sense whatsoever if he never actually was entitled to the covenant blessings.

    In neither case was God saying circumcise them anyway even though their circumcision wont actually entitle them to any of the covenant blessings.

    Baptism doesn’t work any spiritual benefit to one’s eternal salvation apart from faith, so to say ex opere operato in the Reformed context is misplaced. Although, you would be correct to say that a validly administered baptism admits one to the visible covenant community automatically. Even so, admission to the external community isn’t enough for salvation. By and large Rome would agree with this, otherwise no one who was baptized should be able to fall away.

    This is precisely where I see an ad-hoc inconsistency, since if you admit baptism inducts one into the visible church *automatically*, then there’s no reason to think it cannot do other things *automatically*. And this inconsistency is compounded by the fact no text of Scripture nor even the WCF *ever* limits the multitude of blessings to simply Induction into the visible Church, but rather is a package deal of blessings.

    The problem is taking the reference to baptism in isolation from the rest of the confession. The confession is quite clear that all of the benefits of the covenant of grace come only to those who believe. This shouldn’t even be that controversial on a RC position because one presumably can’t be saved if one persistently rejects Christ.

    The Confession says nothing of Baptism ONLY admitting one into the visible church. It gives a blanket statement, and applies the blanket statement to infants. It *never* says anything along the lines of “Baptism in the case of non-elect merely brings them into visible communion and nothing more.”

    The difference is what baptism actually accomplishes apart from the faith of the recipient. For the Reformed, the only spiritual reality conveyed if the person never comes to personal faith is judgment. For the RC, that baby is justified apart from personal trust in Christ.

    That is not accurate. Baptism in the Catholic understanding *infuses* the virtue of faith into the infant. So the infant always has faith, he just doesn’t exercise it (fully) yet; which means any falling away later on or failure to believe is an act of apostasy (i.e. casting off of the theological virtue of faith).

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