You Just Gotta Have Faith, Uh-Faith, Uh-Faith-Uh!

Posted by on August 9, 2010 in Baptism, Exegesis | 43 comments

Over at Green Baggins, Lane Keister has written a thoughtful post considering Romans 4:9-11 and its bearing on the relationship of faith, baptism, and justification, in which he argues that the error manifested in the Federal Visionist, Lutheran, Anglican, and Catholic doctrines of baptism is in attributing to baptism what should be attributed to faith. In Lane’s words, “the sign/seal does not cause the thing signified/sealed.”

I have long attributed this very error to proponents of the Federal Vision, whose system seems to place so much emphasis on the objective status conferred in baptism that it leaves little room for any meaningful discussion of (what the Reformed call) saving faith.

I’ll admit that I haven’t wrestled much with the Lutheran position, which probably represents the greatest challenge to the thesis that baptismal regeneration and sola fide are incompatible. For this reason I was looking forward to following the debate at Green Baggins closely, but the thread ended up getting dominated by a select few and the discussion didn’t really advance the way I hoped it would.

Anywho, here are Lane’s theses:

1. Old Covenant circumcision and New Covenant baptism serve essentially the same function in the life of the child of God.

2. FV’ers, Lutherans, Anglicans, and Catholics insist, contrary to the Reformed, that baptism actually confers what it signifies.

3. In discussions of baptism, we must be careful to determine whether the term is being used to denote the rite only, or whether the term is being used to also include the thing signified.

Lane concludes:

The most important point to notice here is that Abraham had both faith and righteousness before circumcision. If this is true, then circumcision could not have brought about either faith, or the righteousness that comes by faith. The next most important thing to notice here is that both “sign” and “seal” are present in this passage in verse 11. Therefore, neither the sign-ness nor the seal-ness of circumcision brought about the faith or the imputed righteousness. Instead, it was the Holy Spirit working faith in Abraham, which constitutes the sacramental union between sign and thing signified. So, given proposition 1 above, baptism works the same way as circumcision. Therefore the sign-ness and seal-ness of baptism does not bring about faith or the righteousness of faith (imputed righteousness). Rather, it is the Holy Spirit who connects the sign to the thing signified in the believer by bringing about faith. It is faith that is instrumental for bringing about imputed righteousness for the believer.

For my part, I really appreciate and agree with what Lane is saying here, although I do anticipate objections that may be raised. If you’ve got thoughts on this, please fire away.

43 Comments

  1. I'd imagine that if you wanted the Lutheran response, you'd be better off asking on the Wittenberg Trail or something.

    There seem to be a number of reformed types who read lutheran blogs, but the opposite isn't necessarily true.

  2. Not all Anglicans suppose a 1-to-1 correspondence. J.C. Ryle explains the language of the Prayer Book using the term “charitable supposition” to describe the intimate relationship between the sign and the hope of its completion.

  3. I found this question (in a comment) and the responses on my article at Called to Communion helpful regarding faith and baptism: http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2010/07/faith-reason-context-conversion/#comment-10538

    “My understanding of the Catholic system is that in adult baptism, the candidate is required to profess some kind of faith before the baptism. My question is: what is the difference between the professed faith and the virtue that is received?”

  4. You want to download and listen to this debate. I would love to hear what you think of Bombaro's Speech-Act-based argument.

  5. One of the objections I was anticipating has to do with there being a disanalogy between circumcision and baptism (contra thesis #1). In other words, some people think that one of the main differenes between the OC and NC is that the NC's sacraments work in a more powerful way than the Old's did.

  6. If baptism is a sign and seal, it must signify and seal something, so if there is nothing effectual in faith before the baptism or during the baptism, then what does it sign and seal? It seems like the non-FV view of baptism requires the belief that baptism signs and seals something that will happen in the future, or that a child is clean and unclean at the same time until they profess faith. It's also hard to reconcile 1 Peter 3:21 if there isn't anything effectual. So either faith occurs before like abraham, or at the moment of circumcision as in isaac who was only an infant when he was circumcised. Circumcision is an act of cleanliness as well as an act of repentance. So when a child is baptized, ex opere operato, it is doing an act of confession and faith before the covenant community, and entering in good standing.

    Requiring faith as a separate prerequisite leads into pelagian and baptists views, that are not compatible with covenant baptism. Otherwise the child actually has faith vicariously through the covenant community that it is being washed into.

    -Wyatt

  7. Wyatt- Like circumcision, baptism does not revolve around the faith of the child, but the faith of the parents in the promised (Covenantal) faithfulness of the Lord.

  8. Wyatt,

    If baptism is a sign and seal, it must signify and seal something, so if there is nothing effectual in faith before the baptism or during the baptism, then what does it sign and seal? It seems like the non-FV view of baptism requires the belief that baptism signs and seals something that will happen in the future, or that a child is clean and unclean at the same time until they profess faith. It's also hard to reconcile 1 Peter 3:21 if there isn't anything effectual. So either faith occurs before like abraham, or at the moment of circumcision as in isaac who was only an infant when he was circumcised. Circumcision is an act of cleanliness as well as an act of repentance. So when a child is baptized, ex opere operato, it is doing an act of confession and faith before the covenant community, and entering in good standing.

    The way the Reformed have understood baptism and its efficacy is to say that baptism does confer saving benefits, but it is only once faith has been exercised that baptism can be said to have actually accomplished anything saving in the individual. So I can say, “My sins were washed away in baptism,” but since there was a period of about 4 years in between my baptism and my actually trusting Christ, that statement would have been false during that time.

    Requiring faith as a separate prerequisite leads into pelagian and baptists views, that are not compatible with covenant baptism. Otherwise the child actually has faith vicariously through the covenant community that it is being washed into.

    So you would say that the Bible does not make faith a distinct prerequisite for salvation?

  9. @Evan, a child may be baptized in the PCA if they parents do not have faith as long as they are committed keeping the child in the covenant community. Luther basically argued that infants had faith, or acquired faith through their baptisms, which is different than the PCA BCO – Wyatt

  10. @JJS I would like to challenge your profession of faith as a 4yr old, and doubt that there was a meaningful conversion, but rather you attained an age that you were able to repeat back the baptismal formula or romans 10:9, etc. to some extent. At that point, a statement of faith equates to a mystical phrase like abracadabra or something equivalent in gnosticism, or mystery religions that where people recite incantations on papyri. As a 4yr old, did you merely acquire marginal awareness of the faith that you had since your baptism? I see this a lot in baptist churches where the parents are desperate to get a confession of faith out of their little kids, but the kids do not really understand the reality of what they are saying, nor do they know any other way. So rather, maybe the faith that you acquired from being placed into a covenant of community of faith, had fruit of your baptism and later in a confession with knowledge, and eventually understanding. I'm assuming you have faith, and god's not going to lay you low in the wilderness one day. 1 cor 10:5 j/k

    I would say that faith is not a prerequisite for salvation, but the result of salvation or possibly the means of acquiring justification.

    What I like about FV is that it dispenses with most of the invisible church theology, although the election or final outcome is unknown, we can know now our status in the covenant based on what is visible. -Wyatt

  11. Wyatt,

    As a 4yr old, did you merely acquire marginal awareness of the faith that you had since your baptism?

    Sorry for not being clearer, I was baptized at age 12.

    I would say that faith is not a prerequisite for salvation, but the result of salvation or possibly the means of acquiring justification.

    You're right about faith being the means of acquiring justification, but you would have a tough time making any kind of biblical case for your statement that “faith is not a prerequisite for salvation, but the result of salvation.” Paul says that we are saved by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8).

    What I like about FV is that it dispenses with most of the invisible church theology, although the election or final outcome is unknown, we can know now our status in the covenant based on what is visible.

    Props for being honest enough to admit that you like the FV precisely because it is not Reformed. Most FV sympathizers try to make the case that their system is represented in the confessions of the Reformed churches, but that's a pretty tough case to make. I mean, the WCF is filled with visible/invisible church language.

  12. I'm sympathetic to the FV crowd, but not commited yet. Have you seen this sproul article? http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/sproul01.html

  13. The invisible church is a reality, as the WCF language exemplifies but sometimes its over emphasized, to my chagrin. That's all. 🙂 – Wyatt

  14. I have a hard time using that word “reformed”, do you mean zwingli-bullinger, or calvin-beza, or calvin-knox, or knox-westminster, or luther-melachton, or calvin-melachton, or …

  15. None of the above. “Reformed” refers to the theology outlined in the confessions and catechisms of the Reformed churches.

  16. “…a child may be baptized in the PCA if they parents do not have faith as long as they are committed keeping the child in the covenant community.”

    I'd like to know which PCA church you're talking about because baptizing a child with non-believing parents is a violation of WCF XXIIX.4 which states “…also the infants of one, or both, believing parents are to be baptized” and it undermines the the BCO on baptism which everywhere assumes a faithful family context (or at least one faithful parent teaching their child).

  17. @evan a couple pca ministers explained to me that a child could be baptized, even if the parents were unbelievers because it is the faith of the community which the parents are part of that the child is baptized into. I believe there has to be a commitment on part of the person who offers the child to be baptized to bring that child to church, etc. The verbiage of the bco isn't explicit on this point, but for instance, a non-parent may present a child for baptism such as: “BCO 56-3. [..] or some other responsible person, signifying the desire that the child be baptized.”

    I could be wrong, or may have misunderstood, or those ministers may have been wrong. I know that not everyone in the PCA does a good job following the BCO to the gramma (“??????”) not grandma. -wyatt

  18. So, if baptism is legitimately called a means of grace in Reformed theology, in what sense would it be based on the above theses? What about WCF 28.6, which reads: “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.” With all due respect to Lane, it seems to me he is proving too much, i.e., contra Westminster. Baptism has some kind of efficacy, and really confers grace – not automatically, but subject to the sovereign application of the Holy Spirit to the elect in His appointed time. It is the visible Word of God, and as such is effectual (for some, sadly effectual unto judgment – the “other side” of the sacrament, i.e., covenant curse a la Kline's insights).

  19. @tony I think sproul interprets WCF 28.6 to mean that baptism does not only apply to the moment of baptism, as the romanists would say, but rather it applies to the entire life from hence forth. This is entirely different than saying that my baptism doesnt take effect until i profess faith down the road, although people do interpret WCF to say that.

    @jjs I don't mean to overwhelm your blog with comments, but this is an interesting topic to me that comes up a lot. 🙂 -wyatt

  20. That's interesting, Wyatt. I actually called my dad, a PCA minister, on this one and he seemed astonished that that was allowed.

  21. Tony,

    So, if baptism is legitimately called a means of grace in Reformed theology, in what sense would it be based on the above theses? What about WCF 28.6, which reads: “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.” With all due respect to Lane, it seems to me he is proving too much, i.e., contra Westminster. Baptism has some kind of efficacy, and really confers grace – not automatically, but subject to the sovereign application of the Holy Spirit to the elect in His appointed time. It is the visible Word of God, and as such is effectual (for some, sadly effectual unto judgment – the “other side” of the sacrament, i.e., covenant curse a la Kline's insights).

    Lane mentions it in the post, and it may have come up in the comments as well, but the key to the whole thing is the “sacramental union” between the sign and thing signified. The reason we can attribute such saving efficacy to baptism is because the biblical pattern is that we speak of these things interchangeably.

    That said, I do think there is some tension between Lane’s thesis and the portion from the WCF that you site. I don’t think Lane is guilty of this, but many Reformed guys are so spooked by the FV that they refuse to attribute any efficacy or conferral of saving benefits to baptism whatsoever, which in my mind is way too reactionary.

  22. Thanks for your response, Jason. I think it is misguided to use the legitimate exegetical insight of sacramental union in WCF 27.2 to contradict an efficacious and grace-conferring baptism in WCF 28.6 (it's interesting to note the Scripture “proofs” they provided for each). The divines recognized both, i.e., that the Bible sometimes speaks in categories of sacramental union while also recognizing the biblical reality of sacramental efficacy, i.e., baptism & the Lord's Supper convey grace (qualified carefully as in 28.6). I despise the errors of the FV – Gospel-obscuring in some cases, and Gospel-denying in others. And I agree, some of our brothers have over-reacted by muting the biblical and confessional witness to the sacraments as real means of grace.

  23. WCF 28.6. “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.”

    RE: “WCF 28.6…mean[s] that baptism does not only apply to the moment of baptism, as the romanists would say, but rather it applies to the entire life from hence forth. This is entirely different than saying that my baptism doesnt take effect until i profess faith down the road, although people do interpret WCF to say that.”

    I would argue that the quality of “time” as cited in this article is likely meant in both respects. The idea of “life-lasting” is expressly conveyed by a statement that is appended to this same phraseology in the Westminster Directory for the Public Worship of God: “…The inward grace and virtue of baptism is not tied to that very moment of time wherein it is administered…the fruit and power thereof reacheth to the whole course of our life.” However, also implicit in the statement “in his [God’s] appointed time,” is that the efficacy of baptism may not become a reality until sometime after the rite has been administered. The inclusion of the parenthetical clause “(whether of age or infants)” reinforces this conclusion That is, it implies that there may be cases in which even some of those who are baptized as adults may not “truly” believe until a later time. (cf. WSC Q92: “A sacrament is a holy ordinance instituted by Christ; wherein, by sensible signs, Christ, and the benefits of the new covenant, are represented, sealed, and applied to believers.”)

    In addition, the writing of many Reformed theologians including the WD's clearly give expression to both meanings of “time” in relation to the efficacy of baptsim.

  24. I should have added that, taken in light of each other (unless one presumes them contradictory), it is inarguable that the “to such…as that grace belongeth unto” in WCF 28.6 is explained in WSC Q92 as being those who are “believers.”

  25. Jason,

    As a Confessional Lutheran who checks this blog on occasion, I’ll give you some of my thoughts. It is a funny situation, because I am someone who is watching this debate from the other side of the fence. I consider myself a generally ecumenical person, so I have interest, though I don’t really have a dog in the fight.

    My main surprise is to see the level of rhetoric used against the “Federal Vision.” For example, it is one thing to call them un-Reformed; it is another to call them “heretics” or “Catholics.” From what I know of the Federal Vision, I find myself nodding in agreement sometimes and not other times. What’s funny, though, is that when I don’t agree with them, I usually chalk it up to disagreements with the Reformed tradition generally. Let me name a few categories:

    1. Sacramental Efficacy: I think I agree much more with the Federal Vision on sacraments than I would with, say, R.C. Sproul. The Federal Vision proponents (I am familiar with the writings of Peter Leithart and Jeff Meyers primarily, and some of Doug Wilson) sound much closer to Lutheran theology, so I can give a cheer for that. “Sacramental union” in Lutheran theology means the necessary connection between sign and thing signified. In Reformed theology generally, there seems to be much looser relationship between the two(in Lane Keister’s analysis, e.g.). In Lutheranism, the sign and the thing signified are always joined, and that is the sacramental union. I’m not totally sure on my history, but I’m pretty sure that the phrase “sacramental union” was originally a Lutheran term that the Reformed borrowed and changed to fit their schema of double predestination. For Lutherans, there is a sacramental union because the Holy Spirit promised to be present in the bread and wine and in the washing with water in the Triune name. He is always there. Period. In Reformed tradition, the Spirit only shows up sometimes, if the person is elect. Again, I think the Federal Vision theologians are much closer to us Lutherans here. There is an objective nature to the sacraments. Lutherans don’t use covenant language to describe that objectivity, but I think we are quite close regardless. Lutherans use the language of Gospel promises. The sacraments are Gospel: God has promised to give Christ in them. Faith is the subjective receptor of the benefits, but regardless if faith is there, Christ is still given in the sacrament. Lutherans often talk about faith being “created” by the sacraments, and I don’t ever see the Reformed using that language. Luther taught that the baptism of an infant “establishes” faith in that infant. It is because of the Word spoken with the sign. God’s Word is powerful; it speaks things into existence that were not in existence before. I read Peter Leithart as saying something very similar. (So it doesn’t surprise me that both Leithart and Meyers were Lutherans before they ran to Geneva.) Regeneration, for Lutherans, means the gift of the Holy Spirit. In Baptism, the Spirit is given to the child. That person can grow up to grieve the Holy Spirit and reject God's promise of salvation, but that doesn't mean that the Spirit was never truly given in Baptism. I see the Reformed tradition using “regeneration” in a way different than Lutheranism. Regeneration, in Reformed terminology, means an irreversable operation. The giving of the “new heart.” For Lutherans, the “new heart” is Jesus himself, given in Baptism through the Holy Spirit. In Lutheran theology, regeneation is really Baptism itself. So regeneration can be reversed when someone rejectes the Spirit.

  26. 2. Perseverance/Apostasy: Here is another place where the Federal Vision advocates are right in line with Lutherans. Lutherans don’t have a “once saved, always saved” clause. We don’t agree with the 5th point in TULIP. Apostasy is real and possible. Most Reformed theologians that I read explain apostasy by saying “well they weren’t really a Christian from the beginning.” The Reformed always point to hypocrisy, self-deception, and their schema of double predestination. The person who left the church was just deceiving himself about having the benefits of Christ. Their Baptism didn’t really justify them. But Lutherans never talk this way. For us, Baptism always justifies. Christ is truly given at the Supper. ALWAYS. It is a mystery that this person has rejected the only one who gives him life. I think this is another difference between the Reformed and Lutheran camps. Reformed people always have to have fine distinctions and systemize everything logically. Lutherans just chalk up apostasy to “mystery.” I read Leithart and Meyers as saying something very similar to traditional Lutheran theology. Apostasy cannot be explained, but it really does happen. We don’t know why someone apostatizes. It is the same mystery of why Adam would reject God even when he had original righteousness. This leads into another agreement of Federal Vision with Lutheran theology …

  27. 3. Covenant of Works: Lutheran theology has never had anything like a “covenant of works.” Lutherans don’t really talk about “covenant” much at all anyway. But the idea that Adam had to merit “salvation” from God in the garden is foreign to our thinking. Adam had perfect righteousness. He had a perfect relationship/standing with God. There was nothing he was lacking. I know that Reformed theologians often talk about something “eschatological” that was supposed to happen, but most Lutherans scratch their heads at this. Adam was created by grace and sustained by grace. The gifts of the garden (“proto-sacraments”) were by grace. Adam was to receive them by faith. When I read Leithart and Meyers deny a “covenant of works” in creation, I simply say, “that’s a good Lutheran. Come back home.”

    4. Active Imputation of Obedience: I know this may surprise some, but Lutherans really don’t have a systematic formulation of what you Reformed call “active imputation of obedience.” Some contemporary Lutherans who have been influenced by evangelicals may say this, but it’s not a part of our confessions and tradition. For Luther, Christ’s righteousness is what gives us forgiveness of sins. Forgiveness of sins is what righteousness is. It means right standing before God. In Lutheran theology, to have Christ’s righteousness imputed to us means that his death covers our sins. His “righteousness” is his “one righteous act”—his death on the cross. His resurrection means we have new life through the promised Holy Spirit. We don’t talk about Christ keeping a perfect record of moral deeds, accumulating merit for us, that is imputed to our account. We believe that Christ was perfect and righteous, of course, but that was so he could be our sacrifice for sin. I think this goes back to the “covenant of works” idea. Some Reformed theologians believe that man has to earn “points” with God. Adam was supposed to earn points with God but he failed and lost point. So Jesus earned the points for us and he gives them to us. That is a Reformed way of talking, not a Lutheran way of talking. Since we don’t believe Adam had to do anything to win God's favor (except receive God’s gifts by faith), we don’t think that Christ had to perform moral deeds on our behalf. He had to DIE on our behalf. I think the Federal Vision theologians are very close to Lutheran theology when they qualify the imputation of Christ’s active obedience. Contrary to what some Reformed pastors write, “the imputation of Christ’s active obedience” was not the heart of the Reformation. Luther didn’t formulate the Gospel that way. The Gospel is the free offer of forgiveness of sins in Christ. When the Federal Visionists deny this, they are not being “anti-Reformation,” only “anti-Reformed” (though I do wonder if Calvin really had a view of “active obedience” the way it is now formulated). The Federal Vision theologians fit right into a Reformation context.

  28. Those are the areas where Lutherans and Federal Vision proponents can agree. Let me name a few places where we disagree:

    1. strict Law/Gospel dichotomy: I don’t agree with Wilson and others who confuse Law and Gospel. The funny thing about this is that I was always taught that ALL Reformed did this, at least ever since Calvin put sanctification before justification in the Institutes. In my Lutheran schooling, I was told that the Reformed view of “covenant” made the Gospel into a command. What’s crazy is that I now see Reformed theologians anathematizing Federal Visionists for not holding to the Law/Gospel dichotomy. On this particular issue, people like Michael Horton and R. Scott Clark are closer to a traditional Lutheran view than what I know of the Reformed tradition. When I have read Federal Visionists talk about this, I simply skip over it because I thought I already knew the Reformed view. Irony.

    2. Postmillenial Eschatology: Confessional Lutherans can’t stand postmillennialism. Our confession openly denies it. When I read this in Leithart or Wilson, I just skip over it. But again, I was taught that Reformed people were generally postmillennial. At least that’s what comes to mind when I think of the Puritans and the Princeton theologians. The people who are lambasting the Federal Visionists seem to be more Lutheran in their eschatology, a-millennial, than traditionally Reformed, postmillennial.

    3. Two-Kingdoms: Most of the Federal Visionists do not advocate a two-kingdom theology, but instead something closer to a Christendom/Constintinian theology. Traditional Lutheran theology (though not always practice) is decidedly in the “two kingdoms” camp. Yet again, what’s funny is that I was taught that the Reformed are much more interested in the “Christ and culture” question. Reformed people are always trying to influence politics, ever since Geneva. I see Horton and R. Scott Clark as much closer to traditional Lutheran theology on the culture question than what I know of the Reformed tradition. A desire for cultural renewal goes hand-in-hand with Reformed postmillennialism. At least that’s what I see going on in the Puritans. So Meyers and Leithart seem to be closer to the Reformed position than some of their detractors.

  29. My point about writing all this is to stop the ignorant remarks that the Federal Visionists are really Roman Papists. Rather, in my opinion, they are trying to mix the theologies of Geneva and Wittenberg. Other Reformed people are doing that right now, too. For example, Michael Horton is more Lutheran than Reformed on the issue of Law/Gospel, the issue of a-millennial eschatology, and on the issue of the two-kingdoms. The Federal Visionists are doing the same thing as him but with a different set of issues. They are not denying sola fide simply because they believe in baptismal regeneration. Lutherans have been holding those two doctrines together ever since the 16th century. Who would try to say that Luther did not really hold to sola fide because he taught baptismal regeneration? Baptism creates the faith that receives the indwelling of the Spirit promised in Baptism. The Reformed tradition has intellectualized “faith” so that infant faith is no longer possible. They have completely separated salvation from the sacraments. I simply see the Federal Visionists trying to incorporate Lutheran insights into their Reformed/covenantal framework. The resulting amalgamation, though, does not truly fit either confessional system.

    Thanks for letting me post.

  30. Hi Charles,

    Thanks for your comments, I plan to address them tomorrow (Thursday) morning.

    Cheers,

    JJS

  31. A lot of what Charles says above is reflected in the posts (and comments) on the seemingly defunct three hierarchies blog:

    http://threehierarchies.blogspot.com/2007/06/outsiders-thoughts-on-federal-vision.html

    It would be interesting to see your interactions.

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  34. Well, among our circles (FV) we believe part of the import of baptism is the faithfulness of God. Your comment that we believe that baptism “causes” faith when referring to God is yes and no.

    No, baptism has no causation when referring to God because God will be faithful to the covenant even when all men are faithless, so baptism does not alter the immutability of God; but, we also say “yes”: yes, baptism, in a sense, “causes” God to be faithful in that it reminds Him, in a manner of speaking, of the covenant stipulations and boundaries (this is why many of us are committed to covenant renewal worship. We realize that God commands us to remind Him of such things).

    Yet, I would not say that to cause necessarily means to confer as you have used these words. Confer has the connotation of transmit, whereas I prefer to speak of baptism as having instrumental causation in the sense pronouncement or deeming (and, by the way, in a non-forensic sense).

    Baptism also pronounces, in an avowed sense, the faith of the parents. It charges them to remain faithful as they are reminded of the stipulations of the covenant pronounced in their own baptisms. Like circumcision of old, it says, “just as you have been set apart, he/she has been set apart, the elect of God, subject to the covenant requirements, therefore bring them up thus.”

    Lastly, baptism deems the baptized holy, just as the water and oil is poured upon the head deeming the subject to be clean, just as the Spirit was poured out upon the disciples at Pentecost deeming them to be empowered.

    We do not hamstring the Spirit saying, “the Spirit regenerates here…at this moment, at the saying of these words by so-and-so, or at the touching of this drop to this portion of the forehead. Neither do we say that Spirit can do no such work in this act (or not at least until the shorter catechism has been recited without error before the inquisitors).

    The Spirit worked in just such a way at Jesus' baptism and at Pentecost. In both those cases the Spirit moved through human means. Yet, the Spirit reserves the right to work independently of human means.

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  38. Charles,

    Sacramental Efficacy: For Lutherans, there is a sacramental union because the Holy Spirit promised to be present in the bread and wine and in the washing with water in the Triune name. He is always there. Period. In Reformed tradition, the Spirit only shows up sometimes, if the person is elect. Again, I think the Federal Vision theologians are much closer to us Lutherans here.

    A better way to put it would be that in the Reformed tradition, the sacraments are empty signs when not coupled with Spirit-wrought faith on the part of the participant. In the same way that circumcision, eating the Passover, and drinking the water from the Rock in OT times meant nothing if there was no accompanying faith, so in the New.

    As far as whether the FV’ists are similar to Lutherans, I’d say that if you guys create a parallel ordo salutis that is both covenantal and losable, then you’re like peas and carrots.

    Lutherans often talk about faith being “created” by the sacraments, and I don’t ever see the Reformed using that language.

    No, we don’t. Faith is created by the preaching of the gospel and is strengthened by the use of the sacraments.

    More to come.

  39. Charles,

    Perseverance/Apostasy: Here is another place where the Federal Vision advocates are right in line with Lutherans…. Reformed people always have to have fine distinctions and systemize everything logically. Lutherans just chalk up apostasy to “mystery.” I read Leithart and Meyers as saying something very similar to traditional Lutheran theology.

    Well again, I wouldn’t concede that the Reformed choose logic over mystery. Sure, we make fine distinctions, but you have to remember that there are no less than nine different kinds of distinctions that we potentially make, all of which I will enumerate now. Just kidding.

    While at the end of the day we do say that someone who ends up in hell was never elect, we really do refuse to speculate beyond that. Calvin had absolutely no patience for speculative Christians. When asked what God was doing before creation, his reply was that he was creating hell for overly-curious people.

    More to come.

  40. “A better way to put it would be that in the Reformed tradition, the sacraments are empty signs when not coupled with Spirit-wrought faith on the part of the participant. “

    Which to me doesn't explain why the table should be fenced or why 'eating and drinking in an unworthy manner' is important.

  41. Well again, I wouldn’t concede that the Reformed choose logic over mystery.

    And if we’re going by the confessional formulations which define us there is also something like Belgic 13: “We do not wish to inquire with undue curiosity into what he does that surpasses human understanding and is beyond our ability to comprehend. But in all humility and reverence we adore the just judgments of God, which are hidden from us, being content to be Christ's disciples, so as to learn only what he shows us in his Word, without going beyond those limits.” Dt. 29:29 serves as a good reference here.

    Calvin was fond of saying of the divine secret will and those who try to pry into its mysteries that it is a labyrinth out of which there is no hope of return. He’s also known for saying that he’d rather experience the Supper than understand it. And Reformed, especially those of the two-kingdom variety, are at ease with things like duality and paradox with no need to solve necessary tensions, as in already/not yet or eternal/temporal.

  42. Chris E,

    “A better way to put it would be that in the Reformed tradition, the sacraments are empty signs when not coupled with Spirit-wrought faith on the part of the participant.”

    Which to me doesn't explain why the table should be fenced or why 'eating and drinking in an unworthy manner' is important.

    Here's the WCF:

    “Although ignorant and wicked men receive the outward elements in this sacrament; yet, they receive not the thing signified thereby; but, by their unworthy coming thereunto, are guilty of the body and blood of the Lord, to their own damnation. Wherefore, all ignorant and ungodly persons, as they are unfit to enjoy communion with Him, so are they unworthy of the Lord's table; and cannot, without great sin against Christ, while they remain such, partake of these holy mysteries, or be admitted thereunto.”

    In other words, coming to the table without faith is tantamount to openly rejecting Christ and making a mockery of the sacrament. The question is, why wouldn't that serve to increase one's damnation?

  43. “In other words, coming to the table without faith is tantamount to openly rejecting Christ and making a mockery of the sacrament. The question is, why wouldn't that serve to increase one's damnation? “

    Okay – that's 'just' the same as saying that they have committed the sin of unbelief though.

    Why is it a sin specifically against 'the body and blood of Christ'.

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