Monthly Archives: August 2013

More on why Baptists (and the Reformed in general) deny baptismal regeneration

Plato: How large is his influence in Christianity?

Plato: How large is his influence in Christianity?

In my last series (see part III of III here) I talked about how persons of the Reformed tradition – and Baptists can be included here – have a different view of what baptism (and the Lord’s Supper) is and does because they have a different view of Christology.

But why do the Reformed read the Scriptures in such a way so as to preclude the Lutheran – which I submit is the Biblical – view of the sacraments and Christology?

I recently came across two articles (see here and here) that posit answers to that question, and a common theme through both of them is the philosopher Plato – in other words, Platonic philosophy.

In other words, the idea is that whether or not those of the Reformed persuasion realize it, their theology has been significantly influenced by ideas that Plato and his followers had.

Let’s look a little closer.  In the first blog post, the Lutheran pastor Matt Richard provides us with a simple definition of Platonism:

“Platonism comes from the Greek philosopher named Plato. Very simplistically, Plato saw our existence in two different spheres or realms. He held to the material realm and the transcendent realm of forms. To Plato the transcendental realm was right, true, and perfect, but the material realm was changing, flawed, and a mere shadow. Thus, Plato taught that it was the goal of a man to escape his evil and flawed body. According to Plato, the soul was good; material was bad.”


The second blog post, from the Lutheran Pastor Mark Surburg, provides a little more nuance here: “Plato’s thought is complex, and we should be cautious that we don’t turn Plato himself into a true Gnostic who rejected the material world as evil” (“See Timaeus 29-30 for positive statements about the world”).  That said, one can still see how Platonic views will affect how one reads the Scriptures.  Augustine, for one, seems to be heavily influenced by Platonic thought.*  Surburg writes of his experiences reading modern Reformed commentaries dealing with baptismal texts like Colossians 2:11-12, Romans 6:1-5, and Titus 3:4-6:

On the one hand, it was apparent that they had to work hard to in order make the text mean the opposite of what it seemed to be saying.  When Paul says that we were buried with Christ through baptism into death in Romans 6:4, it takes some doing to argue that nothing really happens in baptism.  Yet on the other hand, their arguments weren’t irrational.  They might be harder to make, but they were coherent and plausible.   I realized that I shouldn’t be surprised by this.  After all, these were very bright scholars.

This realization raised two very nagging questions.  The first was about their method:  Why were they committed to explaining the text in a more difficult way – a way that turned baptism into a mere symbol?  The second question was more troubling:  How could one be confident that they weren’t right?  Certainly the greater effort involved in their interpretation spoke against it.  But that didn’t change the fact that taken on its own, it remained a rational and plausible reading of the text.  Intellectual honesty did not permit my own Lutheran beliefs to ignore this fact altogether. After all, the fact that it was rational and plausible allowed people to believe it and reject what the Small Catechism says.  It was the reason that there has been a division in Christianity about this since the sixteenth century.

Again, I would note here that because Platonic presuppositions are being read into the text of Scripture, not only are the biblical view of baptism and the Lord’s Supper rejected, but the biblical view of how Jesus Christ is God and man (see the series noted above).  The Reformed dictum “the finite cannot contain the infinite” is a principle derived from Platonic philosophy.

So what to do?  Pastor Surburg gives some excellent advice about how Lutherans should approach their Baptist/Reformed brothers and sisters.  I quote from near the end of his article at length:

The task, therefore, is to encourage people to step back and see the big picture.[1][17]  The battle cannot be won in Romans 6 or 1 Corinthians 11.  It must be fought and won in Genesis 1-2.  Only by beginning there and encouraging people to trace the implications of the biblical worldview through the incarnation and into the sacraments will we have a real chance to move people toward the truth about Holy Baptism and the Sacrament of the Altar.[2][18]  In addition, by tracing the broad sweep of how the biblical worldview of Genesis 1-2 relates to the incarnation, the sacraments and eschatology, we will further confirm the correctness of our position to those who are already Lutheran.  The coherence of this broad perspective – the interlocking fit between the larger parts – will help to confirm that we are confessing a correct reading of the individual passages and their details.   

As we look at Holy Baptism and the Sacrament of the Altar, this can be summarized as four basic points that support the biblical and catholic position of the Evangelical Lutheran Church:

1. The position fits with the creational, incarnational, sacramental and eschatological nature of God’s activity that we find throughout the Bible.  That is to say, it is based on the biblical worldview instead of the dualistic worldview that comes from Greek philosophy.

2. The position provides the easiest reading of the biblical texts that deal with Holy Baptism and the Sacrament of the Altar – “they just say it.”  In Romans 6 Paul says that through Holy Baptism we are buried with Christ into His death.  In the Words of Institution Jesus says that He is giving us His body and blood.  The catholic position does not have to try and explain away what these texts are saying quite clearly. 

3. The position provides the least variety in interpretation.  Because the texts “just say it,” the interpretation is very easy and straightforward, and has been so for the catholic tradition for 2000 years.  By contrast, when the Protestant tradition attempts to explain away the biblical statements, they are unable to agree about what the texts mean.  Often they are only able to agree that the biblical texts don’t mean what they seem to be saying.

4. The position is the same one that the catholic (universal) Church has held for 2000 years and has held since the beginning of the Church.  For example, writing in the second century A.D. the church father Irenaeus said of Holy Baptism: “As dry flour cannot be united into a lump of dough, or a loaf, but needs moisture; so we who are many cannot be made one in Christ Jesus without the water which comes from heaven … For our bodies have received the unity which brings us to immortality, by means of the washing; our souls receive it by means of the Spirit” (Adversus Haereses, 4.26.2).  Writing a the beginning of the second century Ignatius the bishop of Antioch wrote about heretics in his area: “They stay away from the Eucharist and prayer, because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ which suffered for our sins, which the Father raised up by His goodness” (To the Smyrnaeans 7.1).  It is a historical fact that prior to the sixteenth century, the Church had always confessed that God works a miracle as He produces a spiritual result through the waters of Holy Baptism and as Christ uses bread and wine to give us His very body and blood.

The subtitle of my previous series ended with this question: “Martin Luther’s 500 year battle with Protestant liberalism?”

Again, if this sounds wrong to you, please raise your voice.  I bring up the matter because, again, I think that we need to furious emphasize what we do and do not have in common – because truth not spoken – or rarely spoken – in love is not the fullness of love at all.

Much love to all who cling to Jesus Christ our Lord, delivered to us in the Holy Scriptures for our forgiveness, life and salvation!


*Surburg: “As Hermann Sasse observes about Augustine, ‘There are two levels in his sacramental doctrine – one, as presented in the liturgy, catholic realistic, the other spiritualizing.  This split is the tribute he pays to Neoplatonic philosophy and is a burden the churches in the West bear to this day.'”

Plato pic:


Posted by on August 28, 2013 in Uncategorized


Do Lutherans baptize infants apart from faith?


An excellent comment from the Rev. Karl Hess posted here was helpful to me lately in answering a student’s question about the Lutheran view of baptism:

“But it would be very bad if we were to baptize people that we knew did not believe. That’s what Luther says in the Church Postil sermon on the gospel for the third Sunday after Trinity:

…it is a mockery of holy baptism, when they go on and baptize little children, although they teach that they have no faith of their own. They thus sin against the second commandment, in that they consciously and deliberately take the name and Word of God in vain. Nor does the excuse help them which they plead, that children are baptized upon their future faith, when they come to the age of reason. For the faith must be present before or at least in the baptism; otherwise the child will not be delivered from the devil and sins.”

“…if their opinion were correct, all that is done with the child in baptism is necessarily falsehood and mockery. For the baptizer asks whether the child believes, and the answer for the child is: Yes. And he asks whether it desires to be baptized, and the answer for the child is again: Yes, Now nobody is baptized for the child, but it is baptized itself. Therefore it must also believe itself, or the sponsors must speak a falsehood, when for it they say: I believe. Furthermore, the baptizer declares that it is born anew, has forgiveness of sins, is freed from the devil, and as a sign of this he puts on it a white garment, and deals with it in every way as with a new, holy child of God: all of which would necessarily be untrue, if the child had not its own faith. Indeed, it would be better never to baptize a child, than to trifle and juggle with God’s Word and sacrament, as if he were an idol or a fool.”

“…31. If now we cannot give a better answer to this question and prove that the little children themselves believe and have their own faith, my sincere counsel and judgment is, that we abstain altogether and the sooner the better, and never baptize a child, so that we may not mock and blaspheme the adorable majesty of God by such trifling and juggling with nothing in it. Therefore we here conclude and declare that in baptism the children themselves believe and have their own faith, which God effects in them through the sponsors, when in the faith of the Christian church they intercede for them and bring them to baptism.”

The rest of the sermon is here:

Hess sums up:

So, in short, Acts 8 does teach that we ought to baptize those who believe and not those who do not. But simply we cannot know just from a person’s confession of faith that they really believe. It would be mocking God if we baptized people whom we know do not believe. But in the case of babies, whom Christ commands to be brought to Him, and in the case of adults who confess faith in Christ we baptize not on the basis of their faith (as Luther says in the Large Catechism) but on the basis of God’s command, “Go make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” But we don’t knowingly baptize those who don’t believe, or surreptitiously snatch babies away from their parents and baptize them secretly.


Here are a couple other posts to look at that deal with this matter of whether or not babies can trust God:

I am persistently puzzled by anyone who insists that they cannot.  For in order to enter the kingdom of heaven, one must become like a child.

First image from:

and second,

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Posted by on August 23, 2013 in Uncategorized


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Church history like a child: Lutherans don’t leave

“Why is everybody leaving us?”  

By asking this question, I am not saying that everyone is leaving the Lutheran Church for other denominations because Lutheranism is insufficient in some way.  Rather, by asking this question I am simply assuming that “the Lutheran Church” never left the one Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.  It is others who have left.

Such a statement may strike some as naive, but as faith in God grows, one may become more firmly convinced.  One growing up in the Lutheran cradle would not be wrong for thinking such a thought.

Going along with this, I submit that the following “family tree” below does indeed give us a good picture of what is going on with Christ’s church.  Note that the line between the united church and the united confessional Lutheran church is a straight one.


To read a nice essay that goes with the above picture see Pastor Martin Noland’s short summary of church history

There are a few things about the picture I would tweak (especially if I could make it 3-D!).  If you don’t think this picture accurately represents reality, go here to see other perspectives represented.

Also, I know that many Roman Catholic apologists make a lot of hay about the current divisions in Christ’s Church and how they are the answer to this.  Here, I find the following two charts very interesting, in that they show that historically, it is actually the impulse of Lutherans to unite (even doing so promiscuously and to their detriment, without discernment, when they loose touch with their confessional writings) whereas it seems it is the impulse of Baptists, for example, to fracture.





church history tree from here:

Lutheran family tree:

Baptist family tree:


Posted by on August 20, 2013 in Uncategorized


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The Real reason there are no “Lutheran Baptists”: Martin Luther’s 500 year battle vs. Protestant liberalism? (part III of III)

"as the ancient teachers of the Church explained this union and communion of the natures by the illustration of iron glowing with fire, and also by the union of body and soul in man."--Epitome, Formula of Concord

“…the ancient teachers of the Church explained this union and communion of the natures by the illustration of iron glowing with fire, and also by the union of body and soul in man.”–Epitome, Formula of Concord

Part I

Part II

I hear that some in the Reformed world think that the White Horse Inn host Michael Horton is a little bit too influenced by Lutheran theology.  That said, judging from Lutheran theologian David Scaer’s book review* of Horton’s new (2011) 1052 page systematic theology, Horton certainly is holding firm to the traditional Reformed Christology (The Christian Faith: a Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way, pp. 476-479)

White Horse Inn co-hosts Michael Horton (URCNA - Reformed) and Rod Rosenbladt (LCMS - Lutheran)

White Horse Inn co-hosts Michael Horton (URCNA – Reformed) and Rod Rosenbladt (LCMS – Lutheran)

Now, I will admit that I have not done much reading in modern Christological thought.  Quite honestly, I do not have much desire to talk about these matters any more than is absolutely necessary – if such reflection is done for any other reason than to fight heresies and errors it seems too much like the practice of dissection to me.   In my view, it should simply be enough to say that Jesus Christ is 100% God and 100% man, but historically, this death of theology like a child began because the early 16th c. Reformed theologian Ulrich Zwingli denied the real presence of Christ’s true body and blood in the Lord’s Supper.  Zwingli insisted that the human nature of Christ could only be in one place and therefore could not be in the bread and wine.  Those who came after him, it seems to me, never looked back.

Luther confronts Zwingli with the text at Marlburg: "This is my body."

Luther confronts Zwingli with the text at Marlburg: “This is my body.”

I have heard the classical Lutheran characterizations of the basic Reformed position described as unfair, but I really have never heard convincing explanations for why they are (I have listened to this recent podcast on Christology by the Reformed Forum folks, and just recently left a detailed comment there**).  For the Lutherans, their doctrine of the Lord’s Supper was based not on some doctrine of the ubiquity of Christ’s human body and soul throughout the whole creation, but simply on the direct words of Christ regarding it.  On the other hand, it seems clear to me that the Reformed have a “real absence” in the Lord’s Supper because while they say that in Christ God became man and man became God, we, when we go deeper, must understand the truth that lies behind these words.  Describing the Reformed position, the Lutheran Formula of Concord (1580) claims that, in deed and truth, the Son of God is not a human being and the human being is not God.***

As I understand the Reformed position in a more technical way, they would say, for example, that if the omnipresence of the God-man Jesus Christ were be possible, as the Lutherans insisted was the case (Luther, for the sake of argument, met Zwingli on his own terms), it must be because the human nature of Christ, like His divine nature, possesses the quality/property/attribute of omnipresence.  Therefore, since the human nature cannot itself possess the attribute of omnipresence, we must say that the person of Jesus Christ cannot be omnipresent.  In truth, the Lutheran position is that these natural qualities are shared, or communicated, in the one Person, but not possessed by either nature.

Wisdom, let us attend!  Fifth century church Father Cyril of Alexandria: “The existing bodily characteristics of the only begotten transcend every human being”.

Wisdom, let us attend! Fifth century church Father Cyril of Alexandria: “The existing bodily characteristics of the only begotten transcend every human being”.

For their part, the Reformed would only say that we must ascribe to the entire person of Jesus Christ what is the property of each nature.  So for in Acts 20 where it talks about the “blood of God”, this would be attributing a divine quality to the person of the incarnate son of God and not the human nature.  Here, Lutherans sense a denial of the true personal union – please let me explain why. ****

Monophysite, eh?

Monophysite, eh?

Looking at this a bit more, Zwingli would say that it is something akin to a figure of speech, or an “alloeosis”, to say that Jesus Christ suffered, since the Son of God could not possess the property of being able to suffer – or especially die!  But again, here is where Lutherans would say that the incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ, can indeed suffer and die (and even be omnipresent), because the divine and human natures share, or communicate, attributes in the one person without either nature possessing them.  As Luther pointed out, in the passion narratives we see that all the doing and suffering here are ascribed not to the natures but to the concrete person – and there are not two persons but one!  Therefore, the God-Man Jesus Christ – the very Son of God in human flesh – really and truly suffers, bleeds and dies!  As the Epitome of the Formula of Concord, Article VIII, sums it up: “Christ is, and remains to all eternity, God and man in one indivisible person… this is… the sole foundation of our comfort, life and salvation” (paragraph 18).

16th century Lutheran theologian Martin Chemnitz's work "The Two Natures in Christ" is really a tribute to the early church fathers, particularly Cyril of Alexandria.

16th century Lutheran theologian Martin Chemnitz’s work “The Two Natures in Christ” is really a tribute to the early church fathers, particularly Cyril of Alexandria.

That last quote should give us a hint regarding what some of us might be thinking: Why is this all necessary?  What does this mean practically speaking?  Well, first, if all of this seems a bit much to you (stupid hair-splitting theologians!) I totally understand.  Yet again, I think much of this arose questioning what should not be difficult for those with faith like a child, but simple (see here, for example).  In any case, let’s look at three practical implications:

First, I call as my witness a man named Larry, who on Gene Veith’s blog, makes the negative effects of this theology very concrete:

“…when we were at PCA… the teaching elders emphatically denied that Christ suffered and died at all in the diety [sic] and only in His humanity.  The laity reaction was stunning, it literally shocked them and despaired them.  But it is consistent with Calvin’s concept of the two natures and thus the sacrament (i.e. its logically consistent in the logic of the reformed system).” *****

Second, on the other side, we hear Luther speak of the positives:

“We Christians must know that unless God is in the balance and throws in weight as a counterbalance we shall sink to the bottom with our scale.  I mean that this way: If it is not true that God died for us, but only a man died, we are lost.  But if God’s death and God dead lie in the opposite scale, then his side goes down and we go upward like a light and empty pan.” (WA, 50:590).

Also this from Article VIII of the Formula of Concord:

“it is a pernicious error to deprive Christ according to his humanity of this majesty.  To do so robs Christians of their highest comfort, afforded them in the cited promises of the presence and indwelling of their head, king, and high priest, who has promised that not only his unveiled deity, which to us poor sinners is like a consuming fire on dry stubble, will be with them, but that he, he the man who has spoken with them, who has tasted every tribulation in his assumed human nature, and who can therefore sympathize with us as with men and his brethren, he wills to be with us in all our troubles also according to that nature by which he is our brother and we are of his flesh.”  (paragraph 87).

Third, note that for the Reformed, it seems that the meaning we speak of regarding the concrete person of Jesus Christ – that He is God become man and man become God (the God-man) for the sake of sinners – is not actually something intrinsic to Him, but is rather something that is attributed to Him by name only.  Connecting this back to the previous posts in this series then, something similar happens in baptism and the Lord’s Supper – and perhaps even the Scriptures.  Incidently, this can be seen as that which distinguishes the modern West from that which came before it, and has largely been lost to us: namely, a culture where meaning is found first and foremost in a powerful and life-shaping Real Presence – as opposed to a mindset which finds meaning primarily in the appraisal or interpretation of a man, culture, institution, etc.******


Clearly, today the West in particular needs to hear that life is about much more than such kinds of “interpretive sovereignty”.  Just because we walk into a room of tools and do not know what they are for does not mean that each one of them does not have a specific meaning.  Of course some intrinsic meanings can be discovered, and other things must, it seems, remain a mystery.

In other words, the wider implications of all this for a “sacramental worldview” – which it seems most Christians recognize the value of – are immense!  The Lutheran theologian Oswald Bayer has argued that “Luther’s hermeneutic of the Scriptures, and even of reality as such, is determined by Christ’s incarnation and by his real presence in the Eucharist”.*******  This is why Luther fiercely resisted Zwingli on this issue at the Marburg Colloquy.  As the Council of Ephesus decreed, the flesh of Christ has the power to give life – even as the power to give life is not in the flesh of Christ, or His human nature, in the same way it is in his divine nature, that is, as an essential property.  Rather it is communicated to the human nature in a real exchange without blending the natures in their essence and in their essential properties.   Again, there are things attributed to the human nature of Jesus Christ, that, according to its nature and essence outside of the person union, it could not intrinsically be or have (see John 5:21, 27; 6:39, 40; Matt. 18:18; Dan. 7:14; John 3:31, 35; 13:3; Matt. 11:27 ; Eph. 1:22; Heb. 2:8; I Cor. 15:27; John 1:3, 10).  We need to be able to continue to use this language of the real flesh of Christ – of the Son of God – being able to give us true spiritual life – in and outside of the Lord’s Supper.

Look, I know the chart might seem crazy.  Blame Zwingli.  Click image to get full diagram with further explanations (chart is from Paul McCain)

Look, I know the chart might seem crazy. Blame Zwingli. Click image to get full diagram with further explanations (chart is from Paul McCain)

My desire in this series has to simply put forward the truth of the differences between Reformed (and Reformed Baptist) and Lutheran Christology – and to point out how this explains why there are no “Lutheran Baptists”.  If I am in error over any of these points, I humbly ask for your gracious correction.



*In a 2012 Concordia Theological Quarterly issue.

**If you are of the Reformed persuasion, I encourage you to listen to that podcast and then read the questions I had for the host to see if my questions resonate with you.

***Regarding more specifics about how Lutherans understand the incarnation, note this: “Following Luther, the ‘Catalog of Testimonies’, intended as an appendix to the Formula of Concord, explicitly recognizes this when it states: ‘concrete terms are words which designate the entire person in Christ, such as “God,” “human being.” But abstract terms are words by which the natures in the person of Christ are understood and expressed, such as “deity,” “humanity.” According to this distinction, it is correctly said in concrete terms that “God is a human being,” “a human being is God.” On the other hand, it is incorrect to say in abstract terms: “deity is humanity,” “humanity is deity.” ’ Robert Kolb and James A. Nestingen, eds., Sources and Contexts of the Book of Concord (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001), p. 223.

So we say a particular person of God became a particular man, a particular person of humanity.  The human nature of Christ is not taken up into the whole Godhead, but one person of God.  In like fashion, the divine nature of the Logos is not taken up into the whole lump of man (all of humanity), but in one man, although, this of course, is meant to unite all men to God by grace (not nature) – through the conviction of the Holy Spirit (John 16) using the faithful word that brings life (Rom. 10:17).

****Would it not be more accurate to say that that the quality of bleeding – something human – is being attributed to God? In other words, the attribute of being a blood-filled creature which can bleed is really being communicated to the divine nature…. God really is bleeding for us.  Regarding death, I suppose one might object saying that, in one sense, no human being really dies.  While this is true, because of the infection of sin in human nature it is, in this sense “natural” to die on earth.  The concrete person of Christ really did die on earth, and we are doing theology with this in mind.  Theology is life and is grounded in real life.

***** John Calvin on Mathew 24:46: “For we know that in Christ the two natures were united into one person in such a manner that each retained its own properties; and more especially  the Divine nature was in a state of repose, and did not at all exert itself, whenever it was necessary that the human nature should act separately, according to what was peculiar to itself, in discharging the office of Mediator.” (see also yesterday’s post, where Calvin explains John 20 in a surprising way).

******Ideas from Armin Wenz, “Biblical Hermeneutics in a Postmodern World: Sacramental Hermeneutics versus Spiritualistic Constructivism”, LOGIA, v. XXII, no. 3, Easter 2013)  I would add that this does not necessarily mean that we can never, a la Kant a la Plato, talk about “Instantiations (creating concrete representations of abstract things or ideas) of noumena (a “thing in itself”) for phenomena (a “thing as it appears to be”, i.e. through one’s sensory experience and construction by the mind)”, but this should be the exception, not the rule – especially in theology!  Aristotle, for all his imperfections, is more in line with biblical thinking here.

*******Quoted in Wenz, above.

Hot iron image from:

Horton and Rosenbladt pic:

Marlburg Colloquy pic:

Cyril pic:

Christology chart:


Posted by on August 16, 2013 in Uncategorized


The Real reason there are no “Lutheran Baptists”: Martin Luther’s 500 year battle vs. Protestant liberalism? (part II of III)

Theotokos ("Birth-Giver of God") or “Christokos” only?  *Really* the "mother of God"?  And how is this relevant?

Theotokos (“Birth-Giver of God”) or “Christokos” only? *Really* the “mother of God”? And how is this relevant?

Part I

I will admit, when I first read Christopher Jackson’s article, I was pretty excited – you can even see the comment I left there.  The fact is, deep down I want to believe that everyone really is or wants to be or would want to be Lutheran!  But subsequent reflection has subdued my elation somewhat.  Here we must first ask, is it really accurate to say, as Jackson does, Moore is going well beyond the “Baptist Faith and Message” document – or that the words from his sermons on the sacraments are even a “contrast” to it?

I don’t think so.  In his communion sermon, for example (see yesterday’s post), Moore does not say anything other than what Zwingli or Calvin could have said, even if they did not.  Certainly for them as well as Luther, the Lord’s Supper was all about “proclaiming the Gospel” – the work that Christ does to save sinners!  As for the vivid language about the body and the blood, I am under the impression that that would be permissible for the Reformed as well, so long as what is really being said is that Christ said “this is my body and blood”.  Pastors themselves should be careful not to give the impression that the bread and wine are Christ’s body and blood respectively, because that is not really true.  We are reminded of a 19th German Protestant liturgy in the past where, to circumvent the controversial issues, the pastor was instructed to say: “Christ said: This is my body etc.”

As for the sermon on baptism, is it really “approaching” Luther’s position, as Jackson says, or is it perhaps “shying away” from it?  Note that in the sermon the water merely symbolizes – albeit perhaps in a dramatic enactment – what God is doing apart from the water: “I am showing you…”  The water is “given meaning” in this approach, but the intimate and salvific connection between word and water is just not there.  The point is that the Reformed have always had this much, even if some radical Zwinglian may have denied it.  Do we think in Moore’s case the glass is half empty or half full and what is our reason for thinking what we do?  Has Moore’s language about baptism been steadily building up to where it is now over the years?  The fact is that some persons always approach something without ever getting there!  Are we to approach the gospel – which baptism surely is – or proclaim it?  In reality, baptism gives meaning to us because Christ really does join His whole self – and the eternal life He brings – with His people through water and the word.  This is what we receive in simple trust.

And all of this begs the deeper question: why the different views over what the Lord’s Supper and baptism are and do?  I think there is a clear answer to this and it will surprise many people.  Those interested in these matters often overlook – or are unaware of – the fact that in the 16th century the Jesuits and Calvinists joined forces against the “outrageous” Christology of the Lutherans in the 16th century.  Lutherans like Rosenbladt and Veith, not looking to make a big fuss and be a turd in the punch bowl, are often quiet about this, but I note that there is an Article VIII in the Formula of Concord that deals with the Christological issues that came up – originally because of disagreements about the Lord’s Supper.  Not only this, there actually was an “Apology to the Formula of Concord” that was written precisely to address the objections and misunderstandings the Jesuits and Calvinists had about the Lutherans’ Christology.

wwrjd? – What would the risen Jesus do?

wwrjd? – What would the risen Jesus do?

As Gene Veith recently said of the Reformed position, “the Body of Christ can’t be on the altar because it’s up in Heaven with God”.  Some Reformed persons might deny this is why they do not accept the Lutheran doctrine of the Lord’s Supper, but for Ulrich Zwingli, at least, this was indeed the case.  Not only this, but in John 20:19 when Jesus enters the locked room, “Calvin said that the divine nature of Christ must have performed a miracle and made an opening, so then the human (limited) body of Christ could enter the room.  Others say that no miracle at all was involved, and the Christ must have had to crawl through an open window or something.” (Schurb, here).  “The finite cannot contain the infinite”, we are told, and this has had implications for Reformed Christology all the way from Ulrich Zwingli to this very day, try mightily as some may to make this axiom more palatable.  One may even wonder whether Karl Barth’s doctrine of Scripture is simply the natural outgrowth of a consistently applied Reformed Christology – namely that simple written words meant to be read and understood by a human being cannot, in any sense, be infused with the divine – the infinite God simply cannot communicate Himself or His attributes to something so material and finite.*

If Christology is a part of a consistent “catholic tradition” which version of Christology are we talking about?  I note with interest that some Reformed folks are becoming Eastern Orthodox in part because of their Christology (see here) – a Christology that Lutherans really do seem to have much in common with.  In any case, we certainly do not want to water things down into some “classical” formulation all who are not crazy Jehovah’s Witnesses, Liberals, or Mormons can agree on!  That simply is not recognizing the important reasons why brave saints in the past held the line here and fought as they did – and appreciating that they did theology based on the breadth and depth of Scripture.

Catholic and biblical?

Catholic and biblical?

Therefore, when Christopher Jackson says that we should talk to Baptists not only about sacraments that distinguish us from them but also about “points of commonality”, e.g., Christology, that does not work – the differences between Baptist and Lutheran Christology only resurface in the sacraments.  In Gene Veith’s challenge to Jackson, he astutely points out “as [Jackson’s argument is] framed, the assumption seems to be that there should be essential agreement, at some level, between all of the different theologies”.  Dr. Veith, I suggest, is right: we cannot assume that is the case and need to challenge ourselves to look at history and our respective theologies a bit more closely.  Jackson’s viewpoint is especially understandable if we think the end result of theological disagreements are things like the Thirty Years War, but I think we can, by the grace of God, do much better than that.  I think if we want to talk about points of commonality – something that certainly needs to be done as well! – we need to be talking about other things.

More than anything, this is just about communication basics: what do you really mean when you say XYZ? When it comes to our paychecks, we are definitely concerned to get things right: we want a paycheck that is “strong enough to deliver us” so to speak.  Something similar holds true for our understanding of Jesus Christ. 

“Salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ is at the heart of all the great controversies that shook the Early church as it tried to work out its own self-understanding” -- click image for link to book

“Salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ is at the heart of all the great controversies that shook the Early church as it tried to work out its own self-understanding” — click image for link to book

You agree that Christ is 100% God and 100% man?  Good.  Now, what does this mean?  Is the flesh of Christ life-giving in and of itself – not just some pipe through which divine operations flow – because it is united to the divine nature in the personal union?   And does this mean that the whole Christ – 100% God and 100% man – dwells within you – really and truly?  When Jesus says “I am the vine, ye are the branches”  does this mean that we are just some pipe through which divine operations flow, or are we truly united with God?**

Tomorrow we will look at the classical Reformed and Lutheran positions in Christology in some depth – while keeping the practical implications of the theology in the forefront.

Part III


*or, keeping the goal of the Scriptures in mind, Barth would say that it is not true that every person who reads the Scriptures or hears them read hears the word of God.  We would say that persons really do hear the word of God – and insofar as they read them in their own language they can understand them according to their abilities – whether or not they receive it as such.

**And here, incidently, is where the Lutheran blogger Jordan Cooper is indeed touching on something very important when he speaks about Luther’s “theosis” (see here) ; and here) – which is a result of God’s declaring us righteous and not a cause of it.  Second link is: Marquart, Kurt E. “Luther and Theosis” [online]Concordia Theological Quarterly 64 (2000) no. 3:182-205. Available from <>

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Posted by on August 15, 2013 in Uncategorized


The Real reason there are no “Lutheran Baptists”: Martin Luther’s 500 year battle vs. Protestant liberalism? (part I of III)

Russel Moore, Lutheran Baptist?!

Russel Moore, Lutheran Baptist?!

Yes, I am picking up on this conversation a little late.  We’ll see if I totally missed the bus.

A couple things to start with.  First, I am sorry if the image above disturbed you.

Second, if seeing Christians disagreeing with or even criticizing other Christians over matters of doctrine only makes you angry – even if it is done in a kind and congenial manner – I urge you not to read this series.  I don’t like it either, but sometimes, as we well know, these things must be done.

As I have stated before: “our orientation should be to furiously emphasize our commonalities and to furiously emphasize our honest differences, because the truth not spoken – or rarely spoken – in love is not the fullness of love at all.  Even some in the unbelieving world know as much!  Do you, like me, think of the pagans’ words recorded by Tertullian: “See how they love one another!”?  I say yes!   Let us aim to love one another in truth as we patiently work through the tragic reality that there must be differences among us – to reveal who has God’s approval!” (quote from this post about the “coming vindication of Martin Luther”)

Onward then.

Some months ago, a couple of First Things writers, David Koyzis and Collin Garbarino, asked why there were “Calvinist Baptists” (guys like John McArhur, John Piper, Al Mohler, and Russel Moore come to mind), but no “Lutheran Baptists”.  According to the Lutheran writer Gene Veith’s summary (see here), Garbarino essentially said that “when it comes to soteriology… Calvinism and Lutheranism are pretty much the same anyway” and “Calvinism is the same as Lutheranism except without the sacraments”.

Gene Veith astutely commented:

“To understand Lutheranism, it is necessary to recognize that the Lutheran understanding of  salvation by grace and justification by faith cannot be separated from the Lutheran teachings of baptismal regeneration and the real presence of Christ in the bread and wine of Holy Communion.”

After the conversation got rolling in the wider Christian blogosphere, Joe Carter of the Gospel Coalition blog ranked Veith’s answer as the most helpful (see here).

It certainly was.  But the question now is “Why is what Dr. Veith says true?”  The answer may surprise you.

And we will definitely get to that, but first, enter Christopher Jackson, a Lutheran attending grad school at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, home of the great Albert Mohler and Russel Moore (men, incidently, who I have come to respect and have much affection for – their timely and fearless voices have informed and inspired me).  Building on the “Why no Lutheran Calvinists” question, Jackson wrote an article that was also published on the First Things blog called A Lutheran Among Calvinists (Dr. Veith talked about it here), where he said that “Lutherans themselves are why there is not a ‘Lutheran’ movement in Baptist or other evangelical circles”, blaming the Lutheran tendency/obsession to constantly “articulate something distinctively Lutheran” vis a vis other church bodies, “self-marginaliz[ing] and render[ing] our theology unintelligible to other Christians”.

Yes, I can understand how persons might think that – especially in the historically non-Lutheran-dominated United States of America.  On the other hand, I think the White Horse Inn’s Rod Rosenbladt, for example, is not someone who is overly eager to get to “the Lutheran difference”.  Nor is Gene Veith for that matter.  If anything, I tend to think these men often remain silent when they could, in a firm, impassioned and yet sensitive way, point out “the Lutheran difference” when they are discussing theology publically with others.  To be sure, this does happen from time to time – particularly with Dr. Veith – but there have been times I have wanted to pull my hair out a bit, so much do they seem to be walking on eggshells.  And of course, when we are talking about wider Lutheranism, it is not uncommon to find many in that communion who either veer towards more Reformed views of the sacraments, or alternatively, to more Eastern Orthodox and Catholic views of soteriological and ecclesiastical matters.  It is hard to stay on the Lutheran horse without falling off on one side or the other (I’m Lutheran but…”)

Here is a thought: in spite of our commonalities – and in spite of the fact that we often subjectively recognize persons of a common Christian faith outside of our circles – could it be that Lutheran theology really is quite distinct from other bodies?   It is a question that Jackson, for one, does not seem to consider seriously:  “[Lutherans] are often more preoccupied with discussing what makes Lutheranism distinct from evangelicalism (for example, the sacraments) than with discussing points of commonality like Christology or Trinitarian theology”. 

Still, that sounds like a pretty reasonable critique doesn’t it?  Well, there are questions we need to address here, but first let give you a little bit more context to Jackson’s remarks.

In his article, he notes the interesting fact that “some faculty at SBTS have struck me as having profoundly Lutheran theological influences, most notably Russell Moore” and quotes him preaching on baptism and communion:


Here is Moore preaching on baptism:

The waters of baptism are announcing that we are not just found in Jesus’ death and burial, we are found in his Resurrection. . . . [Baptism] is an announcing and a proclamation that the life that you have doesn’t belong to you. It belongs in Christ. . . . It’s an announcement that God makes in those waters of baptism not just to the church, not just to you, not just to the neighborhood and the community, but to the demonic powers that accuse you. This is mine. I am showing you, he is mine. I am showing you, she is mine. It’s the voice of Christ, through a drama in water, challenging anybody to take that on.

And communion:

[In communion] Jesus is speaking to you, “My body was broken. When you swallow this juice, Jesus is speaking to you, my blood was shed for you, my veins were opened for you. There is no condemnation for you. Rest in the truth of the gospel. We don’t just hear that, we swallow it, as Jesus reminds us through physical stuff, that we need to hear and to remember and to think and to know, he announces that gospel. . . . There are some in this room who are filled with guilt and filled with accusation. You know Christ, but Satan is speaking to you, “You’re guilty.” Hear the Word of Christ, when he says this is my body given for you. My blood, it is poured out for you.

Jackson says that these sermons sound like they could have come from a Lutheran pulpit – Moore comes off “sounding like a Lutheran”.  In addition, he says that while “Moore’s sermon [on the Lord’s Supper] can be understood within a Calvinist view, absent are any of Calvin’s almost endless qualifications on the words, ‘This is my body. . . . This is my blood.’”  Jackson says he is familiar with several SBTS students who have actually become Lutherans, which he attributes in part to Moore and other “Lutheran influences”.

Montage of art from the Lutheran youth organization "Higher Things".

Montage of art from the Lutheran youth organization “Higher Things”.

Hmmm.  If that’s the case do I really want to keep writing this article – if Moore is serving as a recruiter for Lutheran pastors?

Yes.  Let’s get the cards out on the table and do so while simultaneously searching the Scriptures – no, clinging to them like our lives depend on them.  We’ll do that tomorrow.

Part II

Part III


Moore pic used with Luther:

Moore preaching:

Higher Things montage: from various sites online


Posted by on August 14, 2013 in Uncategorized


Why do we read that unless we receive the kingdom as little children we shall not at all enter it?

Bishop Bo Giertz“But I am wondering if it is not so with the little children, that their hearts are not really closed to God. Why do little children more easily enter the kingdom of God than we grown-ups? Why do we read that unless we receive the kingdom as little children we shall not at all enter it? Why do we as adults have to become like little children in order to enter the kingdom? Is it not because a child’s heart is open so that God can fill it with his grace, shed his Spirit upon it, and regenerate it? When we grow older, it becomes more difficult, for then resistance begins; we are stubborn and evasive and shut up our heart by intentional sins. Not until the heart is opened in conversion have we become as little children-and then we can enter again into the kingdom.” He became silent, utterly surprised at his flow of words. But he had caught a vision, had glimpsed a solution to his search. In order not to lose it, he began to speak again.

“How is it now, friends? If faith means to receive God’s grace in our hearts, and if the child’s heart is always open toward God, it surely follows that the child is able to believe. It can, then, certainly receive grace. If, however, faith resided in our heads, in our thinking and understanding, it would not be possible. When we therefore bring a little child, with its corrupted nature, to God in baptism, what can hinder God from being gracious to it, taking it up into the kingdom of God, and giving it forgiveness of sins? Look,” he said, as he held out his hands in the shape of a bowl. “This is your heart, a vessel full of corruption, being born of sinful nature and having evil desires at its bottom. When you were born into the world, the vessel was open toward God. You were not for that reason a child of God, for the vessel of your heart was not that of an angel, but a bit of corrupted human flesh. Then you were brought to baptism. God poured his Spirit as a stream of grace into this vessel. It was still sinful, and evil tendencies lay within it, but it was all covered by forgiveness; over it lay a white cloth, the righteousness of Christ, the redemption of Christ. You were then a child of God, for Jesus’s sake.

Then you grew up. Perhaps you were guilty of intentional sins and lived in unbelief. It was as if your heart were covered over again.” Here he lifted one hand and held it over the other as a lid. “Then things were really bad. But you know that God took hold of you again, and there was penitence and confession and faith.” The and confession and faith.” The covering hand was removed, and the hands together again formed an open bowl. “This is your spiritual state today. The sinful nature still remains, and the struggle against sin and for sanctification of life continues. Some hearts become almost clean in this life, while others retain so much of the bitter dregs that it takes extreme watchfulness and care to keep it from flowing over into intentional sin. Yet, over us all shines the atonement, and all of us have exactly as great a portion in that which is the foundation and content of our salvation: Jesus only.

“And when you shall die some day,” he continued, with hands still extended, “and your consciousness is clouded, you may lay your broken vessel down, with all the darkness that is still within it, before the throne of grace and say, `I know whom I have believed.’ In the heart, evil may still bubble forth and wrong desires rise up and, though your mind is no longer active, your lips may perhaps form wicked words. What does it matter? It is only the old nature that is falling to pieces and letting the black contents run out. The new nature already rests securely on the Rock of our salvation, Jesus only.”

Bo Giertz. Hammer of God, Kindle Edition.

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Posted by on August 9, 2013 in Uncategorized