Saturday, January 16, 2010

"Baptism now saves you"

I see that Andrew Preslar has done a separate post in response to Jason Engwer:

I’ll comment on what I take to be his primary contentions:

Our Lord undeniably instituted the sacrament of baptism as a prominent part of the Apostolic mission to “all the nations” (Matthew 28:19).

But from a Catholic standpoint, that’s far from undeniable. For modern Catholic Bible scholars don’t assume that just because the Gospels attribute a statement to Jesus, he must have said it.

Mind you, I don’t share their scepticism. But I’m not the one who’s writing from a Catholic perspective. Preslar is.

If the key baptism passages actually refer to something other than the sacrament, and if it is vital to detach spiritual baptism from sacramental baptism, then the New Testament writers were, in some important instances, remarkably cavalier in their use of the term. The prominence of baptism in the Christian community, and its close association with the believing reception of the Gospel (“who can forbid water for baptizing…”) make it extremely unlikely that references to baptism, water and washing in connection with the gifts of initial salvation are simply metaphors. Metaphorical uses of “vine,” “door,” “rock,” etc., are in a different category, because no sacrament uses these substances. But the fact of water baptism makes for a huge interpretive difference when it comes to watery passages.

Unfortunately, Preslar just doesn’t get it. He seems to have a very simplistic grasp of symbolism. By contrast:

1. X can be symbolic if X is merely a verbal metaphor or figure of speech. It has no objective existence. No existence beyond the written or spoken word.

2. X can be symbolic if it’s a tangible object, action, or gesture with a figurative significance.

3. X can be symbolic if it’s a tangible object which actually conveys what it stands for.

i) Preslar seems to think your position on sacramental realism comes down to a choice between #1 and #3. But that’s a false dichotomy. Consider #2.

To illustrate: take the V-sign. On the one hand, this is “literal” in the sense that it’s a real hand-gesture. You use a real, flesh-and-blood hand to make this gesture.

On the other hand, it’s symbolic in the sense that a V-sign merely symbolizes peace (which is why it’s called a “peace-sign”). But making that gesture doesn’t cause a peaceful state of affairs. It doesn’t actually pacify any hostilities.

ii) Apropos (i), a Zwinglian could easily regard 1 Pet 3:21 as a literal reference to water baptism without, however, inferring the efficacy of baptism. For he still might regard baptism as a symbolic action, like the peace-sign. Even though it’s a literal deed, this doesn’t mean it actually conveys what it symbolizes.

Maybe it does and maybe it doesn’t. But you can’t infer that from the rite itself. And there’s no antecedent presumption to that effect.

Likewise, even if a Zwinglian thought that Jn 3:5 or Tit 3:5 had literal reference to water baptism, that wouldn’t ipso facto make them prooftexts for baptismal regeneration–for they might just as well be symbolic actions, having no efficacious power.

iii) If you think that’s special pleading, let’s consider some Biblical illustrations of the same principle. Ezekiel was, among other things, a sign-prophet. God directed him to perform symbolic actions or “sign-acts.” Let’s cite a few examples:

“As for you, son of man, prepare for yourself an exile’s baggage, and go into exile by day in their sight. You shall go like an exile from your place to another place in their sight. Perhaps they will understand, though they are a rebellious house” (Ezk 12:3).

"And you, son of man, take a brick and lay it before you, and engrave on it a city, even Jerusalem. And put siegeworks against it, and build a siege wall against it, and cast up a mound against it. Set camps also against it, and plant battering rams against it all around. And you, take an iron griddle, and place it as an iron wall between you and the city; and set your face toward it, and let it be in a state of siege, and press the siege against it. This is a sign for the house of Israel” (4:1-3).

"And you, O son of man, take a sharp sword. Use it as a barber’s razor and pass it over your head and your beard. Then take balances for weighing and divide the hair. A third part you shall burn in the fire in the midst of the city, when the days of the siege are completed. And a third part you shall take and strike with the sword all around the city. And a third part you shall scatter to the wind, and I will unsheathe the sword after them. And you shall take from these a small number and bind them in the skirts of your robe. And of these again you shall take some and cast them into the midst of the fire and burn them in the fire. From there a fire will come out into all the house of Israel…A third part of you shall die of pestilence and be consumed with famine in your midst; a third part shall fall by the sword all around you; and a third part I will scatter to all the winds and will unsheathe the sword after them” (5:1-4,12).

Are these efficacious signs? Do these symbolic actions cause what they symbolize? Did Ezekiel cause the exile? No. They are purely emblematic.

Yet they’re more than verbal metaphors. They are tangible actions. But even though these are literal deeds, their significance is merely symbolic.

iv) Therefore, the Catholic apologist actually has a two-step burden of proof to discharge:

a) He has to show that his prooftexts refer to water-baptism (or the eucharist).

b) Even if he can demonstrate (a), he also has to show that such ceremonies are meant to be efficacious, not emblematic.

Back to Preslar:

The relationship between the Old and New Covenants can be rightly (though not completely) characterized as type to antitype, and anticipation to fulfillment…An interpretation that equates the efficacy of the sacraments of the New Covenant to those of the Old Covenant makes for a relatively flat reading of Sacred Scripture, greatly reducing the significance of the Incarnation in the history of redemption. It is true that Our Lord did not come to destroy the law (doing away with ceremonies and rituals), but neither did he come in order to carry on in the same old way (instituting sacraments that are non-efficacious types or signs). Christ came to fulfill the law.

Yet this assumes, without benefit of argument, that OT types prefigure NT types. But why should we assume that? Why shouldn’t we assume that OT types prefigure NT events?

Does the Passover prefigure the Eucharist? Or does the Passover prefigure the death of Christ?

The Church Fathers interpreted the New Testament as teaching the salvific efficacy of sacramental baptism. There is no competing view.

I don’t happen to have a personal opinion on question that one way or the other. However, I’m struck by something that Peter Escalante once said. He was the most erudite and levelheaded member of the now-defunct Reformed Catholicism blog. Although, in context, he was specifically commenting on patristic Christology, his hermeneutical take seems to be equally germane to patristic sacramentology. Among other things, he said:

“[#17] Thanks, that’s the beginning of a discussion. I will start by saying that what seems to you something like a contradiction between, say, Danaeus, and the old Fathers on this score, really isn’t one, because the Fathers are often speaking rhetorically, but when one parses their doctrine out into logical propositions, one will find that there isn’t any real difference of doctrine. For example, when Danaeus says that suffering is only rhetorically ascribed to the Son of God, he means the eternal Son of God, that is, the Word, who as such cannot suffer. But insofar as He has assumed human nature, He is said to have suffered, since His humanity did. None of this is any departure from Chalcedon, and close linguistic examination will bear this out. Apparent contradictions easily arise whenever one isn’t minding the differences between kinds of expression: tropes, figures, rigorous proposition, and so on. Reformed Christology doesn’t contradict Chalcedon or the old Fathers at all, let alone ‘100%.’”

“[#19] You’ve completely missed what I said above. It isn’t a question of specious prooftexting, but rather of *examining the different kinds of expression involved*. My contention was that it might *speciously,* that is, on the surface, seem that there is a wide divergence or even direct contradiction between some expressions of the Fathers and the more rigorous explanations of the Reformed doctors, but in these cases it will be found that the Fathers are speaking rhetorically, and that the Reformed are speaking more precisely, but that there is no real difference of doctrine.”

If valid, then Escalante's distinction regarding different kinds of expression complicates a facile appeal to the church fathers to attest baptismal regeneration or the real presence.

Back to Preslar:

Any interpretation of Scripture which sets aside the consensus patrum must assume that, on a matter pertaining to the Gospel, the Holy Spirit abandoned the whole Church, which was then given over to dogmatic error.

i) Notice how Preslar thinks the “whole church” is reducible to the church fathers. That’s a pretty small church. That definition of the church excludes the vast majority of Christians who ever lived.

ii) And why is it a unacceptable to suggest that God “abandoned” the church fathers to dogmatic error, but quite acceptable to suggest that God abandoned, say, all the Baptists to dogmatic error? Why is Preslar such an ecclesiastical snob?

1 comment:

  1. This is very insightful indeed!

    Two things then,

    one, Preslar should explain how being "washed" in the Blood cleanses his soul?

    Heb 9:13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh,
    Heb 9:14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.

    I can't say when the last time it was if ever that I was washed in the Blood of Jesus, but I am washed in the Blood of Jesus, daily now!

    Two, I guess Preslar can conclude that he and Elijah have a lot in common seeing Elijah got so short sighted himself serving God he thought he was the only one left that talked with God and walked with God!

    I don't know if Preslar will live forever where Elijah is now but I know for sure, by the Faith given to me that was once given to the Saints that Peter, James and John thought it was Elijah too talking with Jesus about His coming Home, coming back to Glory. Moses and Peter, James and John have one thing in common that Elijah got to experience too, back then on that mount, they all were shrouded in His Cloud!

    Luk 9:33 And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah"--not knowing what he said.
    Luk 9:34 As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud.
    Luk 9:35 And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, "This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!"

    I am just wondering about Elijah now, going back up on a cloud, is it any different emotionally than go up in the whirlwind?

    Going up on a Cloud with My Father to Heaven seems to me a far better joyous experience than going up by the whirlwind being separated by chariots and horses of fire?

    One final thought, it seems to me from my read of Scripture, Our Heavenly Father had something to say about both baptisms, John's and the Holy Spirit's:

    Mat 3:13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him.
    Mat 3:14 John would have prevented him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?"
    Mat 3:15 But Jesus answered him, "Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." Then he consented.
    Mat 3:16 And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him;
    Mat 3:17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."

    Maybe Preslar doesn't speak for and pray to the same "Our Father" that we do?