Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Nicene Creed and Baptism

First Mate aboard the Marmoset Martha fielded a question from a friend today. She was asked how to deal with the Nicene Creed's statement about baptism for the remission of sins included in the Nicene Creed as we have it after the council of Constantinople in 381. The question was asked on an email list which includes a large number of Presbyterians. The Presbyterian contingent hasn't responded yet. Here's Martha's explanation.  Feel free to chime in on discussion here!

I can tell you how it fits Lutheran theology, though not Reformed.  I never quite understood that phrase from a Reformed perspective, even when I myself was a Reformed Baptist.  I am eager to read what others say.

Lutherans see baptism as a sacrament (as opposed to an ordinance), meaning that we believe that something is actually happening when a person is baptized; it's not just a symbol or a chance for a believer to profess his faith publicly.  We believe that it is a means of grace in that God is really and truly bestowing grace on the person and creating saving faith in his heart.  When coupled with the proclamation of the Gospel, baptism is a means by which God
grants salvation to the baptized.  It is God's work, not ours.  Of course, people come to faith before being baptized too, but baptism is one means God uses.

You mentioned the phrase "baptism saves us."  You probably realize that 1 Peter 3:21 uses that same language.  That verse never, ever made sense to me until I heard it explained from a Lutheran perspective.  Baptism does save us because God is working salvation (the remission of sins) through it.  Think of baptism as a delivery system for God's grace.  It's a bit crass, but it gets the gist across.

The view I outlined above is the historic Christian teaching and practice.  Its origins can be easily traced back to the very earliest Christian writings and the New Testament (assuming you accept the sacramental position, of course).  As you can imagine, this is quite a change of thinking for me and it took a long time for me to become convinced of it.


Chris O said...

I recently read The Confessions of St. Augustine in which he speaks indirectly of the power of baptism to change people. So I have been pondering this idea of God working salvation through baptism. Dave or Martha, what was it that convinced you of the Lutheran perspective on baptism? As a Presbyterian, I am not sure of my denomination's perspective on the subject, although I heard one pastor describe infant baptism as the New Testament equivalent of circumcision (i.e. an outward sign of a covenant).

Cap'n Salty said...

Well, nobody's jumping in. What initially moved me in this direction was the fact that throughout Scripture God is presented as the supernatural God who uses means to accomplish his purposes. There's all this anointing with oil, blood, and even water throughout the Mosaic Law. And it uniformly accomplishes a purpose. So I had to ask myself why we considered baptism any differently? It seems to make plain sense of many passages of Scripture if we accept the idea of God accomplishing salvation through concrete means of grace. He does it in Romans 10 by creating faith by the proclamation of Scripture. He uses water accompanied with the Word of God in other places, most notably Mark 16, Acts 2, and Romans 6. I realized my problem with the idea of baptism working salvation was because I didn't want it to be so. Yet I had to go to a lot of effort to explain multiple passages of Scripture away. Finally I realized I needed to let God be God and assume that when my reason said God couldn't work somehow I needed to repent and change my reason. He's supernatural. I'm not.

Chris O said...

Thanks for your response, Dave. Why do you think we don't want it to be that baptism works salvation despite the evidence in Scripture?

Cap'n Salty said...

It seems there's a strong element of self-reliance that comes to the surface when we talk about salvation. Especially in the 19th and 20th centuries in North America there's been a big emphasis on being a self-made man, going out on our own, proving to be rugged individualists. This shows up really clearly in the 2nd Great Awakening and Finney's "new measures" by which we set up the situations which cause people to be ready to believe on Christ, then we urge them to make a decision and wrestle with themselves and with God until they decide to accept Christ as their personal savior.

This doesn't fit in with historic belief and practice. Yet it's what you see in the vast majority of American Christianity. We really don't like the idea that salvation starts and ends in Christ's work for us, that we really can do nothing to deserve it, and that no decision we make can earn our salvation. We don't like the idea of God placing salvation upon us through a means outside of ourselves. But that's what the Scripture has given us.

Are we to believe on the Lord? Absolutely! How do we do that? Our Lord gives us grace and imparts faith to us through the proclaimed Word, including the Word proclaimed in conjunction with the water of baptism.