First let me say that I believe that baptism actually forgives sins and that, under normal circumstances, it is necessary for salvation. I am not looking for an explanation of the Catholic view of baptism. It is what I believe.
My question is: Are there any theologians prior to the Reformation that believed what Protestants believe about baptism, namely that it is just a public declaration of a person who has become a Christian and that it does not forgive sins?
I’m just trying to learn how Protestants came to their understanding of baptism.
It depends on the denomination you are talking about. Those who believe in Original Sin, believe baptism physically remits sin. Some protestants that believe in Baptismal regeneration are the Episcopal Church (or any other church in the Anglican Communion), the Lutheran Churches (ELCA, LCMS, and WELS), and the United Methodist Church (which I used to attend.)
Some Protestant denominations look to no tradition at all. They use their reading of a King James Bible. Churches like that are very solidly sola scriptura.
My former Fundamentalist church had quite a few activities with another a couple of miles away. We taught that baptism was only a public statement of faith. They taught that it was necessary for salvation. In both cases, the discussion was only verse quoting without an outside reference.
Neither church would have quoted Reformation sources, pre or post. Neither would have quoted early church fathers. Our one and only way of determining matters of faith was how our preacher interpreted passages from the KJV.
As an Anglican, I believe Baptism is a Sacrament through which, by God’s Grace, our sins are forgiven and we enter into Covenant with the Holy Trinity.
I’m a former member of the Southern Baptist, a Church that believes Baptism does not accomplish the forgiveness of sins–and that no Graces are imparted during Baptism.
Sacramentum: Baptismal Practice & Theology of Tertullian & Cyprian, by Dr. Rex Butler (starts on page 8), gives an excellent insight into Southern Baptist beliefs regarding Baptism and how they view their beliefs in relation to Tertullian and Cyprian. The article discusses possible influences of the pagan mystery religions on the development of the Sacraments, such as Baptism. Link: baptistcenter.com/Spring_09_Journal_PDF.pdf.
1] Of Baptism they [the Lutheran churches] teach that it is necessary 2] to salvation, and that through Baptism is offered the grace of God, and that children are to be baptized who, being offered to God through Baptism are received into God’s grace.
3] They condemn the Anabaptists, who reject the baptism of children, and say that children are saved without Baptism.
The article cites Acts 2:38-41 as a source for Peter’s call “to repent and be baptized.” However, the authors have ignored Baptism’s connection with the forgiveness of sins–other than to say a baptized believer is assured that sins are forgiven–though not in the act of baptism itself.
38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” 40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.
The article also cites Acts 16:11–14; 31–34 as an example of Paul’s converts at Philippi being baptized “following their conversions.”
Yet, Scripture reveals that the Philippian Jailer was Baptized along with his whole family; and he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.
31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. 34 Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.
The article says that Martin Luther, John Calvin, Huldreich Zwingli, and others, retained the term “sacrament,” gave less emphasis to the mystical elements of the sacrament of baptism, and stressed more on the role of parents–and later in a child’s development—and individual accountability for “personal faith.”
The article moves on to “radical reformers” called “Anabaptists,” who insisted upon a “rebaptism” as believers. The article claims this was a restoration of “some of the original meaning of baptism from the primitive New Testament context.” Anabaptists are described as standing “historically just before the rise of Baptists.”
The article then jumps to the eighteenth-century, saying the American Baptist historian, Morgan Edwards, called “Believer’s baptism” the distinguishing mark of the denomination. The article continues with more history.
Col. 2:11–13** is cited and the article says, “Baptism for the entire New Testament community became what circumcision had been for males in ancient Israel.” However, the article goes on to say that in being baptized a believer is assured that sins are forgiven–though not in the act of baptism itself.
It’s an interesting article and really should be read in full to understand the context, and to ensure that I have not unintentionally misrepresented the article through any misunderstanding.
I asked the question: Apart from Holy Scripture; what historical sources exist, prior to the Protestant Reformation, for the practice of Believer’s Baptism? on the Baptist section of Christian Forums (CF) (link: christianforums.com/t7660365/#post60623607) and received a suggestion to look into the Waldenses.
The Pre-Reformation Waldenses Confession of 1120 contains fourteen Statements of Faith. Statement 12 defines Sacraments, and Statement 13 acknowledges Baptism (and the Lord’s Supper) as Sacraments.
WALDENSES CONFESSION OF 1120
12. We consider the Sacraments as signs of holy things, or as the visible emblems of invisible blessings. We regard it as proper and even necessary that believers use these symbols or visible forms when it can be done. Notwithstanding which, we maintain that believers may be saved without these signs, when they have neither place nor opportunity of observing them.
We acknowledge no sacraments [as of divine appointment] but baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
The Post-Reformation Confession of 1544 contains twelve Statements of Faith and differs from the Pre-Reformation Confession of 1120: Baptism and The Lord’s Supper are no longer called Sacraments, but Ordinances.
WALDENSES CONFESSION OF 1544
". . . . .7. We believe that in the ordinance of baptism the water is the visible and external sign, which represents to as that which, by virtue of God’s invisible operation, is within us - namely, the renovation of our minds, and the mortification of our members through [the faith of] Jesus Christ. And by this ordinance we are received into the holy congregation of God’s people, previously professing and declaring our faith and change of life.
We hold that the Lord’s supper is a commemoration of, and thanksgiving for, the benefits which we have received by His sufferings and death - and that it is to be received in faith and love - examining ourselves, that so we may eat of that bread and drink of that cup, as it is written in the Holy Scriptures. . . . . ."
This is a very interesting website, but I don’t see proof that Believer’s Baptism was practiced prior to the Protestant Reformation. It appears that the Protestant Reformation influenced the Waldenses and subsequently Baptism and the Lord’s Supper went from Sacraments to Ordinances.
Sources for Pre-Reformation Believer’s Baptism may exist. I just haven’t been able to find them. Perhaps more responses will be posted on CF.