The Westminster Confession of Faith and Baptismal Regeneration

I posted in a previous thread in a different forum that I believe a form of baptismal regeneration is taught in the Westminster Confession of Faith. If there are any Reformed Protestants reading this, could they please help me understand how they interpret such teachings?

It may just be that the authors of the WCF are speaking out of both sides of their mouth, but let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and interpret their words at face value. A couple quotes:

“Although it be a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance, yet grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed unto it, as that no person can be regenerated, or saved, without it; or, that all that are baptized are undoubtedly regenerated.” (WCF 28.5)

They say, “grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed into it…” What does this mean? Grace and salvation are really annexed to baptism? And not “so inseparably,” implying they are nevertheless to some degree “inseparably” annexed. Furthermore, they say it is a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance.

" 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." (WCF 28.6)

The grace promised by baptism is really exhibited and conferred by the use of the ordinance. How significantly does this really differ from Catholic teaching and is it harmonious with what most Protestant believe?

Wouldn’t it have something to do with predestination? Those who are predestined would receive grace, those who are not would not?

Just asking, I really have no idea.

If you render it in modern English, it would say: “It is a great sin to ignore or discard baptism, but grace and salvation are not dependent upon it.”

Reformed doctrine (unless you’re a Reformed Baptist of course…) is built upon what they refer to as “Covenant Theology.” In which case, mankind is obliged out of obedience and as testament of faith in God, to perform certain ordinances. They make analogy with the rite of circumcision under the Old Covenant. Paul clearly states in Romans how Abraham was saved by faith, even before receiving the sign of circumcision. So salvation under the Old Covenant was not dependent on circumcision, but circumcision was still necessary as a “sign and seal” of the covenant and a profession of obedience and faith in the promise of salvation. Under Covenant Theology, infant baptism is the same. It does not in itself save, (i.e. no baptismal regeneration) but it is the sign and seal of the New Covenant and is an obligation of obedience and faith upon the Church.

" 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." (WCF 28.6)

In keeping with the above, just as Abraham was justified by faith, even before receiving the sign of circumcision, one of the Elect of the New Covenant had been justified since before the foundation of the world so the saving grace offered in baptism is not bound to the actual time and place of a Christian’s baptism. Yet this does not make baptism meaningless or a mere symbol, but rather the person’s baptism is simply the “appointed time” at which God chose to dispense his saving grace. Consider this example, the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ was known to God from before the foundation of the world. The salvific effects of Christ’s death and resurrection are not confined only to the time of the event or only afterward. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, etc were all saved through the merits of Christ. But ca. AD 33 was simply the appointed time at which it was ordained for Christ to walk upon the earth, be killed, and rise from the dead. In a similar manner, the dispensation of saving grace to a Christian is present at the moment of their baptism, but its effect is not bound to that particular moment. So if a child died before being baptized, they would be no less God’s elect. Likewise, a person much later in life partakes of the saving grace conferred at baptism in no less manner than they did at the precise moment it took place.

How significantly does this really differ from Catholic teaching and is it harmonious with what most Protestant believe?

With concepts like the “baptism of blood” and “baptism of desire” which have been brought the fore, the distinctions are much more blurred than they were when the WCF was drafted. But even with those provisions, the Catholic Church still firmly teaches baptismal regeneration, that the saving grace of the New Covenant and the washing away of Original Sin are integral to the waters of valid Trinitarian baptism.

When my husband decided to become involved with a church again after leaving the Southern Baptist faith he grew up in, he settled in with an Associate Reformed Presbyterian church after flatly rejecting my Lutheran one (too Catholic, sign of the cross, bowing, statues, etc). PR, your explanation fits closely with how the Presbyterian pastor explained infant baptism. Heavy emphasis on covenantal. This was a tough couple of years for us but 4 of our sons were baptized at that church although I was the probably the only one who had tears of joy over what a great work God was doing through the Sacrament.

Traditional Reformed sacramental teaching is indeed a lot more “Catholic” than many folks realize (in fact, it’s more Catholic than many Presbyterians realize). The basic difference between traditional Protestant sacramental theology and Catholic teaching is usually stated this way:

Protestants believe that you have to have faith (faith-that-works-by-love, bear in mind, not just what Catholics call “faith”) in order to receive grace from a sacrament.

Catholics believe that the sacraments confer grace to anyone who doesn’t put an obstacle in its way.

So wait a minute: wouldn’t lack of faith be an obstacle according to Catholic teaching? Yes, of course it would. If a person refuses to believe, the sacrament won’t give them any grace. So in part the difference seems to be one of definition and formulation–no doubt there are substantive theological issues here, but they’re highly nuanced ones.

The big difference between Reformed and Catholic sacramental teaching, as Itwin said, has to do with predestination. Specifically, the Reformed believe in “perseverance of the saints,” which means that all those who once receive the grace of regeneration will persevere to the end and be saved. Or, in more negative terms, only the elect ever experience regeneration. Since neither Catholics nor Protestants believe that baptism guarantees final salvation, it follows that baptism does not necessarily regenerate. To be precise, an elect person also may not experience regeneration when baptized–it’s up to God, and God might not choose to give the person that grace until later. The Reformed believe that when God regenerates someone, that person will always believe, and will always persevere. Catholics don’t believe this.

Practically speaking, at least when the WCF was written, the main difference pertained to infants. A regenerate Protestant, and a Catholic in a state of grace, look pretty much the same for the most part, with the only real difference being that the Protestant’s condition is permanent whereas the Catholic’s condition can fluctuate. But if you believe, as Catholics traditionally did, that unbaptized infants could not experience the beatific vision, then there’s a real difference in how the two traditions understand the significance of baptism for infants. That difference, of course, has more or less vanished in more recent times, with the clarification by the Church that we can indeed hope for the salvation of unbaptized infants.

I think there remains a basic difference in how the physical and spiritual elements of the sacraments are related to each other. The Reformed tradition is very afraid of idolatry, and their understanding of idolatry is, in my opinion, too influenced by a certain kind of Neo-Platonism used as a lens through which to understand the Old Testament. So they worry a lot about giving the physical elements in Christianity too much prominence. They want to stress the priority of the spiritual. So while one can argue that in the end the substantive differences are very nuanced (since both traditions believe that grace always comes along with faith that works through love, and both traditions believe that God uses the sacraments to instill living faith in people and nourish that faith when it’s there), the rhetorical differences are big, and this has big effects on the kind of spirituality that results.
Reformed can’t affirm traditional, Catholic teaching about the sacraments without sticking in all the conditions and exceptions and qualifications. Catholics may grant lots of conditions, but those don’t shape the basic way the sacraments are spoken of.

So the Reformed view would be: “God offers regeneration through baptism, and those whom God sovereignly moves receive it,” the Catholic view would be, “God regenerates through baptism, but unbelief and/or stubborn adherence to sin prevent a person from receiving regenerating grace, or cause him/her to lose the grace once received.”

A final, nuanced point about baptism particularly: since it’s the sacrament of the beginning of faith, and since the Reformed believe that regeneration precedes faith, it isn’t actually correct to say that the Reformed think you have to have faith in order to be regenerate. But it is correct to say that those who are not sovereignly regenerated by God will fail to believe even as they are being baptized. Again, the order rather than the final result is different, but that’s still significant.

Most later Protestants (including many Presbyterians and other Reformed folks, especially in America) took the suspicion of physical means of grace much further than the WCF does, and read the WCF through that lens. So you’re right–this does sound quite different from what you would hear from most American Protestants today.

Edwin

While that is a possible interpretation of the text, I think that conveys a very different meaning from what the text seems to say. The Westminster Confession was written in 1646, so it is not as if it is written in a language needing significant translation. Taken at face value, the section on baptism says that salvation is not absolutely dependent on the sacrament of water baptism (such that those can be saved who have not received the sign and those who have received the sign can be unregenerate). St. Thomas taught the same, so that is not a post-Reformation development in Catholic thought. In addition, it nowhere states that baptism is not a channel of sanctifying grace (although I don’t think Protestants like that term) and actually seems to explicitly affirm it.

So my confusion is how this is not teaching some form of baptismal regeneration. It says in Paragraph 1 that baptism is a sign of regeneration and then in Paragraph 6 that “by the right use of” baptism, the “grace promised” (which presumably includes “regeneration” since baptism is called a sign of it) is “really exhibited and conferred.” Maybe “baptismal regeneration” needs to be more precisely defined, and I do think it would be a different definition for Catholics and Protestants, but I think a meaningful definition could be forumlated harmonious with the WCF. To press your analogy to Christ’s sacrifice, denying that we are saved through baptism is no different (going from what you said) from denying that we are saved by Christ’s sacrifice. There has to be more to a denial of baptismal regeneration then saying that it is not necessarily concurrent.

The bottom line (in case you don’t want to wade through my turgid prose above) is that Protestants (including folks who believe everything the WCF teaches) generally deny believing in baptismal regeneration–even Lutherans do, and their view is much closer even than the WCF’s. I think they are working with a caricature of what the Catholic Church teaches–something like “baptism magically saves people and faith is unnecessary.” But people’s rhetorical choices are significant. (If you want more details, wade through the aforesaid turgid prose!)

Edwin

True enough, but I’m reasonably certain, in light of extensive research and reading of period documents on my part, that what I said is the sense in which it was intended.

There has to be more to a denial of baptismal regeneration then saying that it is not necessarily concurrent.

Well at the very crux of it, the denial of baptismal regeneration comes from the first paradigm of Reformed theology which is the unlimited sovereignty of God. All Reformed doctrine is basically an extrapolation of this first principle.

I’m sure you’re familiar with the expressions Sola Gratia and Sola Fide. These are the classical, monergistic, Protestant watchwords for explaining the whole work of salvation. Salvation is by “Grace Alone” because it is not dependent in any way upon human action, but rather solely from the extension of God’s mercy to a fallen and undeserving (thus eliminating merit as a criterion for salvation) humanity. It is by “Faith Alone” because faith is the recognition that God has extended his grace to us, and thus is the only human response by which a person can apprehend salvation. Anything more would make salvation dependent on works performed or merit earned. Even Faith itself is not credited to humans, as Reformed doctrine states that the Elect only have faith because God has placed it in them, not through any exercise of reason or effort on their part.

So all of this is designed to clearly establish the central principle that salvation is from the beginning to completion entirely the work of God alone with absolutely no input from mankind.

The objection to baptismal regeneration, then, comes from the fact that by tying salvation to the waters of baptism, it makes salvation dependent upon a human work. To a Reformed mind, to say “Baptism is the literal washing away of Original Sin, and you must be baptized to be saved” sounds like “God’s power to save is limited by whether or not humans perform this prescribed action.” So a Reformed person MUST reject baptismal regeneration in order to be consistent with their prime theological principle, the unlimited sovereignty of God.

It’s worth noting that even the somewhat similar Catholic notions of the “baptism of blood” and “baptism of desire” are incompatible. Again to a Reformed mind, to say “A person who truly desires baptism but is prevented from receiving it, nonetheless receives the benefits of it” sounds like “God’s power to save is limited by a human will desiring first to be saved.”

Reformed theology will always reject anything which in the slightest sense appears to infringe on God’s sovereignty. Thus baptismal regeneration will always be completely unacceptable to them.

Also, I fully endorse everything Contarini wrote.

There have been scholars who claimed this, and there may even have been Reformed theologians for whom it was true (though whenever people think they have found such a theologian in the early centuries of the tradition–Theodore Beza or William Perkins, for instance–more careful study indicates that this is an unfair judgment). But it’s not a fair generalization to make about the entire tradition. Reformed theology does not proceed by way of deducing conclusions from a single premise.

I’m sure you’re familiar with the expressions Sola Gratia and Sola Fide. These are the classical, monergistic, Protestant watchwords for explaining the whole work of salvation. Salvation is by “Grace Alone” because it is not dependent in any way upon human action, but rather solely from the extension of God’s mercy to a fallen and undeserving (thus eliminating merit as a criterion for salvation) humanity. It is by “Faith Alone” because faith is the recognition that God has extended his grace to us, and thus is the only human response by which a person can apprehend salvation. Anything more would make salvation dependent on works performed or merit earned. Even Faith itself is not credited to humans, as Reformed doctrine states that the Elect only have faith because God has placed it in them, not through any exercise of reason or effort on their part.

Even in Reformed theology, final salvation is dependent on human action in the sense that if certain actions do not occur, the person will not be saved.

Furthermore, baptismal regeneration would be a stronger version of “sola gratia” than the Reformed are willing to accept, in fact. The problem with baptismal regeneration from a Protestant perspective is precisely that it disregards human response. In the case of Reformed theology, as you note, faith is the effect of regeneration, so the difficulty is partially overcome that way. But I wouldn’t say that sola gratia (if opposed to human free choice) is the reason why the Reformed accept baptismal regeneration. On the contrary, it’s the reason why they come closer to it than most “Arminian” forms of Protestantism do.

The objection to baptismal regeneration, then, comes from the fact that by tying salvation to the waters of baptism, it makes salvation dependent upon a human work.

The Reformed, unlike the Lutherans, do speak of baptism as a human work. But it’s not a work of the person being baptized, at least not in the case of infants. The problem from a Reformed point of view is rather that it gives too much agency to the outward ceremonies of the Church, even those that are instituted by Christ. It’s not really about human response to grace, because in the WCF’s theology, as in Catholic and Lutheran theology, baptism is an act of God’s grace and not a human response to grace.

To a Reformed mind, to say “Baptism is the literal washing away of Original Sin, and you must be baptized to be saved” sounds like “God’s power to save is limited by whether or not humans perform this prescribed action.”

True.

It’s worth noting that even the somewhat similar Catholic notions of the “baptism of blood” and “baptism of desire” are incompatible. Again to a Reformed mind, to say “A person who truly desires baptism but is prevented from receiving it, nonetheless receives the benefits of it” sounds like “God’s power to save is limited by a human will desiring first to be saved.”

Yes, but you can easily rephrase it as “God’s ability to save even those who are not baptized.” The same people are saved under the same conditions (since the Reformed certainly don’t think you can be saved without faith and without a sincere desire to do God’s commandments–it’s just that they think these are the inevitable results of God’s sovereign act in regeneration), but it’s described differently.

Edwin

And I basically agree with what you wrote. Our differences (like those of Reformed and Catholics on this point?:D) are differences of nuance and terminology–but significant nonetheless.

Modern conservative Reformed folks often do speak in exactly the terms you describe. But I don’t think the entire Reformed tradition is best described this way. For instance, leaving out moderate/liberal Presbyterians who are ecumenical on principle (their critics would say that liberal Presbyterians’ only remaining principle is ecumenism, in fact), the “Federal Vision” folks have a sacramental theology that is very close to Catholicism. Granted, other conservative Presbyterians accuse them of heresy for this reason:p

Edwin

I agree, but I was answering the question in regard to the spiritual climate and theological context of the Westminister Assembly.

What today might be described as “Hyper-Calvinist” notions were in full bloom at the time both because of the still-recent Remonstrant controversy in the Netherlands the resulting formulation of the dread TULIP model at the Synod of Dordrecht. Furthermore there was a strong reactionary impulse against the sacramentalist bent of the Church of England under the leadership of Archbishop Laud and other so-called “Arminians” (Though I totally reject that definition. Even Prynne couldn’t find evidence to prove Laud was an Arminian, and the Archbishop himself fervently denied it all the way to the chopping block.)

Nice way to ask for help: “please explain this, as I do not understand it, but you are speaking out of both sides of your mouth”. Wow. I will try to rise above this and attempt an answer from a Reformed perspective. Next time, though, I suggest you think about how you are coming across when you ask for someone to explain something and then insult the authors of the material.

and interpret their words at face value. A couple quotes:

“Although it be a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance, yet grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed unto it, as that no person can be regenerated, or saved, without it; or, that all that are baptized are undoubtedly regenerated.” (WCF 28.5)

They say, “grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed into it…” What does this mean? Grace and salvation are really annexed to baptism? And not “so inseparably,” implying they are nevertheless to some degree “inseparably” annexed.

Baptism is the act of being thrust into the body of Christ. As such, it has two components: one, God’s sovereign and unseen action, and secondly, man’s response out of obedience. They do not necessarily happen concurrently: one may come to faith before the water, or the water may come first. I regard baptism as one act with two components. If however someone who does not believe,never believed and never will believe is baptized in water, all that happens is that he gets wet. The water and ritual in themselves do nothing. It is more of a recognition of God’s past (or future, in the case of babies) action.

Furthermore, they say it is a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance.

There is a great deal to be said for obedience to Christ’s commands. You might be surprised at how much emphasis there among the Reformed is on living a holy life. It is definitely NOT the caricature of a ticket to heaven, now sit back and wait.

" 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." (WCF 28.6)

The grace promised by baptism is really exhibited and conferred by the use of the ordinance. How significantly does this really differ from Catholic teaching and is it harmonious with what most Protestant believe?

I can’t speak for Catholicism or “most Protestants”. Contarini and PatriciusRex provide some very interesting comments. It is interested to read the observations of those outside one’s faith when they are careful to represent it, as they have been.

You do not have to be baptized to be saved. You are not necessarily saved if you are baptized. If you wish to follow Christ, you should get baptized, out of obedience if nothing else. I think this lines up with Catholic teaching given the conditions attached.

My understanding of the WCF is that they pushed agreement as far as they could, so there is some ambiguity. I am not sure “the grace promised by baptism” is defined within the WCF. There is regeneration but it does not necessarily happen at the time of the rite. We see regeneration happening as a sovereign act of God, when He gives man the gift of faith and he is born again.

So, when the WCF says, “The efficacy of baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered,” it should be understood that God sovereignly chooses whom (and at what time) he regenerates an individual the time of baptism notwithstanding?

And when it says, “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,” it means that the grace promised in baptism only applies to those individuals that God has or will regenerate (i.e. those who “that grace belongeth unto”)? And this differs from the Catholic belief that the grace in baptism applies to all who have been baptized?

This would seem to be reinforced by the last clause of the statement, “according to the counsel of God’s own will, in his appointed time.” So, in other words, the grace promised in baptism will be conferred and exhibited but only in those who will be regenerated according to God’s will and timing?

Am I correct so far?

If so, what does the WCF mean by “notwithstanding, by the right use of this ordinance”? What is the right use of baptism and how would a wrong use of baptism affect an individual so baptized?

Tomycris brought up a really good point that I overlooked in my earlier posts, which is the subjective quality of the efficacy of sacraments in Reformed thought as opposed to the objective quality taught by Catholics and Lutherans. Not only in Baptism but also in the Eucharist, Reformed doctrine emphasizes that the sacrament is only efficacious when received with faith. As Tomycris also noted though, the person who receives baptism without faith is no less receptive to the grace offered in it, provided they are among the elect, and thus must ultimately come to faith at some point in their lives.

If so, what does the WCF mean by “notwithstanding, by the right use of this ordinance”? What is the right use of baptism and how would a wrong use of baptism affect an individual so baptized?

The “right use” mentioned here is defined in articles II and III of the same chapter of the WCF which the OP didn’t include:

II. The outward element to be used in this sacrament is water, wherewith the party is to be baptized, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, by a minister of the Gospel, lawfully called thereunto.

III. Dipping of the person into the water is not necessary; but Baptism is rightly administered by pouring, or sprinkling water upon the person.

In the event of wrong use, the person has not truly been baptized. While this doesn’t limit the power of God to save them, as Tomycris also noted, it is nevertheless desirable as obedience to Jesus’s command.

How does this actually differ from the Catholic view though? For example, I know Catholics believe baptism removes the stain of original sin and leaves an indelible mark on the soul. But I also know Catholics believe that baptism does not guarantee salvation.

What do Catholics actually believe baptism does that requires that it have objective efficacy?

Not quite right. Someone may fall away and stay fallen for a long time, maybe even many years, but in the end God will put them back together - even if we have no idea that that happened before they died. Perhaps Hitler’s last thought was “Hmmm. I now see Calvin was right, after all!” But I doubt it…

I think there remains a basic difference in how the physical and spiritual elements of the sacraments are related to each other. The Reformed tradition is very afraid of idolatry, and their understanding of idolatry is, in my opinion, too influenced by a certain kind of Neo-Platonism used as a lens through which to understand the Old Testament.

I beg to differ with you here. The Reformed are very non-neoPlatonistic (if that is a word). I am currently dwelling in Athanasius’ “On the Incarnation”, Michael Horton’s “Christian Faith” and comparing the same against Francis Schaeffer, so this is very fresh. Christ came down into the phenomenological from the noumena, if you will, when He became incarnate, affirming the goodness of the Father’s creation. You may recall that Schaeffer rejects the separation between the supernatural and the natural.

The Reformed are concerned about idolatry, but the grounding you cite seems to be wrong. It is instead a concern to not rob God of His due glory. All glory belongs to Him and anything human is such a pittance as to be below consideration.

So they worry a lot about giving the physical elements in Christianity too much prominence.

No worries. But the physical elements should be in their proper place. So the dispute then becomes “what is that proper place?” We do not have holy water, miraculous medals, statues, relics or blessed items that somehow carry grace; Catholics do.

They want to stress the priority of the spiritual.

This does not sound right, but I am not sure why. Both spiritual and physical things that are created are created by God, nothing is autonomous. The Reformed want to avoid the appearance of idolatry, yes, which can happen, inadvertently. But it is a caricature to maintain we go about muttering “superstition” at everything remotely Catholic.

So while one can argue that in the end the substantive differences are very nuanced (since both traditions believe that grace always comes along with faith that works through love, and both traditions believe that God uses the sacraments to instill living faith in people and nourish that faith when it’s there), the rhetorical differences are big, and this has big effects on the kind of spirituality that results.
Reformed can’t affirm traditional, Catholic teaching about the sacraments without sticking in all the conditions and exceptions and qualifications. Catholics may grant lots of conditions, but those don’t shape the basic way the sacraments are spoken of.
So the Reformed view would be: “God offers regeneration through baptism, and those whom God sovereignly moves receive it,”

Not really. We baptize those we recognize as regenerate and our children (although I know a good many people who dedicate their children, emphatically not baptizing them, in our church - we both baptize and dedicate children (parents’ prerogative).

God regenerates those He chooses. Fallen man is so fallen that he cannot make the choice to turn to God on his own. I think this second statement is actually in line with Catholic belief.

the Catholic view would be, “God regenerates through baptism, but unbelief and/or stubborn adherence to sin prevent a person from receiving regenerating grace, or cause him/her to lose the grace once received.”

A final, nuanced point about baptism particularly: since it’s the sacrament of the beginning of faith, and since the Reformed believe that regeneration precedes faith, it isn’t actually correct to say that the Reformed think you have to have faith in order to be regenerate. But it is correct to say that those who are not sovereignly regenerated by God will fail to believe even as they are being baptized. Again, the order rather than the final result is different, but that’s still significant.

Most later Protestants (including many Presbyterians and other Reformed folks, especially in America) took the suspicion of physical means of grace much further than the WCF does, and read the WCF through that lens. So you’re right–this does sound quite different from what you would hear from most American Protestants today.

Edwin

One complexity of the WCF is that it was written by committees, with all the variant views expressible, and today it is viewed through a variety of lenses, even among those who subscribe to it, to whatever degree, take exception to it, or regard it in passing rather than as a statement of faith. Some approach it as new to being inspired, others as suggestive. I regard it as a Biblical statement, but not necessarily the only Biblical system, something that separates me from our pastors and elders.

It seems to me that if someone was water-baptized and still goes to hell, the whole thing was a waste of time anyway. Unless God does the work, man labors in vain. * Ex opere operato* seems presumptuous to me.

I would nope that neither you nor any other Reformed Christian thinks that a person is saved by saying “Calvin was right”:D. It’s surely neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for salvation.

Am I not correct that in the Reformed view, a person who is once regenerate continues to be regenerate even while “fallen away”? At any rate, my main point was that the final perseverance of such a person is guaranteed–thus baptism can’t regenerate because we all agree that the final perseverance of all the baptized is not guaranteed.

I beg to differ with you here. The Reformed are very non-neoPlatonistic (if that is a word).

No doubt the Neo-Reformed are. I was thinking primarily of Zwingli (the importance of the Platonic elements in Calvin and other early Reformed theologians is a bit more open to dispute, but those elements are certainly present). Jonathan Edwards was also, in many respects, a Neo-Platonist.

I am currently dwelling in Athanasius’ “On the Incarnation”, Michael Horton’s “Christian Faith” and comparing the same against Francis Schaeffer, so this is very fresh. Christ came down into the phenomenological from the noumena, if you will, when He became incarnate, affirming the goodness of the Father’s creation. You may recall that Schaeffer rejects the separation between the supernatural and the natural.

I’m talking about the roots of the tradition, not modern figures like Horton and Schaeffer. Nor am I denying the importance of physical creation in Reformed theology. But there is a sharp distinction made between the physical and the spiritual. This is a kind of Neo-Platonism, but it’s opposed to the more orthodox form of Neo-Platonism which you find in Athanasius. IN the sixteenth-century figures, Neo-Platonism and the Old Testament play off each other and create something that isn’t really either, and which has shaped (and in my view distorted) Reformed theology and exegesis ever since.

The Reformed are concerned about idolatry, but the grounding you cite seems to be wrong. It is instead a concern to not rob God of His due glory. All glory belongs to Him and anything human is such a pittance as to be below consideration.

I don’t think it’s an either/or, but you’re right that the “divine glory” argument is primary. The basic problem that runs through Reformed theology is the penchant for either/or thinking. I would argue, in fact, that the Reformed view of God has seriously idolatrous elements, because the Reformed see God as being in competition with His creation, which is far too limited a view of God. It’s a mistaken, quasi-Islamic understanding of what God’s glory means.

The Reformed want to avoid the appearance of idolatry, yes, which can happen, inadvertently. But it is a caricature to maintain we go about muttering “superstition” at everything remotely Catholic.

And I didn’t say that. I was trying to describe why it’s important for the Reformed to deny baptismal regeneration even if, in practice, the “efficacious sign” view looks a lot like a nuanced version of Catholic baptismal regeneration.

Not really. We baptize those we recognize as regenerate and our children

Right. The original confessional texts probably have adult converts less in mind than a you do, because in their world everyone was baptized as an infant. It’s an interesting question: how would the “efficacious sign” theory work for an adult convert, who presumably is already regenerate? I think that in some ways infant baptism is more central to the Reformed view than the Catholic!

But certainly my description works for infants, right?

(although I know a good many people who dedicate their children, emphatically not baptizing them, in our church - we both baptize and dedicate children (parents’ prerogative)

Well, that’s another indication of the differences between the Reformed tradition as you are experiencing it and the sixteenth-century origins of the tradition.
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Edwin

That’s getting at the very heart of the Reformation! Catholics believe that baptism washes away the stain of Original Sin and considers that the moment of justification. However, we also believe that in order to maintain salvation (which I must emphasize for clarity, we believe is a cooperative act between God and the Christian, i.e. “synergism”) the Christian must follow a lifetime of obedience to Christ and continue along the path. So baptism as an objective reality washing away Original Sin is entirely God’s work, BUT maintaining our lives in accordance with God’s plan is our work, albeit with tremendous assistance from God in the form of the sacraments of the Church.

In contrast, the classical formulations of Reformed doctrine subscribe to an exclusive monergism, in which God is the beginner and finisher of salvation with no part played by the Christian. Hence we get the I and P of TULIP, the Irresistibility of Grace and the Perseverence of the Saints, or as they are (not always helpfully) often summed up, “Once Saved, Always Saved.”

Basically, the Christian believer is only saved because God chose them for salvation -> Salvation is achieved by Grace Alone with no part played by Man, and Faith is only the gift of Grace-> no matter what, even if they should struggle against the will of God (e.g. Jonah) God will prevail and all those he has chosen will be saved.

So Salvation is a one way track with no detours or exits. All the Elect, and thus, all of those for whom baptism is efficacious, will be saved.

So to return to your question, a Catholic sees baptism as efficacious for all to whom it is administered, but stresses that it is only the foundation of salvation, not the end. In this way, it can be an objective reality for all who receive it but does not guarantee salvation since that would depend upon the response of the recipient.

A Reformed sees baptism as efficacious only for the Elect of God, those whom He has chosen from before the foundation of the world to be saved. In this way, it must necessarily be a subjective or at least limited reality, with its spiritual component restricted only to those who are among the Elect. Otherwise as Tomycris noted, it would seem to be a waste of time.

At least that’s how I understand it!

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