Sunday, August 21, 2011

Revival, believer’s baptism, and personal conversion vs. baptismal regeneration and traditional Reformed theology

Revival, believer’s baptism, and the need for personal conversion, and justification by faith alone apart from sacraments are very closely connected, as are baptismal regeneration, traditional Reformed theology, and opposition to revival. Rich Lusk, a high-church Presbyterian who accepts Calvin’s doctrine of baptismal regeneration and consequently rejects the Biblical and Baptist necessity of personal conversion, as well as the value of revival, powerfully describes what he believes is the unfortunate connection between revival, experimental religion, and the decline of infant baptism in his well documented essay, “Paedobaptism and Baptismal Efficacy: Historic Trends and Current Controversies” (Pgs. 71-125, Chapter 3 of The Federal Vision, ed. Steve Wilkins & Duane Garner. Monroe, LA: Athanasisus Press, 2004). Lusk writes:

America became progressively “baptist” on a massive scale in the early-to-mid nineteenth century. . . . [T]he loss of paedobaptism [was closely connected with] experiential Revivalism[.] . . . [T]he experientialism of Puritanism (which was only exacerbated by revivalism) eventually overthrew the Calvinistic principle of the church membership of children. . . . As baptism degenerated into a “mere ceremony” . . . New England Congregationalism continually lost members to newly formed Baptist churches. . . . Charles Hodge . . . [u]sing statistics provided by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church . . . pointed out that from 1812 onward, the number of children being brought for baptism was radically declining in relation to the overall number of communicants. In 1811, there had been 20 paedobaptisms per 100 communicants; by 1856, the ration was just over 5 per hundred. . . . Hodge reported a similar downgrade was occurring in other ostensibly Reformed denominations. The Dutch Reformed ration was only slightly better than the Presbyterian in 1856, at around 7 paedobaptisms per hundred communicants. Things were even worse in other bodies. The New School Presbyterians were leaving six out of seven children unbaptized. Paedobaptism was so rare among the Congregationalists by the mid-1850s that Hodge could truthfully claim, “in the Congregational churches in New England, infant baptism is, beyond doubt, dying out.” Only the high church Episcopalians [who believed in baptismal regeneration and rejected revival] seemed unaffected by the trend. . . . [T]he 50 year period of decline Hodge traced out coincides, more or less, with the institutionalization of Revivalism in American Christianity. . . . The revivals of the Second Great Awakening totally restructured American religious life in radical fashion. . . . The doctrines of God’s sovereignty and predestination [as Calvin understood them] . . . were jettisoned[.] . . . Paedobaptism also fell into disfavor since it . . . imposed a religious identity on an unwilling subject. Personal choice was exalted. . . . [T]he revivals focused on the immediacy of religious experience, to the exclusion of traditional means of grace [that is, sacramental grace]. . . . [I]t is easy to see that paedobaptism would fit very awkwardly into such a religious matrix. . . . Instead of “growing up Christian” under continual covenant nurture, children were expected to undergo their own “conversion experience” at the appropriate age. . . . A conscious conversion experience from enmity to friendship with God was looked upon as the only way of entrance into the kingdom. . . . Infants, it was thought, needed new birth, as well as adults. They could not be saved without it. But the only channel of the new birth which was recognized was a conscious experience of conviction and conversion. Anything else, according to Gilbert Tennent, was a fiction of the brain, a delusion of the devil. In fact, he ridiculed the idea that one could be a Christian without knowing the time when he was otherwise. . . . Obviously, revivalism was no friend of covenant children. . . . The experiential rigor of Puritanism and revivalism . . . seemed like a safeguard against merely “nominal” membership in the churches . . . As adult-like credentials for conversion and full membership were pressed more and more, infant baptism became an increasingly tenuous practice, until it finally gave out altogether. . . . [T]he rise of the Baptist movement, with its individualistic approach to the faith and its voluntaristic ecclesiology . . . [made] [i]nfant baptism . . . preposterous on such presuppositions. . . . [I]nfant baptism [declined as] baptistic principles of church membership [became] the essence of true religion. . . . [T]hese views eroded the traditional Catholic and Reformation view that God acts to accomplish God’s purposes through sacraments. The desacralizing tendencies played down God’s role in the sacraments . . . [Such] influence[s] . . . reshaped the way some conservative Presbyterians read their . . . Reformed confessions . . . [c]ertainl[y] the sacraments could not be viewed as powerful, saving actions of God. . . . The [alleged] mystery of God’s activity through these physical instruments could not be allowed to saint. Any view of sacramental efficacy came to be regarded as “magic.” The sacraments were viewed [instead] as visual teaching aids. . . . In short, then, . . . the sacraments are basically treated as human acts of piety[.] . . . Their value is completely subjective—they help us remember divine truth, profess our faith, stir up emotions, and so forth . . . they cannot be regarded as genuine means of saving grace, for God’s grace is not actually found in the lowly natural elements of water, bread, and wine. In such a context, the sacraments obviously cannot belong to infants in any true sense since infants cannot perform the requisite acts or experience the proper emotions. . . . Given the push and pull of Revivalism . . . perhaps the wonder is not so much that paedobaptism declined in America . . . but that it survived at all. . . . [Lack of interest in sacramental theology . . . became a distinctive feature of American religiosity. . . . Some Southern Presbyterians had severely degraded the meaning of baptism, so that baptized infants were not regarded as genuine church members, much less recipients of salvific blessings in union with Christ. Presbyterian giant James Henry Thornwell regarded baptized covenant children as enemies of the cross of Christ and under church censure until they made a mature and experience-based profession of faith. . . . For Thornwell, “covenant” children stood condemned until they passed revivalism’s test of an experiential conversion and . . . [made] an articulated, cognitive profession of faith. . . . A credobaptist victory was virtually inevitable unless strong views of baptismal grace were recovered. . . . [T]he real issue underlying the loss of infant baptism was the loss of baptismal efficacy . . . infant baptism presupposes an objective force in the sacrament itself . . . [that] children . . . were made Christians at the font. . . . Apart from an efficacious view of baptism, the question “Why baptize infants?” became progressively more difficult to answer coherently. The credobaptists won the day[.]

In a passage by Thornwell quoted by Lusk, as representative of Presbyterian baptismal theology affected by revival, Thornwell wrote:

[I]n heart and spirit th[ose] [who have received infant baptism] are of the world. In this aspect, how is [the church] to treat them? Precisely as she treats all other impenitent and unbelieving men—she is to exercise the power of the keys, and shut them out from the communion of the saints. She is to debar them from all the privileges of the inner sanctuary. She is to exclude them from their inheritance until they show themselves meet to possess it. By her standing exclusion of them from the Lord’s table, and of their children from the ordinance of Baptism, she utters a solemn protest against their continued impenitence, and acquits herself of all participation in their sins. It is a standing censure. Their spiritual condition is one that is common with the world. She deals with them, therefore, in this respect, as the Lord has directed her to deal with the world. . . . Is not their whole life a continued sin? Are not their very righteousnesses abominable before God? Repentance to them is not the abandonment of this or that vice; it is the renunciation of the carnal heart, which is enmity against God: and, until they are renewed in spirit and temper of their minds, they can do nothing which the Church is at liberty to approve as done by them. . . . As of the world they are included in the universal sentence of exclusion, which bars the communion of saints against the impenitent and profane. They are sharers in its condemnation. They are put, as impenitent, upon the same footing with all others that are impenitent. As rejectors of Christ, they are kept aloof from the table of the Lord, and debarred from all the rights and privileges of the saints. Their impenitence determines the attitude of the Church towards them; for God has told her precisely what that attitude should be to all who obey not the Gospel. What more can be required? Are they not dealt with, in every respect, according to their quality? . . . Is it not equally clear that their condition, as slaves, determines their treatment in all other respects, until they are prepared to pass the test which changes their status? Is not this precisely the state of things with the Church and baptized unbelievers? Are they not the slaves of sin and of the Devil, existing in a free Commonwealth for the purpose of being educated to the liberty of the saints? . . . But until they come to Him, [Scripture] distinctly teaches that they are to be dealt with as the Church deals with the enemies of God. (pgs. 341-348, The Collected Writings of James Henley Thornwell, James H. Thornwell, vol. 4: Ecclesiastical. Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1986)

Thornwell’s views are set in contrast by Lusk with the view of baptismal salvation found in traditional Reformed theology, as presented, for example, by “John Williamson Nevin . . . [who sought] . . . along with . . . Philip Schaff . . . [in] the Mercersburg movement . . . to maintain the traditional ecclesial and sacramental theology of classic Calvinism” (pgs. 85-86, The Federal Vision). Nevin wrote:

If the sacraments are regarded as in themselves outward rites only, that can have no value or force except as the grace they represent is made to be present by the subjective exercises of the worshipper, it is hard to see on what ground infants, who are still without knowledge or faith, should be admitted to any privilege of the sort [quoted from pgs. 237-238, Romanticism in American Theology, Nichols] . . . [T]he Baptists . . . refuse to baptize infants, on the ground that they have no power to repent and believe in Christ, so as to be the subjects of that inward spiritual conversion of which baptism is the profession and sign, and without which it can have no meaning. What conclusion, indeed, can well be more logical, if we are to believe that there is no objective power, no supernatural grace, in the sacrament itself[?] . . . It belongs on the old order of thinking on the subject, as we have it in . . . Chrysostom and the Christian fathers generally, which made baptism to be the sacrament of a real regeneration by the power of the Holy Ghost into the family of God. Why then should it [paedobaptism] be given up, along with this [baptismal regeneration], as an obsolete superstition? It is becoming but too plain, that the Paedobaptist part of the so-called Evangelical Christianity of the present day is not able to hold its ground steadily, at this pint, against the Baptist wing of the same interest. The Baptistic sentiment grows and spreads in every direction. [Pgs. 214-215, “The Old Doctrine of Baptism,” John Nevin, Mercersburg Review, April 1860.] . . . On this subject of baptismal grace, then, we will enter into no compromise with the anti-liturgical theology we have now in hand. . . . It is impossible . . . to establish the necessity of infant baptism, except upon the ground that baptism imparts a special grace. . . . [Revivalistic Presbyterianism is therefore] hostile to infant baptism . . . in reality, whatever it may be in profession . . . and unfriendly, therefore, to the whole idea . . . it has been based upon in the Reformed church from the beginning. . . . To what a pass things have already come in this respect throughout our country, by reason of the baptistic spirit which is among us . . . [t]hose who have eyes to see, can see for themselves. [Pgs. 399-400, “Vindication of the Revised Liturgy: Historical and Theological,” John Williamson Nevin, in Catholic and Reformed: Selected Historical Writings of John Williamson Nevin, ed. Charles Yrigoyen, Jr. & George H. Bricker. Pittsburgh, PA: Pickwick Press, n. d.]

The true gospel of justification by faith alone, the practice of believer’s baptism as an ordinance, not a sacrament, and revival are intimately connected, as are baptismal regeneration, traditional Reformed theology, and infant baptism. Let the friends of Christ’s gospel and of historic Baptist churches take note.



Gary Webb said...

Brother Brandenburg,
I greatly appreciate this post because it has helped me even more to understand how Fundamentalist schools have whitewashed Protestantism & Reformed doctrine to make it acceptable to Baptists. We used Hodge's 3 volume Systematic Theology in the M.Div. program at BJU, but it does not address baptism. I do have A. A. Hodge's Outlines of Theology [he was Charles Hodge's son, & spent his entire life at Princeton, dying in 1886]. The quotes A. A. Hodge gives from Reformed men & Reformed doctrinal statements certainly seem to teach baptismal regeneration - with some disclaimers. The more I learn about Reformed doctrine - after studying the Bible all these years - the more I realize that I am not Protestant/Reformed/Calvinist. I am a Baptist. I know that others will point out that many Baptists are Reformed ... as well as a lot of other things. However, the Baptist doctrine of salvation by faith, followed by the public profession by water baptism whereby a person is added to a local church committed to carrying out the Great Commission - that doctrine certainly rules out a lot of other doctrines [including paedobaptism, etc.].

Kent Brandenburg said...

Thanks Bro. Webb. Thomas Ross, who also writes here, actually wrote this post. He's recently had some hand and wrist issues that have kept him from regular contributions here. This one is his though.

Unknown said...

Tom, have you read John Van Gelederen's article on Kesiwick Theology (he would call it "revival theology'). It is published in the latest Revival Mag. I would like to know your thoughts on that. ALSO, please (Pastor Brandenburg) correct me if I am wrong, but in the Jackhammer website, it seems that you associate Revival with soteriology, rather than sanctification, if so, is this a difference between you and Tom?

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Bill,

My honest answer is, I don't know. I wasn't sure how you got that soteriology versus sanctification contradiction between us. Thomas and I are pretty close on sanctification and talk about it often when we talk.

Anonymous said...

I am sorry, I have misunderstood your position. I read the article on Jackhammer "A Rivival Primer" - You state that a saved person has been revived and has no need for revival because he continues in the state of revival forever, this places revival in the Salvation category, but you also say that regular obedience in the local church is no less revival as well, and that speaks of Sanctification. So it is both. Again, I apologize. Do forgive.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Marcia,

I didn't write this. This is written by Thomas Ross. I'll look this over a little closer now that I've had two people bring up the same subject, but I appreciate the question. He posts whenever he has something and I don't think his major point is the one you are making but I'll look at it nonetheless. I am, however, not backing off of what I wrote, because I do believe that revival relates to many salvations.

Bill Hardecker said...

Pastor B.
"Marcia" is me (Bill Hardecker) silly me. I was using the computer with Marcia's google account. Marcia is my lovely and charming wife. Sorry for the confusion. Now I really botched you up for sure.
Anyway, what I gather from your position is that Revival isn't a "second blessing" but a continuation of the blessing of Salvation. So it begins with Salvation and it proceeds from there to and through regular obedience. Distinguishing this from "revivalism." I think this is also Tom's position, and also Dr. John Van Gelderen's (the way I read it in his article in the latest Revival Magazine). If you wish I can either fax you a copy of that article or send it to you, just let me know.

Bill Hardecker

Anonymous said...

I'm a recovering baptist, and all 6of the Presbyterian pastors I've sat under since 1978 are also former baptists. What Reformation Christianity offers is an objective salvation, not the radical subjectivity and solipsism of baptist and revivalist sects.

Joshua said...


I too was tempted by the Reformed faith. The seriousness and intellectualism greatly appealed to me when compared to the frivolity and faithlessness of the "church growth" seduced Baptist church I was a part of. In the same way I was tempted by the Catholic faith for much the same reason.

But both were ultimately rejected for Biblical Christianity, of which the Reformed and their man-made system have the form and not the substance.

Exchanging worldly silliness with serious intellectual error is not the trade one should be looking to make.

Gary said...

Teenagers should NOT be baptized!

I was reading my Bible on the topic of Baptism last night when, like a bolt of lightning, this revelation came to me: there is not one single example in the Bible of teenagers being baptized! Why didn't I see this before? Why haven't other Christians seen this glaring fact before? What are we doing baptizing teenagers if there is no specific mention of this practice in the Bible??

"But teenagers are capable of making a mature, informed decision," you say.


Would you let your thirteen year old make a decision to buy a gun?
Would you let your thirteen year old make a decision to drive a car?
Would you let your thirteen year old make a decision to buy and drink alcohol?
Would you let your thirteen year old make a decision to get married, move away from home, join the army, or volunteer to participate in cancer drug trials?

No! Of course you wouldn't.

So what makes you think that a teenager has the maturity to make a decision to choose which religion to join and which god to believe in?

Logic, reason, and good ol' common sense make it clear that a thirteen year old does NOT have the maturity to make major life decisions, so what makes you think that he or she can make major "eternal life" decisions?

The Bible does not explicitly mention baptizing infants...I mean this practice is just another Catholic false teaching and must be abandoned and replaced with the true teachings of the Bible: Only adult men and women should be baptized in a true Christian church.

Since no Christian Church on planet earth follows this scriptural practice, which God has just revealed to me in my heart, I am starting my own Church as of today. We will only baptize adults over age 21.

Our new Church will be called the "Garyites". We are the true Church.

Joshua said...

Not really sure what tree you're barking up there Gary (possibly the scoffing tree), but Acts 8:36-37 defines the parameters of who can be baptised:

36 And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?

37 And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.

If you're old enough to believe with all your heart, then you're old enough to be baptised.

On a more light hearted note, my Dad graduated from a Presbyterian (yet interdenominational) seminary a few years ago. He tells the story of a good Pressy lecturer they had who was talking about the importance of believing in a literal 6 day creation. He said "in my church we'd even go so far as to refuse to baptise someone who didn't believe in 6 day creationism". One of the wags in the lecture popped his hand up and asked if they would refuse to baptise an infant that didn't believe in 6 day creationism, and everyone including the lecturer started laughing.

It was all in good fun, but the patent absurdity of a child only a few days old believing in anything at all was obvious to all, as was the curious situation of "if you believe nothing, we will baptise you, but once you're older it actually matters what you believe before baptism can be administered."

KJB1611 said...

Dear Gary,

Actually, the category of "teenager" is un-biblical. In the Bible people passed from being children to adults, as in the schoolmaster illustration in Galatians 3.

So, your teenager illustration is un-biblical, just like your infant baptism.

What is more, your Lutheran doctrine of baptismal regeneration is soul damning heresy. Please read the pamphlet "Bible truths for Lutheran friends" here:

Gary said...

I Corinthians 15:29

Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf?

This is a very odd passage of Scripture. The Mormons use this passage as the basis for their belief in Baptism for the Dead. I will present the orthodox Christian/Lutheran view of this passage below, but first I would like us to look at something else in this passage that is odd:

If the Church in Corinth had been taught by the Apostle Paul that the manner in which one is saved is to pray (verbally or nonverbally) a sincere, penitent, prayer/petition to God, such as a version of the Sinner's Prayer, why does this passage of God's Holy Word discuss baptisms for the dead and not "prayers for the dead", specifically, praying a version of the Sinner's Prayer for the dead?

Isn't that really odd? No matter what activity was actually going on in the Corinthian church regarding "the dead", why is the discussion/controversy about baptism and not the "true" means of salvation according to Baptists and evangelicals: an internal belief in Christ; an internal "decision" for Christ?

And even more odd...why didn't Paul scold the Corinthians for focusing so much on baptism which he had surely taught them (according to Baptists and evangelicals) was nothing other than an act of obedience; a public profession of faith??

Why so much emphasis on baptism?

Is it possible that the reason that the Corinthians were so concerned about baptism is that they had been taught by the Apostle Paul and other Christian evangelists that salvation and the promise of the resurrection of the dead and eternal life are received in Baptism, just as orthodox Christians, including Lutherans, have been teaching for almost 2,000 years??

Luther, Baptists, and Evangelicals

KJB1611 said...

Dear Gary,

Why did you ignore what I brought up in my previous comment, and then come out of nowhere with something on 1 Cor 15:29?

In any case, your conclusion on 1 Cor 15:29 is as cultic as the Mormon conclusion. The verse says nothing whatsoever about saving anybody, dead or alive, through baptism.

For that matter, you are writing on the wrong blog when you say “If the Church in Corinth had been taught by the Apostle Paul that the manner in which one is saved is to pray (verbally or nonverbally) a sincere, penitent, prayer/petition to God, such as a version of the Sinner's Prayer . . .”

You will find nowhere on this blog, by the Baptist men who write on it, a syllable saying that the instrumentality of justification is praying a sinner’s prayer—just like you will not find any Baptist confession anywhere that has ever been written in 2000 years of Baptist history that says that salvation is by saying the sinner’s prayer. On the contrary, resources by me such as those at argue against this unscriptural doctrine that has affected some—but by no means all—Baptist churches.

It is amazing that in an epistle where Paul states that he thanks God that he cannot even remember who he baptized (1 Cor 1:14-17), where he states that he was the one through whom the Corinthians were born again (1 Cor 4:15)—although he had not baptized them—and where he omits baptism in his definition of the gospel (1 Cor 15:1-4) you will conclude that Paul places “so much emphasis on baptism.”

If your Lutheran heresy of baptismal regeneration needs to ignore the reams of plain verses refuting justification by baptism—on places such as the link I gave you previously—to build its case on baptism for the dead, just perhaps you need to rethink your beliefs.

Instead of coming up with wild arguments from 1 Cor 15:29, why not deal with the evidence in Heaven Only for the Baptized? The Gospel of Christ vs. Baptismal Regneration on the link? If you successfully refuted that work, you would indeed have done something worth talking about.

Gary, repent of your false gospel, and then be baptized for or on account of the remission of your sins. That is what Christians do in the Bible, Acts 2:38; Matthew 3:11. God will give you the Holy Spirit when you believe (Gal 3:14), and then you will have supernatural spiritual illumination from God the Spirit, so you won’t need to torture texts like 1 Corinthians 15:29 into teaching Lutheranism.