Thursday, October 8, 2020

Never met a Baptist. . .

No less than Dr. Albert Mohler confirmed it.   Luther ever encountered a Baptist.  I wish he had.  Unfortunately, Luther was too early and the Baptists too late to have crossed paths.  Yet, living as I am, a Lutheran in the heart of Southern Baptist territory, it would have been helpful to have had Luther say something about the Baptists -- which he did not except, perhaps, indirectly.

Writing in First Things, Mohler suggests that the principle the underlies the Baptists lies in the phrase not far enough.  He says that Baptists do not believe that Luther took things far enough, nor the Calvinists, nor the English Puritans, nor the Separatists. . .  And the Baptists have been arguing about it every since.  Which makes me think that perhaps Lutherans and the Baptists have something in common after all.  For Lutherans have been arguing about what it means to be Lutheran even longer than the Baptists have been arguing about what it means to be Baptist!  But, of course, they did not benefit from a Formula of Concord, as if that solved all our Lutheran issues!

It would seem that the Baptists claim the classical Christian tradition of doctrine but that they, in the words of Mohler, were united in perplexity over the fact that other Protestants seemed reluctant to follow the logic of the Reformation to its conclusion. In that, perhaps, is another area of agreement.  Some Lutherans are intent upon interpreting Luther and the Lutheran symbols in ways that emphasize a Reformation Church in opposition to what is catholic.  I could name plenty of Lutherans who are not sure that Luther and the Reformers took the Reformation to its logical conclusion.

In 1646, Baptist churches in London defined saving faith in these terms:

Faith is the gift of God, wrought in the hearts of the elect by the Spirit of God; by which faith they come to know and believe the truth of the Scriptures, and the excellency of them above all other writings, and all things in the world, as they hold forth the glory of God in his attributes, the excellency of Christ in his nature and offices, and of the power and fulness of the Spirit in his workings and operations; and so are enabled to cast their souls upon this truth thus believed.

Lutherans might find much to agree with here.  Except that, living in the South, I am not so sure that many Baptists believe or find the first sentence (up to the semi-colon) to be far enough.  Preaching for conversion, the Baptist central unifying theme, presumes a decision or choice on the part of the hearer and this has become, if not the formal, the informal definition of faith for Baptists.

Furthermore, that Christ’s church . . . comprises the twice-born, regenerate believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, who have individually professed their belief in Christ and demonstrated their regeneration through obedience to Christ and his commands has seemingly pushed through the idea of faith as a gift and made it a practical work on the part of the elect.  Therein lies a conflict between Lutherans and Baptists that neither side fully comprehends.

The real heart of the disagreement has to do with the name.  Baptists.  It is not that Baptists and Lutherans disagree over baptism.  They do.  It is that what Lutherans call baptism is no baptism for the Baptist.  Baptists insist that they do not “rebaptize” anyone.  Instead, they baptize the unbaptized (including Lutherans!).  Lutherans in the pews do not get this and presume it is a matter of form that is being argued about -- the age of the candidate or the amount of water.  But under it all is something much more -- or should I say, much less.  What Lutherans insist is there, Baptists insist cannot be there.

Lutherans have confidence in the words of Christ and the promise of Scripture that the Gospel is also encountered in baptismal water, in sacramental absolution, and in the bread of Christ's flesh and the cup of His blood.  Lutherans take the Word of God so seriously that it delivers what it promises.  Within the splash of water and the Triune name of God, there is the connection to Christ's crucified death and His life-giving resurrection.  Within the voice of absolution in Christ's name, heaven moves with earth to wipe away sin.  Within the bread and wine set apart with the words of Christ's testament, what is signed is present to be eaten and drunk for the forgiveness of sins.

Mohler reminds us that although [t]he Baptists did not invent Congregationalism, . . . they made it central to their ecclesiology.  And therein lies another difference.  The Church is only one congregation deep and wide for the Baptists.  But for Lutherans it is not the same.  First of all, we are bound to each other not through voluntary association but common confession.  Our Lutheran Symbols are not quaint words but the focal point of our unity in the written confession of what Scripture teaches.  Lutherans are congregational in that we believe the fullness of the Church is present locally where two or three are gathered around the Word and Sacraments of Christ but we are not congregational in believing that this is the only form or the full extent of the Church.  The LCMS comes closest but we have never said the Lutherans who are episcopal in structure are any less Lutheran than those who have a more democratic form of church government and one in which the local congregation is free to order its affairs (except its doctrine) as it sees fit and still be one of us.

What I find most amusing and somewhat frustrating are the Lutherans who suggest that if we just cut the Baptists some slack, we would find them good friends and brothers and sisters in Christ.  What is so humorous about this is that it is the Baptists who cut us no slack and what is so frustrating is that the Lutherans have somehow forgotten that nearly all of us cannot be counted as Christians in any real sense without first confessing their faith as the true one and then being baptized according to their rules.  Last time I checked, the Lutherans were not nearly so strict.  But then again, as Mohler has said, we Lutherans do not go far enough.

1 comment:

Mabel said...

I worked in a big office full of Baptists for many years. They were all nice people but if we had a holiday lunch, it meant that one of the resident Baptist pastors, who had a day job in the office in addition to Sunday work, would lead everyone in a long, loooong prayer while the food got cold. Some Baptists like to pray with a hand or two in the air. This sometimes made me a little uncomfortable but as I, along with a few Roman Catholics were in the minority, we were good sports about it.