Skip to comments.Justified by Baptism (fallout from the Beckwith conversion grows)
Posted on 05/09/2007 10:01:17 AM PDT by NYer
Francis Beckwith’s announced return to the Catholic Church has generated an avalanche of invective and revilement from evangelicals. I have been stunned by what I have read. It is clear that in the minds of many the Catholic Church remains the hated Antichrist. To enter into her communion is to abandon the faith of the Apostles and to jeopardize one’s eternal salvation.
But some evangelicals have responded with sobriety and directed their reflections to the important theological differences between Catholicism and evangelicalism. Guy Davies, a Welsh Reformed preacher, identifies justification by faith as the crucial difference between the two traditions:
The Roman teaching on justification is that we are justified by grace at baptism. But this initial justification must be improved by our works. Does this understanding of justification really have greater ‘explanatory power’ than the Protestant view? Where in the New Testament is justification related to baptism? In the teaching of Paul, we are justified by faith apart from works. God’s declaration that we are right with him in Christ cannot be improved upon. The Roman Catholic teaching is not straightforward justification by works, because it is held that we are graciously justified at baptism. But the notion that our justification by grace must be supplemented by works is at best semi-Pelagian. The Catholic teaching downplays the seriousness of sin and calls into question the the freeness of God’s grace. Perhaps the Evangelicals and Catholics Together movement (here) has had the effect of blurring the dividing lines between Rome and the Reformation over justification? The new perspective on Paul has had a similar effect.
Davies rightly notes that the Catholic Church teaches that sinners are justified by grace, decisively communicated to the person in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. But he asks, “Where in the New Testament is justification related to baptism?” Here we see the terrible reductionism of sola scriptura at work. Scripture is ripped from the eucharistic life of the Church and becomes a free-floating entity to which the beliefs and practices of the Church are then subjected according to alien hermeneutical criteria. For all within the eucharistic community the intrinsic connection between justification and baptism/Church is so manifest, so obvious, so clear, that no prooftexts from Scripture are needed. To be baptized is to be incorporated into the Church; to be incorporated into the Church is to be made a member of the body of Christ; to be made a member of the body of Christ is to be adopted as a son in the Son and regenerated in the Holy Spirit; to be adopted in sonship and regenerated in the Holy Spirit is to be elevated into the divine life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. St Augustine saw clearly the union of justification and theosis:
It is clear that He calls men gods through their being deified by His grace and not born of His substance. For He justifies, who is just of Himself and not of another; and He deifies, who is God of Himself and not by participation in another. Now He who justifies, Himself deifies, because by justifying He makes sons of God. For to them gave He power to become the sons of God. If we are made sons of God, we are also made gods; but this is by grace of adoption, and not by generation. (Ennar. In Ps. 49.2)
Life in the Church is life in the Holy Trinity, and this simply is our justification. If a person cannot see this when he reads the New Testament, there can be only one response: read it again but this time read it with the Church and her Eucharist. It might also be noted that significant advances along these lines have been made in Lutheran-Orthodox ecumenical discussions (see One with God: Salvation as Deification and Justification by Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen).
But the New Testament is hardly silent on the relation of baptism and justification, though the relation between the two may not be as explicit and obvious as our evangelical brethren would like it to be. Peter Leithart notes two passages in particular:
At least twice, Paul makes a direction connection between baptism and justification. Having reminded the Corinthians that they had been the kind of people who do not inherit the kingdom, he goes on to remind them that they are no longer such people: “but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of God” (6:11). Is Paul taking about water baptism when he refers to “washing” or to some spiritual and invisible washing? I believe the former; the phrase “in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” echoes the baptismal formulae of Matthew 28 and Acts, and the reference to the Spirit also links with baptismal passages (Acts 2; 1 Cor 12:12-13). This whole passage is in fact embedded in a baptismal formula: “you were washed . . . in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Note too that Paul marks the shift from what the Corinthians “were” to what they “are” by a reference to their baptism. They have become different folk by being baptized. What, though, is the relationship between the baptism and sanctification and justification? The connection here is not absolutely clear, but I suggest that sanctification and justification are two implications of the event of baptism. The pagan Corinthians have been washed-sanctified-justified by their baptism into the name of Jesus and the concommitant action of the Spirit.
Romans 6:7 is another passage where Paul links baptism and justification. He who has died, Paul writes, is “justified from sin.” And when, in context, does one die? “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (vv. 3-4). Baptism into Christ means baptism into death; those who have been baptized have been crucified with Jesus; and those who are dead in and with Jesus have been justified from sin. Here, “justify” carries the connotation of deliverance from the power of sin. Through baptism, we die to our natural solidarity and society with Adam and brought into solidarity with and the society of Jesus.
I cite Leithart because he is a Reformed scholar. Lutheran, Anglican, and Catholic testimony could be quickly produced, but would also be just as quickly dismissed by evangelicals. Having recently re-read Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, I truly wonder how anyone can miss the union of justification and baptism. Do evangelicals stop at Roman 4:25? How can they not see that Paul’s discussion of justification in the first four chapters must be interpreted in light of Paul’s subsequent discussion of the death and resurrection of the believer in baptism and his rebirth in the Holy Spirit? They do not see, because they are reading their Bible through evangelical spectacles. There is a blindness that only the healing of Eucharist and the authentic teaching of the Church can cure.
In the conclusion of his short article, Leithart makes a turn which Martin Luther would have thoroughly approved:
There is a key difference between the Word declared in the gospel, and the declaration effected by baptism. The Word offers the favor of God generally; baptism declares that God favors me in particular. If baptism is not the public declaration of justification, where does that public declaration take place? Is it ever heard on earth, about me in particular? Is it heard anywhere but in my heart? … It appears to me that justification by faith and forensic justification are difficult to maintain apart from a strong view of baptismal efficacy, without saying that in baptism God Himself says something about me in particular.
I would want to significantly expand the relation between justification and baptism (Leithart would also, I’m sure), but this is a good place to begin. As soon as one sees the intrinsic connection between justification and baptism, the New Testament begins to read very differently. Perhaps Dr Beckwith had this in mind when he wrote on his blog: “Even though I also believe that the Reformed view is biblically and historically defensible, I think the Catholic view has more explanatory power to account for both all the biblical texts on justification as well as the churchs historical understanding of salvation prior to the Reformation all the way back to the ancient church of the first few centuries.”
Actually, it was the other way around after a very short time. There was general agreement among the body, but Paul had to rebuke both Peter and Barnabas when they faltered. That is what the church is: believers bouncing their beliefs off of each other to see who is heading astray. The written word is the only "authority" we have, and all must be held to that standard.
Discuss the issues all you want but do NOT make it personal.
“Bouncing their beliefs off of one another?” In any case, Paul had virtual autonomy in his missionary area, which was the Northeast or at least the Churches he established in Asia and Greece and finally in Ephesus where he acted as a virtual patriarch. That authority was rooted in conformity with the teachings of the Church the authority of the churches he founded was rooted in his. One purpose of his later jouneys as well as his letters was to make sure that those pastors were toeing the line. I simply don’t see how one can read Acts and not understand that the government of the church depicted as
based on authority and disciple, both enforced by the leaders of the Church with Paul as their hierarch.
Unfortunately, Ludwig Ott's, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, is still being sold vs. grabbed off the net (impressive for its publish date).
My understanding is that someone would be considered a Catholic at least from the POV of church discipline (not necessarily from the POV of soteriology)...
Perhaps this statement can bring both questions into focus. Is the "Church Visible" equated with the Roman Catholic Church in toto (as opposed to the Church Catholic)? For example, do Bp Lancelot Andrews and St Theophan the Recluse remain outside of it? Or worse: were they outside, but let in later by a council in which neither the Orthodox or Anglicans were invited to attend? When Pope Benedict XVI met with His Holiness Bartholomew was it a meeting of two members of the Visible Church?
If you believe Ludwig Ott's work would explain this question without the "or worse" option, then I'm off to amazon. Either way, thank you for your reply.
That idea is what our Lord said he despised; he called it nicolaitan, greek for tyranny.
Again, this is a complex question, particularly in regard to the Orthodox, since they have valid sacraments.
However, since an anathema is a formal excommunication, and neither of the persons you mention were in communion with the Roman Pontiff (and therefore not able to be excommunicated), it stands to reason that they are outside the boundaries of the visible Catholic Church at least in the most narrow juridical sense -- that is, in the sense applicable in matters of church discipline.
Another test, a practical one. Suppose that Bp Andrews married someone, about whom we need not worry except to assert that she was baptized, but not a Catholic. Catholics are required to obey the "Catholic form" of marriage, meaning that their marriage must be witnessed by a cleric or appropriate dispensations must be granted. If Bp Andrews and his wife had then entered the Catholic church, their marriage would have been viewed as valid, since they were juridically outside the Catholic church when they contracted it and were not bound by Catholic marriage law.
When Pope Benedict XVI met with His Holiness Bartholomew was it a meeting of two members of the Visible Church?
It all depends ... maybe. :-)
Did our Lord speak to his disciples in Greek? IAC, I do not think of all authority as authoritarn. The radical writer, C. Wirght Mills, said there are three forms of power: authority, manipulation and force. Authority requires consent. Manipulations forces the will as force the body. Peter and Paul followed Our Lord, and the Spirit. The Spirit gives authority.
The first written record of what he said is in greek, so greek it is.
The word as written is the authority. Humans are not just fallible, they are evil to the core, so that which is spoken by men must be filtered through the word.
If men are evil, then they are quite capable of misinterpreting even the written word especially if the words are in a language not their own. I assume you didn’t grow up speaking koine in your home.
To grossly misinterpret the written word requires intention. The Holy spirit guided the translators of the KJV/Geneva texts as surely as he guided all those that made their own copies of Paul’s letters out of a desire to spread his spirit inspired teaching.
I strongly believe in a living, active God, that will not allow his word to be lost. He protects it all to protect us; read Psalm 91 a few times.
I have to disagree completely with that. It is the majority text, not by just a plurality, but by thousands to one or two. To believe in a God that cannot protect his word is to diminish God to man's level. The protective patterns in those texts are far beyond anyone but God to produce; that is the clincher of the digital age; mathematical beauty far greater than the most powerful computers can produce.
Comparing God's perfect word with masonic deception like Smith's is blasphemy.
I do not doubt that the words are inspired, but I do not see why I should think that the committee that produced the KJB, or the translators of earlier English versions, should have enjoyed any more protection from error than St. Jerome when he translated much of the Bible into contemporary Latin. Jerome was not only fluent in Greek and Hebrew but had copies of the Scripture which were not available to English scholars working 1000 years later.
Yet they got it right in English, soon to be the primary language of the world, and Jerome’s vulgate had numerous apparently deliberate, politically derived errors, which were prevented from affecting the spread of the Gospel due to the death of latin. God has a plan.
God indeed has a plan, but if it was to make English the “primary language” of the world, he took long enough. The universality of the English language does not go back even 200 years while Latin was the language of the liturgy for most of Europe for a thousand years and for most of the Americas for the past five hundred. You do seem to think that the scholars appointed by King James were divinely inspired, but I have to reason to think so. For the ordinary person, the English of that Bible is almost as hard to comprehend as Latin is for a speaker of Italian. As an evangelixing medium, therefore, it definitely has its limits.
As an evangelizing medium, its without equal. It is the source of the translations of almost all of the asian and south american native language bibles that were done by the Wycliff group, along with many Pacific island dialects of the polynesian language. It is one of the Lord's most magnificent works.
So why do you need the English Bible? Wouldn’t it be better just to go to copies in the original Greek and.or Hebrew, as Jerome did and the translators of the KJB?
Because that's the Bible that God sent to us to restore his word. The ressurection of the church from the dark ages required the ressurection of his word across the world.