The proof against baptismal grace? Actually, quite the opposite!

The often quoted prooftext from the Bible against the concept of baptism, as means of grace by which God joins us to Christ and His saving work, is 1 Corinthians 1:17. People love to jump at the statement in that verse that Christ did not send Paul to baptize to say, “see, that proves baptism does not save since if it did, Christ would have sent Paul to baptize.”

In actuality, when read in context of what Paul was trying to say, the passage is saying the exact opposite of what they are arguing. What was Paul’s point? Let’s back up to verse 11. The apostle mentioned there was a quarrel going on among the Corinthians. What seemed to be the problem? Verse 12 is where Paul stated that they were divided between those who said they followed Paul while others said they followed Apollos. And there were others who say they followed Cephas (or Peter). And of course, others said they followed Christ.

That was a huge problem because the Corinthians, except the ones who said they followed Christ, misunderstood the nature of baptism. Baptism was for the purpose of making us followers of Christ, not followers of those ministers who baptized us. God used them to baptize us. Paul made it clear in verse 13 that the issue in regards to baptism was indeed it saves, but that it saves in the name of Christ, not Paul. That was why he said in verses 14-16 he thanked God that he did not baptize but a few. It was so that most who were baptized can’t say they were baptized in Paul’s name as he pointed out in verse 15. His point was not that baptism did not save, but that it did not save in Paul’s name. That is a huge difference in what he said. 

If baptism does not save and is not a means of grace, Paul would have no need to say he was glad he was not sent to baptize so no one would make the mistake of thinking baptism was in Paul’s name or made those baptized followers of Paul (or whoever baptized them in person). He would have said it is irrelevant if he baptized or not, since baptism does nothing. His statements were the exact opposite: the fact that Paul hardly baptized disproved the claims salvation was of Paul or people were made followers of Paul via baptism. Or he would have said that he was glad he was not sent to preach the word so no one can say Paul saved, given folks who denied baptismal grace usually affirmed God saves through means of the word preached. 

If anything, the passage often quoted against baptismal grace proves baptismal grace. It is a fallacious argument to say that since they were not baptized by Paul, they were not baptized at all for the forgiveness of sins. And such an argument has an unintended nasty side effect: it ends up arguing against one’s own view of being baptized right away even for profession of faith. Take such an argument to its logical conclusion, and one can say baptism is not even needed to show one’s faith.

Other passages disprove this argument. We read in 1 Corinthians 6:11 that those very folks were indeed baptized. They were washed, sanctified and justified. Paul addressed the same point in 1 Corinthians 3 in regards to salvation being of Christ, and not of either Paul nor Apollos. What he said in verse 6 was he planted the seed, and Apollos “watered.” Whether watering here referred to baptism or not, the point stands. His ministry had people with different roles by which God used them to reach others. Just because Paul did not baptize does not mean it did not happened. Nor does it mean no one else in his ministry baptized. It is a fallacious claim to try to explain away many passages in Scriptures that say: 1) baptism that saves you now; 2) those who believe and are baptized will be saved; 3) repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins, and you will receive the Holy Spirit; 4) buried with Christ in baptism and raised with Him to newness of life; 5) get up, be baptized and washed away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord, 6) buried with Christ in baptism and raised with Him to newness of life; 7) washed with water through the Word; 8) born of water and Spirit; 8) those who are baptized into Christ, through faith, are clothed with Him; and so on.

All this comes from the mindset baptism is our work, and works don’t save us. But none of the passages that say baptism saves say baptism is our work. If anything, we are told baptism is God’s work of grace to us. He is the main actor. We are the passive recipients. Faith alone receives the promises God presents in baptism: Christ Himself who comes to us to bring us forgiveness won for us at the Cross to us, newness of life the Spirit gives us, and salvation God gives us. It is pure grace. Here we stand.


Christ's paradoxical words in John 6:63-64

When you think of our Lutheran theology, you think paradox. It’s in the straightforward reading of Scriptures that results in this paradox we find in this theology of the cross. A passage like John 6:63-64 is no different. Themes like the hidden will/revealed will distinction and  paradox of monergism and objective grace being for all/you exist there.
Let us first examine John 6:63. Christ stated that the Spirit gives life while the flesh profits nothing. We see here salvation is fully of God. Not one allowance is given for anything in us to will to believe or to be renewed to new life in Christ. Salvation is entirely the work of God. The Spirit converts us by giving us life. That life that He gives us is not something we can self-generate. Nor can we offer anything, however small, of ourselves to will towards conversion. Nothing means nothing, not a little of something. John 6:63 flat out proved monergism.
Now human reason would assume since salvation is all of God and not all are saved, it must mean God’s saving grace is given only to the elect and not all. But that is not what Christ said in the next passage. He said that His words are spirit and life in them. In other words, there is saving power in His words. Yet, despite that, not all believe. Not all receive God Incarnate who had come for them.
Why? The whore of human reason would be tempted to say it is because man has some measure of  freewill to decide for or against God. But Scriptures refute that. Christ said the Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. We did not choose Him but He chose us (John 15:16). God made us alive when we were dead in sins as the grace of God by which we are saved through faith as a gift of God, not of ourselves (Ephesians 2:1-8). None can confess Jesus without the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3). Rebirth is not from human decision  (John 1:13).
The other temptation would be to say that God only desires to save some and not all. But John 6:64 ruled that out. His divine word, with the power to save, was resisted. Christ desired to save many in Jerusalem yet was spurned, and He wept for it (Matthew 23:37). The Holy Spirit can be resisted (Acts 7:51). God does desire to save all (1 Timothy 2:1-6, 2 Peter 3:9, John 3:16).
So why are not all saved if God’s saving grace is given to all and if God’s grace alone converts us, not of anything in us? Scriptures do not say. Do note what John 6:64 did say. It said that Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him.
Jesus was God. He had this power of knowledge of what will happen and in regards to who will be saved and won’t. We don’t have this knowledge. It is hidden to God. It is God’s inscrutable will which we dare not try to peer into. We are not essentially told why some come and some do not, when God wants to save all and comes to all yet grace alone saves us, not of any willpower that we can muster in us.

We see then in the passage that God’s revealed will is for them to be saved. Christ’s word is indeed spirit and indeed life given for even those who resist and reject it. He desired to save them, and they refused to believe.
We are left with a paradox that goes against human reason that desires to force these passages to fit together like a puzzle or some Dutch flowery system. But Scriptures do not let us if we read them as these passages are meant to be read.

So why are we given such a paradox in Scriptures?

The truth is that such paradox is for our assurance. We would not know if Christ died for us and given to us objectively by His word through means of grace for us unless if it is objectively for all He died and objectively offered and worked in all. We can be assured of Christ died for us personally in a real true way only if He indeed died for all. Faith alone looks to this objective fact of what’s given for all means that it is true for us personally. Faith alone receives that objective fact and the benefits that this redemptive work of Christ applied to us. We can be certain of that and look outside ourselves for assurance on this objective truth and fact given to us in Word and Sacrament. No need to look inwards nor at one's own faith. And definitely, no need to look to fruits of faith for assurance. 
The fact God’s grace alone for us, not of ourselves, also give us assurance that as long as in Christ, the same God who converts us, is able to keep us. Again, we do not look to our own selves for assurance nor to keep ourselves. It is in Christ crucified for us that we are saved and in God’s hand. Look outside ourselves to Christ alone given to us in Word and Sacrament, not back at ourselves for assurance. He presented these means of grace to us as indeed His revealed saving will to us. That is where we can be sure that we are elect, when we are in Christ. That is where what is hidden to God becomes revealed to God. It is God Incarnate given to us.
For us and to us we have His forgiveness that He won for us at the cross and which we received (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) in baptism (Acts 2:3822:16). And we continue to look to what Christ did to nourish us in the one true faith as His body and blood comes to us in the Eucharist for us to partake of receiving the life that is in Christ’s blood (1 Corinthians 10:16). By grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Here we stand.


Crypto Arminianism?

In ages past, the Confessing Lutherans had problems with Crypto-Calvinism seeping into Lutheran churches. And this problem was dealt with swiftly and decisively. The trend now, at least in the United States within Lutheranism, is that Arminianism is seeping in. Thankfully we have steered clear of outright Pelagianism, although I would venture to guess that this also is out there somewhere in various Lutheran churches. This Crypto-Arminianism also needs to be dealt with swiftly and decisively.

This shouldn't surprise us however. All around us in the United States are mainstream Evangelical churches, Pentecostalism, and even cults like the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Latter Day Saints. Not to mention the enormous Roman Catholic Church and the fringe semi-cultish body known as the Seventh Day Adventists. What do all of the aforementioned faith bodies have in common? Synergism and libertarian free will. Certainly it is not my intent to lump evangelicals in with the cults, and the same goes for Roman Catholicism. But they all do affirm synergism and free will.

So it's not shocking that these ideas have crept into Confessional Lutheran churches. In reality, the only two major church bodies of theology that are not synergistic are Confessional Lutheranism and Reformed Theology. Certainly we have our share of disagreements with the Reformed, but monergism is not one of them.

The fact of the matter is that Confessional Lutheranism does not allow for synergism in any form as it is classically understood. This means that Classical Arminianism is not within the bounds of Lutheranism. It's as acceptable to Confessional Lutheranism as say, Calvinism.

In other words, as we have dealt with Crypto-Calvinism as well as the Philippists on the basis of God's Word, we need to be wary of Cryto-Arminianism as well. It has no place in Confessional Lutheranism. Synergism and free will do not belong here. They do not fit within our Confessions and are decidedly not Lutheran.

This must be dealt with at a local level with our faithful pastors teaching God's Word and the Lutheran Confessions.




Lutheranism has to be *needed*, and not just intellectually desired.

What I mean by the above is the following. When I was a Calvinist, I was a Calvinist mainly because I was on a philosophical quest to "find ultimate truth." Calvinism was, and still is, a system that seems to answer questions, and one that is logically coherent.

I was also very successful in convincing many of my friends to embrace Calvinism.

But this same system that is logically rigorous, is also very law-oriented. It has to be. We want something that makes sense, and law makes sense to us. It is a theology of glory, and this is the kind of theology that we love as fallen sinners.

But after a while, the law does its killing work. We come to despair of ourselves. Something may happen in life that does not make sense, and even the system of Calvinism that tries to explain it cannot take away the pain.

Then we learn that neat syllogisms and logical formulae are not what life is really about.

We come to find out that "finding truth" is not what life is really about.

We become convinced that we know we are guilty, and we want to know that we have a gracious God.

It becomes less about finding truth, and more about comfort, and assurance, and pastoral care.

We all have this basic need of forgiveness of sins.


When I was a Calvinist, I "intellectually convinced" several friends for the theology of glory which is Calvinism. But since I have been a Lutheran, you know how many I have convinced?


My wife has recently become Lutheran, but it was not because of me. It was through being immersed in the Divine Service. Then she saw it was what she *needed*. Only now does she realize that Calvinism could not offer her assurance. She realized that Lutheranism is the only place where Christ comes down to her.

Likewise, Lutheranism is misunderstood. It is foreign to most. By being immersed in the Divine Service, my wife became familiarized with the beauty of God in Christ bringing us beggars His Good Gifts.

I also used to argue from church history and the catholicity of Lutheranism. While this is all true, most people do not think this way. After all, if we only look to catholicity, what's to become of someone who is flirting with Eastern Orthodoxy? Eastern Orthodoxy has catholicity on its side as well. So while catholicity is important, it should not be the deciding factor.

People do not, should not, even cannot, become "intellectually convinced" of Lutheranism.

Lutheranism is not the good ol' time Murican religion.

Lutheranism has to be *needed*.


I realize that the above bold title may seem simplistic to some, and even unfair to others. But I would not be a Lutheran unless I really believed that. I don't get enough of the Gospel in Rome, which focuses on my efforts and merits. I don't get enough of the Gospel in Eastern Orthodoxy, which focuses on our path to theosis. I don't get enough of the Gospel in evangelicalism, which is always asking if we are serving God enough. I don't get enough of the Gospel in Calvinism, which cannot get away from being law-driven and sovereignty-centered.

I need the faith that *just gives me Jesus* in Word and Sacrament *clearly*.

I *need* Lutheranism.


At the end of the day, all other branches of the faith either focus on sanctification, or end up getting away from the foundation which is justification. Only Lutheranism keeps justification central, at all times, because Lutheranism sees justification as a *continual* declaration from our gracious God that our sins are forgiven. He stoops to our level, knowing that we do not always *feel* forgiven. So God gives us His gracious promises in Word and Sacrament. God's gracious is objective and universal. It does not depend upon our faith.


Lutheranism has been called "the lonely way" by Herman Sasse. Truly this is so. It is the lonely way because it is the theology of the Cross. The theology of glory is everywhere. The theology of glory makes sense to us, and satisfies our intellect.

Lutheranism, on the other hand, makes no sense. It is paradoxical. It goes completely against our feelings.

We don't always "feel" forgiven.

Lutheranism says "you are forgiven, and here is Christ's Body and Blood to prove it."

Lutheranism says "you are forgiven, and here is a minister that declares God's Word to you and lays his hands on you to prove it."

Lutheranism says "you are forgiven, and this water and God's Word wash away your sins to prove it."

Lutheranism says "you are forgiven, and we will process in the middle of the aisle with the Book of the Gospels to prove it."

Lutheranism says, "FOR *YOU*."

Not just general categories.


So why Lutheranism?

Because I *need* it.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son+, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.