Dismantling Ken Wilson’s attempt at dismantling my review on John 3:5 part 1

Recently in an interview video, Ken Wilson responded to customer reviews of his book (including one by me).

My review (and the quotes I provided from pre-Augustine church fathers) can be found here:


I responded to his (false) claims that 1) he never suggested Augustine was the first to reach infant baptism was done for forgiveness of sins and 2) none of the pre-Augustine church father quotes refuted his claims:


This article will be the first of several part responses to his claims that 1) John 3:5 water was seen as physical birth, 2) Augustine invented baptismal salvation and John 3:5 view of it, 3) Augustine prior to 412 didn’t hold to baptismal salvation view of the text.

Here we will focus specifically on the fact that early Christianity referenced John 3:5 as baptismal in fact unanimously before and even after Augustine.

At the 1:02:50 mark in this video, Wilson made that claim again that John 3:5 water was seen as physical birth:


Notice several things: 1) Wilson can’t quote a single pre-Augustine church father before John 3:5 water saying the text refers to physical birth so appeal to vague Old Testament passages, 2) Wilson pretended the quotes in the Amazon review I posted from before Augustine on John 3:5 baptismal salvation don’t exist to continue with the lie that Augustine later on in life invented baptismal salvation view of the text.

And he did all this while throughout the video mocking my education and saying I’m sophomoric in my understanding of church history.

His actual contempt is actually for his own fans cheering him on not knowing he is blatantly lying to them and playing them for fools. 

Here are examples of church fathers from before and up to Augustine who saw John 3:5 as baptismal rebirth and salvation:

Shepherd of Hermas, Ninth Similitude, Chapter 16: “Explain to me a little further, sir," I said. ‘What is it that you desire?’ he asked. ‘Why, sir,’ I said, ‘did these stones ascend out of the pit, and be applied to the building of the tower, after having borne these spirits? They were obliged,’ he answered, ‘to ascend through water in order that they might be made alive; for, unless they laid aside the deadness of their life, they could not in any other way enter into the kingdom of God. Accordingly, those also who fell asleep received the seal of the Son of God. For,’ he continued, ‘before a man bears the name of the Son of God s he is dead; but when he receives the seal he lays aside his deadness, and obtains life. The seal, then, is the water: they descend into the water dead, and they arise alive. And to them, accordingly, was this seal preached, and they made use of it that they might enter into the kingdom of God.’ ‘Why, sir,’ I asked, ‘did the forty stones also ascend with them out of the pit, having already received the seal?& &Because,’ he said, ‘these apostles and teachers who preached the name of the Son of God, after falling asleep in the power and faith of the Son of God, preached it not only to those who were asleep, but themselves also gave them the seal of the preaching. Accordingly they descended with them into the water, and again ascended. [But these descended alive and rose up again alive; whereas they who had previously fallen asleep descended dead, but rose up again alive. ] By these, then, were they quickened and made to know the name of the Son of God. For this reason also did they ascend with them, and were fitted along with them into the building of the tower, and, untouched by the chisel, were built in along with them. For they slept in righteousness and in great purity, but only they had not this seal. You have accordingly the explanation of these also."

Justin’s First Apology, Chapter 61: “Then they are brought by us where there is water, and are regenerated in the same manner in which we were ourselves regenerated. For, in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they then receive the washing with water. For Christ also said, Unless you be born again, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. John 3:5”

Irenaeus’ Fragment 34: “And dipped himself, says [the Scripture], seven times in Jordan. 2 Kings 5:14 It was not for nothing that Naaman of old, when suffering from leprosy, was purified upon his being baptized, but [it served] as an indication to us. For as we are lepers in sin, we are made clean, by means of the sacred water and the invocation of the Lord, from our old transgressions; being spiritually regenerated as new-born babes, even as the Lord has declared: Unless a man be born again through water and the Spirit, he shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. John 3:5”

Irenaeus’ Against Heresies Book 2, Chapter 22: “For He came to save all through means of Himself — all, I say, who through Him are born again to God — infants, and children, and boys, and youths, and old men.”

Irenaeus’ Demonstration of Apostolic Preaching 3: “Now faith occasions this for us; even as the Elders, the disciples of the Apostles, have handed down to us. First of all it bids us bear in mind that we have received baptism for the remission of sins, in the name of God the Father, and in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who was incarnate and died and rose again, and in the Holy Spirit of God. And that this baptism is the seal of eternal life, and is the new birth unto God, that we should no longer be the sons of mortal men, but of the eternal and perpetual God; and that what is everlasting and continuing is made God; and is over all things that are made, and all things are put under Him; |73 and all the things that are put under Him are made His own; for God is not ruler and Lord over the things of another, but over His own;12 and all things are God's; and therefore God is Almighty, and all things are of God.”

Theophilus’ To Autolycus 2.16: “Moreover, the things proceeding from the waters were blessed by God, that this also might be a sign of men's being destined to receive repentance and remission of sins, through the water and laver of regeneration — as many as come to the truth, and are born again, and receive blessing from God.”

Tertullian’s On Baptism, Chapter 13: “For the law of baptizing has been imposed, and the formula prescribed: Go, He says, teach the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. The comparison with this law of that definition, Unless a man have been reborn of water and Spirit, he shall not enter into the kingdom of the heavens, has tied faith to the necessity of baptism. Accordingly, all thereafter who became believers used to be baptized.”

Tertullian’s A Treatise on the Soul Chapters 39-40: “ Hence in no case (I mean of the heathen, of course) is there any nativity which is pure of idolatrous superstition. It was from this circumstance that the apostle said, that when either of the parents was sanctified, the children were holy; 1 Corinthians 7:14 and this as much by the prerogative of the (Christian) seed as by the discipline of the institution (by baptism, and Christian education). Else, says he, were the children unclean by birth: 1 Corinthians 7:14 as if he meant us to understand that the children of believers were designed for holiness, and thereby for salvation; in order that he might by the pledge of such a hope give his support to matrimony, which he had determined to maintain in its integrity. Besides, he had certainly not forgotten what the Lord had so definitively stated: Unless a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God; John 3:5 in other words, he cannot be holy.

“Every soul, then, by reason of its birth, has its nature in Adam until it is born again in Christ; moreover, it is unclean all the while that it remains without this regeneration; Romans 6:4 and because unclean, it is actively sinful, and suffuses even the flesh (by reason of their conjunction) with its own shame.”

Tertullian’s A Treatise on the Soul Chapter 41: “Therefore, when the soul embraces the faith, being renewed in its second birth by water and the power from above, then the veil of its former corruption being taken away, it beholds the light in all its brightness.”

Hippolytus' Discourse on the Holy Theophany:  “8. But give me now your best attention, I pray you, for I wish to go back to the fountain of life, and to view the fountain that gushes with healing. The Father of immortality sent the immortal Son and Word into the world, who came to man in order to wash him with water and the Spirit; and He, begetting us again to incorruption of soul and body, breathed into us the breath (spirit) of life, and endued us with an incorruptible panoply. If, therefore, man has become immortal, he will also be God. And if he is made God by water and the Holy Spirit after the regeneration of the layer he is found to be also joint-heir with Christ after the resurrection from the dead. Wherefore I preach to this effect: Come, all you kindreds of the nations, to the immortality of the baptism. I bring good tidings of life to you who tarry in the darkness of ignorance. Come into liberty from slavery, into a kingdom from tyranny, into incorruption from corruption. And how, says one, shall we come? How? By water and the Holy Ghost. This is the water in conjunction with the Spirit, by which paradise is watered, by which the earth is enriched, by which plants grow, by which animals multiply, and (to sum up the whole in a single word) by which man is begotten again and endued with life, in which also Christ was baptized, and in which the Spirit descended in the form of a dove.” 

Clement of Alexandria’s The Instructor 1.12: “The view I take is, that He Himself formed man of the dust, and regenerated him by water; and made him grow by his Spirit; and trained him by His word to adoption and salvation, directing him by sacred precepts; in order that, transforming earth-born man into a holy and heavenly being by His advent, He might fulfil to the utmost that divine utterance, Let Us make man in Our own image and likeness. Genesis 1:26 And, in truth, Christ became the perfect realization of what God spoke; and the rest of humanity is conceived as being created merely in His image.”

Origen's Romans 5.9 commentary:  Origen’s Romans 5.9 commentary: “Was a newly born child able to sin? And yet it has a sin for which sacrifices are commanded to be offered, and from which it is denied that anyone is pure, even if his life should be a day long. It has to be believed, therefore, that concerning this David also said what we recorded above, ‘in sins my mother conceived me.’ For according to the historical narrative no sin of his mother is declared. It is on this account as well that the Church has received the tradition from the apostles to give baptism to even little children. For they to whom the secrets of the divine mysteries were committed were aware in everyone was sin’s innate defilement, which needed to be washed away through water and the Spirit.”

Origen’s Gospel of Luke commentary 14.5: “Thus, it was fitting that those offerings that, according to the law, customarily cleanse stain, should be made. They were made for our Lord and Savior, who had been ‘clothed with stained garments’ and had taken an earthly body. Christian brethren often ask a question. The passage from Scripture read today encourages me to treat it again. Little children are baptized ‘for the remission of sins.’ Whose sins are they? When did they sin? Or how this explanation of the baptismal washing be maintained in the case of small children, except according to the interpretation we spoke of a little earlier? No man is clean of stain, not even if his life upon the earlier lasted but a single day. Through the mystery of Baptism, the stains of birth are put aside.  For this reason, even small children are baptized for. For unless a man be born again of water and Spirit, he will not be able to enter into the kingdom of heaven.”

Cyprian’s Epistle 1: “3. While I was still lying in darkness and gloomy night, wavering hither and there, tossed about on the foam of this boastful age, and uncertain of my wandering steps, knowing nothing of my real life, and remote from truth and light, I used to regard it as a difficult matter, and especially as difficult in respect of my character at that time, that a man should be capable of being born again — a truth which the divine mercy had announced for my salvation—and that a man quickened to a new life in the layer of saving water should be able to put off what he had previously been; and, although retaining all his bodily structure, should be himself changed in heart and soul.”

Cyprian’s Epistle 71: “But the subject in regard to which we had chiefly to write to you, and to confer with your gravity and wisdom, is one that more especially pertains both to the priestly authority and to the unity, as well as the dignity, of the Catholic Church, arising as these do from the ordination of the divine appointment; to wit, that those who have been dipped abroad outside the Church, and have been stained among heretics and schismatics with the taint of profane water, when they come to us and to the Church which is one, ought to be baptized, for the reason that it is a small matter to lay hands on them that they may receive the Holy Ghost, unless they receive also the baptism of the Church. For then finally can they be fully sanctified, and be the sons of God, if they be born of each sacrament; since it is written, Unless a man be born again of water, and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”

Novatian’s On the Trinity 29: “He it is who effects with water the second birth as a certain seed of divine generation, and a consecration of a heavenly nativity, the pledge of a promised inheritance, and as it were a kind of handwriting of eternal salvation; who can make us God's temple, and fit us for His house; who solicits the divine hearing for us with groanings that cannot be uttered; filling the offices of advocacy, and manifesting the duties of our defense — an inhabitant given for our bodies and an effector of their holiness. Who, working in us for eternity, can also produce our bodies at the resurrection of immortality, accustoming them to be associated in Himself with heavenly power, and to be allied with the divine eternity of the Holy Spirit.”

Aphrahat's Demonstration 6: “14. Therefore, my beloved, we also have received of the Spirit of Christ, and Christ dwells in us, as it is written that the Spirit said this through the mouth of the Prophet:— I will dwell in them and will walk in them. Leviticus 21:12 Therefore let us prepare our temples for the Spirit of Christ, and let us not grieve it that it may not depart from us. Remember the warning that the Apostle gives us:— Grieve not the Holy Spirit whereby you have been sealed unto the day of redemption. For from baptism do we receive the Spirit of Christ. For in that hour in which the priests invoke the Spirit, the heavens open and it descends and moves upon the waters. Genesis 1:2 And those that are baptized are clothed in it; for the Spirit stays aloof from all that are born of the flesh, until they come to the new birth by water, and then they receive the Holy Spirit. For in the first birth they are born with an animal souls which is created within man and is not thereafter subject to death, as he said:— Adam became a living soul. Genesis 2:7 But in the second birth, that through baptism, they received the Holy Spirit from a particle of the Godhead, and it is not again subject to death. For when men die, the animal spirit is buried with the body, and sense is taken away from it, but the heavenly spirit that they receive goes according to its nature to Christ. And both these the Apostle has made known, for he said:— The body is buried in animal wise, and rises again in spiritual wise. 1 Corinthians 15:44 The Spirit goes back again to Christ according to its nature, for the Apostle said again:— When we shall depart from the body we shall be with our Lord. 2 Corinthians 5:8 For the Spirit of Christ, which the spiritual receive, goes to our Lord. And the animal spirit is buried in its nature, and sense is taken away from it. Whosoever guards the Spirit of Christ in purity, when it returns to Christ it thus addresses him:— The body into which I went, and which put me on from the water of the baptism, has kept me in holiness. And the Holy Spirit will be earnest with Christ for the resurrection of that body which kept Him with purity, and the Spirit will request to be again conjoined to it that that body may rise up in glory. And whatever man there is that receives the Spirit from the water (of baptism) and grieves it, it departs from him until he dies, and returns according to its nature to Christ, and accuses that man of having grieved it. And when the time of the final consummation shall have come, and the time of the Resurrection shall have approached, the Holy Spirit, that was kept in purity, receives great power from its nature and comes before Christ and stands at the door of the tombs, where the men are buried that kept it in purity, and awaits the (resurrection) shout. And when the Watchers shall have opened the doors of heaven before the King, 1 Thessalonians 4:16 then the cornet shall summon, and the trumpets shall sound, and the Spirit that waits for the (resurrection) shout shall hear, and quickly shall open the tombs, and raise up the bodies and whatsoever was buried in them, and shall put on the glory that comes with it. And (the Spirit) shall be within for the resurrection of the body, and the glory shall be without for the adornment of the body. And the animal spirit shall be swallowed up in the heavenly Spirit, and the whole man shall become spiritual, since his body is possessed by it (the Spirit). And death shall be swallowed up in life, 2 Corinthians 5:4 and body shall be swallowed up in Spirit. And by the power of the Spirit, that man shall fly up to meet the King and He shall receive him with joy, and Christ shall give thanks for the body that has kept His Spirit in purity.”

Methodius’ Banquet of the Ten Virgins 3.8: “For thus will it be most certainly agreed that the Church is formed out of His bones and flesh; and it was for this cause that the Word, leaving His Father in heaven, came down to be “joined to His wife; ” Ephesians 5:31 and slept in the trance of His passion, and willingly suffered death for her, that He might present the Church to Himself glorious and blameless, having cleansed her by the laver, Ephesians 5:26-27 for the receiving of the spiritual and blessed seed, which is sown by Him who with whispers implants it in the depths of the mind; and is conceived and formed by the Church, as by a woman. so as to give birth and nourishment to virtue. For in this way, too, the command, “Increase and multiply,” Genesis 1:18 is duly fulfilled, the Church increasing daily in greatness and beauty and multitude, by the union and communion of the Word who now still comes down to us and falls into a trance by the memorial of His passion; for otherwise the Church could not conceive believers, and give them new birth by the laver of regeneration, unless Christ, emptying Himself for their sake, that He might be contained by them, as I said, through the recapitulation of His passion, should die again, coming down from heaven, and being “joined to His wife,” the Church, should provide for a certain power being taken from His own side, so that all who are built up in Him should grow up, even those who are born again by the laver, receiving of His bones and of His flesh, that is, of His holiness and of His glory.”

Athanasius’ Discourses Against the Arians: “For no longer according to our former origin in Adam do we die; but henceforward our origin and all infirmity of flesh being transferred to the Word, we rise from the earth, the curse from sin being removed, because of Him who is in us , and who has become a curse for us. And with reason; for as we are all from earth and die in Adam, so being regenerated from above of water and Spirit, in the Christ we are all quickened; the flesh being no longer earthly, but being henceforth made Word , by reason of God's Word who for our sake 'became flesh.'”

Marius Victorinus’ Galatians 4.18 commentary:  “People are called children in many ways: sometimes from love, sometimes from nature, sometimes from kinship, at times even in regards to religion, with reference to which Paul now says my children. He calls them this because the man who brings a baptized person to perfection (or who receives one who is perfect) is called a father by virtue of the baptismal rite, where rebirth takes place.”

Catechetical Lecture 3 of Cyril of Jerusalem: “4. For since man is of twofold nature, soul and body, the purification also is twofold, the one incorporeal for the incorporeal part, and the other bodily for the body: the water cleanses the body, and the Spirit seals the soul; that we may draw near unto God, having our heart sprinkled by the Spirit, and our body washed with pure water. Hebrews 10:22 When going down, therefore, into the water, think not of the bare element, but look for salvation by the power of the Holy Ghost: for without both you can not possibly be made perfect. It is not I that say this, but the Lord Jesus Christ, who has the power in this matter: for He says, Unless a man be born anew (and He adds the words) of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. John 3:3 Neither does he that is baptized with water, but not found worthy of the Spirit, receive the grace in perfection; nor if a man be virtuous in his deeds, but receive not the seal by water, shall he enter into the kingdom of heaven. A bold saying, but not mine, for it is Jesus who has declared it: and here is the proof of the statement from Holy Scripture. Cornelius was a just man, who was honoured with a vision of Angels, and had set up his prayers and almsdeeds as a good memorial before God in heaven. Peter came, and the Spirit was poured out upon them that believed, and they spoke with other tongues, and prophesied: and after the grace of the Spirit the Scripture says that Peter commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ Acts 10:48; in order that, the soul having been born again by faith , the body also might by the water partake of the grace.”

Pacian's Discourse on Baptism: “1.  It is my wish to explain after what manner we are born in Baptism, and after what manner we are renewed. I shall speak indeed, brethren, in His own words, lest perchance on account of the beauty of my sentences, ye should believe that I take pleasure in my style, and that ye may be able to comprehend a mysterious subject. And would that I could inculcate it upon you. I seek not glory: for glory belongeth to God Alone. My only anxiety is my concern for you, and especially for these Candidates for Baptism, if in any wise it may be possible for us to comprehend the examination of so great happiness. I shall therefore shew what Heathenism was previously, what Faith bestows, what indulgence Baptism grants. And if this shall so sink into your hearts, as I feel it, ye will judge, brethren, that no preaching ever yielded us more fruit.”

Ambrose’s On the Mysteries: “20. Therefore read that the three witnesses in baptism, the water, the blood, and the Spirit, 1 John 5:7 are one, for if you take away one of these, the Sacrament of Baptism does not exist. For what is water without the cross of Christ? A common element, without any sacramental effect. Nor, again, is there the Sacrament of Regeneration without water: For except a man be born again of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. John 3:5 Now, even the catechumen believes in the cross of the Lord Jesus, wherewith he too is signed; but unless he be baptized in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, he cannot receive remission of sins nor gain the gift of spiritual grace.”

Ambrose’s On Abraham 2.79: “Let both the household slave and foreign-born, the righteous and the sinner, be circumcised with the remission of sins, so sin will have no more have effect, because none has ascended to the Kingdom of the Heavens save through the Sacrament of Baptism.”

Ambrose's On Abraham, Chapter 2.84: “Unless a man is born again of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.  No one is excepted: not the infant, not the one prevented by some necessity. They may however, have an undisclosed exemption from punishments, but I do not know whether they have the honor of the Kingdom.”

 Ambrose’s On the Sacraments 2.24 quote: “24. Therefore thou didst dip, thou camest to the priest. What did he say to thee? “God the Father Almighty,” he saith, ‘who hath regenerated thee by water and the Holy Ghost, and hath forgiven thee thy sins, himself anoint thee unto eternal life.’ See whereunto thou art anointed; ‘unto eternal life,’ he saith.”

Ambrose’s On Repentance 2.8: “And that the writer was speaking of baptism is evident from the very words in which it is stated that it is impossible to renew unto repentance those who were fallen, inasmuch as we are renewed by means of the laver of baptism, whereby we are born again.” And he added a few sentences later, “And elsewhere again: Your youth shall be renewed like the eagle, because the eagle after death is born again from its ashes, as we being dead in sin are through the Sacrament of Baptism born again to God.”

Ambrose’s Gospel of Luke exposition 7.170:  “reborn to the inner man through the Grace of Baptism.” 

Jerome’s To Pammachius Against John of Jerusalem.36: “Our heart at once with joy replied, Romans 6:4 We are buried together, and we shall rise together with Christ through baptism. Do you speak of the resurrection of the soul, or of the flesh? I answered, Not that of the soul alone, but that of the flesh, which, together with the soul, is born again in the laver.”

Ambrosiaster’s Romans 6.3 commentary: “This is what it means to be baptized into His death. For there all our sins die, so that, renewed by the death we have cast off, we might be seen to rise as those who have been born again to new life, so that just as Christ died to sin and rose again, so through baptism we might also have the hope of resurrection.”

Chrysostom’s 2 Corinthians Homily 2.9: “That He would count them worthy in due season of the regeneration of the laver, of the remission of sins. For we ask some things to come now, some to come hereafter; and we expound the doctrine of the laver, and in asking instruct them to know its power. For what is said thenceforth familiarizes them to know already that what is there done is a regeneration, and that we are born again of the waters, just as of the womb; that they say not after Nicodemus, How can one be born when he is old! Can he enter into his mother's womb, and be born again? Then, because he had spoken of remission of sins, he confirms this by the words next following, of the clothing of incorruption; for he that puts on sonship plainly becomes incorruptible. But what is that in due season? When any is well disposed, when any comes thereunto with earnestness and faith; for this is the due season of the believer.”

Chrysostom’s Homily 25 on the Gospel of John (3:5): “What then is the use of the water? This too I will tell you hereafter, when I reveal to you the hidden mystery. There are also other points of mystical teaching connected with the matter, but for the present I will mention to you one out of many. What is this one? In Baptism are fulfilled the pledges of our covenant with God; burial and death, resurrection and life; and these take place all at once. For when we immerse our heads in the water, the old man is buried as in a tomb below, and wholly sunk forever; then as we raise them again, the new man rises in its stead. As it is easy for us to dip and to lift our heads again, so it is easy for God to bury the old man, and to show forth the new. And this is done thrice, that you may learn that the power of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost fulfills all this. To show that what we say is no conjecture, hear Paul saying, We are buried with Him by Baptism into death: and again, Our old man is crucified with Him: and again, We have been planted together in the likeness of His death. Romans 6:4-6 And not only is Baptism called a cross, but the cross is called Baptism. With the Baptism, says Christ, that I am baptized withal shall you be baptized Mark 10:39: and, I have a Baptism to be baptized with Luke 12:50 (which you know not); for as we easily dip and lift our heads again, so He also easily died and rose again when He willed or rather much more easily, though He tarried the three days for the dispensation of a certain mystery.”

Chrysostom’s On the Priesthood 3: “5. For if any one will consider how great a thing it is for one, being a man, and compassed with flesh and blood, to be enabled to draw near to that blessed and pure nature, he will then clearly see what great honor the grace of the Spirit has vouchsafed to priests; since by their agency these rites are celebrated, and others nowise inferior to these both in respect of our dignity and our salvation. For they who inhabit the earth and make their abode there are entrusted with the administration of things which are in Heaven, and have received an authority which God has not given to angels or archangels. For it has not been said to them, Whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven, and whatsoever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven. Matthew 18:18 They who rule on earth have indeed authority to bind, but only the body: whereas this binding lays hold of the soul and penetrates the heavens; and what priests do here below God ratifies above, and the Master confirms the sentence of his servants. For indeed what is it but all manner of heavenly authority which He has given them when He says, Whose sins ye remit they are remitted, and whose sins ye retain they are retained? John 20:23 What authority could be greater than this? The Father has committed all judgment to the Son? John 5:22 But I see it all put into the hands of these men by the Son. For they have been conducted to this dignity as if they were already translated to Heaven, and had transcended human nature, and were released from the passions to which we are liable. Moreover, if a king should bestow this honor upon any of his subjects, authorizing him to cast into prison whom he pleased and to release them again, he becomes an object of envy and respect to all men; but he who has received from God an authority as much greater as heaven is more precious than earth, and souls more precious than bodies, seems to some to have received so small an honor that they are actually able to imagine that one of those who have been entrusted with these things will despise the gift. Away with such madness! For transparent madness it is to despise so great a dignity, without which it is not possible to obtain either our own salvation, or the good things which have been promised to us. For if no one can enter into the kingdom of Heaven except he be regenerate through water and the Spirit, and he who does not eat the flesh of the Lord and drink His blood is excluded from eternal life, and if all these things are accomplished only by means of those holy hands, I mean the hands of the priest, how will any one, without these, be able to escape the fire of hell, or to win those crowns which are reserved for the victorious?”

Gregory of Nyssa’s On the Baptism of Christ: “Let us however, if it seems well, persevere in enquiring more fully and more minutely concerning Baptism, starting, as from the fountain-head, from the Scriptural declaration, Unless a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. Why are both named, and why is not the Spirit alone accounted sufficient for the completion of Baptism? Man, as we know full well, is compound, not simple: and therefore the cognate and similar medicines are assigned for healing to him who is twofold and conglomerate:— for his visible body, water, the sensible element — for his soul, which we cannot see, the Spirit invisible, invoked by faith, present unspeakably. For the Spirit breathes where He wills, and you hear His voice, but cannot tell whence He comes or whither He goes. He blesses the body that is baptized, and the water that baptizes. Despise not, therefore, the Divine laver, nor think lightly of it, as a common thing, on account of the use of water. For the power that operates is mighty, and wonderful are the things that are wrought thereby.”

Basil the Great's De Spiritu Sancto 15.35: “Hence it follows that the answer to our question why the water was associated with the Spirit is clear: the reason is because in baptism two ends were proposed; on the one hand, the destroying of the body of sin, that it may never bear fruit unto death; on the other hand, our living unto the Spirit, and having our fruit in holiness; the water receiving the body as in a tomb figures death, while the Spirit pours in the quickening power, renewing our souls from the deadness of sin unto their original life. This then is what it is to be born again of water and of the Spirit, the being made dead being effected in the water, while our life is wrought in us through the Spirit. In three immersions, then, and with three invocations, the great mystery of baptism is performed, to the end that the type of death may be fully figured, and that by the tradition of the divine knowledge the baptized may have their souls enlightened. It follows that if there is any grace in the water, it is not of the nature of the water, but of the presence of the Spirit. For baptism is not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience towards God.”

Gregory Nazianzen’s Oration 40.8: “And since we are double-made, I mean of body and soul, and the one part is visible, the other invisible, so the cleansing also is twofold, by water and the spirit; the one received visibly in the body, the other concurring with it invisibly and apart from the body; the one typical, the other real and cleansing the depths. And this which comes to the aid of our first birth, makes us new instead of old, and like God instead of what we now are; recasting us without fire, and creating us anew without breaking us up.”

Hilary’s On the Trinity 9.9: “We are circumcised not with a fleshly circumcision but with the circumcision of Christ, that is, we are born again into a new man; for, being buried with Him in His baptism, we must die to the old man, because the regeneration of baptism has the force of resurrection. The circumcision of Christ does not mean the putting off of foreskins, but to die entirely with Him, and by that death to live henceforth entirely to Him. For we rise again in Him through faith in God, Who raised Him from the dead; wherefore we must believe in God, by Whose Working Christ was raised from the dead, for our faith rises again in and with Christ.”

Cyril of Alexandria's Commentary on John, Book II: “Since the man did not understand as he ought, what the need of being born from above meant, He instructs him with plainer teaching, and sets before him the more open knowledge of the Mystery. For our Lord Jesus Christ was calling the new birth through the Spirit from above, shewing that the Spirit is of the Essence That is above all essences, through Whom we become partakers of the Divine Nature, as enjoying Him Who proceeds from It Essentially, and through Him and in Him re-formed to the Archetype-Beauty, and thus re-born unto newness of life, and re-moulded to the Divine Sonship. But Nicodemus not so understanding the word from above, imagined it was meant that the future birth should take place after the manner of bodies: therefore also falling into imaginations which shut him up in impossibility, he was caught alike senseless and hard of learning. Of necessity therefore does the Saviour answer yet more mildly, as to one more infirm of habit, and removing the veil that seemed to be thrown over His Words, He now says openly, Except a man be born again of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God. For since man is compound, and not simple in his nature, being combined of two, to wit, the sensible body and intellectual soul, he will require two-fold healing for his new birth akin to both the fore-named. For by the Spirit is the spirit of man sanctified, by the sanctified water again, his body. For as the water poured into the |169 kettle, being associated with the vigour of fire, receives in itself the impress of its efficacy, so through the inworking of the Spirit the sensible water is trans-elemented to a Divine and ineffable efficacy, and sanctifieth those on whom it comes.”

Cassian’s On the Incarnation 6.18: “And so, you wretched, insane, obstinate creature, you see that you have utterly upset the whole faith of the Creed, and all that is valuable in our hope and the mysteries. And yet you still dare to remain in the Church: and imagine that you are a priest, though you have denied everything by which you came to be a priest. Return then to the right way, and recover your former mind, return to your senses if you ever had any. Come to your self, if there ever was in you a self to which you can come back. Acknowledge the sacraments of your salvation, by which you were initiated and regenerated. They are of no less use to you now than they were then; for they can now regenerate you by penance, as they then gave you birth through the Font.”

Leo the Great’s Sermon 24.3: “ For the earth of human flesh, which in the first transgressor, was cursed, in this Offspring of the Blessed Virgin only produced a seed that was blessed and free from the fault of its stock. And each one is a partaker of this spiritual origin in regeneration; and to every one when he is re-born, the water of baptism is like the Virgin's womb; for the same Holy Spirit fills the font, Who filled the Virgin, that the sin, which that sacred conception overthrew, may be taken away by this mystical washing.”

Leo the Great’s Letter 15.9: “The ninth notice declares that they say the sons of promise are born indeed of women but conceived by the Holy Spirit: lest that offspring which is born of carnal seed should seem to share in God's estate. This is repugnant and contrary to the Catholic Faith which acknowledges every man to be formed by the Maker of the Universe in the substance of his body and soul, and to receive the breath of life within his mother's womb: though that taint of sin and liability to die remains which passed from the first parent into his descendants; until the sacrament of Regeneration comes to succour him, whereby through the Holy Spirit we are re-born the sons of promise, not in the fleshly womb, but in the power of baptism.”

Zero church fathers there or anywhere else agreed with Wilson. The fact is he can’t quote any for his side on John 3:5 since none exists.

So if I’m so uneducated and sophomoric on church history as Wilson claimed, what does that make him if he gets it this wrong?

Here we stand.

American Jesus

Christianity in America has largely turned into a mess that doesn't look much like historic Christianity at all; even less so Christianity based on Scripture. Why do I say that? Simply put, there is no substance. This issue stems deeper than simple political sides. It is not a matter of the Republicans being Christians and the Democrats are not; or vice versa.

Two things stick out in my mind that have contributed to the mess we have created as well as inherited. They are American mores and ideals and theological liberalism.

In the United States, we tend to value our ideals, such as freedom, the self-made man, and the ability to self-determine everything we do. Historically, we valued them even more. One needn't look any further than the Second Great Awakening of the 1800s to see these ideals at work. The Second Great Awakening (and its later cousin, the Azusa St. Revival) was called a revival and a great move of God. But was it? Let's examine its fruits.

The Second Great Awakening was not a return to orthodoxy. It was not an outburst of genuine Lutheranism, or even Catholicism, Reformed Theology, or Eastern Orthodoxy. So, what came of it? Within American Evangelical strains, to this very day we see the heavy influence of the arch-heretic Charles Grandison Finney. Finney denied original sin and emphasized a form of pragmatism and decision theology, pressuring sinners to make a decision for Christ. Finney was basically the forerunner of what we know today as the Altar Call and the Sinner's Prayer based solely on the reason and free will of the person. 

Other fruits of the Second Great Awakening were just as bad - maybe worse. The LDS (Mormons) got their start in this time period. And voila, it was very American. Joseph Smith promised eternal progression to Godhood for faithful Mormons. Go figure. We love our individual freedom and think so highly of ourselves, we can now progress to Godhood and be just like God the Father or Jesus (two different gods in LDS theology, by the way).

Another great cult got its start here as well. They are the Jehovah's Witnesses. It should come as no surprise that the Witnesses heavily emphasize an ability of the person to will themselves to salvation and earn and keep it by works. How American.

Oh, but wait, there's more. The Seventh Day Adventists also got their start here. The SDA is yet another cult that is bent on the free will of the person and the ability to perfectly obey the commandments. Not to mention, these things are so important in the SDA, it doesn't even matter if one affirms or denies the Trinity. You're free to believe either way and still be a good member of the SDA.

Need I go on? The point is, American ideals governed all of these groups, and none of them are anywhere near orthodox historic Christianity. None of them emphasized the need for grace, given in Word and Sacrament. Every single one, on the other hand, emphasized free will decision and the ability of the self to raise themselves from the dead.

So that is our foundation for the most part. The Second Great Awakening deviated so far from actual Christianity, it is easy enough to say that this so-called revival had next to nothing to do with Christianity and was in fact, a fraudulent movement that was not Christian.

Enter the theological liberals. First of all, let us not confuse the theological liberals with political liberals, although the two often overlap. The liberals are proponents of a Scripture that is not inspired and not inerrant. So instead of the Scriptures being God's Word to man, they are rather man's word about his experiences with God. As such, one is free to interpret them in any manner they would like, as anybody's subjective interpretation is just as valid as anybody else's. 

When you toss these two things together, you end up with the perfect storm. Now you end up with the individual's right to choose along with everybody's interpretations being equally valid. So, what results have come from this illegitimate marriage? There is more to this story than I will address here (such as post-WWII theology aligning to fight the Commies), but here are some of the results.

1. Relegating core Christian doctrines to a status of secondary. This is done in numerous circles, especially regarding things like Baptism or the Lord's Supper. Many argue that Baptism and the Lord's Supper are not core essential doctrines, so we should be able to agree to disagree on them. Not surprisingly, the early church thought completely opposite of this. St. Irenaeus, in the 2nd century A.D. penned writings titled Against Heresies. In them, two of his strongest arguments against Gnosticism and Docetism were a denial of baptismal regeneration as well as a denial that the Lord's Supper is truly Christ's body and blood. Imagine that. Well, we actually have a hard time imagining it as Americans, because we have devolved, theologically speaking.

Thus, many American Christians, especially those of an evangelical bent, dislodge Baptism and the Lord's Supper from their central place in the church. They argue that Baptism is simply a work of obedience that does nothing but show God how serious you are about him, by your own free will. Likewise, the Lord's Supper is no longer the body and blood of Christ, but rather, a cute little memorial meal, totally devoid of grace, which by the way, can be distributed using elements that are not bread and wine according to the Institution of Christ.

2. The idea that everyone who claims to be a Christian is actually a Christian. Now don't get me wrong, we ought to take people at their word when they make a Confession of Faith. That much is true. That being said, there are things called core doctrines that if denied, puts one outside of Christ. Oh, but not in modern America! So long as someone says they love Jesus, we're all too willing to count them as a brother, even if they are Mormons, JWs, Pelagians, or whatever else. We don't care what people actually believe as long as it's Jesus - whatever Jesus that might be. 

Hence, everything becomes a theological grab bag. You believe the Trinity? Great! He doesn't but he is still a brother! See the problem? A minimum of one of these stances must by necessity be wrong. Well, except those dirty Roman Catholics. They're all headed for hell, surmise the evangelicals on occasion.

3. The adaptation of our churches to the culture. This is the arena where pop culture as well as politics comes in. It's no surprise that a majority of American evangelical churches have more in common with a pop rock concert than they do with the historic liturgy. We are Americans. We are free, and dammit, we will do what we want, and we want to be entertained.

Politically speaking, both the right and the left in America like to use Jesus to support their political aims. On the right, way too many American Evangelicals think Jesus was entombed for 3 days wrapped in an American flag. They equate the message of Christ with the Republican party. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis recently stated: "You gotta be ready for battle. So put on the full armor of God, take a stand against the left's schemes, stand firm with the belt of truth buckled around your waist. You will face fire from flaming arrows, but the shield of faith will protect you." This statement is meant to rally the Christian right, of course. However, it is also quite shameful. First, he is equating the Republican Party as the Party of Jesus. Second, he is basically calling all Democrats demonic and equating that party with Satan.

The left is no better. Recently, there has been a massive ad campaign called "He Gets Us." This campaign is more or less trying to use Jesus as a champion of left-wing causes. This is just as shameful.

Granted, there are certain political issues that Christians should take a stand on. That being said, this is not a political blog and I am not going to delve any deeper into these issues.

In summation, what we must keep in mind are a few things. First, doctrine is vital. The Scriptures teach it and the early church took it very seriously. Heck, so did the Protestant Reformers. Second, American ideals are not particularly Christian morals. Not always anyways. Third, the United States is not the promised land. Jesus did not preach an American utopia, nor did he die for that. Fourth, it is OK to love your country. But it is not OK to equate your country's ideals with Jesus. Your country is part of the world that will pass away. Countries come and go. Christ is eternal.



Scripture > Systematics

 Systematic Theology is an endeavor that can be approached in numerous manners. Us Lutherans in general are not huge writers so much anymore of Systematic Theologies, but there are some exceptions, and we do have numerous Systematics available. Francis Pieper’s Christian Dogmatics is in essence a Systematic Theology, to mention one example. Melanchthon and Chemnitz have them as wwll. Our Reformed friends, on the other hand, have more contemporary Systematic Theologies coming out of their ears. There are all sorts of various modern Calvinistic Systematic Theologies available. Michael Horton has one, Herman Bavinck, Wayne Grudem, and so on. Both Lutherans and Calvinists have spilled a lot of ink on numerous tomes of Systematic Theology.

Systematic Theology can be a worthwhile endeavor. The main point here, however, is that Systematic Theology can, and is, done very wrong on a consistent basis. It is invalid, in this blogger’s opinion, to use Systematic Theology to draw inferences in Scripture that end up contradicting other Scriptures that are plain and clear.

To put this simply, when a Systematic Theology ends up drawing a conclusion by inference that is in direct opposition to Scripture, it is not the Systematic Theology that is correct; it is the Word of God. It is my intention here to show how Reformed Systematics do exactly this and thereby oppose the Word of God.

The most common example of this in Reformed Systematics is regarding the doctrine of limited atonement. This doctrine states, in simple form, that Christ atoned for the elect alone and did not atone for those who are “non-elect.” Therefore, Christ’s death was only intended for those who will be saved, and in no way was intended for those who will not be saved. This idea sounds foreign to most Lutherans, as most Lutherans are not familiar with Reformed Theology and Systematics.

Let’s examine some of the texts that the Reformed use to support this doctrine and then show how their usage of these texts is invalid and based on inferences and deductions made to align Christ’s work with the rest of their theology. The Gospel of John is the book in Scripture used the most often by Reformed Systematics to defend and support the doctrine of limited atonement.

We will start in John 10. Here are two verses used by the Reformed to support limited atonement.

St. John 10:11(ESV): I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

St. John 10:15(ESV): Just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay my life down for the sheep.

And the Lutherans all say amen. But here is where Reformed Systematics infers things from these passages that aren’t there and contradict other plain and clear passages. Reformed Systematics takes these passages and infer that this means that Jesus *only* died for the sheep and therefore *did not* die for everyone. But that idea is not found here in St. John. This is an inference, not a reading of Scripture.

If Calvinists had passages that plainly state that Jesus did not die for someone or some group of people, they would have a biblical doctrine. The problem is, there are not any. And likewise, there are passages that say differently.

1 John 2:2(ESV): He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

1 Timothy 4:10(ESV): For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.

Thus, the Calvinist reading of John 10 is inferred and made to fit a Systematic Theology, and then 1 John 2:2 and 1 Timothy 4:10 are twisted to mean some somewhat goofy things that aren’t plain readings of Scripture.

John 17 is another place Calvinists go to try to support limited atonement, but as we will see, their reading here is drawn from inference as well.

St. John 17:9(ESV): I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.

Here the Calvinist erects a rhetorical question that is easily rebutted. They ask, Why would Jesus die for those whom He refused to pray for?

The answer is really quite simple. This is a specific prayer for specific people. In this particular prayer, Jesus is not praying for the world. This does not mean, however, that Jesus never prays for unbelievers and others. In fact, in 1 Timothy 2, we are commanded to pray for all people universally. We are commanded to love and pray for our enemies as well.

Thus we can only conclude that the Calvinist inferences into these passages, as they are in contradiction to other clear Scriptures, are dishonest. I am not saying Calvinists are intentionally dishonest or intentional liars. But nevertheless, this is the result of their inferences in these passages. Their readings here are erroneous precisely because they contradict other passages of Scripture, which Calvinists fumble all over themselves trying to reinterpret to fit with limited atonement.

We must, at the end of the day, as Christians, allow all of Scripture to be true. We cannot pick and choose half of this and half of that to fit a Systematic Theology, as Calvinists and Arminians are known to do.  These two camps see each other as bitter enemies and opposites of each other, but in reality, they are both recent theologies and are more closely related to each other than they are to historic Christianity, or to Scripture. They are, in essence, two sides of the same coin.

There are other doctrines clearly stated and taught in Scripture that Calvinist inferences also deny, but we shall save that for another day.



Orthodoxy vs. Heterodoxy=Comfort vs. Doubt

We Lutherans have often talked about avoiding heterodox churches (see Pieper especially). We have often talked about "correct" doctrine. While the above is true so far as it goes, I submit it may be even more helpful to speak of heterodox churches as churches which lack the assurance of the complete Gospel, and which therefore lack comfort and cannot give proper pastoral care. It is more helpful to speak of churches which lack Gospel doctrine. Here is what I mean as some examples.

Many churches use the name "Lutheran" but differ over what that means. Even those churches that say they hold to our Confessions as expressed in the Book of Concord differ in the interpretation of our Confessions. So instead, consider what some are saying and practicing and instead hold up the litmus test of the Gospel and comfort and assurance. Consider:

*Some "Lutheran" churches hold to contemporary worship, saying that it is preferred by outsiders to draw them in. But this kind of "worship" manipulates the emotions instead of simply demonstrating our confession of the Gospel. Does this bring comfort? Or does it instead cause us to rest on our feelings? What if we do not "feel" God?

*Some "Lutheran" churches do not see the Pastoral Office as instituted by Christ specifically, but instead see it as on the same level as other offices where the church has freedom. Some of these have said that, in a group of women, a woman could give and consecrate the Sacrament. Does this give comfort, or doubt? How would a woman function in Persona Christi?

*Some "Lutheran" churches have the Sacrament every other week, or even only once a month. Does this give comfort? What are parishioners to think about the Sacrament?

Indeed, these are only a few examples. But we need a modern day Reformation in the Lutheran Church. 

Orthodoxy and comfort and assurance are hard to find. It is worth moving or driving far distances. The Gospel is often like a passing rainstorm.

If you find a solid, comforting, orthodox Lutheran parish, it is worth far more than gold. Cling to it like your life depended on it.

Because it does.


Response to Revealing Truth on baptismal regeneration Part 1

 Recently Sean Christie of a discernment ministry, Revealing Truth did a hit video aimed at discrediting the Lutheran understanding of baptismal regeneration in response to a video on the topic by my fellow Confessional Lutherans, Steven Kozar and Daniel Long. His video can be found here:


The video he was responding to can be found here:


Sean made the claim at the 35:24 mark of the video (almost at the end) that those who support baptismal regeneration hold to those who believe and are not baptized will not be saved view of Mark 16:16. Complete strawman of not only what Confessional Lutherans affirm but what historic baptismal regenerationists affirmed as well the first 1500 years of church history.

This article will deal with this strawman concerning Mark 16:16.

Confessional Lutherans (as well as historic baptismal regenerationists) do not teach that those who lack a chance to be baptized are lost even if they have faith. Lutherans  in regards to Mark 16:16 teach 1) baptism is a means of grace to save through faith 2) lack of chances to be baptized don’t damn, but only unbelief.

He knew that to be a false claim about us since he admitted at the 0:42-1:03 minute mark  that in the prior edition of this video, he falsely assumed Lutherans hold to this and apologized for that. Yet, right near the end of the video, he repeat that false claim about our beliefs as if we hold to lack of chances to be baptized damns even believers? A claim he knew to be false? Sad.

What Confessional Lutherans affirm is that baptism is normatively necessary to salvation but not absolutely so.

How can that be?

To begin with, Confessional Lutherans affirm saving grace is absolutely needed to cause conversion out of fallen sinners who are otherwise bound by sin.

And we as Confessional Lutherans affirm God promises to use baptism as a means of this saving grace to give faith and rebirth.

To affirm God uses baptism as means of saving grace to give faith and rebirth isn’t the same as saying God always uses baptism as such.

God’s saving grace is absolutely necessary. A certain means such as baptism isn’t since we also affirm the word preached is just as effectual to give faith and rebirth. God isn’t limited to any given means, even Baptism where He attaches saving promises to, in order to give saving grace. He doesn’t limit or bound Himself.

The Augsburg Confession Article V put it this way:

“1 That we may obtain this faith, the Ministry of Teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. For through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, 2 the Holy Ghost is given, who works faith; where and when it pleases God, in them that hear 3 the Gospel, to wit, that God, not for our own merits, but for Christ’s sake, justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ’s sake.”

Note we affirm in this confession that God works when and where it pleases Him to give saving faith through Word and Sacrament. In other words, He isn’t limited to either Word or Sacrament to give saving faith.

Colossians 2:11-13 treats baptism as means God gives faith and rebirth:

11 In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ:

12 Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.

13 And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses.

Romans 10:14-15 speak of the word preached as means God gives faith and rebirth as well:

14 How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?

15 And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!

Nor does being saved prior to baptism in the cases of via word preached as means one is given faith makes baptism less saving afterwards.

Remember, Confessional Lutherans affirm saving faith continually receive Christ’s forgiveness and salvation in Word and Sacrament, always by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

Salvation isn’t a one shot deal in our view. We are being saved, not just were saved. 

 That accounts for Paul still having his sins washed away in baptism, through faith in Acts 22:16, despite already converting prior to baptism:

16 And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.

The point is that Sean failed to actually interact with what we actually believe but claim to debunk our baptismal regeneration view ot Mark 16:16 by falsely claiming we hold to lack of a chance to be baptized damns even believers. In truth, he didn’t debunk anything but a strawman.

Let’s consider various Confessional Lutheran denomination statements:


“Jesus said, ‘Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned’ (Mark 16:16). It is faith that saves; it is unbelief—not the lack of baptism—that condemns.”


“The LCMS does not believe that Baptism is ABSOLUTELY necessary for salvation. All true believers in the Old Testament era were saved without baptism. Mark 16:16 implies that it is not the absence of Baptism that condemns a person but the absence of faith, and there are clearly other ways of coming to faith by the power of the Holy Spirit (reading or hearing the Word of God).”

Here we stand.


Intuitu Fidei and the Formula of Concord

The Lutheran Church has always battled with each other in-house regarding various theological topics. Historically, there were numerous "controversies" that arose in our history. Many of these arose in the 16th century which led to the writing of the Formula of Concord. However, other battles occurred later in history, as American Lutherans debated fiercely over Section XI of the Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord regarding election and predestination. One side argued for an election in view of faith (intuitu fidei) whereas the other side argued for an election that is a cause of faith. Or we could term this, an election that is unconditional. To this day, Lutherans are split on this topic. Both sides of this discussion claim that the Formula of Concord is on their side, and both have reasons for doing so.

To answer which side is truly the one that agrees with the Lutheran Confessions, it is vitally important that we go to the framers of the Formula of Concord and see what they had to say on the topic. While it is certainly true that both sides of this debate have an historical basis in Lutheranism, which one has the actual Confessional basis? Let us look at some quotes on the topic from the Formula's writers as well as quotes from later Lutheran scholastics.

To begin, we will look at some of the authors of the Formula. These men are: Martin Chemnitz, Jacob Andreae, Nicholas Selnecker, David Chytraeus, Andrew Musculus, and Christopher Cornerus.

Martin Chemnitz, the principal author of the Formula, writes this in his 1574 Enchiridion, directed to the Lutheran ministers in the Duchy of Braunschweig:

But does predestination only encompass salvation and not at the same time the persons who should be saved? Scripture includes in this article at the same time also the persons of the elect. For it ought not be considered equally as though God only prepared in general with his predestination, but did not think about the persons themselves who should be saved but left it to them to strive and seek to attain salvation by their own natural powers and efforts. But God in grace considered and predestined unto salvation in his eternal decree of predestination and gracious purpose each and every individual elect person who should be saved through Christ while He at the same time foreordained how through His grace, gifts, and working He would bring and preserve them in the salvation prepared in Christ. Does that election first happen when men repent and believe the Gospel, or does it happen because of their salvation foreseen from eternity? Paul says in Ephesians 1:4: "He chose us in Christ" not in time, but "before the foundation of the world," and in 2 Timothy 1:9 he says: "He called us to a holy calling, not because of our own works, but because of His own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began." For the election of God does not follow our faith and righteousness, but precedes it as the effective cause.

Dr. Marin Chemnitz, Enchiridion de pradecipuis doctrinae coelestis capitibus (Leipzig, 1554) 1600, p. 210ff. See also Martin Chemnitz, Ministry, Word, and Sacraments: An Enchiridion (St. Louis: Concordia, 2009)

Chemnitz also continues:

For those whom He previously predestined and ordered (quos praedefinivit et praedestinavit) He also called and made righteous, Romans 8:29ff. Augustine diligently discussed what Paul writes in Ephesians 1:4, that "He chose us," not because we were holy or became holy, or because He foresaw that we would be holy, but "He chose us in Christ," he says, and indeed "before the foundation of the world, that we might be holy and blameless before Him." For election and the decree of grace is the effective cause of everything that belongs to salvation, as Paul confirms in Ephesians 1:11-12, 19 by writing: "Through Christ we have come to the inheritance that we were previously ordered to according to according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will so that we might be to the praise of His glory through whose powerful working we also believe" etc. And this election occurred before the time of the world, not in regard to our works, whether they be earlier, or present, or in the future, according to God's purpose and the pleasure of His grace. Romans 9:11: "Not from the merit of works but from the grace of the one who calls." 2 Timothy 1:9: "He called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His purpose and grace."...Therefore Paul also says in 2 Timothy 2:19 that this is the seal: "Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from unrighteousness." And from that it is evident with certainty (certo constat) that none of the elect remains in that which is called ultimate unrepentance and unbelief (in finali, ut dicitur, impoenitentia et incredulitate)

Dr. Chemnitz, Enchiridion, p.211. sq. 215)

Nicholas Selnecker, commenting on Acts 13:48, writes:

This is written because that is the state of the matter. For God knows His own from eternity and He endowed with faith those whom He predestined to eternal life, through the word that they hear, and justifies them. But that He did not predestine all and endow them with faith is the fault of man, not God. For many men hear the Word in vain and despise the grace of God offered in the Word. But although God could make all those who are not willing willing, He does not do this; and He has most just and wisest reasons why He does not do it, which is not our matter to investigate. On the contrary, we are to give thanks with our whole heart that He has called us unto fellowship of eternal life through the preaching of the Gospel and enlightened our hearts by faith. And since Luke 13 uses the specific word (ordered), we should know that we are bound to a (Greek Word), that is, that we ought to judge and speak of election according to the order appointed by God in the Church through Word and Sacrament. We ought to ever hold fast to the truths (sententias) of this in the most faithful way, namely, that there are no elect apart from the amount of those called and that all those who persevere in faith in the agonies of death and in appealing to the Son of God are elect.

Later, Selnecker continues, answering the question "Is foreseen faith the cause of election?" He writes:

If justifying faith were our work, our nature (qualitas) and virtue, then this question would obtain. But because that faith is a work of God in us, this question is not needed very much, however to answer this question is not difficult. Election is certainly God's eternal resolution regarding the saving of men. This resolution of God is subject to (subjictur) faith in Christ, which God also Himself gives according to the order established by Him. Therefore foreseen faith cannot be the cause of eternal election whose result and effect is faith, as it were, in those of us born in time and which in time ceases when we die. If, then, foreseen faith were to be called the cause of election, the false delusion of our foreseen worthiness and merits not only of faith, as our quality, but also our other good works would capture our minds. God knows those who are His own and elected them before the foundation of the world. And the cause of this election is nothing other than the mercy and gracious goodness of God through and for the sake of Christ, the mediator, and of His merits, which must be grasped and apprehended by faith alone. This faith, because it is the hand or the instrument by which God's grace and Christ's merits are grasped, cannot be the cause of grace and election, but it is that means and tool by which we apprehend the grace and merits of Christ.

Nicholas Selnecker, In omnes epistolas D. Pauli apostoli Commentarius. Published by the sobn of Georg Selnecker, Leipzig 1595, fol. 213ff.

This should all be enough to see that the authors of the Formula themselves did not hold to election intuitu fidei. That being said, let us look at some other Lutherans, namely, as it pertains to the intuitu fidei.

C.F.W. Walther, the first president of the LCMS, was a staunch defender of the single predestination of Luther, Chemnitz, and the Formula. That being said, here is what he has said about some other Lutheran theologians who thought differently:

Our theologians intended to go in the safest way when they here employed the expression "intuitu fidei," that is, "in view of faith." With it, they wanted to avoid and escape the Scylla of Calvin's absolute predestination, and on the other side the Charybdis of the predestination by the conduct of man of Pelagius and all synergists. They were far away from wanting to correct in any way the pure biblical and symbolical doctrine of gracious election with that use of the dubious term "intuitu fide." Indeed, they held onto it fast nonetheless with complete earnestness and rejected in the strongest way that Pelagian and synergistic notion in the notion of gracious election. Therefore it would be irresponsible heretification [Ketzermacherei] to want to make these pure, outstanding theologians in the development and defense of the doctrine of our Church into false teachers, namely into Pelagians, at least semi-Pelagians or synergists, on account of that expression that indeed all too easily leads to misunderstanding.

C.F.W. Walther, Predestination, St. Louis, Concordia, p. 21.

The most careful and orthodox expositor of the intuitu fidei, in my mind, was probably Johann Gerhard, the brilliant Lutheran dogmatician. Let us briefly see what he has to say.

We do not say that faith is the meritorious or effective cause of election, or that God elected us on account of faith. Gerhard, quoted in Hannekin, Verae th. Synopsis, p.170

We do not say that predestination has its basis in the foresight of faith, but that the foresight of faith belongs to the decree of election. But there is a big difference between these phrases. The first expresses the meritorious or initial cause, the latter indicates only the ordering. Gerhard, Ibid. p. 175

Since the decree of predestination, which nobody can preempt, is limited by God Himself with a certain order, nobody can in the ordinary manner believe if he does not observe that original order appointed by God. The result of this is that all grace originally flows out of God's hand as that which steadfastly appointed and prescribed that order, so that whoever desires to obtain faith and be saved through it would use Word and Sacraments, which were entrusted to the Church. Briefly, faith is a gift and effect of the grace of the electing God, who not only made the decree about the salvation of believers, but also first ordained certain means of faith and of salvation beforehand, without which order nobody would either believe or be saved. Gerhard, Disputatt. Isag. p.726

It is not denied that out of sheer grace God predestined to the final goal and to the means those who should be saved, but the gist of the controversy is whether God first predestined some to the final goal according to an absolute pleasure, to which absolutely elect ones He first decreed to give the means through which He would lead them to the final goal. Gerhard, Ibid. 175

Many more quotes could be provided from both sides. From where I sit, however, it would seem that the intuitu fidei, while not falling into synergism - much less into Pelagianism - is not what the Formula is speaking of. This is clearly defended by non-Confessional writings and quotes from the authors of the Formula itself. Chemnitz and Selnecker certainly did not affirm intuitu fidei. That said, Johann Gerhard, one of the best Lutheran theologians to ever live, did affirm it. Yet he was very cautious and careful in his handling of it. He saw the slippery slopes and expertly avoided them.

Therefore, let us avoid pinning any labels such as Pelagian, semi-Pelagian, synergist, Arminian, or free willers on these solid Lutheran dogmaticians.



A Thousand! Always Literally a Thousand?

The word "thousand" is used quite liberally in Scripture. The biggest battleground regarding the word occurs at the very end of Scripture, in Revelation 20. I will endeavor to show that this word, although it certainly is the word for a specific number, is not always used to signify that exact number, especially in Revelation 20.

The first example I will give is from the Ten Commandments. The finale of the first commandment reads as such:

You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. -Exodus 20:4-6 (ESV)

The ESV gets the gist here. Other translations render Exodus 20:6 as such:

"...but showing love to a thousand generations to those who love me and keep my commandments." -NIV

"...And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments." -KJV

"...but showing favor to thousands, to those who love me and keep my commandments." -NASB

The point here is quite simple. God says that he will show love, mercy, or favor unto thousands or unto a thousand generations (NIV). This means, quite simply, that God's love, mercy, and favor are complete and endless. It does not mean that after these generations are past his love stops. It is eternal and endless. Here we see, quite clearly, that the term thousand is used in order to signify totality or completeness or perfection.

Deuteronomy 7:9 says much of the same: Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God that keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations. (ESV)

God's covenant and steadfast love are eternal, complete, and total. What happens to the 1001st generation? See the point? Scripture is not using the word thousand in a rigid manner here, much like Exodus 20.

Psalm 50:10 is another good example, saying:

For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. (ESV)

I mean, surely there are more than 1000 hills with cattle. What about the rest? Are they not God's?

This brings us to Revelation chapter 20.

Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while. -Revelation 20:1-3 (ESV)

There are, of course, various ideas regarding this passage. I think there are some very good reasons to see this as a usage of the word thousand that is not rigidly literal.

First of all, it is Christianity 101 to confess that Christ defeated and disarmed Satan by his death and resurrection. Colossians 2:15 is an example of this.

He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (ESV)

Second, the power of sin is the law (1Cor 15:56), and Satan stands and accuses all believers before God day and night (Rev 12:10). But thanks be to God, for Christ has taken the law's curse upon himself, rendering Satan helpless in this regard (Gal 3:13). So much so that Satan cannot bring a charge against us (Rom 8:33).

Third, as we have endeavored to show, the term thousand can and is used in Scripture to mean a completeness or totality.

Fourth, the book of Revelation is apocalyptic in genre. It is not a literal timeline or book.

The picture Scripture gives us in Revelation 20 is of a chain. Certainly Satan is not on a literal chain. Yet he definitely is bound and hindered. The image of a chain is very apropos. Don't get near him! Christ defeated him and has already won! Why return to filth?

Hence, the best interpretation of Revelation 20 is simply this, that Christ defeated Satan at Calvary and Satan is now bound for the completeness of time until Christ returns. He has no power over the believer because Jesus already won. He is bound but not gone. He is corralled and beaten but not dead. Stay away from him!

Rest in Christ, God Incarnate who has decisively beaten him.



Election and Predestination: Luther and Calvin

Election and predestination have, throughout church history, provided a fertile theological battle ground. Every church body has a doctrine of it in some way. For our purposes, we will focus on the two Reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin. The two magisterial Reformers in question took quite a different route when treating this doctrine in Scripture. To grasp the differences between the two, it is imperative to understand how the two Reformers approached theology. Reformed theologians love to claim Luther as an ally in this debate, yet Lutheran theologians have no interest in claiming Calvin. Why is this? Simply put, the two Reformers had a very different way of looking at this oft debated doctrine.

For Calvin, everything flows from God's decree in eternity past. That is to say, God, in his infinite wisdom, predestined some to life and some to perdition. Predestination is a very central and controlling theological topic in Calvin and the later development of Reformed theology. For Luther and later Lutherans, election is a cause of our salvation, but not the central controlling cause. As we will see, this entails a recognition of the hidden God vs. the revealed God.

Calvin on Predestination

By predestination we mean the eternal decree of God, by which he determined with himself whatever he wished to happen with regard to every man. All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and, accordingly, as each has been created for one or other of these ends, we say that he has been predestinated to life or to death. -Calvin, Institutes, 3.21.5

So, for Calvin, predestination is a central doctrine through which Scripture may be interpreted. The sovereign and all-powerful God determines everything that comes to pass, specifically when it comes to salvation. In Calvin's thought, God has predestined some to eternal life (the elect) and some to eternal damnation (the non-elect).

Therefore, in Reformed Theology, God's decree is the beginning point of theology. Other doctrines regarding salvation flow from this.

Thus, we can see the logical formulation of the famous Reformed acrostic, the TULIP. The formulation goes something like this.

1. God predestined some to life and others to perdition. (Unconditional election)
2. Therefore, the Son only ransoms those given to life. (limited atonement)
3. Therefore, the Spirit only regenerates those whom the Father gave to the Son. (Irresistible grace)
4. Therefore, all of these (the elect) and only these receive grace and are kept until the last day (perseverance of the saints)

In Reformed history, the Remonstrants challenged this, putting forth a free will decision in place of unconditional election, thereby formulating 5 differing points of soteriology. This was debated upon and rejected by the Reformed Synod of Dort (1618-1619), which is where the famous 5 points of Reformed soteriology originated.

The Reformed churches, with their heavy emphasis on God's decree, have also speculated as to the logical (not temporal!) order of God's decrees. Depending on how the decrees are ordered, the emphasis falls on different syllables. For the Reformed, there are multiple theories here: Supralapsarianism, Infralapsarianism, and to a lesser extent, Sublapsarianism (4-point Calvinism where the atonement is unlimited).

All of this sounds very foreign to the Lutheran ear, and rightfully so. The simple reason is that Luther -and Lutheran theology- sees the Reformed manner of systematizing these doctrines is, in a sense, backwards. Certainly, logically speaking, the Reformed will argue that God's decree came first and so on. But here Lutherans appeal to the distinction between the hidden God and the revealed God.

For Lutherans, peering into the hidden God is a fool's errand. Instead, we ought to set our focus squarely on the revealed God, shown to us clearly in the person of Christ, and read the words of Scripture and believe them without trying to cram them into our reasoning. Certainly, Lutherans are not against reason. But we are against reason as means to go over and above clear passages of Scripture. Therefore, when we see a passage such as Titus 2:11, which states "For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people," we see in it a clear proclamation by St. Paul of the gratia universalis, or universal grace - something Reformed theology rejects. This grace is given to us in Christ and his work, the fountain of all grace.

We also see sola gratia (grace alone) clearly spoken of in Scripture. This is a safeguard against synergism, which denies sola gratia in the same manner that Reformed theology denies gratia universalis. We see this doctrine very clearly in passages such as Ephesians 2.

All of this is to say, Lutheranism centers theology in Christ. We have a phrase we like to use: All theology is Christology. In short, we start with the revealed God, who is Christ, breaking into history for us. 

And Christ, truly and actually, is for you. His atonement is universal and the grace that delivers Christ to you is universal.

We also have quite a robust doctrine of predestination which agrees neither with the Reformed or the Remonstrants (Arminians).

Two other terms that come up very often in this discussion monergism and synergism. Monergism on a theological basis means that God alone saves, by himself. It means one work. This work is God's alone. Monergism is what is affirmed by adherents of sola gratia - Reformed as well as Lutherans. Synergism is a collaboration or a working together. The Remonstrants added a free will choice into salvation, insofar that God saves, but only in response to a person positively deciding to believe in Christ. Rome goes further and posits that justification itself is a result of faith plus works. Both the Remonstrants as well as the Roman Church are synergists.

Often, the doctrine of predestination gets roped into discussions between monergism and synergism, but this is not necessarily so. This is evidenced in Lutheranism to an extent as there are some Lutheran churches out there who teach election intuitu fidei (in view of faith) but are still solid Word and Sacrament monergists.

Whereas the Remonstrants called into question the Reformed doctrine of election on the basis of synergism and opted for a view of intuitu fidei, the Lutheran church is monergist through and through, but it is on an objective, Christ for you temporally in Word and Sacrament basis - whether one holds to election and predestination to salvation only (LCMS, WELS) or one holds to election and predestination intuitu fidei (ELDoNA).

We (Lutherans) see the Reformed as well as the Remonstrants as starting in the wrong place. Ultimately, they end up going round and round about free will choice vs unconditional election. The one denies sola gratia (Remonstrants) and the other denies gratia universalis (Reformed). These two doctrines are clearly revealed in Scripture, so the Lutheran church affirms both of them. 

As goes predestination, we affirm it is for salvation only (As an LCMS member and adherent to the whole Book of Concord, I affirm this as well) and is so sure and certain that the gates of hell cannot overcome it. Yet, we start with the revealed Christ, who died for you. And this grace given in Word and Sacrament is also for you. We needn't peer into the hidden God or peer into our own navels to affirm our election. In the first case, one can never be certain of their election by peering into the hidden God. Second, peering into our own navels will either lead to pride or despair.

Likewise, a denial of gratia universalis also will cause doubt, since grace is only for certain persons. Whereas a denial of sola gratia, the synergistic error, will also cause doubt, since grace is made effective by the willing of the person.

However, if Christ died a universal death, and grace is universal to everyone, and we are saved by grace alone, two things jump forth. The first is that we can know with absolute certainty that Christ is for us. The second is that we can be sure about our salvation in that God alone does the saving. This truly is salvation extra nos (outside of us).

In light of these things, our election is so certain that the gates of hell cannot overcome it.



Luther's Reformation: The Word is Jesus

 505 years ago, a German monk named Martin Luther nailed 95 theses for debate to the Castle Church door of Wittenberg, Germany. This was quite normal, as the door functioned as a community bulletin board. But little did he know that these 95 theses would spark a change in the entire Western World.

Luther's theses were not his mature thought, as he still had allegiance to the Pope and was still a loyal Roman Catholic at the time. But over time he would see that the Roman Catholic Church had abandoned the pure Gospel, and God would be pleased to use this man to bring the Good News to the world. Indeed, before Luther Jan Hus had come, and when Rome burned Hus at the stake Hus correctly claimed that another one would come and they would not be able to silence the Gospel.

But as Luther was opposed by Rome on one end, he was opposed by the Anabaptists and the Calvinists and the Zwinglians on the other end. While for Luther Rome had added to the Gospel, the Calvinists and Baptists had taken away from it. Rome had added works of merit, and the Baptists had taken Christ out of the Sacraments and turned them into mere ordinances or commands from God to merely remember a past event. The Calvinists had taken the “for you” out of the Gospel and turned it into amorphous categories of “the elect.”

Indeed, Luther's Reformation was all about the fact that the Good News is that Christ is God's Word to mankind, God's final Word. We have a gracious God in Christ, gracious for you in Word and Sacrament.

Consider Psalm 15, for example. Is this Psalm about who we are before God, trying to be those things which no one can truly be if he is honest, or is it about Christ? Christ is the One Who is characterized by the traits of Psalm 15, and only Him.

Christ is on every page of the Bible. Christ is in the Sacraments. Christ is in the Sermon, and it is not a morality lesson for us to follow, but it preaches Christ.

This was Luther's Reformation.

It was all about Jesus Christ.

Happy Reformation Day my friends.