A New Testament Study
By Jesse B. Thomas, D. D., LL.D.
THE SACRAMENTAL THEORY
1. Lutheran. Luther's Catechism (1529) substitutes the word "Christian" for "catholic" in the Apostles' Creed, and adds the following interpretation of the term: "The Creed calls the 'Church' a 'communion of Saints' - a term perfectly equivalent; meaning, as the clause should be rendered, a Christian community or congregation, or most appropriately a holy Christendom. For this clause was added as explanatory of what goes before, defining what the Church is; viz., a holy community on earth, composed only of holy persons, real saints, under one head, Christ, called together by the Holy Ghost, in one faith, mind and judgment, endowed with various gifts, yet concordant in love, free from heresy or schism."
The "Confessio Helvetica," originally published in 1536, with the express endorsement of Luther and other theologians
standing with him, reissued in revised form in 1566, reads as follows (Art. XVII.): "Since God would have all men from the beginning to be saved, and to come to the acknowledgment of the truth, there must needs always have been, be now, and exist hereafter, even to the end of the world, a Church, that is, a congregation of faithful men called out, or gathered, from the world - a communion of saints - of those, namely, who truly know and rightly worship, through the word and the Holy Spirit, the true God in Christ. It is of these - the fellow-citizens of the saints and of the household of God, sanctified by the blood of the Son of God - that the article of the Creed, 'I believe in the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints,' is to be understood."
The "Confessio Saxonica," drawn up by Melancthon (1551), in its ninth article, after reiterating substantially the same idea last cited, adds: "We do not speak of the Church as a Platonic idea, but we point out the Church which can be seen and heard. We, therefore, say that the Church invisible on earth is the congregation of those embracing the gospel and rightly using the sacraments, in which, through the ministry of the gospel,
God regenerates many unto life eternal; in which congregation there are, nevertheless, many who are not saints" (McElhinney, "Doct. of Church," 147-150).
In the Augsburg Confession of 1530, which continues the common standard of faith among the various branches of the Lutheran Church, the following definition is given; viz., "Art. VII. Also they teach, that one holy Church is to continue forever. But the Church is the congregation of saints (the assembly of believers), in which the gospel is rightly taught (purely preached), and the sacraments rightly administered (according to the gospel).
"And unto the unity of the Church, it is sufficient to agree concerning the doctrine of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments."
As to the sacraments themselves, we read in Article V. that "by the Word and Sacraments, as by instruments, the Holy Spirit is given; who worketh faith, where and when it pleaseth God, in those that hear the gospel. . . . They condemn the Anabaptists and others, who imagine that the Holy Spirit is given without the outward Word, through their own preparations and works"
(Jacobs, "Book of Concord," 1:38, 39).
In Article IX. it is said: "Of Baptism they teach that it is necessary to salvation, and that by Baptism the grace of God is offered, and that children are to be baptised, who, by Baptism being offered to God, are received into God's favor. They condemn the Anabaptists, who allow not the baptism of children, and affirm that children are saved without Baptism" (Jacobs, u. s. 40).
Again, in the Small Catechism (Part IV.), in answer to Question II., "What gifts or benefits does Baptism confer?" it is answered: "It worketh forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and confers everlasting salvation on all who believe as the Word and promise of God declare" (Jacobs, u. s. 370).
Coming to infant baptism, in the Large Catechism we read: "Here we are brought to a question by which the devil, through his sects, confuses the world . . . whether children also believe, and it be right to baptize them?" To this doubt it is replied that "even though infants did not believe, which, however, is not the case (as we shall now prove), yet their baptism would be genuine, and no one should rebaptize them."
The "proof" thus proposed to be given (of faith in the child) seems to be this: "We bring the child in the purpose and hope that it may believe, and we pray that God may grant it faith: but we do not baptize it upon that, but solely upon the command of God" (Jacobs, u. s. 471-2-3).
"Anabaptists pretend that children, not as yet having reason, ought not to receive baptism. I answer that reason in no way contributes to faith. Nay, in that children are destitute of reason, they are all the more fit and proper recipients of baptism. For reason is the greatest enemy that faith hath. It never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but - more frequently than not - struggles against the Divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God. If God can communicate the Holy Ghost to grown persons, he can, a fortiori, communicate it to young children. Faith conies of the word of God, when this is heard. Little children hear that word when they receive baptism, and therewith they receive faith" (Luther, "Table Talk" - Phil., '68 - p. 202).
As to the right administration of the sacraments, the Augsburg Confession (Art. XIV.) holds that "no man should publicly
in the church teach, or administer the sacraments, unless he be rightly called" (Jacobs, u. s. 41). But this does not necessarily involve episcopal ordination. On the contrary, the "Smalcald Articles" (Part II.) expressly deny the exclusive right of the bishop to ordain, claiming that the "authority to call, elect and ordain ministers ... is a gift exclusively given to the church, which no human power can wrest from the church" (Jacobs, u. s. 349).
2. Methodist. The Articles of Faith of the American Methodists were drawn up by John Wesley, and adopted here in 1784. They are an abridgment of the Thirteen Articles of the Anglican Church, from which all Calvinistic features are carefully effaced. Article XIII. is as follows: "The visible church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in which the pure word of God is preached, and the sacraments duly administered according to Christ's ordinance, in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same" ("Discipline," 1876, p. 21).
Article XVI., concerning the sacraments, describes them as not only badges or tokens of Christian men's profession, but rather they are certain signs of grace, and God's
good will toward us, by the which he doth work invisibly in us, and doth not only quicken, but also strengthen and confirm, our faith in him."
Article XVII. says of baptism that "it is not only a sign of profession and mark of difference, whereby Christians are distinguished from others that are not baptized; but it is also a sign of regeneration or the new birth. The baptism of young children is to be retained in the Church."
In the "General Rules," Section 48, we find the following statement of the "Relation of Baptized Children to the Church:" "We hold that all children, by virtue of the unconditional benefits of the atonement, are members of the Kingdom of God, and, therefore, are graciously entitled to baptism."
Section 49 adds that "we regard all children who have been baptized as placed in visible covenant relation with God, and under the special care and supervision of the Church."
Section 52 further adds that "whenever baptized children have attained an age sufficient to understand the obligations of religion, and shall give evidence of piety, they may be admitted to full membership in
our church, on the recommendation of a leader with whom they have met at least some months in class, by publicly assenting before the church to the Baptismal Covenant, and also to the usual questions on Doctrines and Discipline" ("Discipline," 1876).
This rule has been modified since the publication of the "Discipline" in 1864. It is there provided that baptized children, on giving "evidence of a desire to flee from the wrath to come, and to be saved from their sins," should, "with their own consent, be enrolled on the list of probationers, and if they shall continue to give evidence of a principle and habit of piety, they may be admitted into full membership," etc. ("Discipline," 1864, Gen. Rules, Ch. II., Sec. 2, Q. 3).
The office of bishop, as defined in Sections 155-160 ("Discipline," 1876), gives him no territorial and no civil authority, but makes him a traveling superintendent of church work, who needs neither apostolic succession nor even exclusive episcopal consecration to give validity to his functions; the office itself not being essential in the polity of the church.
Whatever question may now arise as to the interpretation of the statement in Articles XVI. and XVII., that the sacraments "work invisibly in us," there can be no question as to the meaning of the phrase in the mind of Mr. Wesley, who originally placed it in the "Articles." In his "Treatise on Baptism" (Works - N. Y., '50 - Vol. VI., 12-22) he sums up the benefits of baptism as follows: 1. It "washes away the guilt of original sin, by the application of the merits of Christ's death." So that "it is certain, by God's word, that children who are baptized, dying before they commit actual sin, are saved." 2. "By baptism we enter into covenant with God . . . that new covenant which he promised to make with the spiritual Israel; even to 'give them a new heart and a new spirit, to sprinkle clean water upon them (of which the baptismal is only a figure) and to remember their sins and iniquities no more.'" 3. "By baptism we are admitted into the Church, and consequently made members of Christ, its head." 4. "By water, then, as a means, the water of baptism, we are regenerated or born again; whence it is called by the apostle 'the washing of regeneration.'" 5. "In consequence of our being
made children of God, we are heirs of the Kingdom of heaven."
As to the need of baptizing infants, he concludes that "if infants are guilty of original sin, then they are the proper subjects of baptism; seeing, in the ordinary way, they can not be saved, unless this be washed away by baptism."
II. Summary of Sacramental Theory. - The central propositions that underlie this theory, and differentiate it from the others thus far considered, are the following:
1. The true Church universal is invisible as to organization. Luther insisted that the "Holy Catholic (Christian) Church," referred to in the Apostles' Creed, is there expressly defined by the following parallel phrase as "the communion of saints." This inward fellowship is invisible. The earthly "Kingdom of heaven" is a "kingdom within." The only ruler in it is the invisible Christ.
2. The alleged sovereignty of Peter or of the college of apostles; and their exclusive custody of divine grace, and power to transmit it by continuous touch to their successors, are all fictitious. The appendix to the Smalcald Articles" (Jacobs, u. s. 338-352)
is very full on this head. For instance, it cites the language of Paul in 1 Corinthians 3:6, as proving that "ministers are all equal, and that the church is above the ministers." "Hence superiority or lordship over the church or the rest of the ministers is not ascribed to Peter. For he says, 'All things are yours; whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas;' i. e., let not other ministers assume for themselves lordship or authority in the church."
The General Conference of the Methodists in America (1784) received Thomas Coke, who had been consecrated as a bishop by John Wesley (himself not a bishop), and Francis Asbury, who had in turn been consecrated by Coke, "being fully satisfied as to the validity of their episcopal ordination" ("Discipline," 1876, 15). Apostolic succession was thus ignored.
3. The claim of episcopal or other ecclesiastical rule over any territory, or over civic affairs, is unwarranted. In Article XXVII. of the Augsburg Confession (Jacobs, u.s. 62) it is laid down that "the ecclesiastical power concerneth things eternal, and is exercised only by the ministry of the Word and of the Sacraments: . . . the political
power is occupied about other matters than is the gospel. The magistracy defends not the minds, but the bodies, and bodily things, against manifest injustice; and coerces men by the sword and corporal punishments, that it may uphold justice and peace. Wherefore the ecclesiastical and civil powers are not to be confounded."
The Methodist "Articles" (XXIII.) declare the United States to be "a sovereign and independent nation" which "ought not to be subject to any foreign jurisdiction," and exhort all Christians to be "subject to the supreme authority of the country where they may reside." The functions of a bishop, as denned in Sections 155-160, confine him to exclusively ecclesiastical affairs.
4. Uniformity in administration of the sacraments, as channels of saving grace, is made the only visible token of unity. In Article VII. of the Augsburg Confession, above cited, it is expressly stated that "unto the true unity of the Church, it is sufficient to agree concerning the doctrine of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments" it being essential that the latter be "rightly administered." It is further claimed in Article VIII. that entrance into the visible
communion of the universal Church is effected by the sacrament itself, independent of the character of him who administers it; so that it is of itself the only absolute bond of external unity.
The Methodist Article XVII. makes baptism the "mark of difference, whereby Christians are distinguished from others that are not baptized." In Rule 51 baptized children are described as "children of the Church," and in Rule 52 they are spoken of as being on certain conditions "admitted into full membership in the Church;" implying that in some qualified sense they are already members. John Wesley even more explicitly makes baptism the one key to visible unity; for he affirms that by baptism we "are mystically united to Christ, and made one with him." For "by one Spirit we are all baptized into one body"; namely, the Church, "the body of Christ" (Works, VI., 15).
Rev. Dr. Newman, the well-known Methodist clergyman, during a camp-meeting at Ocean Grove, said: "As soon as a child is baptized, his name should be recorded on the church books, and he should be taught that he is just as much a Christian as he is an American citizen."
III. Logical Sequences of the Theory.
1. Confusion as to the doctrine of salvation by faith alone. The Anabaptists confronted Melancthon with the proposition that if salvation depended solely on faith, an internal experience, it could not at the same time depend on baptism, an external act; and that, in Scripture, baptism is made the personal and voluntary duty of a believer only, and could not, in such case, be rightly administered to an unconscious babe. He thereupon wrote Luther that they had "touched him in a sore place, and he knew not how to answer them." Luther, in reply, fell back on the authority of long-established custom, and, while admitting that faith must normally precede baptism, contented himself with the suggestion that as "faith is the gift of God," he must be assumed to give it to babes, even unconsciously, when asked.
The Methodists also, taking over infant baptism from the Anglican Church, with John Wesley's corresponding notion of full "grafting into the Church" derived from the same source, have found it embarrassing to maintain, at the same time, the necessity of personal and conscious regeneration before admission to the privileges of church membership.
According to the "Discipline" of 1864, full membership was denied to baptized children, and they were required to become probationers at their own request. There came to be this anomalous condition of things. Children who had, according to Article XVII., become "Christians" by baptism, were now required to become "probationers," and so put on the same footing with those who, not having been baptized, were still non-Christians; and both were required to take the same steps to become full members. Infant baptism was thus practically nullified, while still theoretically insisted upon.
2. Formalism stagnating thought and eating out spirituality. The notorious decline of the German people from the evangelical doctrine and from the spiritual earnestness of the Reformers has been attributed by her foremost theologians primarily to the prevalence of infant baptism, with its inevitable implication of sacramental grace. The minister has there again become practically a priest, and men are saved, not by the "regeneration that washes," but by the "washing that regenerates."
Professor Tholuck said to Joseph Cook:
"I regret nothing so much as that the line of demarcation between the Church and the world, which Jonathan Edwards and Whitefield drew so deeply in the mind of New England, is almost unknown, not to the theological doctrines, but to the ecclesiastical forms of Germany. With us confirmation is compulsory. Children of unbelievers, as well as of believing families, must, at an early age, be baptized and profess faith in Father, Son and Holy Ghost.In a few cities of North Germany licenses were granted to women for an infamous profession, but only on exhibition of certificates of confirmation.
"Without certificate of confirmation in some church, employment can not be legally obtained. After confirmation the religious standing is assumed to be Christian. After that we are all church-members. Thus it happens that in our state church the converted and unconverted are mixed pell-mell together" ("Bib. Sac.," 32: 739, 740).
In the Methodist Church, Wesley's earnest emphasis on the necessity of the experimental element in religion (inconsistent as it manifestly was with his own doctrine of baptismal regeneration) has brought about
the incongruous attitude of the later church toward baptized children above mentioned. His influence has also issued, apparently, in relative disparagement of doctrine on the one side, and a present tendency to ritualistic development on the other.
In the Literary Digest for Nov. 13, 1897, is an account of a recent address by Bishop Goodsell, of the Methodist Church. He there says that no one can keep his ear close to the voices of the church without hearing two movements in opposite directions.
"One is toward the modification, if not destruction, of all which indicates our descent from the Church of England; the other seeks to assimilate our worship and the plan of our episcopal supervision to that from which our fathers came out. For a moment let us recall our history. We receive from that church our Articles of Religion, our ritual, our ministerial orders and office; and from her Arminian divines our theology. But we are not the heirs of her spirit. . . .
"The case is different with regard to the enrichment of the church's mode of worship and possibly with regard to the localization of the episcopate. Toward these, decided advance has been made of late. Three items
in the English service have been formally placed in the order of worship; namely, the recitation of the Apostles' Creed, the responsive reading of the Psalms, and the Gloria Patri thereafter. The use of these is now directed by the supreme body of the church, and the bishop thinks that the time is near when additional liturgical elements should be allowed to such congregations as desire them."
3. Relation of Church and State. Episcopacy is not reckoned theoretically an essential part of either Methodist or Lutheran organization. Where it prevails it carries no monarchic power. Luther's resentment of the Papal claim of supremacy over civil rulers was intense. He protested against the intrusion of the ecclesiastic into the realm of force, and equally against the counter intrusion of the rule of force into religious affairs. But infant baptism is itself an intrusion of force into religion, and, if essential to salvation, it logically suggests that the fatherly ruler see to it that his incipient subjects be early baptized. Actually, therefore, such baptism has become a legal requirement in Germany; and a certificate of baptism must be produced to secure license
to engage in lawful employment - as already shown. Religious liberty has in some Lutheran states been for a time almost or quite destroyed.
Sacramentalism thus insidiously leads to practical results of most inconsistent and harmful character. Its advocates, sooner or later, stultify themselves. They either are led by it into the renunciation of other radical opinions, or are led, by insisting on those opinions, to the practical, but unrecognized, abandonment of sacramentalism itself.
Grant ("Christendom" - New York, 1902): "Up to 1858 in Sweden no dissenting service was allowed; no Swedish citizen was allowed to secede from the state church" (410).
"In 1860 religious liberty (in part) was granted, since increased. The king, ministers of state, clergymen and religious teachers at state schools must be Lutherans. No cloisters or heathenish rites are permitted. No secession from Lutheranism is permitted (except actually to enter dissenting body). Dissenters must help support state church and state schools. The king is head of the church" (411).
"Religious liberty in Norway began
(1842) with abolishing law against conventicles. Norwegians may now leave state church and form separate congregation. (But Jesuits not allowed in the country.) King, ministers of state and public-school teachers must be Lutherans" (417).
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