I truly appreciate Protestant and evangelical writers who bring some thought-provoking ideas to the table. From Scot McKnight to Jamie Smith to N.T. Wright to Daniel Kirk to Roger Olson. They all are a great read.
Another such theologian is Peter Leithart. I don’t get to read him as often as others, but his blog can be found at First Things. He recently wrote a guest piece at The Evangelical Pulpit and it’s entitled, “No Sacraments, No Protestantism.”
I’ll let you check out the full piece, but suffice it to say, I expect the article to push some theological buttons in regards to water baptism theology for most Protestant evangelicals. However, his whole thesis is about Protestants speaking more biblically about baptism. He remarks:
If we’re Protestants, we want to be biblical. And if we’re biblical we have to say things like “you were washed, sanctified, and justified in the Name of Jesus” and “in your baptism you died with Christ, and whoever dies is justified from sin.” Because that’s what the Bible says.
That’s the problem of systematic theology – certain passages are considered over and above other passages, pretty much trumping other very clear teaching in Scripture. So, while Protestants champion Paul’s call of justification by faith alone (normally through a post-Reformation, western lens rather than via a first century, Jewish lens), we easily forget important passages like Acts 2:38; Rom 6:1-4; Col 2:11-12; 2 Pet 3:21. Chew on those for an evening, or a month.
Or, perhaps we know they are there, but we aren’t sure what to do with them, since we believe in justification by faith alone. They are what Scot McKnight calls blue parakeet passages – they aren’t so easily caged.
You see, that’s the thing – we Protestants don’t like anything that might sound like faith + works = salvation. That’s fine. But the most important thing to digest is that water baptism has never been a work of man. It’s always been a work of God. Yes, there is a response from human beings. But what act of God doesn’t call for a response, centered in faith in God (not faith in faith)? But all sacramental acts (or “ordinances”) are centered as acts of God – especially water baptism and the Lord’s table. Paul himself calls baptism a “powerful working of God” (Col 2:11-12).
And another big problem we have as Protestant evangelicals is that baptism is seen as some kind of individual and personal act alone. “I personally decided to walk the aisle and come to Jesus. I am personally deciding to get into the waters of baptism.” There’s no recognition of a body, a community here – ala 1 Cor 12:13. But that’s a side point to Leithart’s bone to pick.
Leithart goes on to say:
If baptism is not a public declaration of justification, where and when does that public declaration take place? Is it ever heard on earth? Is it ever spoken to me in particular? Can I hear it anywhere except in my heart? If I only hear the declaration of justification in my heart, how can I be sure I’m not hearing things? To be sure we’re right with God, we need some sign from Him, and it has to be a sign to me. We might wish for some other sign, but the sign that Paul talks about is water. (italics his own)
In all, as Leithart, I long for the Protestant evangelical branch of Christ’s church to rethink it’s speaking of baptism. And not just rethink it’s vocabulary, but also it’s beliefs around the work of God as seen in baptism.
Read the full article: “No Sacraments, No Protestantism.”