Sunday, August 16, 2009

Water and Spirit

(Photo by Stephen)

The following is a response to commenter Adomnan on Dave Armstrong's post on baptismal regeneration.

Adomnan said...

Why would Jesus confuse people by making them think He was speaking of baptism ("born of water and the Spirit"), when he didn't have the sacrament in mind, but rather some trite metaphor equating the Spirit with water?

In his post, Dave Armstrong spoke of types and shadows. So did Jesus while He was ministering, in a like manner to the prophets of the Old Testament. The concepts of both water and Spirit are linked together in the following Old Testament passages:

Isaiah 32:15:

15 until the Spirit is poured upon us from on high, and the wilderness becomes a fruitful field, and the fruitful field is deemed a forest.

The pouring of the Spirit upon the believer is likened to our wilderness souls becoming bountiful. This is illustrated also by the parable of the sower and the seeds that fell on the good soil in Matthew 13, Mark 4 and Luke 8.

Isaiah 44:3:

3 For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.

Ezekiel 36:25-27:

25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

These are not "trite metaphors," but revelatory prophecies of what will happen in the last days (New Testament era and beyond), as the apostle Peter said (quoting Joel 2:28-29):

17 "'And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; 18 even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy" (Acts 2:17).

In John 3, Jesus rebukes Nicodemus for being a teacher and not grasping the obvious Old Testament imagery associated with being "born of water and the Spirit:"

5 Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.' 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit." 9 Nicodemus said to him, "How can these things be?" 10 Jesus answered him, "Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? (John 3:5-10).

Notice, too, that being born of the Spirit is completely the action of God, as Jesus' wind illustration indicates. He is not saying "you must born yourself again." It is not a command to obey, but rather a statement of fact. It is something that God must do for you through the agency of the Holy Spirit which will be poured out for you and poured into you. "You must be born again."

In John 4, Jesus talks to the Samaritan woman at the well about giving her "living water" to drink. Water baptism cleanses the outside, but the Spirit cleanses and satisfies within. Clearly Jesus is teaching that the living water is the Holy Spirit, not water baptismal regeneration. And if there is any doubt about this at all, John 7:38 makes it undeniably clear:

37 On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, 'Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'" 39 Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

Again we see that the remedy for being thirsty is drinking (believing through the Spirit) in Christ. His gift to true believers is the Holy Spirit (living water) whose promised coming to His elect was to be fulfilled after His ascension.

The idea of hungering and thirsting for righteousness, and the satisfaction that they will find in Christ (Matthew 5:6) is a theme which presents itself again in the Lord's Supper with the eating of the bread (body) and the drinking of the wine (blood). However, the obsessive cleaning of the outside of the body without due attention paid to the inside is cause for Jesus to rebuke the Pharisees in Matthew 23:26:

26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.

Far from cutting doctrines out of whole cloth and abusing metaphors, there is ample Biblical evidence for the Reformed understanding of the meaning of water and Spirit in both the Old Testament and the New Testament Scriptures.

30 comments:

Steve Martin said...

I like what 1st Peter 3:20,21 has to say about it.

Randy said...

This seems to me to be a classic case of both/and. The concepts of water and spirit are linked in scripture and in the sacrament. So why do we have to choose? Why can't we embrace both? In fact, if water ans spirit were not linked in scripture then the doctrine of baptismal regeneration would be harder to believe. Baptism simple expands on a picture that God has already drawn for us.

Now in John 3, what would "water and spirit" mean? John the Baptist was around. LAter in the chapter we are told that Jesus and His diciples were baptizing. What about the pharisees? No evidence they were doing anything of the sort. So that was a major difference between the religious practice of Nicodemas and of Jesus. It would be something that was almost hanging over the conversation waiting to be brought us. So it makes sense to see any mention of water and spirit as a reference to baptism. John seems to encourage this by putting this near other references to baptism.

Pilgrimsarbour said...

The question is not "does water baptism represent or signify the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the believer?" I think the two communions are in agreement about that.

The question is, rather, "does water baptism regenerate the cold, dead heart of stone of the sinner and give him a heart of flesh?"

We say that water baptism is the sign of the covenantal relationship God has established with His people which points to the indewelling of the Holy Spirit within the believer. In our view, the washing of water in itself carries no efficacy.

Randy said...

We say that water baptism is the sign of the covenantal relationship God has established with His people which points to the indewelling of the Holy Spirit within the believer. In our view, the washing of water in itself carries no efficacy.

So what were all the scriptures about? If you admit they do refer to baptism then it seems to make them beside the point.

I remember when my oldest daughter was baptized. At the time I was protestant and my wife was Catholic. So we had both a protestant pastor and a Catholic priest involved. My baby daughter cried until the water was applied and then she settled down. It was my protestant pastor that remarked that children often respond to the sacrament of baptism that way. That they sense the spiritual moment.

At the time I didn't even know the difference in the teachings on baptism. But in hindsight he sounded quite Catholic. He was at least open to the idea that God could work through the water. Is it such a leap to believe that God does so consistently? I've never thought so.

Baptizing infants is a good reminder for us that salvation is all about grace. God can offer that grace to a baby because the recipient does not need to do anything. It is by grace from first to last. Sure we need to respond to that if and when we become able. Some will respond positively and some negatively. But God is there first.

Pilgrimsarbour said...

So what were all the scriptures about? If you admit they do refer to baptism then it seems to make them beside the point.

Of course they refer to baptism. My point was not to confuse the sign with the reality to which it is pointing. I have said repeatedly that the Reformed view is that water baptism does not regenerate, that is, make efficatious the sinner's heart.

That is the point of dispute between the two communions; is water baptism a sign and seal of God's grace or a means and instrument of God's grace? RCC says it is both, but I am not convinced from the Scriptures that we are supposed to understand it that way. I cannot bind my conscience to a sacramental system of regenerative efficacy when I do not believe it is being taught in the Scriptures.

Steve Martin said...

As Luther says, "it is not the water alone, but God's Word attached to the water that gives it God's saving power."

God has chosen to save in Baptism. Can one be saved apart from Baptism?

Yes! We (Lutherans) affirm that as well. But He has also chose to give faith, and His Holy Spirit in Baptism as well. (Acts 2:28)

"And the promise is for your children as well..."

We tend to not like it when God acts on our behalf without our cooperation. But then, that is the nature of the sinner. We want to play some role in the salvation business.

Pilgrimsarbour said...

*efficacious

I just caught that slip.

Pilgrimsarbour said...

Can one be saved apart from Baptism?

The thief on the cross would like to think so, as well as any others that God had planned to save throughout history that may not have known about water baptism.

Randy said...

RCC says it is both, but I am not convinced from the Scriptures that we are supposed to understand it that way. I cannot bind my conscience to a sacramental system of regenerative efficacy when I do not believe it is being taught in the Scriptures.

So it comes back to Sola Scriptura. Notice all the I's. I am not convinced... I cannot bind... I do not beleive... So their is sense of limiting God not just to scripture but to my view of scripture.

I agree with you assessment. I cannot say I could prove baptisimal regeneration from scripture alone. It makes sense but so does a more symbolic view. But it isn't about my view of scripture. It is about how the Holy Spirit has been leading the church into all truth. When I look at that I can be sure.

BTW, I did learn in catechism that the "means of grace" were the word of God and the sacraments. Maybe your church is different. They would focus on the faith response to the sacrament but it could be the means of God calling forth that faith.

Martin said...

Can one be saved apart from Baptism?

The thief on the cross would like to think so, as well as any others that God had planned to save throughout history that may not have known about water baptism


Thus the Catholic Church has long maintained that there are 3 baptisms: water, blood and desire thus covering even the theoretical case of someone dieing on his way to being baptized.

PH:
1)It's occurred to me that part of your objection to Baptism being actually efficacious (instead of symbolic) is the Calvinist idea of man being totally unable to act on his own behalf for salvation. Thus a sacrament could not be an actual action by man. Am I close on this?

2)I see you answered the original post on DA's site. Forgive me for missing your point but part of the question (at least in my mind) is how/why would Christ create the obligation for a purely symbolic act. (Go forth and baptize all nations).

Pilgrimsarbour said...

BTW, I did learn in catechism that the "means of grace" were the word of God and the sacraments. Maybe your church is different. They would focus on the faith response to the sacrament but it could be the means of God calling forth that faith.

1)It's occurred to me that part of your objection to Baptism being actually efficacious (instead of symbolic) is the Calvinist idea of man being totally unable to act on his own behalf for salvation. Thus a sacrament could not be an actual action by man. Am I close on this?

The answers to both of these questions are best summarised by The Westminster Confession of Faith, to which my denomination's elders and deacons are confessionally bound. Subscription to the Westminster Standards are not obligatory upon the general congregation, but I think they adequately reflect my denomination's and my own views of what we find in the Scriptures:

1. Baptism is a sacrament of the new testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, by which the person baptized is solemnly admitted into the visible church. Baptism is also for him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of forgiveness of sins, and of his surrender to God through Jesus Christ to walk in newness of life. By Christ's own appointment, this sacrament is to be continued in his church until the end of the age.

2. The outward element to be used in this sacrament is water, with which the person is to be baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Baptism is to be performed by a minister of the gospel, lawfully called to that office.

3. Dipping of the person into the water is not necessary. Baptism is rightly administered by pouring or sprinkling water on the person.

4. Not only those who personally profess faith in and obedience to Christ, but also the infants of one or both believing parents, are to be baptized.

5. Although it is a great sin to despise or neglect this ordinance, nevertheless, grace and salvation are not so inseparably connected with it that a person cannot be regenerated or saved without it. Neither is it true that all who are baptized are undoubtedly regenerated.

6. The efficacy of baptism is not tied to that moment of time when it is administered. Nevertheless, by the right use of this ordinance, the grace promised is not only offered but really exhibited and conferred by the Holy Spirit to all (whether adults or infants) to whom that grace belongs, according to the counsel of God's own will, in his appointed time.

7. The sacrament of baptism is to be administered only once to any person.

Martin said...

What is a sacrament? (I know the Catholic answer but am unsure of yours).

So is Baptism purely a symbolic act or does it effect any actual change in the believer?

Pilgrimsarbour said...

6. The efficacy of baptism is not tied to that moment of time when it is administered. Nevertheless, by the right use of this ordinance, the grace promised is not only offered but really exhibited and conferred by the Holy Spirit to all (whether adults or infants) to whom that grace belongs, according to the counsel of God's own will, in his appointed time.

In the Presbyterian view, baptism does not confer grace but is a sign and seal of the grace promised to the elect. It does not regenerate the sinner's heart, but it is efficacious as a promised sign and seal for the elect, at whatever point in time in their lives their heart is regenerated by the Holy Spirit. No elect person is "saved" until that point in time that the Holy Spirit does His regenerating work on the heart and spirit.

Martin said...

I fear I would overtax your patience if I followed up any farther so I will hold my peace.

Thank you for your answers and God bless.

Pilgrimsarbour said...

Wow. Didn't mean to seem so fragile. If you're interested, I made a new post on the Presbyterian and Reformed view of the sacraments from the Westminster Confession of Faith here.

Martin said...

1. I'm not used to quizzing others at length so I am a bit thin skinned for fear of overstaying my welcome.
2. It seemed I was simply asking the same question over and over and I was concerned I would appear trollish. As you seem ok with more of the same I will continue.

That is the point of dispute between the two communions; is water baptism a sign and seal of God's grace or a means and instrument of God's grace? RCC says it is both, ...

An efficacious sign is one that brings about what it signifies, yes? If not then what "efficacious" effect does Baptism have?

Pilgrimsarbour said...

The difference between our communions would be that for us, the efficacy of the sign of baptism lies in the promise of it to the believer. But it is only efficacious as a promise of a sign and seal to the elect, not to everyone who receives it, regardless of final spiritual status. We would say that it does not confer regeneration, so in that way, perhaps, we are using the word "efficacious" differently as well.

Pilgrimsarbour said...

Trying to phrase this better and further clarify the Presbyterian view:

Water baptism is the sign of the admission of a person (including infants through adults) to the visible church under the New Covenant, which is likened to circumcision under the Old Covenant. The sign is also a seal of the Triune God which points to (the promise) of regeneration by the Holy Spirit.

Although anyone can be baptised, only those who are the elect of God actually receive the full benefits of the promise of regeneration by the Holy Spirit, which will take place (to the elect) at the time of God's choosing.

Adults who are baptised, it is presumed, have already experienced or are experiencing regeneraton by the Spirit. From this comes faith and repentance, without which they would have no desire to profess Christ or be baptised as an outward profession of that new faith.

Martin said...

We would say that it does not confer regeneration, so in that way, perhaps, we are using the word "efficacious" differently as well.

As far as I can tell "efficacious" to a Presbyterian means "symbolic". This brings me back to the question I keep asking. Why would God institute a symbolic ceremony that a Christian is obliged to perform but has no actual effect. It is neither an aid to salvation,nor a hindrance should you not have it.

Although anyone can be baptised,[I love when I can post from Firefox. I can't spell worth a hoot but these words pop up immediately] only those who are the elect of God actually receive the full benefits of the promise of regeneration by the Holy Spirit, which will take place (to the elect) at the time of God's choosing.

I hear you, but I still can't see that the ceremony of Baptism is anything more than just that...a ceremony. It confers nothing in of itself.

Gotta p/u the kids at the pool.

Pilgrimsarbour said...

Why would God institute a symbolic ceremony that a Christian is obliged to perform but has no actual effect. It is neither an aid to salvation,nor a hindrance should you not have it.

Baptism looks forward to the real work of the Holy Spirit. You might as well ask why God had the Jews in the Old Testament get circumcised. Or why they had to slaughter animals, sprinkle the blood on a goat and send it off into the wilderness. None of these things, even rightly done, actually saved individuals did they?

No, they were part and parcel of the unfolding mystery of Christ. They pointed to the reality of Him who was yet to come.

So it is in the New Testament. New signs to point to the new realities because the old signs had been fulfilled in Christ's life, suffering, death and resurrection.

No, I don't think either baptism or the Lord's Supper is merely symbolic. Believers are truly nourished by these things as they grow in grace. Grace is needed for salvation, yes. But grace is also needed for sanctification, that is, growing in our walk with the Lord. The elements don't convey grace in and of themselves, but point to the "promise of benefit to worthy receivers."

We have differing definitions for justification and sanctification, but the Reformed understanding of the sacraments is based on our understanding of justification and sanctification. You are trying to understand our reasoning based upon your (RCC) definitions of these things. I think that is where the confusion comes in.

But the onus is on those who think that ceremonies were designed to actually save to demonstrate that God did not save with ceremonies in the OT but now He does in the NT.

Reformed theology sees these signs and seals as the New Testament equivalent of, and replacement for, the Old Testament signs and seals.

Randy said...

Baptism looks forward to the real work of the Holy Spirit. You might as well ask why God had the Jews in the Old Testament get circumcised. Or why they had to slaughter animals, sprinkle the blood on a goat and send it off into the wilderness. None of these things, even rightly done, actually saved individuals did they?

What about the passover? Did not the blood of the lamb actually save the firstborn in every house? Even in Ex 4:24-26 God amost kills Moses over the circumcision of his son. Interesting that the issue there was not if he should be circumcised but when. Jethro's family circumcised their somes at the age of 12. God wanted it done on the 8th day.

So when somebody tells you God does not care whether baptism is done as an infant or as an adult tell them to read Ex 4. Who are we to tell God what He should care about.

Pilgrimsarbour said...

The slaughtered lamb's (sheep or goat, Ex. 12:5) blood is not what saved the firstborn. It is the blood of Jesus Christ which is being signified by the lamb's blood. It is God who saves His people through their faith in Him and His plan of salvation, the details of which were not fully available to those who lived before the incarnation.

But so the people would have a collective consciousness of God's saving work to hand down from generation to generation, the signs were performed that they might recognise salvation in the Messiah when He made His appearance in due time.

The blood of Christ, although shed in time, is not bound by time. This is why He is called the "Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world."

Martin said...

Been busy at work and thinking about your last post. I'm not sure your reply to Randy is up to snuff. You are correct, the blood did not save the child but if the family did not apply the blood to the post the child would have died; a very physical cause and effect. If you apply blood on post your child lives, dont and he dies. This implies the spiritual truth, apply water to your dead child and he lives. (I posted this w/out looking. Hope there's no teepee's :)

Randy said...

The slaughtered lamb's (sheep or goat, Ex. 12:5) blood is not what saved the firstborn. It is the blood of Jesus Christ which is being signified by the lamb's blood.

I would say this is not an either or but a both/and.

The blood of Christ, although shed in time, is not bound by time. This is why He is called the "Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world."

This is how he can be present at the Eucharist. Very well said. I don't know if you realize those words are used at a key point in the mass. They come from John 1 and they are united with Rev 19:9, "Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!"

Pilgrimsarbour said...

Yes, I suppose my answer would not be "up to snuff" for someone who believes in the instrumentality of the sign given by God to His people.

I can see where you would say that, from our point of view anyway, it was the blood on the doorposts that saved the firstborn. I wouldn't put it that way, though.

Pilgrimsarbour said...

From "our" point of view, I mean humans.

Martin said...

From "our" point of view, I mean humans.

:))

But as for the POV point I understand this is were we disagree but one of us knows the truth (with a capital "T") and one of us is wrong. The question of whether Baptism confers grace is not a small one. We (you and I) deserve to know the answer, we should not have to simply stare at it and agree to disagree. Now a post on Ray Bradbury, that's one we could discuss and agree to disagree....if we did.

Sorry, back to the subject:
The blood of Christ, although shed in time, is not bound by time. This is why He is called the "Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world."

To echo differently what Randy said here we have a case of actual physical animal blood acting as an agent (instrument) of grace...I think I'm repeating myself again. Yes, I believe in intruments of grace, perhaps you can show me where I am mistaken. So far we simply disagree.

Pilgrimsarbour said...

We may be at an impasse on this issue for now. But that's o.k.

Now if you want to talk bout Dandelion Wine, I'm with ya!

Martin said...

I haven't actually read it for....too long. My memories of RB's works are something like his writing, pale fuzzy memories just enough bittersweet to flavor the memory. Name a title and I'll get a copy from the library and re-read it. I find it interesting what I see as a 40+ year old that I missed when I was 16+.

Pilgrimsarbour said...

Yeah, tell me about it. Plot does seem to take a back seat to his vivid imagery. His writing is more like uninhibited, random thoughts strewn together which somehow make a coherent story. How it all makes sense is difficult for me to explain.