Category Archives: Baptism

Cullmann Answers Barth’s Rejection of Infant Baptism

Oscar Cullmann wrote several treatises on the subject of Christian worship. His treatise entitled Baptism in the New Testament was originally published in 1950 and was intended as a rebuttal of Karl Barth’s infamous rejection of infant baptism (see Barth and McMaken).

Cullmann treats the subject under the following four heads: The Foundation of Baptism in the Death and Resurrection of Christ; Baptism as Acceptance into the Body of Christ; Baptism and Faith; Baptism and Circumcision.

 

Calvin on Union with Christ through Word and Sacrament

In his “Summary of Doctrine Concerning the Ministry of the Word and the Sacraments,” Calvin articulates the idea of union and communion with Christ through the means of grace.

The end of the whole Gospel ministry is that God … communicate Christ to us who are disunited by sin and hence ruined, that we may from him enjoy eternal life; that in a word all heavenly treasures be so applied to us that they be no less ours than Christ’s himself.

We believe this communication to be mystical, and incomprehensible to human reason, and Spiritual, since it is effected by the Holy Spirit [by whom] he joins us to Christ our Head, not in an imaginary way, but most powerfully and truly, so that we become flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone, and from his vivifying flesh he transfuses eternal life into us.

To effect this union, the Holy Spirit uses a double instrument, the preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments.

When we say that the Holy Spirit uses an external minister as instrument, we mean this: both in the preaching of the Word and in the use of the sacraments, there are two ministers, who have distinct offices. The external minister administers the vocal word, and the sacred signs which are external, earthly and fallible. But the internal minister, who is the Holy Spirit, freely works internally, while by his secret virtue he effects in the hearts of whomsoever he will their union with Christ through one faith. This union is a thing internal, heavenly and indestructible.

In the preaching of the Word, the external minister holds forth the vocal word, and it is received by the ears. The internal minister, the Holy Spirit, truly communicates the thing proclaimed through the Word, that is Christ…. so that it is not necessary that Christ or for that matter his Word be received through the organs of the body, but the Holy Spirit effects this union by his secret virtue, by creating faith in us, by which he makes us living members of Christ, true God and true man.[1]

[1] Jean Calvin, Theological Treatises, ed. J.K.S. Reid (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2006), 170-77.

Hughes Oliphant Old Sums Up His Life’s Work

 


Hughes Oliphant Old has been publishing articles and books on the subject of worship since the 1970s. [See select bibliography below.]

His book entitled Worship Reformed According to Scripture is hands down the best volume on Reformed worship in print.

His magnum opus is his seven-volume series on The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church. This is the most comprehensive study of the history of preaching ever produced in the English language.

In September of 2014, I had the enormous privilege of hearing Hughes Oliphant Old give his last public address. I was brought to tears when he called it his “swan song.”

Even though his body was frail and he had a difficult time recalling his lecture points, his passion for the glory and worship of God clearly came through.

In this talk, Hughes Oliphant Old summarizes his life’s work in five main points.

The funny story he tells at the end of the lecture underscores his total commitment to the ministry of Word, sacraments, and prayer.


Select Bibliography

The Patristic Roots of Reformed Worship. American Edition. Black Mountain, NC: Worship Press, 2004.

Worship Reformed According to Scripture. Revised and Expanded Edition. Westminster/John Knox Press, 2002.

The Shaping of the Reformed Baptismal Rite in the Sixteenth Century. Eerdmans, 1992.

Themes and Variations for a Christian Doxology. Eerdmans, 1992.

Leading in Prayer: A Workbook for Ministers. Eerdmans, 1995.

The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church. Seven Volumes. Eerdmans, 1998-2010.

Holy Communion in the Piety of the Reformed Church. Tolle Lege Press, 2014.

 

Calvin on the Realities & Signs of the Sacraments

In Calvin’s thinking, the signs of the sacraments should be distinguished from the realities which they signify, but they should not be separated from them. First Corinthians 10:1-4 says,

For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.

In Calvin’s commentary on this text, the Reformer makes the following observations about the signs and realities of the sacraments.

When [Paul] says that the fathers ate the same spiritual meat, he shows, first, what is the virtue and efficacy of the Sacraments, and, secondly, he declares, that the ancient Sacraments of the Law had the same virtue as ours have at this day. For, if the manna was spiritual food, it follows, that it is not bare emblems that are presented to us in the Sacraments, but that the thing represented is at the same time truly imparted, for God is not a deceiver to feed us with empty fancies.

A sign, it is true, is a sign, and retains its essence, but, as Papists act a ridiculous part, who dream of transformations, (I know not of what sort,) so it is not for us to separate between the reality and the emblem which God has conjoined. Papists confound the reality and the sign: profane men, as, for example, Suenckfeldius, and the like, separate the signs from the realities. Let us maintain a middle course, or, in other words, let us observe the connection appointed by the Lord, but still keep them distinct, that we may not mistakenly transfer to the one what belongs to the other.

So Roman Catholics err by confounding the reality and the sign. Anabaptists err by separating them. Calvin argues that sign and reality must be kept distinct, but they must not be severed.

The sacraments are signs, but they are not empty or bare signs, nor are they signs of something absent but of something present, given, and received.

Ultimately, the reality signified by the signs is Jesus Christ himself and all the benefits of redemption which are found in him.

 

Baptism in the Didache

Here’s my very brief introduction to baptism in the Didache. This topic deserves several articles, and I plan on following up with it in later posts. Stay tuned!

What does the Didache teach us about the theology and practice of baptism in the ancient church?

Chapter 7 of the Didache addresses the topic of Christian baptism.

In verse 1 of this chapter, we see a connection between baptism and catechesis. Those who were about to receive baptism were first of all instructed in the way of life.

Secondly, we learn that whenever baptism was administered, God was invoked by his triune name: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The recipient of baptism was being baptized into union and fellowship with the Triune God.

Thirdly, baptism ordinarily would have taken place outdoors in living water, meaning running or flowing water. This was the ordinary setting for Christian baptism, but verse 2 tells us that if such water was unavailable, Christians were free to baptize with other water, preferably cold water.

Next, we see that pouring water on the head three times—which is known as trine baptism—was an acceptable mode of baptism, even though it may not have been the ordinary mode of baptism.

Finally, we see that the rite of baptism was preceded by a short period of fasting. Those who were about to be baptized should fast, and the one who was going to administer baptism should likewise fast, as well as any others in the congregation who were able to do so. This fast ordinarily lasted one to two days.

The Didache does not explain the reason for the pre-baptismal fast, but it was most likely understood as a sign of repentance.

So there we have a brief introduction to what the Didache says about Christian baptism in the ancient church.


If you’re interested in learning more about the Didache, I recommend the following resources. I would start with O’Loughlin’s short commentary. That’s the best introduction to the Didache available today. For more detailed study, you’ll need Milavec and Niederwimmer.

The Didache: Text, Translation, Analysis, and Commentary by Aaron Milavec

The Didache: Faith, Hope, and Life of the Earliest Christian Communities, 50-70 C.E. by Aaron Milavec

The Didache: A Window on the Earliest Christians by Thomas O’Loughlin

The Didache by Kurt Niederwimmer

 

Who Discovered the Regulative Principle?

Most students of the Reformation recognize that Martin Luther discovered (more accurately re-discovered) the doctrine of justification by faith alone and that Ulrich Zwingli discovered the symbolic interpretation of the Lord’s Supper. At least, these Reformers popularized those doctrines.

But who discovered the regulative principle of worship? No, it wasn’t John Calvin or John Knox. It was actually an Anabaptist. Surprise! Continue reading