If you were to ask Martin Luther, the most famous question in American Evangelicalism, “Are you born again?” He would say, “Of course I am a born-again Christian, I am baptized.” As do many of us to this day. We are Christians, we have always been (as far as we can remember). What is this tosh about born again?
What this is all about is why Lutherans (and I suspect in some ways it applies to all of the older churches), at least those who use the phrase, “One Holy and Apostolic Catholic Church” as we do. we tend to be not wholly Protestant.
That is why there is no revivalism in Lutheranism, or indeed in the Orthodox or Catholic traditions, where we teach baptismal regeneration and practice infant baptism. Let’s look at some differences, shall we?
For Luther, justification isn’t tied to any single event but happens as often as we repent and return to the power of baptism. Justification by faith alone happens in the Catholic context of the Catholic sacrament of penance. Sorry, it’s not a once in a lifetime deal. This doesn’t eliminate choice (one can always refuse to believe).
Luther’s beliefs parallel the Catholic belief in sacramental efficacy, which places salvific power in external things. Without this, we must rely on faith as well, in other words, the fact that I believe.
Luther often says, “Believe it and you have it”, in many variations. This is not because faith earns it or achieves anything, it is simply because God keeps his word.
This is certainly not because of the perception of the mind, this is purely rigorously objective truth, God does not lie. Our certainty is based upon that, not on our faith. In Why Luther Is Not Quite Protestant,¹ Phillip Cary writes.
Whoever believes and is baptized is saved” (Mark 16:16) Luther teaches that the baptismal formula, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,” is the word of Christ. Luther is emphatic on this point: the words spoken in the act of baptizing are Christ’s own, so it is Christ who really performs the baptism. Most importantly for the logic of faith, the first-person pronoun in the baptismal formula refers to Christ, so that it is Christ himself who says to me, “I baptize you….” Ministers are merely the mouthpiece for this word of Christ, just as when they say, “This is my body, given for you.”
Making that decision for Christ or a conversion experience actually detracts from, the point about faith alone. We are justified by believing what Christ says is true. In short, God does not lie.
In brief, it is all based on the truthfulness of God, and we (and Luther did as well) like Paul’s saying in Romans 3:4 “Let God be true and every man a liar.”
And that every man includes us. We can put no faith in our own words, not even in our confession of faith. That is one reason for infant baptism, it’s pretty shaky ground to baptize on the basis of a believer’s confession of faith because we never really know what we believe. Luther’s doctrine of justification by faith alone means that Christians can’t rely on faith. Faith itself doesn’t rely on itself but only Christ’s promise,
This is the well known Lutheran pro me. The emphasis is not on our experience but on what God said. It’s quite unreflective.
More to come in this series, as I get it sorted myself.
¹Pro Ecclesia 14/4 ((Fall 2005)