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Luther’s Doctrine of Baptism, intro

The next several posts will be about Luther’s doctrine of baptism.  The point is to critique his doctrine and show that by the standards of many of today’s defenders of reformed orthodoxy, Luther didn’t really believe the gospel.  This is because Luther didn’t really believe in sola fide, which many of today’s defenders of reformed orthodoxy think is the essence of the gospel.  Of course, I think Luther believed the gospel.  But that’s because my understanding of the gospel is more basic than notions of the gospel that developed during the polemics of the Reformation. 

Although teachers from Reformed traditions tend to venerate Luther as the great reformer who rescued the church from a sacramental understanding of salvation to an understanding of salvation by faith alone apart from any external “works,” [as understood by today’s defenders of reformed orthodoxy] this caricature could not be further from the truth.  On the one hand, Luther scratched five of the seven sacraments off the sacred list.  On the other hand, when it came to a sacramental paradigm, Luther was virtually Roman Catholic.[1]  Of course, as one might expect, in his polemics against Rome he emphasized the need for faith.  Nevertheless, as we will see, in his polemics against certain protestant sects, Luther both denied the need for faith during the administration of baptism and boasted in the efficacy of the sacrament as conferring nothing less than the fullness of salvation.  While in different polemical contexts, Luther’s teaching on baptism had radically different emphases, his basic understanding of baptism never underwent a substantial change.[2] 

This blog series is an attempt to survey the great reformer’s most basic teaching concerning baptism in The Large Catechism in order to orient the reader to his basic sacramental paradigm for baptism, demonstrate that this framework of thought for baptismal regeneration and infant baptism in The Large Catechism is foundationally dependent upon an unproven hermeneutical judgment and that Luther’s defense of it is entangled in a number of logical fallacies.  In the conclusive post, I will make a brief suggestion concerning what significance Luther’s view of baptism bears on the interpretation of the Reformation slogan attributed to him—sola fide.       


[1] Lohse makes the judgment that although Luther “with his emphasis on the strict correlation of baptism and faith…gave new accent to traditional baptismal theology…on the whole [he] did not attack it.”  Bernhard Lohse, Martin Luther’s Theology: Its Historical and Systematic Development, trans. Roy A. Harrisville (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Fortress Press, 1999), 303.  Lohse also recognizes that Luther appealed to “the concept of the sacrament as ‘effective in itself’ (ex opere operato)” in his defense of infant baptism.  Ibid, 302.  

 [2] Mark D. Tranvik, “Luther on Baptism,” Harvesting Martin Luther’s Reflections on Theology, Ethics, and the Church, ed. Timothy J. Wengert (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2004), 24.

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