December 29, 2002

Knox and Horton on Baptism

Category: Theology - Liturgical :: Permalink

Barb posted this a while ago, but it might be worth posting again. It’s part of John Knox’s 1560 Scots Confession on baptism:

And so we utterly condemn the vanity of those who affirm the sacraments to be nothing else than naked and bare signs. No, we assuredly believe that by Baptism we are engrafted into Christ Jesus, to be made partakers of his righteousness, by which our sins are covered and remitted, and also that in the Supper rightly used, Christ Jesus is so joined with us that he becomes the very nourishment and food of our souls (Ch. 21).

I came across this quotation (again) in an article entitled “Mysteries of God and Means of Grace” in the May/June 1997 issue of Modern Reformation. The article is by Michael Scott Horton. Horton is opposed to the idea that Romans 6, Galatians 3:27, and similar passages refer to some kind of “Spirit baptism” (as opposed to sacramental baptism):

In many conservative Reformed and Presbyterian circles, it is as if the prescribed forms for Baptism and the Supper were too high in their sacramental theology, so the minister feels compelled to counter its strong “means of grace” emphasis. In this way, the Sacraments die the death of a thousand qualifications. The same is true when we read the biblical passages referring to Baptism as “the washing of regeneration” or to the Supper as “the communion of the body and blood of Christ.” Why must we apologize for these passages and attempt to explain them away? Our confessions do not do this. Our liturgical forms (if we still use them) do not do this, but we feel compelled to diminish them these days.We hear quasi-gnostic sentiments even in Reformed circles these days, such as the “real baptism” that is spiritual, as opposed to “merely being sprinkled with water,” or the “real communion” with Christ in moments of private devotion. How can we truly affirm the union of earthly and heavenly realities in the Incarnation? Or how can we regard the Word of God as a means of salvation if it is but ink and paper or human speech? A subtle Docetism (the ancient gnostic heresy that denied Christ’s true humanity) lurks behind our reticence to see these common earthly elements as signs that are linked to the things they signify. Surely the Sacraments can remind us of grace, help us to appreciate grace, and exhort us to walk in grace, but do they actually give us the grace promised in the Gospel? The Reformed and Presbyterian confessions answer “yes” without hesitation: A Sacrament not only consists of the signs (water, bread and wine), but of the things signified (new birth, forgiveness, life everlasting).

Later, Horton comments:

We simply cannot say that we take a literal approach to the text while interpreting these clear passages as allegorical of a spiritual reality detached from the obvious reference to physical sacraments.

At another point in the article, Horton talks about Calvin’s view of infant baptism:

Rather than sharply dividing between an external and internal covenant of grace, as some have done in American theology, Calvin simply concludes that infants “receive now some part of that grace which in a little while they shall enjoy to the full” (Institutes 4.16.19).

And here’s Horton’s summary toward the end of the article:

In Baptism, we have been swept into the new creation and in the Supper we are actually fed with the body and blood of Christ as pilgrims on the way to the Promised Land, and yet, by promise already living there.

Posted by John Barach @ 11:29 pm | Discuss (0)

Leave a Reply