Every Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!
The Faith of Infants – Hermann Sasse
One aspect of Lutheran theology that is often misunderstood is the notion of infant faith. It goes hand in hand with the Lutheran teaching of baptismal regeneration. Yet, time and again I have seen the accusation leveled at Lutherans that we somehow believe that faith is not required for salvation, because we believe infants are saved. Lutheran theology, however, teaches instead that infants do have faith. A brief quote from Hermann Sasse makes this more explicit:
[I]t is not merely avowed liturgical conservatism or even thoughtlessness when the Church for nearly two thousand years has thus baptized infantas as though they were adults, as though they could already confess with the outh and believe with the heart. This is not the ‘as though’ of mere fiction… God views us in Baptism as people who have already died and been raised… Thus he already views us as such who already believe, the poorest, weakest little child which we bring to Holy Baptism. (1197, cited below)
Sasse’s point here is that God views us eschatologically–as though we have faith, because that faith is the gift of God. Lutherans do not believe in salvation without faith; instead, a consistent application of the notion that faith is from God means God can impart that faith to whomever God chooses–whether one is elderly or newborn.
Herman Sasse, quoted in Treasury of Daily Prayer (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2008). Quoting from Herman Sasse, “Circular Letter 4 to Westphalian Pastors,” in The Lonely Way: Selected Essays and Letters, translated by Matthew C. Harrison et al., vol. 2 (CPH, 2002).
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I am glad someone stands up for infant baptism. Modern evangelicals commonly speak as though it is just obviously wrong, despite their inability to produce evidence that there was ever a time when the church didn’t practice it.
However you do seem to link the practice with the monergistic view of salvation that Luther shared with Calvin as far as I can tell. This makes me wonder what you meant when you said you aren’t any kind of Calvinist. For me it is monergism that is the moral problem with Calvinism.
One might perhaps usefully distinguish between the case of infants who have no pre commitments and thus can be moved by God without violating their freedom and adults who have pre commitments that God respects. ie, for a libertarian like myself, monergism is an option with respect to infants only.
Thanks. I am a Lutheran, and Lutherans and Calvinists share monergism as part of their theology. However, they differ on a number of things in respect to what, exactly, that means. That’s why I can truthfully say I’m not any kind of Calvinist: I’m a Lutheran. The views of the two regarding salvation, sacraments, and more are quite different, though there are many similarities. The distinctions are often fine, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t important.
RE libertarianism/monergism and infants: I think that is an interesting view. Could you explain how that might play out later in life, on your view? For example, why does God not monergistically move all infants to be saved when the will can be moved without violating freedom? Or does God do just that and then when libertarian free will kicks in [sorry if I’m using silly terminology–and feel free to correct it] people lose their salvation?
It’s a little complicated as I am Calviminian. I think people have free will with respect to justification but not salvation. Jesus says the tax collector who prayed “God have mercy on me a sinner” went home justified. So justification does not require explicit faith in Jesus, just the tax collector’s prayer, even if as Paul says we may also be justified by believing Jesus has risen from the dead. I believe that since the Bible says Christians will judge the world, and since the parable of the sheep and goats teaches that some of those judged will be judged innocent it follows that some non Christians will be saved post mortem. Those who are saved in life judge the world, those who were justified but not yet saved will be judged innocent. I believe 1 Peter clearly teaches post mortem opportunity also.
Thus, all children of at least one Christian parent are elected and saved monergistically (is that a word?) but they can lose salvation when they reach the age of accountability or embrace it synergistically. All children of non Christian parents are elected to justification, but they can lose it later. God chooses, from amongst those not born to Christian parents, some of those whom he foresees will repent to be elected to justification with salvation, others are passed over and attain justification alone through the tax collector’s prayer. Prior to Jesus all Jews were born in and thus “this generation” had full libertarian freedom to remain in if they chose. Subsequent generations of Jews are born “out” and thus have no blame for not receiving the Gospel. Like everyone they are free to receive justification by repentance.
Thus Calviminianisn. Sorry if it’s a bit complex
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