After years of thinking about it and planning to do it, I have finally written a book. I have titled it, Salvation: Rethinking Saving Faith and Christian Baptism. I sent Draft 4 to the publisher this week. They say to expect it to take 6-9 months before they will respond.

In the meantime, I am teaching the material at church. I will re-write the book several times before I complete the class.

The book answers the questions, when and how does God save a sinful human being? The book is divided into two parts: Part One lays the foundation by elaborating on how the mainstream view of Christian baptism got to where it is today: Christian baptism has NOTHING to do with human salvation and is not “for the remission of human sin.

According to the research I have done, those holding to a faith only view are convinced that the multiple New Testament verses that clearly link baptism with salvation (I have identified at least 16) do not mean what they seem to say on their face.

How did we get here? How did Christian baptism become the Boogeyman in our modern churches?

My ultimate argument in Part One of the book is that the “faith only” position (a very recent innovation in the 2000-year history of Christianity) was a reaction to the abuses of the Medieval Church.

As is often the case in such heated debates, the broader, more complex issue—when and how God removes human sin—was reduced to only two alternatives. In this case, it was either:

  1. Human works (penance); or
  2. Human faith.

There was not any other option considered, discussed, contemplated, examined or put forward by anyone. (I put forth an alternative in Part Two of the book).

As I build up to my proposal of the book, my main thesis, which answers the questions when and how God makes a sinner righteous, I  lay the groundwork by showing how the Church got to where it did in its understanding of Christian baptism.

By the Middle Ages, the Roman Catholic Church believed, taught, and practiced that baptism:

  1. Removed the stain of original sin;
  2. Perhaps removed all sins committed prior to baptism, if any (most baptisms were of infants and so sins prior to baptism were limited or nonexistent); and
  3. Turned the baptizand (person being baptized) toward God.

However, baptism did NOT help a Christian who committed sin after being baptized. The Christian was still contaminated with a sinful nature—concupiscence—and, therefore, would continue to sin after being baptized. Therefore, the sinning Christian needed help in dealing with sin after being baptized.

According to the Church, to provide that “help,” God distributes his grace to struggling Christians through the Sacraments.

  1. Note #1: “grace” in this sense is more than merely the power to forgive sin; grace in this sense is the power to overcome sin in the first place—before it is committed.
  2. Note #2: the Roman Catholic Church came to believe that the Church itself was a “sacrament.” In other words, the Church teaches that it and its earthly representatives (priests, bishops, cardinals, and, ultimately, the Pope) are the instruments through which God distributes grace (the power to overcome sin) to struggling Christians on earth.
  3. Note #3: The Church further teaches that the eight sacraments are the means through which God distributes grace (the power to overcome sin) to struggling Christians on earth.

In this section, I show that the Church’s understanding of what baptism accomplished was directly tied to its understanding of the nature of sin.

  1. What did sin do to the first couple? What was affected? (their self-image changed, their relationships changed, and their attitudes changed).
  2. Do these changes constitute an alteration of the “nature” of the first couple?
  3. If so, did that first couple pass on their now sin-tainted nature, if they indeed had such a thing, to their descendants?
  4. What did sin do to the environment into which the first couple were cast after they sinned? (sin ushered in BOTH spiritual death—separation from God—as well as physical death—access to the tree of life was cut off).
  5. What are the implications of the reality that the environment into which every human being born after Adam sinned:

Is separated from God (spiritual death reigns because God’s holiness required that he cast sinful humans out of paradise);

Is hostile toward God (later revelation tells us that this creation is now dominated by the principalities and powers of this dark age (see Eph 1;21, 2:2, 3:10, 6:12) and that Satan is now “the ruler of this world,” John 14:30, 16:1);

Hostile toward humanity (which was cursed by God to produce thorns and thistles instead of being a paradise that at least partially maintained itself—“streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground.” Gen. 2:6 NIV).

Leads to the physical death of every human being born into it.

Physical death became a part of being human in this creation after sin entered it.

The fear of death “subjects us to slavery” (Heb 2:15).

To prepare for a review of what the Church came to believe about the nature of sin, I asked my class to reflect on these questions:

  1. What is sin? How would you define it?
  2. Is it an act performed? A bad behavior?
  3. Does the term “sin” also describe a state of existence for humanity?
  4. What does Romans 3:23 tell us about sin? Do you agree that it is saying two separate things about sin? (we commit sin AND we fall short of God’s glory—is that one thing or two?).
  5. What does 1 John 3:4 tell us about sin?
  6. What does Jesus tell us about the nature of sin in John 8:34?
  7. What does Paul’s discussion in Romans 7:7-25 tell us about the nature of sin (pay careful attention to verses, 5, 11, 13 and 17).

I also asked them to think about the following comments regarding the nature of sin. Do you agree? Disagree? Why?

  • … God reconciled us to himself “while we were enemies” (Rom 5:10), while we “were estranged and hostile in mind” (Col 1:21).
  • There is more to these phrases than the idea that sinners are enemies of God simply because they [commit acts of sin; break laws or disobey the Law].
  • The hostility described here is intentional, based on a perception that something about life itself [the hostile environment into which each of us is born] casts God in the role of enemy.
  • When Paul puts his finger on that enmity-generating something he calls it “flesh,” that which makes human existence weak, vulnerable, and mortal: “The flesh in its tendency is at enmity with God; it is not subject to God’s law. Indeed, it cannot be…” (Rom 8:7; cf. Gal 5:20; Eph 2:11-18).
  • Who else but an enemy would expose us to the manifold human and cosmic violence that flesh is heir to?
  • Until resolved, this hostility gets in the way of our struggle to escape the bondage of sin [by turning us “in on ourselves,” making us self-absorbed, fighting for survival in a hostile enviornment, etc.]
  • God’s message that we are forgiven (2 Cor 5:19) falls on deaf ears as long as our anger convinces us that we have a case against God, that God owes us an apology, that he needs to be called to repentance and conversion, and that our role in all of this is to forgive him.

Source: William B. Frazier, “Reconciliation Rediscovered: The Unfolding of a Doctrine and a Sacrament,” Liturgical Ministry 9 (Fall 2000) 198.