The Reformers and their Stepchildren ©2010 | free PDF
While much was made of the matter of the Lord's Supper in the previous chapter, this one turns to the other practice that could be made to serve the state/church: baptism. By forcing infants to be baptized they could be claimed by the institutional church as its property, making any future baptism of conscience a crime against the state. It also gave them the legal right to call everyone a "Christian" by virtue of this infant baptism. As the reader will have already figured out, the crime once again is not theological but separatist; the order of society and the state must be preserved.
The issue at first was not any theological objection to baptizing infants, but only to calling it christening or "Christianizing". Before this point neither side was terribly concerned with the practice either way, but afterwards both sides saw the need to make a clean break from the other, the Reformers insisting upon it and the "heretics" stopping it completely. Zwingli, firmly in the Reformed camp but clearly expressing his belief that infant baptism should not be done, nonetheless practiced it because he did not want to lose his financial support. This may seem crass in hindsight, but it goes on today, from pastors who will not offend certain members in their sermons, to missionaries who will sign documents of loyalty to a creed to keep their funding. This is but one exhibit in the case against providing salaries to "clergy". Zwingli's other rationalization was all too familiar in the churches today: he did not wish to offend; "the world was not ready" to take it.
But while Zwingli tried to claim his earlier rejection of infant baptism was simply a mistaken belief, Luther loudly proclaimed that the very idea of believer's baptism was a grievous falsehood, a teaching of the devil. He divorced baptism from faith, defending the absurdity that the two were unrelated; that is, he taught unbeliever's baptism! Not only this, but in order to justify it he had to abandon his own catch-phrase, sola scriptura, in favor of the weight of tradition.1 And he is still hailed today as a great theologian.
Another reformer cited on that same page used a defense we hear often in the war against the sufficiency of scripture: that "the anointing" would be unnecessary if just anyone could understand it, and if all that God decreed had been written down. This is indistinguishable from the Roman creed, "scripture plus tradition", along with the need for "clergy" to properly define God's unwritten commands, as well as the wish to include extra-Biblical writings as authoritative. Both Roman Catholics and Protestants today turn against any who claim that every believer can read the scriptures without "oversight" and be led directly by the Holy Spirit, citing the many different interpretations. But this hardly helps their case, since even they cannot agree! Then the question is only concerned with choosing the right infallible interpreter (or to use a modern term, "covering"). And once again, the all-important principle is that the people are ruled and controlled by their betters.
Clearly, if there is no other reason to break with this sacramental mindset, it is the iron grip it keeps on its victims. It caused many to become cowards and traitors to the true church, inventing more and more twisted theological systems to keep it running at all costs. It so blinds the eyes of those who accept it that they will resort to teachings so patently false that they have nothing to say to the heathen on any point. It was true throughout church history, and it is gaining ground today. It explains how the modern effort to "relate" to society is driven not by care for the lost but the need to control everyone and call them all "Christians". When faced with the awful choice between faithfulness to scripture and unity, they choose unity every time, no matter what. If perversion would cause some to be excluded from the church, then we must accept it; if preaching the bold truths of scripture keeps some away, then we must stop such preaching; but if women preaching would upset the established order, we must forbid it. As Jesus said, "wisdom is proved right by her children".2
Another facet of the issue of baptism is that the Anabaptists did not consider it the New Testament equivalent of circumcision. To do so would be to put the Old Testament on an equal plane in the church, which in turn would legitimize the forcing of all in a society to one religious authority and practice. We see this continued in the the penchant for preachers to liken the church building and its altar as the "Christian temple", to which offerings and sacrifices (conveniently in the form of cash) must be brought, at least partly to support the "priesthood". No modern Protestant preacher can justify a blistering diatribe on people's lack of "tithing" without appeal to Malachi's impassioned indictment of the lack of tithing in his day. Yet again we see the sacramentalist grip on those who think themselves against it, so strong is the delusion.
In the face of this distinction on the part of the Anabaptists, the Reformers charged them with dividing Father from Son! Today, ridicule is heaped upon those who put the New over the Old, as if they throw out half the Bible. But this issue, like infant baptism, was polarized as a result and led the Reformers to elevate the Old even more. One can easily deduce that from here arises the continued insistence by many that all believers obey the old law; it must be so because the alternative is to remove the basis for the sacramental church. On the other extreme, some decide to "cut the whole thing off" and dispense with any and every rule of conduct, making it impossible to call anything sin, and leading us right back to the Reformer's disregard of a changed life. In fact, both the legalist and the libertine drink from the same ecumenical cup, the difference only being which set of behaviors is labeled sin.