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Book Review: Baptismal Regeneration by Victor Lloyd Peterson

by PastorMinton on September 24th, 2014

BAPTISMAL REGENERATION

THE GREAT PAGAN IDOL

by

Victor Lloyd Peterson

This little pamphlet was given to me by a member of my congregation for my thoughts. She had found it in her recently-deceased husband’s things as she was going through them. This 1939 work was written by a former Lutheran pastor in Minnesota who had converted to a Baptist denomination.

The full text can be found here (underlining and highlighting is mine). Its 56 pages are a little much to post in a single blog post. I will endeavor, as was asked by my parishioner, to give my thoughts/reaction to it from a Lutheran and also orthodox Christian understanding. All quotes from the booklet will be in italics.

My apologies to her on the delay in giving this pastoral service to her.

Foreword

In his foreword, Peterson talks about years of a burden on his heart concerning Baptismal Regeneration. I understand this because I had several burdens on my heart when I went the other direction of his conversion. My conversion from the Church of Christ to the LCMS was heightened by the proper understanding of Original Sin and Baptismal Regeneration.

His purpose in writing this booklet comes as his attempt to pass on “the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). Against the doctrine of Baptismal Regeneration, Peterson quotes Charles Spurgeon sermon on Baptismal Regeneration (Metropolitan Tabernacle, June 5, 1864) and Dr. William Joseph McGlothlin’s Infant Baptism book (1916). Both preachers see Baptismal Regeneration as the greatest and deadliest heresy that has ever come into the Christian Church.

Introduction

Peterson was a Lutheran pastor for nineteen years before his departure because of Baptismal Regeneration. The problem Peterson sees in Lutheran and Roman Catholic congregations is that

instead of being admonished to seek the new birth through a real experience, they have been told that they were born again in baptism. This has produced a fatal spiritual sleep in the hearts of millions. Bad enough to be spiritually asleep and know it. Still worse to be spiritually asleep and not know it. But the climax in deception is reached, when men are spiritually asleep, and not knowing it, are constantly told they are awake and are good Christians because they have been BAPTIZED and confirmed and fulfill certain outward obligations. (p. 5, emphasis original)

Chapter I: Testimony from the Old Testament

Peterson begins his evidence against Baptismal Regeneration with the Old Testament saints. Hebrews 11 shows the Christian “Hall of Fame” from the Old Testament. Since all of these saints are pictured as living in God’s glory in Heaven, and none of them were baptized, “no stronger evidence should be necessary for the average man than this to convince him that baptism is not necessary to salvation” (p. 7). He also takes the Old Testament rite of circumcision to task because there was no circumcision until Abraham. Without a common basis for the salvation between circumcision and Baptism, there cannot be a common thread and connection between the two.

Peterson takes some time to show that type and figure cannot save. This is true. But the power of salvation comes through Whom the type or figure is. No, the ancient Levitical sacrifices had no power to save anyone in and of themselves. They pointed toward Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice for the sins of the world. Peterson agrees with this statement, but he concludes this chapter on the Old Testament by declaring the Lutheran Church to have re-created Jeroboam’s golden calves (1 Kings 12:28) with Baptismal Regeneration. The image of the golden calf comes up again later in the booklet. It seems to be his favorite picture to discredit the biblical doctrine.

Chapter II: Testimony from the Intermediate Period

When Peterson turns to the New Testament, of course, he immediately comes face-to-face with John the Baptizer preaching a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. (This is the EXACT definition of the doctrine of Baptismal Regeneration.) How does he get around this item? The character of John and Jesus absolutely precludes the application of the regenerative power of baptism to them. If baptism regenerated, then here is where we ought to see some evidence thereof” (p. 11, emphasis original). But John came to the Jordan preaching a Baptism of repentance (Matthew 3:1-6; Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3). Peterson is very correct when he says that Baptism is not a Savior. No one is saved because they are baptized. One is saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8), which is either created or strengthened in Baptism.

Peterson uses the texts cited above to show that Baptism is a work that signifies our internal repentance: “This repentance towards god then is the FIRST STEP in our salvation,–the step they saw most clearly under the old dispensation” (p. 12).

Peterson raises the question of Jesus’ Baptism, but he doesn’t ask about the necessity of it. He presumes its necessity and declares it to be that Jesus must finish John’s work from Baptism forward. Everything else in salvation belongs to Jesus’ work, but none of it is effective if we don’t come to be baptized as a sign of our repentance. “The question of baptism then, becomes a simple question of giving a true-to-fact testimony of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus in our actions as well as our words (p. 14, emphasis original). Peterson clearly teaches works righteousness: Jesus’ death on the cross plus our Baptism equals salvation.

Chapter III: Testimony from the New Testament

As Peterson goes from John the Baptizer and Jesus’ Baptism into the rest of the New Testament, he begins with the passage known as the “Great Commission,” Matthew 28:19-20. He takes this passage and mangles it so that all that is required for salvation and being a disciple of Jesus is hearing and believing: So here according to Jesus’ own testimony for 4000 years, qualifications for discipleship are,–ability to hear, believe, receive and be taught. That this definitely excludes infants must be evident to all” (p. 15).

Peterson goes on to discuss the typical order of mission work with the proclamation and conversion of the adults before teaching about infant Baptism. This reworking of the word order of the Great Commission helps denote Baptismal Regeneration as the greatest heresy in the Christian Church. He believes this proves that those who believe in Baptismal Regeneration really don’t because they won’t baptize the children first without explaining to the heathen parents what is going on.

Peterson goes from the Great Commission to Mark 16:16: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (NKJV). Does this add the criteria of Baptism to salvation? No. Peterson furthers explains with the addition of 1 Corinthians 1:14-17 and 4:15, where Paul emphasizes that Christ sent him to preach and not to baptize, that salvation comes only through the Gospel. Peterson ends his treatment Mark 16 with this paragraph (p. 17):

Kindly note, that though baptism is a necessary matter pertaining to salvation, nowhere is it spoken of baptism as of faith, that the absence of baptism will condemn a man. Faith and baptism do, therefore, not stand in the same relation to salvation, for lack of faith will condemn a man, but it is not said that lack of baptism will condemn. The Old Testament saints seen in Hebrew eleven,–all saved by faith, yet not one of them baptized, proves that lack of baptism will not condemn,–and proves it beyond dispute.

Nothing is theologically wrong with his view from a Lutheran perspective. This is the biblical view of salvation. Baptism is not necessary for salvation. However, the refusal to answer the Gospel’s call to be baptized can prohibit salvation, since it shows a lack of faith in God’s Word and command.

As Peterson treats John 3:1-16 (pages 17-23), his biggest argument against Baptismal Regeneration comes from the fact that the Scriptures do not record Nicodemus’ Baptism. As he goes into Acts 2:38-39, he uses the definition of a Greek preposition with relation to relation instead of place. The Greek preposition eis generally has the meaning of “in” or “into,” especially when speaking about a place. When the idea of relation is in the context, eis means “with reference to.” Therefore, he says the proper translation and understanding of Acts 2:38 is, “Repent all of you, and such as have repented, let each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus ‘with reference to’ the remission of your sins” (p. 24). He then goes on into verse 39 to show that the “children” referenced are simply offspring having received the Word, which cannot include infants. He further includes Numbers 14:29, where God promises that everyone who crossed the Red Sea and were over the age of twenty would die in the wilderness. From this, he is quite content to place this high of an age of accountability upon the Church.

Even though Baptism cannot save you in Peterson’s mind, it is a most important part of the Christian faith because it is a symbol and likeness of salvation. He quotes several passages—including Romans 6:4-5; 1 Corinthians 15:29; Colossians 2:12; Ephesians 5:26 and Titus 3:5—to show that the Bible proclaims Baptism as merely a symbol of salvation and ultimately man’s work for God. Many of these same passages are used in our catechism to prove the exact opposite. However, Peterson enjoys Paul’s usage of the word “likeness” in these passages, saying it eliminates Christ’s power from Baptism.

Chapter IV: Pagan Babylon and Not the Bible Is the True Source of Baptismal Regeneration

Peterson begins this chapter referencing again Dr. McGlothlin’s Infant Baptism book, where he says, “The view that baptism regeneration is Pagan in origin, and came directly from Paganism into Christianity” (p. 31, emphasis original). He surveys Christian history with regards to the doctrine of Infant Baptism and finds nothing in the writings and/or teachings of Jesus, the Apostles, the Apostolic Fathers, the Early Church Fathers, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus or Tertullian.

Peterson notes that the “beginning of Regeneration by water” (p. 31) as coming from the Flood narrative. Peterson, referencing Plutarch, even goes so far as to equate the story of Noah with the story of the Egyptian god Osiris. Both were placed into arks and committed to the deep. Both were considered dead and became alive again. Both are to be considered as “twice-born” men (p. 31). He also equates the ritual of infant Baptism to heathen baptisms as described from Prescott’s Conquest of Mexico. The wording for the heathen infant baptism sound very similar to what we might accept as a Christian Baptismal formula, minus the naming of the Holy Trinity.

As he turns from heathen history toward biblical history, he references Revelation 2:9: “I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan” (NIV). Christ’s words to the Church in Smyrna call the Judaizing teachers in Smyrna “a synagogue of Satan.” Peterson takes this point to depart on a tangent that the synagogue system arose in Babylon after Jerusalem was destroyed in 586 BC. In this new system, Babylonian ideas were inserted into the Israelite Temple worship services because they were deprived of their ability to worship as God had commanded. The synagogue, according to Peterson, is a devilish intrusion into proper Israelite worship. However, if the synagogue comes from pagan Babylon and its devilish roots, why would Jesus and the Apostles (especially Paul) continually teach in the synagogues? Granted, Jesus being the Son of God gives him the authority to go wherever He wanted and preach to whomever He wanted, regardless of the cultural understandings of the time (cf. John 4).

Peterson references the Apostolic Fathers, particularly the Epistle of Barnabas and the Didache, as the beginning of “the hollow mockery of proxy religion” (p. 35). He also notes that Baptismal Regeneration isn’t really touched upon in the Church Fathers until Clement of Alexandria (193-202). Also, Tertullian is the first person who certainly teaches Infant Baptism for regeneration. Peterson also proclaims that the heresy of Infant Baptism would have died in the Church had it not been for St. Augustine of Hippo.

As Peterson ends this chapter, he lists four charges against the doctrine of Baptismal Regeneration (p. 36, emphasis original):

  1. hoary old antiquated, bewhiskered patriarch with being not a patriarch of Scripture of all, but just an ignoble old Chaldean vagabond”;

  2. being a hoary old doctrine of demons, which is responsible in that millions are deceived as to the new birth, and thus kept out of heaven”;

  3. casting a shadow on the finished work of Christ upon the cross, by belittling the power of His shed blood on behalf of infants”;

  4. being not a door into the kingdom of God, but a trap, and of the millions who enter by this way, but few ever recover themselves from its snares.”

My favorite quote from this entire little booklet comes toward the end of this chapter: “If baptism has power to save, then Jesus cannot be the only way to heaven. What an insult to the Lord who died of a broken heart that we might live, to set up another saviour besides Him” (p. 36, emphasis mine). Jesus died of a broken heart? Peterson is definitely influenced by the evangelical “feeling” relationship with Jesus. Yes, Jesus was sorrowful unto death in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:38; Mark 14:34), but Jesus died from crucifixion—not a broken heart.

Chapter V: Baptismal Regeneration, the Great Pagan Idol

In this chapter on idolatry, Peterson links Baptismal Regeneration again with Jeroboam’s golden calves which was based on Aaron’s golden calf, which was based on the Egyptian god Osiris—who appears as a bull named Apis (quoting Hyslop’s The Two Babylons p. 20).

He then links the ancient acceptance of this doctrine into the Christian Church to later practices, especially of the Roman Catholic Church, that have no Scriptural basis: the Rosary, the Sign of the Cross, Priesthood, Celibacy, Tonsure, Monasticism, holy water, veneration of icons and Mary. He also lists basically every adornment of a church building in his list of Jezebelic offspring of Baptismal Regeneration (p. 40).

Chapter VI: Questions Frequently Asked about Matters of Baptism

In this chapter, Peterson presents an FAQ on different matters about Baptism. Answering the question, “On what spiritual grounds dare we affirm that infants are safe under the Blood without Baptismal Regeneration?”, Peterson promotes the lack of accountability in infants because of God’s atonement of Adam and Eve after the Fall in the Garden of Eden (p. 42):

Adam after the fall is then a type of the Old Man of sin. God put Adam under the blood, as we see in Genesis, chapter three, He provided a covering. This is the Old Testament word for atonement. Now this was before Adam and Eve had any children. Thus we see their children born under a double inheritance: One from Adam as a figure of the Old Man; one from Adam as a figure of Christ. Both of the inheritances were involuntary on the child’s part.

Peterson spends the rest of this chapter working through disproving the applicability of different modes of Baptism. For Peterson, as with most who abandon Baptismal Regeneration for a “believer’s baptism,” full-body immersion is the only appropriate mode of Baptism. He notes that Luther believed that immersion was the preferable mode of Baptism. However, he also saw that the other modes were valid as long as the Trinitarian name was invoked and water was applied. He encourages every reader to “ask for grace to do at least one hard thing for Jesus” and leave their church body for a church body that does not accept Baptismal Regeneration (pp. 45-46). This he continues in the following chapter.

Chapter VIII: Finis

In his conclusion, Peterson finally makes the complete Baptist turn. “Baptism is not a fundamental question anyway … Baptism is not necessary to salvation” (p. 53). In his departure from the Lutheran Church, his biggest problem in his life was that Baptism is not a sacrament. There is no salvation involved with Baptism. The greater question, truly a fundamental question for him, is obedience to the Law. Obeying God’s Law as it is laid out in the Bible is more important than accepting God’s grace through the waters of Holy Baptism.

This book is a good reader in the philosophy and interpretation of those who refuse infant Baptism as a valid Baptism. Although he says he is not writing this booklet in order to refute infant Baptism, the booklet is brimming with condemnations for all who have been baptized as infants.

Is this a good book to read? If you’re interested in an in-depth study of why some Christians don’t accept infant Baptism from their own sources, this is a great little booklet. If you’re looking for a basic study on Baptismal Regeneration, there are other books that would be better to read. You can also ask your Pastor for resources for such a basic study.

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