Luther’s and Zwingli’s Baptismal Views
The theology of Martin Luther (1483-1546) was instrumental in influencing the Protestant Reformation, specifically topics dealing with Justification by Faith, the relationship between the Law and the Gospel (also an instrumental hello component of Reformed theology), and various other theological ideas. Although Luther never wrote a “systematic theology” or a “summa” in the style of Thomas Aquinas, many of his ideas were systematized in the Lutheran Confessions.
The beliefs of Huldrych Zwingli (67 articles) were also placed into action then (from 1523 onwards) and are still used today by many churches. He won a public debate which allowed him to influence the city in which he resided into many reforms such as removal of Catholic pictures, organs, shrines and images. Public Bible readings, clerical marriage were allowed but the monasteries in Zurich were dissolved. Mass was formally abolished and replaced with a simple communion service in which preaching and prayer played the most important part.
One major difference in theological opinion between Zwingli and Luther is on the nature of the Christian sacraments such as baptism. Luther held that baptism is a saving work of God, mandated and instituted by Jesus Christ. Baptism is a “means of grace” through which God creates and strengthens “saving faith” as the “washing of regeneration” in which infants and adults are reborn. Since the creation of faith is exclusively God’s work, it does not depend on the actions of the one baptized, whether infant or adult. Even though baptized infants cannot articulate that faith, Lutherans believe that it is present all the same. Because it is faith alone that receives these divine gifts, Lutherans confess that baptism “works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.” Therefore, Lutherans administer Baptism to both infants and adults. In the special section on infant baptism in his Large Catechism, Luther argues that infant baptism is God-pleasing because persons so baptized were reborn and sanctified by the Holy Spirit.
In summary, Martin Luther on baptism: Whoever rejects Baptism rejects the Word of God, faith, and Christ, who directs us thither and binds us to Baptism. Faith only has meaning when faith has an object. Luther stresses the relationship of water and the Word.
Huldrych Zwingli, who opposed Romes teachings that external baptism of infants could save one, but believed in Calvinistic predestination came up with “The Believer’s Baptism.” Yet his views on baptism were largely a response to Anabaptism, a movement which attacked the unbiblical practice of infant baptism. He defended the baptism of children by describing it as a sign of a Christian’s covenant with God just as God made a covenant with Abraham. “To Zwingli, baptism was more a pledge of what we ought to do rather than a testimony to what God has already done for us.”
In summary, Huldrych Zwingli on baptism: ‘If salvation was by grace, if even faith was a direct work of God by the Holy Spirit, that there can be no place for schemes of religious life or thought which allow for the ex opere operato efficacy of baptism.’ To him, more or less, baptism is simply an outward pledge or sign of an inward happening or covenant. This is the “Believer’s Baptism” commonly used by many (including Baptists) today, meaning that one is saved and that their baptism is just an outward sign or seal.
For both Luther and Zwingli, the sacrament of baptism was a sign or symbol of God’s new Gospel covenant. Their theological differences arise in the relationship between baptism and mankind. E. Brooks Holifield says, When Luther called the sacrament a covenantal seal, he meant that baptism visibly ratified and guaranteed God’s promises, as a royal seal authenticated a government document on which it was inscribed. Only secondarily was baptism a pledge of obedience by men. For Zwingli, however, the sacrament was primarily “a covenant sign which indicates that all those who receive it are willing to amend their lives to follow Christ.” Martin Luther wrote: The world is now so full of sects clamoring that Baptism is an external thing, and that external things are of no benefit.. but God’s Word and command institute, establish, and confirm Baptism. Faith is not “faith only” but faith must have something which it believes, that is, of which it takes hold, and upon which it stands and rests. “Also they teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works, but are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor, and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God imputes for righteousness in His sight. Rom. 3 and 4.” .
To accept Zwingli’s baptism is not to accept any previous teaching about baptism. Luther never rejected the meaning of baptism clearly taught in the Bible.
John Smyth who is claimed by Baptists said (in his “Short Confessions of Faith”) that: “That faith, destitute of good works, is vain; but true and living faith is distinguished by good works. That the church of Christ is a company of the faithful; baptised after confession of sin and of faith, endowed with the power of Christ. That the church of Christ has power delegated to themselves of announcing the word, administering the sacraments, appointing ministers, disclaiming them, and also excommunicating; but the last appeal is to the brethren of body of the church. That baptism is the external sign of the remission of sins, of dying and of being made alive, and therefore does not belong to infants.”
In 1608, he led forty or fifty of his followers to Amsterdam following persecution in England where, together with Thomas Helwys he formed the first Baptist congregation. John Smyth baptized himself there and then the rest of his congregation. “Baptism is not washing with water,” he wrote, “but it is the baptism of the Spirit, the confession of the mouth, and the washing with water: how then can any man without great folly wash with water which is the least and last of baptism?” Later on he identified himself with the Mennonites. History remembers him as the first Baptist preacher in America. Smyth did not leave behind him as sophisticated a theological legacy as did Martin Luther or Huldrych Zwingli, both of whom founded Protestant denominations but he did significantly contribute to the development of Baptist polity, and can be considered as co-founder of a major church tradition that is now spread across the world.
I have shown already that Luther viewed baptism as an ordinance or a command of Christ to be obeyed for the remission of sins. While Zwingli taught the baptism of infants and that it was just a sign or sacrament. Also that John Smyth said baptism was only a sign of sins already purged, belonging to adults and not for infants. These men and their views are practiced world wide by various Christian denominations.
But what does the Bible say on the matter? The usual Trinitarian formula used in baptism by nearly all is found in Matthew 28:19. The setting is the Great Commission. These are some of the last words that Jesus told His disciples before He ascended. It reads: Matthew 28:19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The first thing I would like to point out here is that name is singular. This is significant. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit all have one name. That name is Jesus as recorded in Matthew 1:21; John 5:43; 14:26 and Ephesians 3:14-15. We must not take this one passage in isolation and ignore everything else that the Bible has to say about baptism. We must let scripture interpret scripture and look at all that the Bible says on any given subject.
Next I would like to point out now that this is not the only account of the Great Commission. There is a reason why we have four gospels. God inspired each writer to write the same truth from different points of view. John did not record the Great Commission, but we will look at what the others said. When we look at Mark’s account we read:
Mark 16:15-17 Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth (who believes; as infants cannot they are not yet responsible for their own sins until a certain age that is determined by God) and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth (who believes) not will be condemned. And these signs shall follow them that believe: In My name they shall cast out devils (demons); they shall speak with new tongues.
So we see that Mark records the command to go and baptize, but does not speak of a name in connection with baptism. However, we do see a mention of Jesus’ name in the very next verse. More importantly we need to look at how the apostles obeyed these commands which we will see in the book of Acts. But now lets look at Luke’s account:
Luke 24:47-49 And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye (you) are witnesses of these things. Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high.
So here we read a command to preach repentance and remission of sins, in His name (which is fulfilled in Acts 2). If we look at the preceding verse we see that the pronoun His refers to Christ. So repentance and remission of sins are to be preached in Jesus’ name! Where do we receive the remission of sins? Well, let’s look at what Jesus’ disciples did with this command:
Acts 2:38 Then Peter said unto them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.’
So we have three different accounts of what Jesus’ commanded His apostles at the Great Commission. Now we look at how they obeyed Jesus’ words. Now who would be in the best position to understand the meaning of Jesus’ words? Us, almost 2,000 years later, or His own disciples who He spoke them to personally. Throughout the book of Acts as we will see they routinely baptized people in Jesus’ name. And when we read the Epistles to the churches, we will find out that they too were baptized in Jesus’ name. So it is obvious that Jesus’ disciples understood the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost to be Jesus. Nowhere in the scriptures do we find anyone being baptized using these words, only in Jesus’ name.
Acts 4:12 Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. (Jesus – verse 10)
Although this verse may not be talking exclusively about baptism, we see that Jesus is the name by which we are saved, and that there is no other!
Acts 8:12 But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized.
Acts 8:16 For as yet He had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
Acts 10:48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord.
Acts 19:5 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
Acts 22:16 ‘And now, why tarriest thou (why are you waiting)? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.’
So Peter, John and the rest of the disciples baptized in the Jesus’ name throughout Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria. And Paul re-baptized the believers in Ephesus in Jesus’ name (19:1-5). Now let’s look at some of the other churches:
Romans 6:3-4 Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
The reason that we are baptized in Jesus’ name is that we are being baptized into Jesus. We are taking on his name, similar to the way a woman takes on her husband’s name. We are saying that we belong to Jesus and we are identifying with Him in His death and burial. Even if God were a trinity, Jesus is the one who died for us and He is the one who the Christians at Rome were buried with.
1 Corinthians 1:13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
If we follow Paul’s train of thought, his obvious implication is “No, Christ was the one crucified for you and so you were baptized in the name of Christ Jesus.” So the believers at Corinth as well as those in Rome were baptized in Jesus’ name.
Galatians 3:27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ, have put on Christ.
Colossians 2:11-12 In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.
In addition to those in Rome, Corinth and Ephesus (as well as Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria), we see that the Christians in Colosse and those in the region of Galatia were all baptized in Jesus’ name. They would not have connected baptism so exclusively with Christ had they routinely baptized using the words “Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” As I said before, the only way that we see anyone being baptized is in Jesus’ name. When Jesus’ was on this earth, He baptized His disciples (John 4:1-2) and then commissioned them to go and baptize others in His name, or in His place. When Jesus baptized someone, He didn’t have to say “in Jesus name.” He was Jesus. But when we stand in his stead, we do it in his name. Scripture tells us that whatever we do in word or deed should be done in Jesus’ name (Colossians 3:17). Baptism is an act of both word and deed.
Jesus is the one who personally commissioned the disciples to go and baptize and they went “on behalf of him,” or “in his name.” He also sent them to heal people and work miracles. When Peter healed the man at the Gate Beautiful in Jesus’ name, scripture tells us that he actually spoke the words “in the name of Jesus Christ” when he did it (Acts 3:6). Even when Trinitarian believerss pray for someone for healing they speak the words “in Jesus’ name.” They realize that they are doing it “on behalf of” or “in the name of” Christ. Why would baptism be any different? Jesus said that when we pray we are to ask the Father in him name (John 14:13; 15:16; 16:23, 26). And so when many Christians pray, they end their prayer with the actual words “in Jesus name.” Even for a Trinatarian it makes more sense to baptize in Jesus’ name. Even if there is more than one person in the Godhead, Jesus is the one who died for us.
Furthermore, baptism is exclusively connected with Christ throughout the New Testament (with the exception of Matthew 28:19). Paul would hardly say that the Romans and Galatians were “baptized into Christ” (Romans 6:3; Galatians 3:27) had the apostles routinely used the words “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” when they baptized. Finally, I would like to demonstrate where history shows us that the Catholic Church changed the way that people were baptized. From there on people continued to follow this tradition, probably because it fit so well with their Trinitarian doctrine:
The baptismal formula was changed from the name of Jesus Christ to the words Father, Son & Holy Ghost by the Catholic Church in the Second Century. – 11th Edit., Vol. 3, pg. 365-366.
CANNEY ENCYCLOPEDIA OF RELIGION
The early church always baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus until development of the Trinity Doctrine in the Second Century.
Here the Catholics acknowledged that baptism was changed by the Catholic Church. – Vol. 2, pg. 263.
HASTINGS ENCYCLOPEDIA OF RELIGION
Christian baptism was administered using the words, “in the name of Jesus.” – Vol. 2, pg. 377. Baptism was always in the name of Lord Jesus until time of Justin Martyr when Triune formula used. – Vol. 2, pg. 389. Name was an ancient synonym for “person.” Payment was always made in the name of some person referring to ownership. Therefore one being baptized in Jesus’ name became His personal property. “Ye are Christ’s.” – Vol. 2, pg. 377 on Acts 2:38.