Justification Under Water

The question begging to be asked is, “why didn’t the early Church formulate Justification better?”  Were they ignorant of it? Were they legalistic?  Did they forget to read Paul?

The answer to that question lies under water (especially if you are a Baptist).  Today, if you were to pick up a systematic theology and open it up to the table of contents you would find a bountiful supply of interesting categories.  These include: Theology Proper, Anthropology, Hamartiology, Christology, Soteriology, Pneumatology, Ecclessiology, Eschatology,…etc.  Now, if you were to look at  the Catechisms of old, like the one by St. Cyril of Jerusalem, you would find a severely reduced amount of -ology.  They kept it simple; they basically had four categories in order of Paterology, Christology, Pneumatology, and Ecclessiology.  They followed the basic pattern of the Apostles Creed.

Which of these four categories included justification?  If you guessed Christology you would wrong.  Suprisingly, it was ecclessiology.  For the early Church,  soteriology was included in ecclesiology.  In other words, to be part of the Church was to be saved.  This leads us to an even more specific doctrine where we find the early Church discussing justification; namely, we see this in Baptism.

If you read the Patristics, then you can get a feel for how important Baptism was for them.  It was through this sacrament that people were united with Christ, in His death and ressurection.  Baptism, though simple in act, was deep, profound, and mysterious.  Somehow through this act the heavenly realities were enacted through the earthly.  Just as the Spirit of God hovered over the waters in the beginning of Creation, so does It in Recreation.  It is this Holy Spirit which unites all those who have faith with Christ.  If one is united with Christ then he is justifed, sanctified, they have entered into the age to come, they are adopted as children, they have died to sin, renounced Satan and joined the Majestic Army of God, they have been elevated above the angels, they are annointed royal priests, they have been mortared into the temple  (church) of the Living God; this list could go on ad infinitum.

The Early Church was not ignorant of justification, but they did see it within the context of a larger picture.  To be justified is to be baptized, but to be baptized is to be in Christ and all His blessings.  For them, justification was not an ethereal doctrine; it was wet.  The reason why they didn’t systematically discuss this doctrine was because it is organically ingrained with the Church; but the Church was Spiritually ingrained in Christ.  Justification is a vibrant thread in the majestic robe, which a Christian is clothed with when he enters the Church through baptism.

If you want to check out the writings of the Church Fathers then check out this link.  Its incredibly edifying.


4 responses to “Justification Under Water

  1. semicolon |ˈsemiˌkōlən; ˈsemˌī-|
    a punctuation mark (;) indicating a pause, typically between two main clauses, that is more pronounced than that indicated by a comma.

  2. Justin–

    Would you agree with the Fathers that baptism sacramentally causes justification?

    Also, do you think there’s any truth to this: that the reason the Fathers didn’t have debates about how salvation worked is because they had a somewhat clear idea of it, and no one even questioned this? This, I think, would explain why many of the Fathers argue from accepted soteriological or sacramental doctrines *for* their Christology.

    • Yes and No on this one. As far as I know Baptism wasn’t the “cause” of justification. It is Christ death/resurrection which is the cause of justification. Baptism was the physical sign of the invisible reality of being brought into the body of Christ through repentance by faith. It was union with Christ that allowed one to participate in Christ’s atoning work and Spirit. It was through these that one was ‘justified.’ I think this paraphrase from Augustine sums it up well and surely it wasn’t an original thought. He stated that the physical reality isn’t the spiritual, but the spiritual reality is only known through the physical. In essence, Baptism was the means for becoming justified, but not the cause of justification.

      Part of the reason why I think they didn’t argue about soteriology was because of their ecclesiology. If you were part of the Church, you were part of Christ. If you are part of Christ then you are saved. Another reason why they didn’t argue about it was because they had bigger fish to fry. They had to battle the heathen and heretics. It is kind of hard to argue about soteriology if you are arguing about the Trinity and the Incarnation. There is a logical priority to those two subjects.
      Sorry if I’m not making sense but Im really tired. I’m not sure if you agree with me, but I am interested in hearing back from you.

  3. Justin–

    I think the Fathers would say baptism is the cause of justification, but that it is only a cause of justification because it is a ritual by which one is intrinsically united to Christ himself. It doesn’t cause justification apart from Christ. It isn’t merely an “outward sign of an inward grace” because the sacramental action of baptism and the grace of justification are intrinsically, not extrinsically related. This may not be the opinion of Augustine, but Augustine’s status as an innovator means we should be cautious in appropriating the things he says (unless they are just word-for-word repeats of things other Fathers said, interpreted correctly).

    Also, how do you explain the fact that Athanasius used the fact that baptism deifies as an argument for the deity of Christ, if you think that the Fathers’ soteriology was not articulate and fairly settled?

    I agree about the logical priority though, and what you say makes sense, even though I disagree with it somewhat (not completely though).

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