Friday, March 3, 2017

Infant salvation: the Lutheran tradition

This fourth installment of my continuing series on INFANT SALVATION, will examine the conservative Lutheran position, as delineated by Charles Porterfield Krauth. C. P. Krauth was a conservative, 19th century, American Lutheran scholar. I first became aware of Krauth after purchasing his massive book, The Conservative Reformation and Its Theology (Augsburg Publishing House, 1963 reprint edition), back in 1990s during one of my frequent visits to Powell's Books. The back-flap of the book's dust cover has the following to say about the author:

Charles Porterfield Krauth, 1823-1883, was a parish pastor, teacher, editor, church leader and champion of conservative Lutheranism in America . . . regarded by many as the most eminent Lutheran in America of the 19th century. Through his recognized ability as a public speaker and with his prolific pen—particularly with this volume, considered his magnum opus—he set the stamp of his own theology upon a whole generation and more of American Lutheran ministers. (An in depth, two volume biography is available in an online PDF version, here.)

Krauth's thoughts on infant salvation are referenced in his aforementioned book. The following selections from this contribution will be from the 1875 edition, Google Books PDF version (LINK).

Krauth's theological reflections on infant salvation are inextricably linked to the early Lutheran understanding of the doctrine of 'original sin,' as delineated in the original Augsburg Confession. From Krauth's book we read:

The Article teaches us what original sin would do if there were no redemption provided in Christ. The mere fact that Christ has wrought out His work provides a sufficient remedy, if it be applied, to save every human creature from the effects of original sin. Let not this great fact be forgotten. Let it never be left out of the account in looking at the mystery of original sin, that there is an ample arrangement by which the redemption of every human creature from the results of original sin could be effected ; that there is no lack in God's provision for saving every one of our race from its results. "Our Lord Jesus Christ, by the grace of God, tasted death for every man."

2. It is not the doctrine of our Confession that any human creature has ever been, or ever will be, lost purely on account of original sin. For while it supposes that original sin, if unarrested, would bring death, it supposes it to be arrested, certainly and ordinarily, by the Holy Spirit, through the divine means rightly received, and throws no obstacle in the way of our hearty faith that, in the case of infants dying without the means, the Holy Ghost, in His own blessed way, directly and extraordinarily, may make the change that delivers the child from the power of indwelling sin. Luther, in his marginal note on John xv. 22, says: "Denn durch Christum ist die Erbsünde auffgehaben, und verdamnet nach Christus zukunfft niemand. On wer sie nicht lassen, das ist, wer nicht glenben wil." "Through Christ original sin is annulled, and condemneth no man since Christ's coming, unless he will not forsake it (original sin), that is, will not believe." (Pages 428, 429 - bold emphasis mine.)

Over the next couple of pages, Krauth cites Luther and other early Lutheran theologians concerning the necessity of baptism for salvation. It is deduced that baptism is necessary only when it, "refers to the ordinary mode which God observes in saving men", and that,  "the matter is different in a case of necessity, when any one cannot obtain it" (p. 430).

Krauth then writes:

Both Luther and Bugenhagen discuss at large the argument for, and objections against, the doctrine of the salvation of unbaptized little children, and demonstrate that it is no part of the faith of our Church, that Baptism is absolutely necessary : that is, that there are no exceptions or limitations to the proposition that, unless a man is born again of the Water of Baptism, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

Luther and Bugenhagen condemn those who refuse to unbaptized children the rites of Christian burial, and who object to laying their bodies in consecrated ground, as if they were outside of the Church. "We bury them," say they, "as Christians, confessing thereby that we believe the strong assurances of Christ. The bodies of these unbaptized children have part in the joyous resurrection of life." (Pages 432, 433 - bold emphasis mine.)

Earlier in his work, Krauth lists this issue of baptism as one of the doctrines in which the Lutheran Church, "has been mispresented" (p. 129), and then writes:

Baptism. The Lutheran Church holds that it is necessary to salvation to be born again of water (baptism) and the Spirit, (John iii. 5, and Augsburg Confession, Art. II. and IX. ;) but she holds that this necessity, though absolute as regards the work of the Spirit, is, as regards the outward part of baptism, ordinary, not absolute, or without exception ; that the contempt of the sacrament, not the want of it, condemns ; and that though God binds us to the means, he does not bind his own mercy by them. From the time of Luther to the present hour, the Lutheran theologians have maintained the salvability and actual salvation of infants dying unbaptized. (Page 129 - bold emphasis mine.)

I will conclude this post with Krauth's following portrayal—and contrasts—of the Lutheran position on infant salvation:

The truth is, no system so thoroughly as that of the Lutheran Church places the salvation of infants on the very highest ground.

The Pelagian system would save them on the ground of personal innocence, but that ground we have seen to be fallacious. The Calvinistic system places their salvation on the ground of divine election, and speaks elect infants, and hence, in its older and more severely logical shape at least, supposed not only that some unbaptized, but also that some baptized infants are lost. (Page 434.)

Grace and peace,


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