Continuing with our quotation from Cyprian, who contended, as did Tertullian, that the baptism by heretics was not valid, we quote the following: “But again some of our colleagues would rather give honor to heretics than agree with us; and while by the assertion of one baptism they are unwilling to baptize those that come, they thus either themselves make two baptisms in saying that there is a baptism among heretics; or certainly, which is a matter of more importance, they strive to set before and prefer the sordid and profane washing of heretics to the true and only and legitimate baptism of the Catholic Church, not considering that it is written, “He who is baptized by one dead, what availeth his washing?” Now it is manifest that they who are not in the Church of Christ are reckoned among the dead; and another cannot be made alive by him who himself is not alive since there is one Church which, having attained the grace of eternal life, both lives forever and quickens the people of God . . . . But if he who comes from the heretics has not previously been baptized in the Church. (Cyprian concedes the possibility of people who had been baptized in the Church, joined heretics, and later return to the Church—H.V.), but comes as a stranger and entirely profane, he must be baptized, that he may become a sheep, because in the holy Church is the one water which makes sheep. And therefore because there can be nothing common to falsehood and truth, to darkness and light, to death and immortality, to Antichrist and Christ, we ought by all means to maintain the unity of the Catholic Church, and not to give way to the enemies of faith and truth in any respect.”—end of quote. This quotation speaks for itself. We may again notice the importance which Cyprian ascribes to the sacrament of Baptism. He argues that the baptism unto life, which occurs with the sacrament of Baptism, cannot be administered by heretics who have not the light and life but are in the midst of death. 

We may conclude, therefore, that many of the early Church Fathers (and these also include Clement of Alexandria) contended that the baptism of heretics was not valid and should therefore not be recognized. It is certain that Tertullian and Cyprian were of this opinion. 

However, the Roman Church considered any baptism valid as long as it was properly administered. We have already noted that Clement of Alexandria recognized only that baptism as valid which was administered in the Catholic Church (not, we understand, to be confused with the Roman Catholic Church—H.V.). In approximately the year, 235, the Phrygian synods of Iconium and Synnada pronounced the baptism of heretics invalid. A synod held at Carthage, North Africa, about the year 200, under a certain Agrippinus, had used similar language. Cyprian, we know adopted the custom of the Asiatic and African Churches and insisted that heretics should be rebaptized, although according to him this was not a repetition of the act of baptism, but the true baptism. According to him the baptism of heretics was no baptism and whoever, therefore, had been baptized by them had not actually been baptized. Rome, however, recognized the baptism of heretics. When we speak of Rome in this connection we refer, let us understand, to the Church at Rome. This must not be confused with the Roman Catholic Church of today. 

Stephen was the bishop of the church at Rome during the years, 253-257. It was the Roman practice to recognize the baptism of heretics as valid and merely to demand the laying on of hands as significant of repentance (with indirect reference to Acts 8:17). The Eastern Church, and especially Cyprian, strongly opposed this practice of Rome, and the councils of Carthage (255, 256) again sanctioned the opposite view (opposing Rome). A synodical letter informed Stephen of this action, and a heated epistolary controversy was opened between him and Cyprian. Stephen finally broke off communion with the African Church. Tradition relates that Stephen suffered a martyr’s death because he refused to sacrifice to the heathen gods. He maintained to the end that the baptism as ministered by heretics was valid. The view that such baptism is valid if properly administered is still in effect today. 

This question which concerns the validity of baptism as administered in. other churches is an interesting question. The view which is generally accepted today is that all baptisms are valid which are administered “in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” One can readily understand why the early Church insisted on this baptism formula. There are reasons to believe that the sacrament of baptism was administered in the early period of the Church simply “in the Name of Jesus.” I believe we may definitely assert that Matt. 28:19 must not be understood as a baptism formula, as if Jesus meant to say that these words must be spoken at the administration of baptism. The words of Matt. 28:19 do not express theform for the administration of baptism, but its essential significance. To be baptized into (not: “in,” or “in the name of, upon the authority of”) the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost refers to the essential significance of baptism. True baptism (whereof the baptism with water is merely a sign or symbol) is a being baptized into the fellowship of the living God through Jesus Christ, our Lord. The name, Father, refers, then, to the triune God. The name, Son, refers to our Lord Jesus Christ through whom this fellowship with the living God was accomplished by His death and resurrection and ascension. The name, Holy Ghost, refers to the living God as He, through the Spirit, realizes this fellowship of God’s people with God through, Jesus Christ by the work of His irresistible grace. And our actual baptism into the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost signifies that we are actually inducted into this fellowship. Of this spiritual reality the sacrament of baptism is a sign, a symbol. Because of the heresies which developed in the early Christian Church the baptism formula: “I baptize thee into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,” was adopted as determining the validity of a baptism. Regardless of a church’s interpretation of the baptism formula, the fact remains that the sacrament was at least administered properly; the form was administered according to the true Scriptural significance of the sacrament and its actual meaning. And all such baptisms have been held valid by the Church even unt.il now. 

The objections raised by heretics to any form of baptism

In the first place, they objected that it was below the dignity of the divine to be represented by anything earthly. Water baptism is, of course, an earthly sign. The same, we understand, applies to holy communion. Water, bread, and wine are earthly elements which feature these sacraments. Also today one encounters this derogatory criticism of the sacrament of baptism. Current opponents of this Scriptural injunction speak of the Spirit and water baptism and deride the latter. What must we say of this objection? In the first place, it can hardly be denied that the Lord Jesus Christ, when speaking of Himself, often avails Himself of earthly figures. He is the sun of righteousness, the door, the bread that came down from heaven, the water of life, the scepter and star out of Judah, the lion of Judah’s tribe, etc. Secondly, we must surely not be wiser than the Lord. To declare that it is below the dignity of the divine to be represented by earthly figures does not recognize the fact that it pleased the Lord, because of the infirmities of our flesh and that we may more fully understand the promise of the gospel, to represent His salvation in Christ Jesus by earthly figures which are adapted to our eyes, ears, taste, etc. These figures, whereof the Scriptures speak so abundantly and which constitute the elements in the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, do not lower the dignity of the Lord. God does not become bread and wine and water, etc., because He simply uses these figures of Himself. These figures have been instituted by the Lord because of our infirmities, so that we may the more clearly understand the wonderful and divinely exalted character of the amazing work of salvation of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord. To deny these earthly elements with the “pious” observation that they lower the dignity of the Lord is conceit; thereby one simply elevates himself above the Lord and makes himself wiser than God. 

Secondly, the objection was voiced against any form of baptism that Abraham was justified by faith only. One can hardly deny this assertion as such. It is certainly Scriptural and true that the Father of believers was justified by faith only. To substantiate this from holy writ is hardly necessary at this time or at any other time. In fact we hasten to add that, according to Rom. 4:11, he was justified before he received the sign of circumcision that he might be the father of all them that believe although they be not circumcised. Permit us to quote this wonderful passage at this time: “And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believed, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also.” Besides, according to Rom. 4:16, Abraham was justified by faith unconditionally. Permit us also to quote this remarkable passage: “Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all.” This verse should be of considerable significance torus in our present controversy in connection with “conditions.” What will the “condition enthusiasts” do with this particular word of the Lord? Is faith a condition? Was Abraham justified by faith in order that it might be “conditional?” The Father of believers was justified by faith in order that it might be by grace. This means that, being justified by faith, we are justified by grace. And this surely implies that this faith is a gift of God. And this is not all. Mind you, we are justified by faith, as a gift of grace, in order that the promise may be sure. What a tremendous statement we have here! And then the attempt is made in Concordia to show from the Scriptures and the Confessions that the statement of the Rev. De Wolf, namely: “God promises every one of you that, if you believe, you will be saved,” is sound (it might be a good thing if these so-called proofs from the Scriptures were accompanied by some explanation and interpretation)! But in Rom. 4:16 we are informed that we are justified by faith in order that the promise may be sure. The promise would not be sure if faith were a condition. To object that Rom. 4:16 merely wishes to emphasize the phrase: “to all the seed,” does not give due consideration to the fact that we read that the promise might be sure to all the seed. Replying to this objection we nevertheless wish to emphasize that this particular of holy writ certainly emphasizes the unconditionality of faith and the sovereignly particular and unconditional character of the promise. Mind you, this is not an isolated passage of the Scriptures. This deals with the tremendous question why the Lord justifies by faith. And the answer is: in order that it may be by grace and this in order that the promise may be sure to all the seed. That is, God justifies by faith, His own gift of faith, because He does “not care to take any chances as far as the promise is concerned. He wants the promise to be sure, never in doubt, and therefore justifies by faith, which is never a condition unto salvation, but purely and exclusively the gift of God.