Friday, October 17, 2008

A Biblical Defense of Monergism

Baptists bristle at the teaching of baptismal regeneration (i.e. baptism is necessary for salvation). It is inimical to our cherished belief that we are saved by faith alone. But, does the popular Baptist viewpoint on regeneration fare any better than baptismal regeneration?

The popular belief amongst Baptists is that a person is (regenerated) born again after or simultaneous to the time he places his faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Thus, one’s faith is the cause of regeneration. Some opponents of the popular Baptist view point call this “Decisional Regeneration.” Thiessen expresses this point of view well: The new birth is conditioned on faith in the crucified Christ.[1]

However, “Decisional Regeneration” fares no better biblically than baptismal regeneration. The Bible nowhere teaches that regeneration is conditioned on faith. In fact, it teaches that God alone apart from the will of man, whether by faith or baptism, causes the new birth.

John 3 is one of most well known passages on regeneration. In this text, Jesus explains to Nicodemus the necessity of the new birth: No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again (John 3:3 NIV). Born again could also be translated born from above as well as born again. Leon Morris argues that John wants us to understand the word in both senses. Obviously, if one is born the first time, then he also experiences a birth from God, he is born again. John apparently wants us to understand both ideas in this one word. In other passages where this word is used, it is translated as above and is clearly referring to God (See John 3:31, 19:11; James 1:17). From this, one may conclude that being born from above means that the source for new birth is from God, which is the expression that John uses in John 1:13 to describe the new birth.

In this verse, John makes absolutely clear that the human will is not involved in the new birth but that it is brought about by the work of God. Some may attempt to argue that verse 12 teaches that receiving Jesus is the cause of the new birth. However, verse 12 says no such thing. It only affirms that those who received him will become children of God. It does not comment on how the birth of the child of God occurs. John saves his explanation for this in verse 13. It is here that John teaches man’s will is not involved in the process of the new birth. Moreover, James adds that God is the one who chooses to give us the new birth (James 1:18). Since God causes the new birth and chooses to give birth to persons apart from their will, faith cannot be a condition for regeneration because faith involves the human will.

Because most Baptists believe that born again and saved are synonymous terms, they also think that regeneration is synonymous with being saved. This mistake causes most of the misunderstanding about regeneration and it cause. However John 3:3 aids in clearing up the confusion. Jesus says here in order to see the kingdom of God one must be born again. Unger’s Bible dictionary defines the kingdom of God as “all created intelligences…who are willingly subject to God and thus in fellowship with him.” One could easily sum up this definition: the kingdom of God is all who are saved. If this is the true meaning of the phrase in this context, then Jesus is telling Nicodemus that in order to be saved one must first experience the new birth. In addition, Titus 3:4 teaches that regeneration is the means to salvation when it says “he saved us through the washing of the new birth.” Clearly, regeneration cannot be the same thing as salvation if it precedes it and is the means to salvation.

Regeneration is only beginning of the blessings of salvation purchased by Christ. Salvation also includes justification, sanctification, glorification, adoption, conversion and union with Christ. While the other blessings of salvation may be conditioned on faith, regeneration is brought about by God and not the human will. Regeneration is the initial act of God whereby he imparts a new nature in a sinner; as a result of regeneration, the regenerate person accepts the Gospel and is saved. Thus, properly speaking regeneration has no condition; however, salvation is conditioned on faith.

Thus, whether one teaches Baptismal or Decisional Regeneration, he is in error. The correction for both of these errors is to accept the biblical view of regeneration that God acts on the heart of man independent of his will in order to change his sinful will so that he savingly repents and believes, and by this means God saves him.

[1] Theissen, Henry C. Lectures in Systematic Theology (Eerdman’s 1999) pg. 280

Pastor Jeremy Lee
Twining Baptist Church

6 comments:

Timothy said...

Greetings! Saw your post in Google Blogsearch and came to read. I've been exchanging comments on your very topic at another blog. He cited a James White apologetic as a source.

>"The popular belief amongst Baptists is that a person is (regenerated) born again after or simultaneous to the time he places his faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior."

Does your doctrine not spring from using the tradition of man known as time? Your use of "after or simultaneous" is telling.

If God is "outside" (not subject to) the manmade tradition of time, then there is no before or after. Coming to faith and the "later" baptism that we perceive actually are the same moment. Just as while you and I are exchanging these words, Christ is also holding the Last Supper, carrying His cross, suffering crucifixion, and arising on the "third day".

>"Thus, whether one teaches Baptismal or Decisional Regeneration, he is in error. The correction for both of these errors is to accept the biblical view of regeneration that God acts on the heart of man independent of his will in order to change his sinful will so that he savingly repents and believes, and by this means God saves him."

So, man lacks any free will at all? That seems against Genesis where God gave Adam and Eve free will and they acted to reject God, and His gift of an immaculate soul and enter into sin. The Bible makes the case that man does have free will and man may accept or reject God.

Your argument and that of James White seems correct at a first glance, but definitely contradicts the rest of scripture, particularly the Old Testament.

What has "the pillar and ground of truth" to say on this issue? (1Timothy 3:15)

God bless...

+Timothy

Anonymous said...

Brother Timothy.
No where in Holy Scripture is free will toward God taught, on the contrary the only way to come to God is by God the Holy Spirit. Your Genesis remark is interesting. Everyone believes in the fall and the beginning of the sin nature, but has there been much thought that Eve before her nature was sinful had a conversation with Satan and gave in to Satan. Eve gave satan her instructions given by God, Satan said God didn't mean what He said Eve, you won't die. Eve at this point with out a sin nature disbelieved God and believed Satan. So you are going to tell me man has a will toward God, even after he has been endowed with a nature that after the fall is worse than before the fall?
Any one who thinks he has free will toward God doesn't understand the depth and destruction of sin and neither does he understand the Holiness of God.

Josh Gelatt said...

Timothy,

1. There is a difference between logical and ordinal sequence. Search any of the "Christian Theology" books (Erickson or Grudem, for example) for a discussion on this. "After" is a term that can refer to logical sequence or ordinal sequence. Reformed doctrinaires usually are referring to logical sequence.

2. Reformed thought (as well as dispensational thought) recognizes a difference between pre-Fall and post-Fall conditions. In fact, I'm not sure there is a theological system that doesn't. Reformed folk simply say that mankind, because of the Fall, cannot and doesn't not want to obey God. God has to work a change in their hearts and minds BEFORE they will accept Him in faith.

Any other position, Reformed folk would argue, fails to recognize the true moral devastation of the Fall. Arminians, it is maintained, rightly recognize the reality of sin, but not the totality of sin.

The North Eastern Michigan Reformation Society said...

Thank you, Josh and anonymous you said what I would have answered.

Jeremy

The Lighthearted Calvinist said...

Does not Scripture describe post-Fall man as in one of only two states? e.g., "Dead in sin" or "alive in Christ"? Sheep or goats? Wheat or chaff? Those whose father is Satan or those whose Father is Yahweh? Either "for me" or "against me"? Those who have their mind set on the flesh or their mind set on the Spirit?

No, wait, there aren't any Romans 8:7-8 people alive today, are there? This isn't a Baptist issue, is it? Isn't it a Gospel issue? If we believe every single person has, through God's prevenient grace (per Wesley) been enabled to respond to the Gospel, then who IS Paul talking about in Romans 8? The person whose mind is set on the flesh CAN'T respond positively, can they? But is not fallen man, until redemption, the man of Romans 8:7-8? Until the Spirit blows, per John 3, brings the dead man alive in Christ, per Eph. 2, who then believes and is justified by that faith (Romans 5), there is no "order" to discuss, only the state of spiritual death.

Does not Scripture only describe those who a) don't obey/believe because they can't obey/believe and b) those who who do obey/believe? There isn't a third category of man who can obey/believe, but doesn't obey/believe. Praise God ANY of us believe.

Aaron Frey said...

Jeremy, you're argument against decisional regeneration is undeniably biblical. The comment that referenced Romans 8 was also an excellent addition. We would also be edified to consider Ephesians 2, especially verses 8 and 9.

I'm not going to be able to follow your argument against baptismal regeneration, however, if you do not clarify your use of Titus 3. It would seem from the translation that you used and from the place that the passage holds in your argument that you take the genitives following loutron to be subjective genitives, or perhaps as epexegetical. Either way, it seems that you are taking the "washing" to which Paul refers either to be the equivalent of regeneration (paliggenesia) and new birth (anakainwsis) or to be the thing that they do. Do I have this correct? It was hard for me to follow at first, because the only other place that loutron occurs in the NT is Ephesians 5:26, where the reference to water in connection with the Word leads one naturally to understand it as baptism, which is a washing of water in connection with the Word. Understood according to Paul's usage elsewhere, then, Titus 3 would be a counter to your argument that God does not work regeneration through baptism. Do I understand you correctly?