“After Grace Has Been Received Through Baptism”?

With this 6th Century phrase the veil of the human sacraments descended upon the Western Church. The saving work of the Holy Spirit through the Word of God was limited to a priest saying a series of words over the water: “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” The need for hearing the gospel and responding by repentance and faith was eliminated from the order of salvation. Evangelism and the work of the Evangelist were rendered useless. And from that time on in the state-endorsed Western Church, Evangelicalism no longer found a home.

These words belong to the second paragraph of the conclusion of what is called “The Second Council of Orange” (3 July 529). The original wording of the conclusion is ascribed to Archbishop Césaire d’Arles. He took the teaching of the 25 preceding Canons and added the chronological sentiment of this clause. It may be helpful to share the entire sentence from which proceeds this phrase:

“According to the catholic faith we also believe that after grace has been received through baptism, all baptized persons have the ability and responsibility, if they desire to labor faithfully, to perform with the aid and cooperation of Christ what is of essential importance in regard to the salvation of their soul”

Through this statement, Baptism—most commonly practiced as Infant Baptism—was made the very time of receiving the grace of God. Consider then, that if grace is received through the rite of Baptism, it is not received by the exercise of personal faith:

Eph 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”

Nor is grace received after hearing the gospel, as is clearly stated in the Bible:

Rom 10:17, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”

Eph 1:13, “In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise.”

In this last verse, Paul’s use of the word “after” directly contradicts the use of the same preposition as above used by Césaire d’Arles. Persons must first hear so that afterwards they may believe and be sealed by the Spirit of promise.

Thus the need for a hearing of faith is necessary, as affirmed in Galatians:

Gal 3:2, “This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?”

Jesus Himself taught the need for hearing His words followed by belief in the same unto eternal salvation:

John 5:24, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.”

In fact, the verses directly teaching the need to hear the gospel prior to faith and receiving grace are many. The plenary teaching of New Testament salvation hinges upon this one concept.

But through one phrase in the 6th Century Second Council of Orange the Western Church system was ushered into a very long era of sacramental salvation. The impact of this one phrase cannot be overestimated.

“After grace has been received through baptism.”

This phrase shaped how salvation was conceived in the state-church after that time. Those who did not hold to this exact view of Baptism as the reception of divine grace were framed as heretical and were anathematized as such.

Centuries of doctrinal education and theological categories were strained through the filter of that phrase. The Evangelical view was framed out of doctrinal consideration. Evangelicals and Evangelicalism were scrubbed from the pages of church histories.

On a practical front, Evangelists and evangelism were pushed outside the periphery of the church and its activities. Evangelical churches and their activities became incognito. It still took another 500 years before the fires of persecution burned at the center of European town squares.

Eventually a theologian was found who fitfully framed Evangelicalism out of the question. Lombard’s Four Books of Sentences became the only standard for Western theological education for over a half a millennium. Not long after him another prominent Doctor of the Church, “that great Angelic Doctor,” applied the work of his predecessor to the cultural conditions of dealing with presumptuous heretics. Western Europe was ushered into a time of extreme spiritual darkness. Great persecution ensued.

“quod post acceptam per baptismum gratiam”
[“After grace has been received through baptism”]

With six Latin words, New Testament evangelism was almost extinguished from Western Christianity. It took the publishing of the Greek New Testament almost a thousand years later to shake Western European Christianity from its darkness and slumber.

400 years after the Protestant Reformation evangelism was birthed within theological education. In 1901 L. R. Scarborough founded and chaired the first seminary department of evangelism at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. 100 years later evangelism continues on in theological education, both in teaching and practice. My prayer is for a bright future for evangelism in theological education!

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