Recently I took part in an online discussion about John Calvin and Martin Luther, in which they were criticized for continuing the practice of infant baptism after leaving the Catholic Church; and because of their practice of infant baptism, the genuineness of their faith was called into question. The blame for this ultimately landed at Augustine’s feet – these Reformers had refused to set aside his views. This saddened and frustrated me because I know that believers differ about infant vs. believer’s baptism, and that not all who practice infant baptism consider it regeneration.
So, these men were merely men – they sometimes erred. Their views on nonessentials shouldn’t be a test of the genuineness of their faith and eternal destiny.
1 Corinthians 4:5
5 Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.
I just finished reading Broadbent’s analysis of Augustine. He points out issues that are more troubling than infant baptism. One of these is that Augustine held the view that coercion was justified when heretics refused correction. So yes, we respect these men whom the Lord gave to the Church as teachers, but we cannot refuse to critique their views. That is wrong – just as being hypercritical is wrong.
2 Timothy 2:24-25
24 And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, 25 in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth;
The following excerpt is taken from the chapter entitled “Christianity in Christendom”, from the hardback edition of the book, published by GOSPEL FOLIO PRESS, Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1999. (Emphasis added.)
“Augustine was baptized by Ambrose in Milan (AD 387) and became later Bishop of Hippo (later named Bona) in North Africa (AD 395). His busy life was one of constant controversy. He lived at the time when the Western Roman Empire was breaking up; indeed a barbarian army was besieging his city of Hippo when he passed away. It was the fall of the Western Empire that led him to write his famous book, The City of God. Its full title explains its aim: ‘Though the greatest city of the world has fallen, the City of God abideth for ever.’
“His view, however, of what the City of God is led him into teachings that have given rise to unspeakable misery, the very greatness of his name accentuating the harmful effects of the error he taught. He, beyond others, formulated the doctrine of salvation by the Church only, by means of her sacraments. To take salvation out of the hands of the Saviour and put it into the hands of men, to interpose a system of man’s devising between the Saviour and the sinner, is the very opposite of the Gospel revelation. Christ says: ‘Come unto Me’ and no priest or church has authority to intervene.
“Augustine, in his zeal for the unity of the Church and his genuine abhorrence of all divergence in doctrine and difference in form, lost sight of the spiritual, living, and indestructible unity of the Church and Body of Christ, uniting all who are sharers by the new birth in the life of God. Consequently he did not see the practical possibility of the existence of churches of God in various places and in all times, each retaining its immediate relation with the Lord and with the Spirit, yet having fellowship with the others, and that in spite of human weaknesses, of varying degrees of knowledge, of divergent apprehensions of Scripture and differences of practice.
“His outward view of the Church as an earthly organization naturally led him to seek outward, material means for preserving, and even compelling, visible unity. In controversy with the Donatists, he wrote:
‘It is indeed better…that men should be led to worship God by teaching, than that they should be driven to it by fear of punishment or pain; but it does not follow that because the former course produces the better men, therefore those who do not yield to it should be neglected. For many have found advantage (as we have proved and are daily proving by actual experiment) in being first compelled by fear or pain, so that they might afterwards be influenced by teaching, or might follow out in act what they had already learned in word…While those are better who are guided aright by love, those are certainly more numerous who are corrected by fear. For who can possibly love us more than Christ, who laid down His life for the sheep? And yet, after calling Peter and the other Apostles by His words alone, when He came to summon Paul…He not only constrained him with His voice, but even dashed him to the earth with His power; and that He might forcibly bring one who was raging amid the darkness of infidelity, to desire the light of the heart, He first struck him with physical blindness of the eyes. Why therefore should not the Church use force in compelling her lost sons to return?…The Lord Himself said, “Go out into the highways and hedges and compel them to come in”…Wherefore is the power which the Church has received by divine appointment in its due season, through the religious character and faith of kings, be the instrument by which those who are found in the highways and hedges – that is, in heresies and schisms – are compelled to come in, then let them not find fault with being compelled.’
“Such teaching, from such an authority, incited and justified those methods of persecution by which papal Rome equalled the cruelties of pagan Rome. So a man of strong affections and quick and tender sympathies, departing from the principles of Scripture, though with good intentions, became implicated in a vast and ruthless system of persecution.“
As I read through The Pilgrim Church, I hope to post more excerpts from it.