Updated: May 11, 2020
Faith Alone: The Evangelical Doctrine of the Reformation, by R. C. Sproul
From the Council of Orange in 529 AD to the Council of Trent (1545-1563) – An Evangelical Introduction to Church History, part 3
What happened to the early Catholic Church becoming the Roman Catholic Church between the Council of Orange in 529 AD to the Council of Trent in 1545 – 1563 AD ? Sacramentalism – (with development of purgatory, penance, indulgences, treasury of merit, praying to dead saints, trafficking in relics, exalting Mary too much, etc.) – Sacramentalism is the idea that the Roman Catholic Priests could dispense grace through baptism in water (baptismal regeneration) and through the Eucharist, which developed into the abominable doctrine of transubstantiation. This culminated in the Roman Catholic Church condemning the doctrine of justification by faith alone at the Council of Trent.
“Semi-Pelagianism condemned at Orange in 529 AD, but reaffirmed at Trent” (1545-1563) (Basically, the essence of statements by Bavinck, Berkouwer, and Sproul; see below)
Historical Background: Augustine battled against Pelagius, Coelestius, and Julian of Eclanum. After Augustine died in 430 AD, his disciple Prosper took up the mantle against Pelagianism. There were others who later disagreed with Augustine and Prosper’s doctrines of grace. One of the main leaders of this, known as “semi-Pelagianism” was John Cassian.
Two articles that focus on the beneficial canons of the Council of Orange that Protestant Reformers also emphasized in their battles against the false doctrines of Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism and how the Council of Trent is contradictory to much of the council of Orange.
R. C. Sproul on the Council of Orange of 529 AD
Faith Alone: The Evangelical Doctrine of Justification, by R. C. Sproul. Baker, 1995.
In chapter 7, entitled “Merit and Grace”, R. C. Sproul discusses the issues of merit and grace, Pelagianism, semi-Pelagianism, the Council of Orange in 529 AD and the council of Trent (1545-1463), which seems to affirm semi-Pelagianism.
“Rome has repeatedly been accused of condemning semi-Pelagianism at Orange [in 529 AD] but embracing it anew at Trent. Herman Bavinck held that “although semi-Pelagianism had been condemned by Rome, it reappeared in a ‘roundabout way’”. G. C. Berkouwer observed:
“Between Orange and Trent lies a long process of development, namely, scholasticism, with its elaboration of the doctrine of the meritoriousness of good works, and the Roman system of penitence . . . “
Bavinck and Berkouwer are cited by Sproul in Faith Alone, pages 140-141.
The big Problem with the Council of Orange of 529 AD:
Baptismal Regeneration – that baptism in water causes regeneration and gives grace so one may then be able to choose Christ.
This, baptismal regeneration, is one of the earliest false emphases and doctrines of the early church. Justin Martyr, who wrote many other good things, writing around 155 AD, seems to be the first to write and teach baptismal regeneration – that water baptism gives grace or causes someone to be born again. This is wrong, and based on a wrong understanding of John 3:5; Acts 2:38; I Peter 3:21, and Titus 3:5; and some other texts. (see the comprehensive exegetical papers on links at the end of this article that deal with all the relevant verses.) Since Jesus rebukes Nicodemus for being the teacher of Israel and not understanding in John 3:10-11, Jesus is pointing to Ezekiel 36:24-27. The water of John 3:5 points to the spiritual internal cleansing from the idolatry in Ezekiel 36:25 – “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and cleanse you from all your idols” . . . how? Ezekiel 14:3, 4, 7 speak of “idols in the heart”. Water cannot cleanse the heart. But the Holy Spirit can. And it is by faith alone that the heart is cleansed. Acts 15:9 “cleansing their hearts by faith”. I Peter 3:21 says that the “baptism that saves” is “not the removal of dirt from the flesh”; that is, is not an outward, physical thing, but an appeal to God for a good conscience” – an internal thing, a crying out and Godly sorrow over sin and a repentance and faith in Christ. Acts 2:38 is using “causal eis” – the Greek preposition eis means here, “because of” or “at” – like in other places. One example of the “causal eis” usage is Luke 11:32 – “they repented at the preaching of Jonah”, meaning, “they repented because of the preaching of Jonah”. (Other places in the NT where the causal eis is used are: Romans 4:20; 11:32; Matthew 3:11; 12:41. See Dana and Mantey, Greek Grammar, pp. 103-104.
“I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” Ezekiel 36:24-27
The Holy Spirit causes us to be born again, not an external rite of baptism in water. (John 7:37-39; John 3:3-8; Acts 10:43-48; I Corinthians 12:13) Baptism in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is an external picture/symbol/testimony of an inward reality of faith and repentance, an appeal to God for a good conscience, and expression of faith and discipleship in following Christ, and a commitment to Christ’s body in a local congregation. (Matthew 28:19; Acts 2:41 – “those who received his word were baptized”)
The Council of Orange in 529 AD
CANON 13. Concerning the restoration of free will. The freedom of will that was destroyed in the first man can be restored only by the grace of baptism, for what is lost can be returned only by the one who was able to give it. Hence the Truth itself declares: “So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).
Correction: Since our wills are naturally enslaved to sin (John 8:34; 2 Timothy 2:24-26; Ephesians 3:1-3); the freedom of the will, can be only restored by the grace of God that He gives in repentance and faith in Christ. Acts 16:14; John 6:44, 65; Romans 6:22; Ezekiel 36:26-27; I Corinthians 12:13 – we are baptized by one Spirit into the body of Christ – water baptism is the outward symbol of the internal repentance and trust in Christ.
The Conclusion of the Council of Orange of 529 AD:
“CONCLUSION. And thus according to the passages of holy scripture quoted above or the interpretations of the ancient Fathers we must, under the blessing of God, preach and believe as follows. The sin of the first man has so impaired and weakened free will that no one thereafter can either love God as he ought or believe in God or do good for God’s sake, unless the grace of divine mercy has preceded him. We therefore believe that the glorious faith which was given to Abel the righteous, and Noah, and Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and to all the saints of old, and which the Apostle Paul commends in extolling them (Heb. 11), was not given through natural goodness as it was before to Adam, but was bestowed by the grace of God. And we know and also believe that even after the coming of our Lord this grace is not to be found in the free will of all who desire to be baptized, but is bestowed by the kindness of Christ, as has already been frequently stated and as the Apostle Paul declares, “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake” (Phil. 1:29). And again, “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). And again, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and it is not your own doing, it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8). And as the Apostle says of himself, “I have obtained mercy to be faithful” (1 Cor. 7:25, cf. 1 Tim. 1:13). He did not say, “because I was faithful,” but “to be faithful.” And again, “What have you that you did not receive?” (1 Cor. 4:7). And again, “Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (Jas. 1:17). And again, “No one can receive anything except what is given him from heaven” (John 3:27). There are innumerable passages of holy scripture which can be quoted to prove the case for grace, but they have been omitted for the sake of brevity, because further examples will not really be of use where few are deemed sufficient.
[The above was very good. Now comes the problem: ]
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. . . . “
There is more, see the full text of the Council of Orange above.
Some good articles that show that baptismal regeneration is not good exegesis of the Scriptural texts:
Baptismal Regeneration is not part of the gospel: Analysis of the main texts that some groups use to teach baptismal regeneration and a refutation of them all. But water baptism is a sign and picture and symbol of the Spirit baptism that happens to us on the inside when we repent and trust Christ. (I Cor. 12:13; Romans 6:3-4; Colossians 2:11-12; Galatians 3:27; I Peter 3:21) It is important for discipleship (Matthew 28:18-20) and local church membership. I Cor. 12:13 – we were baptized into the body of Christ by the Holy Spirit; and local church baptism in water and in the name of the Triune God, is the rite of entering into membership of a local church. Those that claim to be Christians and justified by faith, who do not want to follow Jesus in obedience to the command and be accountable and join a local church, are indicating they are probably not truly justified by faith. True faith results in true discipleship and good works and fruit and change.