The fact that the mere form of trinitarian baptism is insufficient to function as the hoped-for “objective” sign of the covenant has been brought out in the discussion with Mr. Johnson regarding the issue. I am thankful, to be honest, that the first Presbyterians who spoke to me about their views on baptism did not hold to an ex opere operato sacramentalism. I note that Richard Muller defines this term:

ex opere operato: by the work performed; with reference to the sacraments, the assumption of medieval scholasticism and Roman Catholicism that the correct and churchly performance of the rite conveys grace to the recipient, unless the recipient places a spiritual impediment (obex) in the way of grace. Sacraments themselves, therefore have a virtus operativa, or operative power. This view of sacraments is denied by both Lutherans and Reformed, who maintain that faith must be present in the recipient if the sacraments are to function as means of grace; the mere performance of the rite will not convey grace. (Richard Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms, p. 108).

So Mr. Johnson proposes another viewpoint: that the reason Mormon baptisms are to be rejected is not due to their form, and even less due to the unorthodoxy of the profession of faith of the one baptized: instead, Mormon baptisms are to be rejected because of who performs them. Johnson writes, “Mormon baptisms are to be rejected because they were never done by Christ’s duly ordained representatives.” Hence, the objectivity of the sign, then, becomes attached to the one performing it having the proper authority to do so, i.e., being duly ordained. (Ironically, this is a mirror image of the reasoning used by the Mormons themselves in rejecting all baptisms done outside of the authority of their own priesthood).

Now, in the process, Mr. Johnson made some interesting statements. He speculated, as I had, that possibly this passage, being very early in Smith’s “revelations,” represents something other than modern Mormonism, and surely that is true to a point. Smith did not believe in a plurality of Gods in April of 1830 (yes, I know, LDS believe he did, but that is because they do not recognize that Smith’s “First Vision” story was a later development, and that until the mid 1830s, Smith was still trying to present monotheism in his writings), and hence what D&C 20:73 would mean to him in 1830 would be radically different than what it would mean when he preaches the King Follett Funeral Discourse in 1844 (not 1841 as Johnson mistakenly indicated). He likewise indicates that this was when Mormonism “plunged headlong” into polytheism, when in fact, Smith had been developing the concept since the late 1830s, and had been using his “translation” of the Book of Abraham to substantiate his newfound beliefs. The KFD was not the point of departure, but the fullest expression of a previous development. Smith’s views were actually modalistic in 1829, as reflected in Mosiah 15:1-4 in the Book of Mormon.

But all of these issues aside, surely a Mormon elder is, within the purview of his ecclesiastical organization, properly “ordained” to the task of baptism (i.e., only valid priesthood holders can perform the rite). So, one must begin a priori with a rejection of the validity of Mormonism as an ecclesiastical body so as to determine that the ordination of said person is invalid, thusly invalidating the baptism. Now again, I agree wholeheartedly that Mormon “ordination” to “priesthood authority” is completely without meaning with reference to divine truth: Mormonism has the wrong God, the wrong Savior, the wrong Spirit, the wrong Gospel, the wrong Word, the wrong priesthood—if there is a way for a religion to be in error, Mormonism has found it (and the reason for that is simple: since it begins with a fundamental denial of the Creator/creation distinction, it cannot ever provide a foundation for any element of the truth itself). But I am being a consistent Reformed Baptist by saying these things: I not only admit to “parsing” the theology of Mormonism, I happen to believe I am commanded to do so by clear and compelling Scriptural teaching. But is that not right where the battle has been raging regarding rCism all along? Two things to consider here:

First, who determines who is, and who is not, properly and duly ordained? Mr. Johnson denies to me the name “Reformed.” One of his compatriots on has used the most strident language (language I’ve never seen that person use of Mormonism, though, he himself is a former Mormon) to denounce Baptists, and I would not have a very difficult time imagining such a person rejecting my fellowship as a valid church and hence our baptisms as “valid.” But who gets to say?

Second, I am, I truly hope, fully consistent in applying the exact same standards I used above in regards to Mormonism to Roman Catholicism and its baptism: it is a baptism performed outside of the Gospel, first and foremost (and this is the reason I do not accept it, and instead would gladly give a new believer who has come out of Roman Catholicism the tremendous opportunity of expressing their faith in Christ in believer’s baptism). It is, in fact, viewed in a way that makes it directly detrimental to, and contradictory to, the message of the gospel of grace. It is viewed as the very means of justification, the “laver of regeneration,” but even then, it is a justification that is a very small shadow of the biblical reality itself.

But even more telling is the assertion that the Roman Catholic priesthood should be considered a valid priesthood and those within it viewed as “duly ordained ministers of Christ.” Let us remember well the primary focus of the sacerdotal “authority” of the Roman priest: the sacramental offering of the Eucharist as a propitiatory sacrifice. He is viewed as an alter Christus, another Christ, as we read:

“When the priest announces the tremendous words of consecration, he reaches up into the heavens, brings Christ down from His throne, and places Him upon our altar to be offered up again as the Victim for the sins of man. It is a power greater than that of monarchs and emperors: it is greater than that of saints and angels, greater than that of Seraphim and Cherubim.

Indeed it is greater even than the power of the Virgin Mary. While the Blessed Virgin was the human agency by which Christ became incarnate a single time, the priest brings Christ down from heaven, and renders Him present on our altar as the eternal Victim for the sins of man–not once but a thousand times! The priest speaks and lo! Christ, the eternal and omnipotent God, bows his head in humble obedience to the priest’s command.

Of what sublime dignity is the office of the Christian priest who is thus privileged to act as the ambassador and the vice-gerent of Christ on earth! He continues the essential ministry of Christ: he teaches the faithful with the authority of Christ, he pardons the penitent sinner with the power of Christ, he offers up again the same sacrifice of adoration and atonement which Christ offered on Calvary. No wonder that the name which spiritual writers are especially fond of applying to the priest is that of “alter Christus.” For the priest is and should be another Christ. (John O’Brien, The Faith of Millions, pp. 255-256.)

I well know what drove Augustine to his views on the sacraments. And unlike some rC’s, I happen to agree with Warfield when, evaluating Augustine’s theology, he concluded that the Reformation, inwardly considered, was just the victory of Augustine’s doctrine of grace over Augustine’s doctrine of the church. Quite so. Hence, I feel no compulsion to overlook the heretical nature of the Roman priesthood (how can one who loves Christ’s priesthood?), nor can I view a man who allows himself to be called an alter Christus as a “duly ordained minister of Christ.” He who owes his loyalty to the “Holy Father” in Rome cannot at the same time be giving it to the Chief Shepherd of the Church. The two are incongruous concepts.

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