Sadly, even those that self-identify as "Lutheran" seem to have a legitimate problem with accepting and then proclaiming what it is we believe, teach, and confess about Baptism after years of rubbing elbows with non-Lutherans and allowing those non-Lutherans and their own beliefs, teachings, and confessions to influence them, our churches, and our schools.
Even worse, there's also a strain of apathy infecting any serious attempt to try and discuss why this matters, and I'm beginning to wonder if recent converts to Lutheranism like me are the only ones who care about any of it since we know how a complete misunderstanding of Holy Baptism can lead one to "shipwreck" their faith (1 Timothy 1:19).
I suppose that it's always been this way and will always continue to be this way long after my time on this earth is done. However, that doesn't mean that I have to follow the blind, fall in line, and become apathetic to it myself.
So, I tried to think back to the time not so long ago when I myself held to the un-Biblical beliefs that the Sacraments were just "ordinances" and things that *I NEED TO DO* to "demonstrate" and "prove" my faith to God and others.
With that in mind, here's a brief collection of resources on this subject that I hope you find to be helpful in finally helping to set the record straight if not also leading you to repent of the false teaching you've held on to for so long so that you can return to the "narrow" way (Matthew 7:13-14), which is "the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 1:3).
Think of it as "Straight Talk On Baptism ('Infant Baptism' Specifically)."
Ok, so what does the Bible say about Baptism? Let's start there.
-- Baptism is a "Holy Sacrament" and "Means of Grace" or a pure gift from God to us and for us
-- Baptism was instituted By Christ Himself. Baptism was instituted by Christ (Matthew 28:18–19) and is to be used as a means to impart forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation till the end of time. Its visible element is water (1 Peter 3:20–21); nothing else may be substituted. The mode of applying water is an "adiaphoron," the Greek term "baptizein" meaning not only "immersing" but also "washing, sprinkling, and pouring" (Mark 7:3–4; Acts 1:5 cf. 2:16–17; Ephesians 5:25–26; Hebrews 9:10 ["washings," literally "baptisms"] cf. Numbers 19:13, 19; Didache 7:1–3).
-- What is the purpose of Baptism? According to Scripture, Christ sanctifies His Church with the washing of water by the Word (Ephesians 5:25–26). Baptism makes disciples of men (Matthew 28:19); it saves (1 Peter 3:21); it is a washing of regeneration (Titus 3:5) by which men are born again (John 3:5–6). Through Baptism we put on Christ, that is, His merits and righteousness, by the very faith which, by application of the Gospel, it creates in the heart (Galatians 3:26–27); for Baptism is pure Gospel, not Law, and hence it does not save mechanically, but by faith, which receives the blessings Baptism offers and which is worked by this Sacrament; the Gospel is both the means of creating faith and the foundation of faith. Baptism also unites the baptized with the Triune God, for we are baptized into communion with the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost (Matthew 28:19) as also into communion with Christ (Galatians 3:27). And by Baptism we are buried with Christ into death, that is, through Baptism we partake of the merits which Christ procured for the whole world by His vicarious suffering and death (Romans 6:3–5). Baptism, as the application of the saving Gospel, is, therefore, a true means of grace.
-- What is the meaning of Baptism? By Baptism we are buried with Christ into death and arise with Him to newness of life (Romans 6:4).
-- The Sacraments of Baptism and Communion were instituted by Jesus Christ Himself. He calls His Church to baptize in the "Great Commission" of Matthew 28:16-20 and He also calls His Church to the Lord's Table (for the Lord's Supper or Holy Communion) in Matthew 26:26-29 and Luke 22:14-20. We practice Baptism and Communion because Jesus said to. Simple enough, or not?
-- What about "Infant Baptism" of baptizing babies? Baptism in the New Testament is the counterpart of circumcision in the Old Testament (Colossians 2:11–12), and in the OT infants were circumcised (Genesis 17:12; Leviticus 12:3). In the New Testament families were baptized (Acts 16:15, 33; 18:8; 1 Corinthians 1:16); in Acts 2:38–41 Baptism is connected with the promise "to your children." Christ's command to baptize all nations certainly also included infants (Matthew 28:19–20). The need for infant regeneration is clear (Psalm 51:5; John 3:6; Ephesians 2:3). Baptism is the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost (John 3:3–7; Titus 3:5). Christ desires to have also little children brought to Him for the blessings of His grace (Mark 10:14). Little children can believe (Matthew 18:2–6).
Pretty straightforward stuff, huh?
So then why do we insist on twisting Scripture and asserting that it means something other than what it actually says?
Please prayerfully consider that if you are the type of person who's so passionate about proclaiming "Sola Scriptura!" (a.k.a. "Scripture Alone!") all the time to anyone and everyone who will listen to you (that was once me!), then you MUST put aside your preconceived notions and presuppositions about Baptism and accept the truth of what all those verses are telling us, otherwise, you're being intellectually dishonest (and sinful) due to your entrenched position.
Ok, what do the Confessions say about Baptism? Let's go there next.
-- It works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare (Small Catechism IV 6)
-- Baptism is a means of grace because it "is not simple water only, but it is the water comprehended in God's command and connected with God's word" (Small Catechism IV 2), the Gospel promise of salvation. Those who have fallen from baptismal grace should remember that God's promises of forgiveness, life, and salvation remain unshaken; they should return penitently to the Gospel covenant est. by God with the baptized in and through Baptism. "How can water do such great things? It is not the water indeed that does them, but the word of God which is in and with the water, and faith, which trusts such word of God in the water" (Small Catechism IV 9–10)
-- What does such baptizing with water signify? It signifies that the Old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts and, again, a new man daily come forth and arise, who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever (Small Catechism IV 11–12)
-- In the second place, since we know now what Baptism is and how it is to be regarded, we must also learn why and for what purpose it is instituted. We must learn what it profits, gives, and works. For this also we cannot find a better resource than Christ's words quoted above, "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved" [Mark 16:16]. Therefore, state it most simply in this way: the power, work, profit, fruit, and purpose of Baptism is this -- to save [1 Peter 3:21]. For no one is baptized in order that he may become a prince, but, as the words say, that he 'be saved.' We know that to be saved is nothing other than to be delivered from sin, death, and the devil [Colossians 1:13-14]. It means to enter into Christ's kingdom [John 3:5], an to live with Him forever. (Large Catechism IV 23-25)
-- Our Baptism abides forever. Even though someone should fall from Baptism and sin, still we always have access to it. So we may subdue the old man again. But we do not need to be sprinkled with water again. Even if we were put under the water a hundred times, it would still be only one Baptism, even though the work and sign continue and remain. Repentance, therefore, is nothing other than a return and approach to Baptism. We repeat and do what we began before, but abandoned. I say this lest we fall into the opinion in which we were stuck for a long time. We were imagining that our Baptism is something past, which we can no longer use after we have fallen again into sin. The reason for this is that Baptism is regarded as only based on the outward act once performed . This arose from the fact that St. Jerome wrote that "repentance is the second plank by which we must swim forth and cross over the water after the ship is broken, on which we step and are carried across when we come into the Christian Church." By this teaching Baptism's use has been abolished so that it can no longer profit us. Therefore, Jerome's statement is not correct, or at any rate is not rightly understood. For the ship of Baptism never breaks, because...It is God's ordinance and not our work (1 Peter 3:20-22). But it does happen, indeed, that we slip and fall out of the ship. Yet if anyone falls out, let him see to it that he swims up and clings to the ship until he comes into it again and lives in it, as he had done before. In this way one sees what a great, excellent thing Baptism is. It delivers us from the devil's jaws and makes us God's own. It suppresses and takes away sin and then daily strengthens the new man. It is working and always continues working until we pass from this estate of misery to eternal glory. (Large Catechism IV 77-83)
Remember, this is a "Same-Saying" of what the Word of God already says so they are in complete agreement with one another.
I could go on-and-on with many more examples from the Christian Book of Concord, but what would be the point? Are you not convinced yet?
Again, why do we allow our "Old Adam" to have his way when it comes to the Sacrament of Baptism even though we succeed in keeping him on a short leash when it comes to other doctrines that may be a little less clear?
It's quite bizarre until you remind yourself what's really going on here.
Ephesians 6:12 (ESV) For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
What's the answer then? How are we to respond?
The following verses from that same chapter in Ephesians gives us crystal clear marching orders...
Ephesians 6:13-18 (ESV) Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints,
We need to use "the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God" as often as possible in this discussion and try to refrain from resorting to emotional, feelings-based, knee-jerk reactions all the time.
Finally, here are some additional thoughts from other Lutheran Pastors who have written about this contentious topic over the years (it's certainly not comprehensive by any means, but they are the words that helped settle this debate for me personally)...
In the last chapter of his Gospel, Matthew describes Jesus' gift of Baptism (Matthew 28:18-20). In these words, Jesus tells His Church how to make disciples -- baptize and teach. The sequence of Jesus' words is interesting. He does not say "teach and baptize"; instead, Jesus says "baptize and teach." Normally, Baptism precedes teaching because God wants people to enter His kingdom as soon as possible. Baptism brings us into God's kingdom by forgiving our sin, covering us with God's grace, and creating faith in us. ... Baptism is an act of God toward people in which He bestows His grace on sinful human beings. All people are sinful, including babies. Therefore, all people need Baptism. ... Jesus says in Matthew 28 that "all nations" are to be baptized, which does not exclude children. ... There is no reason to deny this precious Sacrament of Holy Baptism to children unless one believes they have no need of salvation. To say they have no need, however, denies original sin. ... Therefore, it is wrong to deny the benefits of Baptism to children because it steals the mercy and grace of God from little children, who need it as much as any of us.
-- Rev. Daniel Preus, Why I Am A Lutheran: Jesus At The Center, pp. 109-111
Baptism, then, is no magic trick where water is sprinkled on a baby and that water somehow saves them. Nor is Baptism to be used as an insurance policy against hell, where a parent brings their child to be baptized and then never brings them to worship or teaches them the tenets of the faith, believing that, by some mysterious, inherent, undefined virtue in a Baptism performed years ago, their child will be saved. God's Word and Baptism must go hand-in-hand, as Jesus himself teaches: "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:19-20). Baptism and the teaching of God's Word go together. For it is there that we meet Jesus. And it is there that Jesus saves us. And so, we continue to baptize. And we continue to share God's Word. And God continues to work to save people like you and me. And so we thank God, who has given us Baptism and His Word through which we can meet Him and meet with Him.
-- Rev. Zach McIntosh
Baptism is the universal sacrament. It gives entry to the kingdom of Christ. And whom does our Father not want in the kingdom of His Son? Our heavenly Father has placed no barriers of age or status upon the gift of baptism. If age would be a barrier for baptism, what would keep us from applying other barriers to those seeking the gift of baptism? If age puts a limit on baptism, what would keep us from applying other limits? Of course, our Lord does not place limits of age on the sacrament of baptism. He says, "Go, baptize all nations." Who exactly would that command leave out? Who could not be included in the designation "all nations?" Whom has our Lord forbidden us to baptize? But if age limits baptism, wouldn't it be conceivable that other barriers, such as social status, just as easily prevent those who are otherwise eligible to be baptized? While it might seem unlikely to us, the early church struggled with precisely these questions.
-- Rev. Scott R. Murray
During my past 9 years of pastoral ministry the discussion with Evangelicals that has resulted in the most confusion, tension, and conflict is most definitely the dialog over infant baptism. Otherwise stated, in my humble opinion there is nothing more offensive to our Evangelical brothers and sisters (those who believe that it is only proper to baptize those who are able to make a profession of faith) than the Lutheran view of infant baptism. Now, for you lifelong Lutherans you may find this hard to believe, how a precious gift from God can cause such strain, but it is true that it does. My wife and I have unfortunately lost friendships over "the infant baptism" talk. Furthermore, at one point in time I too was very indifferent towards the sacraments and rather antagonistic towards those that boldly cherished them. But you may ask, "Why the offense? What could possibly be so threatening about sprinkling water on a cute and helpless baby?" The most common criticism that I have heard against infant baptism is that it doesn’t allow for the baby to make a "decision" for Christ or a "profession of faith." (At this point we could devote our time to show how the tenets of the Enlightenment have tainted this view of faith, but that can be saved for another time.) Many will protest that it is unjust to baptize a baby before the child can profess faith in Jesus and/or make a decision, therefore, one must wait until the baby reaches an older age. So, why would it be unjust to baptize a baby before they are able to make their decision? Generally speaking, it is unjust in credobaptist theology because infant baptism infringes upon, violates, and overthrows the doctrine of free will; it takes the child's "choice" in salvation away. To say that an baby is saved in infant baptism when no choice/decision/profession has been made comes across as extremely scandalous for theologies that embrace the doctrine of free will and it is very offensive towards the old Adam. The old Adam in all of us can't stand monergism and he especially can't stand the sacrament of infant baptism. The reason why, in infant baptism the old Adam has no room to play and exercise his supposed free will, but can only drown.
The sacraments of baptism and communion were instituted by Jesus. He calls the church to baptize in the great commission of Matthew 28:16-20 and He also calls the church to the Lord’s Table (i.e. communion) in Matthew 26:26-29 and Luke 22:14-20. We practice baptism and communion because Jesus said to. Simple enough, or not? In my circles of ministry when the issues of baptism and communion are brought up, a whole host of disputes come forth. Typically two topics emerge from my conversations. The first is the issue of whether or not to delay baptisms and the second is on the perception of Lutherans being legalistic with infant baptisms. In order to flesh these two topics out a bit further, I would like to pose a question to get us thinking, "Which way is the arrow aimed when it comes to the sacraments?" What? In other words, are the sacraments something that we do toward God as a way of showing our obedience OR are the sacraments the way that God shows His commitment to us and gives grace to us? Are the sacraments things that we observe in response to hearing the Gospel (i.e. fruits of faith) OR are the sacraments ways that God responds to our sinfulness with the Gospel; are they a result of His compassion and pursuit of sinners? Do the sacraments belong in our discussions on man’s obedience OR do the sacraments belong in the discussion of God’s justifying grace? Who does the verb in the sacraments? The difference between these two views are of paramount importance and do impact our interpretation of scriptural chair passages on baptism and communion! It seems to me that several things can happen when people discern the sacraments from these two different perspectives.
As Lutherans, we believe, teach, and confess that infant baptism does not work regeneration apart from faith (Mark 16:15-16, Romans 4:20-25). With that said, we also believe, teach, and confess that faith is not a product of the man’s intellect, or a result of mankind’s will, or conjured up by a person’s arousing feelings. Faith is a gift, a gift worked by the Holy Spirit through the Word (e.g., Romans 10:17, Ephesians 2:8). Thus, Luther rightly taught that the Word is in and with the water making baptism’s efficacy entirely dependent on the Gospel promises, promises that are connected with the water (e.g. 1 Peter 3:21, Acts 2:38). Otherwise stated, because the Gospel is attached to baptism, baptism is an effective means through which the Holy Spirit works faith and gives grace to infants, apart from any works of righteousness that they do or may do (e.g., Titus 3:5).
Perhaps it's because he was a former Evangelical himself, but I found Rev. Matt Richard's pieces above to be the most helpful probably since he definitely understands what most non-Lutherans are thinking whenever this topic comes up. I hope you found them to be equally edifying.
Now, this certainly isn't the first time we've tried to tackle the important subject of Baptism here on this blog either...
However, I think it's ALWAYS good to reinforce the fundamentals of our faith as often as we can.
Learning not only WHAT we believe, teach, and confess, but WHY we believe, teach, and confess it shouldn't stop at our Confirmation since it should be a life-long process.
Yes, sadly, there was a time when I could care less about Baptism, because I was never taught the truth about it and whenever I came across passages of Scripture that referenced it I made it into a pious "good work" that believers like me were responsible for rather than understanding that it is a beautiful and glorious gift from God, and that He (and He alone) does all the work.
"Who Does The Verb In The Sacraments -- God Or Us?" is the penultimate question here and the one that destroys any position contrary to ours. It was the one question that I couldn't escape or ignore no matter how much I may have wanted to.
We Lutherans are simply willing to believe what God's Word actually and quite clearly says about Baptism. I really can't believe I didn't see it before, but then again, maybe I couldn't (1 Corinthians 2:14). So, either I was a "false convert" all this time, or I preferred to simply "spiritualize" the Biblical text all the time while refusing to accept His overwhelming grace found in the simplicity of the Gospel (2 Corinthians 11:3).
Either way, today, I now have very strong feelings about the Doctrine of Baptism, which are due in large part to passages like Acts 2:38 and 1 Peter 3:21 that finally make it crystal clear for me what the truth is about this blessed Sacrament and why it should be cherished by Christ's Church.
Baptism is so much more than just a "symbolic" act that draws all the attention to Me, Myself, And I. It's a pure gift from God and one that was instituted by Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:18–19) and it is a gift to be used as a means to impart forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation till the end of time.
In a Lutheran layman's terms, "our Baptism abides forever" and we need to constantly remind ourselves of this truth, because "there is one body and one Spirit -- just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call -- one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all" (Ephesians 4:4-6).
NOTE: Please understand that I'm not a called and ordained minister of God's Word and Sacraments. I'm a layman or just a regular Christian, Corporate Recruiter, Husband, Father, Friend who lives in the "City of Good Neighbors" here on the East Coast. As another Christian Blogger once wrote, "Please do not see this blog as me attempting to 'publicly teach' the faith, but view it as an informal Public Journal of sorts about my own experiences and journey, and if any of my notes here help you in any way at all, then I say, 'Praise the Lord!' but please do double check them against the Word of God and with your own Pastor." To be more specific, and relevant to the point I want to make with this disclaimer/note, please understand that I'm a relatively new convert to Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism a little more than 3 years ago now. That being said, please contact me ASAP if you believe that any of my "old beliefs" seem to have crept their way into any of the material you see published here, and especially if any of the content is inconsistent with our Confessions and Lutheran doctrine (in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word, which our Confessions merely summarize and repeatedly point us back to over and over again) so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray (James 3:1). Also, please be aware that you might also discover that some of the earlier/older pieces I wrote for this blog back in 2013 definitely fall into that "Old Evangelical Adam" category (and they don't have a disclaimer like this) since I was a "Lutheran-In-Name-Only" at the time and was completely oblivious to the fact that a Christian "Book of Concord" even existed (Small/Large Catechism? What's that!?!). This knowledge of the Lutheran basics was completely foreign to me even though I was baptized, confirmed, and married in an LCMS church! So, there are some entries that are a little "out there" so-to-speak since the subject matter was also heavy influenced by those old beliefs of mine. I know that now and I'm still learning. Anyway, I decided to leave those published posts up on this website and in cyberspace only because they are not blasphemous/heretical, because I now have this disclaimer, and only to demonstrate the continuing work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in my life (Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 1:6). Most importantly, please know that any time I engage in commenting on and/or interpreting a specific portion of the holy Scriptures, it will always closely follow the verse-by-verse footnotes from my Lutheran Study Bible and/or include references to the Book of Concord unless otherwise noted. Typically, I defer to what other Lutheran Pastors both past and present have already preached and taught about such passages since they are the called and ordained under-shepherds of our souls here on earth. Finally, I'm going to apologize ahead of time for the length of most entries (this disclaimer/note is a perfect example of what I mean! haha). I'm well aware that blogs should be short, sweet, and to the point, but I've never been one to follow the rules when it comes to writing. Besides, this website is more like a "Christian Dude's Diary" in the sense that everything I write about and share publicly isn't always what's "popular" or "#trending" at the time, but is instead all the things that I'm studying myself at the moment. For better or for worse, these posts tend to be much longer than most blog entries you'll find elsewhere only because I try to pack as much info as possible into a single piece so that I can refer to it again and again over time if I need to (and so that it can be a valuable resource for others -- if possible, a "One-Stop-Shop" of sorts). Thank you for stopping by and thank you in advance for your time, help, and understanding. Feel free to comment/email me at any time. Grace and peace to you and yours!