QUESTION: Can you please clarify the Lutheran view of Baptism and its purpose? Does the child become a Christian when baptized?
ANSWER: Lutherans believe that the Bible teaches that a person is saved by God’s grace alone through faith in Jesus Christ alone.
The Bible tells us that such “faith comes by hearing” (Rom. 10:17). Jesus Himself commands Baptism and tells us that Baptism is water used together with the Word of God (Matt. 28:19-20).
Because of this, we believe that Baptism is one of the miraculous means of grace (another is God’s Word as it is written or spoken), through which God creates and/or strengthens the gift of faith in a person’s heart (see Acts 2:38; Acts 22:16; 1 Peter 3:21; Gal. 3:26-27; Rom. 6:1-4; Col. 2:11-12; 1 Cor. 12.13).
Terms the Bible uses to talk about the beginning of faith include “conversion” and “regeneration.” Although we do not claim to understand fully how this happens, we believe that when an infant is baptized God creates faith in the heart of that infant.
We believe this because the Bible says that infants can believe (Matt. 18:6) and that new birth (regeneration) happens in Baptism (John 3:5-7; Titus 3:5-6). The infant’s faith cannot yet, of course, be verbally expressed or articulated by the child, yet it is real and present all the same (see e.g., Acts 2:38-39; Luke 1:15; 2 Tim. 3:15).
The faith of the infant, like the faith of adults, also needs to be fed and nurtured by God’s Word (Matt. 28:18-20), or it will die.
Lutherans do not believe that only those baptized as infants receive faith. Faith can also be created in a person's heart by the power of the Holy Spirit working through God's (written or spoken) Word.
Baptism should then soon follow conversion (cf. Acts 8:26-40) for the purpose of confirming and strengthening faith in accordance with God's command and promise. Depending on the situation, therefore, Lutherans baptize people of all ages from infancy to adulthood.
The LCMS does not believe that Baptism is ABSOLUTELY necessary for salvation. All true believers in the Old Testament era were saved without baptism. Mark 16:16 implies that it is not the absence of Baptism that condemns a person but the absence of faith, and there are clearly other ways of coming to faith by the power of the Holy Spirit (reading or hearing the Word of God).
Still, Baptism dare not be despised or willfully neglected, since it is explicitly commanded by God and has His precious promises attached to it. It is not a mere “ritual” or “symbol,” but a powerful means of grace by which God grants faith and the forgiveness of sins.
QUESTION: I believe I understand the LCMS position on Baptism although it seems to lead down a troublesome path. As I understand you can be regenerated through Baptism and also regenerated by believing in Jesus, without Baptism, and then later baptized.
The Lutheran position forces one to come to this conclusion of two ways to be saved, although both are by faith alone, just two different means. In Acts 10:44ff they believed and as a result were saved, filled with the Holy Spirit and therefore baptized. Eph. 1:3 also speaks of salvation by the work of the Holy Spirit.
If Baptism also saves, it must not save adults since an adult would not say I do not believe but I want to be baptized to get the faith to believe.
If indeed the prooftexts of baptismal regeneration do actually refer to salvation, it must only be for babies since adults would of necessity believe before being baptized.
And if they do only speak of babies who do not have the capacity to believe, why don't these verses say so.
My question then is, what do you see wrong with my reasoning? You do not have to give me the prooftexts since I have known them and have studied them and have ready many articles and the catechism both from Lutherans and others.
ANSWER: We are pleased to hear that you have thoroughly studied the Scriptures on the topic of Baptism and other literature dealing with this subject.
Perhaps you are very familiar with the Large Catechism's treatment of Baptism, but we mention it here because Luther's treatise on infant baptism in this section is extremely useful.
Luther goes to the heart of the foundational theological questions at issue over against errant understandings of Baptism present among those involved in the Anabaptist movement of his time.
Perhaps we can make a couple of points that seem pertinent to the issue(s) you have raised. First, as you have implied in your letter, it seems important to note that while Baptism is God's gracious means of conveying to human beings His saving grace revealed to us in Jesus Christ our Savior, it is not the only means.
On the basis of the Scriptures we teach that the spoken Word of the Gospel (Rom. 1:16-17; 10:17) and the Lord's Supper (Matt. 26; Mark 14; Luke 22; 1 Cor. 11) are also means of grace.
It is no less a miracle of God's grace at work that an adult should believe by hearing the words of the Gospel, than that an infant should receive through Baptism the Spirit who creates the very faith by which one receives incorporation into Christ (Rom. 6:4, “We were buried therefore with him by [Greek: the instrumental dia] baptism...”).
Adults who hear the spoken Word and believe eagerly seek to be baptized, not because it is a human rite symbolic of one's commitment or something to that effect, but because of what God promises in and through Baptism.
It must be remembered that the only theological distinction between the spoken Word of the Gospel and Baptism is that the sacrament includes a visible element; hence, our Lutheran fathers commonly spoke of Baptism as “visible Gospel.”
The Scriptures distinguish Baptism and the spoken Word — but do not separate them; they are both means of grace. As you also no doubt are fully aware, we teach that it is not the lack of Baptism that necessarily condemns, but it is the despising of this precious gift that endangers faith, for God Himself has instituted it and attached His promises to it.
The Scriptures teach, of course, that there is only one Baptism (Eph. 4:5). There is no indication that God has limited this blessed means of grace to individuals on the basis of age or levels of maturity.
Baptism is God’s act, a divine testimony to what “grace alone” really means, whereby He imparts the blessings of forgiveness, life, and salvation to individuals, children and adults alike.
And as our Lutheran fathers have always taught, Baptism confirms the grace of God upon adults who have already come to faith, and strengthens them in their faith, even as the Lord’s Supper does.
QUESTION: How does faith play a role in infant Baptism? Is faith later taken care of when the child is confirmed?
ANSWER: Lutherans believe that the Bible teaches that a person is saved by God's grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ. Baptism, we believe, is one of the miraculous means of grace (together with God's written and spoken Word) through which God creates the gift of faith in a person's heart.
Although we do not claim to understand how this happens or how it is possible, we believe (because of what the Bible says about Baptism) that when an infant is baptized God creates faith in the heart of that infant.
This faith cannot yet, of course, be expressed or articulated, yet it is real and present all the same (see, e.g., 1 Peter 3:21; Acts 2:38-39; Titus 3:5-6; Matt. 18:6; Luke 1:15; 2 Tim. 3:15; Gal. 3:26-27; Rom. 6:4; Col. 2:11-12; 1 Cor. 12:13).
Parents and sponsors of a baptized child bear the responsibility of teaching this child God's Word so that the child's faith may remain alive and grow (Matt. 28:18-20).
Confirmation is a time-honored church tradition (not required by God's Word, but we believe useful nonetheless) in which the child baptized as an infant is given the opportunity to confess for himself or herself the faith that he or she was unable to confess as an infant.
Faith is not “created” at confirmation, but it is rather confessed for all to hear so that the church can join and rejoice in this public confession, which has its roots in the faith which God Himself created in Baptism.
QUESTION: The LCMS uses the “sprinkle” method of baptism, if you will. The people of the Bible, including Jesus, were baptized using the immersion method. Why doesn't our church follow the way Jesus was baptized by John?
ANSWER: On the basis of the evidence provided in the New Testament, it is not possible to prove that the term “baptize” always refers to immersion, nor that the Baptisms mentioned were all done by immersion — implying (in the view of some) that only Baptisms done by immersion can be considered valid.
In fact, taken as a whole, the evidence suggests otherwise. In some cases the term "baptize" is synonymous with “wash” (Titus 3:5-6; see also Heb. 9:19; Eph. 5:26, Acts 22:16; and Mark 7:1-4 — a passage in which some earlier translators considered the term “baptize” to include the washing of “dining couches”), and it is highly likely that Baptisms were performed in the early church by methods other than immersion.
Three thousand were baptized on Pentecost in Jerusalem, where no river exists and no mention is made of other large quantities of water that would or may have been used.
In fact, the shortage of water supplies in general in many parts of the ancient world would have precluded Baptism by immersion.
As the Supplementary Volume of The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible correctly notes, “It is unlikely that in Jerusalem, Samaria, Damascus, Philippi, Corinth, Rome, or Asia Minor enough water was always available for a full bath” (87).
It should be noted that very early in Christian history methods other than immersion were used and allowed. The Didache requires the administrant of Baptism to “pour water three times on the head” (7:3). No mention is made of immersion.
Early Christian art depicts Baptisms of persons standing in shallow pools with water poured on the head (see David Scaer, Baptism, 96-101).
Lutherans have therefore held that the manner of Baptism (that is, immersion, pouring, sprinkling, etc.) does not determine whether a Baptism is valid, any more than the manner of distributing the Lord's Supper (common cup, individual glasses) affects the validity of this Sacrament. Only the Word of God and the “element” (water), according to divine institution, makes a Baptism valid.
QUESTION: My wife and I, who belonged to different denominations, wish to become more permanently and actively involved in one of the local LCMS congregations. However, I have been too shy to ask the pastor if we would need to be re-baptized in order to be full communicants.
ANSWER: The LCMS recognizes and accepts the validity of baptisms properly administered (i.e., using water in any quantity and/or mode, together with the Trinitarian invocation instituted by Christ, Matt. 28:19) in all Christian churches.
Assuming, therefore, that you have already received a proper Christian Baptism, there would be no need for you or your wife to be re-baptized, although completion of some form of instruction classes” or “membership classes” is normally required of non-Lutherans who wish to become communicant members of LCMS congregations.
Please discuss this with your pastor, who would be happy to discuss this issue with you and to answer any other questions you have about membership. There is no need to be shy — pastors encounter these kinds of questions all the time.
QUESTION: Is it appropriate to baptize a baby of parents who do not attend church? What about an infant or a child whose parents have fallen away from the faith?
ANSWER: The consent of one or both parents (or guardians) is required in Lutheran practice prior to baptizing an infant.
Although addressed to sponsors, the traditional liturgical language — either in a statement to sponsors (in Lutheran Service Book, page 269) or a statement with a question asked of the sponsors (Lutheran Worship, page 200) prior to an infant Baptism — is a sobering reminder that when a child is brought to Baptism his or her parents should understand that (in accordance with Jesus' own mandate in Matthew 28:19-20) Baptism is to be followed by “ongoing instruction and nurture in the Christian faith” (LSB 269).
Good pastoral practice prior to Baptism includes a reminder to the parents about the necessity of such ongoing nurture in the faith.
If parents request Baptism and do not openly refuse or reject this expectation, Lutherans have typically baptized their child or children. Congregational and pastoral follow-up with parents and encouragement in their responsibility are also vital elements of good practice.
Because of such conscientious care in such instances, the Baptism of a child often provides a wonderful occasion for restoring an inactive Christian family to the life of faith or even to bring the Good News of Jesus and His salvation to a family.
Parental authority must be respected and a child should not be baptized against the clear objection of parents or guardians. But pastors may face difficult and complex circumstances in which parents are willing to permit Baptism but refuse to commit to ongoing Christian nurture.
Of necessity, therefore, pastoral judgment will have to be made in the individual case, since circumstances vary. For this reason, too, lay members of our congregations are urged to speak with their pastor about individual cases where they have a particular request or concern.
QUESTION: Why do Lutherans baptize infants?
ANSWER: Lutherans baptize infants because of what the Bible teaches regarding:
1.) God's command to baptize (Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38). There is not a single passage in Scripture which instructs us not to baptize for reasons of age, race, or gender.
On the contrary, the divine commands to baptize in Scripture are all universal in nature. On the basis of these commands, the Christian church has baptized infants from the earliest days of its history.
Since those baptized are also to be instructed in the Christian faith, (Matt. 28:20), the church baptizes infants only where there is the assurance that parents or spiritual guardians will nurture the faith of the one baptized through continued teaching of God's Word.
2.) Our need for Baptism (Psalm 51:5; John 3:5-7; Acts 2:38; Rom. 3:23; Rom. 6:3-4). According to the Bible, all people–including infants–are sinful and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23).
King David confesses, “I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me" (Ps. 51:5). Like adults, infants die–sure proof that they too are under the curse of sin and death.
According to the Bible, Baptism (somewhat like Old Testament circumcision, administered to 8-day-old-babies – see Col. 2:11-12) is God's gracious way of washing away our sins – even the sins of infants – without any help or cooperation on our part. It is a wonderful gift of a loving and gracious God.
3.) God's promises and power (Acts 2:38; Mark 16:16; Acts 22:16; 1 Peter 3:21; John 3:5-7; Titus 3:5-6; Gal. 3:26-27; Rom. 6:1-4; Col. 2;11-12; Eph. 5:25-26; 1 Cor. 12:13).
Those churches which deny Baptism to infants usually do so because they have a wrong understanding of Baptism. They see Baptism as something we do (e.g., a public profession of faith, etc.) rather than seeing it as something that God does for us and in us.
None of the passages listed above, nor any passage in Scripture, describes Baptism as “our work” or as “our public confession of faith.”
Instead, these passages describe Baptism as a gracious and powerful work of God through which He miraculously (though through very “ordinary” means) washes away our sins by applying to us the benefits of Christ's death and resurrection (Acts 2:38-39; Acts 22:16), gives us a new birth in which we “cooperate” just as little as we did in our first birth (John 3:5-7), clothes us in Christ's righteousness (Gal. 3:26-27), gives us the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5-6), saves us (1 Peter 3:21), buries us and raises us up with Christ as new creatures (Rom. 6:4; Col. 2:11-12), makes us holy in God's sight (Eph. 5: 25-26) and incorporates us into the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13).
All of this, according to the Bible, happens in Baptism, and all of it is God's doing, not ours. The promises and power of Baptism are extended to all in Scripture — including infants — and are available to all.
Parents and sponsors then have the privilege and responsibility of nurturing the baptized child in God's love and in His Word so that he or she may know and continue to enjoy the wonderful blessings of Baptism throughout his or her life.