I like to preface any attempt at theological discussion with this; I am not a Bible scholar, have not been to seminary, do not know Greek or Hebrew, and am utterly unqualified to be held as an authority on scripture. I do not represent the Lutheran church and do not presume to any biblical scholarship. I love discussing theology. I read alot and listen to hours and hours every week of solid christian talk radio. My circuitous route through fundamentalism and evangelicalism and now Lutheranism has given me an interesting perspective on a variety of doctrinal issues. I would love your input and discussion and my intention with posts like this is to inform you of commonly held Lutheran doctrine and to encourage you to think and search the scriptures in your own quest for truth.

First Peter 3:21 states “this baptism now saves you”. Titus 3:5 states that ‘he saved you by the washing of regeneration’. I grew up learning and memorizing the scriptures early in life and I never knew those particular scriptures were there until I became Lutheran. Lutherans believe and teach infant Baptism and in my journey from evangelicalism to lutheranism, this teaching was the hardest for me to grasp. I had been taught the ‘believers’ baptism’ and that baptism is an outward demonstration of an inward change; that baptism did not impart any gifts to me but instead was my way of showing the world my obedience to Christ.

The first issue I’ll address is the concept of original sin. Most confessional christians will agree that the Bible teaches that we are born dead in our trespasses and sin. We inherited the sin nature from Adam and are therefore sinful from our birth. Furthermore, often in the old testament, when the Lord’s judgement reigns down on the people of Isreal, the children are included in that judgement. (Ex. 11:5)(I Sam.15:3). And if they are included in God’s judgement, musn’t they by necessity be guilty of the original sin nature? There does not seems to be an age of ‘accountability’ when these judgements were given. The children and infants faced judgement along with their parents. If you agree that we are born totally depraved but do not believe in infant baptism, then what is the ‘protection’ for children who die before they reach the alleged ‘age of accountability? Most christians would say that God just saves them anyway…..even though they are born into original sin. If you would concede that point then you would concede that God could indeed give that child the gift of faith in Christ….as that is what required for salvation.

 Moreover, Lutherans would contend that the Bible teaches that that very faith is something only God could give us, as we are dead in our trespasses and sins. So if God could give a small child faith in those circumstances, then why could he not impart that same faith to an infant in Baptism? The water in and of itself does not impart salvation, but the Word of God combined with the water wields the saving power. God  often uses common human elements to impart His gifts to us. And though He accomplished salvation for us on the cross over 2000 years ago, how does that salvation ‘get’ to us, for lack of a better word? We apprehend that His scriptures teach they ‘get’ to us through His means of grace; Baptism and the Lord’s supper. Does this negate grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone? No. In short, faith receives the gifts God gives.

The second issue is that  of free will. Lutherans believe, teach and confess that our ‘wills’ are dead in sin just like the rest of ourselves. We basically have a ‘free won’t’ not a free will, at least when it comes to spiritual matters. God must enliven us by His word so that we may receive His gifts. Does this mean that if we are baptized as infants God has coerced us since we did not get to ‘choose’ Him? No, He has merely removed our natural-born resistance to Him through His gift of faith to us. The scriptures are rife with examples of infants and children who have faith. (Jn 1:12-13, Phil. 2;13, Matt 19). Does this require that we participate in any way in our salvation? Does the fact that a child is eight years old and seems to know right from wrong mean he can fully comprehend spiritual matters? Hardly. Even at that age, we can likely agree that faith is given as a gift to him which it will take him  a lifetime to grow into. And I can attest from many years of experience with my own children that those cute cuddly little ones are evil through and through. And we all need the gift of salvation sooner rather than later.

Thirdly, baptism is instituted in the New Testament as a means of grace.    The Jewish people included children as part of God’s salvation by circumcising their infants on the 8th day as commanded by God. This was the entry point into God’s family……at 8 days old. So when Paul says in Col.2:11-12 , “that in Him (that is in Christ) you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision and you were buried with Him in baptism”, the Jews knew full well the meaning of that. They were accustomed to children being incorporated into God’s family.   John 3 clearly states that you must be born of the water and of the flesh. Pastor Wilken from Issues, Etc put it this way, “If infants and children are not accountable and are not in need of the gifts given in baptism, then why do they die? The wages of sin is death. Those wages have been paid for by Christ.  We partake of that redemption through baptism.  The vast majority of believers over time have practiced infant baptism and still do today. It is first mentioned in writings from as early as the 2nd century. Only in the last couple hundred years did the teaching of a believer’s baptism emerge. Baptism is the new circumcision. It is how we are ‘marked’ as ones who are in Christ.

It comes down to this. Is salvation my work or God’s work? Do I contribute anything to my salvation? Does it depend on my sincerity or my level of faith? Or must I trust completely in Christ…..in His work and His gift……. to do for me what He has promised, regardless of age. We believe that it is fully God’s work and that He can impart that gift to an infant in the same manner that He can impart it to an adult. Christ left us with these words, “Go therefore into all nations and make disciples, teaching and baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”   Who is included in this gospel message? All nations. All people. Even babies. They had been included all along as part of God’s redemption. The Word of God from the beginning has had the power of supernatural creation. Of the universe. Of man. Of faith. Faith is God’s miraculous gift to us at any age.

Do I doubt that God actually does something in baptism or that He actually imparts to me forgiveness and salvation by these common elements of water and bread and wine? All the time. But His promises are stronger than my doubt. I cling to His promise. To His miracle.  It crushes my need to be rational and logical.  The gospel of Christ is foolishness to the world. There is nothing in christianity that neatly ‘makes sense’.  As C.S. Lewis says, “Christianity is precisely the story of a great miracle.”  And if you remove the miracles, you have removed the essence of  our faith.  To paraphrase and quote Lewis:

It (christianity) has those odd elements that ‘real’ things have.  Remember the very curious process by which we acquire our natural life…a process involving pleasure, pain and often danger.  It’s a process you would never have guessed.  “Now the God who arranged that process is the same God who arranges how the new kind of life-the Christ life- is to be spread.  We must be prepared for it being odd too.  I cannot see why this (baptism and the Lord’s supper) should be conductors of the new life.  But He did not consult us when He invented sex; as has not consulted us either when He invented this.”

For informative talk radio on the subject, I highly recommend this segment.
And comments are open, so chat away!

14 comments on “…….and this baptism now saves you……..”

  1. We too believe in infant baptism. But even in our church, there are those who don’t. I commend you for discussing this and think you do a great job of explaining.

  2. I’ll probably think this over (it’s early and I’m super tired). For now I’ll just say, though the church I was raised in doesn’t believe in infant baptism but instead at age 8, I don’t see a problem with it. I’ll be back later when I’ve had time to reread this and wake up. 🙂 Glad comments are open, this should be interesting.

  3. As Catholics we believe in infant baptism as well. I became a Catholic and a believer at the age of 30 and was baptised, confirmed and had my first communion all in one night. It was beautiful and precious and now I get to be a guide to my children in their faith journey’s.

    I do have trouble understanding the believer’s baptism but not for those that have never been baptized. I have trouble understanding those that were baptized as an infant and then get baptized again as adults. Why?

    I think what you discussed has helped me understand that somewhat but I think the biggest message to give is when baptizing your child FULLY understand that you are as parents committing yourself to teaching this child the Word of God.

    Great discussion.

  4. Great post, Edie. I’m grew up Southern Baptist but have been a Presbyterian for ten years, so I’ve been on a similar journey. You articulated this reasoning beautifully–I’m holding on to this link to share the next time someone asks me about it!

  5. I think the main issue that keeps holding me back is the feeling that it is still man deciding who has faith. We would all agree that although it is God who gives faith, He obviously does not give faith to all, for reasons we may not understand. So who are we to decide that God desires to impart faith to every Lutheran child?

    I think I am actually coming to a place where I am much more open to infant baptism, but as I continue to study, I think I’m leaning more toward the Presbyterian view…that infant baptism brings that child into the covenant community, though they are not necessarily “saved” in the eternal sense. We see in scripture that women are “saved” through childbirth, and the unbelieving spouse is made holy and clean by the believing spouse. One who has not placed their faith and trust in Jesus Christ has not received eternal life, but those who are part of the covenant community are still recipients of his grace in this life.

    We have been reading through Genesis at church, and I think it was really interesting how God dealt with Ishmael and Esau, though they were not part of the promise. Just something to think about.

    Thanks for having the guts to publicly tackle such a huge subject, and for conversing with me privately on it. :o)

  6. Thank you for sharing this – it comes at a startlingly appropriate time for me, as I was just discussing similar ideas with my husband last night!

    I grew up Catholic, and left Catholicism after a period of being agnostic. I left to begin attending a Presbyterian Church, but I am not sure that all my views are completely in line with Reformed theology. Baptismal regeneration is a tough one. It is easy for me to believe in it having come from a Catholic background. But I can also see the arguments for believer’s baptism. I find the concept of Covenental baptism taught in Reformed churches to be…I can’t put it into words, but I am just not sure I buy into it. I mean, I DO think that baptism does bring us into the fellowship of the New Covenant, but I think it does more than that. I think I may be a Lutheran in Presbyterian clothes – which is interesting since my husband is currently in Presbyterian Seminary! But with this, as with many other theological “controversies” I try to hold my own understanding very lightly, realizing that perhaps God did not expect us to understand how these things work with scientific precision. Which is probably why we see such a diversity of views on things, all supposedly supported by the Bible.

  7. HI Edie,
    This is interesting to me. I was born and raised Catholic but have been a Christian for many years now. We were still attending Catholic church when my boys were born and they were baptized as infants.
    But my daughter has not been baptized. We had a dedication ceremony for her that we will raise her in the word of the Lord. We attend a non-denominational Bible based church. Reading this almost has me worried that I didn’t baptize her….
    It’s funny because I looked up Lutheranism on Wikipedia the other night and it seems that Lutherans are everything that the Catholic church is missing. I may have to go to a service to see it for myself!

  8. Thank you for opening this up for discussion!

    I just have one question: if God wanted infants to be baptized, then why wasn’t Jesus baptized as an infant? We read about his baptism as an adult, as an example for us, but Jesus was not baptized as an infant.

  9. Thanks for leaving the comments open! I look forward to reading what everyone has to say. Theology always enthralls me!

    Family gal beat me to what I wanted to say. Why was Jesus, who is our example, not baptized as an infant, but as an adult?

    This will be interesting!

  10. Thank you all for participating in this discussion. Sorry I’m a little tardy in answering the questions. We’ve had such a busy week this week.

    Why was Jesus not baptized as an infant? Again, I’m no theologian. I may summons a pastor to this discussion to give you a more theologically sound answer. I would briefly surmise that because He is the very One who instituted baptism as a means of grace. I believe that the word for baptism in the greek is used in the old testament to mean ‘washing’ and there were many ceremonial washings that took place before Christ’s birth. He however instituted baptism as a means to deliver His salvation, so He wouldn’t have ‘partaken’ in that as an infant. Being from a Jewish family, he was circumcised.. which was old testament way of ‘marking’ the Jews.

    I’ve also learned as a Lutheran that there are some questions which cannot be answered by our limited human mental capacity. I’ve heard people against infant baptism point to the thief on the cross who obviously wasn’t baptized. If you look at baptism as ‘gospel’…that is pure gift from God….and not ‘law’….then it follows that baptism, while bringing us life in Christ, also comforts us that we have been ‘marked’ as one of His. Is it absolutely necessary for salvation? Possibly not. God has instituted other means of grace….His word and the Lord’s Supper. I think partaking in all of His gifts is ideal. His gives them to us to impart faith, forgiveness and comfort. Not as ‘laws’ which must be obeyed.

    Now, I’m off to find us a theologian to help us!

  11. Edie,

    When we are baptized (whether as an infant or an adult), we are baptized into Christ’s death. Through baptism, we are crucified with him, and given new life. (Whether you believe baptism actually saves or is only symbolic is neutral to my point.) The thief on the cross COULD NOT have been baptized into Christ’s death, because it had not yet been finished! So while baptism may not be required for salvation, pointing to the thief on the cross as evidence for that is really kind of a moot point. I had never looked at it this way before, but someone pointed it out to me, and it blew my mind.

  12. April,
    Thanks so much for your discussion. A few thoughts to ponder:

    Are you saying that the thief on the cross could not be saved? Or just could not have been baptized? And how do we know that he wasn’t baptized by John the Baptist? Christ’s death on the cross was for us all……old and new testament folks and all who’ve been born since. So Abraham and all the patriarchs of the OT were saved by grace in anticipation of the coming Savior. We are saved by looking back to His atonement (in terms of eternity, the death and resurrection of Christ has always been). Otherwise, would we say that Abraham wasn’t a christian? I say all that to say that the thief on the cross was saved by his belief in Christ, as are all people. And if we see baptism as gospel, not law, we could conceive of how someone could be saved without baptism.

    Also, Mark 16:16 says ‘believe and be baptized and you will be saved, but he who does not believe will be condemned” . There baptism imparts salvation but is not mandatory.

    Hope you are all having a blessed lenten Sunday!

  13. Edie,

    Hope I didn’t come across wrong. I absolutely believe that the thief was saved, because Jesus said he was. What I was trying to say is that many people who argue that baptism is not essential will point to the thief on the cross. “Well, he wasn’t baptized, but he was still saved!” What I was trying to say is that of course he wasn’t baptized (at least not in the name of Jesus), just like Abraham and Moses wasn’t baptized in Jesus’ name…because he hadn’t died and been raised yet. He had not yet finished the work that baptism (or salvation) does in us. So…just because he wasn’t baptized doesn’t mean it is not essential for those of us this side of Christ’s death and resurrection.

    Does that make more sense?

  14. Abraham and Moses *weren’t*…not *wasn’t*. Brain is a little fried today.

    By the way, I agree…Christ’s work on the cross transcends space and time, and the patriarchs truly did have faith in Christ, even if it is not what we think of as faith in Christ today. I agree with your comment.

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