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