Monday, March 19, 2007

Roundtable 10: Baptism

Concerning Baptism, our churches teach that Baptism is necessary for salvation and that God's grace is offered through Baptism. They teach that children are to be baptized. Being offered to God, through Baptism they are received into God's grace. Our churches condemn the Anabaptists, who reject the Baptism of children, and say that children are saved without Baptism. (Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, AC Article IX.)

It would appear from the text of the Augsburg Confession that the only reason this article was put in was to clarify that Lutheranism clearly rejects the anti-baptism theology of the Anabaptists, who denied that baptism was a means of grace. This is validated by the way this article is discussed in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession. There however we find this interesting assertion, "The promise of salvation also applies to little children. It does not, however, apply to those who are outside of Christ's Church, where there is neither Word nor Sacraments. Christ's kingdom only exists with the Word and Sacraments." (Concordia, Ap. IX 53). After the Apology indicates that the promise of salvation is for all, therefore all are to be baptized, it moves to an argument to support infant baptism that I do not find terribly strong: namely, that the church exists, thus "proving" the Holy Spirit works through Baptism of infants. It is the one that the Apology goes with, the same one Luther uses in the Large Catechism ten years later when he talks about the subject of infant baptism.

The assertions in AC IX are made very flatly and without any qualification: Baptism is necessary for salvation. God's grace is given through Baptism. I've noticed that often in conversations about Baptism Lutherans seem to want immediately to jump to, "But of course we are not saying Baptism is absolutely necessary for salvation, look at the thief on the cross." I wonder why it is that so often discussions about Baptism almost immediately run to the exceptions. The Augsburg Confession doesn't offer any such exceptions or qualifications about Baptism at this point. The focus of Article IX of the Augsburg Confession is clearly on what God gives in Baptism and a pointed condemnation of those who teach otherwise.


WM Cwirla said...

What impresses me about this article is how unimpressive it is. Thankfully, we have the Small and Large Catechisms, or we would not have much of a doctrine of Baptism.

AC IX makes three points: 1) Baptism is necessary for salvation; 2) grace is offered through Baptism; 3) children, including infants, should be baptized.

The 9th Schwabach Article, which lies behind AC IX, went in a much different direction:

"Baptism, the first sign or sacrament, consists of two parts, namely water and the Word of God, or that one baptizes with water and speaks God's Word, and it is not only plain water or sprinkling, as the Anabaptists teach. Rather, because God's Word is there and it is grounded in God's Word, it is a holy, living, powerful thing, and as Paul says in Titus 3 and Eph 5, a bath of regeneration and renewal of the Spirit, etc, and that such Baptism is also to be administered and granted to little children. God's Word on which this stands is this: "Go and baptize in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit" and "whoever believes and is baptized will be saved," thus one must believe, etc." (translated from BKS, 63).

Melanchthon seems understandably interested in distancing himself from the Anabaptists without pushing on the decisive doctrinal differences with Rome. He does not mention faith, nor does he define what he means that "grace is offered" through Baptism.

In the Apology, M. adds a two-fold apologetic for infant baptism based on 1) Matthew 28 and 2) the logical retroductive conclusion from the ongoing existence of the church.

As I said, thankfully we have the Catechisms for an articulation of Baptism, as the Augustana does not give us very much with which to work.

RPW said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

Bill, thanks for the comments. This is a good place to observe that the Augsburg Confession does not claim to be any sort of even a summary of Christian doctrine. Here is a good case in point. The AC was confessing what the churches in those territories and free cities that signed it wanted the Emperor to know about them. Baptism simply was not a point in contention between themselves and Rome. It is a shame the Schwabach Articles did not figure more prominently in Melanchthon's text. It is interesting to note in the SA language that we will find again in Luther's catechisms. No wonder since the SA was largely a product of Luther.

And thanks for your translation of the Schwabach from the BKS.

RPW said...

>>I wonder why it is that so often discussions about Baptism almost immediately run to the exceptions.

I think we are always aware of how our sinful nature gets in the way, and how little in control of our lives that we are, that we can only hope in a merciful God. The majority of the time, someone is not baptized because they "haven't gotten around to it" and hopefully not because they are in rebellion, but this leaves open "what about those who are born to Christian families who do not baptize infants? What about death bed confessions? What about miscarriage?"

Luther reminds us in all of these, though not in this work, because it is an outline of our doctrine, that God is a God of mercy, and we can trust that He knows our hearts, rather than the Catholic perspective that baptism is one thing in the list of requirements which we must perform to be saved.

As a mother who often works with other mothers, I know how fearful we are that every move we make may harm our children physically or emotionally. Throwing eternity into it is downright frightening.

I think Pr. Petersen made a very good point about the one of the things that is truly evil about abortion isn't that they only lose their physical lives, but that it leaves us unsure about their eternal lives as well.

We only know that in the end we will all confess that God is just.

Lora Horn

William Weedon said...

Great pic! Where was that taken?

I agree, it's a bit of a disappointing article. Rather interesting that it starts off with the "offered to God." One of the ceremonies that Luther retained in 1523 Baptismal rite, but which dropped off in the 1526 was the giving of the salt. Which calls to mind the passage we read not too long ago in Mark 9 about "every sacrifice salted with salt." The giving of the salt showed that this little one is made a living sacrifice - offered to the Triune God, to begin to really live.

"When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die."

"Offered" is not so benign as it might sound...

Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

This exercise we are engaged in, a very slow and deliberate walk through each article is extremely helpful. It forces us to look at each article, and each word, more carefully and deliberately. After all these years of reading the AC, I've never noticed what struck my eyes as rather odd, frankly, the whole "offered to God" language. I've just never really paid it any attention, but as I consider it, I can't really say I've ever read such language elsewhere in our Lutheran tradition. Not that it's not there, but I've not noticed this kind of talk before. Interesting! I frankly don't quite know what to make of it at this point.

WM Cwirla said...

The German is ├╝berantworten, to surrender, deliver up. The Latin is offero, to offer.

I never connected the salt in the ancient rites with this, but what brother Weedon says makes perfectly good liturgical sense.

William Weedon said...

By the way, the Swedish 1529 rite (which is an interesting via media between Luther's 1523 and 1526) retained the salt, with the provision that it did not need to be exorcised, being already a good creature of God.

The salt in the Baptismal rites is connected with "wisdom" - and I think this is not opposed to the offering language, for that is exactly what wisdom is: a life offered in sacrifice to the Lord. That is the only life that is REAL life. And it leads down the path to Romans 12, of course. To be a living sacrifice.

The giving of the salt followed, in 1523 and in Sweden's 1529, the prayer asking that God "take" or "receive" the baptizand. Even though the salt disappears in Luther's 1526, the prayer remains that God "receive" the baptizand. Hence, I think, the "offer" language came naturally to Melanchthon's mind right from the first prayer of the Baptismal rite.

Eric Phillips said...

I don't find it strange at all that discussions of Baptism "almost immediately run to the exceptions." We're living in a country where a large percentage of those who have faith in Christ either have not been baptized yet, or consider themselves to have "been saved" for years before they were baptized. So we can't help being aware what it sounds like to them when we say that Baptism is necessary for salvation. And then in addition to that, we're aware that the largest body of those who agree with us re: baptismal regeneration and the baptism of infants (the Roman Catholics) are going to say, "Hold on. Didn't you say something about faith ALONE?" We know the statement is going to require explanation, so we start explaining as soon as we've said it.

There's no question, though, that we sometimes go overboard, soft-peddling the doctrine and even going beyond that, contradicting it with our "qualifications." Certainly, if it is a condemned Anabaptistic error to "say that children are saved without Baptism," then we have no grounds to agree with parents who have chosen not to baptize a baby, and then have lost it, that the child is certainly in heaven. Likewise, if we know a believer who has not yet received Baptism, we should not allow him to rest in the promise of salvation, but should spur him on actually to RECEIVE what the Gospel promises.

Yes, God can save without the sacramental means of grace, and we can point to biblical cases where we know He's done just that (not just the thief on the cross, but half or all of the O.T. saints, depending whether or not we treat circumcision as a sacrament), but there's still a reason we have the word "necessary" in our confessions. "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God" (John 3:5). Yes, the Spirit is the "active ingredient," and yes, God can give the Spirit without the water, but that's entirely out of our control, beyond our observation and the Church's realm of responsibility. As far as lies with us, Baptism really IS NECESSARY for salvation. Full stop.

Dave Armstrong said...

I imagine that Lutherans have a notion of an "exception clause" to the necessity of baptism just as we Catholics do (we call it baptism of desire, which was mentioned even at Trent).

Perhaps Lutherans (like us) would say that baptism is the normative means of regeneration (and/or salvation), but in some extraordinary cases of inability of access (the thief on the cross being the classic example), God is still able and willing to save without baptism taking place?

Mike Baker said...

A rush to the "exceptions" in baptism is just another example of how quickly sinful man looks for legalistic ways to rebel against God's clearly defined will.

To me, the important thing to remember is that God's instructions to man define what man is to do or not do. They are not handcuffs placed on God.

When God lays out the requirment of baptism, we should obey it without question and take God at His word that this is absolutely neccesary in all cases. If God - in His mercy - decides to work differently in certain cases (i.e. the thief on the cross, nonbaptized infants, etc), He is within His power and right to do so.

Such an act of mercy does not change our requirement one bit and it should not effect the zeal with which we persue the clear instructions of God.

The thief on the cross is an example of the depths of God's mercy... not an invalidation of (or an exemption from) the plan that He layed out for humanity. We should never put God to the test in such an important matter.

For these reasons, the AC has it right: Baptism is neccessary for everyone.

WM Cwirla said...

I think we gravitate to the "exceptions" in part at least, to test the parameters of our theology. While the exception does not make the rule, the exception tests the underlying principles on which the rule rests. The word "necessity" in the locus on Baptism introduces a potential for saying, "whoever is not baptized cannot be saved." Hence the later orthodox Lutheran qualification of "absolute" and "ordinary" necessity.

What is being tested with the "necessity" of Baptism is how Baptism is related to objective justification and God's universal grace (gratia universalis) in Christ.

William Weedon said...

Wasn't it St. Augustine who put it like this: Not the lack, but the contempt of Baptism, damns?

William Weedon said...

I suppose that was a paraphrase. Here's the section from Book IV, chapter 22 of his treatise on Baptism:

30. That the place of baptism is sometimes supplied by martyrdom is supported by an argument by no means trivial, which the blessed Cyprian adduces from the thief, to whom, though he was not baptized, it was yet said, "Today shall you be with me in Paradise." Luke 23:43 On considering which, again and again, I find that not only martyrdom for the sake of Christ may supply what was wanting of baptism, but also faith and conversion of heart, if recourse may not be had to the celebration of the mystery of baptism for want of time. For neither was that thief crucified for the name of Christ, but as the reward of his own deeds; nor did he suffer because he believed, but he believed while suffering. It was shown, therefore, in the case of that thief, how great is the power, even without the visible sacrament of baptism, of what the apostle says, "With the heart man believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation." Romans 10:10 But the want is supplied invisibly only when the administration of baptism is prevented, not by contempt for religion, but by the necessity of the moment. For much more in the case of Cornelius and his friends, than in the case of that robber, might it seem superfluous that they should also be baptized with water, seeing that in them the gift of the Holy Spirit, which, according to the testimony of holy Scripture, was received by other men only after baptism, had made itself manifest by every unmistakable sign appropriate to those times when they spoke with tongues. Yet they were baptized, and for this action we have the authority of an apostle as the warrant. So far ought all of us to be from being induced by any imperfection in the inner man, if it so happen that before baptism a person has advanced, through the workings of a pious heart, to spiritual understanding, to despise a sacrament which is applied to the body by the hands of the minister, but which is God's own means for working spiritually a man's dedication to Himself.

Steven G. said...

We receive in Baptism the same Word that Christ spoke to thief on the cross. It is the Word that gives Baptism its efficacy. It was necessary for the thief to hear the "for you" from Christ just as it is necessary for us and our children to hear the "for you" from Christ in our baptism. How else are we to have faith if there is no promise!

I agree with St. Augustine "but the want is supplied invisibly only when the administration of baptism is prevented, not by contempt for religion, but by the necessity of the moment."

Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

I certainly agree that it is the Word of God that gives Baptism it's saving grace and efficacy, but, how do we maintain that truth and avoid appearing to regard the Sacraments as merely nice "extras," but in the end of no significant necessity.

Baptism, even for adults who already have faith, still is what Baptism is, according to the Scriptures. It is no less a washing of generation, a burial into Christ's death and a resurrection into new life for adults as it is for infants.

How do we avoid speaking of Baptism and the Lord's Supper in such a way that finally would tend to relegate them to "nice, but not really necessary or finally all that important" status?

WM Cwirla said...

I think the key is to deal with things as they are. Where Baptism is possible, it is to be extolled in highest measure. Where Baptism is not possible, ie no water or the person dies prior to receiving Baptism, then we have nothing to say regarding Baptism. Luther was particularly helpful in this regard when consoling the mother of a stillborn child. He could still proclaim the mercy of God in Jesus apart from Baptism yet without diminishing Baptism.

This is, in my opinion, the highest form of the proper distinction of the Law and the Gospel.

WM Cwirla said...

Nice font in the picture that accompanies the original post, by the way. Is that a Lutheran church depicted? Most of us don't have enough water to boil an egg. I had two baptisms on Sunday and had to refill the font between them. (Of course, I always make sure the carpet gets good and wet.)

Eric Phillips said...

Rev. McCain asks,

> How do we avoid speaking of Baptism and
> the Lord's Supper in such a way that finally
> would tend to relegate them to "nice, but
> not really necessary or finally all that
> important" status?

We need to be clear that in the Sacraments, God is actually _giving_ us the very things we believe He will.

The unbaptized can believe that God _will_ forgive their sins for Christ's sake. The baptized _have_ been forgiven--"but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God" (I Cor. 6:11).

The unbaptized can believe that their inheritance will be eternal, holy life in Christ. The baptized have already begun that life. "For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ" (Gal. 3:27). "For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God" (Col. 3:3).

And the same with the Lord's Supper. You could just believe that Christ's death was for _you_, or you could eat the very body that died and drink the very blood that was shed. You could just believe that you will live forever, or you could receive the medicine of immortality. You could just believe that you have been made the body of Christ, or you could actually eat the body of Christ and remember, "You are what you eat."

Or maybe, in both cases, you really _don't_ have the choice between believing THAT something is true, or WILL be true, and physically receiving the gift that makes it concrete, and true NOW. Not for long, anyway. It's like a hungry man staring at an apple, who says he believes it will satisfy his hunger, and yet makes no move to EAT it. At what point do we have to question whether he DOES believe it will satisfy him, or whether he wants to be satisfied in the first place?

Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

Re. the photo. I found it on a Lutheran blog site, but I strongly suspect it is a Roman Catholic priest in a RC Church. They really have beautiful baptistry: multi-purpose both for adults and infants, some with a "step down into the little pool" feature that would permit a sort of emersion. Very nice. I hear you about the "not enough water to boil an egg in" situations.

WM Cwirla said...

Another way we constantly negate our confession of Holy Baptism's "Gospel necessity" is the time elapsed between a child's birth and his or her Baptism. I'm amazed at how much the family bash takes over from the gift of regeneration and renewal in Holy Baptism. First available Sunday after the birth, I say. Sooner when in doubt.

William Weedon said...

What I have found striking is that the notion of baptism as soon after birth as possible really was apparently only a couple centuries old at the time of Luther. If you've had the joy of Fisher's *Christian Initiation in the Medieval West* he gives the goods on the standard practice for CENTURIES being holding off Baptisms until vigil of Easter or Pentecost. Thus a child born in July, say, might be 9 months old when finally baptized. The trade-off in this was the recognition of Baptism as an ecclesial act (not a family or private act). Thus, every Easter Vigil, there were LOTS of people to baptize, and at least a few guaranteed in most places for the Pentecost vigil. Note please: I am not advocating a return to this practice. I simply find it a remarkable thing that unless a child were self-evidently dying, they didn't rush it to the font.

WM Cwirla said...

I've often wondered about what the early church practice was with regard to children born to parents who were already baptized. I've never found anything definitive. Any fruits of your labors would be most welcome, either here or by private email.

I personally would love to gather up baptisms for the Vigil, and do whenever possible. But in my thinking this practice still stands in tension with the idea that Baptism is a washing of regeneration and renewal and the necessity of Baptism as confessed in AC X.

Steven G. said...

My answer to this question:

How do we avoid speaking of Baptism and the Lord's Supper in such a way that finally would tend to relegate them to "nice, but not really necessary or finally all that important" status?

By stating that through Baptism and the Lord's Supper as well as through the Oral Word (this includes Absolution) Christ salvation is given. Prenter makes a comment to the effect of this does spiritualize the Sacrament but Sacramentalizes the Word.

Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

It is a weird twist of circumstances, is it not, that the church body that eschews Baptism as, in any way, a means of grace, or actually an act of God's love toward us, derives their name from the Sacrament they reject? I'm referring, of course, to the Baptists. Tragic and sad.

Steven G. said...

This may not be the place for this, but what is y'all's opinion of the Early Church Father's view "that the place of baptism is sometimes supplied by martyrdom"? It is included in Pastor Weedon's quote from St. Augustine.

Here is a similar statement from St. Cyril Of Jerusalem:

If any man receive not Baptism, he has not salvation; except only Martyrs, who even without the water receive the kingdom. For when the Saviour, in redeeming the world by His Cross, was pierced in the side, He shed forth blood and water; that men, living in times of peace, might be baptized in water, and, in times of persecution, in their own blood. For martyrdom also the Saviour is wont to call a baptism, saying, "Can ye drink the cup which I drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with" (Mark 10:38) ? And the Martyrs confess, by being made a spectacle unto the world, and to Angels, and to men 1 Corinthians 4:9 ; and you will soon confess:—but it is not yet the time for you to hear of this.

Steven Goodrich

RPW said...

Actually, the Baptists don't exactly eschew baptism, but instead hold it as the symbol of a faith already received. They do hold it as sacred, in a way. God commands it, so it MUST be done, even though they would say that it is "merely a symbol." Baptism often soon follows an altar call. Someone "gives their life to Jesus" and then makes that confession official in a baptism that soon follows. The altar call is a symbol of obedience, and baptism is kind of the ultimate symbol of submitting your will to Christ. To refuse to be baptized is a sign that one doesn't have faith, but for them, it can only happen after a person has become "convinced" and "accepts" Christ. Concepts that we completely reject.

-Lora Horn

Eric Phillips said...


I view the Early Church's concept of a "baptism of blood" as a poetic early recognition of the fact that although Baptism saves, God will save faithful believers without it too, if the need arises.

The belief arose from situations (which happened sometimes during the Roman persecutions) in which catechumens were put to death for confessing Christ. Sometimes these martyrs could be baptized while in prison--whether being visited by brave fellow believers, or given baptism _in extremis_ by fellow prisoners--but this was not always permitted by their captors. Thus there were cases in which unbaptized believers paid the ultimate price for their faith in Christ, and the Early Christians could not believe that they would be damned as a result.

In addition to the argument you reproduce, they argued that water baptism is a sacramental sharing of Christ's death, so if one LITERALLY shares Christ's death, that should work at least as well.

Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

I've never been very comfortable with the practice that developed in the Early Church of delaying baptism until a two year catechesis process was finished. It doesn't seem to square with Acts 8 and how baptism was administered after a somewhat brief catechesis.

Long Hauler said...

Just some musings spawned by this blog. John 3:5 has suffered from a paucity of wider-context exegesis in general discussions. I like the CEV translation which brings out emphasis which I believe the orginal intends. That wider context includes the O.T. purification rites linked by LXX's usage to Noah's flood, Moses and the parting of the Red Sea, cleansings of Isaiah and Ezekiel, and other references of note which contribute content to that word "baptism" as a ritual "washing" with wider connotation. John the Baptist, while performing a priestly ritual of "baptising" with water, introduces the Savior to whom the Spirit points. Nicodemus, stuck in a worldly view of the signs and miracles Jesus was performing, notably turning water into wine and cleansing the Temple, is told to look beyond just water washing to the whole concept, an inseparable compound if you will of water and the Spirit together which effect a rebirth, a regeneration of one's soul giving admittance to God's everlasting Kingdom. This new baptism, more significant than the flood which renewed the earth, more powerful than a parted sea which saved the people from recapture and the sword, more pervasive than ritual dunkings in a pool (mikvaot), is necessary for entry into the Kingdom of God. In view of the proper dividing of the Word of Truth, those who take exception to the "necessity" of water baptism for salvation, are, like Nicodemus, missing the whole point. In context, Baptism is not just another required water ritual. The new birth of Faith draws believers, including parents of infants, to want to be baptised and have baptised, led by the Spirit to Christ's saving works on their behalf by which they are cleansed from sin and made part of His Kingdom. The same Spirit by means of Word and water creates this faith, even as we daily repent of sins and return to our baptism. My point is, it is all one package. Baptism with "not just water"- the death of the old Adam, rebirth to a new life by Christ's saving work- is "necessary." Without the rebirth, entry into the Kingdom is prevented. At lease in John 3, by water and the Spirit, rebirth takes placeNot a Romanist view that the ritual itself ex opera... Not the Anabaptist sophistry, that disregards the mystery. By water AND the Spirit. The Spirit can of course work without water which was created by Him. AC IX only touches the full content, as do other references, and I don't pretend to offer complete exegesis either. Paul, do you still smoke pipes?

John Mark Hopmann

Long Hauler said...

I think I have may have Paul confused with another McCain of years past at 801 DeMunn. Sorry 'bout that.