We as Lutherans place a great emphasis on the Sacrament of Baptism and what God does for us in this gift.
As with all parts of doctrine and the things that we believe, teach, and confess, we must bind ourselves to Scripture and what it says about Baptism. Here are some helpful places to look in the New Testament concerning baptism:
- Matthew 28:18–20 (ESV)
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
- Mark 16:16 (ESV)
Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.
- Acts 22:16 (ESV)
And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.’
- Romans 6:3–8 (ESV)
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.
- Galatians 3:25–27 (ESV)
But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
- 1 Peter 3:18–22 (ESV)
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.
- Titus 3:4–6 (ESV)
But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior…
There is still much for us to consider as we speak about Baptism. We also draw upon the Lutheran confessions as good and right expositions of Scripture. Luther’s Small Catechism, a part of the Book of Concord, is a good place to start examining the doctrine of Baptism. In the Small Catechism, Luther says,
[IV] THE SACRAMENT OF HOLY BAPTISM
In the Plain Form in Which the Head of the Family Shall Teach It to His Household
FIRST:What is baptism?
Answer: Baptism is not merely water, but it is water used according to God’s command and connected with God’s Word.
What is this Word of God?
Answer: As recorded in Matthew 28:19, our Lord Christ said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
SECOND: What gifts or benefits does Baptism bestow?
Answer: It effects forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and grants eternal salvation to all who believe, as the Word and promise of God declare.
What is this Word and promise of God?
Answer: As recorded in Mark 16:16, our Lord Christ said, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.”
THIRD: How can water produce such great effects?
Answer: It is not the water that produces these effects, but the Word of God connected with the water, and our faith which relies on the Word of God connected with the water. For without the Word of God the water is merely water and no Baptism. But when connected with the Word of God it is a Baptism, that is, a gracious water of life and a washing of regeneration in the Holy Spirit, as St. Paul wrote to Titus (3:5–8), “He saved us by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit, which he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life. This saying is sure.
FOURTH: What does such baptizing with water signify?
Answer: It signifies that the old Adam in us, together with all sins and evil lusts, should be drowned by daily sorrow and repentance and be put to death, and that the new man should come forth daily and rise up, cleansed and righteous, to live forever in God’s presence.
Where is this written?
Answer: In Romans 6:4, St. Paul wrote, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”
Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (pp. 348–349). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.
Further, we as Lutherans hold to the importance that ALL people should be baptized, including infants. This is something that was not a question in the Christian church for 1,500 years and it should not be a question now. Perhaps the following reflection will help to make this point:
A businessman – we’ll call him Jim – frequently found himself away from his own Lutheran congregation on Sunday mornings. Even so, he usually managed to find a church near his hotel, though often it was not Lutheran. This Sunday was no exception. Walking the three blocks to the church he’d seen from the hotel window, Jim entered the front door. Inside he paused to get his bearings. A greeter welcomed him, placing a bulletin in his hand. Then Jim saw what he always looked for, the tract rack on the wall by the coat room. One pamphlet seemed interesting. In large letters, the cover asked, “What does the Bible say about infant baptism?” Curious, Jim opened it. To his surprise, there was nothing inside but a blank page. And that of course was the graphic point of the wordless tract; the Bible said nothing at all about infant baptism and therefore it shouldn’t be done.
What Jim discovered in the tract is of course the view of many. But is it true? Granted, the Bible nowhere says, “Go and baptize babies,” but that is perhaps because the early Christians believed baptism so obviously applied to children as well as adults such a statement just wasn’t needed. Consider, for example, that God had commanded Abraham to circumcise himself and all males in his household who were at least eight days old as a sign that such a person was included in God’s gracious covenant. (Genesis 17:7-13) St. Paul in the New Testament says that circumcision is replaced and fulfilled when one is buried with Christ in baptism. (Colossians 2:11-12) If God welcomed children in Old Testament times through circumcision, is he any less welcoming of children through Holy Baptism today?
Indeed he is more welcoming! In the Great Commission, Jesus instructs his church to “Go therefore 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 observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20a) In every nation there are young and old, as well as people of different languages and ethnic groups. All are to be baptized, says our Lord. And of course there are the words of St. Peter, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children…” (Acts 2:38-39a) What is the promise? Forgiveness of sins and the Holy Spirit! Who is the promise for? You and your children! If the promise of baptism is for parents and their children, than children most certainly should be baptized. To do otherwise would be to hinder them from coming to Christ though the kingdom of heaven is theirs. (Matthew 19:14)
And we’re just getting started. What of the family baptisms in the New Testament? (Acts 16:15, 34) Surely children were members of families then as they are now. And what of the very nature of faith? Some say children should not be baptized because they are not old enough. Not old enough for faith? Faith is a gift of God, not a work. (Ephesians 2:8-9) How old does one have to be to receive a gift? One can be any age from one day old to a hundred years. And moreover, faith is trust. Why does a child stop crying when taken from the arms of a stranger and placed in the arms of his mother? Because he trusts his mother – he can’t explain it, but trust her he does. If he can trust his mother, he can trust his Savior. And indeed that is just what Jesus is commending in children when he scolds unbelieving adults, “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)
The pamphlet was wrong. Baptize your children!