Most American Protestant Christians have views of Baptism different from Lutherans. Some see Baptism as little more than a dedication ceremony where the parents are promising to raise their child as a Christian. They don’t think Baptism has the power to do anything. Others think infants should not be baptized. Still others believe that Baptism is something believers do to show their commitment to God. They turn Baptism from gospel into law.
That is not how true Lutherans view Baptism because that’s not what the Bible teaches. In his Small Catechism, Martin Luther wrote that “baptism works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this.” He could say this because the Bible says that in Baptism God forgives our sins (Acts 2:38; Acts 22:16) and saves us (1 Peter 3:20,21; Mark 16:16). Luther wrote that Baptism is “a gracious water of life and a washing of rebirth by the Holy Spirit.” He could say that because the Bible says that the Holy Spirit is given in Baptism (Acts 2:38) and that through Baptism the Spirit works rebirth and renewal (Titus 3:5).
Baptism seems so simple—a splash of water and a few words. Those who deny the power of Baptism often point to the fact that it is just an outward ceremony. In the Small Catechism, Luther rightly points out that “it is certainly not the water that does such things, but God’s Word which is in and with the water and faith which trust this Word used with the water.” God’s Word is powerful. It was powerful enough to call the universe into existence. It is powerful enough to give the spiritual and eternal blessings God promises through Baptism (Ephesians 5:25-27).
Following Luther’s example, true Lutherans find great comfort in Baptism because Baptism is God’s work for us. Paul wrote that we are clothed with Christ through Baptism and made children of our heavenly Father (Galatians 3:26,27). We are connected to Christ’s death and resurrection (Romans 6:3,4). Everything Christ won for through his death and resurrection is given to me—personally, individually—through my baptism.
In a sermon, Luther explained, “Holy baptism was purchased for us through this same blood, which [Christ] shed for us and with which he paid for sin. This blood and its merit and power he put into baptism, in order that in baptism we might receive it. For whenever a person receives baptism in faith this is the same as if he were visibly washed and cleansed of sin with the blood of Christ. For we do not attain the forgiveness of sins through our work, but rather through the death and the shedding of the blood of the Son of God. But he takes this forgiveness of sin and tucks it into baptism” (Luther’s Works 51:325).
This is the seventh article in a 14-part series on key doctrinal emphases that Luther brought back to light through his Reformation.
Author: Joel Otto
Volume 104, Number 4
Issue: April 2017