The Lutheran Difference: Baptism

This entry is part 17 of 34 in the series The Lutheran Difference.

Last week, I talked about the Lutheran definition of a sacrament. Just so we’re all on the same page, the “recipe” is as follows:

  1. God says “Do this.”
  2. God says, “In doing this, you will receive forgiveness.”
  3. We use a physical object (or element) in connection with this action or ritual.

With this in mind, let’s tackle the first of the Lutheran sacraments, namely baptism.

For some Christians, baptism is seen as an outward sign of a change that takes place within. It’s an outward acknowledgment of a decision that the newly baptized made to follow Christ.

Yeah, that’s not how Lutherans see things. Remember, we’re distrustful of any language that talks about a person “making a decision.” And that’s true when it comes to baptism. Instead, we see this as a means of grace, a way that God has chosen to distribute the forgiveness that Christ won on the cross.

In other words, there’s something special happening in the waters of holy baptism. God works salvation and forgiveness of sins in a person, either creating or strengthening the saving faith of the newly baptized.

So why do we believe that? What’s the scriptural underpinning of this belief? Well, there are a number of verses that we lean on when it comes to the Lutheran understanding of baptism. For example, in 1 Peter 3, Peter starts talking about Noah’s flood. But then he adds this:

In it [the ark] only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ…

Notice what Peter says: the waters of the flood represent those of baptism, which now saves us. And Peter ties baptism to the empty tomb of Christ as well. He certainly seems to be implying that there’s something happening in baptism.

The same can be said for the apostle Paul. In Romans 6, Paul says this about baptism:

Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.

Paul’s overall topic is the relationship between sin and grace, but again, he makes this statement that, through the waters of baptism, we are united with Christ in His death and resurrection. Lutherans take that connection seriously, understanding that, in the waters of baptism, the baptized dies and rises in Christ. Each baptism is a little Easter for the person being baptized. God washes away our sin in those waters and restores us to new life in him.

Now you may be wondering how water can do such incredible things. Well, Martin Luther had this to say about it in the Small Catechism:

How can water do such great things?

Certainly not just water, but the word of God in and with the water does these things, along with the faith which trusts this word of God in the water. For without God’s word the water is plain water and no Baptism. But with the word of God it is a Baptism, that is, a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit, as St. Paul says in Titus, chapter three: “He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying.” (Titus 3:5-8)

To sum it up, Lutherans see Baptism as one of the pipes I mentioned two weeks ago. It’s a conduit for the grace that is ours through Christ, one of the ways that He distributes the forgiveness of sins.

This is all pretty cursory, but the other day, I spotted this infographic on Facebook that hits the high points of our beliefs pretty well:

So next week, we’ll tackle one other aspect of the Lutheran belief in baptism, namely that of infant baptism.

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One Comment:

  1. Love this! Thank you Pastor Otte!

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