Rev Dr Edgar Mayer; Living Grace Toowoomba Church

Message: The Kingdom For Keeps – 09 – Sermon On The Mount Series; Date: 24 April 2011

For more sermons and other writings check the following homepage: www.livinggracetoowoomba.org

 

Good Gifts To Children

 

Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount – Matthew 7:11: “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” Here – Jesus is commending us for giving good gifts to our children but then he is saying that God is better than us. He is even more willing to give good gifts to those that want them. He will top what we give to our children.

On that basis I want to approach a difficult subject matter which has caused deep divisions in the church and – (so I hear) – heated debates even among us. When can you receive the good gift of baptism? Can small children and babies be baptized – (as is the practice in the Lutheran church and has been the general practice in much of church history) – or do parents make a mistake when the baptism of their children comes at a young age? If you were too young to remember your own baptism, do you have to be re-baptized? Does an infant meet the qualifications that are required for baptism? What are these qualifications?

So far I have avoided tackling this topic because I know that at Living Grace we are not all of the same view – (over the years Christians from many diverse backgrounds have found a home in this congregation) – but we manage to be united in most other core doctrines – (church teachings). No one has the desire to stir unnecessary conflict. Therefore, I was quite happy for everyone to hold to their own convictions but respect the Lutheran position which is the official position of our Lutheran congregation.

Now and again – someone would take objection to the Lutheran identity and claim to be free of denominationalismand only listen to the Bible. However, I have never found this helpful because this is not different from anyone else. All Lutherans – together with all Presbyterians and all Methodist and all Baptists … – we all uphold the Bible as the utmost authority on all teaching matters. The problem is that sometimes we have different interpretations. You may object to the Lutheran position but you also have a position which others should adopt because you think that it is the truth. In my view – the advantage of a denominational identity – be it Lutheran or Anglican or anything else – is that it safeguards the congregation from the whims and fancy of the current leadership. The core teachings of our faith are bigger than any one person; therefore it is good practice to work out a position together as a denomination.

Only now – we seem to have a new situation where mature baptized Christians become suspicious of their baptism because it occurred when they were babies and they may have been sprinkled rather than immersed in water.[1] There is now tension coming into our diversity. Under the influence of some other churches – there seems to be a push now – there is pressure building – on those that were baptized as babies to be re-baptized as adults.

For two reasons I am uneasy about this (potential) development: 1) I see a wounding of consciences. The gift of baptism was meant to assure us of grace – God’s love – and salvation. Our baptism was meant to be a source of confidence but the criticism of other Christians that deny the value of infant baptism robs us of peace and joy. Instead of inspiring confidence – our baptism becomes a source of fear. We are asking ourselves: “Are they right? Am I missing something as a Christian?” 2) Since there is only one (water) baptism, any re-baptism pronounces judgement on the first baptism. My wife and I had our daughters baptized as babies and we would do so again. It was a high-light for us because we knew and rejoiced that God would touch them in their baptism. Grand-parents came from Western Australia and their uncle and aunty came from South Australia. Now – if my daughters chose to be re-baptized as adults, their actions would be saying this: “Dad, you were wrong. Nothing happened in my baptism. You don’t know how the grace of God works. I reject what happened when I was a baby.”

Can you see how tricky this is? We value our own opinions but in the church what we think and do is not a private matter but affects the others. With your permission – this morning – I will spell out how Lutherans understand the Bible on baptism. I will respect those that may have a different view but my intention is to encourage the ones that have been baptized as infants. I want to say to you: “Your baptism is valid. You are not lacking the grace of God.” Please allow me to do this. It has integrity in a Lutheran church.

In the Bible – a different set of circumstances caused the same kind of confusion among Christians. Everyone made much of God’s covenant promise to Abraham where God said to him – Genesis 12:2-3: “ … all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” This promise had come true. The blessings of God had come from Abraham through the generations to Jesus Christ and now through Jesus Christ and his sacrifice on the cross (for all of humanity) the blessings of God were spreading throughout all the nations. All peoples on earth could now become children of Abrahambecause – Galatians 3:14: “ … the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Jesus Christ … ” This was a big deal.

However – according to the original Bible account – God also declared to Abraham – Genesis 17:7-14: “ … I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant … You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant … For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised … ” Therefore – some Christians argued that uncircumcised believers were lacking something. They said: “Your faith is wonderful but is only complete once you perform the sign of the covenant and remove the foreskin. Do this in accordance with God’s command.”

The argument was strong and the confusion was great but this is what the apostle Paul wrote in the Bible – Galatians 3:1-14: “You . Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law [the ritual of circumcision] or by believing what you have heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? … Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you have heard? … ”

Paul’s take on his opposition was interesting. They demanded circumcision as an act of obedience to God’s command but Paul interpreted their desire as a work of human effort rather than acting on one’s faith. He pleaded with his congregation to pay attention to how the Spirit and miracles came to them through faith. They had believed in Jesus Christ and him crucified. This had been the source of everything – not the performance of another ritual. He encouraged them to trust their experience (because there were miracles and the fullness of the Holy Spirit who may have come on them with the gift of tongues and prophecy). Trust your experience (if you have been filled with the Holy Spirit according to Acts 1:5-8; 2:1-4; 2:38).

It is only when an experience of God – (the fullness of the Spirit) – is lacking that you would question your baptism. I read from the Bible – Acts 19:1-7: “ … Paul … arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?’ They answered, ‘No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.’ So Paul asked, ‘Then what baptism did you receive?’ ‘John’s baptism,’ they replied. Paul said, ‘John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.’ On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. There were about twelve men in all.”

As soon as Paul discerned that these believers had not received the Holy Spirit – (had not received the outpouring of the Spirit’s fullness according to Acts 1:5-8; 2:1-4; 2:38; 9:17; 10:44-46) – he questioned their baptism and had them properly baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then, the Holy Spirit came on them through the laying on of hands (and they spoke in tongues and prophesied). Paul knew what he was doing. The Holy Spirit follows and confirms the water baptism. Therefore – if the Holy Spirit has already come on you and come on those that have been baptized as infants – (if you have already been filled with the Holy Spirit) – be slow in seeing a need to correct the baptism. Trust your experience and the experience of others.[2] [For more information on the Holy Spirit see the seminar “But Wait There Is More” at http://www.livinggracetoowoomba.org/Words/seminars.htm.]

At no time did Jesus put any age restrictions on baptism. This is what he said – Matthew 28:19-20: “ . go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit … ” Disciple and baptizeall nations”. Who is included inall nations”? Further evidence suggests: “all age groups” – from the youngest grand-child to the oldest grand-parent.

When the apostle Peter preached his very first sermon – (after Jesus had ascended to heaven) – people responded to the message of Jesus by asking – Acts 2:37: “What shall we do?” Peter answered with concise instructions – Acts 2:38-39: “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. The promise is for you and your children … ” Therefore – anyone that wants to become a Christian, follow these three steps: 1) Repent, that is: turn away from sin and put your trust in Jesus. 2) Be baptized, that is: be washed clean from your sin through the water of baptism in Jesus’ name. 3) Receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Small children would not really understand these instructions and could not follow them on their own. However, in his preaching Peter addressedall … who live in Jerusalem” (Acts 2:14). Peter did not give an evening lecture for adults but addressed a crowd in the street that had come together out of curiosity because they had heard the sound of a great wind which had been generated by the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-13). There are usually children in a crowd of curious onlookers and in his instructions Peter already included them also: “ … be baptized, every one of you, … The promise is for you and your children … ”

Hence – according to a number of Bible references – parents included their children in repentance and baptism. The entire family would belong to the Lord – Acts 11:14: “He will bring you a message through which you and all your household will be saved.” Acts 16:15: “When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home … ” Acts 16:31: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved – you and your household.” Acts 18:8: “Crispus, the synagogue ruler, and his entire household believed in the Lord … ” 1 Corinthians 1:16: “ . I . baptized the household of Stephanas … ”

Whole households – including all the children – would align themselves with God and be baptized. Parents knew that God had entrusted them with their children. They were confident in being the channel of blessings for them (cf. Exodus 20:6; 1 Corinthians 7:14).

When the Bible uses illustrations from the past to explain the meaning of baptism, it is again – in every instance – that entire households are being saved. I give you three references:

1) 1 Peter 3:20-21: “ … Noah was building the boat … Eight people [his family] went into the boat and were brought safely through the flood. Those flood waters were like baptism that now saves you … ” The flood waters of the past – (and the boat that provided the rescue) – were seen to be a picture of baptism and in the past an entire family – Noah’s family – was saved.

2) Colossians 2:11 [Amplified Bible]: “In Him also you were circumcised with a circumcision not made with hands, but in a [spiritual] circumcision [performed by] Christ by stripping off the body of the flesh (the whole corrupt, carnal nature with its passions and lusts). [Thus you were circumcised when] you were buried with Him in [your] baptism, in which you were also raised with Him [to a new life] through [your] faith in the working of God [as displayed] when He raised Him up from the dead.” Here the past sign of circumcision is a picture of what happens in baptism and in the past circumcision was performed on every male household member when they were still babies (eight days old).

3) 1 Corinthians 10:1-2: “For I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, that our forefathers were all under and protected by the cloud [in which God's Presence went before them], and every one of them passed safely through the [Red] Sea. In the cloud and in the sea, all of them were baptized as followers of Moses.” Here the past immersion in the cloud of God’s presence and the passing through the Red Sea (in the escape from slavery in Egypt) are used as a picture of baptism and again this picture of baptism involves entire households in the nation of Israel. They were all immersed in the cloud and all passed through the waters of the Red Sea.

Thus, I summarize what we have said so far: 1) Trust your experience and the experience of those that have been baptized as infants. When people failed to receive the Holy Spirit, their baptism was questioned. However, this is not the case with you. 2) Jesus did not put any age restrictions on baptism. 3) Entire households were baptized. 4) The pictures of baptism from the past support the salvation of entire households.

We need to say more because we may wonder now what is required for baptism. How does the evidence so far measure up with what children can do? What makes baptism?

The answer is not complicated and Martin Luther kept it simple in his Small Catechism – I read:

 

“What is Baptism? Baptism is not just plain water, but it is the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s word. Which is that word of God? Christ our Lord says in the last chapter of Matthew: ‘Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’ (Matthew 28:19) … 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 … ”

 

Therefore – what makes baptism? Answer: the word and command of Jesus to baptize and the water required to obey his command. When Jesus’ word and the water come together, the baptism occurs. However, I want to spell out something else that is implied in this explanation. Jesus’ word and the water need to come together in an environment of faith and worship – among Christians – where the Holy Spirit dwells. If the Holy Spirit is not present, you can have the word and the water but no baptism. For instance, when children playbaptismon the play-ground – in a sand-pit – they may say the words right but it is not a baptism. Likewise – when people of other religions try to access God’s power by acting out baptism in one of their rituals, it is not a baptism because the Holy Spirit is not with them. Thus – with this in mind – the following are required for any valid baptism: 1) Jesus’ word, 2) water and 3) the Holy Spirit.

How this works then is illustrated in the very first chapter of the Bible when God created the world. As he created the world so he creates us as his children. I read – Genesis 1:1-3 [Amplified Bible]: “In the beginning God (prepared, formed, fashioned, and) created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and an empty waste, and darkness was upon the face of the very great deep. The Spirit of God was moving (hovering, brooding) over the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be [creation] … ” Can you identify what made creation work? There was 1) the Spirit brooding over the face of 2) the waters and then came 3) the word of God – “let there be”. God is operating on us in the same way – 2 Corinthians 5:17: “ . if anyone is in Christ [baptized in Christ], he is a new creation … the new has come.”

From this we draw one very important conclusion: Baptism is God’s work – not ours. We may apply the water and speak the wordsin the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” – (in this sense we cooperate with God) – but the work of creation – and whatever else happens with power in baptism – is performed by God through his 1) word, 2) the water and 3) the Holy Spirit. Just consider: We were not even on the scene when God began creating this world.

God is the one active in baptism – not us. Baptism is his work – not ours. This becomes absolutely clear as we consider three further Bible references to baptism: 1) Jesus said that in the kingdom of God we must be – John 3:5: “born of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5). In baptism we areborn of waterand this birth must be and is a work of God because no person has ever birthed himself. This is God’s work.

2) The Bible says thatwe were therefore buried with him [Jesus] 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” (Romans 6:4). Here we are to understand that in our baptism we are incorporated into the saving work of Jesus Christ. As Jesus suffered and died to remove any claims for the punishment of our sins, so we die to sin at our baptism into the life of Jesus; and as Jesus then rose again from the dead after three days in the grave, so we rise again from the water of our baptism into the new life which we now have in Jesus. In this new life we are free from sin, death and the devil. Once again we cannot do this ourselves because only God can make anyone die and then rise again. This is God’s work.

3) The Bible also says thatyou are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ … ” (Galatians 3:26-27). In other words – this means that in baptism we become the children of God. We are adopted which again is God’s work – not ours – because no person has ever adopted himself.

This leads to another very important conclusion: If – (and we have now considered enough Bible references) – baptism is God’s work – not ours – then we don’t have to worry about any mistakes. The baptism will always be valid because God is doing it. He is birthing and creating us, raising us up to new life and adopting us as his children. He’s not going to fail – not even with children.

Yet – at this point – you may have an important query: “What about faith? Is there not faith required for baptism?” Yes, there is. We do not baptize unbelievers – (it is for believers only) – but – nevertheless – our faith does not constitute baptism. Baptism remains God’s work – his work alone. Faith only receives this work of God. I say it again: Faith must be exercised – not to establish baptism but – to receive the benefits of baptism.

I may explain it in this way: A man adopts a child and becomes his father. This is the work of the man – not the child – but the child needs to receive the adoption. There must be trust in the father to receive an inheritance from him. If there is no trust – no faith – then the child may become a street kid – run away – and never enjoy the blessings of the new home. Likewise – whatever God works for us in baptism needs to be received by faith. We hear what is done and – then – act on the new life – the forgiveness of sins and our inheritance – by faith.

Please hold on to this: Our faith does not add anything to the work of God in baptism. Our faith only receives baptism. If I was wrong on this point, then no one would ever be able to rejoice in his baptism because there would always be doubts – nagging questions: “Was my faith strong enough at the time? Was I ready to make the baptism valid? How much did I trust God? Did I know what I was doing?” [Example 1: Joe and his public crisis of confidence during his own baptism service. Example 2: The baptism of four-year-old Caleb.]

I will argue that children – especially the children of God’s people – can also have faith and do have faith in God but for them the same truth applies. Their baptism will always be valid because God is doing it and then they receive whatever God has done by faith.

Martin Luther put this into clear words – from the Large Catechism:

 

“Baptism is valid, even though faith be lacking. For my faith does not constitute Baptism but receives it. Baptism does not become invalid even if it is wrongly received or used, for it is bound not to our faith but to the Word … [Therefore] even if infants did not believe – which, however, is not the case, as we have proved – still their baptism would be valid and one should not rebaptize them. (In the same way, the Sacrament [of Holy Communion] doesn’t lose any of its power even if a person comes to it with an evil intent) … ”

 

I may add another quote from a Lutheran pastor. This may help you:

 

“If one is convinced faith is missing – then receive faith – pleaded Luther, but do not be rebaptized, for the baptism is in place and valid – it is faith that needs to be added. Even those who would rebaptize must concede, Luther argued, ‘that in the first baptism it was not the Word of God that was defective, but faith, and that what is needed is another faith and not another Word. Why then do they not concern themselves with a change of faith and let the Word remain unaltered?’ Hence, Luther’s counsel was: ‘If you have not believed, then believe now’” (Mark Worthing: Faith, Belief, and Baptism. Luther’s Relevance for the Contemporary Debate about Infant Baptism, in: Perspectives On Martin Luther, edited by Mark Worthing, Adelaide: Faculty of Luther Campus 1996, p88).

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I go on and now consider the faith of children. What is faith? Faith is not so much knowing something – and be it the entire teaching of the Bible – but trusting a person – Jesus Christ – and even infants – even babies in the wombs of their mothers – can trust a person. Babies – before they are even born – recognize the voice of their mother and trust her because her voice is calming them. They do not yet understand the concept of family – they are unable to explain motherhood – but they know their mum and trust her. In the same way – (at least they would be capable of this) – they can know and trust Jesus – their Saviour.

Furthermore – as we know from the inner healing counseling ministry – babies from the earliest age pick up far more knowledge than we ever imagined. For instance, many of them seem to know whether they are loved or rejected. They seem to know when the pregnancy brought shame to the family. This knowledge affects them – sometimes deep into adulthood.

Babies are capable of faith which is trusting and responding to a person. The Bible records a clear example – Luke 1:41-44: “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.’” John – the baby in Elizabeth’s womb – picked up on who Mary was and the baby in her womb – Jesus. God had already put his Holy Spirit on him; therefore he leaped for joy.

Babies can have faith and another Bible passage encourages us further in this – Luke 18:15-17: “People were also bringing babies to Jesus for him to place his hands on them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. But Jesus called the children to him and said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’”

Parents brought their babies to Jesus. He imparted a blessing on them and announced to everyone that the kingdom of God belonged to such as these. As Christian parents we take heart here. Our children are not excluded from God. As we pray for them – as we bring them to Jesus – as we baptize them in his name – he will touch them and they will have a child-like faith in his kingdom.[3] [Our experience is that children believe the truth which their Christian parents tell them. They have no problem growing up in the faith. Cf. Matthew 18:1-6; 19:13-15]

Lutherans baptize infants because they put a high value on baptism. God is at work here. I quote from another book:

 

“It is very noticeable that in most of the references to baptism in the New Testament, the language is instrumental rather than symbolic. It is not just like a bath; it is a bath. It is not just like a burial; it is a burial. The ‘sign’ actually accomplishes what it signifies … It is a ‘means of grace’, a means of saving grace. The New Testament writers do not hesitate to use the word ‘save’ in connection with baptism (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:40-41; 1 Peter 3:21 – this last being the strongest statement of all, with its assertion that ‘baptism now saves you’). In this ‘bath of regeneration’ (Tit 3:5; see chapter 26) a person is ‘born of water’ (John 3:5; see chapter 10)” (David Pawson: The Normal Christian Birth, London: Hodder & Stoughton 1989, p51).

 

The churches that do not baptize infants frequently do not hold to the same high view of baptism. For them it is not a means – it is not an instrument – of receiving from God. For instance, I quote the teaching from another Toowoomba church. Their booklet on baptism states: “It is an outward demonstration of what has already taken place inwardly” (Citylife: Life lessons, p46). Baptism is simply an object lesson of something that you have already received from God earlier. Even before baptism – at the point of conversion – you have already been born again, raised to new life and being adopted as the children of God. Can you see? If this is the extent of one’s understanding – if baptism does not confirm and add anything from God – then it does not matter whether children receive baptism or not. It is only an outward demonstration of what can take place for them at any time.

Another resource which is used in Toowoomba churches spells out the same theology and makes us understand why infant baptism is not a priority:

 

“A pastor was explaining the meaning of baptism to a class of new Christians. As he spoke to the group he gestured with his hands. With the corner of his eye he noticed that his hand cast a shadow to the side of him. ‘Do you see the shadow of my hand?’ he asked. ‘The shadow is not my hand, but a representation of it,’ he said. ‘Likewise, when you were saved that’s when the real baptism took place.’

‘You were baptized into Christ the moment you believed. You were brought into a spiritual union with him. He became your life. Whatever happened to him has also happened to you. He died, was buried and then rose from the dead, and when you believed in him these things also happened to you. Now, when you are baptized in water this is a picture of what has already happened in your life.’

Baptism, then, is a vivid illustration of something that has already taken place in a believer’s life. It is an outward symbol of an inward reality. It is an object lesson of what has happened to those who are in Christ” (Ken Legg: The Road Ahead. 10 Foundation Bible Studies for New Christians, Mudgeeraba: Set Free Ministries 1999, Study #8 – Water Baptism).

 

If baptism is only a shadow of the real thing – a vivid illustration of something that has already taken place – an outward symbol – a mere object lesson – then no one has to stress whether infants are baptized or not. They would only miss out on a shadow – nothing more.

Yet, Lutherans and most other Christians cannot go along with this. It may be confusing to the human mind that what is given in conversion is again given in this physical act of baptism but this is the witness of the Bible (and also applies at the other physical act which was instituted by Jesus, that is: Holy Communion).

I summarize what we have said in this message: 1) Trust your experience and the experience of those that have been baptized as infants. When people failed to receive the Holy Spirit, their baptism was questioned. However, this is not the case with you. 2) Jesus did not put any age restrictions on baptism. 3) Entire households were baptized. 4) The pictures of baptism from the past support the salvation of entire households. 5) Baptism is God’s work (not ours) through a) the word, b) water and c) the Holy Spirit. 6) Since baptism is God’s work, he is not going to fail even with children. 7) Faith does not constitute baptism but receives its benefits. 8) Even babies are capable of faith which is trusting and responding to a person. 9) Jesus encouraged parents to bring their babies to him and declared that the kingdom of God belonged to them. 10) Infants also need baptism because it is more than a shadow and outward demonstration of what has already taken place.

I close with a personal experience of infant baptism. Eight years ago Alosha and Inara rang me from hospital. Their newborn son Tolja (Anatole) was in a bad way and Inara’s dad had suggested that we conduct an emergency baptism. I had never done this before but when I came into Inara’s room, she was composed and I sensed the presence of God. The nursing staff took us to the place where they were working on Tolja and made room for the baptism. I wanted to do this properly – taking some time – but I quickly realized that the medical staff was stressed and wanted me to hurry up. They were losing him. A helicopter was on the way to fly Tolja to Brisbane. I baptized him and we were quickly ushered out of the room.

From that moment on – according to later reports – Tolja became stable – to the great amazement of the medical staff. One nurse asked: “What kind of religion is this? Who is that God?” God had performed a miracle and had used the grace of baptism to do so.

This is more common than we think. The wife of an Anglican minister made the same observation many times. She writes: “My own husband has often been called to baptize a ‘dying’ baby. Not one of them has ever died. So he is now sure that the interposition of the sacrament of baptism together with his own person between God and the baby is sufficient to recharge any child with life” (Agnes Sanford: The Healing Light, London: Arthur James 1949, p98).

Therefore – considering all that we have said – please trust your baptism. God wants to assure you. He touched you in your baptism. He performed a work that only he can perform. He saved you. When you were baptized, there was the word, water and the Holy Spirit. Nothing was lacking and you are not lacking anything now. God washed you clean with the water of your baptism. He drowned you and then raised you up to new life. He made you his own. Today – again this morning – receive it by faith. Let nothing hinder the flow of benefits from your baptism. God did not fail. Receive fresh assurance by faith. Amen.

 

 

 



[1] In this message I will not focus on the mode of baptism but it is my belief that the amount of water is not the deciding factor in baptism. (Baptism by immersion is my preference.) In similar fashion the nature of the “fruit of the vine” in Holy Communion (e.g.: alcohol content, fermentation) is also not what constitutes the holy meal.

As a starting point for further consideration you may consider these paragraphs: “OLD TESTAMENT BAPTISMS – Biblical baptisms focus on both purification (either actual or ceremonial) and identification. Most people (including your Baptist friends) are probably unaware of the fact that there were baptisms in the Old Testament. Hebrews 9:10 speaks of “various baptisms” (often translated “various washings”) that were part of the Old Testament economy. The writer refers to three of these ceremonial baptisms in verses 13, 19, and 21. In each verse (together with their Old Testament references), there is a clear picture of the process and the effect that constituted an Old Testament baptism.

In verse 13, the writer speaks of a baptism in which “the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh.” This refers to Numbers 19:17–18. Here a clean person takes hyssop, dips it in a vessel filled with water and the ashes of a heifer that has been used as a sacrifice, and then sprinkles it on those persons or things that are to be cleansed ceremonially.

In Hebrews 9:19, we read that Moses “took the blood of calves and goats, with water, scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people.” This refers to Exodus 24:6–8, where again we see that the process of an Old Testament baptism was to dip the hyssop and wool into the blood and sprinkle it as a means of ceremonial purification.

Finally, in Hebrews 9:21, there is a description of a process by which Moses “sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry.” Leviticus 8:19 and 16:14, 16 provide the background for this Old Testament baptism. The priest was to dip his finger in the blood of a bull used for sacrifice, and then sprinkle the blood on the mercy seat (representing atonement). This was a ceremonial means of removing the uncleanness of the children of Israel.

In every case the process of baptism included a dipping of the instrument used to baptize into a substance such as blood or water. The instrument was then used to sprinkle the person(s) or thing(s) to be baptized. This process had the effect of identifying the substance used for the baptism with that which was baptized. As a result, the people were regarded as ceremonially cleansed by that substance. The baptism was not the dipping, but the process of dipping and sprinkling according to God’s order.

The emphasis of these Old Testament baptisms was not on the mode of baptism, but on the effect: cleansing or purification. These baptisms did not represent something that people did, but something that God did in providing a cleansing from sin and guilt. Baptisms were his means of ceremonially providing such purification.

NEW TESTAMENT BAPTISMS – By now your Baptist friends may be somewhat upset. “But what does all of this have to do with baptism in the New Testament?” they will ask. You might point out to them that the New Testament builds on the Old, and that it is important that we always define our terms biblically. (Besides, the book of Hebrews is in the New Testament!)

Hebrews 9 (and the fuller Old Testament passages to which it refers) clearly describes baptisms. When New Testament baptisms are introduced, they are linked with these Old Testament baptisms. For example, the debate between John’s disciples and the Jews in John 3:22–26 focuses on “purification” (vs. 25). New Testament baptisms, like the Old Testament ones, were understood as purification rites. The process of baptizing would certainly be the same in the New Testament baptisms as in the Old Testament baptisms, except, of course, that the only element used in New Testament baptisms was water (see vs. 23). (Incidentally, the “much water” [or “many waters”] mentioned in this verse may well have been the “flowing water” (NASB) [or “living water”] mentioned in Numbers 19:17.)

In New Testament baptisms, then, the process of applying water to someone identifies the person baptized with the cleansing properties of the water. The emphasis is not on dipping or immersing (or on sprinkling or pouring), but on the process of identifying the one baptized with a cleansing provided by God himself.

This is why the Westminster Confession of Faith (28.3) correctly states that “dipping of the person into the water is not necessary; but baptism is rightly administered by pouring, or sprinkling water upon the person.” There is no clear example of a person being baptized by immersion in the New Testament, but there is a biblical pattern for a minister baptizing by dipping his hand (or a utensil) in water and sprinkling (or pouring) that water on the one to be baptized. Baptisms in a Presbyterian church simply follow the pattern of baptisms described in the Scriptures.

[2] Cf. Martin Luther’s Large Catechism: Of Infant Baptism.

47] Here a question occurs by which the devil, through his sects, confuses the world, namely, Of Infant Baptism, whether children also believe, and are justly baptized. Concerning this we say briefly: 48] Let the simple dismiss this question from their minds, and refer it to the learned. But if you wish to answer, 49] then answer thus:-

That the Baptism of infants is pleasing to Christ is sufficiently proved from His own work, namely, that God sanctifies many of them who have been thus baptized, and has given them the Holy Ghost; and that there are yet many even to-day in whom we perceive that they have the Holy Ghost both because of their doctrine and life; as it is also given to us by the grace of God that we can explain the Scriptures and come to the knowledge of Christ, which is impossible without the Holy Ghost. 50] But if God did not accept the baptism of infants, He would not give the Holy Ghost nor any of His gifts to any of them; in short, during this long time unto this day no man upon earth could have been a Christian. Now, since God confirms Baptism by the gifts of His Holy Ghost, as is plainly perceptible in some of the church fathers, as St. Bernard, Gerson, John Hus, and others, who were baptized in infancy, and since the holy Christian Church cannot perish until the end of the world, they must acknowledge that such infant baptism is pleasing to God. For He can never be opposed to Himself, or support falsehood and wickedness, or for its promotion impart His grace and Spirit. 51] This is indeed the best and strongest proof for the simple-minded and unlearned. For they shall not take from us or overthrow this article: I believe a holy Christian Church, the communion of saints.

52] Further, we say that we are not so much concerned to know whether the person baptized believes or not; for on that account Baptism does not become invalid; but everything depends upon the Word and command of God. 53] This now is perhaps somewhat acute, but it rests entirely upon what I have said, that Baptism is nothing else than water and the Word of God in and with each other, that is, when the Word is added to the water, Baptism is valid, even though faith be wanting. For my faith does not make Baptism, but receives it. Now, Baptism does not become invalid even though it be wrongly received or employed; since it is not bound (as stated) to our faith, but to the Word.

54] For even though a Jew should to-day come dishonestly and with evil purpose, and we should baptize him in all good faith, we must say that his baptism is nevertheless genuine. For here is the water together with the Word of God, even though he does not receive it as he should, just as those who unworthily go to the Sacrament receive the true Sacrament, even though they do not believe.

55] Thus you see that the objection of the sectarians is vain. For (as we have said) even though infants did not believe, which, however, is not the case, yet their baptism as now shown would be valid, and no one should rebaptize them; just as nothing is detracted from the Sacrament though some one approach it with evil purpose, and he could not be allowed on account of his abuse to take it a second time the selfsame hour, as though he had not received the true Sacrament at first; for that would mean to blaspheme and profane the Sacrament in the worst manner. How dare we think that God's Word and ordinance should be wrong and invalid because we make a wrong use of it?

56] Therefore I say, if you did not believe then believe now and say thus: The baptism indeed was right, but I, alas! did not receive it aright. For I myself also, and all who are baptized, must speak thus before God: I come hither in my faith and in that of others, yet I cannot rest in this, that I believe, and that many people pray for me; but in this I rest, that it is Thy Word and command. Just as I go to the Sacrament trusting not in my faith, but in the Word of Christ; whether I am strong or weak, that I commit to God. But this I know, that He bids me go, eat and drink, etc., and gives me His body and blood; that will not deceive me or prove false to me.

57] Thus we do also in infant baptism. We bring the child in the conviction and hope that it believes, and we pray that God may grant it faith; but we do not baptize it upon that, but solely upon the command of God. Why so? Because we know that God does not lie. I and my neighbor and, in short, all men, may err and deceive, but the Word of God cannot err.

58] Therefore they are presumptuous, clumsy minds that draw such inferences and conclusions as these: Where there is not the true faith, there also can be no true Baptism. Just as if I would infer: If I do not believe, then Christ is nothing; or thus: If I am not obedient, then father, mother, and government are nothing. Is that a correct conclusion, that whenever any one does not do what he ought, the thing in itself shall be nothing and of no value? 59] My dear, just invert the argument and rather draw this inference: For this very reason Baptism is something and is right, because it has been wrongly received. For if it were not right and true in itself, it could not be misused nor sinned against. The saying is: Abusus non tollit, sed confirmat substantiam, Abuse does not destroy the essence, but confirms it. For gold is not the less gold though a harlot wear it in sin and shame.

60] Therefore let it be decided that Baptism always remains true, retains its full essence, even though a single person should be baptized, and he, in addition, should not believe truly. For God's ordinance and Word cannot be made variable or be altered by men. 61] But these people, the fanatics, are so blinded that they do not see the Word and command of God, and regard Baptism and the magistrates only as they regard water in the brook or in pots, or as any other man; and because they do not see faith nor obedience, they conclude that they are to be regarded as invalid. 62] Here lurks a concealed seditious devil, who would like to tear the crown from the head of authority and then trample it under foot, and, in addition, pervert and bring to naught all the works and ordinances of God. 63] Therefore we must be watchful and well armed, and not allow ourselves to be directed nor turned away from the Word, in order that we may not regard Baptism as a mere empty sign, as the fanatics dream.

64] Lastly, we must also know what Baptism signifies, and why God has ordained just such external sign and ceremony for the Sacrament by which we are first received into the Christian Church. 65] But the act or ceremony is this, that we are sunk under the water, which passes over us, and afterwards are drawn out again. These two parts, to be sunk under the water and drawn out again, signify the power and operation of Baptism, which is nothing else than putting to death the old Adam, and after that the resurrection of the new man, both of which must take place in us all our lives, so that a truly Christian life is nothing else than a daily baptism, once begun and ever to be continued. For this must be practised without ceasing, that we ever keep purging away whatever is of the old Adam, and that that which belongs to the new man come forth. 66] But what is the old man? It is that which is born in us from Adam, angry, hateful, envious, unchaste, stingy, lazy, haughty, yea, unbelieving, infected with all vices, and having by nature nothing good in it. 67] Now, when we are come into the kingdom of Christ, these things must daily decrease, that the longer we live we become more gentle, more patient, more meek, and ever withdraw more and more from unbelief, avarice, hatred, envy, haughtiness.

68] This is the true use of Baptism among Christians, as signified by baptizing with water. Where this, therefore, is not practised, but the old man is left unbridled, so as to continually become stronger, that is not using Baptism, but striving against Baptism. 69] For those who are without Christ cannot but daily become worse, according to the proverb which expresses the truth, "Worse and worse-the longer, the worse." 70] If a year ago one was proud and avaricious, then he is much prouder and more avaricious this year, so that the vice grows and increases with him from his youth up. A young child has no special vice; but when it grows up, it becomes unchaste and impure, and when it reaches maturity, real vices begin to prevail the longer, the more.

71] Therefore the old man goes unrestrained in his nature if he is not checked and suppressed by the power of Baptism. On the other hand, where men have become Christians, he daily decreases until he finally perishes. That is truly to be buried in Baptism, and daily to come forth again. 72] Therefore the external sign is appointed not only for a powerful effect, but also for a signification. 73] Where, therefore, faith flourishes with its fruits, there it has no empty signification, but the work [of mortifying the flesh] accompanies it; but where faith is wanting, it remains a mere unfruitful sign.

74] And here you see that Baptism, both in its power and signification, comprehends also the third Sacrament, which has been called repentance, 75] as it is really nothing else than Baptism. For what else is repentance but an earnest attack upon the old man [that his lusts be restrained] and entering upon a new life? Therefore, if you live in repentance, you walk in Baptism, which not only signifies such a new life, but also produces, begins, and exercises it. 76] For therein are given grace, the Spirit, and power to suppress the old man, so that the new man may come forth and become strong.

77] Therefore our Baptism abides forever; and even though some one should fall from it and sin, nevertheless we always have access thereto, that we may again subdue the old man. 78] But we need not again be sprinkled with water; for though we were put under the water a hundred times, it would nevertheless be only one Baptism, although the operation and signification continue and remain. 79] Repentance, therefore, is nothing else than a return and approach to Baptism, that we repeat and practise what we began before, but abandoned.

80] This I say lest we fall into the opinion in which we were for a long time, imagining that our Baptism is something past, which we can no longer use after we have fallen again into sin. The reason is, that it is regarded only according to the external act once performed [and completed]. 81] And this arose from the fact that St. Jerome wrote that repentance is the second plank by which we must swim forth and cross over after the ship is broken, on which we step and are carried across when we come into the Christian Church. 82] Thereby the use of Baptism has been abolished so that it can profit us no longer. Therefore the statement is not correct, or at any rate not rightly understood. For the ship never breaks, because (as we have said) it is the ordinance of God, and not a work of ours; but it happens, indeed, that we slip and fall out of the ship. Yet if any one fall out, let him see to it that he swim up and cling to it till he again come into it and live in it, as he had formerly begun.

83] Thus it appears what a great, excellent thing Baptism is, which delivers us from the jaws of the devil and makes us God's own, suppresses and takes away sin, and then daily strengthens the new man; and is and remains ever efficacious until we pass from this estate of misery to eternal glory.

84] For this reason let every one esteem his Baptism as a daily dress in which he is to walk constantly, that he may ever be found in the faith and its fruits, that he suppress the old man and grow up in the new. 85] For if we would be Christians, we must practise the work whereby we are Christians. 86] But if any one fall away from it, let him again come into it. For just as Christ, the Mercy-seat, does not recede from us or forbid us to come to Him again, even though we sin, so all His treasure and gifts also remain. If, therefore, we have once in Baptism obtained forgiveness of sin, it will remain every day, as long as we live, that is, as long as we carry the old man about our neck.

 

[3] Mark Worthing: Faith, Belief, and Baptism. Luther’s Relevance for the Contemporary Debate about Infant Baptism, in: Perspectives On Martin Luther, edited by Mark Worthing, Adelaide: Faculty of Luther Campus 1996, p85: “The faith with which infants are baptized is therefore their own present faith. This faith, however, is not inherent to the nature of the infant. Unlike original sin, which belongs to the natural person by birth, faith – even the faith of an infant – is always a gift of God which is added to the person. Hence this faith is not to be confused, as Hermann Sasse pointed out, with the 19th century idea of some Lutheran theologians of a faith that is awakened like a seed with the act of baptism. Rather, ‘it is the faith with which children come to baptism, just as with adults, except that this faith of children is not yet conscious faith that they confess themselves.’ … ”