Rev Dr Edgar Mayer – Living Grace Lutheran Church, Toowoomba – Date: 24 July 2016

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

 

[Preaching alongside Pastor Yonggi Cho’s book “Make Your Faith Work”.

Sermon 02: We believe that Pastor Yonggi Cho’s book will prepare us for growth in our own congregation and this means that we will have new Christians who need to be baptized.]

 

Baptizing Them

 

When I came back from long-service leave, I was told that Ryan Kingston – 10 years old – wants to be baptized. No one really talked to him about baptism, but maybe God did, because Jesus was rather clear that baptism was for all people who become Christians. He commissioned his diciples to – Matthew 28:19 – “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Are you baptized? What does it mean to you? How important is it, and what will it mean for Ryan and any others that want to be baptized on Sunday 4 September?

Like other highpoints of the Christian faith, such as the infilling with the Holy Spirit or Holy Communion, the teaching on baptism has become controversial among the wider body of Christians – in history and even now, certainly when some Christians tell other Christians that their previous baptism, maybe in a mainline church, was not valid and they need a new baptism. People argue whether people need to be dunked or dipped (in water), and whether there is a minimum age requirement for baptism. For some, the worst case scenario is the Lutheran way: baptized in a mainline church (struggling with the teaching on the Holy Spirit), merely dipped in water, as a baby. For these reasons, I have never been particularly keen to preach on baptism, because who wants to stir up controversy? Only now, Ryan wants to be baptized, and we are preparing for growth and the arrival of new believers, who will need to be baptized. We better know what we are doing and I better teach something.

From an observer’s point of view, the activity of baptism seems to be a simple enough exercise. If you are in a hurry, it can be done in a few minutes. The bare minimum of what needs to happen is that water is being applied to you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. That’s the act of baptism.

However, what is behind the exercise? What’s the benefit, apart from being obedient to Jesus’ command? I put it to you that the key question to ask about baptism – the question that helps you to understand where churches differ on baptism – is this one: Who is doing the baptism? God or man, God or human beings?

On the one hand, our involvement in baptism has significance. For many Christians, baptism is the rite of passage where we pledge our allegiance to Jesus, and it is a coming out before others. For some, the public nature of this open confession of your faith – when you step up for baptism in front of other people in a church – is the key element of the entire ceremony. It is you witnessing to your faith. In many churches (especially on the mission field), baptism can be something of a graduation ceremony, which marks the end of baptism classes (and they can last for a year) and the official welcome into the church. [If you are not careful, it can feel like the reward for study and passing entry exams for membership in the church.]

A few years back, I heard a testimony of a Christian from Pakistan which confirms that the wider community does (often) understand that baptism signifies a decisive break with the past, and is a most important step for the believer. This Christian used to be a Muslim, and when he came to faith, he was looking for someone to baptize him, but no one could be found, because the Muslims threatened to kill anyone that would convert from Islam and be baptized in the name of Jesus and they threatened to kill anyone that would do the baptism. Therefore, there were plenty of new Christians, but no baptisms, (because ministers were afraid) until finally an American missionary dared to baptize this new Christian. And – as the Christian from Pakistan found out later (he had been smuggled out of the country) – the missionary was killed. He did pay with his life for baptizing him (and he had three or four young children), but the Muslim community knew that once a person is baptized (once they commit to this step), they are (usually) lost to their faith.

In this story (and in general), baptism has this component of public confession and witnessing to others your commitment to Jesus. You don’t keep your baptism secret, but – can I put this to you? – the human component of coming out for Jesus is not the essence of baptism.

Many baptisms in the Bible happened immediately upon conversion, without waiting for a public stage, not even waiting for a Sunday service. There, baptism was not about coming out for Jesus, but experiencing the fullness of salvation, as new believers began to trust Jesus:

 

Acts 8:35-38: Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus. As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him.

 

Acts 9:17-19: Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength. [Acts 22:12-16: “A man named Ananias came to see me. He was a devout observer of the law and highly respected by all the Jews living there. He stood beside me and said, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight!’ And at that very moment I was able to see him. Then he said: ‘The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth. You will be his witness to all people of what you have seen and heard. And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.’”]

 

Acts 16:31-34:  They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized. The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household.

 

In these Bible stories, baptism was important (expressed in the desire to do it immediately at conversion) but not the human component of public testimony and ceremony. These Bible stories should caution us to make baptism a human work – something that we do.

This morning, I hope to encourage you. You do not have to be rattled by those Christians that make radical statements about baptism, insisting that it is only a human work. According to them, God remains completely passive and does nothing. But this is not so. I give you two representative examples of what some people are saying:

 

Thomas Nettles in: Understanding Four Views on Baptism, Grand Rapids: Zondervan 2007: Baptism signifies the believer’s confidence in Christ [original: that Christ’s work was complete for his forgiveness and justification] and indicates his desire for unity with the church … No saving efficacy inheres in either the form or the matter itself. The person baptized has no scriptural warrant to believe that in baptism Christ’s saving activity is initiated, augmented, or completed.

 

[In other words, Jesus is doing nothing in baptism. Baptism is about us and our confidence in him.]

 

One church publication [in Toowoomba] described baptism as the mere shadow – a picture – of what happened earlier in the moment of conversion. According to this instruction booklet, baptism is an illustration, a symbol, an object lesson for what Jesus has already done (saving the person), but in baptism itself Jesus is doing nothing.

 

I don’t think that this is what the Bible is saying at all. When Ryan steps into the swimming pool of the Willingham’s on Sunday 4 September to be baptized, it’s not about him doing a good job of enacting a shadow, an object lesson, of past events and expressing his confidence in Jesus. At its core, baptism is not about him and his efforts on the day. It’s about Jesus doing agood jobon him, pouring out his grace and love and favour on him.

 

Martin Luther did not mince words when he confronted a low view on baptism: Large Catechism – Baptism, 14-15: From this you can learn how to understand Baptism correctly, and how to answer the question: What is Baptism? It’s not just ordinary water. It’s water contained in God’s word and command, and made holy by it.

Therefore, it is pure wickedness and blasphemy of the devil that now our new spirits simply ignore God’s word and instructions, so as to put Baptism in a bad light. They don’t see anything but the water drawn from the well, and then start shooting from the mouth: “How can a handful of water help people’s souls?” My dear fellow! If, just for argument’s sake, water is separated from Baptism, surely everyone knows that water is just water? But how dare you interfere with God’s instructions in this way, and tear out this most beautiful jewel with which God has combined the water, in which he has set it, and from which he won’t have it separated? For this is the very essence of this water: God’s word or command, and God’s name; and this is a treasure greater and finer than heaven and earth together.

 

We have a look at the Bible. This is what the apostle Peter said when people asked what to do in response to his sermon, the very first sermon after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension:

 

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 and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.

 

[Acts 22:16: And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.]

 

Repent [turn away from sin to Jesus] and be baptized [with water] … for the forgiveness of your sins.” Is Peter not saying here that baptism communicates forgiveness? I understand him to say that baptism is the means for Jesus to forgive sins. If this is true and is at the heart of baptism, then baptism is first and foremost a work of God, because no one but God can forgive sins.

Peter did not really elaborate on the meaning of baptism, but he didn’t have to. The people in front of him all knew the forerunner of Jesus, a man named John. Baptism was so essential in his ministry that they had all called himJohn the Baptist”. And this man had already modelled the meaning of baptism in his ministry which Jesus then took up and placed under his authority. I read from the Bible:

 

Luke 3:3: John went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

 

Mark 1:4-5: And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.

 

Already in John’s ministry, baptism with water – as people repented – carried the spiritual authority to forgive sins. The substance of water would touch the people but sins would be washed away. This baptism did something to people because we read in Luke 7:29: “(All the people, even the tax collectors, when they heard Jesus’ words, acknowledged that God’s way was right, because they had been baptized by John. But the Pharisees and the experts in the law rejected God’s purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John.)On account of their baptism, people could later receive Jesus’ words as being true. The baptism had washed away their sin – broke the power of sin – which can blind the mind (such as self-righteousness and pride). But they could see, while those without the baptism could not. [Cf. Mark 11:30: “John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or of human origin? Tell me!”.]

Early on, Jesus continued John’s baptism. He endorsed it and shared in the work:

 

John 3:23-26: After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptized. Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were coming and being baptized. (This was before John was put in prison.) An argument developed between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing. They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan—the one you testified about—look, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.”

 

John 4:1-3: Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John—although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.

 

However, later – after he had atoned for the sin of the world on the cross and his resurrection had established that salvation would be in his name – he placed his authority on baptism in the sense that baptism would happen in his name and he would be the source of blessing of this rite. We may acknowledge the three-fold God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – in the baptism formula, but everything is centred around Jesus and when Christian baptism happens in his name, all of the blessings that flow from his atonement on the cross are ours.

Another Bible story illustrates this transition from John’s baptism to Christian baptism in Jesus’ name and confirms again the grace – the power – the work of God – in baptism:

 

[Acts 18:24-26: Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.]

 

Acts 19:1-7: While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and 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.

 

These disciples had been lacking the fullness of the Holy Spirit, and Paul immediately traced their lack to the baptism which they had not yet received. John’s baptism was for the forgiveness of sins. That was the extent of his authority and ministry, but Jesus would give more than him – forgiveness and life in the Spirit, a new covenant with God. And it was the new baptism in Jesus’ name that carried the power to open the door to the Spirit. When Paul baptized these disciples in Ephesus, he did not ask them to perform a human work in their baptism. Jesus had to do a work – he had to place his authority over them – give something – change something – to clear the way for them to receive the Holy Spirit. At least, this is how I am reading it. (Immediately after the baptism, as Paul layed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.)

I continue making the case. Baptism is about God and his work on us, not our response to him. The Bible uses striking images to explain what happens to us at baptism:

 

John 3:5-8: Jesus answered, Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

 

People are being born again when they come to faith through the Holy Spirit, and part of the process seems to be baptism, because we need to beborn of water and the Spirit”. This is not a human work. If baptism belongs to your born again experience, then no one but God can do this.

The imagery becomes even more radical in Romans 6:

 

Romans 6:3-4: 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.

 

See also Colossians 2:11-12: … Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.

 

Baptism is a sharing of Jesus’ death. God buries our old sinful self in baptism, just as Jesus’ body carrying the sin of the whole world was buried in a tomb, after he died on a cross. Then, baptism is also a sharing of Jesus’ resurrection, because from the water of baptism we emerge with a new life, just as Jesus was raised to new life after three days in the tomb. The imagery could not be any more radical, emphasizing that this kind of operation in baptism is beyond us. It must be God’s work, which he loves to do for us.

Maybe we consider one more Bible passage:

 

Galatians 3:26-27: So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.

 

Somehow baptism has something to do with us becoming the children of God. “In Christ Jesus you are all children of God … for all of you who were baptized into Christ have … Christ.”

You cannot birth yourself. You cannot bury yourself and then rise again. And you cannot become someone’s child yourself. All of this had to be done to us, and God is doing at in baptism. It is his work, first and foremost.

If this is true, do you want to be baptized? Who would want to say no? God is good and baptism is an amazing gift of grace. But – to take up another bone of contention among Christians – what about children, what about very small children (babies even)?

When I am thinking about this question, I remind myself immediately who is at work in baptism. And this is what we have been discussing this morning. If baptism is not so much about coming out for Jesus or witnessing to others, but God granting a new birth, raising up a new person and making us his children, then why wait? No matter how many years you wait, a child or teenager will never grow up enough to do this for themselves. It will always remain God’s work and he seems to be keen on all ages:

 

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.”

 

Maybe another question can help us to decide the matter. When does a child belong to Jesus? A child that is born into a Christian family, growing up in an environment of faith and the presence of God, when does it belong to the kingdom of God? In the Bible, we hear that even a baby in the womb knew Jesus:

 

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.”

 

If a baby can and does belong to God, growing up in an environment of faith, then – I think – there is no reason to delay baptism, because baptism is for all Christians and – according to all Bible references – is meant to occur at the beginning of your Christian life. It is not a sign of human maturity and being grown up, but an instrument of God’s grace. Baptism is an amazing work of God. Children can receive it and all the glory goes to God.

 

[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 and consider the whole body of teaching on spiritual covering which is provided by leaders, including parents.).

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 being 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.]

 

But – for all of God’s initiative and grace – it can go wrong, if we do not honour a few foundational principles. For instance, if we do not repent and put our faith in Jesus, but simply sign up for baptism because of some other advantages (such as impressing a Christian spouse or future parents-in-law, or hoping to gain refugee status in a Western country), then the baptism is not going to do anything. And if there is mockery of God involved, then it is most unwise, because the Bible says that God is not mocked” (Galatians 6:7). There needs to be faith to receive the blessings of baptism. Otherwise this source of grace remains untapped.

 

Mark 16:16: Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.

 

Hebrews 11:6: And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

 

1 John 5:5: Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

 

It is true that our faith can wax and wane a little throughout the years but God can work with little faith (even relate to the heart of small children). Important is that our eyes remain on Jesus, not just trusting the ritual without him. [Faith only ever receives the grace of baptism and what God is doing at baptism. It does not itself constitute baptism. Therefore, the varying strength of our faith does not improve or weaken the grace of baptism. Baptism is given on the sure foundation of God’s faithfulness and work, not our own, and faith can always return to it and receive from it.]

This applies to those that come for baptism. And – even more importantly – to those that perform the baptism. I am becoming increasingly uneasy about baptisms that are performed in churches that seem to be far away from God.

Lutherans have traditionally said this:

 

Augsburg Confession, Article VIII – What the Church Is: Although the Church properly is the congregation of saints and true believers, nevertheless, since in this life many hypocrites and evil persons are mingled therewith, it is lawful to use Sacraments administered by evil men, according to the saying of Christ: The Scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat, etc. Matt. 23:2. Both the Sacraments and Word are effectual by reason of the institution and commandment of Christ, notwithstanding they be administered by evil men.

 

Large Catechism, 15-16: Hence it is easy to reply to all manner of questions about which men are troubled at the present time, such as this one: Whether even a wicked priest can minister at, and dispense, the Sacrament, and whatever other questions like this there may be. For here we conclude and say: Even though a knave takes or distributes the Sacrament, he receives the true Sacrament, that is, the true body and blood of Christ, just as truly as he who [receives or] administers it in the most worthy manner. For it is not founded upon the holiness of men, but upon the Word of God. And as no saint upon earth, yea, no angel in heaven, can make bread and wine to be the body and blood of Christ, so also can no one change or alter it, even though it be misused.

 

I can understand the principle that Baptism, along with Holy Communion (which is mentioned here), are founded on God’s command and his actions, and not on the performance and piety of humans, but how far can you stretch this? Does it not matter at all who administers baptism? Can anyone, even wicked and blasphemous people, do this? I know that there is a need to assure people that they are being properly baptized despite the failings of the pastor, and if he is seriously flawed, I have no problem pointing to a believing congregation that is supporting baptism. But how far can you stretch this? On long-service leave, I was again in the Lutheran church of my upbringing and they had another pastor who (I think) did not believe in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and God being active on earth. Ten years ago, his predecessor was the same (I had a conversation with him in his office), and this is no longer a scandal in the Lutheran Church of that particular state. I am not telling on him. (And if I do misunderstand him, let it be a hypothetical example.) Okay, but what about the people that are being baptized by this pastor in this congregation that is sharing his view? [In my view, this is different from the situation in Luther’s time and the context of the Lutheran Confession.]

We established that baptism is God’s work, not ours, but he does his work through us (flawed and imperfect as we may be – jars of clay) and it matters at some stage where we stand with him. I bring it back again to the basics. 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 …

 

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 (and we may lose its importance if we do not spell it out). 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. Therefore – I submit this to you – the following are required for any valid baptism: 1) Jesus’ word, 2) water and 3) the Holy Spirit.

Now, can we reach a situation where the church is in such bad shape spiritually that we lose confidence in their baptisms? How much can the Spirit be quenched before baptism loses its power? I know that even asking these questions can get me into trouble, but Jesus’ disciples had to wait for the Holy Spirit in Jerusalem (for the infilling at Pentecost) before they were ready to preach with power, Jesus had to breathe the Holy Spirit on them – making them breathe in his power – before they were ready to forgive sins [John 20:22-23: And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” Cf. See also the ineffectiveness of using the right words without the Spirit in attempting to expel demons: Acts 19:13-16.Ba], and how much of this principle of needing to minister in the power of the Holy Spirit also applies to baptism? It is God’s work, but he wants to work through us. The power of God is obviously present, when a Christian helps another person to repent and believe. If you can witness with power, you can also baptize. But what about a church that knows no converts, or almost no converts?

Is this a fair enough question? There are enough doubts coming into my heart and conscience that I would make sure that a new convert, that is coming to faith in our midst, would not have to worry about his baptism, whether it was done by people of faith in the power of the Holy Spirit according to God’s command.

I am finished. Are you still okay? I know that I have not sidestepped certain controversies and, if you come from another tradition, I hope that it has not been too upsetting. And I hope that you have noticed that I also queried some treasured Lutheran thinking. The aim was not to increase tensions, but to keep the teaching on baptism basic and positive.

Please, if you are thinking about getting baptized yourself, don’t let the debates stop you. Jesus invites anyone that repents and believes in him to receive the gift of baptism. You don’t have to wait but can have it now, and while there is the human component of you making a good confession, God takes care of what happens in baptism. He washes away your sin, makes you born again, buries the old and raises you up as a new person, and makes you his child. Baptism belongs to your conversion, and is great. Talk to me, if you want to be baptized, and those of us that have already received this gift we want to be there for Ryan and any others on Sunday 4 September. We won’t argue but rejoice. Amen.