Thursday, December 3, 2009

God's Gift of Baptism

It's been a while since I've posted anything. This semester has been a hectic one. Below are some thoughts on baptism from Martin Luther's Large Catechism. The citations refer to the page and paragraph numbers in the Book of Concord.

Baptism’s necessity is an issue I have had to struggle with. In Palestine, while working with Muslims who wanted to follow Jesus, the question arose whether one could follow Christ without being baptized. We (who were not Lutheran at that time) concluded that it was not, yet today, I bump up against Luther’s teaching in the Large Catechism that the corollary to the Great Commission is “whoever rejects baptism rejects God’s Word, faith, and Christ…” (460.31). These adults were not rejecting it, but had not yet understood the need. It was not something we made an issue of. For one’s salvation it may not be essential, but to know the fullness of God in one’s life, to have the daily reassurance of God’s presence, to grow into all God has for us in Christ Jesus, it is absolutely necessary for us. This is demonstrated in Luther’s Large Catechism, the manual for pastors.

For Luther, baptism was essential because it was instituted by God and not by human beings. It was God’s idea not made up by the church (457.6). It was God’s command as well (461.38). If God had so ordained it, then such a command should be obeyed.God not only commands baptism, but God is the baptizer (457.10). God enacts what God decrees. What we are incapable of doing, God does for us. We do not have to worry about some mistake in the liturgy or our own doubts invalidating God’s activity. As well as God’s agency, even the very baptismal water is God’s as well (458.4).

Luther cites Jesus’ baptism to illustrate how God confirmed by miracles (459.21) the weightiness of baptism as the heavens opened and the Spirit descended. If the Son was baptized, then Christ’s followers should be if we follow his example. To reject God’s gift is to reject God.

Besides being baptized in obedience to God’s command, baptism brings a multitude of blessings. God desires to give good gifts to God’s children and baptism is that initial, chief means of grace. It is a gift of such magnitude that it is referred to as a “treasure” that God gives us (460.34, 461.37). The very image that conjures up in our minds can give but a glimpse of its true worth. Unlike earthly treasure, baptism is with us forever as a symbol of God’s grace (466.77).

Baptism is received by faith, not dependent upon it (463.53, 464.60). This is comforting that its benefits are independent of our understanding or goodness. God graciously gifts us. Baptism, bringing us regeneration and new life (460.27, 466.75) is like clothing which we can put on daily (466.84). By it we are made holy and blessed (462.46). Unlike some denominations, where it is simply a symbol, we may daily refer back to our baptism for comfort, strength, and reassurance (462.44). An ontological change was made in us, in God’s eyes, by this sacrament.

God gives us victory over the devil and death (461.41, 462.43) through baptism. It also aids us in the daily battle of faithfulness to God and sanctification. Our selfish nature still struggles to rule us, but our baptism helps us in the daily killing of said old nature (465.65).

Baptism is never invalid according to Luther. Even those baptized by priests that were drunkards, adulterers etc. were not required to be rebaptized. The sacrament depends upon God, not the one administering it, even if there is not complete faith present (464.60). This helps me appreciate my own infant baptism, even though we rarely attended church as a family.

On one level, baptism may not be essential to follow Christ, but one would be foolish to disregard this wonderful gift and means of grace, salvation, blessing, and communion with God. The issue of baptism was never promoted to our Muslim young adults, but those that committed themselves to follow Jesus as Savior, not just a prophet, each at some point, requested baptism. By their hearts' conviction, it was necessary as well.

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