Baptism 3

The Lutheran Doctrine Of Baptism

Lutherans teach that baptism, according to the Scriptures, is the initial
Sacrament.  It is the door of entrance into the visible kingdom of God.  It is the
seal of the new covenant of our Lord Jesus Christ.  It is the gate of admission
into the Holy Christian Church.  It is the beginning of the christian life.
Accordingly it differs from the Lord’s Supper in that it is administered but
once, at the entrance upon the spiritual life, whereas the Lord’s Supper, as
the sacrament of renewal, must be continually repeated.

Let us look at the Nature, Subjects, and Mode of Baptism, in the Lutheran

I.  Nature.  Baptism as a Sacrament, illustrates the truths laid down in the last
chapter.  “By Baptism, “ says the IXth Article of the Augsburg Confession,
“grace is offered.”  it is then no mere symbolic rite, but it is a means of grace,
conveying to the subject the spiritual gift which it typifies.  What is this
Baptismal grace?  The Scriptures answer:  “except a man be born of water and
of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”  (John iii; 5.)  “Be
baptized and wash away thy sins.”  (Acts xxii; 16.)  “According to his mercy He
saved us, by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost.”
(Titus iii; 5.)

These and corresponding passages show that Baptism is the bodily
application of water with faith, and that the divine grace therein offered is
new spiritual birth, or regeneration, by the gift of the Holy Spirit.  This is the
Lutheran teaching, as Luther defines in the catechism:  “When connected with
the Word of God, it is a Baptism i.e. a gracious water of life and a ‘washing of
regeneration’ in the Holy Ghost.”  Baptism then is the sacramental rite
instituted as the ordinary means of the beginning of the new spiritual life in
the soul.  Where there is a trinal application of water, with the words of
Institution, and a believing heart, there the Holy Ghost is outpoured to
cleanse original and actual sin, and to recreate the personality in the divine

“Reason” indeed says Luther, “can never understand how Baptism is a laver
of regeneration, but what God says is true whether my senses corroborate it
or not.  He is omnipotent and can fulfill His Word.”  This Baptismal grace is not
conveyed magically, but only in accordance with the Spiritual conditions.  It
can, too, be lost, and assuredly will, unless “That good thing which was
committed unto thee, “ thou “keep by the Holy Ghost which dwelleth in us.”  (II.
Tim.i;14.)  Very precious, rich, and comforting, thus is Baptism according to the
Lutheran view, presenting a wide contrast to the superficial views too largely
prevalent respecting this Holy Sacrament.

II.  Subjects.  is this Sacrament to be administered alone to adults, or also to
children?  The Augsburg Confession gives this direct answer:  “Children are
to be baptized, who by Baptism, being offered to God, are received into divine
favor.”  So also Luther writes:  “We must declare it as a simple fact, that a
child, which by nature is oppressed with sin and death, begins eternal life at
the time of its Baptism.”  That baptism of Children was the primary design and
rule—adult baptism being the exception, in such cases where the Sacrament
had been neglected—is shown by the general tenor, and individual
statements of Scripture; by the Apostolic Baptisms; and by the practice of the
primitive Christian Church.

a.  The analogy of Baptism to Circumcision in the Scriptures sustains the
Lutheran doctrine.  Circumcision was the Old Testament rite of admission into
God’s covenant.  Now, as it was administered to children at eight days old, the
conclusion is irresistible that Baptism ordained by Christ to take the place of
circumcision, must also be designed for children.  Where is the authority for
supposing that little children who even “under the law,” were admitted into
the Jewish Church, should under the “new covenant” of “grace and truth,” be
excluded from the Christian Church?  How directly contrary this would be to
those tender words of Jesus:  “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and
forbid them not; for of such is the kingdom of God.”  (Mark x;14.)  And also to
the declaration of St. Peter, on the Pentecostal day, when the Church was
founded:  “For the promise is unto you, and to your children.”  (Acts ii;39.)

b.  The Household Baptisms of the apostles show the same.  Thus, when Paul
“baptized Lydia and her household”  (Acts xvi;15.), and when the jailer was
“baptized and all his”  (Acts xvi;33.), or when Paul says:  “I baptized the
household of Stephanus”  (I.Cor.i;16.), is it not manifest that the “household”
and “all his,” and like phrases, were specially meant to include the little ones
of the domestic circle?

c.  Primitive Church Practice.  Origen, one of the most learned fathers of the
early Christian Church, who was born in the year 185, when those would be
living whose fathers could have witnessed the apostolic practice, writes:
“The Church has received it from the apostles that infants are to be
baptized.”  And what is altogether conclusive, is that in the year 252 an
ecclesiastical council of sixty-six bishops convened at Carthage delivered the
decision:  “It is our unanimous opinion that baptism must be refused to no
human being, so soon as he is born.”  Truly, therefore, does Dr. F.W. Conrad
say:  “The early Fathers of the Christian Church, including Irenaeus, Tertullian,
Origen, Justin Martyr, and others, represent in their writings that Infant
Baptism was a universal custom derived from the apostles, and the practice
was continued in the entire Christian Church, with a few exceptions, for the
fifteen hundred years.  Furthermore, inscriptions in the Catacombs of Rome,
giving the ages of neophytes or baptized children, also demonstrate the fact
that infant baptism was practiced after the death of the apostles, in the first
centuries of the Church.”  And the historian, Guericke, justly remarks:
“Without some apostolical tradition, it is wholly inconceivable how the claim of
Baptism to an Apostolical origin could ever have gained such unhesitating
assent, and been generally adopted even in the 2nd century.”

The only objection urged against these cumulative testimonies is that a little
child cannot have faith.  But does not our Lord answer this, when he says:
“One of these little ones which believe in me.”  (Matt.xviii;6.)  Luther
interpreted this as an unconscious faith, discernible to God alone.  Augustine
argues that in the case of children:  “The faith of the church [represented by
christian parents or sponsors,] takes the place of their own faith.”  As, then,
faith in the adult is necessary to salvation, but children can be saved without
faith, so though faith in an adult be necessary to Baptism, yet children can be
baptized, and receive baptismal grace, without conscious faith.  And though
Baptism is thus the ordinary means of the regeneration of infants, yet those
dying unbaptized are not lost.  Lutheran theologians hold that not the want,
but the contempt of the sacrament condemns.  Our duty is bound by the
sacrament, but God’s grace is not thus bound.  He can regenerate and save
where and how He will.  Infants dying unbaptized are not lost.  Those
responsible for their baptism will be held answerable for the neglect.

The New York Independent has lately shown, be carefully tabulated statistics
of all religious denominations in the United States, that the proportion of
Infant Baptisms in the Lutheran Church is more than twofold larger than that
of any other Protestant Church.  And the Watchman, a leading Baptist journal,
remarks that this is owing to the Lutheran doctrine of Baptismal grace.  Where
there is no belief of direct spiritual efficacy in the Sacrament of Baptism, it is
quite natural that the rite should fall into neglect.  This fact accounts for the
alarming decadence of Infant Baptism among non-Lutheran Churches.  The
most powerful Presbyterian Church in the New York City, and perhaps in the U.
S., with 2000 members, lately reported but 21 Infant Baptisms for the year.  A
very significant illustration this, that belief in a power of God in the Sacrament
is necessary to maintain their observance.

III.  Mode.  The Lutheran Church practices Affusion, i.e. pouring or sprinkling.
The mode of baptism is not positively indicated in Scripture.  The Baptism of
Christ in the Jordan seems to indicate pouring.  And His baptism is so
represented in the frescoes of the Catacombs, one of which is supposed to
date from the second centruy.  So also Peter’s question:  “Can any man forbid
water, that these should not be baptized?”  (Acts x;47), certainly indicates the
application 0of water to the subject, rather than the immersion of the subject
in the water.  A very important testimony as to the practice of the primitive
Church is that given in the recently discovered “Teaching of the Apostles” a
book dating from a quite time as the ormation of our New Testament canon.  It
says:  ““f thou have not living water, baptize into other water; and if thou
either, pour out water thrice upon the head into the name of Father, and Son,
and Holy Spirit.”  This proves beyond a doubt that either immersion or
aspersion was considered a legitimate mode.  That is, the amount of water
was not deemed an essential factor of Baptism.  Only those features of the
Sacrament which were capable of universal use were made absolute.  But the
mode, depending upon conditions of climate and of the subject, as for
example, whether sick or well, was left open for adaptation.  Thus immersion,
which could be safely used in a mild country like Palestine, but would be
impracticable in a rigorous one like Russia, was not designed to be an
essential feature of the rite.  But, as pouring or sprinkling can be used in all
countries and under all conditions, it has, with legitimate authority and
judicious propriety, come into well-nigh universal use.  And this is the mode
practiced in the Lutheran Church.


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