Concerning Baptism, our churches teach that Baptism is necessary for salvation and that God’s grace is offered through Baptism. They teach that children are to be baptized. Being offered to God through Baptism, they are received into God’s grace. (Augsburg Confession, “Article IX: Baptism”).
There is much that can be said about Baptism. The Augsburg Confession’s treatment of it is very short. It sticks to the essentials of what the Bible reveals. On the necessity of Baptism, see Mark 16:16 and John 3:3-5. On the grace of God (also called “forgiveness” or “salvation”) given through Baptism, see Titus 3:4-7; Luke 3:3; and 1 Peter 3:21. On the Baptism of children, see Acts 2:38-39.
Baptism is a gracious work of God. Through Baptism, God makes us to be Jesus’ disciples (Matt. 28:19). He unites us with Christ in his death and resurrection, so that we will also be raised with him (Rom. 6:3-5; Col. 2:11-12).
At the time of the Reformation (early 1500s), there were starting to be some Christians who denied that Baptism saves, and who were denying it to children. Prior to the Reformation, the Christian Church had a strong consensus both that children should be baptized and that Baptism delivered certain gifts from God, namely the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit. This consensus lasted for about 1500 years from the time of the apostles until other reformers emerged shortly after the Lutherans.
When the Augsburg Confession was written in 1531, these objectors were just starting to emerge, so the Lutherans briefly acknowledged their objection, but didn’t engage it much, especially since they were writing to the Roman Catholics. All they wanted to do was distance themselves from the objectors.
Today, the group of objectors has grown to include most of American Protestantism. We hear them say things like, “Baptism is an outward sign of an inward change,” or, “Baptism is an act that symbolizes the commitment I made.” These sayings are not in the Bible, nor do they have any correspondence to any biblical passage about Baptism. At the risk of being too bold and being labeled “mean,” I’ll say that these Christians are in complete denial of the biblical teaching on Baptism. Is that mean? I don’t think so. We say they’re wrong; they say we’re wrong. Let’s focus on what Scripture actually says and find out the truth.
The basic error is that they think of Baptism as something we do. And if it is something we do, then it cannot forgive sins or save us, because that would be salvation by works. The underlying issue is that they also think of faith as something we do. They think, I placed my faith in Jesus, and that’s why I’m saved. But a helpless child can’t do that. We think of faith differently. We think of it as something that God creates in our hearts. And if God creates it, then he can perform that miracle in children just as well as rational adults.
If you struggle with the Lutheran teaching on Baptism, or if are trying to converse with a Christian who doesn’t accept it, here’s my advice: Just read the passages on Baptism (several of them are cited above). And then ask yourself two questions: Is Baptism something I do for God, or is God doing something for me in it? The answer you will find is that God is doing something for you in it. So then ask, What is God doing for me in Baptism? And the gifts you will find in the Biblical texts are forgiveness of sins, salvation, regeneration, resurrection, and the Holy Spirit. And then you can rejoice, because these are gifts that God delivers to you without any merit or worthiness in you, but only for the sake of Jesus Christ.
The peace of Christ be with you all,
Pastor Dan Antal