Tuesday, August 10, 2010

What is Baptism?

Quoting from Luther's Large Catechism on Baptism:

14 Now you can understand how to answer properly the question, What is Baptism? It is not simply common water, but water comprehended in God’s Word and commandment and sanctified by them. It is nothing else than a divine water, not that the water in itself is nobler than other water but that God’s Word and commandment are added to it.
15 Therefore it is sheer wickedness and devilish blasphemy when our new spirits, in order to slander Baptism, ignore God’s Word and ordinance, consider nothing but the water drawn from the well, and then babble, “How can a handful of water help the soul?” 16 Of course, my friend! Who does not know that water is water, if such a separation is proper? But how dare you tamper thus with God’s ordinance and tear from it the precious jeweled clasp with which God has fastened and enclosed it and from which he does not wish his ordinance to be separated? For the nucleus in the water is God’s Word or commandment and God’s name, and this is a treasure greater and nobler than heaven and earth.
17 Note the distinction, then: Baptism is a very different thing from all other water, not by virtue of the natural substance but because here something nobler is added. God himself stakes his honor, his power, and his might on it. Therefore it is (tr-737) not simply a natural water, but a divine, heavenly, holy, and blessed water — praise it in any other terms you can — all by virtue of the Word, which is a heavenly, holy Word which no one can sufficiently extol, for it contains and conveys all the fullness of God. 18 From the Word it derives its nature as a sacrament, as St. Augustine taught, “Accedat verbum ad elementum et fit sacramentum.”9 This means that when the Word is added to the element or the natural substance, it becomes a sacrament, that is, a holy, divine thing and sign.
19 Therefore, we constantly teach that the sacraments and all the external things ordained and instituted by God should be regarded not according to the gross, external mask (as we see the shell of a nut) but as that in which God’s Word is enclosed. 20 In the same way we speak about the parental estate and civil authority. If we regard these persons with reference to their noses, eyes, skin and hair, flesh and bones, they look no different from Turks and heathen. Someone might come and say, “Why should I think more of this person than of others?” But because the commandment is added, “You shall honor father and mother,” I see another man, adorned and clothed with the majesty and glory of God. The commandment, I say, is the golden chain about his neck, yes, the crown on his head, which shows me how and why I should honor this particular flesh and blood.
21 In the same manner, and even much more, you should honor and exalt Baptism on account of the Word, since God himself has honored it by words and deeds and has confirmed it by wonders from heaven. Do you think it was a jest that the heavens opened when Christ allowed himself to be baptized, that the Holy Spirit descended visibly,1 and that the divine glory and majesty were manifested everywhere?
22 I therefore admonish you again that these two, the Word and the water, must by no means be separated from each other. For where the Word is separated from the water, the water is no different from that which the maid cooks with and could indeed be called a bathkeeper’s baptism.2 But when the Word is present according to God’s ordinance, Baptism is a sacrament, and it is called Christ’s Baptism. This is the first point to be emphasized: the nature and dignity of this holy sacrament.

Tappert, T. G. (2000, c1959). The Book of Concord : The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (438). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.


Anonymous said...

The LCMS Lutheran understanding of baptism is indeed much different than the Calvinist understanding.

Given Luther's thoughts, why do Evangelical and non-denominational churches insist that a child's baptism (baptism of any human being under the age of 7) is invalid?

Scott Diekmann said...

I suppose one reason that many churches insist a child's Baptism is invalid is because in order to be Baptized, you have to make a decision for Christ, something they'd say a young child can't do, so they need to be re-baptized.

Anonymous said...

Question for the Calvinists: If a young child cannot make a decision about his/her belief in Jesus, how then can that child be saved.

Evangelicals love to criticize loudly the LCMS practice of closed/close communion, as if the LCMS was being too restrictive, elitist, or judgmental. Many denominations used open communion as a recruiting tool for attracting potential members.

The LCMS should therefore boldly proclaim that the Evangelicals practice "closed baptism." Tit for tat. I am perplexed that the LCMS has not done this already.