by Pete Schrank
The focus for Easter is our salvation in Jesus, and His three-year ministry starts with His baptism in the Jordan River. Christ’s baptism was as an adult. John the Baptist was baptizing many people out in the wilderness by the Jordan River during his ministry. Baptism was the symbolic washing away of the sins of a repentant person. John was asking all the people of Israel to repent and be baptized in preparation for the coming Messiah. John knew that his baptism was with water and Jesus was coming to bring a baptism by the Holy Spirit, God’s Holy Spirit. We see many adult baptisms in the Bible: the Ethiopian eunuch, the three thousand (Acts chapter 2), and all of those early converts.
So the question for Lutherans is why infant baptism?
Lutherans practice infant baptism because they believe that God mandates it through the Great Commission: Jesus Christ says, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”, in which Jesus does not set any age limit. The Bible speaks of early Christians receiving the words of the Apostles and the entire group being baptized. We read about an entire household- men, women, children, servants, and slaves- getting baptized.
We also cite other biblical passages such as Mark 10:13-15, Mark 16:16 and Acts 2:38-39 in support of our understanding of what Jesus said in Scripture. We see Peter preaching at Pentecost and including children in the promise of Baptism: “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”.
For Lutherans like you and me, baptism is by the grace of God. The efficacy of our baptism does not depend on the faith, strength, status, or good works of the person being baptized. Since the creation of faith is exclusively God’s work, it does not depend on the actions of the one baptized, whether infant or adult. Even though baptized infants cannot articulate that faith,
Lutherans believe that it is present all the same. Because it is faith alone that receives these divine gifts, Lutherans confess that baptism “works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare”. In the special section on infant baptism in his Large Catechism, Luther argues that infant baptism is God-pleasing because persons so baptized were reborn and sanctified by the Holy Spirit.
Lutherans believe that babies are conceived and born sinful, as we all bear the burden of Adam’s original sin. Therefore they need to be born again to enter the kingdom of heaven. Through Baptism the Holy Spirit works rebirth, creates faith in them, and saves them (1 Peter 3:21) And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you-not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God fora good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, so babies need the protection of baptism as soon as possible.
Adult baptism, or what can be call “believers baptism”, relies on the person being baptized confessing a belief in Jesus and is practiced by many faith groups. However this by definition places some of the efficacy of your baptism on you. This is the same slippery slope that we see in the gift of salvation on the cross. You can do nothing to earn your way to salvation and you can do nothing to increase the cleansing of your baptism. It is all simply a gift from God.