Is Holy Baptism?
Baptism is a religious occasion, one of the great mysteries of the one,
holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.
It is not primarily a social event.
So Lutherans teach that baptism "is no human plaything but
is instituted by God himself".[i]
This is because "although it is performed by human hands, it
is nevertheless truly God's own act."[ii]
such, Holy Baptism is a sacrament.
Lutherans teach that a sacrament is comprised of a "divinely
instituted sign and the promise of forgiveness of sins".[iii]
Water is the primary
sign; and the chief promise is that through the water and Word of
baptism we will "die to sin".[iv]
This "non-physical" death means that sin's fierce hold
on us will be broken and we will be able "to walk in newness of
Do We Baptize?
and foremost we baptize because Christ told us to.
We are commanded: "Go...and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy
we baptize to make people Christian.
People do not make themselves Christians by their acceptance of
Jesus. Baptism, rather,
makes people Christians. No
wonder our Lord taught that "you did not choose me, but I chose
Therefore the baptismal liturgy faithfully declares that this
sacrament "makes us members of the priesthood we all share in
God does this, and as a result, we trust in him.
So in Holy Baptism "you have been cut from what is by nature
a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated
Do We Baptize?
baptize in the Triune name of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit
following the historic liturgy and prayers of the church.
In that liturgy we are washed with water and rescued from sin;
anointed with oil and the Spirit, marked with the sign of the cross and
given every spiritual gift; and commissioned to serve Christ in the
world as his burning, shining light among nations.
baptize with splashing water. Immersion
is preferred historically, but it is not our parish practice.
What matters most is God's Word in this water bringing new life
and not the amount of water used.
Can Be Baptized?
can be baptized. This
sacrament is God's gift and is not reserved for certain nations, sexes
not everyone can be baptized as soon as they would like.
This is because baptism is closely tied to church membership.
What this means is that if you are a young
child, your parents must be members of this parish in order to be
baptized here. If you are an
older child, seeking baptism on your own, you may do so under
instruction of the Pastor. And
if you are an adult it means
that you must first prepare with the Pastor through instruction before
you are baptized here.
reason for linking Holy Baptism and church membership is because
Christianity requires regular worship in the congregation of the
faithful. So Christians must
do more than be baptized; they must also "bless God in the great
baptism makes us members of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic
church, active members of other congregations may have their children
baptized here and then transferred
to their own parish. This is
only done after instruction with the pastor and appropriate consultation
with the other parish.
Are We Baptized?
are baptized in Church by the pastor.
Emergency situations allow for alternate arrangements.
Are We Baptized?
are usually celebrated at the Sunday Eucharist when the appointed theme
for that day in the Church Year especially reinforces the wonders of
Holy Baptism. By making this
clear, baptism's tie to worship is emphasized.
There are five such days throughout the year:
The Vigil of Easter, The Baptism of Our Lord, Pentecost, Holy
Trinity, and The Second Sunday in Advent.
addition to these five days, baptisms may be scheduled with the pastor
at other times. Usually
baptisms are not scheduled during the season of Lent.
Whenever the sacrament of Holy Baptism is celebrated outside of
the context of Sunday morning Eucharist the congregation will always be
notified and invited to participate.
Shall the Baptized Live?
only happens once in our lives, but its meaning is to live on throughout
our allotted days. This is
because we not only are to be baptized into Christ, but also made into
Here are the chief ways that
one can do that.
all the baptized are to worship week after week on the Lord's Day,
thereby remembering the Sabbath and keeping it holy.
we should make the sign of the Cross on ourselves at the beginning and
the end of each day, silently praying:
"In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy
This blessing reminds the baptized to whom they belong, by
repeating the Name of the Triune God in which we were baptized.
we should remember the anniversary of our baptismal day with prayers and
also through its renewal at the liturgy on the great Vigil of Easter.
we should pursue discipleship in Christ through tithing, daily study of
Holy Scriptures and regular acts of charity.
photographs or video taping during the liturgy.
October 9, 1990.
September 13, 1994.
[i] The Book of Concord, , p.437
[ii] The Book of Concord, , p.437
[iii] Luther's Works 36.124
[iv] Romans 6.2
[v] Romans 6.4
[vi] Matthew 28.19
[vii] John 15.16
[viii] LBW, p.121
[ix] Romans 11.24
[x] Psalm 68.26
article is reprinted from The Bride of Christ,
Lent-Easter, 1991. The Rev. Dr. Martin J. Heinecken (1902-1998),
Professor of Systematic Theology at the Lutheran Theological Seminary,
Philadelphia, PA (1945-1972), wrote to Pastor Marshall on May 10, 1992,
about this article, saying: “I think your article… is magnifico
and deserves the widest possible distribution. And how thoroughly it is
based on Luther!.... I marvel at your knowledge of Luther’s Works….
What you write about the “baptismal battle” fits well with what I…
have to say… about “spiritual warfare,” as a real battle against
the personified powers of sin, death, and the devil.” In 1984 Dr.
Heinecken received The Joseph A. Sittler Award for Theological
Leadership from Trinity Lutheran
we ruin our baptism? Can we poison our baptism? If not, then how could
Martin Luther write:
has made the repose, ease, and prosperity of this life a very poison and
a hindrance to its work. For in the easy life no one learns to suffer,
to die with gladness, to get rid of sin, and to live in harmony with
baptism. Instead there grows only love of this life and horror of
eternal life, fear of death and unwillingness to blot out sin.
Blessed Martin Luther knew that baptism could be ruined, he was
obligated to tell the church just how it is that we poison this blessed
sacrament. His analysis is strikingly relevant to contemporary American
life. Be that as it may, we are still obligated to understand his
teaching on this for as Lutherans we regard Blessed Martin Luther as our
“most eminent teacher.”
baptism had no regulations, then it might well be impossible to poison
it. Well, we surely know about the water and the Word. Those are
regulations. These days the water is quite constant. The Word, however,
is getting less certain. Pastors are more and more regularly baptizing
in the name of Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier in order to avoid
sexists exclusivity. It has even been proposed by an eminent Lutheran
pastor to baptizer in the name of “the Triune God: Father, Son and
Holy Spirit; Mother, Lover, Friend; Wisdom, Word and Breath of Life.
This makes it look like the regulation instead is water and some word.
Or more exactly, some equivalent of an older word that may or may not
express the same idea. Regardless of this debate and its outcome,
Lutheran have steadfastly affirmed throughout the years that both water
and the specific word, “Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” were needed.
Furthermore, baptism is non-repeatable. Unlike the sacrament of
the Altar, baptism occurs once. Coming to a mature faith years after
baptism is not sufficient reason for wanting to be re-baptized. For as
Blessed Martin again taught, “if a thing is in itself correct, you do
not have to repeat it even though it was not correctly received.” His
reason for this general observation is that “faith does not exist for
the sake of baptism, but baptism for the sake of faith. When faith
comes, baptism is complete. A second baptism is not necessary” (LW 40:246). So if baptism were practiced as a repeatable sacrament
it would be ruined.
Baptism is also regulated by the promises made in baptism. When a
young child is baptized, the sponsors and parents promise “to
faithfully bring her to the services of God’s house, and teach her the
Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, and the Ten Commandments.”
When that baptism is affirmed she will promise to “hear his Word and
share in his supper.”
This means that baptism is not some sort of ancient and esoteric
talisman that works regardless of the attention paid to it. Since,
therefore, that baptism is “for the sake of faith,” baptism requires
faithful attention. Now this “faith comes from what is heard, and what
is heard comes by the preaching of Christ” (Romans 10:17). This is the
favored method because “it puts out the eyes of all wisdom of the
flesh, causing men to know nothing, to be prepared to be taught and led
and to hear promptly and to give in” (LW
25:407). Also, this faith is only alive if we “eat the flesh of the
Son of Man and drink his blood” (John 6:53). This is because “merely
hearing, reading about, reciting, or thinking of these things… is not
enough.” Therefore, “if I wish to be saved, I must attach and bind
myself and my soul to the flesh and blood which died for me.” If I do
not, “I am an apostate Christian at heart” (LW
23:146, 139, 142). So if baptism is not tethered to the assembled
worship of Christians around the Word and Sacrament, it would be ruined.
Also, baptism requires a specific setting that disallows
“baptisms on demand.” If baptism were to be celebrated for anyone,
anytime, anywhere, then it too would be ruined. Therefore baptism is
regulated by the following circumstances:
Candidates for Holy Baptism
are infants born to members of the congregation or those for whom
members assume the responsibility of nurture, and older persons who,
after adequate preparation and instruction, declare their faith in Jesus
Christ and their desire for Baptism.
Baptism should be
celebrated within the chief service of the congregation. When
extraordinary circumstances require Baptism at other times, a public
announcement should be made at the service the Sunday following.
Sponsors should be
It is appropriate to
designate such occasions as the Vigil of Easter, the Day of Pentecost,
All Saints’ Day, and the Baptism of our Lord for the celebration of
Holy Baptism. Baptismal celebrations on these occasions keep Baptism
integrated into the unfolding story of salvation provided by the church
year. Such baptismal celebrations allow full attention to be focused on
the matter of initiation in a way which is impossible when a Baptism is
celebrated every few Sundays.
regulations are regularly dropped. Baptisms are planned to accommodate
visiting relatives and friends rather than the church year. Baptisms are
celebrated on demand as a form of evangelism by ingratiation. Sponsors
are not selected for their discipleship by rather to bestow a familial
honor. And baptisms are celebrated in private to spare the parents or
the baptized the embarrassment of “standing up in front of people.”
None of this is adiaphora. For by dropping these restrictions, baptism
the Baptismal Boat
you might think this talk about what binds baptisms actually is what
ruins them! Or more exactly you might say that Baptism is so divinely
durable that even such inattention as that cited above could never hurt
Baptism. It is holy after all! It is granted by God who is a Mighty
Fortress, after all! Therefore is it not simply wrong to render Holy
Baptism so fragile and disgustingly puny as to allow the baptized to
This complaint comes from what could be called Lutheran
baptismal dependability. It is based on the famous Lutheran
ejaculation: “But I am baptized!” (BC
Around this exclamation, Blessed Martin Luther taught:
appreciate and use Baptism aright, we must draw strength and comfort
from it when our sins or conscience oppress us, and we must retort,
“But I am baptized! And if I am baptized, I have the promise that I
shall be saved and have eternal life, both in soul and body.”
guarantee seems to displace every worry about poisoning or ruining
Baptism. It seems to assert that under any condition of oppression,
Baptism remains vibrant and effective enough to rescue us from doubt and
misgivings with the lasting power of Baptism. This reading, however,
misses the point of the passage. The teaching hinges on the phrase, “I
have the promise…” This means I can always return
to the promise, regardless of what I have done. That baptismal home
is never lost. The baptized can always go home again. But that truth
does not also guarantee that the baptized will never be prodigal.
Blessed Martin grants that point equally certainly. We can and do
“abandon” and “resist” our own baptism (BC
446, 445). When we do, our baptisms are rendered “mere unfruitful
signs” (BC 445).
In order to catch this more profound dialect, Blessed Martin
crafted the image of a sailing ship. We can jump overboard and lose the
ship, but by so doing we do not also sink the ship! We can always return
and board the ship again. This image thereby combines two things: the
guarantee and the risk:
ship does not founder since, as we said, it is God’s ordinance and not
a work of ours. But it does happen that we slip and fall out of the
ship. If anybody does fall out, he should immediately head for the ship
and cling to it until he can climb aboard again and sail on in it as he
has done before. (BC 446).
in order for Baptism to be sturdy, stable and steadfast, it need not be
so in all matters pertaining to it. Luther’s abstract way of making
this same point was with his distinction between the validity and the
benefit of Baptism. By validity Luther means that “misuse does not
destroy the substance” of Baptism (BC
444). And by benefit he means that “the heart must believe it” so
that “you may receive in the water the promised salvation” (BC
441). Therefore the summary follows that “where faith is present with
its fruits, there Baptism is no empty symbol, but the effect accompanies
it; but where faith is lacking, it remains a mere unfruitful sign” (BC
So if we abandon ship we have not lost our Baptism. Instead, when
that happens we have lost our use of it. Does this mean that the
baptized could suffer eternal damnation? Yes, it does certainly mean
that! In a case like that, one indeed, would have been “baptized in
vain” (LW 29:138). If that
were true, baptism would then be only some sort of ancient and esoteric
talisman. But instead of that it is the trustworthy gift and commandment
Because of these distinctions based on Luther’s revision of
else it is but believing in God as the one who has implanted his Word in
this external ordinance and offered it to us so that we may grasp the
treasure it contains? (BC 440).
rolled up in this rhetorical question is the stability and instability
of Holy Baptism! “implanted,” “external ordinance,”
“offered,” “treasure,” and “contains” are all words of
stability and certainty. But “believing… as,” “so that,”
“may” and “grasp” are all words of instability and uncertainty.
To explain away or eliminate one or the other set of words would be to
poison Holy Baptism. By so doing Blessed Martin’s grand image of the
sailing ship would also be destroyed.
therefore, dramatically insists that Baptism is lopsided if it is not
linked to “the third
sacrament.” For “Baptism, both by its power and by its
signification, comprehends also… Penance, which is really nothing else
than Baptism” (BC 445). In
light of current baptismal practice, these words are breathtaking! They
also are upsetting. That is because while we like the childish aura we
have concocted around Baptism, we definitely do not like anything that
has to do with penance or repentance. This is because repentance seem so
violent, demanding, uncompromising, strident, stringent and
Indeed we have it right, for Blessed Martin agrees! “What is
repentance,” after all, “but an earnest attack on the old man and an
entering upon a new life?” (BC
445). In repentance we struggle to “suppress” and “subdue the old
man” (BC 446). Because we
like our old self, with its “take your ease, eat, drink, be merry”
(Luke 12:19), we deeply dislike repentance. In fact, repentance has
become an enemy of the Christian in our time if not also always before.
We also dislike repentance because it trades on the Law of God.
We know that the Law is “employed in its true use when it disciplines,
vexes and saddens Christians constantly as long as they live” (LW
26:341). We, of course, think we could easily do without such life long
vexation! But that would only spell our ruin. For our old self is
nothing but “the presumption of righteousness.” As such it is a
“huge and horrible monster. To break and crush it, God needs a large
and powerful hammer, that is, the Law, which is the hammer of death, the
thunder of hell, and the lightning of divine wrath” (LW 26:310).
If Baptism is not balanced with repentance, then we are deprived
of our baptisms. For “if you live in repentance… you are walking in
Baptism, which not only announced this new life but also produces,
begins and promotes it” (BC
445). Without such repentance we cannot walk in our baptisms and Baptism
becomes unbalanced. Ruin then sets in. “We quickly understand whatever
benefits us, and we grasp with uncommon ease whatever in the Gospel is
mild and gentle. But such pigs… are unworthy to appear in the presence
of the Gospel or have any part of it” (BC
457). We therefore must come to believe that we cannot have Baptism
without Repentance. Any attempts to try to do so will only end in ruin.
therefore, is not some sort of easy chair into which we flop. Dropping
baptismal regulations would indeed make it so, but then God’s voice in
Baptism would not be heard. We would miss the call not to love the world
but to love Christ with an undying love (1 John 2:15, Ephesians 6:24).
We would miss God’s love
which “is not idle, but… continually crucifies the flesh” (LW
27:290). Otherwise we will “love God with a covetous love,” where we
love God only in order to gain “salvation and eternal rest or…
escape from hell, and not for the sake of God Himself” (LW
25:380). Blessed Martin even once said that when this covetous love goes
unopposed we end up loving “God as lice love a tramp; far from being
interested in his welfare,” our “one concern is to feed on him and
suck his blood” (LW 23:30).
Baptism is instead a battle. Therefore, Blessed Martin taught
regarding infant baptism that “it is no joke to take sides against the
devil and not only to drive him away from the little child, but to
burden the child with such a mighty and life-long enemy” (LW
53:102). But think of most of the infant baptism in which you have
participated! Has there been this sort of seriousness and earnestness?
Or has there been joy, smiles, small laughter, and endearing looks? We
indeed, in most cases, reduce the baptismal battle to social
christenings. Thereby we turn the event away from a sacrament and into a
“coming out” party. Infant baptism is the way we introduce our
children to the church community. There is no “taking sides against
the devil,” nor is there any “burdening with a life-long enemy.”
Therefore it is true that we mostly profane Baptism when infants are
Now it is precisely because of this battle that “this cursed
life is nothing but a vale of tears, in which the longer a man lives,
the more sin, wickedness, torment, and sadness he sees and feels” (LW
49:270; 28:122). In our sinful self, of course, we would much rather
“waltz to heaven on velvet cushions and on roads paved with silk” (LW
23:362). We would like to skip over the suffering. However, Blessed
Martin faithfully teaches:
life of a Christian is as hard as if he were walking on a narrow path,
in fact, on nothing but razors. Beneath us in the world is the devil,
who is continually snapping at us with his jaws in order to bring on
impatience, despair, and murmuring against God. In addition, the world
is advancing on us, and it refuses either to yield to us or to let us
pass. And around our neck lies our own flesh. Thus we are hemmed in on
every side…. So if you want to be a Christian, then be one. It will
never be any different. (LW 21:245).
is and must be suffering. To make it into anything else would be to
render it demonic, for it would then “move along softly and
peacefully, just like a serpent slithering along” (LW
23:291). Christians instead are driven into battle by their baptisms
against the world, themselves and the devil. If this is not stressed,
then Baptism is ruined. Then, also, we must rewrite Christianity,
“declaring a God without wrath brought man without sin into a kingdom
without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a
But there is a battle, and it is not simply the listing of
abstract categories. We do battle within ourselves. Our hearts are
“deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupts” (Jeremiah
17:9). Out of it comes “evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder,
adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander,
pride, foolishness” (Mark 7:21-22). Now the Spirit of Christ within us
is “opposed” to all of this corruption and is “against” it
(Galatians 5:17). Nevertheless, it remains true that even if “I
delight in the law of God, in my inmost self…. I see in my members
another law at war with the law of my mind and making me
captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members” (Romans
We also battle with our fellow Christians. We are to “exhort
every day” those who have “drifted away from such a great
salvation” (Hebrews 3:13; 2:1). And we are to “curse” those who
“desert Christ and pervert the gospel of Christ” (Galatians 1:9, 6,
7). Exhorting and cursing are in order because “fierce wolves will
come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves
will arise men speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples
after them” (Acts 20:29-30).
We will do battle as well with the world. “For we are
contending… against the principalities, against the powers, against
the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts
of darkness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). Therefore, we
cannot woodenly follow a superficial reading of Romans 13:1-2 and
require of ourselves to do whatever our government asks of us. Instead,
we should rather follow Blessed Martin’s word that “you will
certainly have to entrust duties to somebody else and take a chance on
him, but you should trust him only as one who might fail you, whom you
must continue to watch with unceasing vigilance” (LW
Then we battle the devil also. The devil is not sitting in hell
but “prowling” after us, “seeking to devour” us. But we are also
told to “resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same
experience of suffering is required of your brotherhood throughout the
world” (1 Peter 5:8-9).
as a Bad Comedian
Battling the devil means little to the church today. That may
well be in part because we do not know exactly what to think
about the devil today. Robert W. Jenson
has provided some help with conceptualizing the devil which may in turn
enable us to wage our baptismal battle with the devil.
First the devil, or “evil as a person,” seems necessary for
the faith. It is not enough just to recognize evil alone. This is
because of a “mere symmetry that seems demanding.” And the symmetry
is this: “If God has humor, as the subject that loves all things, must
not the subjectivity that hates all things have also its humor, and therefore
be understood as person?”
The difference in humor is this: that for God “humor is joyous”
because God “always sees the joke on himself.” However, the
“devil’s humor is always mere wit; he is never truly funny…. He is
a ‘sour spirit,’” for the “devil’s jokes are never on
himself.” That is because, in part, the devil is only a
“parasite-person,” a “sort of negative, mirror-image person.” As
such, the devil is “a sort of universal hatred,” because as “a
disembodied spirit,” he has no “object to give to others, or to see
Now “as society or my friend or my own inner voice suggests
evil,… I am tempted because there is really no one there to respond
to, no identifiable enemy to arouse my suspicions, with whom to discuss
or argue the suggestion.” So the devil has power on us as the
“contrary sly suggestion.” As such, the devil gives us nothing.
Instead he “can only suck reality into the vacuum at his own heart.”
The way we battle this “contrary sly suggestion” is to
“identity” it. The devil, after all, is “protean in his
emptiness…. Because he has no self of his own,… he speaks always in
the person of someone else.” By uncovering, then, the mistaken
identity, the devil is exposed and rendered “ridiculous” and
This combat is waged through the “struggle” which is called
“theology.” This is because theology “attempts to identify God, to
say who God is, and just so, to unmask Satan.” So the “uncommon
apprehension: is just this: “Theology is the struggle with a
personified liar for the truth.” The test for determining whether it
is God or the devil is this:
the preacher tells me, “You are acceptable just as you are,” on whom
is the joke? If the joke is on me and the speaker, then the preacher’s
voice is God’s voice. But if the joke in on everybody around me, in
that now they can no longer rely upon my good works, then it is that
same bad comedian on the stage again, even is the stage is in the
combat is also waged with death. “Satan’s power of death is the
power to make us be like him. Death left to itself takes my self from
me…. To be a mere subjectivity hanging around watching the rest of
you, with no way to be there for you, would only increase the
torment.” We fight this threat through “Christ’s resurrection,”
for now “our life, despite death, is with him whose wounds we will
touch and whose bread we already share.” But that “contest
continues, for we who are one body with him must each enter that battle
of wits that is death and be brought through it.”
We, therefore, can battle with the devil by clinging to
Christ’s resurrection in our own struggles with death, as well as by
theologically clarifying the differences between God and the devil.
By Conflict Avoidance
does all of this mean fore the church today? One thing it can mean is
that the ELCA’s plan for renewal through “
But such a plan, in the place of “
Martin Luther, Luther’s
Works, 55 vols (St. Louis, MO and Philadelphia, PA: Concordia
and Fortress, 1955-1986) 35:36. Hereafter all references to this
work will be included in the text, listed as LW.
The Book of
Barbara K. Lundblad, “Baptizing in the Name....,” Word
& World 9 (Fall 1989) 384.
Lutheran Book of Worship (
LBW, p. 201.
LBW: Minister’s Desk Edition
See also Martin E. Marty, Baptism (Fortress, 1962) p. 63.
H. Richard Niebuhr, The
Robert W. Jenson, “The Evil as Person,” Lutheran
Theological Seminary Bulletin 69 (Winter 1989) 33-42. All the
quoted material in the next four paragraphs is from this article.
Gibson Winter, The Suburban
Captivity of the Church (New York: Macmillan Paperback, 1966) p.