Most of us are aware that within Christianity there are two very different views of Baptism. We as Lutherans along with the Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Presbyterian, and Methodist churches, believe Baptism is a Sacrament–a means of grace. In short, we believe through Baptism God unites us to Christ Jesus (Romans 6:3-4), and establishes a Covenant with us where we receive the forgiveness of sins and everlasting life (I Peter 3:18-22 & Colossians 2:11-2). As such we give the gift of Baptism to both infants and adults. However, “believer Baptism” Christians which include Baptist, Pentecostal. and Non-denominational churches, reject this Sacramental understanding of Baptism and hold that a person must first come to faith and make a commitment to Christ and then be baptized. Baptism is not so much God’s action as our act of obedience to Christ and is only symbolic. When we hear in Mark 16:16 “the one who believes and is baptized will be saved” they take that to mean “the one who believes and then is baptized.” Moreover, believer Baptism churches also hold that one must be immersed in the water for Baptism to be legit. This “believer Baptism” position was almost never championed until after the start of the Reformation 500 hundred years ago and was advanced by more radical reformers than Luther. In other words, Christianity has had to live with these differing views of Baptism now for about 500 years. My pastoral concern and reason for writing this blog is that often I hear from my flock that either another Christian they know has questioned their salvation because they have not been Baptized as an adult immersion style or their children or grandchildren are now attending a believer Baptism church and chose to be re-baptized or actually to be more in line with their thinking – really baptized. What do we do in the face of these challenges? First, we really need to be versed not only in what we believe but also the Biblical basis for our belief. Here is a link to the a short tract on the Biblical basis for Infant Baptism and for seeing Baptism as a Sacrament (Infant Baptism: Is it biblical?). Also you might want to check my YouTube talks on Baptism. We need to be able to make a gracious, non-anxious, non-demeaning defense for our position. To be frank, one reason “believer Baptism” churches are growing is that they are better schooled and more passionate about their beliefs than we are. If Lutherans don’t want to be completely gone from the Christian landscape in this country in another 20 years, we had better learn how to articulate what we believe. I would hope each of us could say to our friends and family members who are getting re-baptized (If of course they were open to conversation) something like: “I appreciate your decision to be baptized as an adult and am glad you are again committing your life to Christ. I’m over joyed that you believe in Jesus as your Lord and Savior and you want to show it. I want to give you my wholehearted support in your faith. Yet, I also want you to know that I believe that in your first Baptism God chose you and claimed you as his child.” You might even want to quote Jesus in John 15:16, “You did not chose me, I chose you.” To those who question your salvation, you might want to remind them of Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:1 about Judging others and say something like, “Thank you for your concern for me. I can assure you that I am in Christ and that God’s grace and mercy in Christ Jesus is the foundation for my life. I believe the basis for my faith is not my will or choice but God’s action which I received first in Baptism and I receive daily as I remember my baptism and trust in Christ as my savior and Lord.”
The unfortunate truth is that in the battle over Baptism, arrows have flown both ways over these 500 hundred years. “Believer Baptism” Christians are indeed Christians–brothers and sisters in Christ and I’m thankful for their work and for how they are proclaiming the Gospel, often in ways that reach people we don’t. I’ll even say that I think you can make a case for believers Baptism from the New Testament even though I disagree with it. How do we live with this difference in Baptism? First and foremost, I would say we live with it with humility and graciousness. No arrows and no condemnation please, even when arrows are coming our way. Yet, I would also plead that we know how to make the case for our belief or at least know where to point someone who is wrestling with this issue. We need to lovingly make our stand that our faith is not the result of our choice but God’s action in Christ — graciously given to us in Baptism and received in faith. Amen.