Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Psalm 51:5 (Romans 6:3-4) - “Clinging to the Grace of Baptism”

Lenten Midweek
Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Redeemer Lutheran Church window
Let’s start off by settling one of the questions that comes up about baptism: is it holy water? Here’s the pitcher we use to fill up the baptismal font, (leaving sanctuary and going to the sacristy) and when there’s a baptism in a service, we ask one of the ushers to fill up the baptismal font with water. The usher takes the pitcher back to the sink in the Altar Guild room. He or she fills up the pitcher with warm water—warm water from the sink, a regular sink with regular pipes. It’s city water, the same water we have throughout the building, the same water you have at home if you live in Manitowoc, and the same water they’ll have in Green Bay soon.

(re-entering sanctuary, putting water in baptismal font) So while there’s not a baptism tonight, as we start this sermon about baptism, I wanted you to know that the water isn’t special, holy, blessed, from a special place, or anything like that. It’s not the water that makes it a baptism; it’s the Word of God. And the Word of God is what we need to keep in mind when trying to ask other questions about baptism, too.

Before we try to answer any more questions, there’s some passages from Scripture that we need to keep in mind. You’ve got them printed out on the insert in tonight’s bulletin. First of all, Psalm 51 verse 5, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” To answer some questions about baptism, it’ll be important to remember that Scripture tells us that we’ve been sinful since before we were born. Jesus is the only human who has been born without sin. All of the rest of us are sinful simply because of being human, of being connected back to Adam and Eve. We have the corruption, infection, disease of sin.

Secondly, Paul writes in Romans chapter 6, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” One of the results or signs of sin is death. The consequence for being conceived in sin is that we all will die. None of us can say that we are immortal on our own.

And then the third passage to keep in mind as we talk about baptism is also from Romans chapter 6: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” Baptism changes our relationship to sin and death. Baptism connects us with Jesus, gives us life after death, conquers our sinfulness.

As we keep those passages in mind tonight as we look at questions about baptism, we also take a look at Article 9 from the Augsburg Confession which is about baptism. There the early Lutherans wrote about what they believed about baptism and what they rejected. It says,

Concerning baptism [Lutherans] teach that it is necessary for salvation, that the grace of God is offered through baptism, and that children should be baptized. They are received into the grace of God when they are offered to God through baptism.

Rejected are the Anabaptists (re-baptizers) who disapprove of the baptism of children and assert that children are saved without baptism.

Another way of saying that baptism offers the grace of God is to say that baptism offers the GIFT of God. The gift is salvation through Jesus Christ. This is a gift whether we’re children or adults.

The early Lutherans rejected those who said that anyone who was baptized as an infant needs to be baptized again as an adult. The Anabaptists, or re-baptizers, claimed that a baptism is only valid if the person chooses to be baptized. That discussion between the early Lutherans and the Anabaptists back in 1530 might sound very similar to discussions you’ve had with Christians from other denominations, and that leads us right into the next question you asked about baptism: DO INFANTS NEED TO BE BAPTIZED?

In order to answer that question, let’s ask some other questions, and the passages I’ve asked you to keep in mind will help us sort out God’s answers from our own logical answers.

The first thing to consider is “when did sin corrupt our souls?” Remembering Psalm 51, we learn from God that we’ve been sinful since we were in the womb. There has never been a time when we were innocent. I know that lots of people say to me, “How can you say that this little infant is sinful? That’s so mean. The infant doesn’t know any better.”

Yet, that takes us to the next question, “Who isn’t subject to death?” Here again we’d have to say that ever since we were conceived, there’s been the possibility of our death. Children die while still in the womb: from stillbirths and unexplained reasons, from abortion, from injuries to the mother. Children die immediately after being born. Children die when just a few weeks old. If the wages of sin, if the consequence of sin is death, then the death of children—before or after birth—shows that there’s not a time when we aren’t sinful. If infants weren’t sinful, then they wouldn’t die.

So DO INFANTS NEED TO BAPTIZED? So far we’ve figured out that infants are sinful—shown in the fact that they may die. But then the next question that we have to answer is that some Christians will ask: what about the “age of accountability?” Some churches teach that infants and small children don’t need to be baptized, because they do not yet know the difference between right and wrong. I found a definition of the “age of accountability” on one Website which says, “The age of accountability is when one understands, is capable of believing, repenting, confessing Jesus’ deity, and being baptized.” That sounds logical—a child shouldn’t need baptism to be saved from their sins if they don’t know they’re sinful.

However, go to the next question: “Will we ever reach an age of accountability fitting this description?” In other words, will any of us no matter how old we are ever truly understand Jesus, truly believe with all our heart, fully repent of our sins, and completely say with every part of our soul that Jesus is God. According to 1 Corinthians chapter 2, “The natural person [in other words, the human on his or her own] does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” On our own without the Holy Spirit, you and I would never come to the age of accountability. We will never be able to understand our sin and confess that Jesus saves us.

That description of the age of accountability, that’s not something you and I will reach on our own, so then the next question is on the back of your insert: “Is this understanding and faith revealed to us by age, training, or the Holy Spirit?” From Ephesians chapter 1, it’s clear that it comes through the Holy Spirit alone: “I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him.” God will reveal His wisdom to you. God will give you understanding, will cause us to repent, confess our sins, turn away from our wickedness. God will put faith in your heart.

Which leads us back to the original question: DO INFANTS NEED BAPTISM? Well, clearly, Scripture says we’re sinful from the beginning, so yes, infants need to be forgiven and saved from their sins. And yes, logically, it seems like infants can’t understand anything, so how can we say they can be baptized and believe in Jesus? Except that’s the thing: none of us can believe in Jesus on our own. We need God’s Holy Spirit in our hearts. Baptism works in the Holy Spirit in our hearts, creating faith where there was none. Faith doesn’t come through age or training; it comes through the work of the Holy Spirit—no matter how old we are. It is the gift of God.

Before moving onto another question, let’s just ask one more question in this area: If we teach that children aren’t accountable for their sins,
then they don’t need Jesus. It sounds so logical to say that since children don’t know right from wrong that we can’t hold them accountable for their sins. Except that if children aren’t responsible for their sins, then logically we’d also have to say that children don’t need to be forgiven, and then they don’t need Jesus. I don’t like where that logic leads us, because we know from Scripture that no one can be saved without Jesus.

So this is a reminder when dealing with tough questions about baptism or other theological issues, cling to grace, cling to God’s gift of salvation in Jesus, cling to God’s Word, and don’t cling to logic. Logic, our own minds, will play tricks on us, so we need to cling to what God says.
Clinging to grace is exactly what Pastor Don Matzat talks about in his article about infant baptism from the Issues, Etc. journal. You’ve got a short section from the article on your insert.

[For opponents of infant Baptism,]the issue is, “Is that all they have to do is be baptized?” The focus is always on what the person is doing or not doing and never on what God is doing and able to do.

I knew a young couple who had affiliated with a Lutheran Church but did not embrace the practice of infant Baptism. They were both products of the “Jesus Movement” in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s and had been baptized in a river. After seriously studying the issue under the guidance of their pastor and especially reading the infant Baptism defense in The Book of Concord, they changed their minds and had their three children baptized. The father explained his change of mind by saying, “We thought we were saved by faith through grace rather than by grace through faith. According to the Bible, grace precedes faith. Therefore, we brought our children under the grace of God.”

This couple thought they were saved by their action of faith, which logically meant that their children shouldn’t be baptized until the children were able to take that same action of faith. In learning about God’s grace, though, they realized that Jesus saves us through His action, through grace, through a gift of God. If our teaching about baptism doesn’t emphasize grace, then we’ve changed the message of Scripture.

Now, though, we must move onto one of the toughest questions you asked about baptism: WHAT IF AN UNBORN CHILD OR INFANT DIES WITHOUT BAPTISM?

There’s a reason that your insert is blank under that question—God’s Word doesn’t have an answer. Nowhere in Scripture does it directly say what happens in the cases of stillborns, abortions, or children who die before they are baptized.

So besides a blank space on the page, what can we say in the case of children who die without being baptized? All I really say is “I don’t know.” Scripture doesn’t really give us an answer.

However, we cling to God’s grace. I will say to God, “Lord, this wasn’t how you meant for things to be. You meant for us to live with you. I trust in you, God. I trust in your unfailing love and your mercy. I trust in your heart of hearts that you didn’t want to be separated forever from these children.”

That’s what it means to cling to grace. I don’t know the answer, but I know that God is gracious. That’s what it means to cling to grace in many situations. We don’t know what God will do, but we trust that God is gracious and will show His love.

Finally, I suppose the last question to look at tonight falls under the category of the Rules of Baptism, and here, too, we cling to grace. DO I NEED TO BAPTIZED AGAIN if I was baptized in another denomination? Sometimes people ask this saying they were baptized in another religion. Another religion is a belief in a different god, and what I really think you mean is what if you were baptized in another denomination, a division of Christianity, Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian, or Baptist? No, you don’t need to be baptized again, as long as you were baptized in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. We cling to God’s grace in knowing that baptism doesn’t have its power from the name of the church or the pastor who did it. Baptism has its power in the Word of God.

DO I NEED TO BE BAPTIZED AGAIN if I was baptized as an adult thinking it was my action? No, again, you simply need to cling to God’s grace. Many of us at one time or another wrongly think that we’ve done something to save ourselves through baptism, Confirmation, coming to church, etc., but in that case, it is simply a reminder that you need to return to God’s grace, remembering that your baptism is completely God’s action.

Finally, DO I NEED TO BE BAPTIZED AGAIN if I fell away from the church since I was a child? If you were baptized as a child, spent years away from the church and your faith, and now you’re back, no, you don’t need to be baptized again. It’s not your action, and you don’t need to repeat it. It was God’s action, and His action still has power even if you rejected that power for a time in your life. If you get baptized again, it will seem to be about your action. Instead, realize that it is God’s gift, that God is the One who has brought you back to the faith, and celebrate what God has done in your life.

That’s a lot of different questions to answer about baptism, but I think the best thing to remember while trying to answer these questions or other tough questions about God is that we cling to grace. The joy and hope of Christianity is that God comes to give us the gift of salvation, a gift we can’t earn, a gift that is free of charge. God has come into your lives through baptism to save you.

If you haven’t been baptized yet, you’re still welcome here, because here God has come to give you His Word. He works His Holy Spirit in your hearts, creating faith in you, and hopefully, one day you will be able to be baptized.

No matter what, though, I want all of you to remember that salvation through Jesus is a gift that is offered to us. We cling to God’s grace, because only by grace will we be saved.