Q and A on infant baptism

Another question came in using our “Ask a Pastor” button on the top of the sidebar. We are getting several questions coming in using that method, and we hope it helps other readers who may have similar questions. It’s also good for discussion.

 

Lutherans speak of infant baptism as the very moment in which the child is “saved.” My questions are these:

1. Is it possible for the Holy Spirit, even by the Word, to engender faith in a very young person prior to baptism?

2. Is it possible for a young one to resist the Spirit at baptism, or to fall away shortly after baptism?

In answer to your two questions.

1. Yes.

2. Yes.

 

But these are not, forgive me, good questions because they don’t answer a lot, and they deal in speculation – something that is never profitable when we’re talking about God’s will. Lutherans don’t baptize because they know that babies have faith (if that were true we wouldn’t baptize anybody). Lutherans baptize because Jesus commanded us to baptize and has promised that he will save sinner through baptism. I would really recommend reading Luther’s Large Catechism on baptism on this point. Also find a very good abridged translation of Luther’s Letter to Two Pastors Concerning Rebaptism in Did My Baptism Count? (You can order a book or download a free copy).

Part of the problem Christians in American have in understanding this is because much of Protestantism teaches that the moment of getting saved is when a person either makes a decision or is given the conviction he is saved by the Holy Spirit. It doesn’t matter whether it is decision theology or not, this reliance on something other than God’s external Word still tells a person to look for assurance from his own actions, which can be a decision, a prayer, or the confession that Jesus Christ is Lord.

On the basis of Scripture (Romans 10:17) our Lutheran Confessions reject and condemn the error “that the promise of grace is made our own by faith in the heart, and by the confession which is made with the mouth, and by other virtues.” (Epitome III.22)

We receive the promise of grace through faith, but we may not say that we receive it through the confession of the mouth. I’ve only met one or two people who actually say this, but most people act like it. When we insist that God cannot save someone through baptism unless we have the confession from his mouth we are saying that the promise is received not only by faith but by some other virtue. We are pointing a person away from the promise of the Gospel to his own preparations and works (see Augsburg Confession V.4).

But this shouldn’t lead us down the rabbit hole of saying that God’s Word works mystically without any understanding on our part. The Gospel is an actual message and its content is what saves us. And yet we baptize babies not because we know they understand, but because God says “this promise is to you and to your children” (Acts 2:39) because babies are sinners (Ps. 51:5) in need of the Savior (Romans 3:23); they are a part of all nations of whom the apostles are sent to make disciples; Jesus says, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” (Mark 10:14) This means that God desires to save our children from their sins.

You see, the problem with those who deny infant baptism is that they think they can forecast when the Holy Ghost is coming. They think they can see when a person has faith. But Jesus explicity rejects this way of thinking when he tells Nicodemus that he must be born against by water and the Spirit, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

But what God points us to is his promise, to the washing of water with the Word (Ephesians 5:26), to our rebirth and renewal (Titus 3:5), to our salvation (1 Peter 3:21). He says “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they know me.” He points us to his external Word and promise. That is what we can rely on. The fact that many don’t believe it only shows us more concretely that men are liars and God is true (Romans 4:3). It’s not our job to find out whether a person is saved or not apart from the external promises of God. (See Smalcald Articles, III. VIII,7-13, http://bookofconcord.org/smalcald.php#part3.8.7)

Baptism is the external word. A terrified conscience looks to it for assurance of his rebirth because he knows that that is them means by which the Holy Spirit comes to him. Then he doesn’t need to rest on his own “enthusiasm” or sign of his own making.

With regard to your second question, we don’t teach that a person automatically becomes a Christian at baptism. We can assume that our babies are Christians when the are baptized while at the same time holding to our confession in Augsburg V.1-2, “For through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Ghost is given, who works faith, where and when it pleases God, in them that hear the Gospel.” (1 Sam. 2:6; Exodus 33:19) We confess the faith of the child in the Apostles’ Creed because that is the faith which his baptism gives him, and he is not able to do so on his own.

Finally, since my week old son Isaiah will be baptized this coming Sunday and will be made a Christian, as God’s Word assures me, I hope you don’t mind if I offer for your and other readers’ devotion the hymn below, which I wrote in thanks to University Lutheran Chapel for providing me, a poor pastor, with proper vestments.

Pr. Mark Preus

Tune: Farley Castle (LSB 631)

  1. Baptized into the death of Christ my Lord,
    He washed me with the water and the Word,
    Now I am clean from sin and guilt and blame
    Now all that Christ has done as mine I claim.
  2. Here in this water is the Spirit’s pow’r,
    Here I find free forgiveness every hour,
    Here God Himself has put His holy name,
    Here I can call Him Father without shame.
  3. Let reason search this water – though it try,
    It only sees what meets the mortal eye,
    But faith hears Satan silenced in the flood,
    And finds the grace that Noah found with God.
  4. Here I put on a pure baptismal gown,
    Here Israel lives and Pharaoh’s heart must drown;
    This river’s streams make glad the hearts of them
    Who drink it in the New Jerusalem.
  5. Lord, do not let Old Adam rise again,
    Nor let his love for sinning ever win,
    But drown him daily in this cleansing bath,
    That gives new life in Christ and seals my faith.
  6. So in this solemn, holy sacrament
    I find God’s promise and His covenant,
    Which will preserve me, steadfast in the faith
    Until Christ comes and raises me from death!
  7. Then all the baptized host their song will raise,
    Apostles, prophets, martyrs join to praise:
    To You, O Father, Son and Spirit, be
    All glory now and in eternity!

Mark Amberg Preus, Decemeber 2010

About Pastor Mark Preus

Mark Preus is pastor of St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church and Campus Center in Laramie, WY. He graduated from Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne with an M.Div. in 2008 and then obtained an M.A. in Classics at the University of KS in 2010. He was ordained at Faith Lutheran Church, Wylie, TX in August of 2010. He has been married to Becky since 2005. God has graciously given them two daughters and five sons. Pr. Preus loves to read and write poetry, especially Lutheran hymns, and talk theology with anybody who has an ear to listen. He also likes coffee too much and tobacco too much, as well as microbrew beer. He can also prove with reasonable certainty that Paul Gerhardt wrote most of his hymns while smoking and drinking beer.

You can find more of Pr. Preus's writings at his blog.

Comments

Q and A on infant baptism — 4 Comments

  1. Thanks Mark!

    As a side note, the question and your article closely relate to those unable to be baptised, such as miscarried children. Luther addresses this in his statement “Comfort to women who have had a miscarriage”:

    “First, inasmuch as one cannot and ought not know the hidden judgment of God in such a
    case—why, after every possible care had been taken, God did not allow the child to be born alive and be baptized—these mothers should calm themselves and have faith that God’s will is always better than ours, though it may seem otherwise to us from our human point of view. They should be confident that God is not angry with them or with others who are involved. Rather is this a test to develop patience. We well know that these cases have never been rare since the beginning and that Scripture also cites them as examples, as in Psalm 58 [:8], and St. Paul calls himself an abortivum, a misbirth or one untimely born.

    Second, because the mother is a believing Christian it is to be hoped that her heartfelt cry
    and deep longing to bring her child to be baptized will be accepted by God as an effective prayer. It is true that a Christian in deepest despair does not dare to name, wish, or hope for the help (as it seems to him) which he would wholeheartedly and gladly purchase with his own life were that possible, and in doing so thus find comfort. However, the words of Paul, Romans 8 [:26-27], properly apply here: ‘Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought (that is, as was said above, we dare not express our wishes), rather the Spirit himself intercedes for us mightily with sighs too deep for words. And he who searches the heart knows what is the mind of the Spirit,” etc. Also Ephesians 3 [:20], “Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think.'”

  2. @A_Lady #1
    As one who has lost a child due to miscarriage, thank you for this. When we preach the importance of baptism (as we rightly should) we should always be aware of these types of situations and the comforting word they need to hear.

  3. The first question reflects a concern of mine about what appears to be a common misunderstanding. For example, a recent LCMS church bulletin for a baptismal rite includes language speaking to the parents of the infant: “You now bring him to God’s house that He may bestow His gift of faith onto him, in and through baptism.”

    This conveys that until the child is baptized, he has no faith. But since the Holy Spirit is not so constrained, how can good Lutheran folk help prevent this misunderstanding?

  4. Church is in conflict regarding baptism and Luther’s instruction. Please advise if possible with appropriate reference.

    1. When are we to baptize, at what age…birth – 8 days or up to 90 days for infants?

    2. What did Luther specifically say regarding an infant that was not baptized should that infant die?

    Please provide appropriate reference as to what LUTHER stated regarding these questions.

    Deepest appreciation,

    Dr. Art

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.