This post is Part 1 of a two-part post that is a sort of follow up to my earlier post entitled, “The Necessity of Holy Baptism”. Here I will attempt to put baptism in its proper light as belonging to the age of the resurrection and the significance of that especially in regard to the kingdom of heaven, which is given to children. Part Two will deal with the relationship between hearing and faith and the role of baptism. I tried to do this all in one post, but because I think we must re-order our vantage point in light of Jesus resurrection and ascension, in order to address this, it was simply too much for one post. As it is, this may be too much as well, but oh well. Enjoy.
In my previous post (“The Necessity of Holy Baptism”) I said that holy baptism is necessary for two reasons, though reading back through it I didn’t make so direct a statement. The first reason that holy baptism is necessary is because it is commanded by Christ, just as the preaching of the holy gospel is commanded by Him. This doesn’t make baptism a law, not at all, but teaches that it is the will of Christ and of God that those who believe should be (that is, ought to be as a necessity, not “should” as in it would be good if they were baptized) baptized. It is obligatory by the command of Christ alone. So too is eating and drinking the blessed Sacrament for Christ says, “Take, eat; take, drink; This do.” So holy baptism is necessary based on our Lord’s words to baptize.
Secondly, holy baptism is necessary because of what it does. It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this as is taught in many places throughout the apostolic writings. So because of its benefit baptism is necessary. For the one who is baptized is buried and raised with Christ (Ro. 6:1-6); is clothed with Christ (Gal. 3:27); is purified with a clean conscience (1 Peter 3:21); and so forth. Here is where the troubles arise when we consider baptism and those who die without it, especially the unborn and infants, which I shall come to in a moment. To get there, however, we must begin where we do not usually begin, which is at the beginning.
I would say trouble arise (and will continue to do so) when we consider the unbaptized unborn and infants because we do not approach baptism as it was meant to be approached. Or better put, we rarely approach baptism from the beginning but rather from the end, which is to put the cart before the horse and the result above the cause. I should expect that if we view holy baptism in its proper light under the salvation and will of the Father through the Son in the power of the Holy Spirit, that our concerns about the unborn and those babies and infants who have died without the this blessed sacrament will largely vanish or at least be answered, even though we may continue to fret and worry. I suppose now would be a good time to remind us all that God does not fret and worry; that our heavenly Father is never caught off-guard by someone’s untimely death. He never says, “Dang it, all! I was going to save that person! But now they’re dead, oh well.” There is no such thing as an emergency with God.
So how should we approach holy baptism? How is it that we are approaching it from the end rather than the beginning, and how does this warp what we see?
The way we seem to approach baptism now is as something that has either happened or not happened. That is, we view it from our vantage point, the vantage point of yesterday, today, and tomorrow. And certainly there is great truth in saying that yesterday my child was baptized, and today he is baptized so that tomorrow he may say, “I am baptized.” Truly we live in time and cannot divorce ourselves from it, but it is equally true that the time in which we live is not governed by the sun or moon but is the last hour. In other words we certainly do well to simply assert that baptism is and ever shall be, world without end.
But someone will say that, no, baptism will end when Christ returns. Not quite. Rather when Christ returns baptism will be complete and the baptized will realize the fullness of their baptism. We will still be the baptized (Rev. 7:14). Since in baptism we are united to Christ, baptism will never end.
To realize baptism in proper order we must take note of when holy baptism is instituted and what surrounds its institution.
It may be said that baptism was instituted with St. John the Baptist, and there is no small conversation that goes on about whether or not John’s baptism was in fact as Peter and Paul’s. However, we may consider that when Paul met the disciples in Ephesus (Acts 19:1-10) he asked them if they received the Holy Spirit when they believed. They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit,” to which Paul tellingly responds, “Into what then were you baptized?” For Paul, faith and the Holy Spirit are also baptism, which was apparently not in John’s baptism as he baptized unto repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus (Acts 19:4).
So, no, baptism was not instituted at John’s baptism. It may also be said that it was instituted at Jesus’ baptism, that is, when Jesus was baptized, and this is better, but still not satisfactory. Jesus did not come up out of the water and tell His disciples to start baptizing in His name. Jesus was baptized to fulfill all righteousness; to be counted as a sinner. In His baptism He joined Himself to the sins and repentance of men. The Spirit descended upon Him to bear witness that though He was in the company of sinners and counted among them, nevertheless He came in the Spirit of God to do the will of God. He was now the locus for the Spirit of God.
So when was holy baptism instituted? When Christ our Lord said to His disciples on the Mount of Olives, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:18). Now the apostles of Jesus (Matthew makes a point of saying that it was the Eleven who were given this commission so that it is not the Great Commission but the Apostolic Commission) are commissioned to go forth and make disciples by baptizing all nations and teaching them to obey everything the Lord has commanded. They have done this through their writings. The Apostolic Commission is the institution of baptism and is fulfilled even if it is being completed through the apostolic ministry carried on among the saints.
Baptism was instituted after Jesus was crucified, died, and was buried, after He rose again on the third day, and after He appeared to His disciples and made proofs that He was alive, and just before or at the time when He ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of God. What is the significance of this? Overwhelming.
To give a picture of how overwhelming this is, we must consider who Jesus is. It is not enough to say that He is the Son of God or the Son of Man. It is not enough because that’s not where the scriptures leave it. Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation (Colossians 1:15). That means that not only before Abraham, He was, but also before Adam. Not only according to His divinity – as if we can now separate His divinity from His humanity – but according to His person. That’s why the Jews were so offended when He said, “Before Abraham was, I Am.” He, a man, is claiming to be God. Notice He did not say, “Before Abraham was, I Was in my divine state.” He said, “Before Abraham was, I Am.” The great I AM is Jesus and Jesus is the great I AM. But in a mystery, He is the firstborn of all creation. It is in His image that we are made, and He is the visible image of God so that in the beginning God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” We are in the image of Jesus, not He in the image of Adam.
As such, He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together (Colossians 1:17). This isn’t fancy talk, this is fantastic talk! Jesus is the source of all things and He is the substance of all things. For us who watch the hands of the clock move around its face and mark the days off the calendar, this makes no sense. How can He be before and yet not yet have been? How can a man be born again? How could He have seen Abraham when He was not yet fifty years old (John 8:57)? How can bread be body and wine be blood? You get the picture. The wisdom of God is beyond the wisdom of men, yet it is far superior to the wisdom of men so that it makes men fools.
What this means that He is the firstborn of all creation and He is before all things and in Him all things hold together is that the real point of creation, the real point of existence is not Genesis 1, but the resurrection of Jesus when all things are made new. Paul teaches us that “through [Christ] are all things and through [Him] we exist” (Colossians 8:6). St. John the evangelist confirms this and even precedes Paul when he writes that, “In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God … All things were made through him and without him was not any thing made that was made … and the word became flesh” (John 1:1, 3; 14). Jesus is the locus of all creation and in Him creation is made new so that the creation in the Garden of Genesis is a shadow and type of the new creation in Jesus’ resurrection. It is in His resurrection and by His resurrection, in the establishment of the new creation that He commissions His apostles to go forth and baptize all nations, making disciples.
From this vantage point we see that Christ is the beginning of all things and the end of all things. He is risen from the dead and we live in the age of the resurrection as our life is hidden in His. From now on – from the time when Jesus was risen and ascended – everything is being made new so that creation itself groans as in pains of childbirth, eagerly awaiting the revelation of the sons of God and we, too, wait with eager anticipation for the adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:19-23). There it is, the end of all things: the redemption of our bodies. It is from this vantage point that we properly see and understand the significance and magnificence of holy baptism.
Holy baptism is the waters that cover the whole earth, over which and in which the Spirit of God hovers and dwells. And it is from this water that the sons of God are born, not according to flesh and blood but according to the will and Spirit of God. Holy baptism isn’t a private thing done in little pools of water in this or that congregation, but is truly as Luther taught, a world-wide flood by which all waters are made holy even as Jesus birth and resurrection made all flesh holy, all wombs holy, and all creation holy because everything is made holy by the word of God and prayer. So that those who reject Christ are lost in their sins because they have not believed on the name of the Son of God, not because Jesus did not die for their sins. It is not that Jesus is an option or even the option in trying to know God or be right by God, it is greater than that. It is that in Jesus all things exist. We are not Christians waiting for the end, we are Christians who live in the end because Jesus is the end of all things, which is why He said that He came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 5:17). That doesn’t simply mean He’s going to fulfill the prophecies like Aragorn did in Return of the King, which of course He does, but that the Law and the Prophets find their end in Him. He is the end of the Law (Romans 10:4). This, too, doesn’t mean the Law is no more, but that there is nothing more to be gained by the Law; that the Law no longer leads to anything because He has come.
We live in a new age, in the age of the resurrection. Baptism is of this age, not of the age of the Law and the Prophets. They longed to see this age, to see what we see and hear what we hear, but did not because the One who fills all things had not yet manifested Himself to the world. Now He has, and being lifted up He draws all men to Himself so that no one has an excuse because the gospel has gone out into all the world. And if we think that there is some ancient tribe somewhere that hasn’t heard of Christ, then we are wrong. For creation itself bears witness to Him. Moreover, in Adam all nations had the promised Seed. So, too, in Noah. So, too in Israel that went out from Egypt so that there is no people or tribe on earth who did not at one time know the truth. But they rejected it and do so still so that God might be justified in His words and blameless in His judgment.
So Jesus is the epicenter of humanity; the singular man in humanity. He is truly human, what we will be at the resurrection. He is preeminent in all things (Colossians 1:18) and all things are His, which brings us to infants and children.
The unborn babies and infants are His and He has said that to such belongs the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 19:14). We don’t baptize our infants and babies because they have faith, though they certainly can and do; we baptize them because the kingdom belongs to them and because the promise of the Holy Spirit belong to them (Acts 2:39). We give keys to the owner of the house, so we baptize those to whom the kingdom is given. If they later reject what was once theirs they do not disprove God but prove Him that He is rejected by those He loves and scorned by those for whom He bled. If they die before they are baptized then we are comforted by the promise of Jesus that to them belongs the kingdom of heaven. If this makes us squirm because it sounds like every baby that is conceived is an inheritor of the kingdom won by their Brother, then we need to ask ourselves why we squirm? The kingdom of heaven doesn’t belong to infants and babies and children because of them but because of Him. Moreover, we cannot refuse to baptize the infants and babies because the kingdom already belongs to them, but we bring them to baptism, and so to Jesus, precisely because it does belong to them. Those who are kept from baptism by death or by stupid and unbelieving parents or guardians are not rejected by Christ any more than the Holy Innocents were being punished or rejected by their Brother who was whisked away to Egypt. Rather it is those who prevent the little ones from coming to Jesus who are rebuked, condemned, chastised, and finally cursed with a millstone about their necks (Matthew 18:5; 19:13-15), even as death itself is cursed to be annihilated at the resurrection.
This leaves us wondering, then, at what point does the child cease to be a child? And at this point is the kingdom that belonged to him or her as an infant and child now ripped from him or her? Is this the so-called age of reason? Additionally, what role does faith and hearing play in the lives of the unborn and infants? Difficult questions that I hope to answer or at least explore in Part 2.