Proposed Catechism Explanation Revision: Baptism

20161006_143222_resizedThe following review of the proposed Catechism explanation of Baptism includes both positive and negative critiques. I will not give them in any particular order. Instead I will try to follow the order of what is in the actual text of the proposed explanation. I will begin with a positive critique. In the previous explanations to the Catechism (1912, 1943, 1991) the section on Baptism is preceded or begins with an explanation of what a sacrament is. I find it helpful that the most recent edition places the definition of a sacrament after the sacraments are each explained. It is more useful for the purposes of teaching what a sacrament is to teach first what the sacraments are. Each sacrament has its own unique command and character. It is therefore commendable that our new edition begins with identifying what baptism is first.

The new edition follows the pattern of the 1943 and 1991 editions by asking next what it means to baptize. The 1912 edition was a bit different. It asks, “Why is baptism not simple water only?” One can see the benefit in proceeding the way the 1912 edition does, since it follows the outline set forth in the actual Small Catechism. The 1912 edition asks the broad question about what a baptism is later on after the question, “Who is to administer baptism?” However, asking the broad question about what it means to baptize does serve as a segue into the question about Baptism not being simple water. It might serve our purposes well, however, if we go back to the wording, “Why is baptism not simple water only?” The 1991 edition asks, “What is so special about the water of baptism?” and the present edition asks, “What is different about the water of baptism?” Simply asking, “Why is baptism not simple water only?” sticks with the pattern of words in the text of the Small Catechism.

I very much appreciate the updated answer to “What does it mean to baptize ‘in the name of the Father etc.’?” It quotes Luther’s Large Catechism, showing the continuity between the Small and the Large. God puts his name on us (LC IV:10). This explains it in a simple way in the spirit of Luther.

It is also very commendable that the present edition directs the reader to page 1023 of the LSB for an emergency baptism.

In dealing with the question concerning those who are to be baptized, the proposed explanation first identifies Christ’s institution and affirms that all nations should be baptized, sticking with the order of the previous editions. Also, while the previous editions then ask if all men are to be baptized without distinction while proceeding to talk about adults and infants, the present edition deals with infant baptism immediately after affirming the institution that all nations should be baptized. I can see the value in this; however, explaining that babies are able to believe might be better to treat under “The Blessings of Baptism.” It could be treated after “Where are the blessings of Baptism received?” Here we can talk about faith, how faith is created, and how it receives the blessings in baptism. Or else, the issue of the faith of infants can be treated under the power of baptism. This way we can treat the baptism of infants first according to the command to baptize after the question about the connection between baptism and instruction.

The 1943 edition has a great answer regarding the baptism of infants: “Little children should be baptized when they are brought to Baptism by those who have authority over them. 622 Ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath, but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Eph. 6:4. (Emphases original)” It would be beneficial to elaborate on what this authority is. It begins with fathers. If fathers are not available, then the authority is to the mother. If mothers are not available then we might consider grandparents, that is, if the grandparents are in a position to exercise such authority. The 1991 edition takes out the mention of authority and specifically of fathers. This is disappointing, especially since we are in a time when it is more important than ever to affirm the authority of fathers as the heads of their homes anytime we can. It is after this that we can treat the reasons for infants to be baptized.

The 1943 edition takes this opportunity to discuss the gift of faith given to infants in baptism. Again, this order could be retained, or the faith of infants could be treated under the blessings or power of baptism, as suggested above.

The only time that the sedes doctrinae in Mark 16:16 is mentioned is this statement: “Read Mark 16:16 and note how this is consistent with the teaching of Jesus and the entire Bible even though this verse does not appear in the oldest New Testament manuscripts.” I understand that many versions of the Bible point out that this isn’t in the earliest known manuscripts, but is it really necessary to mention this here? I appreciate the intention to prepare our students for possible textual questions. But I wonder if it is really necessary to discuss that detail here. It isn’t like this is the Johannine comma (1 John 5:7), which has virtually no support from existing manuscripts. Again, I appreciate the intention, but I do not see why this text cannot simply be used without any qualification. Mark 16:16 is used by Luther in the Small Catechism to teach the blessings of baptism as well as a segue into the next question, which makes the connection between baptism and faith: “…but the word of God in and with the water does these things, along with the faith which trusts this word of God in the water (emphasis added). The Scriptural passages given under the question, “To whom does Baptism give these blessings?” includes Acts 2:39, which teaches faith as God calling people to himself. It also includes Acts 16:25-34, the account of the jailer and his family. These are good passages to include, and I commend the editors for showing how this is taught in Scripture. However, it would serve our purposes much better to include Mark 16:16 before Acts 2 and 16.

The connection between faith and baptism is also treated in the question under the power of baptism, “Is a Christian’s faith in Baptism or in Jesus?” We can point out in the answer to this that the object of “believe” in Mark 16:16 is baptism. This otherwise is a very good question to ask, and it is answered well that “Baptism or Jesus” is a false dichotomy.

The 1912 edition answers the question, “How is the new man to come forth and arise?” as follows: “As we from day to day walk and grow before God in true faith and good works.” The 1943 edition answers as follows: “The new man comes forth and arises as we daily overcome sin and live in true godliness.” The 1943 answer is clearer, since it emphasizes the fact that not only do we grow in good works or godliness, but we overcome sin. The 1991 edition returned to the wording of the 1912 edition. The proposed edition does not ask this exact question. It includes a question on how the old Adam and new man interact. This is a good question to ask and answer. The answer says that they are in an ongoing life and death struggle with each other. This is a helpful answer, since it sets the stage for the spiritual battle. The previous question concerning how the new man emerges seems to be treated in the next question and answer:

How does Baptism picture what the Christian’s daily life should look like?
In the waters of Baptism we have been buried and raised with Christ. Therefore we should continually resist every impulse of the old Adam until he is drowned once and for all when we die. At the same time we should continually give free reign to the new man until he rises in final victory on the last day.

The old Adam will be drowned once and for all when we die. This is an important point to make, since it shows the eschatological nature of the baptismal life. However, we should be more explicit about the daily drowning of the old Adam, and the daily overcoming of the old Adam by the new man who grows in godliness, or good works. I understand and appreciate portraying the ongoing struggle against the old Adam, not giving the impression that we are ever completely free from his tyranny in this life before we die. But some people might misunderstand the ultimate drowning in death to mean that one can be overcome by sin now and still retain the present hope of the resurrection on the last day. Just because one is struggling with sin doesn’t mean that he is overcoming it. Impenitent sinners often still struggle with a guilty conscience, even after they have been overcome. I am sure that it is not the intention of the editors to give the impression that those living in open sin can still have the new man, since the new man is to be given “free reign.” However, there are, unfortunately, many misunderstandings on this among our pastors and laity. So while we emphasize the constant struggle against and reality of our sinful nature and desires, we would do well to use the wording of the 1943 edition mentioned above.

My final comment is on the use of hymns at the end of each section. This is fantastic, completely in the spirit of the purpose of hymnody being catechetical. The hymns are as follows: “Baptized into Your Name Most Holy (LSB 590),” “All Who Believe and Are Baptized (LSB 601),” “To Jordan Came the Christ our Lord (LSB 406),” and “All Christians Who Have Been Baptized (LSB 596).” These are all great Lutheran hymns, and I will likely utilize them in my own classes.

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