Baptism: Common Questions Answered, Part 1

Introduction

You hear questions about Baptism. You have your own questions. Many of these questions are common and are asked repeatedly.

Many of these questions also are classic. They have been asked for centuries.

Dr. Martin Luther answered these questions in sermons to the people. Because the questions are classic, and not just contemporary, it turns out Luther already answered the common contemporary questions. His sermons speak for today and they answer you in your own questioning.

To bring Luther’s help to our day and to English readers, Concordia Publishing House published a priceless resource in 2018, Martin Luther on Holy Baptism: Sermons to the People (1525-30). This volume gives you a set of Luther’s choice sermons on Baptism selected by editor Benjamin T. G. Mayes. The book contains an address to Christian readers, an introduction, study questions, index of persons and groups, and a Scripture index. It is a trim volume of only 117 pages. That is a light amount suited to everyone.

For my own use, I am reading this book for a third time and, this time, taking notes. I decided to share these with you in case they might benefit you or draw you to read the sermons for yourself.

The first sermon gets straight into the questions as you can see even from its title, “Infant Baptism and Faith That Is Not One’s Own (1525).” Here are my notes on this sermon. As I go along, taking notes on what others and Luther say, every so often, I set out a proposition derived from the material which, in effect, answer a series of sub-questions under the main question of the sermon.

Text

The text for this sermon was Matthew 8:1-13. This text relates two healings.  The second is of the centurion’s servant, vv. 5-13.

Now when Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, pleading with Him, saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, dreadfully tormented.” And Jesus said to him, “I will come and heal him.” The centurion answered and said, “Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof. But only speak a word, and my servant will be healed. “For I also am a man under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard it, He marveled, and said to those who followed, “Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel! “And I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. “But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go your way; and as you have believed, so let it be done for you.” And his servant was healed that same hour.

Notes

Many are concerned, especially for the sake of young children, whom people think are saved in Baptism not through their own but through another person’s faith. In the text, the servant became healthy not through his own faith but through the faith of his master.

Proposition 1

No one is saved by another person’s faith or righteousness, but through his own.

Mark 16:16, Romans 1:17, John 3:16, John 3:18.

Each must believe for himself.

If something is brought up which seems to be against this and which you do not know how to answer, you should confess that you do not understand it and leave it to God, rather than admit something against these clear passages.

Question 1

Where the young children remain who do not yet have reasoning abilities and cannot believe for themselves.

Romans 10:17. Some say young children neither hear nor understand God’s Word, and therefore they cannot have their own faith.

The Sophists invented this answer: Young children are baptized without their own faith, on the faith of the Church, which the sponsors confess at the Baptism.

But if you ask them for the basis of this answer and where this in in Scripture, it is found up a dark chimney or they point to their cardinal’s hat.

Others say young children receive grace and forgiveness without any faith only from the might and power of Baptism. That is why they ascribe the same thing to Baptism for adults. They have rooted out Christian faith and make it unnecessary. With this view of the Sacraments, they establish only their own works.

The Waldensians correctly say each one must receive Baptism with his own faith. But then they err when the go on to say children cannot have faith, but they are baptized on the basis of their future faith.

Proposition 2

Young children are not baptized on the faith of the Church, the parents, or the sponsors.

Proposition 3

Young children are not baptized on the basis of their future faith when they will think for themselves.

Proposition 4

Faith must be present before or in Baptism, otherwise the child is not freed from the devil and sins.

Some divide the kingdom of God into three parts: the Christian Church; eternal life; and the Gospel. Then they say children are baptized into the kingdom of heaven in the third and first ways, that is, they are baptized not to be saved or to have forgiveness of sins, but they are received into Christendom and brought to the Gospel. This does not help. Even heathens can come among Christians and hear the Gospel, but without faith they have not entered the kingdom of God in any sense.

Proposition 5

Being in the kingdom of heaven means that I am a living member of Christendom, and not only hear the Gospel but believe it.

There is only one Baptism, Ephesians 4:5, and Baptism saves, 1 Peter 3:21. We do not have two Baptisms, one for children and one for adults, nor properly do we have any Baptism that does not save.

Proposition 6

Baptism does and gives to children what it does and gives to adults.

Proposition 7

In Baptism, young children themselves believe and have their own faith, which God works in them when the sponsors intercede for them and bring them into the faith of the Christian Church.

Just here is where Luther makes the application of the text about the centurion’s servant. This centurion was not healed of the paralysis of his servant, but he acquired having his servant obtain health. The faith of sponsors and the Church gains for young children their own faith in which they are baptized and believe for themselves. In a broad way, and not making an analogy walk on all fours, the parents and sponsor are like the centurion, and the infant being baptized is like the centurion’s servant.

Jesus said of little children, “To such belongs the kingdom of God.” Matthew 19:14; Mark 10:14; Luke 18:16. Luke calls them “infants.” Luke 18;15. “Whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Mark 16:16.  Infants in the kingdom of God are not without their own faith.

Jesus blessed the infants. What was this blessing, if it left them in their sins, even while He said the kingdom of heaven belongs to them?

Proposition 8

The revelation by Jesus that the kingdom of God belongs to infants reveals also that infants can believe.

Jesus “He took them up in His arms, laid His hands on them, and blessed them.” Mark 10:16 “He is just as present in Baptism now as He was then.” [p. 8]

The little children are brought to Baptism by the faith and work of another; but when they get there and the priest or baptizer deals with them in Christ’s place, then He blesses them and gives them faith and the kingdom of heaven, for the priest’s word and deed are the word and work of Christ Himself. [p. 9]

Proposition 9

In Baptism Jesus is present, touches little children, blesses them, giving them faith and the kingdom of heaven.

They say that children do not believe because they have not yet begun to reason and cannot hear God’s Word. But, is it not reason which most strongly opposes the Word of God. “We must die to reason and become fools, as unreasonable and unwise as a little child, before we believe and receive God’s grace.” [p. 9] Matthew 18:3. Jesus gave the kingdom to infants in his arms without reason but with faith. “Just because they are without reason and foolish, they are better adapted to faith than adults and the wise.” [p. 10]

Proposition 10

To have faith, we must become like little children, not like reasoning adults.

Proposition 11

Jesus commands that we bring little children to him.

 

About T. R. Halvorson

T. R. Halvorson was born in Sidney, Montana on July 14, 1953, baptized at Pella Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sidney, Montana on November 8, 1953, and confirmed at First Lutheran Church in Williston, North Dakota in 1968. He and his wife, Marilyn, are members of Trinity Lutheran Church (LCMS) in Sidney, Montana. They have three sons and six grandchildren. T. R. farms at Wildrose, North Dakota, and is Deputy County Attorney in Sidney, Montana. He has been a computer programmer; and an author, conference speaker, instructor, and consultant to industry in online legal information. He is among the authors of the religion column in the Sidney Herald at Sidney, Montana. He is the Editor of LutheranCatechism.com.

Comments

Baptism: Common Questions Answered, Part 1 — 4 Comments

  1. Thank you for this. It’s been hard to argue with credo-baptists at times when they insist that a newborn can’t have faith, but once again, that places faith within the boundaries of works that we do to please God.
    Thank youfora well articulated article.u

  2. Question 1.
    Could we say that young children who do not yet have reasoning abilities, cannot disbelieve for themselves?

    Could we say, against the Waldensians, that young children have nothing but faith, and are baptized despite their future faithlessness?

  3. St. Stephen, those are interesting concepts. If I understand correctly, you are suggesting that since the Holy Spirit instills faith in an infant’s heart and they are no more able to disbelieve than they are to believe on their own, faith remains unless or until they develop reasoning and reject that faith.

  4. @St. Stephen #2

    Excellent questions.

    To your first question, I think not. We are conceived in sin. We inherit original sin. This tangles us up in the bondage of the will. The bondage of the will does not mean we do not have wills. We have wills, but as to spiritual righteousness, they are bound to sin. So, because of our sin nature, we have the power of will to disbelieve, but we have no power of our own to believe.

    To your second question, unbelief is sin, and by original sin, we could not say that young children have nothing but faith.

    One of the most brilliant piece of writing outside of Scripture ever in the history of the world is Article II of the Formula of Concord. It clears up in a simple and scriptural way many issues surrounding the will.

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