What I Like about Lutheran Baptism

By Chaplain Mike

Michael Spencer was a Southern Baptist. A reader recently wrote and asked what I, as a Lutheran, believe about baptism. I thought you might like to have a chance to hear how I responded.

Before I talk about baptism, let me first say that I am a “Lutheran in progress.” Denominationally, I am more accurately a “Post-Evangelical.” And I am still in that wilderness, particularly when it comes to church affiliation. (You can read about that here.)

Nevertheless, we joined a Lutheran church a couple of years ago because: (1) I have always appreciated Martin Luther and his theological emphases such as salvation by grace through faith alone, the theology of the cross vs. the theology of glory, and vocation; (2) Each Lord’s Day, they celebrate the Gospel in the liturgy through Word and Sacrament; (3) We wanted to get off the merry-go-round at the evangelical circus and find a mainline church with historic roots. Of all the mainline churches in our area, we identify most closely with the Lutherans in theology and practice.

Back in February of 2009, I wrote this post on another blog to express my appreciation for what I had been learning about Lutheran baptism. It remains my position at this time.

What I Like about Lutheran Baptism
One issue that I am sure many will ask about with regard to our joining a Lutheran church is, “Yes, but what about baptism?”

The churches I have served all practiced believer’s baptism—we baptized those who professed faith by means of immersion. Baptism was a public testimony of faith in Christ; a sign, a visual demonstration of dying to the old life, and rising to walk in newness of life. Some of the churches theoretically accepted the idea of infant baptism as well, but never performed the rite in public worship. I myself was open to the idea of infant baptism, particularly as it was explained in the reformed tradition.

When we joined the Lutheran church, we didn’t spend much time discussing the subject of baptism, considering it a lesser issue than some of the other ecclesiological matters that drew us there. However, as I have taken part in the congregation and have read and thought about this subject, I have become more and more impressed with the Lutheran understanding.

First, let’s define what Lutherans believe. Here is Luther’s Smaller Catechism on holy baptism…

What is Baptism?
Baptism is not simple water only, but it is the water comprehended in God’s command and connected with God’s Word.

Which is that word of God?
Christ, our Lord, says in the last chapter of Matthew: Go ye into all the world and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

What does Baptism give or profit?
It works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.

Which are such words and promises of God?
Christ, our Lord, says in the last chapter of Mark: He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.

How can water do such great things?
It is not the water indeed that does them, but the word of God which is in and with the water, and faith, which trusts such word of God in the water. For without the word of God the water is simple water and no baptism. But with the word of God it is a baptism, that is, a gracious water of life and a washing of regeneration in the Holy Ghost, as St. Paul says, Titus, chapter three: By the washing of regeneration and renewing the Holy Ghost, which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ, our Savior, that, being justified by His grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a faithful saying.

What does such baptizing with water signify?
It signifies that the old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts, and, again, a new man daily come forth and arise; who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

Where is this written?
St. Paul says Romans, chapter 6: We are buried with Christ by Baptism into death, that, like as He was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

I like the Lutheran view because it understands baptism as God’s act, not a human act. It’s primarily about grace, not faith. It is done to us in God’s name (that is, as an act of God performed by his representative), we do not do it to ourselves. It is not the sign of my response to God, it is the sign and seal of what God has done for me.

I like the Lutheran view because it emphasizes the Word of God. When God’s Word of promise and salvation is spoken at baptism, ordinary water becomes a means of grace to sinners. Lutherans do not emphasize the water apart from the Word, nor do they worry so much about how much water is used, or by what method the water is applied. The key is that the simple, ordinary element of water is combined with the all-important Word of salvation.

I like the Lutheran view because it appropriately broadens our understanding of the Great Commission. Many who argue against baptizing infants appeal to the Book of Acts, where believer’s baptism is the common practice. However, they forget that Acts describes mainly first-generation believers. Lutherans have no problem with baptizing believers who have received the Gospel (nor does any Christian denomination that practices baptism).

What the N.T. does not exemplify so clearly is what should happen with second-generation believers. When does the child of Christian parents start becoming a disciple of Christ? That process begins when the child is born, and therefore it is appropriate to baptize the child and begin teaching him/her to obey what Christ has commanded from the beginning of life.

I like the Lutheran view because it enlightens us about the true nature of faith. In evangelicalism, faith is usually described as my decision, my willful choice to follow Christ. Lutherans understand that faith is more mysterious and often less conscious than that. Infants exemplify this broader understanding.

Does an infant choose to be conceived or born? Does an infant decide to bond in trustful repose upon its mother’s breast? Does the infant intelligently weigh its options and determine to choose life and love? No, the infant’s new life begins solely by the will of others, when they come together in an act of love. Then the incomprehensible life force one day moves the baby to enter the world, breathe, and respond to those who love her. Even so, God, through Word and Sacrament, works faith and spiritual life into those who receive his promise.

I like the Lutheran view because it emphasizes the ongoing significance of baptism. Since evangelicalism views baptism as a one-time initiatory act that communicates a singular message about conversion, those who practice believer’s baptism don’t bring up the subject again in the course of the Christian life. However, Lutherans (following Luther himself) see baptism as an ongoing object lesson of the Christian life that we must remember and reenact every day. We practice our baptism daily by repenting (dying to the old life) and rising to walk in new life.

So hear ye all, and well perceive
What God doth call baptism,
And what a Christian should believe
Who error shuns and schism:
That we should water use, the Lord
Declareth it his pleasure;
Not simple water, but the Word
And Spirit without measure;
He is the true Baptizer.

Hymn XXXIV from “The Hymns of Martin Luther”

91 thoughts on “What I Like about Lutheran Baptism

  1. God just didn’t and would not have allowed Jesus to die a terrible death for something that “you” could lose. Please, don’t diminish the Blood of Jesus. His Blood is saving grace. His death was for a purpose, it was for us All. You can accept it or reject it. You can’t do anything to make God love you more, you can’t do anything to make God love you less. He is God. His ways are not our ways, His thoughts are higher than our thoughts. It is about the Blood of Jesus and what a person decides to do with it, don’t get so caught up in “relegion” that you miss Jesus.


  2. My children were baptized on the same day when we were still Baptists at the ages of six and seven. They were part of a large group of children, including one of the pastor’s kids, who were as young as five. I had taken my eldest the month prior to talk to the pastor about “giving” his heart to Christ. The pastor was impressed by his understanding and the clarity of his answers. He sent my son out of the room so we could talk and told me he thought my son we ready, but that had to be my decision as the parent. What? Further more in a contrast to what I heard weakly as the pleading of the pastor to come forward at the altar call because you never knew if today would be the last day God chose to deal with you, my pastor gave me a booklet and told me to spend a month before having him pray the sinner’s prayer. I am sure you can see a great many theological inconsistencies here. As I went through the book I brought my younger son into the study. It appeared that he demonstrated the same child like faith as the older one only he could not express himself as well. I am convinced that my children who have read their bibles nightly with my wife and I since infancy and have been in church from Sunday number one have possessed the gift of faith from very early on. Perhaps I could not discern it earlier than I did, but it was there worked in their hearts by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God.
    The truth is nothing separates them. Other than believing that children should ask for themselves to be baptized there is very little difference. In fact I would say that most baptistic believers have a more staunch belief in covenant children that do padeobaptists. My pastors attitude regarding his lack of urgency, take a month of bible study before you confirm his faith, seems to indicate an assurance that the child of a believer has more assurance than the person expected to respond to the alter call at an evangelistic meeting.


  3. I wanted to add in one more aspect of Lutheran baptism that I think has not yet been fully discussed: its relationship with the Lutheran understanding of the role of our own will in our salvation. Lutherans believe that we can contribute nothing to our own salvation, as stated in Luther’s explanation of the 3rd article of the Apostle’s Creed: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him. But the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.”

    Thus Lutherans believe we cannot find true assurance of our salvation by something we do, ie. “making a decision for Jesus.” We believe that we must cling to that which is external of our own conscious will, that is, God’s means of giving us His grace, as the only way we can ever (if we’re honest with ourselves) find assurance of our salvation. For who can ever follow even the First Commandment perfectly? Thus we believe that our faith is a response to God’s work in our lives, not the catalyst for God’s work in our lives.

    Anyways, just my two cents.


  4. You make God out to be a tyrant, man a puppet, and Satan’s powers just a bunch of silly parlor tricks.


  5. Matthew, your statement here shows exactly why some people think infant baptism is one of the greatest signs of the grace of God in salvation that we can have in the church.


  6. MAJ –

    Salvation is a supernatural work of God……..

    A dead to sin, dead stone heart is made alive by a miraclous work of God and you think man canjust jump the back fence?


    Rubbish indeed……


  7. The church I attend has the children with us in worship until just before the sermon except on the first Sunday of the month when we push communion up to before the sermon so that the kids can take part. It was a bit of a shock for me the first time, having become accustomed to usual Evangelical practice, but it was also very liberating.

    Kids participate in all aspects of the worship service while they are there. They sing on the worship team, they operate the overheads (with parental supervision), and they take up the offering (try saying no to THAT face, haha).

    btw: I just wanted to say hi to the iMonk community. I have been lurking here for about half a year, but only recently had the guts to start posting. I love it here!


  8. And these are Baptists? Who distinguish themselves from other denominations by insistence on adult credobaptism? And anathemas for paedobaptism?


  9. Rubbish? Who is orphaned out? No, God never gives up on ONE of us, but that doesn’t mean we can’t throw it all away. Even so, like in the Prodigal Son, He is always ready to bring us back.


  10. The funny part to a Catholic is we don’t believe sprinkling is sufficient for baptism, either. Flowing water over the head is hardly sprinkling. Sure, full immersion is a fuller sign, but that’s not really an option with infants, and with year-round baptism of infants and adults in cold climates, and a desire to keep sacraments within the Church walls as much as possible, immersion more or less died in the western church until after Vat. II.


  11. In the Catholic Church Confirmation is not seen an an individual making an a personal confession of faith. The Spirit Confirms us, annoints us, to be bearers of the good news. Something is done in us, through grace. We are not doing something. We are not “confirming that we have faith.” Although some people compare Confirmation to a bar mitshva–that’s innaccurate.

    We confirm our faith when he approach the sacraments of penance and Eucharist.


  12. Mike:

    I think Gene Veith says it best in his book The Spirituality of the Cross:

    “Infant Baptism, in fact, is perhaps the best illustration of justification by faith. …In justification, the human being is purely passive, purely receptive. Salvation, again, is not by works, not by moral effort or by acquiring knowledge or by cultivating a mystical experience.

    Salvation is simply receiving a free gift from God.

    A baby receiving Baptism models that passive reception, which adults constantly struggle against in their zeal to save themselves by their own efforts.”


  13. Matthew,

    If baptism is *only* a symbol of an inward work of regeneration which God has *already done*, why does Paul use the order of words found in Acts 22:16: “Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on His name?”

    By the criteria of Reformed Baptist theology, it seems that Paul has his exhortations out of order in that verse. According to the RB view, wouldn’t it be more consistent for the verse to read, “Call on His name, thereby evidencing that your sins have already been washed away, and then, be baptized, as a symbol of what God has done”?


  14. It’s interesting you should say that because I’ve always found that to be an argument that comes full circle — there’s so much grace invested in it, that the very act itself, regardless of who does it, becomes the means of salvation or something akin to it. That could then be looked at no longer as sovereign grace, but salvation through works. Just something I’ve struggled with as I’ve tried to understand this whole baptism thing.

    That’s why in my previous post I’m more comfortable saying that God “MAY” work saving faith through it, and then again he “MAY NOT.”

    And I really don’t mind if you call my thoughts “rubbish.” I think it’s kind of a funny word. Just don’t do it all in caps like “RUBBISH!” because then we could have problems.



  15. Hey Matthew,

    Send me an email to mike_kim_bell[at]hotmail[dot]com with your email address, and I will send you something on which we can interact.



  16. There are several instances in Scripture of entire families being baptized after one of them became a believer. Children, slaves, everyone.

    More broadly, the Bible is primarily about first-generation believers who obviously could not have been baptized as infants. Because their parents could not have possibly baptized them, how does this turn into a rule against baptizing children? Does the fact that they couldn’t raise their children as Christians mean that Christian Education is invalid?

    I really think a lot of the discomfort over infant baptism is that it really doesn’t coexist well with the “once saved always saved” model, which is what people want — assurance. When Christianity begins as an infant and you have the constant life-long danger of backsliding, it ceases to be something comfortable. It’s a lot more assuring to go with a model where your ticket gets punched and you’re in.


  17. Mick, Those are good questions.

    The practices aren’t the end, but the means. Teaching never ends; there is always more that we can learn (to inform our faith). Confirmation teaches the baptized child “the faith” in an orderly fashion so that they know what Christ has done for them, and that it was given to them in Baptism. They are certainly capable of rejecting it. Those who affirm the teachings are “confirmed”. Then, every Sunday, the creed is a confession of this living faith. And where our faith is lacking, the creed serves to teach us, and helps us to block doubt from getting a foothold. If we don’t express ourselves through a historic creed, hopefully we’re doing it some other way. Faith confesses, one way or another. It confesses what it believes and it confesses it’s sins and remembers that the old has gone and the new has come.


  18. I can understand your love of covenant faith & that your confirmation is when you proclaim your faith. I am not wanting to fight or wins hearts here. I’m trying to show that if done correctly (which both sides often do not), the credo-baptist can have the same (some may even say better 🙂 ) walk in faith of a person raised in the faith. In my Church we have child dedication, than public confession of faith in Jesus, than Believer’s Baptism, Communion. The big difference seems to be “where the water comes into play” as I have heard many former Lutherans say. People have died for this issue, but it has lost much of the frenzy today as most Christians have backed away form “one true church” or “state church” issues. I have read articles about being Mennonite but not Anabaptist, which is becoming more common, in my Church we preach Believer’s Baptism, but do not a make it a requirement for membership due to the pain this issue can cause. For me & most Anabaptist Mennonites it is a issue of conscience ( a very anabaptist sticking point) , if you feel that the Word & Spirit are calling you to EXPERIENCE Baptism in Christ Jesus you should receive it. But I can understand Mike’s, Martha’s & Damaris’ point of view, Hopefully you can all understand mine even if you may not agree —-thanks for the dialog, it been beautiful! —-peace


  19. Dan V,
    Amen brother. I have been saying something very similar to this is discussions I have had with lots of different people. Well said.


  20. I’m a cradle Lutheran, baptized & confirmed LCMS. I’m very thankful for my upbringing, especially the emphasis on the Word of God. But after all that, though I knew a lot about Him, I didn’t know Christ. Lutheran churches I’ve attended emphasize baptism as evidence of right standing with God. Many Lutherans I know have little fruit of a regenerated life, but think they’re okay because they were baptized and attend church.
    I do believe God extends grace to us in baptism, but it’s just one part of the Christian journey, not the end. In other words, I generally agree with Lutheran doctrine on baptism, just not the way it’s often practiced. Similarly, I believe you must confess Jesus Christ as Lord, but praying the “sinners’ prayer” isn’t what brings right standing – knowing Christ is.
    In Matthew 7, at the final judgment, Jesus doesn’t say “Depart from Me – you weren’t baptized” or “Depart from Me – you didn’t pray the sinners’ prayer”. He says, “I never knew you”. Relationship with Him is the key.


  21. I don’t think so. You’ll have kids as young as 4 or 5 getting baptized in some Baptist circles.


  22. “The idea of having to believe that you were baptized because your parents told you that you were is a weird idea to me”

    This is why parish churches keep baptismal registers 😉

    To be serious, if a church or faith community did only this, then yes, you’d have the worst of both worlds. This is why the liturgical churches have the Sacrament of Confirmation. There are three Sacraments of Initiation: Baptism (which we most of us receive as infants), Confirmation (usually between ages twelve to fourteen) and the Eucharist (used to be that you only made your First Communion after being confirmed, but changed by Pope St. Pius X to the age of seven – the age of reason – for, amongst other reasons, to foster the practice of frequent Communion by all the faithful).

    So when you are confirmed, this is your public proclamation of your faith and your understanding of that faith and your acceptance of it. Confirmation completes what was begun in Baptism. The bishop anoints the confirmands with chrism and this is the seal of the Holy Spirit. It’s not symbolic; this is the re-enactment of Pentecost when the Spirit came upon the apostles and you are considered to have genuinely received the Holy Spirit.

    To quote chunks of the Catechism:


    “Baptism, the Eucharist, and the sacrament of Confirmation together constitute the “sacraments of Christian initiation,” whose unity must be safeguarded. It must be explained to the faithful that the reception of the sacrament of Confirmation is necessary for the completion of baptismal grace. For “by the sacrament of Confirmation, [the baptized] are more perfectly bound to the Church and are enriched with a special strength of the Holy Spirit. Hence they are, as true witnesses of Christ, more strictly obliged to spread and defend the faith by word and deed.”

    It is evident from its celebration that the effect of the sacrament of Confirmation is the special outpouring of the Holy Spirit as once granted to the apostles on the day of Pentecost.

    From this fact, Confirmation brings an increase and deepening of baptismal grace:

    – it roots us more deeply in the divine filiation which makes us cry, “Abba! Father!”;
    – it unites us more firmly to Christ;
    – it increases the gifts of the Holy Spirit in us;
    – it renders our bond with the Church more perfect;
    – it gives us a special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross:

    Recall then that you have received the spiritual seal, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of right judgment and courage, the spirit of knowledge and reverence, the spirit of holy fear in God’s presence. Guard what you have received. God the Father has marked you with his sign; Christ the Lord has confirmed you and has placed his pledge, the Spirit, in your hearts.

    Like Baptism which it completes, Confirmation is given only once, for it too imprints on the soul an indelible spiritual mark, the “character,” which is the sign that Jesus Christ has marked a Christian with the seal of his Spirit by clothing him with power from on high so that he may be his witness.

    This “character” perfects the common priesthood of the faithful, received in Baptism, and “the confirmed person receives the power to profess faith in Christ publicly and as it were officially (quasi Ex officio).”

    Okay, leaving aside the heavy theological discussions, I think that part of the disagreement over infant versus believer’s baptism disregards or forgets that things don’t just happen for no reason and that the early Church did not wake up one morning and suddenly start baptising babies on a whim (as all the wrestling with the concept of that much-misunderstood proposal, Limbo, demonstrates). Acts and customs develop for a reason, as a response to a need and from natural growth and development.


  23. And to throw further confusion into the mix, if your confession was made out of fear of judgement, that wasn’t “saving faith” 🙂

    At least not how this Catholic was taught it; we are to worship God neither from fear of punishment (Hell) nor hope of reward (Heaven) but because we were made to know, love and serve Him in this world and to be happy with Him forever in the next. A ‘faith’ that is only ticking off boxes on a list so that you won’t go to Hell isn’t sufficient. Even a ‘faith’ that wants the enjoyment of Heaven isn’t sufficient; it is God Himself that we are to desire, not ‘And I’ll meet all my friends and family and my dog and do all my favourite things and have a great time forever’.

    If you were baptised as a child as a Methodist, using water and the Trinitarian formula, then for Catholic purposes you were baptised properly and can never be re-baptised. That was when you became a “child of God” because in our theology, baptism brings about an ontological change, that is, an ‘indelible mark’ on the soul that does objectively change the recipient. By receiving baptism, you have indeed been saved. You have been incorporated into Christ.

    But this is not a guarantee or a kind of certificate ensuring you will automatically be marching through the Pearly Gates no matter what you do later in life. You can indeed lose your salvation by deliberately throwing it away, or letting it slip away by neglect, or by letting your faith die, or by never developing a saving faith in the first place.

    And that’s true of all of us even if we say “I’m a good person, I’ve always gone to Mass/Confession/Communion, I’ve never done any big sins like murder or theft”. Box-ticking is not saving faith.


  24. What most people can’t stand most about the Sacraments (including infant baptism) is the graciousness of it.

    ‘I had to DO something…so should you.’


    God is a gracious God, who actually ACTS for us.


  25. Agreed. I would add that “remembering” is something we do, not just as isolated persons, but in community. Baptism is not, and should never be viewed as “my” (individualistic) experience alone. Baptism is a family ceremony. Every time I witness another child or new believer being baptized and welcomed into God’s family, I am called to relive my own baptism and God’s gracious acceptance, bringing me into his household to share this wonderful heritage of salvation. We remember together.


  26. Briank — You say you can’t imagine not knowing what being baptised feels like. I was baptised at 6 months, so I don’t remember it. But I grew up hearing stories. I was born in Bangladesh, and although my parents weren’t Anglican, the bishop of Bangladesh at that time was a saintly man and agreed to baptise me. From the time I was a tiny child, I heard about what a beautiful day it was, how happy I was, and how lovely the ceremony was. I loved those stories; they became part of my own heritage. My parents weren’t even Christian, although they liked the convention of church, but somehow they and God gave me this amazing gift. I did nothing to earn it. I did chose, by myself, to be confirmed when I was twelve. That also was a meaningful experience. The baptism showed me God’s grace, given through my parents and my community; my confirmation affirmed my own choice. I have never wanted to be rebaptised.


  27. Matthew,

    You said,’Baptism is an outward sign of an inward conversion.’

    The scriptures never say this…. anywhere.

    The Galatians passage you quoted says we are clothed with Christ, it says nothing about ‘symbolically’ identifying with Christ.

    Colossians refers to a real burial and a real raising, which are God’s work through baptism.

    If the water really does nothing and is just a symbol, why does the amount of water and the mode of application matter at all? Does it represent the symbol better to immerse rather than sprinkle? Is sprinkling such a departure from a literal interpretation that it is invalid? If that’s the case, does this mean you don’t have a valid Lord’s Supper if you use grape juice instead of wine?


  28. incredible point! this is something that has truly convinced me God “graces” those baptized as infants just as he “graces” adults who profess faith. if God’s grace isn’t big enough for those who are unable to “profess” faith, then what hope do we have?


  29. we, as Luther said, “grow into our baptism.” and, as my seminary professor said, “we are all baptized as infants because, no matter the age, none of us truly know what we are getting into when we ‘choose’ to follow Christ.”

    as a matter of specification, do Baptists define the “age of reason” for “believer” baptism?


  30. great testimony, beon. Last Sunday in our church was confirmation Sunday, and those same kids that had been baptized were reminded of that, given opportunity to confess their faith, and celebrated as growing disciples within the congregation. The spirit was simply wonderful.


  31. Hey Matthew!

    As one who is strongly Aminian in theology, I would be happy to exchange ideas on this when commenting on a post that is a little more directly on that topic. I used to believe in eternal security until my study of scripture convinced me otherwise. Not so much “rubbish” and “absurdity” as you might think.


  32. Matthew: Lutherans also baptize believers, and have no objection to immersion, though it is not required.

    One point I made is that Acts describes baptisms of first generation believers. How believers dealt with their children and future generations with regard to baptism is not described in the NT. So, any argument, whether for or against baptizing infants, is an argument from silence.

    The household baptisms in Acts may give evidence of children, even infants, being baptized, but I would not use that as a strong argument.

    I’ve liked Acts 2:39, especially knowing that the Jews who heard this would have understood it in a covenant context. 1Cor 7:14, though it doesn’t mention baptism, indicates that the children of believers have a different status than those born into non-Christian homes. It even calls them “holy.”

    As for baptism being only a symbol, Romans 6:1-4 doesn’t treat it that way. In fact, it states the efficacy of baptism so strongly that most commentators who believe in the mere symbolic nature of baptism have to resort to saying this is the “baptism of the Spirit” here, not water baptism.

    See also Titus 3 which says plainly that we are saved by the “washing of regeneration,” a clear reference to baptism, and 1 Peter 3:21 which says, “baptism saves you.”

    Matthew, I know we could play dueling verses here. I’m not trying to persuade you. I’m just trying to show you that there may be more support for other positions than you allow, and that those of us who have come to other views have not abandoned our Bibles.


  33. There are only two ordinances in the Christian Church—baptism and the Lord’s Supper (Communion). We call these “ordinances” because our Lord directed the church to practice them.

    There is no Scriptural evidence of anyone being baptized in Christ before repenting of sin and trusting in Jesus alone for their salvation. Baptism is an outward sign of an inward conversion. The reality of faith must precede one’s professing faith in baptism. Therefore, infant baptism, or baptism prior to salvation is not Biblical baptism.

    Baptism is a symbol. [See Galatians 3:27 and Colossians 2:12]

    The Greek word for baptism is “baptizo” which generally means “to dip, to plunge under, to

    Read Matthew 3:16; Mark 1:10; Acts 8:38-39 –
    The usual meaning of “into” and “out of” and the fact that John only baptized where he had “much water” [John 3:23] seems to indicate baptism by full immersion.

    Immersion best pictures one’s identification with Christ in his death, burial and resurrection.


  34. Rubbish – to put it short and blunt.

    What are some ‘benefits’ one recieves as having a Father in heaven?

    Sonship is one of them. Being a child of God…….Adoption!

    What an absurdity to think that one can be made a child of God and then be ‘orphaned’ out.

    He who began a good work will finish it.


  35. A wonderful point. Everyone has to deal with the issue of children and those who are unable to make decisions, but in the evangelical churches I’ve been in, the question was conveniently ignored.


  36. We Lutherans do not believe in ‘once saved, always saved’. We can lose our faith. Not because of the Lord…but because we can reject Him. Jesus told us to “be on guard, lest drunkeness, the cares of the day (and something else I forgot) would cause us to lose ourselves.”

    It’s not a one time event (getting saved). It’s a process. St. Paul says, “For those of us who are being saved…”

    God has chosen to save us in baptism (including infant baptism). It’s not the only way, but it certainly is one of the ways…scripture makes that quite clear. “Baptism now saves you also…” (1st Peter)

    For a thousand years (up to Luther’s time ) just about every single Christian that came down the pike, including just about every Reformer if not every one of the Reformers, was baptized as an infant.

    I was baptized as an infant. It really drives me nuts when some people (nobody here) try to convince me that my infant baptism was no good, and that I ought be re-baptized. That is ridiculous and shows no confidence in the Word of God, attached to some water, and given to a person…of any age.

    I’ve rambled enough…time for bed. Thanks, all.


  37. Great post mike!
    not to be all “fair & balanced” on you, but it would be nice to re-post Imonk’s post on credo-baptism ‘Why I Believe In The Baptism of Disciples Alone: A Credobaptist Apologia’ posted in 2006. I had found Imonk post on baptism extremely helpful – he really points out all the mistakes that have been made with the believer’s baptism (multiple adult baptisms, not wanting to baptize mentally handicapped, etc.) but lays out a foundation for believer’s baptism that I think is second to none.
    That being said I have enjoyed your post as well — we in the Mennonite Church have a Infant dedication that is probably very similar to a infant baptism sans water & covenant. We focus more on the fact that the child has entered the family of God & we as a Church will take responsibility in guiding the child in their faith. Baptism is a complicated topic – in my mind the arguements usually come out to a draw in scriptures, & you can find examples of multiple forms of Baptism in Church history. I usally can go about 80% of the way with the covenant idea in infant baptism. but the last 20% i can’t move on.
    to me the real question comes down to is Baptism for the Believer or the Church. I can’t imagine not knowing what being baptized feels like,(proclaiming your desire to be a part of Christ’s body, being welcomed in the community of faith). The idea of having to believe that you were baptized because your parents told you that you were is a weird idea to me, ( do we need to take pictures as proof). I guess we will never be 100% on this topic, but we need to be respectful & kind to all our baptized brothers & sisters early & late bloomers;-). peace


  38. Mike,

    Thanks, my friend. Word order is only ONE of MANY arguments.

    We are ok with “go, make disciples…” How do you make disciples? Baptize and teach…

    Nevertheless…the text puts baptism first.


  39. Hi Steve,

    While I like your grace before faith explanation, I would caution you about what I would call word order theology. Especially when the New Testament is written in Greek where word order is of secondary importance. For example I recently heard a sermon on the same passage where the Pastor argued that the passage argued for believers baptism, because the phrase “make disciples”, which you conveniently elipsed, comes before baptism. He argued that the New Testament order was convert, baptize, teach.

    Personally I think that trying to argue either infant or believer baptism from the word order is weak. Instead I think this passage talks about the two components in making disciples, is baptizing and teaching. The order is not as important, but both should be there.


  40. Can I jump in here and ask a question: what is the non-infant baptism position on Original Sin?

    From a Catholic viewpoint, one of the effects of baptism is the removal of Original Sin. So what do those who do not baptise infants think about this? And to muddy the waters, the Orthodox have a different understaning of Original Sin but stll practise infant baptism 🙂


  41. Baptism is God’s work.

    That a child (infant) cannot make a “decision” is the best part of it.

    Jesus commands us in Matthew 28 to “Go into all the world and…baptize (all people)…and teach about him. Notice the order…baptize is before teach.

    Can someone walk away from their baptism? Of course! But the promises that God makes in that baptism are still valid and good.

    The Lutheran understanding of baptism always places grace before faith. That is the proper order.

    “We love because He first loved us.”



  42. As a guy who was raised Baptisty, and seeking ordination in the ACNA, I have really struggled with this.

    In fact, this is the part of Anglicanism that I struggle with the most.

    First, let me say that I do believe that infant baptisms are valid. I also am frustrated with the baptist mentality that children’s ministry is all about getting the kids saved, when it often should be about discipleship. The infant baptism folks seem to understand how children should be accepted as full members of the community to be raised in the faith.

    However, the baptismal liturgy in the BCP is so amazing. You confess the faith and renounce the devil. Combined with a baptism by immersion, I think this would be an incredibly powerful experience for a person. It saddens me that infants can’t remember it. So I wonder if we are robbing people of this powerful experience by baptizing them as infants.

    For me, just as the eucharist is the new covenant passover meal, baptism is the new covenant crossing at the red sea. (1 Cor 10:2) That’s part of the reason why I think infant baptisms are valid.

    My church, though, doesn’t force anybody to do anything. Parents make the decision for their kids of when they get baptized, whether as infants or if they wait.


  43. I think that some of this boils down to Lutherans, etc. not really believing in “once-saved-always-saved.” Some of it also comes down to many of those traditions having Confirmation, which is a time when the child has “come of age” and will now take personal responsibility for his or her walk with God. I.e. they are confirming that they are regenerate and will walk in the faith.

    As far as the first point, I’m reminded of something that Dr. Steve Brown (a Calvinist) once said to his Methodist (i.e. Armenian) buddy: “You believe you can lose your salvation, you just don’t believe you can lose yours.” I.e. if we’re walking with God, the theoretical possibility of losing salvation is moot.


  44. Great post Chaplain Mike.

    In coming to the Lutheran Church, infant baptism was one of the things that really drove home salvation as a gift. Raising my children as baptized Christians has been a real blessing.

    One of the hindrances to the Lutheran/Baptist dialogue on baptism is that Baptists look primarily at HOW baptism is used in the NT and Lutherans look primarily at what the scriptures say it DOES, so we often talk past each other. I wrote some on this subject awhile back.


    In addition to Luther’s Catechism NRP carries a couple other resources people have found helpful.


    Luther also wrote letters to some Pastors regarding rebaptism, and these have been freshly translated and put together in a short book entitled ‘Did my Baptism Count’



  45. Yeah, I had some of this same confusion growing up. I was baptized as an infant in the Episcopal church, but later got re-baptized twice (age 12 and age 18), both times because I was afraid that my previous baptisms weren’t sufficient because didn’t have “saving faith” at the time. What I’ve since come to the conclusion of is that my legitimate baptism was the first one. The second one was due to pressures at the Charismatic non-denominational place I was attending. Around 13 or 14, I “came of age” and took personal responsibility for my relationship with God, so the one at age 18 was only “necessary” because I had bought into some views on soteriology that I have since rejected.


  46. Fr. Ernesto,

    Do the Orthodox not have Confirmation? Or is Confirmation done as part of the infant’s baptism rather than the Western way of it being when the child “comes of age?”


  47. Here’s a list of most of the resources I consulted. The first two were the most helpful.

    Anchor Bible Dictionary
    New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology
    Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture
    Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible
    Church Fathers — The Ante-Nicene Fathers
    Church Fathers — The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers
    IVP Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Developments
    IVP Dictionary of New Testament Background
    IVP Dictionary of Paul and His Letters
    Luther’s Large Catechism (http://bookofconcord.org/lc-1-intro.php)
    The Catechism of the Catholic Church
    The Catholic Encyclopedia (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02258b.htm)

    Have fun!


  48. Great post Chaplain Mike. I recently spent a month or so looking into the Lutheran view of baptism, and found it difficult to come by many clear discussions pertaining to it, outside of the catechisms. In the end, I still had one major sticking point, and I wonder if I’ve understood it rightly… and maybe you could clarify it for me.

    While I can’t think of anything from your post that I would disagree with, I seemed to find the view expressed by other Lutheran’s that at the moment of infant baptism God ALWAYS does a work of “saving-type” faith in the heart of the individual through the Spirit in the word and the water at the time of baptism.

    When it all came down to it, I was willing to say that God MAY do a work of “saving-type” faith in that child’s heart, and then take into consideration the need for the Spirit, church, and individual to cultivate that faith, but I would not go so far as to say this ALWAYS happens. It seems to me as though God has not bound Himself in that manner, and even the preaching of the Gospel does not ALWAYS result in the salvation of sinners at its preaching… though it MAY if God uses it to create faith in the hearts of those who hear it. Is this your understanding of the Lutheran view as well? That is ALWAYS creates this type of faith?

    I think one of the reasons this is a big sticking point for me is because if you say that they ALWAYS receive that saving-type of faith, then it seems that from obvious observation, you HAVE TO hold to the view that a once regenerate person can then become unregenerate… and for several reasons (not to be discussed here, thankfully) I can’t in good conscience hold to that view.

    However, if you say the child MAY receive that saving-type of faith, then it leaves me room to still hold to the “once reborn/regenerate-always reborn/regenerate” view I currently hold.

    Thanks for considering this, and if for some reason, this is not a good place to further that slice of the conversation, I would love to receive any emails anyone might want to send my way.



  49. Care to share any of your favorite materials for your baptism research? I’m a lifelong Baptist going through an “examination” phase of what I believe and why I believe it. Would like to look into this a little further. Thanks!


  50. I’m a lifelong, baptized-at-age-3 Lutheran, so I really enjoyed reading this post from the perspective of one who came to Lutheran teachings later in life. Your point that baptism “is not the sign of my response to God, it is the sign and seal of what God has done for me” is beautifully stated, and a point that I’ve tried to make many times in discussion with friends who practice believer’s baptism. I intend to commit your phrasing to memory so I can pull it out next time I need it. 🙂


  51. We can joke about these things because we’re not putting each other to the sword anymore (or these days – at least for now) over differences of doctrine or practice.

    Because we know these differences are not matters of salvation.

    Or are they?



  52. Seeking to understand here. So, if we don’t are we leaving the faith? And how much of these practices is “enough” for “maintaining a living faith”? I would assume our faith is in what Christ has done and not in our “practices”, yet, the “practices” are still our active participation in maintaining(?) our ongoing faith in Christ.


  53. Thank you for all responses. For me, it remains profound this movement from one who does not walk with God to one that does, including the when and where’s.

    When I was thirteen (1983), a Methodist purchased a economy copy of the KJV (which I still have today). When I was twenty-four I made a verbal confession of Christ mostly out of fear of judgment stemming from Rapture / Antichrist echatology. When I was twenty-eight, I was baptized in a Baptist Church. When I was thirty-eight I officially settled into the Presbyterian Church and began pursuing a Reformed faith.

    To this day, I sit and contemplate when I officially became a “child of God.” Was the copy of scripture that read and wrote in? Was it the verbal confession (as is common understood). Was is the baptism? I sometimes wonder if I had professed Christ at some point in my life without knowing it and the Word and water were brought into my life by God to reveal what He already knew was the truth.


  54. I think 1 Peter 3:21 can also be taken to support infant baptism as well. That is, the form is not as important, as the heart response that must occur. In believers’ baptism the heart response preceeds the baptism, in infant baptism it follows the baptism.


  55. A Baptist Pastor and an Anglican Minister were having an argument about the proper mode of baptism, and whether immersion or sprinkling was the best form.

    “Do you mean to tell me”, asked the Anglican Minister, “that if I go all the way in up to my ankles it doesn’t count?”

    “No”, replied that Baptist Pastor, “that certainly is not a valid baptism.”

    “What about if I go all the way up to my knees?”, asked the Anglican.

    “That is no good either”, replied the Baptist.

    “My waist?”


    “My neck?”


    “What about if I go all the way in up to my forehead?”, asked the Anglican minister. “Surely that should be sufficient to be properly baptized?”

    “No!”, replied the Baptist Pastor in exasperation. “Going all the way in up to your forehead is still not a proper baptism!”

    “Aha!” exclaimed the Anglican Minister. “I was right all along! You have just proven that sprinkling is the best form of baptism!”

    “What do you mean!” shouted the Baptist Pastor. “How that that show that sprinkling is the best form of Baptism???”

    “Well”, said the Anglican, “if going all the way in up to forehead is not good enough for you, then you clearly believe that it is only the top of the head that matters!”


  56. I’m coming from a Brethren background which takes believer’s baptism very seriously. I’m pretty mellow on the question of baptism and understand and appreciate the reformed take on infant baptism. However Brethren tend to cite

    >1 Peter 3:21 There is also an antitype which now saves us–baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

    which seems to fit the believer’s baptism take. I’ve always heard from my reformed friends the analogy between circumcision and baptism – is that an element of the Lutheran understanding as well?


  57. I know you asked Mike, but if you would permit me to respond.

    Those who believe that Holy Baptism is a sacrament do not necessarily believe that this means that one’s salvation is assured. In fact, the vast majority of those who do believe in infant baptism do not believe in “once saved, always saved.” So, infant baptism is not linked in any way to being “secure” in the Kingdom of God. Is there any further profession of faith desirable? Again, the majority of those who baptize infants do believe in a further profession called Confirmation. However, the Orthodox do not.

    It is true that among Evangelicals the majority of paedobaptists do believe in some type of assurance. But, most of them are of Calvinist leanings. This means that they do NOT believe in “once saved always saved” in the way in which it is often expressed in the USA. Rather, they believe in the companion doctrine of the “perseverance of the saints.” That is, if someone is truly a Christian, in the overall scheme of things, their life will demonstrate it. At this point, both the Orthodox and the Calvinists agree. If one does not walk like a duck and quack like a duck, then one is not a duck. In other words, someone who does not (in the overall scheme of things) behave as a Christian is not a Christian. For the Calvinist-leaning group, this means that if one is truly elect, then in the overall witness of their life, they will show Christian behavior. The Orthodox would not agree with that way of phrasing it, but . . . In other words, baptism is not an automatic guarantee of the Kingdom of Heaven.

    Being a child of the covenant people has always assured that God will work with that child in a special way. You see that throughout the Old Testament. And, you see that in the New Testament in the story of Saint Timothy. Do you remember how Saint Paul talked about how his mother and grandmother were Christians? Saint Timothy is the classic Biblical example of the child who is brought up within the faith and goes on to minister as a missionary. Remember that he was acquainted with the Scriptures from his youth. Please do notice that Saint Timothy’s whole history is Christian history. Saint Paul addresses him as though he were a Christian from that childhood with this mother and grandmother.

    But, being a covenant child does not ensure being with God. Esau is a good example of that.

    Well, I will stop here, but it is a wonderful and somewhat complex subject.


  58. Certainly in the Lutheran view, a believer can become an unbeliever.

    For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. What the true proverb says has happened to them: “The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.”(2Pet2)

    Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.

    The reformed understanding is different. (I am Lutheran, but have been members at OPC and PCA churches in the past)
    In the reformed understanding, baptism is the sign and seal of the covenant, nearly identical to Old Testament circumcision. And just like Israel, not all of Israel(The visible Church) is True Israel (The invisible church). The wheat grows up with the chaff.

    This passage shows clearly that a sanctified covenant member can reject that covenant. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? (Heb10) But the reformed understand this to be someone who was never a truly a saved beliver under the grace of God.

    There is a pretty good lecture from a reformed perspective on covenant baptism by former baptst preacher, Gregg Strawbridge: The Case for Infant Baptism (mp3) from monergism.com


  59. As a 41 year old life-long Baptist that moved to a Lutheran church over a year ago, this post really resonated with me. Chaplain Mike has pretty much summed up my feelings on the topic.

    Being raised baptist, the baptism thing was a bit of hurdle for me to jump. I did a lot of studying and praying. While reading on the history of baptism one night, a simple but startling fact dawned on me: If the baptists are right, the church had baptism wrong for 1500 years. I find that hard, nay impossible, to believe.

    (I feel the same way about dispensational premillennialism. No one in the history of the Church got it right until John Nelson Darby came along in the mid-1800s? Seriously?)


  60. Lutherans also believe that one must consciously profess and maintain a living faith, hence the practice of confirmation, the reciting of the Creed each Sunday, and constant reminders to remember our baptism and apply its message to our lives daily.


  61. There is another element of paedobaptism that is huge for me, as a post-evangelical who is now Lutheran.

    Growing up in evo, church, we were treated as little pagans, who needed to make a decision for Jesus. As a child, I was never part of the life of the church, I was not a Christian, but rather someone who had certainly made a number of decisions for Jesus, and hoped one day I could maybe become one.

    Lutheran church is starkly different. Each week as we approach the communion altar, my baptized children are blessed and reminded that they have been baptized into Christ. They are christians, and true members of the church. They are not admonished to make decisions for Jesus, but like all of the church to endeavor in good works, repenting of our sins, and trusting always in Christ for our salvation.

    It is a starkly different view. And like Augustine lamenting that his mother hadn’t baptized him as a child, I wonder if my life would have been different if I had been buried with Christ and raised under his grace little earlier.


  62. I can remember attending periodically a congregation in the 1970’s when they “received” some of their first Down’s Syndrome people. This brought up the full debate on what “adult” baptism meant. Some of the new people would never ever be able to express any type of serious theological understanding of the faith. But, they were happy to be there. They participated. Some held jobs in the community, in accord with their capabilities.

    If we are truly honest, they would have shown the exact same reactions in an Orthodox parish, or a Catholic parish, or a Baptist parish, or a Methodist parish or . . . . If that congregation had required an “understanding” of their doctrines, then they would have never ever been able to be baptized.

    I would now argue, of course, that there is little difference between a baby, a child, and some of our developmentally challenged brothers and sisters. If one can baptize a challenged person, then one can baptize an infant. Finally, I would argue that the Church has all too often replaced faith with a type of intellectualism which does not lead to works but to arrogance.


  63. I like the Lutheran view because it understands baptism as God’s act, not a human act. It’s primarily about grace, not faith. It is done to us in God’s name (that is, as an act of God performed by his representative), we do not do it to ourselves. It is not the sign of my response to God, it is the sign and seal of what God has done for me.

    Exactly! The part in bold is something I’ve been saying recently, and many of the folks I talk to (mostly credo-baptists) tend to give me really weird looks.

    On another forum, someone asked why we should get baptized. I posted the Lutheran Small Catechism quote above as well as the corresponding passages from Westminster and the BCP so as to show what the Reformers taught. There were lots of similarities, especially the “sacramental” nature of the rite as well as the willingness to baptize infants. I found it very ironic how some folks had problems with that and essentially accused it of being leftovers from Catholicism (the implication being that they were apostate views). But, hey, man, that’s not MY take… it’s Luther’s, Calvin’s, and Cranmer’s take!


  64. Mike, help me understand this a little better. I truly want to avoid a knee-jerk reaction.

    Having read the post twice, I am struggling with a couple questions. First, is a child, once baptized, now secure in the kingdom of God with no further confession or profession being necessary? Or, from an evangelical slant, is a child saved by being baptized? Second, does a child being born to Christian parents automatically secure them a place in the kingdom?

    I have always believed that God calls a person and their moment of response, or obedience to the Gospel, is the turning point in their life. What I sense from what I have read is that a person’s response or lack of response is irrelevant. It is the water, Word and Sacriment that carries out the placing of the person in the kingdom.

    Something here bothers me, but I am unsure exactly what …


  65. When you understand baptism as God’s act, you understand how being baptized multiple times implies that God didn’t get it right the first time. Yet I have known people who have done it because they weren’t fully immersed the first time and God will check how wet we are 🙂

    It is wonderful to baptize babies as the congregation vows to help raise the child as a Christian family. Watching my daughter be baptized and knowing that she would be raised from day one as a Christian, growing every day in her faith. There would never be a time when she did not consider herself a real Christian.

    Carrying a baby around the sanctuary and introducing him or her to their new aunts and uncles and brothers and sisters is such a powerful example of what communal Christianity is all about.

    We are looking at moving from a children’s church model to one where families worship together. To me, one of the most powerful points raised was that when we baptized those children, we all took a vow to help raise them and that means having them with us in worship no matter how sloppy it might be.


  66. Chappy, (is that OK?)

    Great post. Thanks for saying this!

    As someone who was baptized as an infant and then married a Southern Baptist, this is an issue that I have struggled with many times. For me, though, the issues has to be extended beyond just baptism.

    I agree with Baptists that each person should make a public statement of belief. This is typically required prior to an adult baptism. I also agree thta this should be a requirement prior to full church membership as well. The churches in which I have been involved that perform infant baptism (Catholic, Lutheran (ELCA), and UMC) cover these issues with the practice of Confirmation.

    Infant baptism is the human act, through water and the word, of inviting the Holy Spirit to be active in the life of the one being baptized. I cannot withhold the Spirit from my children or other children I may encounter. The Holy Spirit will be there even before I have an opportunity to baptize – that is part of the Grace of God. Thus, I fully support infant baptism.

    I also fully encourage parents to continue to raise their children in a way that brings honor to God and to encourage those children to continue their Christian education that leads to an adult understanding of faith. In churches where it is practised, likewise children should be encouraged to got through the Confirmation process.

    Thus the act of baptism, the public statement of faith and the initiation into church membership are all practised, just not necessarily all at the same time.


  67. interesting. my daughter and I got into a discussion over baptism when she got back from a graduation party and had spent 2 hours talking with some people about Lutheranism v. Baptists on Baptism (complicated by throwing in issues on Missouri Synod v. Brethren) and how she would be denied participation in communion at their church.

    Back to baptism….

    I like the Lutheran view because it understands baptism as God’s act, not a human act.

    While surely it is God’s command that we baptize, it is still our action, our obedience – to ourselves, or to our children. Say, in contrast to the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which no person can say is done by man

    I like the Lutheran view because it emphasizes the Word of God.

    I would hope all views do such

    Perhaps it is just my baptist colored glasses, but color me unconvinced.


  68. Chaplain Mike,

    Well said. I am a former SBC pastor now pastoring an Anglican Fellowship working towards ordination in the ACNA.

    Obvioulsy, as a baptist, infant baptism was a biggie for me, but once you approach it with an open mind (very hard to do) and understand it as you said as being something God does to us and not we to invoke Him it is much easier and logical to accept.

    Two things sealed it for me.

    1. Having my own children and watching them grow up and asking myself “Do they as children of believers have any benefit over the children of non-believers?”

    2. I read a great old article by Stott, entitled I think “An Evangelical understanding of Infant Baptism” or something like that. Once I learned I could be evangelical (in the original sense) and still embrace infant baptism, I was in.

    Now convincing other life-long baptist that you haven’t gone crazy nor or about to swim the Tiber, not so easy.


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