Questions Listed Under Baptism

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  • Who can baptize? In the Catholic Church anyone can baptize in case of an emergency. Do Lutherans allow lay people to baptize?

    The power of baptism rests in Jesus' promise (John 3:5,6; Titus 3:5,6; 1 Peter 3:21), not in the person doing the baptizing. For that reason, the Lutheran church recognizes the validity of baptisms performed by laypeople. This often happens (and properly so) when there is an emergency, i.e., a situation where the candidate's survival is in doubt.

    A number of needs are met, however, by having a pastor do the baptizing. These include: good order, absolute clarity about whether the person was baptized, a clear public statement that the person is being baptized by the officiating church and into the church, and (if done in a worship service) an opportunity to remind the congregation of their own baptism and its blessings. That's why baptism by a pastor during a worship service is our normal practice.

  • The Mennonites believe that children are not lost and therefore cannot be evangelized and that they are 'spiritually safe.' They also believe that Baptism is a way a Christian shows commitment to God through Christ and then opens his or her heart to the presence of the Holy Spirit. What does the Bible say?

    The Bible never mentions or endorses the notion of children being "spiritually safe" until they reach a certain age (a concept sometimes known as an "age of accountability." Passages like Romans 5:12, John 3:5, Romans 3:23, Psalm 51:5, Ephesians 2:1-5, and many others testify to the sad but true teaching usually called "original or inherited sin." We all have an inherited guilt and corruption from our conception and birth, and we all need the gift of faith and new spiritual life from birth on.

    The Bible also makes it clear that baptism is primarily and preeminently a work of God, not a work or accomplishment of a human being. Notice the divine promises attached to baptism in these passages among others: Matthew 28:19-20, John 3:5, Galatians 3:27, Romans 6:3-4, and Titus 3:5-6. To turn baptism into a human work (ordinance, act of obedience, way of showing commitment or joining a visible church, etc.) is common, but perverse.

    How can you convince people who hold to errors to see and rejoice in the truth that baptism is a means of grace through which God gives and strengthens saving faith, giving rebirth to those who so desperately need it? Only the Holy Spirit can change hearts and give enlightenment and faith in his revealed truths. So share these passages with your friend, gently, sincerely, lovingly, and repeatedly. The Spirit works through the Word.

  • What are the origins of baptism? When did it start? Why did it start? When did baptism change from a baptism of repentance to a baptism for forgiveness?

    The sacrament of Holy Baptism was formally instituted by Jesus (Matthew 28:19-20). It is one of two ways mentioned in the passage by which the Church carries out Jesus' command to "make disciples" (the other being "teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you"). Disciples of Jesus are made by baptizing and by teaching.

    There is no handier or better summary of the purpose and blessings of baptism than the explanation in Luther's Small Catechism, which I'd encourage you to re-read. Baptism unites us with Jesus in his death and resurrection (1 Peter 3:21, etc.). It washes away our sins and brings us the gift of the Holy Spirit, and it gives us a new birth into a glorious new life with God (Titus 3:5-6). It both empowers and symbolizes the daily repentance that characterizes the whole life of a Christian (Romans 6:1-7).

    The Christian sacrament of Baptism had precursors in various Jewish ceremonial washings and, most of all, in the baptism of John the Baptist. We don't normally speak of a "change," however, from John's baptism to that of Jesus. Both can be called a "baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins" (Compare Mark 1:4 and Acts 22:16). Although John's baptism was temporary in nature (Acts 19:4) - and there is much about John's baptism that we'd like to know and don't know - in essence, it gave the same blessings that our baptism gives to us.

  • How soon after birth should parents have their baby baptized?

    The Bible does not provide an answer to your question in a way that we can set a timetable. The clear command to baptize is given, the need for faith, rebirth, and forgiveness is stressed, and the blessings of the sacrament are repeatedly highlighted. Then the matter is left to us. Unlike the instructions given to the Old Testament believers regarding circumcision, which called for the deed to be done when the child was eight days old, the New Testament does not give us a timetable to follow.

    In general, assuming the newborn child is healthy and there is no evidence of physical peril, I suspect most in our circles schedule the baptism within the first two weeks after the birth. If there is evidence of health problems, baptism is often administered as soon after birth as possible. It is also an option for parents to have the baptism performed in the hospital, as soon as possible, and then to have a public affirmation of baptism ceremony at church some time later. These are matters left up to the family in their Christian freedom. Consciences are not unnecessarily to be burdened and irresponsible "tempting of the Lord" by undue delay is to be avoided.

  • What would you tell someone who says, "I know I am saved so no matter how I live or what I believe I will go to heaven just because of my baptism."

    We say to them, and to ourselves, precisely what the Bible says to us all: Regardless of when or how the Holy Spirit gave you saving faith in Christ, through baptism or the written or spoken Word of the gospel, rejoice and give God thanks for the gift of faith that he graciously gave you through the gospel.

    Recognize that saving faith is a living thing, never static and not to be confused with intellectual knowledge or mere memory of Bible history. Saving faith is and must be maintained by the Holy Spirit who initially created it in the human heart. He does this through the same gospel in Word and in sacrament (in this case the Lord's Supper).

    Your privilege and responsibility, then, is to cling to the gospel in Word and sacrament, cheerfully and thankfully make use of the Holy Spirit's chosen tools to nurture and preserve you in faith and equip you for ministry to your neighbor. Personal, private, and public use of the means of grace is Christian lifestyle and always will be. Give thanks for this as well.

  • I have a relative who doesn't believe in baptism. How wrong is it to baptize a baby without its parents knowledge?

    Baptizing children of parents who are fully indifferent to or actively opposed to the use of the sacrament for their children is a problematic dilemma for Christians. It is often brought up in regard to emergency baptisms when there is a reasonable chance the person's life is in jeopardy. The Bible does not directly address the subject or elaborate on specific situations. Let it be recognized that unique or exceptional situations may call for exceptions that depart from normal protocol. Have we a right to withhold the means of grace from another person when it seems our final opportunity to do so? Or do we bypass the God-given parental responsibility and imagine that we have a higher authority and call to serve despite this? This is a case when equally valid principles may be seen competing with each other in a specific situation. Let the conscience of the brother or sister in such cases determine what is to be done. Let others not be quick to stand in judgment after the fact.

    The primary and safe course of action, of course, is to work with the parents to the degree possible or allowed and share the truths with them. If the parents continue to refuse to allow their child to be baptized, relatives may have to look for future opportunities to teach the child about Christ and the means of grace at a time when he or she can begin to communicate. Also, while the parents may now appear to be confident and perhaps even arrogant in their envisioned monopoly on the truth, never underestimate the power of truth spoken in love. Continue to testify patiently, lovingly, without argument, and without anger.

    If there is a willingness (even a grudging one) on the part of the parents, with whom the responsibility primarily lies, we would normally take the opportunity to serve the needs of the children to the best of our ability, including baptizing them. We would explain what we are doing and why to the parents (and eventually the children), invite and encourage their following up with Bible instruction for the whole family, but would not make the later instruction a condition for applying the sacrament. We are well aware that to baptize and thereafter to neglect the spiritual lives of the children is unacceptable and shameful behavior for any family, but would not neglect doing what we can do when we can do so with the parental approval.

  • I wanted to know if and what I have to do to name my brother as the godparent for my 13-year-old daughter. She was baptized at birth because of medical complications, and only a nurse was present.

    Appointing or designating a baptismal sponsor or godparent is not something that the Bible mentions—it is a church custom that developed over centuries because it has many potential advantages or blessings when godparents serve faithfully. Nor does appointing a godparent have any legal standing in the eyes of the civil authorities—that kind of arrangement should be in the parents' will. Since your daughter is now 13 years of age, there is likely no need for legal safeguards. Should something happen to you, the courts would basically ask the daughter and family what would best serve her needs and desires.

    In short, if you want to designate your brother—or anyone else—belatedly to begin to serve as godparent, simply do it. Choose a person or people who are qualified to look out for the best spiritual interests of your daughter and encourage her growth in faith, hope, and love centered in Jesus Christ. Sponsors need not be present at the time of the baptism. Serving as a witness requires being present, but being a godparent is different even though witnesses and godparents are sometime one and the same.

  • If a baby dies before it is baptized, what happens to that baby's soul?

    Please allow me to share one of the major principles that we follow in our faith-life: if the Bible is silent on a particular subject, we resolve not to manufacture an answer and offer it as God's Word. Although it may be frustrating, we sometimes do not have an answer that satisfies our interest or curiosity because God has chosen not to reveal sufficient information on a particular subject.

    This is what we know. The Bible clearly teaches that ALL people, from conception on, are sinful and have inherited guilt in addition to a sinful nature that rebels against God. By nature we all stand under God's judgment. The Bible also teaches that only God with his divine love and power is able to rescue us from that horrible situation of alienation from him. He provided a Savior or Rescuer from sin and guilt, namely, his Son Jesus Christ. And he gives us the gift of faith (trust, reliance) in Jesus that personally receives the blessings Jesus earned for us. The Bible also tells us God chooses to create and maintain saving faith in Jesus through the gospel (good news) that he brings to us in the Bible and Baptism and the Lord's Supper. Baptism is an instrument that God uses to give people (including infants) spiritual life to replace spiritual death.

    But what if an infant for some reason dies without being baptized? The Bible doesn't provide an explicit, direct answer to that question.

    We are aware of the child's sinful nature, and that might make us pessimistic about the child's future. We also are aware of God's love for that child and his knowledge of the circumstances that prevented baptism. That might make us optimistic. We wouldn't deny that God could have created saving faith in the child aside from the gospel and baptism. But the bottom line doesn't change, does it? The Bible does not provide explicit information on this subject nor enable us to give a 100% happy and comforting answer for those who have lost an unbaptized child. We must leave this in God's hands.

  • Why do Lutherans believe it is necessary to baptize infants?

    We baptize babies because they are included in the Great Commission, which is a general command, "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28:19, also see Mark 16:15-16).

    Scripture does not exclude infants from baptism, rather it indicates that they need to be baptized because they are conceived and born in sin, and they need to be born again to enter the kingdom of God (Psalm 51:5, John 3:5-6). Through Baptism the Holy Spirit works to create or strengthen faith and brings the gifts of forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation (Titus 3:4-7, 1 Peter 3:21, Acts 2:38-39). We should never deprive children of baptism, "the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit."

    On the day of Pentecost when Peter told the gathered crowd, "Repent and be baptized." He also said, "The promise is for you and your children" (Acts 2:38-39). Children were included in the command and promise Peter spoke. St. Paul draws a parallel between Old Testament circumcision and Baptism (Colossians 2:11-12). Babies in the Old Testament were to be circumcised on the eighth day after birth.

    For more information on infant baptism you may want to read Baptized into God's Family—The Doctrine of Infant Baptism for Today and Baptism: My Adoption into God's Family, both available through Northwestern Publishing House.

  • What if a person who was baptized as an infant dies an unbeliever; will that person be saved because of the baptism received?

    If a person dies as an unbeliever, whether once baptized or not, that person is tragically lost, not saved. Baptism gives saving faith, but unless that faith is preserved in life through application of the gospel in Word and Sacrament, the faith will die and does the person no good.

    A more detailed answer to your question was the subject of an article in our Forward in Christ magazine not long ago. I copy and paste it here for your reading:

    In today’s religious world, Christian baptism is often misunderstood and sometimes downright disrespected. This God-given instrument that gives or strengthens saving faith in Christ is too often turned into a mere human act of obedience or considered a mere external sign that points to a gracious work of God that will or might be carried out without any connection to baptism. It has become the Rodney Dangerfield of God’s designated tools – it gets no respect.

    But is it possible that people sometimes give baptism too much credit? Your question makes us think of that possibility and we thank you. Are blessings of baptism overstated when we speak of it “guaranteeing faith and eternal salvation?”

    Baptism Gives Saving Faith

    Paul assured the Galatians, “All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Gal 3:27). In and through baptism a most intimate link between the sinner and the Savior is promised and assumed. Other New Testament passages affirm that the gift of the Holy Spirit, forgiveness of sins, and salvation are bestowed through baptism. They are not just symbolized or pictured in baptism; baptism is said to give these blessings. Perhaps because of such vigorous promises, people speak of baptism “guaranteeing” salvation. But more needs to be said.

    Saving Faith Needs Gospel Nourishment
    If the baptized sinner retains saving faith, he or she will retain the gift of salvation and inherit heaven. But this is different than saying baptism guarantees heaven.  Baptism is God’s way of beginning or enriching a lifelong relationship, but it remains vital that the faith given be nurtured and strengthened through the gospel aside from baptism. This is why, when children are baptized, we normally urge parents and others to include the children in family devotions, train them to read Scripture at home as well as participate in public worship and Sunday school.

    It is important that all who are baptized enjoy growth in faith and Christian lifestyle to maintain their hold on God’s salvation promises. If the saving faith received through baptism is allowed to die, the result is a personal forfeiting of spiritual and eternal life. It is irresponsible to speak of baptism “guaranteeing” salvation unless this kind of clarification is immediately added. God has chosen to give and preserve faith through instruments that accompany baptism, namely the Bible and the Lord’s Supper. To despise these is more like guaranteeing eternal death, not life.

    A Parallel to Circumcision

    Since the Bible draws the striking parallel between baptism and Old Testament circumcision (see Colossians 2:11-12) we may draw a fitting analogy. Any Old Testament Jew who thought that his being circumcised was a “guarantee” of eternal blessing was very wrong. Paul explains: “A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code” (Romans 2:28-29a). This is not a despising or a denial of the blessings received through circumcision. But it is a strong reminder that unbelief forfeits all blessings once received through the God-given external rite with its internal promises.

    Similarly, a baptized person is not to be considered a believer if he was once baptized but has neglected the gospel ever since. To think that baptism guarantees the preserving of faith for a lifetime is unwise presumption involving a misunderstanding of how the Spirit works. The Spirit gives saving faith, as he does with infants through baptism, and then preserves faith, through Word and sacrament, until we depart this life at death. We are commanded to seek and rejoice in both aspects of his gracious work.  We desperately need both. We praise him for giving us both.

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