Questions on Baptism

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Will a WELS pastor baptize an infant if he/she is going to be raised in a different denomination, one that does not baptize their infants normally?

A WELS pastor can baptize such a person, but the pastor will likely wonder why parents would want their child baptized when the church to which they belong denies infant baptism. Is it a matter of the parents holding to a belief that runs contrary to their church? If that is the case, they will want to be part of a church that teaches the truths of God’s word, including baptism, and which is consistent with their faith. Jesus instructed us to baptize and teach people “to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20). We are happy to baptize, but we understand from Scripture how important it is to follow up on baptism with correct instruction in God’s Word. Do speak to a WELS pastor in your community to receive more answers to your questions.

Where does it say in Scripture that Baptism creates faith?

We will not find a passage in the Bible that states specifically and succinctly: “Baptism creates faith.” We know that baptism is a faith-working act on God’s part by looking at several Bible passages and seeing how they relate to baptism.

The Bible explains that people enjoy the forgiveness of sins and eternal life by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ his Son (Ephesians 2:8; Romans 3:28). The Bible states that baptism gives people those very blessings of life and forgiveness (Acts 2:38; 22:16; Ephesians 5:26; Titus 3:5-7; 1 Peter 3:21). Baptism gives those blessings because of the powerful word of God that is attached to the water.

Since the Bible teaches that we enjoy salvation only through faith in Christ, and since the Bible teaches that baptism saves us and washes away our sins, we can rightfully say that baptism creates the faith that connects us to Jesus and brings into our lives all the blessings he won by his holy life, sacrificial death and glorious resurrection.

We have every reason to grow in our appreciation for baptism by which we are clothed in Jesus’ robe of righteousness (Galatians 3:27).

Who can baptize? 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.

My boyfriend told me he would like to get baptized again. He mentioned the desire to become baptized again was strengthened after reading his devotional, which was a passage in Romans. Please clarify WELS' belief on the need for only one baptism. Thank you.

If baptism were something we did for God, we might want to be baptized again—and again. But, the truth of the matter—the biblical truth—is that baptism is something God does for us. Through baptism God comes to people and gives them faith, life and forgiveness (Acts 2:38; Titus 3:5; 1 Peter 3:21).

While Jesus tells us to receive the Lord’s Supper often, there is no command, or even example, in the Bible that tells us we are to be baptized more than once. The book of Romans speaks of baptism as a singular event in our lives (Romans 6:1-2). That may or may not have been the basis of the devotion your boyfriend read. I don’t know.

The blessings of baptism last a lifetime—even beyond. If at some point in our life we gain a new appreciation for baptism, that is reason to think all the more of how greatly God blessed us at baptism, not a reason to be baptized again.

Perhaps your boyfriend read that infant baptism is not valid. In that case, the material he read was not accurate. Again, baptism is what God does for people. Through water and the word he comes to people, even infants, and brings his blessings. How grateful we are for that.

Is it possible for infants to believe before they are baptized?

Yes, it is possible. The apostle Paul reminded Timothy: “From infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15). Luke 18:15-17 describes people bringing children (including infants – the word translated as “babies” in verse 15) to Jesus. The Lord said “the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Luke 18:16). “These” are children, including infants. Individuals become part of the kingdom of God through Christian faith worked in the heart by the Holy Spirit.

Because conversion is God’s gracious, powerful act, he can bring people to faith through his word alone or his word attached to an earthly element: baptism.

I just heard a sermon about Jesus being baptized. Why wasn't Jesus baptized as an infant? Why did he wait so long?

It’s not a silly question at all. Baptism itself was not performed until the time of John the Baptist, and Jesus did not command baptism until the time of his ascension into heaven. What was available for Jesus as an infant was circumcision, and the Bible tells us that Joseph and Mary followed God’s directive of having Jesus circumcised when he was a week old (Luke 2:21). It was at that time that the Lord was given the name “Jesus,” just as the angel had instructed Mary (Luke 1:31) and Joseph (Matthew 1:21).

But more than baptism not being available at the time of Jesus’ birth is the unique reason for Jesus’ baptism. You and I have every reason to be baptized very early in life because we are conceived and born in sin and we need forgiveness of sins through saving faith in Christ. Jesus entered our world as “the holy one” (Luke 1:35). Through his conception by the Holy Spirit and birth of the virgin Mary, Jesus became a human being without a sinful nature, without a trace of sin. So, even if baptism had been available at the time of Jesus’ birth, he did not need baptism for the reasons that you and I have.

So, why was Jesus baptized? And why was he baptized when he was about thirty years of age? (Luke 3:23) Jesus answered those questions when he told John the Baptist to baptize him “to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). Jesus, the Son of God, became a man to fulfill all the prophecies of the Messiah; Jesus came into the world he created to carry out everything in his Father’s plan of salvation. Being baptized was part of that plan.

“Messiah” and “Christ” both mean “the anointed one.” Jesus’ baptism was an anointing as he was about to embark on his public ministry of teaching and preaching and displaying his power (Isaiah 61:1-2). Jesus’ baptism clearly identified him as the Son of God (Matthew 3:16-17) who came into the world to live and die in our place, to win our forgiveness. For that reason Jesus’ baptism is important to us—as is our own baptism.

Does WELS practice infant baptism?

Yes, we baptize infants. We do so because they have a need for forgiveness (Psalm 51:5), they too are included in the command to baptize “all nations” (Matthew 28:19-20), and they can believe through the power of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 18:6; Luke 18:15-17). We are grateful that God has this means of reaching out to infants and including them in his kingdom.

Can a member of the WELS be a baptism sponsor for a child in a Missouri Synod church? Thank you for your time and your service!

You really want to clarify what role parents have in mind for individuals they have asked to serve as sponsors.  The role could range from one end of the scale where sponsors are given an honorary role and are asked to do little more than serve as witnesses to the baptism, to the other end of the scale where sponsors would be in a position of some kind to provide spiritual training for the child, should the parents be unable to do that.  If the situation is the latter, it would helpful to inform the parents that the situation could arise that the child would receive spiritual training in the sponsor’s church and not theirs.  I would seek clarification on what is being asked of sponsors.

I feel this is a silly question, but today's sermon talked about Jesus being baptized. Why wasn't Jesus baptized as an infant? Why did he wait so long?

It’s not a silly question at all.  Baptism itself was not performed until the time of John the Baptist, and Jesus did not command baptism until the time of his ascension into heaven.  What was available for Jesus as an infant was circumcision, and the Bible tells us that Joseph and Mary followed God’s directive of having Jesus circumcised when he was a week old (Luke 2:21).  It was at that time that the Lord was given the name “Jesus,” just as the angel had instructed Mary (Luke 1:31) and Joseph (Matthew 1:21).

But more than baptism not being available at the time of Jesus’ birth is the unique reason for Jesus’ baptism.  You and I have every reason to be baptized very early in life because we are conceived and born in sin and we need forgiveness of sins through saving faith in Christ.  Jesus entered our world as “the holy one” (Luke 1:35).  Through his conception by the Holy Spirit and birth of the virgin Mary, Jesus became a human being without a sinful nature, without a trace of sin.  So, even if baptism had been available at the time of Jesus’ birth, he did not need baptism for the reasons that you and I have.

So, why was Jesus baptized?  And why was he baptized when he was about thirty years of age?  (Luke 3:23)  Jesus answered those questions when he told John the Baptist to baptize him “to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15).  Jesus, the Son of God, became a man to fulfill all the prophecies of the Messiah; Jesus came into the world he created to carry out everything in his Father’s plan of salvation.  Being baptized was part of that plan.

“Messiah” and “Christ” both mean “the anointed one.”  Jesus’ baptism was an anointing as he was about to embark on his public ministry of teaching and preaching and displaying his power (Isaiah 61:1-2).  Jesus’ baptism clearly identified him as the Son of God (Matthew 3:16-17) who came into the world to live and die in our place, to win our forgiveness.  For that reason Jesus’ baptism is important to us—as is our own baptism.

How does one justify infant baptism with the call to repent in Acts 2:38? Doesn't it imply that repentance (and, thus belief) is required before baptism? Please explain. Thanks!

Peter’s call to repent was not an instruction for the people to do something in and of themselves.  The basic meaning behind “repentance” is “to have a change of heart.”  Because people are powerless by nature to change their hearts regarding their attitudes toward sin and Jesus, the only Savior from sin, God is the only one who can change hearts (Psalm 51:5; Ezekiel 36:26; Ephesians 2:1-10).  That is why Peter directed the people to turn to God and his heart-changing gospel in word and sacrament (baptism in this case).  The people listening to Peter could enjoy freedom from guilt and sin through the gospel message that their sins were washed away.

You notice that in Acts 2:39 Peter told the crowd that “The promise is for you and your children.”  The promise of receiving the Holy Spirit through a heart changed by the gospel (Acts 2:38) was held out for the adults in the crowd and their children—not when their children became adults, but for their children right then and there.

Peter’s words do not in any way change what Scripture says elsewhere about baptism and children.  Infants and children are to be baptized because they are included in the Lord’s command to baptize “all nations” (Matthew 28:19-20), they have a need for forgiveness (Psalm 51:5) and they can believe through the power of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 18:6; Luke 18:15-17).

When we understand that faith is a heart-changing gift of God (Ephesians 2:8-9), we will recognize that God can change hearts and plant saving faith even in the very young, and he does.   For that we thank and praise him.

have recently Joined a WELS congregation after instruction by the WELS Pastor. We are eagerly meeting fellow members. Last Sunday we invited a fellow member and his wife to brunch after worship. This member is an Elder in the congregation. During brunch we were surprised to learn that this Elder in a WELS congregation does not believe in infant Baptism, and in fact holds a Baptist view of Baptism. His wife shares his views. My question is: should this man be an Elder in a WELS congregation? I don't want to start trouble in a new congregation, but I don't believe he should be serving as an Elder. Do I speak to the Pastor? Help!

Yes, your pastor needs to know about this.  Individuals who join our congregations profess at their Confirmation that, with God’s help, they will continue steadfast in the Bible’s teachings.  Baptism for all people, including infants, is one of those teachings.  An elder—an officer of the congregation who works closest with the pastor—certainly needs to be confessing the truths of Scripture.  God grant you strength and wisdom in addressing this situation, and may God bless your affiliation with WELS.

I have grown up in a WELS congregation my whole life. My girlfriend has grown up in a "free" Christian church her whole life. How do I explain that our practice of infant baptism has scriptural backing?

In the August 2015 “Light for our Path” column in Forward in Christ I addressed that question.

From Forward in Christ: When Jesus instituted Baptism in Matthew 28:19,20, he did not limit Baptism to adults. He said “all nations” were to be instructed in his Word and baptized. Think of all the people who comprise a nation. Think of who is counted as a citizen of a nation when a census occurs. All people are counted. If infants were to be excluded from Baptism, Jesus’ words in Matthew 28 would have been an appropriate place to indicate that. Because in every sense infants are included in “all nations,” they are to be the recipients of Baptism.

More than being people who are part of a nation, infants are to be baptized because they have a need for the forgiveness of sins. The Bible does not speak of any age of innocence or any time in life when infants and children are not sinners and not responsible for their sins. Just the opposite, Scripture speaks of people being conceived and born in sin. King David spoke for the entire human race when he confessed, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5). Jesus reiterated that truth when he informed Nicodemus that “flesh gives birth to flesh” (John 3:6). In other words, sinful parents have sinful children.

A final reason for baptizing infants is that the Bible reveals to us that children and infants can believe. Passages like Matthew 18:6; Luke 18:15-17; and 2 Timothy 3:15 provide proof of that.

So rather than a single verse addressing infant Baptism, it is the case of numerous Bible passages demonstrating why little ones too are to be baptized.

Read more of the Forward in Christ article.

God bless your discussions of infant baptism with your girlfriend. Do speak with your pastor if you have follow up questions.

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