Baptism…which ‘prism’ are you using?

We believe that this is pleasing to our Lord

Depending on which prism you use, you will end up with radically different, and totally opposite understandings of baptism and what it actually is.

With the ‘law prism’, you will see baptism as an act that we do. An act of symbolism, a re-creation of the death and resurrection of Jesus, a drama in which we are the main player. In ‘symbolic baptism’, or ‘believer’s baptism’ as it is often called, the faith of the believer is the critical issue. Faith in Christ must be present before the baptism can take place. This is the type of baptism that John the Baptist was doing, in which the people being baptised focused on their belief and their repentance of sins.

With the ‘prism of grace’, our understanding of baptism is one where God is the actor. God is doing the baptism, working repentance in us, actually giving us the Holy Spirit and forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:28).  The grace of God comes first (as it does in everything else in the Christian faith), before our faith has a say in the matter.

“Our faith is the key”, many say, and they are right. But what they fail to understand is that God has to give us that faith (it is a gift of the Holy Spirit). Faith is not something that we do, or muster up on our own. Faith is not mere intellectual ascent, or believing in something, but rather trust in someone. Trusting in the living God, our Lord Jesus is not something that we will to do.   ” who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:13) 

God has to get His faith to us somehow. Did you notice I said, “His faith“?  That’s right, the faith that we have belongs to Him.  God has decided to give us this faith in specific ways…in Word and sacrament. Preaching, teaching, Bible reading, and Holy Baptism and Holy Communion, and sharing Christ with one another. This is how the saving faith of Christ comes to us.

‘Extra Nos’…from outside of ourselves. God acts for us. He baptises us. When we place ourselves and our faith back in the center we start off on the wrong foot.  The whole enterprise now revolves around us, and what we do, what we say, what we think, what we feel.  Now the religious project gets rolling, and the phoniness and the pride, and lack of assurance, and all that goes with it.

God does not honor what we do. Abraham decided not to wait on God’s promise but rather to take matters into his own hands and got his slave woman pregnant. God sent that child out into the desert.  God does not honor our decisions when it comes to faith in Himself, but rather His own decisions and His own action for our sakes. 

Luther said (to the Anabaptists), “For a thousand years God has honored the baptisms of infants and created good and faithful Christians in His Church, and now you come along and say that baptism doesn’t work that way?” (paraphrased)

Some say that the baptism refered to in Romans 6 does not mean water baptism, but rather a baptism of the Spirit. They are failing to recognize that almost every single mention of baptism in the new testament is about water baptism. The baptism mentioned in Romans 6 is no different, it is talking about baptism…water baptism. That is what baptism means…being cleansed or purified by water.

  Another point that the modern day Anabaptists insist upon is that baptism must be through immersion only, otherwise it is not a valid baptism. The symbolism of total immersion is great symbolism and the Bible speaks of baptisms in that manner. If water were the only element, or even the key element in baptism, then I could agree that total immersion be a requirement for a valid baptism. But since water is just one component of baptism and not the most important one, but rather God’s Word, tied to that water, then I feel that any method of water baptism with the Word of promise in the name of the Triune God will suffice for God. After all, God is the One doing the baptising and He is more than capable of making Christians with 6 ounces of water, or 6, 000 gallons of water. (refer back to the Luther quote)  It does follow logically, however, that those that look through a ‘prism of law’, would insist on a legalistic interpretation to the question of how much water.

So, which camp do you fall in? The camp of those that believe their belief is the main thing in baptism? Or the camp that believes that God’s promises in baptism are enough, and that He is the One that is doing the actual baptising?