Why Baptize Infants

Infant Baptism

Let’s imagine you come from a Christian tradition that practices “believers baptism” over and against “infant baptism.”

You might say to your baby-baptizing sister in Christ, “Why does your church baptize babies? Our church waits till they’re old enough to believe. We don’t think baptism saves—automatically. The Bible says we’re saved by faith, not some ritual.”

Lutherans are among the baby-baptizing traditions. But perhaps to some Lutherans’ surprise, Martin Luther has a similar criticism against baptism used as a faithless ritual. Luther wrote,

“Without faith, baptism profits nothing … By allowing the water to be poured upon you, you have not yet received Baptism in a way that benefits you at all.”

Martin Luther, The Large Catechism, part IV, paragraphs 34-36.

Without faith, baptism is like a buried treasure.

Even if they don’t consciously think about it, most baby-baptizing Christians (Lutherans included) acknowledge this in practice. For example, they don’t go into the local labor and delivery floor with pail of water flinging droplets indiscriminately, “I baptize you, and you, and you …” They don’t baptize all babies within sprinkling distance, they only baptize some. They baptize babies who have Christian parents or guardians—people who will take responsibility for raising the child in a Christian home, bringing them into God’s house every week, nurturing them in the Word, allowing them to grow up in the Body of Christ.

If we baby-baptizers carried squirt guns and sprayed children in passing strollers (or did secret baptisms without Christian guardians), we would be treating baptism like a magic spell that does something simply by muttering words and waving a wand. But that is not what Baptism is. That’s why Luther said, “Where faith is lacking, [baptism] remains a mere unfruitful sign” (ibid., para. 73.)—a buried, and eventually, a lost treasure.

God saves us through faith in Jesus, not by empty rituals. But, faith needs something to believe in. How can we depend on Jesus if we don’t know what He thinks about us? How can we entrust ourselves to Him if we don’t know His plans for us? We need a sign. We need something to believe in.

Baptism is God’s sign. It’s a real-time, audio-visual promise given to each baptized person at a specific time and specific place. Whether it happened when you were a baby or an adult is not important. What matters is that it happened.

Think about how signs work in the context of a relationship. Take the average husband. He’s not too good at picking up on the signs of his wife. When they were dating, he tried harder at reading her signals. But even then, most of her non-verbals baffled him. “What’s she thinking? Is she happy? Angry? Bored? Amused? Tired?!” Ladies, you really need to spell it out for us guys.

If women are mysterious to men, then God is infinitely more so to humanity. We have presented and tested theories about God from the dawn of time. And we have yet to figure Him out. So how do we trust in our Creator if we don’t really know where we stand with Him? One moment He’s stirring our souls with a sunset, the next moment He’s eating us alive with the latest cancer. Is He benevolent, malevolent, impotent, or indifferent? If we’re ever going to have faith in Him, we need Him to spell it out for us. We need something sure to put our faith in. So where do we find it?

Baptism, EpiphanySome people tell you to “listen to your heart” and search for faith inside you. But the Bible says that when we look inside ourselves we will find confusion and fear, or maybe a false certainty based on our fleeting feelings. In place of this, God gives us something solid to build our lives on: His promise at our Baptism.

In this promise, God laid out His plans for us: He plans to bury us. He intends to put us to death. We have to die because we are sinners. There is no reforming a sinner. Dying is the only solution. But in baptism, God promises that we will not die alone. We die with Jesus. And “if we have been united to Him like this in His death, we will certainly also be united with Him in His resurrection” (Romans 6:4).

When God makes a promise, it’s not exactly like when you and I make a promise. God’s words actually do something—they begin to put the reality into effect. Through His promise at our baptism, God began destroying the old, sinful creature we once were. He also began creating a new, Christ-like person full of faith, hope and love. God will continue this work until it is complete.

At the same time, we possess a terrifying power to ignore God’s promise and turn back into our old selves. When this happens, says Luther, “baptism is not being used but resisted.” Then “the old creature is given free rein and continually grows stronger … Those who are outside of Christ can only grow worse” (Large Catechism, part IV, para. 68). When given free rein, sinners will always destroy themselves.

john-baptizes-jesus, First Wayne Methodist, Ft Wayne INThis is why we do not go about sprinkling newborns in all the area hospitals. We do not want to encourage faith in a procedure. Baptism is not like a vaccination. Baptism is a promise. For a promise to do its work, for the treasure to be delivered, it needs to be unearthed, announced, received, and trusted.

So why baptize infants? Because infants, like everyone else, are sinners. And sinners must die. We either die eternally without Jesus or we die with Him in baptism. Jesus came to destroy sin and to save sinners. He gave us this promise at our Baptism. Even if we fall away, we can always return to it. “We need not have the water poured over us again,” said Luther. “Even if we were immersed in water a hundred times, it would not be more than one baptism” (ibid., para. 78). Young or old, God’s promise is always there to give us something to believe in.

Acknowledgements

The first image in this post is of a stained glass window installed at St Paul’s United Church of Christ, St Paul, MN (www.spucconsummit.org).

The second is from Epiphany Lutheran Church, St Louis, MO (www.epiphany-stl.org).

The last is from First Wayne Street United Methodist Church, Fort Wayne, IN (www.fwsumc.org).

Gain a Heart of Wisdom

Creation

The Bible’s Book of Proverbs is a resource for learning Wisdom.

Not just any wisdom, but God’s Wisdom is there for us to contemplate and practice if we are willing to apply ourselves.

But the real question is not whether you will live by proverbs, but which proverbs?

Let me illustrate. See how many of these sentences you can complete:

God helps those who …
Rules are made to …
You only go around …
He who dies with the most …
Different strokes for …
No pain …
No guts …

Good work, I think you got them all.

Okay, try these:

The fear of the LORD is the … (Proverbs 9:10)
The LORD disciplines those … (Prov. 3:12)
Whoever trusts in his riches … (Prov. 11:28)
A prudent person ignores … (Prov. 12:16)
He who loves his child … (Prov. 13:24)
The LORD tears down the house … (Prov. 15:25)
Whoever mocks the poor … (Prov. 17:5)

Which set was more familiar?

Creation 2We don’t get to decide if we will live by proverbs. They are all around us—shaping our desires and decisions. The only question is, which proverbs will we repeat, reflect on and remember? And, how will these proverbs form us? Will they make us think of ourselves as self-sufficient individuals who make up our own rules and whose worth is measured by how many toys we can afford? Or will they teach us to see ourselves as undeserving, but none-the-less loved children of God, created in Christ to show love to undeserving people? Will our proverbs teach us the wisdom of the world or the wisdom of God?

Now, the wisdom of the world isn’t all bad. In spite of sin, the world is still God’s world, so there’s usually some good that comes out of the world’s proverbs. As followers of Jesus, here are some proverbs that we could, in certain situations, embrace and apply:

Attitude is everything.

The early bird …

 … gets the worm.

Bloom where …

… you’re planted.

When the going gets tough …

… the tough get going.

If you can’t stand the heat …

… get out of the kitchen.

Here are some you might have read in a self-help book:

A positive attitude creates positive results.
In the middle of every difficulty lies an opportunity.
Persistence prevails when all else fails.

Creation 3Understood correctly, these worldly proverbs aren’t so bad.

They help us remember that even though we are saved by grace through faith in Christ, without our works, we were saved for good works (Ephesians 2:8–10).

Laziness and complaining don’t help anyone.

The good works that serve our neighbors get done through good old fashioned elbow grease.

However, not all of our American proverbs will lead us into God’s wisdom.

See if you can finish these …

Money talks

Money makes the world …

… go ‘round

Time is …

… money.

There’s no such thing as a …

… free lunch.

Everyone has his …

… price.

How do these proverbs shape us? Do they lead us to believe that money is the measure of all things? Do they make us measure our worth by how much cash we have? Can God work through us without our money?

See if you know these:

Just Do It.

The sky’s the …

… limit.

Records are made to be …

… broken.

Only the strong …

… survive.

Do unto others before they …

… do unto you.

These are less familiar, but you might have seen them on a t-shirt somewhere:

I don’t come here to play, I come here to win.
Winners do what losers don’t.
If it were just about attitude, everyone would have it.
Know your limits, then break ‘em.

Creation 4How would these proverbs shape us? Would they encourage us to worship winning and detest weakness of any kind?

Granted, a little less whining probably wouldn’t hurt any of us. But, by themselves, these “Can do,” “No Fear” proverbs cannot cope with life’s tragedies, addictions and depressions that are bigger than our positive attitude and desire to win. Sometimes I can’t find the answer in “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can,” but only in, “Not my will be done, but Thy will be done …” and “Deliver us from evil.” (Matthew 6:9–13).

Often a positive attitude does create positive results. Sometimes early to bed and early to rise does make a man healthy, wealthy and wise. Sometimes the early bird gets the worm. But life is unpredictable. Sometimes you’re the early worm who got eaten by the bird.

You’ve probably heard cynical secular proverbs that recognize this aspect of life. As Christians, we can appreciate these because they undercut the money-driven, can-do, winning-is-everything worldly wisdom that cannot cope with life’s mysteries and tragedies.

See if you know these:

It is what it is.

Laugh and the world laughs with you. Weep and …

… you weep alone.

It never rains but …

… it pours

With friends like these …

… who needs enemies?

That’s the way the cookie …

… crumbles.

When I’m right, no one remembers. When I’m wrong …

… no one forgets.

Here are some others that might be less familiar, but are along the same vein:

Anything can happen and probably will.
No amount of planning will ever replace dumb luck.
It’s difficult to soar with eagles when you work with turkeys.
Old age and treachery will always overcome youth and skill.

Creation - 5These cynical proverbs undercut the proverbs of the American Dream, which teach that anybody can be rich and happy if they simply apply themselves. There is much in these proverbs that is compatible with God’s Wisdom, because, for all their cynicism, they get one thing right: we are not in control. So much of life is broken and tragic and just plain wrong. Sometimes there is nothing we can do but sigh and suffer with Moses in his prayer to God recorded in Psalm 90:

“All our days pass away under Your wrath; we finish our years with a moan. Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures; yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away. Who considers the power of Your anger, and Your wrath according to the fear of You? So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”

Psalm 90:9–12

However, if we uncritically followed the cynical proverbs, they, like their can-do counterparts, would also lead us astray. They would lead us to lose hope in God’s promise to put the world right again (see Romans 8:18–25).

Moses’ prayer in Psalm 90 might sound cynical. But, read the ending:

“Return, O LORD, How long? Satisfy us in the morning with Your unfailing love … Make us glad for as many days as You have afflicted us … May Your deeds be shown to Your servants … Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us and establish the work our hands; yes, establish the work of our hands.”

Psalm 90:13–17

With all the other proverbs that are pushed on you, spend some time with God’s Proverbs today. You will see that true wisdom is to trust God even when our plans fail. True wisdom is to trust God even when we are overtaken by tragedy. True wisdom is to surrender and say with Jesus, “Not my will, but Thy will be done” (Matthew 26:39).

True Wisdom embodied in Jesus will lead us to give up our can-do optimism, but will never let us give up our hope that on the other side of this tragedy, misery, and cross-bearing there is the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life of the world to come. And so we pray,

“Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”

Psalm 90:12, “A Prayer of Moses, The Man of God”

Psalm 90.12

Acknowledgements
I drew much of the content for this post from lectures by Professor David Schmitt presented at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. Also helpful was Alyce McKenzie’s book Preaching Proverbs: Wisdom for the Pulpit (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996).

The images came from a photo of a stained glass window installed at First Presbyterian Church in Columbus, Mississippi. Downloaded at http://www.firstprescolumbus.org/

The Good News about Jesus

How should Christians share the good news about Jesus? Good news is what followers of Jesus are all about. Jesus said, “This good news (gospel) of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations” (Matthew 24.14).

So what do we say when we say the good news? I recommend the following 12 statements
that form a story, with a warning between statement 11 and 12:

IMG_2002

(1) God created the world and called it “very good.”
(see Genesis 1-2)

(2) God’s human creatures turned it bad by dis-trusting God and going their own way.
(see Genesis 3)

(3) God promised to rescue His world
and reclaim His people
from sin, death, and the devil.
(see Genesis 3.15)

(4) God promised to do this through Abraham’s family, the people of Israel.
(see Genesis 12.1–3)

(5) Sin proved too strong. Israel also dis-trusted God and went their own way.
God sentenced them to die in exile.
(see Isaiah 1–10 )

(6) But God promised He Himself would come and finish the job as Israel
and in Israel’s place.
(see Isaiah 53–56)

IMG_2003(7) God’s Only Son did it
by being born
among the people of Israel,
receiving the name Jesus,
calling Israel back to God,
then finally suffering
the worst of sin
and dying with it.
(see Luke 22.37 and 23.46)

IMG_1996

(8) By raising Jesus
from the dead,
God made a new beginning
for his good world.
(see Luke 3.38 and 24.36–49; also Acts 10.34–43 )

(9) To share
in this new beginning,
trust and follow Jesus.
(see Acts 3.17–26)

(10) Jesus would have you die to your sin
by being joined to His death and resurrection in Baptism.
(see Acts 2.36–39 and Romans 6.1–14)

IMG_2005

(11) Jesus would have you live a new life
within His Israel, the Church,
living now to love God
and serve your neighbor.
(see Luke 6.20–49 and 12.22–34; also Galatians 6.16)

Caution: For those who ignore and reject Jesus,
please realize that you remain under the threat of his eternal judgment.
(see Luke 13.5 and 19.11–27; also Acts 3.19–23)

(12) For those who trust and follow Jesus, rejoice,
because he promises to raise you from the dead
and give you a permanent place among his people
when he comes to make God’s world “very good” again.
(see Luke 20.34–38 and Acts 3.19–23)

Note: the images posted are photos of stained glass installed in the chapel of Concordia University, Wisconsin

The Trouble with Trusting a Tyrant

In a military leadership class I took, we watched the movie Twelve O’Clock High. The story is situated in World War II and centered on the commander of a bomber group, Brigadier General Savage.

12 OClock High

After suffering heavy losses, the unit’s morale and discipline has plummeted. General Savage is sent in to turn them around. Like a 7th Grade science teacher on the first day of school, Savage starts off tough. Pretty much everyone hates him for it. They see him as a tyrant. But by the end, not only does his unit trust him, they’re ready to lay down their lives following him.

It’s a common enough plot line. Whether centered on a tough-as-nails coach, an inspiring chief executive, or Mr. Miyagi and Daniel-san, the tyrant-to-trusted-leader transformation tells a story about a radical shift in perspective.

The tyrant-to-trusted-leader plot line helps say why and how Christians follow Jesus.

Follow IconThese days Christians give lots of reasons for following Jesus.
Most are different ways of saying, “Jesus is more appealing than other options.”
The argument goes like this:

  • Jesus saves by grace. Other religions demand works.
    Therefore, Jesus is more appealing because of His unconditional love.
  • Jesus teaches peace. Other ways of life depend on violence.
    Therefore, Jesus has greater moral appeal.
  • Jesus offers an eternal hope. Other hopes are temporary.
    Therefore … you get the picture.

These arguments are not completely wrong. But they do ignore a problem for every person confronted by the Jesus of the New Testament. When you first meet him, he strikes you as a tyrant.

Consider Jesus’ parable in Luke 19:11–27. He compares his coming kingdom to that of a nobleman who goes to a distant country to receive royal power and then return. Being an analogy, the parable does not say Jesus is like the hypothetical nobleman in every way, but only in some ways. There are at least three points of comparison:

  1.  Like the nobleman, Jesus will receive power to reign (see Luke 1:32-33);
  2.  He will be rejected by some of his people: “We don’t want this man to be our king!” (Luke 19:14);
  3.  Those who refuse this ruler will perish: “As for those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king
    over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me” (Luke 19:27).

So there might be a more pragmatic, but less appealing reason to follow Jesus. If he’s either going to destroy or save you, wouldn’t it be better to be saved? Maybe, maybe not—there are plenty of people who would choose death in defiance of tyranny.

The Christian tradition would say, “Jesus only seems to be a tyrant. In truth, he has our best interest in mind. He threatens and punishes only because he wants us to turn back to him, the Son of God, the source of all goodness. To let us go on stubbornly refusing his rule and reign would be apathy or indifference, but not love. Furthermore, he does not want us merely to cower before him in fear, but to trust him as dearly loved children of God.”

As a follower of Jesus, I believe this is true (Lord, help my unbelief). I believe it because I have begun to live in this tyrant-to-trusted-leader storyline that is transforming my perspective.

The story that will do this to you is the one Good News given in four versions: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, which claim to fulfill the Old Testament narrative of God and Israel. There is no way to have your view of Jesus transformed other than living in this story together with his followers, the Church. As for how to live this story in a particular place and time, the New Testament letters of Paul, John, and Peter are authoritative guides.

Living in this story centered on Jesus will lead you to trust him—even to lay down your life for him. But the trouble with trusting a tyrant is that you don’t know from the outset whether he or she truly has your best interest in mind. You can’t give a knock-down argument that your leader is trustworthy. You don’t know if you’re following a Mr. Miyagi or a Charles Manson.

miyagiSo what can you do? How do you come to the River of Living Water without drinking the Kool-Aid?
You could employ critical doubt and exercise sound judgment. But isn’t that just a sophisticated way of saying, “Be your own benevolent dictator.” If you won’t surrender and trust another, why would you trust your own tyrannical nature?

The trouble is not really in trusting a tyrant. It’s deciding which tyrant to trust.

As a follower of Jesus, I can only hold out a yet-to-be proven hope. It’s the plot line in which our perspective shifts from seeing Jesus as a tyrant to receiving him as our trustworthy King. This might not seem like much to go on. But upon closer examination, it’s the same hopeful plot line that everyone else is offering. The only difference is who is at the center.