Archive for January, 2012

Common Question: What’s the deal with the Lutheran doctrine of baptism?

"Baptism of Neophytes" by Masaccio (15th century)

“Why can’t women be ordained in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod?”  “How does evolution square with the biblical record of creation?”  “We confess in the Apostles’ Creed that Christ ‘descended into hell.’  Where does it teach that in the Bible?”  I receive questions such as these – as well as many others – about why Lutherans believe and teach what they believe in teach.  So periodically, over the course of the next several weeks and months, I will be taking some time to answer some of the most common questions I regularly receive about Lutheran doctrine.

Today, we begin with a question that is perhaps the most ubiquitous of all:  “What’s the deal with the Lutheran doctrine of baptism?”  Before we dive into this doctrine, it is important to clarify two things.  First, I believe the Lutheran doctrine of baptism is the Christian doctrine of baptism.  That is, I believe that the Lutheran doctrine of baptism is what Scripture itself teaches.  Second, I am fully aware that many sincere and godly Christians differ over the doctrine of baptism.  As I discuss this doctrine, then, I do so in a spirit of humility, respecting and loving those with whom I disagree.  I do not, however, discuss this doctrine with a spirit of relativism, believing that different teachings on baptism are equally true or that what we believe and teach about baptism makes no difference.  Quite the contrary.  If the doctrine of baptism matters to the authors of Scripture, it should matter to us.  Therefore, we should consider carefully what they teach.

What is baptism?

Baptism is a divine ordinance, instituted by Christ Himself, whereby He makes disciples through water combined with God’s name.  Jesus says, “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).  The participle “baptizing” can be translated as a participle of means.  Baptism, therefore, is a means by which disciples are made.

It is important to recognize that baptism is something God does for us and not something we do for God.  This is why Paul says of baptism, “We were therefore buried with Christ through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Romans 6:4).  Notice the passive voice of the verbs:  “buried,” “raised.”  These are divine passives, indicating that God is the One burying our old, sinful natures and raising us to new life in Christ.  We are passive in the matter.  This runs contrary to the teaching of some who describe baptism merely as an act of obedience while denying its divine power.  Consider this quote from a large denomination’s confessional statement: “Baptism is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer’s faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, the believer’s death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus.”[1]  Two things are especially notable about this statement.  First, while obedience is emphasized, the blessings of baptism are not mentioned.  Second, this statement references Romans 6:4, but relegates Paul’s language concerning burial and resurrection to that of symbolism, emphasizing the believer’s faith rather than God’s action.  Paul, however, nowhere indicates that he is speaking symbolically in this verse.  Rather, his language indicates that he has a lively confidence in an actual new life, offered by God through baptism.

Does baptism save?

Yes, baptism does save.  Peter writes, “Baptism now saves you also – not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand – with angels, authorities and powers in submission to Him” (1 Peter 3:21-22).  Peter could not be clearer:  Baptism saves you.  However, it is important to note not only that baptism saves you, but how baptism saves you.  It saves you “by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”  Without the resurrected Christ, baptism is emptied of its power and promise.

There are some who object to the teaching that baptism saves, saying, “Faith in Christ alone saves you!”  They often quote Scripture passages such as Romans 10:9:  “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”  They then argue:  “Paul says that faith in Christ saves you and nowhere mentions baptism in Romans 10:9.  Therefore, faith in Christ, and not baptism, saves you.”  This type of argument deeply disturbs me because it engages in what I call “Bible Verse Battleship.”  In this sad game, people line up their favorite Bible verses to support their favorite pet positions and then, when shown Scriptural testimony which calls into question their position, rather than seeking to reconcile the verses and take into account the whole counsel of God’s Word, they simply declare, “Because my pet Bible verse is true, you must be incorrect!  My Bible verse sunk your Bible verse!”  We should never use Bible verses to “sink” other Bible verses.  Rather, we should assume that all Scripture as speaks with one, harmonious, voice concerning the one, true Christian faith.  Thus, when Peter says, “Baptism now saves you” (1 Peter 3:21), we ought to take his words as complimentary, and not contradictory, to what Paul says in Romans 10:9.

So then, how do we understand Romans 10:9 and 1 Peter 3:21 harmoniously?  Like this.  Baptism does not save simply because it’s baptism, but because it has the promise of Jesus’ presence attached to it (cf. Matthew 28:19-20).  This is why baptism is regularly referred to as a “means of grace.”  God works through simple things such as water in baptism, bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper, and words on a page in Holy Scripture to speak to, meet with, and provide gifts for His people.  Martin Luther explains wonderfully:  “Without God’s word the water [of baptism] is plain water and no baptism.  But with the word of God it is a baptism, that is, a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit.”[2]  Thus, to say that baptism saves you is simply to say that Jesus saves you because Jesus is doing His work in and through baptism!

Why do Lutherans baptize infants?

Lutherans do not baptize infants.  Rather, we baptize people in accordance with Christ’s commands to baptize “all nations” (Matthew 28:19).  The Bible teaches that all are born into sin and deserve God’s condemnation (cf. Psalm 51:5).  Therefore, babies need the salvation Jesus gives in baptism just as much as adults do.  The Bible nowhere prohibits baptizing babies.  In fact, we are told specifically that the promise of baptism is indeed for children: “The promise [of baptism] is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:39).

There are some who maintain that a profession of faith must precede baptism.  And because a baby cannot profess his faith in Christ, he should not be baptized until he is old enough to make such a profession.  In response to this objection, I would point out two things.  First, I would question the assumption that a profession of faith is a necessary prerequisite of baptism.  It often happens that that a person in Scripture confesses his faith before he is baptized, but common occurrence doesn’t always necessarily indicate a divine mandate.  Just because the Bible offers a description of certain things and events (e.g., a person offering a profession of faith before baptism) does not necessarily mean that the Bible is mandating a universal prescription.  Second, I would question the assumption that children cannot confess their faith.  The Psalmist reminds us, “From the lips of children and infants You have ordained praise” (Psalm 8:2, cf. Matthew 21:16).  Children can and do praise God, even if it is with broken grammar and babble.  Finally, from a historical perspective, from the early days of the Christian Church, it was common practice to have parents or sponsors confess the Christian faith on behalf of their children.  The Roman theologian Hippolytus writes this concerning baptism in AD 215:  “Baptize first the children, and if they can speak for themselves let them do so.  Otherwise, let their parents or other relatives speak for them.”[3]  I have written more about infant baptism here: http://bit.ly/qHp97b.

Baptism is a joyous gift from God.  For through it, God meets us with His gifts.  Luther sums up the joy and promise of baptism nicely when he writes:  “We see what a very splendid thing baptism is. It snatches us from the jaws of the devil, makes us God’s own, restrains and removes sin, and then daily strengthens the new man within us.”[4]  Thus is the blessing and gift of baptism!


[1]The Baptist Faith and Message,” VII.

[2] Luther’s Small Catechism, “Baptism,” 3.

[3] Hippolytus, Apostolic Tradition, 21.15.

[4] What Luther Says, Ewald M. Plass, ed. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959) 61.

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January 30, 2012 at 5:15 am 1 comment

ABC Extra – Tackling Temptation

"The Temptation of Christ" by Ary Scheffer (1854)

Whether or not you or a loved one has struggled with alcoholism, the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous have become nearly ubiquitously helpful to millions who struggle with an addiction, habit, or hurt.  What I find so interesting about the Twelve Steps is that Step One is essentially an explication of the Christian doctrine of human depravity: “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.”  Of course, one could insert a whole array of different sins in place of the word “alcohol.”  “We admitted we were powerless over lust – that our lives had become unmanageable.”  “We admitted we were powerless over greed – that our lives had become unmanageable.”  “We admitted we were powerless over self-righteousness – that our lives had become unmanageable.”

This past weekend in worship and ABC, we talked about the trials of temptation.  Satan is a “tempter,” the Bible reminds us (Matthew 4:3), and wants nothing more than to drag us into sin.  And, just as with any other banal allurement or enticement, under our own power, we are helpless to resist Satan’s taunting temptations.  As AA would remind us, “We admitted we were powerless over temptation – that our lives had become unmanageable.”

Sadly, human depravity in the face of sinful temptation is born out again and again in the Scriptures.  When Cain is tempted to murder his brother Abel, God warns Cain, “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it” (Genesis 4:7).  But Cain does not master his sin.  He falls to temptation and kills his brother, Abel.  When Israel is led out of their slavery in Egypt and God ushers them into a place of prosperity, God warns the people:  “When your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God” (Deuteronomy 8:13-14).  God’s warning against forgetting Him proves to be eerily prophetic: “The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD; they forgot the LORD their God” (Judges 3:7).  The allurements and enticements of this world are too overwhelming and overburdening for any human to face and defeat.

Augustine described powerlessness of humans against temptation and transgression using the Latin phrase, non posse non pecarre, meaning, we are “not able not to sin.”  Blessedly, however, Jesus has the remedy for the dourness of our depravity.  For He stands up under temptation on our behalf.  In our text for this past weekend from Matthew 4:1-11, we read how Jesus takes His stand against the devil’s temptations not once, not twice, but three times.  Jesus then takes this victory over temptation and gives it to us by means of His death on the cross.  The preacher of Hebrews explains: “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:15-16).  Because Jesus stood up under temptation, we have the mercy and grace that we need to help us in our time of temptation.  For without God’s mercy and grace, we are powerless to resist the allurements and enticements of this world.

So when you are tempted, look not to your own strength, will, or fortitude, but to the cross.  For on the cross Christ encounters a final temptation from a crowd of jeerers: “Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God” (Matthew 27:40)!  Interestingly, this phrase – “If you are the Son of God – is the same phrase Satan uses to tempt Jesus in the desert in Matthew 4 (cf. Matthew 4:3, 6).  But as with Satan, Christ resists this temptation too.  He does not come down from the cross.  Instead, He dies to achieve victory over sin.  And so on that cross, our victory over temptation is secured.  Praise be to God!

Want to learn more? Go to
www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com
and check out audio and video from Pastor Tucker’s
message or Pastor Zach’s ABC!

January 23, 2012 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

ABC Extra – Daunting Decisions

This past weekend in worship and ABC, we kicked off a new series called “Unresolved” where we are addressing some of the biggest issues and struggles which are often left unresolved in people’s hearts and lives.  This weekend, we asked the question, “What happens when you are unresolved as to which direction you should take or which decision you should make for your life?  How do you receive direction from God?”

I have learned that, in general, God gives us direction in one of the three ways.  First, there are some things on which God directs us, “Go!”  These are things we ought to do and directions we ought to take.  For instance, God instructs the prophet Jonah, “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me” (Jonah 1:2).  Jonah, however, disregards God’s commission and hops a ship to Tarshish, a city in the opposite direction of Nineveh.  Understandably, God is not pleased with Jonah’s rebellion and sends a storm in judgment on Jonah and his sailing companions.  In order to save themselves, the sailors throw Jonah overboard so that God will calm the crazy seas.  When Jonah is cast overboard, God appoints a fish to swallow Jonah and spit him up, poetically enough, right on the banks of Nineveh!  From Jonah, then, we learn that there is grave danger in not heeding God’s direction to “Go!”  In theological parlance, we call a failure to “Go” a “sin of omission.”  That is, when we know what we should do and where we should go, but we fail to do and go, we commit a sin of omission.  We omit God’s direction and instruction from our lives.

Second, there are some things on which God directs us, “Whoa!”  These are things we ought not to do and directions we ought not to take.  For instance, the famous “Thou shalt nots” of many of the Ten Commandments are things to which God says, “No!”  Should I sneak away with a lover and ruin my marriage?  “Thou shalt not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14).  Should I tell a lie about someone else?  “Thou shalt not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16).  Should I spend my time trying to coax others into giving me their things?  “Thou shalt not covet” (Exodus 29:17).  If we do not heed God’s commands and go where God says “Whoa,” in theological parlance, we call this a “sin of commission.”  That is, we cross a boundary God has drawn and thus commit a sin.  These sins too, like sins of omission, are gravely dangerous and offensive to God.

Finally, there are some things on which God directs us, “Grow!”  These are some decisions that God leaves us to make.  For instance, there are times that God will leave it up to us to choose a job, choose a place to live, or choose the stocks we invest our money in.  God can give us clear guidance on these decisions, but He does not promise to.  Therefore, sometimes He guides us in a specific direction concerning these issues and sometimes He does not.  The times when He does not specifically guide us help us grow, for we learn to make wise, reasonable decisions for ourselves.  The times when He does specifically guide us also help us grow, for they teach us to listen closely and carefully for God’s leading and prompting.

As I mentioned in ABC, it is with decisions like these – where God gives us no clear direction in His Word – that we do well to include three things in our decision making process.  First, we must ask for God’s wisdom and guidance.  Though this may sound obvious, far too many people do not do this!  They do not even consider the possibility that God may indeed have an opinion on a life decision!  Thus, learning simply to take your decisions – big and small – to God in prayer not only allows you to experience God’s guidance, it also strengthens your relationship with Him because you are speaking with Him about the significant and small things of your life on a daily basis.  Second, we should wait expectantly and intentionally for God’s answer.  So often, even when we do pray to God about a decision we must make or a challenge we must face, we do not wait for God’s answer.  We simply continue charging ahead at full speed, expecting God to strike us like a lightning bolt out of the blue with His answer.  But we must not only learn how to ask God for guidance, we must also learn how to listen.  This means taking time in slowness and solitude, seeking God’s direction.  Finally, we should counsel with other Christians.  Just as God can lead and guide us, he can lead and guide others.  Thus, the wisdom of other Christians is invaluable in helping us make wise decisions..

God can and does direct you.  As the Psalmist prays, “Direct my footsteps according to Your word.”  May his prayer be our prayer!  And may God give you His guidance!

Want to learn more? Go to
www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com
and check out audio and video from Pastor Tucker’s
message or Pastor Zach’s ABC!

January 16, 2012 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Making the Most of Marriage

At the end of each year, major news outlets publish their lists of the year’s top news stories.  For 2011, Osama bin Laden’s death and Japan’s earthquake and subsequent tsunami were the top news stories according to the Associate Press. [1]  Interestingly, it is not only mainstream news outlets that provide such lists.  Religious news outlets, editorial writers, and bloggers are now following suit.  I have seen lists of 2011’s top religious news stories in Christianity Today [2] and the The Huffington Post[3]  But it is a top ten news story in the Gospel Coalition blog that really caught my attention.  It is titled “Marriages Need Help.”  Collin Hansen, who penned this list, explains why this story made his top ten:

This story could have appeared in my 2010 list, and it might warrant an encore in 2012. Same-sex “marriage,” legalized by New York state in 2011, continues to grab the headlines. But here’s the bigger story: a growing number of Westerners have abandoned the institution altogether. The Pew Research Center recently revealed that a record low number of Americans – 51 percent – are married. The rate dropped 5 percent in just one year, between 2009 and 2010. [4]

If that statistic from the Pew Research Center does not make your jaw drop, it should.  At an increasingly rapid rate, Americans are either (A) getting divorced, (B) never getting married in the first place, or (C) living in lifeless, loveless, romance-less marriages.  It is worth noting that the statistics from Pew do not account for those in category C.

In his book, The Meaning of Marriage, [5] Pastor Tim Keller distinguishes between two kinds of relationships:  consumer relationships and covenantal relationships.  A consumer relationship lasts only as long as the needs of the partners in the relationship are being met satisfactorily.  As soon as needs stop being met, the relationship falls apart.  These kinds of relationships, then, are inherently self-centered, for they exist merely to gratify their participants.  Covenantal relationships, on the other hand, are binding relationships in which the good of the relationship trumps the preferences and immediate needs of the individuals in the relationship.   These relationships are based on a continual commitment rather than on a consumer-fueled contentment.

Part of the reason marriage is on such a sharp decline, Keller argues, is because we have taken what should be the covenantal relationship of marriage and have turned it into a consumer relationship.  In other words, many marriages last only as long as the partners are having their needs met.  As soon as a marriage hits a rough patch, or as soon as one spouse or both spouses feel as though their desires are going unaddressed, divorce all too quickly ensues.  Indeed, this is why many people don’t get married in the first place.  They don’t want to bother with the kind of covenantal commitment that marriage inevitably brings – at least from a legal standpoint, if nothing else.  As a pastor, I have heard more times than I care to remember, “We don’t need a piece of paper [i.e., a marriage license] to tell us that we love each other.  We don’t need to get married!”  This kind of statement breaks my heart.  For what a person who makes such a statement is really saying is, “I don’t love this person quite enough to make things as permanent as a marriage makes things!  I don’t love this person quite enough to enter into a covenant with them!”

Jesus’ words about a Christian’s life apply equally as well to a spouse’s life:  “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me will find it” (Matthew 16:25).  Self-sacrifice is the way of the gospel…and the way of marriage.  Marriage is not about getting your needs met.  It is about sacrificing selflessly for the sake of your spouse.  And yet, through such willing sacrifice, Jesus promises that your needs will indeed be met, even if ever so mysteriously.  You will “find your life,” Jesus says.  But take heed of Jesus’ warning:  If you enter a relationship with a consumer mentality, looking only to your own needs, wants, and desires – if you try to “save your life” – you will only wind up sorely and sadly empty.  You will only wind up losing your life.  Fulfillment in marriage – and in life – begins with emptying yourself in service.

So if you are married, but times are tough, in almost every instance, except those instances in which a family member is in danger, the road to recovery begins with serving your spouse.  If you are not married, but you’d like to be, selfless service is the path to your future spouse’s heart.  This is the help our marriages need.


[1] David Crary, “The top ten news stories of 2011,” The Associated Press (12.30.11).

[2]Top 10 News Stories of 2011,” Christianity Today (12.28.11).

[3] Paul Brandies Raushenbush, “Religion Stories of 2011: The Top 11,” The Huffington Post (12.8.11).

[4] Collin Hansen, “My Top 10 Theology Stories of 2011,” The Gospel Coalition (12.28.11).

[5] See chapter 3, “The Essence of Marriage” in Tim Keller with Katy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage (New York: Dutton, 2011).

January 9, 2012 at 5:15 am 3 comments

Reflections For A New Year

As we begin a new year, it is useful to take a moment to reflect on our lives – where we are, where we have been, and where we are going.  Reflecting is important not only for the realms of finances, family, or fitness, but also for the realm of faith.  For above all, we must realize and recognize who we are in relationship to our Creator.  To this end, the British theologian N.T. Wright has written a set of five questions every Christian must answer – or, better yet, simply remember the answer already given – in order to appropriately and insightfully take stock of his or her life.  I relay these questions – and their answers – so that you may remember who you are in God’s sight.[1]

Who are we?

We must never forget that, as the apostle Paul writes, we are “in Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:22).  This means our identity and purpose must always and only be founded and grounded not in the things, titles, or accolades of this world, but in the cross of our crucified Savior. This is certainly where the apostle’s identity is found: “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14).   If we find our identities in anyone or anything else other than Christ and His cross, we are called to repent and turn back to Him.

Where are we?

N.T. Wright explains: We are “in the good creation of the good God.”  Sometimes we can forget, especially when life becomes dark and difficult, that when God created the world, He created it “good” (Genesis 1:25).  Yes, not all is right with creation.  Yes, there is pain, suffering, and tragedy – none of which were part of God’s dream and design.  But try as it might, evil cannot utterly destroy the goodness of God’s creation.   Indeed, God promises to restore the complete goodness of His creation on the Last Day: “The creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Romans 8:21).  For all of its brokenness, we are still in a good place.  Thus, we ought to celebrate and appreciate the creation in which God has given us to live.

What’s wrong?

In a word, “sin.”  Indeed, this is why God’s good world appears so marred and messed up.  And sin is what is wrong not only with our world at large, but with each of us individually and personally.  Each of us is born into sin.  Because of Adam and Eve, the effects of sin plague us all.  This is called “original sin.”  Each of us also commit sin.  We transgress God’s laws and do not do what we are commanded to do.  This is called “actual sin.”  In a sense then, we are the problem.  We are the ones who make God’s good world a mess through our injustice and iniquity.

What’s the solution?

In a word, “Jesus.”  Jesus is God’s remedy to sin and redemption from sin.  The apostle Peter explains: “Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God” (1 Peter 3:18).  It is important to note that not only is Jesus God’s solution to sin, Jesus is God’s only solution to sin: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).  This means that all other attempts to deal with sin – be they moralistic or legalistic or liberalistic or relativistic – will ultimately fail.  If Christ is not your Forgiver and Redeemer, your sin has not been solved.  Period.

What time is it?

In the Scriptural view, time is not marked by the days on a calendar, but by the acts of our God.  In other words, what matters about the new year is not that we have transitioned from 2011 to 2012, but what God has done for us in the past and will continue to do for us into the future.  N.T. Wright explains cogently the time in which we live:  “We live between resurrection and resurrection, that of Jesus and that of ourselves; between the victory over death at Easter and the final victory when Jesus ‘appears’ again.”  This is finally what makes 2012 special.  For we are another year closer to the coming of Christ and the salvation of our souls.  And that sure and certain hope makes this year a year worth celebrating!


[1] The questions and quotes in this blog can be found in N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003) 275.

January 2, 2012 at 5:15 am 1 comment


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