Posts tagged ‘Hippolytus’

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:

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.

January 30, 2012 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Weekend Extra – “If it’s good enough for Jesus…”

It’s an apocryphal story, but one that has tenaciously hung on, thanks to everything from its publication in the New York Times to its unrelenting retelling by Kinky Friedman.  The story goes that Ma Ferguson, Texas’ first woman governor, was infuriated by the suggestion that Spanish speaking immigrants would benefit from public school classes taught in their own native language.  In a fit of rage, she picked up a copy of the King James Version of the Bible and exclaimed, “If English was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for Texas!”

English, at least in the way we know it today in the King James Bible, did not arise until 1550.  And the King James Version was not translated until 1611.  Jesus did not speak English.  He spoke Aramaic.  Whoops.

Though Ma Ferguson’s fabled declaration is goofy because it betrays a complete ignorance of the history of language, the principle behind her statement, even if she never said it, is actually quite profound:  “If it was good enough for Jesus, perhaps it ought to be good enough for us.”  Indeed, Jesus Himself puts forth this principle when He says things like, “A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20).  Jesus is essentially saying, “If the way of suffering, persecution, and the cross is good enough for Me, it’s good enough for you also.  You too will suffer.”  As Jesus elsewhere teaches, “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24).

Over the course of my ministry, I have occasionally encountered Christians who, for one reason or another, do not want to be baptized.  Sometimes they will tell me, “I’m just not ready yet.”  Other times, their excuses are a little more nuanced: “I already believe in Jesus and that means I’m already saved!  So why do I need to be baptized?”  My response to such objections echoes Ma Ferguson’s:  “If it’s good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for you!”  Indeed, this is precisely what Jesus Himself teaches in the text we studied this past weekend in worship.

In Matthew 3, Jesus travels from His home in Galilee to the Jordan so that He may be baptized by John.  John, knowing that Jesus is sinless, and, as far as he can tell, in no need of a regenerative bath, objects:  “I need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me” (Matthew 3:14)?  Jesus responds, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15).  I appreciate Hippolytus’ paraphrase of and commentary on Jesus’ statement:

Let it be so now, for it so becomes us to fulfill all righteousness. I am the Fulfiller of the law; I seek to leave nothing wanting to its whole fulfillment, so that after Me Paul may exclaim, “Christ is the fulfilling of the law for righteousness to every one that believes.” Let it be so now, for it so becomes us to fulfill all righteousness. Baptize Me, John, in order that no one may despise baptism. I am baptized by you, the servant, that no one among kings or dignitaries may scorn to be baptized by the hand of a poor priest. (ANF 5:236).

Hippolytus states Jesus’ point this way:  Christ is baptized so that no one may despise, eschew, or reject baptism.  In other words, if baptism is good enough for Jesus, it ought be good enough for us!  So do not despise it!

Have you been baptized?  If not, let me ask you a simple question:  “If baptism is good enough for Jesus, shouldn’t it be good enough for you?”  Moreover, think about the promises attached to this Sacrament.  Luther explains:  “Baptism works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare” (Small Catechism).  With promises such as these, why wouldn’t you want to be baptized?

Finally, baptism is good enough for you not only because it was good enough for Jesus, but because you’re bad enough for baptism.  You, as Scripture declares, are sinful.  And you need God’s holy bath to wash you clean.  So, “be baptized and wash your sins away” (Acts 22:16)!

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January 3, 2011 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

ABC Extra – Credo! The History and Value of the Creeds

This past weekend, we kicked off a new series at Concordia titled, “Credo! Trusting in the Truth.”  In this series, we are examining some of the foundational doctrines of biblical Christianity using the contours of the Apostles’ Creed.  Because we are using to the Apostles’ Creed to guide us through our doctrinal foray, I thought it might be helpful to offer a little bit of background on the origin and formulation of this creed.

The Apostles’ Creed finds its birth between AD 100 and 120 when it was used as a baptismal liturgy to guide new converts in the true faith.  A legend from the fifth or sixth century conjectures that the Creed was written by the twelve apostles themselves, each contributing a line to it. According to the legend, Peter opened the Creed: “I believe in God, the Father Almighty,” with Andrew then adding, “And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord,” while James the elder continued, “Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit.”  Although this legend may seem pious, it is also certainly apocryphal.

In reality, the Apostles’ Creed was formalized, though not completely standardized, among Christians by the second century.  Writings from the early church fathers echo creedal language.  Consider, for instance, these two passages:

Be deaf, therefore, whenever anyone speaks to you apart from Jesus Christ, who is of the stock of David, who is of Mary, who was truly born, ate and drank, was truly persecuted under Pontius Pilate, was truly crucified and died in the sight of beings of heaven, of earth and the underworld, who was also truly raised from the dead. (Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Trallians 9:1-2, c. AD 107)

We also know in truth one God, we know Christ we know the Son, suffering as He suffered, dying as He died, and risen on the third day, and abiding at the right hand of the Father, and coming to judge the living and the dead.  And in saying this we say what has been handed down to us.  (Hippolytus, Profession of the Presbyters of Smyrna, c. AD 180)

In both of these statements from Ignatius and Hippolytus, we find creedal language.  Thus, the great doctrines of Christianity as confessed in the creeds are as old as Christianity itself.

Whenever I speak on or write about the creeds, an inevitable objection, often stated as a question, arises: “But why do we need the creeds?  We already have the Bible!  Shouldn’t we have no other creed than the Bible?”  The Bible, as God’s inspired, inerrant, infallible Word most definitely gets the first – and for that matter, the last – word.  The creeds, however, are nevertheless invaluable to the Church and ought to be retained by the Church for three reasons.

The Bible itself contains creeds. The idea for Christian creeds comes directly from the Bible itself!  Creeds contained in the Bible include, “Jesus is Lord” (1 Corinthians 12:3), “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, He was buried, and He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:2-3), and, of course, the beautiful and poetic confession of Christ as God in Philippians 2:5-11.  And these are just a few examples of creeds contained in the Scriptures.  Christians have always wanted to be able to confess their faith and creeds afford opportunities to do this.  So it is only natural that Christians would have creeds.

The creeds hit the high points. There is a reason the children’s song “Jesus Loves Me” has stood the test of time.  It simply and whimsically expresses the foundational truths of the gospel in a compact and comprehendible way.  So it is with the creeds.  If you want to know Christian doctrine in a nutshell, then turn the creeds!  Indeed, in my ABC, I cited this insight from Cyril of Jerusalem:

For since all cannot read the Scriptures, some being hindered as to the knowledge of them by want of learning, and others by a want of leisure, in order that the soul may not perish from ignorance, we comprise the whole doctrine of the faith in a few lines…So for the present listen while I simply say the Creed, and commit it to memory…For the articles of the faith were not composed as seemed good to men; but the most important points collected out of all the Scripture make up one complete teaching of the Faith. (Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, V:12, AD 347)

Even in the fourth century, not every Christian was as familiar with his faith as he should have been.  Thus, Cyril employs the Apostles’ Creed as a tool to teach the cardinal canons of the Christian faith.  The creeds can do the same for us.

The creeds guard against error. The Apostles’ Creed was, in ancient parlance, referred to as “the rule of faith.”  That is, it served as a guideline by which to distinguish orthodoxy from heresy.  Indeed, part of the problem with those who say, “I have no other creed than the Bible” is that many sects pervert the Scriptures to suit their own twisted teachings, even as the apostle Peter warns:  “Ignorant and unstable people distort…the Scriptures to their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:16).  For example, the Jehovah’s Witnesses claim only to use the Bible to arrive at their doctrines, yet they deny the doctrine of the Trinity.  The creeds, especially the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds, will let you do no such thing.  I had a professor in seminary who would tell his classes, “You need the creeds because they keep you from getting weird.”  This precisely right.  The creeds guide us along the course of true faith.

It is with this in mind that we hope you’ll join us these next several weeks at Concordia as we revisit the basics of Christian doctrine to which we can joyfully proclaim, “Credo!” – I believe!

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September 13, 2010 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

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