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Infant Baptism

[Infant Baptism]208

[47] At this point we come to a question that the devil uses to confuse the world through his sects, namely, about infant baptism.209 Do children believe, and is it right to baptize them? [48] To this we reply briefly: Let the simple dismiss this question and leave it to the learned. But if you wish to answer, then reply in this way:


[49] That the baptism of infants is pleasing to Christ is sufficiently proved from his own work. God has sanctified many who have been thus baptized and has given them the Holy Spirit. Even today there still are many whose teaching and life attest that they have the Holy Spirit. Similarly by God’s grace we have been given the power to interpret the Scriptures and to know Christ, which is impossible without the Holy Spirit. [50] But if God did not accept the baptism of infants, he would not have given any of them the Holy Spirit—or any part of him. In short, all this time down to the present day there would have been no person on earth who could have been a Christian. Because God has confirmed baptism through the bestowal of his Holy Spirit, as we have perceived in some   p 463  of the Fathers, such as St. Bernard,210 Gerson, 211 John Huss, 212 and others,213 and because the holy Christian church will not disappear until the end of the world, so they 214 must confess that it is pleasing to God. For he cannot contradict himself, support lies and wickedness, or give his grace or Spirit for such ends. [51] This is just about the best and strongest proof for the simple and unlearned. For no one can take from us or overthrow this article, “I believe in one holy Christian church, the communion of saints,” etc.


[52] Further, we say, we do not put the main emphasis on whether the person baptized believes or not, for in the latter case baptism does not become invalid. Everything depends upon the Word and commandment of God. [53] This is a rather subtle point, perhaps, but it is based upon what I have said, that baptism is simply water and God’s Word in and with each other; that is, when the Word accompanies the water, baptism is valid, even though faith is lacking. For my faith does not make baptism; rather, it receives baptism. Baptism does not become invalid if it is not properly received or used, as I have said, for it is not bound to our faith but to the Word.


[54] Even though a Jew should come today deceitfully and with an evil purpose, and we baptized him in good faith, we ought to say that his baptism was nonetheless valid. For there would be water together with God’s Word, even though he failed to receive it properly. Similarly, those who partake unworthily of the sacrament 215 receive the true sacrament even though they do not believe.


[55] Thus you see that the objection of the sectarians is absurd. As we said, even if infants did not believe—which, however, is not the case, as we have proved—still the baptism would be valid and no one should rebaptize them. Similarly, the sacrament is not vitiated if someone approaches it with an evil purpose. Moreover, that same person would not be permitted on account of that abuse to take it again the very same hour, as if not having truly received the sacrament the first time. That would be to blaspheme and desecrate the sacrament in the worst way. How dare we think that God’s Word and ordinance should be wrong and invalid because we use it wrongly?


[56] Therefore, I say, if you did not believe before, then believe now and confess, “The baptism indeed was right, but unfortunately I did not receive it rightly.” I myself, and all who are baptized, must say before God: “I come here in my faith and in the faith of others, nevertheless I cannot build on the fact that I believe and many people are praying for me. Instead, I build on this, that it is   p 464  your Word and command.” In the same way I go to the Sacrament [of the Altar] not on the strength of my own faith, but on the strength of Christ’s Word. I may be strong or weak; I leave that for God to decide. This I know, however—that he has commanded me to go, eat, and drink, etc., and that he gives me his body and blood; he will not lie or deceive me.


[57] Thus we do the same with infant baptism. We bring the child with the intent and hope that it may believe, and we pray God to grant it faith. But we do not baptize on this basis, but solely on the command of God. Why? Because we know that God does not lie. My neighbor and I—in short, all people—may deceive and mislead, but God’s Word cannot deceive.
[58] Therefore only presumptuous and stupid spirits draw the conclusion that where there is no true faith, there also can be no true baptism. Likewise I might argue, “If I have no faith, then Christ is nothing.” Or again, “If I am not obedient, then father, mother, and magistrates are nothing.” Is it correct to conclude that when people do not do what they should, the thing they misuse has no existence or value? [59] Friend, rather reverse the argument and conclude this: Baptism does have existence and value, precisely because it is wrongly received. For if it were not right in itself, no one could misuse it nor sin against it. The saying goes, “Abusus not tollit, sed confirmat substantiam,”216 that is, “Misuse does not destroy the substance, but confirms its existence.” Gold remains no less gold if a harlot wears it in sin and shame.
[60] Let the conclusion therefore be that baptism always remains valid and retains its complete substance, even if only one person had ever been baptized and he or she did not have true faith. For God’s ordinance and Word cannot be changed or altered by human beings. [61] But these fanatics are so blinded that they do not see God’s Word and commandment, and they regard baptism as nothing but water in the creek or in the pot, and a magistrate as just another person. And because they see neither faith nor obedience, they believe that these things also have no validity. [62] Here lurks a sneaky, seditious devil who would like to snatch the crown from the rulers and trample it underfoot and would, in addition, pervert and nullify all God’s work and ordinances. [63] Therefore we must be alert and well armed and not allow ourselves to be turned aside from the Word, by regarding baptism merely as an empty sign, as the fanatics dream.


[64] Finally,217 we must also know what baptism signifies and why God ordained precisely this sign and external ceremony for the sacrament by which we are first received into the Christian community. [65] This act or ceremony consists of   p 465  being dipped into the water, which covers us completely,218 and being drawn out again. These two parts, being dipped under the water and emerging from it, point to the power and effect of baptism, which is nothing else than the slaying of the old Adam and the resurrection of the new creature, both of which must continue in us our whole life long. Thus a Christian life is nothing else than a daily baptism, begun once and continuing ever after. For we must keep at it without ceasing, always purging whatever pertains to the old Adam, so that whatever belongs to the new creature may come forth. [66] What is the old creature? It is what is born in us from Adam, irascible, spiteful, envious, unchaste, greedy, lazy, proud—yes—and unbelieving; it is beset with all vices and by nature has nothing good in it. [67] Now, when we enter Christ’s kingdom, this corruption must daily decrease so that the longer we live the more gentle, patient, and meek we become, and the more we break away from greed, hatred, envy, and pride.


[68] This is the right use of baptism among Christians, signified by baptizing with water. Where this does not take place but rather the old creature is given free rein and continually grows stronger, baptism is not being used but resisted. Those who are outside of Christ can only grow worse day by day. [69] It is as the proverb says, and it is the truth, “The longer evil lasts, the worse it becomes.”219 [70] If a year ago someone was proud and greedy, this year such a person is much more so. Vice thus grows and increases in people from youth on. A young child has no particular vices, but becomes vicious and unchaste as he or she grows older. When he or she reaches adulthood, the real vices become more and more potent day by day.


[71] The old creature therefore follows unchecked the inclinations of its nature if not restrained and suppressed by the power of baptism. On the other hand, when we become Christians, the old creature daily decreases until finally destroyed. This is what it means truly to plunge into baptism and daily to come forth again. [72] So the external sign has been appointed not only so that it may work powerfully on us but also so that it may point to something. [73] Where faith is present with its fruits, there baptism is no empty symbol, but the effect accompanies it; but where faith is lacking, it remains a mere unfruitful sign.
[74] Here you see that baptism, both by its power and by its signification, comprehends also the third sacrament, formerly called penance,220 which is really   p 466  nothing else than baptism. [75] What is repentance but an earnest attack on the old creature and an entering into a new life? If you live in repentance, therefore, you are walking in baptism, which not only announces this new life but also produces, begins, and exercises it. [76] In baptism we are given the grace, Spirit, and strength to suppress the old creature so that the new may come forth and grow strong.


[77] Therefore baptism remains forever. Even though someone falls from it and sins, we always have access to it so that we may again subdue the old creature. [78] But we need not have the water poured over us again. Even if we were immersed in water a hundred times, it would nevertheless not be more than one baptism, and the effect and significance would continue and remain. [79] Repentance, therefore, is nothing else than a return and approach to baptism, to resume and practice what has earlier been begun but abandoned.


[80] I say this to correct the opinion, which has long prevailed among us, that baptism is something past that we can no longer use after falling back into sin. This idea comes from looking only at the act that took place a single time. [81] Indeed, St. Jerome is responsible for this view, for he wrote, “Penance is the second plank 221 on which we must swim ashore after the ship founders,” [the ship] in which we embarked when we entered the Christian community.222 [82] This takes away the value of baptism, making it of no further use to us. Therefore it is incorrect to say this.223 The ship does not break up because, as we said, it is God’s ordinance and not something that is ours. But it does happen that we slip and fall out of the ship. However, those who do fall out should immediately see to it that they swim to the ship and hold fast to it, until they can climb aboard again and sail on in it as before.
[83] Thus we see what a great and excellent thing baptism is, which snatches us from the jaws 224 of the devil and makes us God’s own, overcomes and takes away sin and daily strengthens the new person, and always endures and remains until we pass out of this misery into eternal glory.


[84] Therefore let all Christians regard their baptism as the daily garment that they are to wear all the time. Every day they should be found in faith and with its fruits, suppressing the old creature and growing up in the new. [85] If we want to be Christians, we must practice the work that makes us Christians, and let those who fall away return to it. [86] As Christ, the mercy seat,225 does not withdraw from us or forbid us to return to him even though we sin, so all his treasures   p 467  and gifts remain. As we have once obtained forgiveness of sins in baptism, so forgiveness remains day by day as long as we live, that is, as long as we carry the old creature around our necks.


Robert Kolb, Timothy J. Wengert, and Charles P. Arand, The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2000), 462–467.