Baptism Is Not Simple Water Only
Infant baptism is a perennial problem for many Americans surrounded as we are by the Baptists, Church of Christ, Non-denominationals, and Pentecostals who won't baptize babies. But we say in the Large Catechism: "How it [Baptism] is to be maintained and defended against heretics and sectarians we shall leave to the learned" (III, 4, 2). We also say there, "Let the simple dismiss this question [of infant Baptism] from their minds and refer it to the learned" (48). I've concluded, however, that all our questions, confusion, and doubts about Baptism come down to the fact God promises Baptism is not simple water only but we don't believe it.
We say we believe: "It is not simply common water.It is nothing else than a divine water" (14). And that "it is sheer wickedness and devilish blasphemy whennew spirits, in order to slander Baptism, ignore God's Word and ordinance, and look upon it as water which is taken from the well" (15). Not us. With Luther we say, "'The water which is poured in Baptism is not the water given by God as the Creator, but given by God the Savior'" (Krauth, Cons. Ref., 541). "Baptism is not just plain water" the '91 catechism says. "Not simple water only" the 43 catechism say. But saying it one way or another isn't the problem. Believing it at all is.
We explain why we believe Baptism isn't just plain water by saying that "it is the water included in God's command and combined with God's Word." God's Word that created all things out of nothing. God's Word that speaks to the dead and they live. God's Word that speaks to the blind and they see, the deaf and they hear, the lame and they are whole, speaks in Baptism. Therefore, you can't praise it too highly. You can say, as we confess, that Baptism is "a divine, heavenly, holy, and blessed water." "Praise it in any other terms you can." "No one can sufficiently extol it, for it contains and conveys all the fullness of God" (17).
You probably have your birth certificate, Social Security Card, will, and car title all words of men someplace safe. They're legally important. You might have a letter from your spouse, a card from your child, a note from your parent all words of men saved because they're precious to you. Spoken words can be precious too, but they are preserved inside of you. Something on paper is outside of you that testifies to you. So Baptism is God's Word of promise joined to Water that you can see, touch, and feel outside of you. Baptism tells you that you, a lost and condemned creature, have been placed into the Father, the Son, and Holy Ghost. You who we're in the outer darkness have been placed inside God's family.
God promises Baptism is not just plain water; believe it. Believe that while any water will do, not any word will. Here Confessional Lutherans stand between Catholics and Protestants. We reject the Catholic teaching which says "that God has joined to [this] water a spiritual power which, through the water washes away sin." And we reject those "who teach that Baptism washes away sin through the assistance of the divine will, as if the washing takes place through God's will and not at all through the Word and the water" (SC, III, V, 2-3). We stand with Augustine who spoke before there was a Catholic Church and 1,100 years before the Protestants. "'[I]t is the Word which cleanses also in the water! Remove the Word, and what is the water other than mere water! Join the Word to the element, and then a sacrament is effected; this, too, is, as it were, a visible Word'" (In the Name of Jesus, 351).
Any water, hard, soft, dirty, clean, tap, bottle, river, or lake is fine. But not any word will do. There is a Pentecostal group that Baptizes only in Jesus' name. Feminist pastors are baptizing in the name of the Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier to avoid saying those horrid words Father and Son. These are not valid Baptisms because the Word God commanded us to use is not used. Then you have the Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, and Unitarians. These all use the words Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in baptizing, but they deny the content of those words, the Triune God, so their baptisms aren't valid either. Yours is.
Your Baptism is not simple Water. It's Water used as God the Son commanded in connection with His Word. We confess in Baptism III that "without God's Word the water is plain water and no Baptism." Without God's Word it's just an outward washing, wiping, cleaning. "But with the Word of God it isa lifegiving water, rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth" by the Holy Spirit. How we would use Baptism, praise it, rely on it, rejoice in it, and live in it, if it took years off our bodies: smoothed wrinkles, removed age spots. How we would tell everybody about Baptism if it imparted physical strength or beauty. How we would thank God for Baptism if protected us from germs, disease, or even poison ivy.
But it does done of these. The baptized wrinkle, age, weaken, sicken, itch, and die. Nope, Baptism doesn't lengthen my physical life it only gives me eternal life. Baptism isn't rich in physical strength but in God's grace. Baptism doesn't wash away physical danger but washes me into a new birth. Move along. Nothing to see here but a man who is living forever, a man whose God's grace is constantly washing over, a man who has been reborn into the realm of angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven. We baptize because after Jesus fulfilled all of God's Laws and paid for the sins of the world He commanded us to use Water to place people into the forgiveness He won on Good Friday, but not for nothing was Christ baptized at the beginning of His ministry. His Baptism leads to ours. Here's what we confess about this: "Do you think it was a jest that the heavens opened when Christ allowed Himself to be baptized, that the Holy Spirit descended visibly, and that the divine Glory and Majesty were manifested everywhere?" (LC, IV, 21).
Like Olivia Newton John says, Luther gets physical and that's good. God joins His name to physical water to apply it to physical bodies to give to them what His Son won for them with His physical body and blood. Luther says that "God used the Baptism of His beloved Child, our Lord Jesus Christ, to sanctify and set aside the Jordan and all water for the blessed flood and rich action of washing sins away'" (Peters, Baptism & Lord's Supper, 84). This direct physical connection between the Water that touched the holy body of Jesus and the Baptismal Water that touches yours goes back to the 5th century. This is a statement attributed to Chrysostom: "'He [Jesus] condescended to be baptized, not that [His] sins needed to be put aside, for He alone committed no sin, but that He should sanctify the waters of Baptism, so that one could trust that sins are washed away. The waters of Baptism would never be able to wash away sins merely by believing, unless the waters had been sanctified by the Lord's body touching them'" (Ibid., 86).
Baptism is not a trifling matter. We confess in the Large Catechism: "It is of the greatest importance that we regard Baptism as excellent, glorious, and exalted. It is the chief cause of our contentions and battles because the world now is full of sects who proclaim that Baptism is an external thing and that external things are of no use. What God institutes and commands cannot be useless. It is a most precious thing, even though to all appearances it may not be worth a straw" (IV, 7-8). God's Word makes Baptism more than simple water. It makes it His Water, to do what He promises to forgive, to grace, to rebirth, to eternally save.
What God says Baptism is, is to do for Baptism what Marty Robbins did in his 1959 version of "Cool Water." He's a cowboy riding a mule through "barren waste without the taste of waterwith throats burned dry and souls that cry for water, cool, clear, water." Thirsty or not when hearing that song you too will thirst for cool, clear water. God's Word promises that the miracles you're thirsting for are found for you in the Waters of your Baptism. They say millennials thirst for community. In your Baptism is the whole Communion of Saints; you're baptized into the very Body of Christ, into the family of God. Merry Christmas from the family.
If you're sick, aging, dying, or bone dry thirsty for life, here in Baptismal Water is the miracle of healthy, everlasting life promised to you in God's name, for Jesus' sake, through the Holy Spirit's regenerating. Every Christmas story that has another chance, a new start, a changed person is at best a pale reflection and at worse a parody of the miracle God promises in Baptism. It's time to believe in miracles that God has promised in your Baptism. It's time to stop looking down at baptismal waters as Naaman did the waters of the Jordan.
Do you have a sense of your utter sinfulness? Of blemishes, blood, dust, and mud that cover you because of your sinfulness? From the promise in Titus 3 that Baptism is "the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit" which is generously poured out on you in Baptism, you are to see the scene in the movie where the filthy, bloody, battered person stands in the shower. The camera shows the blood, dust, and mud carried away by the water running off the person's feet and into the drain never to be seen again. Miraculous cleaning, divine washing is promised you in Baptism because Baptism is not simple water only. It washes sins away a person was sure couldn't be removed. It removes stains of a lifetime. You're Naaman just stepped out of the Jordan with leprous flesh restored like the flesh of a child. You're the man born blind who washed and saw. In Baptism, God gives not just second chances but whole a whole new life.
You know stories from the gold rush in California or the Klondike where men, women, families were ruined in search of the gold in the hills waiting for them there? Did you know there is more gold dissolved in the ocean than has ever been dug from the hills? In fact, there is about 180 times more (Asimov's, Book of Facts, 18-19). Because God promises that Baptism is not simple water only, there is more forgiveness, life, and heaven itself in the Water you were baptized with than in all the hearts of men, all the medicine of man, all the pleasures of earth. Take this gold not to the bank but into the heart and out into life. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Midweek Advent I (20181128); Baptism I