Baptism is Indicative of More Than You Think
Luther believed that the etymological force of baptismos was immersion (Krauth, Cons. Ref. 535).However, he did not, with the Reform, think the plunging underwater and coming out again was merely a symbol of dying and rising. No, the action of Baptism indicated what really happened in it. And more than we think did.
First, Baptism indicates you've gotten the whole death thing over with. Been there done that. 19th century missionary John Calvert went to the Fiji islands. The captain of the ship tried to dissuade him saying that he would lose his life and those with him among such savages. Calvert Replied, "'We died before we came here'" (Illustrations for Bib. Pre., 72). And so it is with all the baptized. "We were buried with Christ though Baptism into death", says Paul. Afraid of being buried in a dark, dank grave? That's old hat. You've already had that happened, and lived to tell about it.
Your Baptism means that the Old Adam in you should daily die. Why? Because that's what Baptism with water indicates did happen. You return to this truth each time you make the sign of the cross over yourself in the name of the Triune God that you've been baptized into. The unbelieving you that trusts what it can verify with its 5 senses and nothing beyond that entered the grave with the crucified Christ when baptismal waters were applied. The Old Adam, the sinful nature, the flesh that will do anything, promise anything not to die, that kicks and screams, begs and pleads not to die did die when you were baptized.
All that Adam and Eve bequeathed to us, the dissatisfaction with God no matter how good you have it. The desire to hide from God and thinking you can! The blaming others, even God Himself, for your sins is dead. In the Large Catechism we ask, "What is the old man?" We answer: "He is what is born in us from Adam, irascible, spiteful, envious, unchaste, greedy, lazy proud, yes, and unbelieving; he is beset with all vices and by nature has nothing good in him" (IV, 66). All of him was buried with Christ in Baptism. When the Franks were baptized, they would hold their right hand out of the water, so they could say that this hand had never been baptized and could swing their battleaxes freely. The modern equivalent would be holding your wallet (Illustrations, 165), plans, opinions, education, science, or pet sins out of the font. But that's not what baptizing with water indicates. Indications are that all that is you was buried with Christ in Baptism and a new man emerged and arose who is righteous and pure.
First, Baptism indicates that you've gotten the whole death thing over with. Second, Baptism it's not a one in done proposition. O you can only be baptized once. We confess, "Even if we were immersed in water a hundred times, it would nevertheless be only one Baptism" (LC, IV 78). But Baptism indicates that Augustine doesn't live here anymore. Augustine was converted from a promiscuous life to Christ. While walking on the beach, he sees a woman from his past. He doesn't acknowledge her even when she greets him. He keeps walking; she stops and says, "Augustine it's me." Augustine walks faster. She follows. Augustine begins to run. She begins to run saying, "Augustine, it's me; it's me; don't you remember me?" Still running, Augustine, calls out over his shoulder, "Augustine doesn't live here anymore."
Baptism is not a portal into spiritual life which you pass through once and now is behind you. No, we confess that we are to regard our Baptism as our daily dress which we wear at all times (LC, IV, 84). Baptism slays our old man while covering us with Jesus' blood and righteousness which is our beauty and our glorious dress. Baptism "snatches us from the jaws of the devil and makes God our own, overcomes and takes away sin and daily strengthens the new man" we confess (Ibid., 83).
If Augustine does still live here, that indicates you're not using Baptism but resisting it. Here's what we say we believe. "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 free from greed, hatred, envy, and pride. Where this amendment of life does not take place but the old man is given free rein and continually grows stronger, Baptism is not being used but resisted. When we become Christians, the old man daily decreases until he is finally destroyed" (Ibid., 67, 68, 71).
The good news is that if Augustine does still live with you, you can always get back in the boat. Catholic theology thinks of Baptism as a one and done thing. If you fall from faith, out of the Church, out of your Baptism, the only way back in is to find a floating piece of wood and kick your way back to the ship. This second plank' Catholicism calls Penance. We confess, "This interpretation deprives Baptism of its value, making it of no further use to us" (LC, IV, 80-82). Falling out of the ship of the Church into water is bad, but what really happens when we resist our Baptism is we're falling out of water. The solution is make the sign of the cross to remember your baptism and dive back in. The water is still wet, still forgiving, still rescuing, still life giving. Tertullian said, "But we, little fishesare born in water, nor have we safety in any other way than by permanently abiding in water." The "monstrous creature", the devil, knows full well how to kill us little fishes: take us out of the water (ANF, III, 669).
First, your Baptism indicates you've gotten the whole death thing over with. Second, it indicates that Augustine doesn't live here anymore, and third, it indicates that you do own the place. In the Army when you're standing at attention or parade rest your eyes are to be fixed forward. If a drill sergeant sees your eyes checking out what's around you he barks, "You think you own the place?" In Baptism, all things are yours; I mean if forgiveness is, if deliverance from death and even the devil is, and if eternal salvation is yours in Baptism, what's left out? The passage we cite proves this. Romans 6:4 covers the fact that we've passed through death and that Augustine doesn't live here anymore. No, "just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life." Only the Greek isn't "live a new life." It's literally "walk about in a new life like you own the place."
Whether you interpret live' or translate "walk about in a new life" it does not mean step by step monitoring to make sure you're being righteous and pure. It does not mean constantly checking your spiritual temperature to see if there is the right degree of righteousness and purity going on in your fallen little heart. It does not mean continually using a dipstick in your heart, soul, or life to see how much oil of righteousness or purity you have. Because the answer found in our Explanation to the Lord's Prayer is "we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment." No, the walking/living "before God in righteous and purity forever" that we confess is indicated by Baptism is Ephesians 1:4 theology. There we're told that God has chosen to see us in Christ as holy and blameless. In your Baptism, God doesn't see what you use to be; He sees Jesus. And just as He rose from the dead with all sins paid for, every law kept, death behind Him, the devil defeated, and endless life stretching out before Him, that's how you get to walk about every day.
You know why Chrysostom, 4th century A.D., said the Early Church baptized people naked? To shame them? To humble them? No, to remind "you of your former nakedness, when you were in Paradise, and you were not ashamed" (Church from Age to Age, 219). Many Christians act as if Baptism covers them with shame. As if they are baptized into sin rather than into forgiveness, into guilt rather than a clean conscience, and into death rather than walking about in a new life that they own. You won't make use of such a baptism not ever let alone daily. Not even in times of trouble. And in times of struggle, suffering, dying, falling, you're going to return to what you think first made you a Christian. If you think it was you asking Jesus into your heart, you'll return and ask again. If you think it was your deciding to follow Jesus, you'll decide again. If you think it was your choosing Jesus, you'll choose again, and again and again and again.
Confessional Lutherans, in contrast, teach the penitent to "'creep back to Baptism'" (Quest for Holiness, 65). If an act of God, Baptism, is what makes you a Christian, gives you the righteousness and purity to walk about before God forever, to Baptism is where you will go. We confess as much in the Large Catechism, "If we wish to be a Christian, we must practice the work that makes a Christian" (85). We practice it in the morning when we wake up and at bedtime by making the sign of the cross which takes us back once more into the death of the Old Adam and the rising of the New.
Baptism is indicative of more than you think. It indicates you're a renaissance man or woman. You know that's a much coveted title today. That's a trendsetter; that's a breed apart. But the word comes to us from Latin and French and a Christian context. It refers to one born again.' But what gets in your way in Baptism IV is the "should" word. You know that's a word of Law not Gospel, see though how it's used? The imperatives "should die" and "should live" are the practical realization of what baptizing with water indicates did happen (Girgensohn, Teaching Luther's Catechism, II, 57). The external sign, i.e. the going in and coming out of water, indicates what happened to you. That's what we say in our Large Catechism (IV, 72). You're Baptism indicates you've died; you're Old Adam doesn't live here anymore, and you walk about in a new life righteous and pure before God like you own the place because in Christ, for His sake, you do.
Socialite Angela Papadopoulos was on the torpedoed Lusitania in 1915. She was pulled from the sea and given a sailors uniform. "'At my death, when and whenever it should be,' she wrote, I want to be buried wearing the uniform of a sailor.' I still jealously guard it' she said decades later" (Lusitania: Triumph.., 283-4). That plain, rough uniform indicated to her she had been saved from drowning. Our Baptism indicates that we've been saved by drowning and indicates much more than that. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Advent Midweek 3 (20181212); Baptism IV