Saturday, March 23, 2013

Response to Anonymous on Baptism

My apologies, I could not respond easily to Anonymous in the comments section regarding whether or not baptism is a symbol.  I am wordy, as always, so I went over on my character allotment.  So I am posting my response here, because to start over, means that I would have to re-write, and I have a little girl to spend time with and bills to pay, so here is my response.  Go to the last post to see her comments that I am responding to. 
Circumcision was also a sign that meant that the boy is part of the Covenant God made with the Jewish people.  It is a person that circumcises, but it is God who makes that Covenant.  Without that Covenant, the cutting off of the foreskin has no more significance than it does when it is done in a hospital to any other boy.  The work of making that child a Jew, a receiver of the promises made to the Jewish people, is God.  And God thought it so important that He was going to kill Moses for not circumcising his sons before he returned to Egypt on God's errand.

The Jewish faith was not about works. That is what Christ condemned the Pharisees for.  As Hebrews says "Abraham had faith, and that was reckoned to him as righteousness."  The Law given to the Jews was not for their salvation, it was a set of commands that emphasized that they were set apart because they were God's chosen people.  It didn't make them God's chosen people.

Christianity has taught since early times that the chief work of the Law is not our salvation.  We can't be saved by anything we do.  We are sinful.  The chief work of the Law is to show us this.  The Jews, in trying to keep the Law were reminded constantly that they were sinners, and that they needed a Savior.  The rituals that God commanded them to perform, sacrifice, Passover, etc. also pointed to Christ.  Jews knew that the scapegoat released into the Wilderness was not the one that would save them in the end, but it reminded them that a Messiah was coming.  The sacrifices and being sprinkled with blood reminded them that the Messiah would be coming to die for their sins.  The Law could not be kept perfectly, so they knew they needed the mercy of God, and that mercy was the promise of the Messiah.  It was hypocrites who believed they weren't sinning if they forgot the necessity of the Messiah and believed they were keeping the Law if they managed to perform the outward acts (or even add to them) while forgetting that it was God that saves, not themselves.

The texts that you used regarding circumcision of the heart never said that circumcision should not be done, but that if faith is not there, and if there is no fear and love of God so that they follow His teachings and trust in Him to care for them, then there is no point.  Indeed  "He who believes and is baptized will be saved, but He who does not believe will be condemned."  So that is very much the same. 

But Colossians 2 is very clear, and does not contradict any of the other verses that I pointed out.  In fact, it says that we were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands because we were made one with the body of Christ, in the death and resurrection of Christ through our baptisms. 

"In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead."  Colossians 2:11-12

So we don't need circumcision, we need baptism where we are made one in the death and resurrection of Christ.

It can hardly be said that it was a work that I did to be brought into the faith at two weeks of age through baptism, much the same as Jewish baby boys were brought into the Covenant with God through no act of obedience on their part.  It is God's work in both acts that gives it significance, because any boy (or girl)can be circumcised for reasons of cleanliness or tradition (not wanting to debate the merits of these reasons right now), and anyone can dump water on a baby's head or dunk them in a vessel for really any reason.  It is the Word of God which imparts the very real gifts received through both acts.

And you are saying that Colossians 2 and Romans 6 are saying something other than they are saying. Look at Paul's words:  he is not saying that it signifies or refers to something that has already happened.  He says we were buried with Him and raised with Him through our baptisms.  It REALLY happens in baptism.  And circumcision of the heart cannot signify circumcision of the flesh when in most cases, circumcision of the flesh came first.  In fact, even when adult slaves were purchased or servants were hired, in order to serve in a Jewish household, they had to be circumcised in the flesh, and the hope was that their hearts would follow as they were taught the faith.  And when Peter and Paul proclaimed the Word to people, whole households were baptized, and in the days before birth control and small families, whole households often included young children and infants, and nowhere does it say that they were excluded.  There is no command in Scripture to not baptize infants and young children (and the Greek uses Paedo -- meaning infant), or that tells us what age would be appropriate.  The main example we have is the comparison with the Covenant of Circumcision, which happens on the 8th day.  Without God specifically saying "children should not be baptized," I would continue to trust in God's clear promise that baptism makes us one with His death and resurrection, and then raise my children in the faith and teach them God's Word so that they grow and mature in the faith and hopefully, live in it until they die in the faith.  I would rather trust His word too much than too little. God did not demand an act of obedience from infants in the Old Covenant.  God has clearly compared the Old Covenant with the New, and since He very obviously did not exclude infants from the Old (in fact, He actually made them the focus of it to show that it was not their obedience that saved them), then if He planned on excluding infants from the New Covenant, He would specify.

There is nothing in the verses that you have given me which contradicts what I am saying, in fact, you used many of the same ones.  But you are reading them as metaphor, and instead I am trusting what it actually says...God's Word that baptism does what it says.  I am relying multiple verses which correspond with each other to come to this view (a good hermeneutic approach).  Is means is, and unless someone can show me differently, the best view is to trust Him that baptism really does save (1 Peter 3:21, Mark 16:16)

Because in all of this, I am not trusting in an act that I am doing or that a man is doing to me, I am trusting God's promise that He is doing what He says it does;  The Holy Spirit uses means to draw people to faith and to strengthen that faith.  The means He uses are Scripture, as well as Scripture combined with water, and Scripture combined with bread and wine.  The Holy Spirit is truly working through all three of these, because of Scripture -  Lutherans call them "means of grace" and the only thing we do to receive these gifts is just that...we are present to receive them from God himself.

The Holy Spirit accomplishes real things through Holy Scripture and through Holy Baptism.  Often, an adult comes to faith through the hearing of the Word.  But given that infants were circumcised into the old covenant, and whole households were baptized when the head of the household came to faith, it doesn't mean that the Holy Spirit doesn't work through baptism in infants to create faith that is taught by the parents and the Church and continues to grow as they do.  In someone who has come to faith before baptism, baptism strengthens that faith and binds the believer to Christ even more strongly.  In an infant, it brings them into the faith.  It is where God adopts that child as His own, It is where we are born again.

Baptism without faith does not save, but if the Holy Spirit is present, then faith is there.  "By the washing of regeneration and renewing of His Holy Spirit."  After all, as Peter points out, God created the whole world through water and the Word, He also recreates it, one by one. (2 Peter 3:5).  What happens in baptism is an even more amazing miracle.

Even if I believed that baptism is merely a symbol, which I don't, the Bible gives it too much power, I cannot merely say that it is a "lowly" symbol, because Scripture emphasizes over and over how important it is.

God points to this in the Old Testament all the time.  When He cleansed the world, he didn't do it through a metaphorical flood, He did it through a real one.  (And 1 Peter 3:20-21 explains that God saved 8 people by bringing them through the water, and now baptism, which corresponds to this now saves us.)  He didn't bring the Children of Israel out of Egypt through a metaphorical Red Sea, but through a real one (have you ever noticed that they didn't have to go through the Red Sea to get to Canaan?  But God led them there).  They crossed into the Promised Land through the parting of the Jordan River, Naaman was made clean through being cleansed in the Jordan River.  The Ancient Christian Church used all of these as images to teach what baptism REALLY does.  Yet the modern metho-bapto-costal churches (including non-denominational) is almost gnostic in how it emphasizes what happens in the heart to the point of teaching "the real stuff -- water, wine, bread, the stuff God tells us to use, aren't really that important. 

I have a couple of questions for you.  You said we must all come to faith on our own.  How exactly do we do that?  And, if baptism is a lowly symbol of what has already happened, could/should a believer skip on baptism?

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Goal of Christian Parenthood

Pastor Petersen had some beautiful insight today regarding baptism and raising children in the faith.  I can only paraphrase.

He was catechizing from the Book of Concord - Augsburg Confession, Article IX, where it is stated "Our churches teach that Baptism is necessary for salvation" (Mark 16:16, "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved;"  I Peter 3:21 "Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you.").  We tend to fudge on this.   Can faith exist before baptism?  Yes, definitely.   Are there those who have been saved without it?  We have the example of the thief on the cross.  But these are exceptions, and they rely on God's mercy, and God is a merciful God.  I've had many friends who came to faith who put off baptism, because they already have faith.  That's not Biblical.  The Biblical example is the Ethiopian eunoch who after coming to faith says to Philip, "Here is water, why should I not be baptized?"

But God confers faith and blessing through baptism, so why would we not baptize when we are able?  Baptism is important.  The Holy Spirit is truly present and gives faith and forgiveness of sins through baptism.  The Bible talks about how we are made one with Christ's death in baptism.  If we die with Him, we will surely rise with Him. (Romans 6, Colossians 2).  It's critical.  It's important.  Do it. Scripture treats it like it is urgent, so why shouldn't we?

But also, baptism doesn't mean we are done.  As Pastor Petersen so concisely stated, "The goal isn't a baptized baby.  The goal is an old man who is saved and who has lived a life of good works."  So the next step is to have a child who is catechized and able to come to the Lord's Supper, because forgiveness of sins and strengthening of faith are there also.  God wants to bless us through Baptism, through the preaching of the Word, and through Holy Communion...always and often.  Do we say "No thanks Holy Spirit, I've had enough forgiveness and strengthening of faith.  I'm good."  No, we receive God's blessings where they are given and rejoice that they are plentiful, because we are constantly being attacked by Satan, the world, and our sinful flesh.  That's why they are called the Means of Grace.

In the end, we want a mature Christian --a person who knows their Scripture, who treasures Worship and the Sacraments, who fears and loves God and serves Him because has been saved by His love.

I love that.  "The goal is an old man who is saved and who has lived a life of good works."  Having come from a family that treated baptism and confirmation like items on the list to check off, it clarifies things.  And if the faith is taught this way to us, and emphasized to parents, doesn't that make those Sunday baseball games and all of those things that take children away from the Church clear?  Doesn't it put the responsiblities of parenthood into perspective?

It isn't to raise a good athlete or someone who will go to college and be successful in their career, or who will make lots of money (not that these things are bad, in and of themselves.  They are just not the ultimate end, and we often treat them like they are.  They decorate the Christian life, they are not what is in the end the most important).  For a Christian, to raise a child is to raise someone who will die in Christ.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

A Thought on Simon of Cyrene

I have been doing a lot of pondering about "taking up your cross" lately, and there is a blog post coming on it.  But one of my random thoughts was that Jesus tells us to take up our cross, and yet, Simon of Cyrene carried his.

I always wondered why this was the case.  Jesus clearly had been beaten, up all night, and had probably lost a lot of blood.  But was His physical state the only reason that He didn't carry his own cross?

I wonder if a sinful man didn't carry the cross because in truth, sinful man is the one who was supposed to be on it.