I am baptized! So there!

So I posted an item on the BHT telling Michael Spencer why I couldn’t be bothered to read a sermon he’d linked by John Piper expounding the Baptist position on baptism, and giving a very brief summary of the Lutheran position on baptism as Christ’s promise to us rather than our response to him (having in mind Phillip Cary’s “Lutheran syllogism”).

This then prompted a post in response by Frank “Centuri0n” Turk of TeamPyro fame, in which Frank gives my post a mild fisking and restates the Baptist position to which he holds. Which is fine: we disagree, but Piper, Frank and Michael are all just being (in their very different ways) Baptists, and I’m not exactly shocked to find out that Baptists disagree with the Lutheran understanding of baptism. Indeed, given what Frank believes about baptism, I appreciate his willingness to challenge me rather than simply pass by my “disobedience” to Christ.

However, I’m not going to respond to Frank’s arguments myself. This is mainly because I can’t motivate myself to devote what would inevitably turn into hours of my life to a discussion which will almost inevitably end up where it started, with Frank as a Reformed Baptist and me as a baby-splashing Lutheran. I have better things to do, like not getting fired from my job, and acquainting myself with my wife and children. So no, not “mission”, Frank: vocation. 😉

If anyone else fancies taking Frank on, however, then be my guest. 🙂

Another reason is that I don’t regard myself as a spokesperson for the intellectual and theological arguments in favour of infant baptism. In many ways, the whole of my understanding of baptism amounts to the words I used as the title for my BHT post: “Baptizatus sum!”, “I am baptized!”. This is not just sloganeering for me, but the outcome of a hard-fought process following my return to faith in 1994, when I struggled for a good couple of years with the question of whether I should undergo “re-baptism”.

I accepted intellectually the arguments in favour of infant baptism put forward by Anglican evangelicals such as John Stott, J.I. Packer and Michael Green, but felt challenged emotionally every time I witnessed a “re-baptism” when visiting Baptist churches. As a matter of personal experience, what finally brought my intellect and emotions into alignment was realising that I was able to say, like Luther, “I am baptized!” (even though it was some years before I came to agree with Luther on the nature and effects of baptism).

Now I’m certainly not presenting this as an argument in favour of infant baptism. I know that Frank and other Baptists will say I was just deluding myself or resolving my cognitive dissonance. Fair enough. But that’s the point I’ve reached, and it would take an awful lot to persuade me to turn round and say, with Frank et al, “I am not baptized!”. And frankly I don’t see why my baptism should be made to reapply for its job every time a blogger somewhere decides to raise an issue on which sincere Christians have disagreed for four or five centuries.

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15 Responses to I am baptized! So there!

  1. Chris Jones says:


    In your BHT post, you wrote:

    the purpose of baptism … is to assure us that – whatever our own doubts and uncertainties may be about the strength and quality of our faith – we belong to Christ by his own word and according to his own promises.

    I don’t think this is quite strong enough. The purpose of baptism is not “to assure us” of our incorporation into Christ; its purpose is to incorporate us into Christ. It is not a symbol or sign to give us information about our relationship with Christ, or to shore up our emotional feeling of security about that relationship. It is an objective action which establishes that relationship with Christ.

    In other words, we believe, teach, and confess baptismal regeneration. It is useless (in my opinion) to argue with Baptists about the validity, necessity, or timing of baptism, because there is no common understanding of what Baptism is.

    But then, I never have the patience to talk to the Reformed about anything.

  2. Rick Ritchie says:

    Looks like Chris just made one of my points. We don’t agree on what baptism is, so the other questions are moot. There are so many odd assumptions in their reading, it is hard to know where to begin. Those assumptions are not culturally odd, for we breathe them ourselves. But they are odd given the world of the Bible. Their Baconian induction method of figuring out how things work makes it seem as if God didn’t reveal anything and we’re just lucky there were a few reporters who covered the events well enough that we might be able to reconstruct them.

    Anyway, I took up your call. Hope it helps someone.

  3. John H says:

    Chris, Rick: I agree entirely that the purpose of baptism is not simply to assure us of our incorporation into Christ, but to incorporate us into Christ; that it is truly “a washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit”.

    However, as regards the function of baptism “after the event”, the ability to say “I am baptized” is truly part of its purpose, even if that is secondary to the primary purpose of incorporating us into Christ. (Indeed, the recollection of our baptism is itself a return to our baptism.)

    And my aim in these situations is rarely, if ever, to get into a full debate over all the issues, not least because there are plenty of people better qualified to do so than me. My aim with the BHT post was basically twofold, as it is with almost everything I post on the subject: (1) to help people understand something of how baptism functions in Lutheran spirituality; and (2) to help them realise just how fundamentally different that understanding is from (say) the Baptist understanding; that it is not simply that we are disagreeing over the details of how/who in relation to an action on which we are otherwise agreed. Ditto when it comes to the Supper, incidentally.

    So I’m not offended at all by Frank’s response. I was deliberately expressing myself in a way which I knew was not likely to endear itself to the average Baptist, and to that extent I was being provocative – so I can’t complain if someone is duly provoked.

  4. Rick Ritchie says:

    I was agreeing with Chris on his assessment of how much we differ from the baptists. I just posted a new blog entry on that same subject, as it irked me.

    I’m less frustrated with the baptists and how they handle this personally than I am with how they think the gulf is smaller than it is, whether or not they regard us as regenerate.

  5. steve martin says:

    Luther said of the Anabapists (forerunners of today’s Baptists) that “they view baptism the way that a cow looks at a new gate.”

    To be quite honest, I really don’t feel like running around in circles with the Baptists over this right now either. I done plenty of it, and I guess I’ll do a lot more of it before I fold up the tent…but not now.

    A friend of mine wanted me to listen to a Piper sermon (I had never even heard of him before). I did. It was just a typical Baptist sermon, but filled with lots of flowery adjectives describing God. Big deal…the devil himself could do that.

    My friend was quite disappointed that I didn’t think too much of John Piper. Just another Baptist trying to cram a bunch of law down your throat in the attempt to get you to ‘be better’.

  6. Chris E says:

    Hi Steve –

    I think – from very little observation – is that the main difference between Lutherans and other groups, is that they are happier to allow scriptural paradoxes to lie where they fall, rather than attempt to wrestle things towards one or other extreme. This certainly seems to be the case with some of the language and arguments used with baptism from Baptists.

    Disclaimer – I attend a Baptist Church. This issue became a hot button one for me when there was a vote (successful) to stop people who had not been baptised as adults from becoming members of the church. In fairness there were legal complications, as Baptist churches in the UK are set up as mutually owned trusts with constitutions that are virtually set in stone. However, I did think it sent the wrong message, especially as the church we work with most is the local evangelical Anglican church.

    Who would you recommend in terms of getting law/gospel correct in sermons? Generally I’ve found Tim Keller quite helpful – as Jesus always shows up at the end of his sermons

  7. John H says:

    Chris: you could check out my own pastor’s sermons as a start-point.

  8. Frank Turk says:

    Let me say, just as a summary point, that I have never had this discussion with a Lutheran where the top of his head didn’t almost pop off — and not because I was baiting him. It’s because you guys have the view — as you have said here — that God saves in baptism, one way or the other, and you know that doesn’t work in application. If it did, your missionary work would consist of baptizing first and evangelizing/catechizing second.

    But you don’t do that, and even Luther wouldn’t do that. So what you mean has the problem of somehow explaining what you do.

    The Baptist version — Luther’s scorn all noted — looks like this:

    [1] preach to the lost
    [2] those called will come
    [3] baptized into Christ
    [4] united with the church

    The paedo view you espouse goes like this:

    [1] baptized into Christ
    [2] preached to as if lost
    [3] united to the church by confession in confirmation

    And I dare you to find confirmation in the NT.

    The lost — those not baptized as infants — have a different path, even if it is a Christ-centered path as you describe it.

    So you can rattle your systematic sword against us “annabaptists”, but it rattles because the workmanship is worn out of it.

  9. Andrew says:

    Frank Turk: “It’s because you guys have the view — as you have said here — that God saves in baptism, one way or the other, and you know that doesn’t work in application. If it did, your missionary work would consist of baptizing first and evangelizing/catechizing second.” — Um, that’s EXACTLY what Lutheran missionary work looks like. That’s why many Lutheran congregations have gradeschools as a means to catechesis, and why they put a focus on youth education. I really cannot stand the suspicious way many Evangelicals doubt that children can really believe in Jesus until some point of later maturity. The very probing and “are you SURE you believe in Jesus?” attitude leads to a lot of doubt and despair. (Though I’m Refomed paedobaptist, I think Philip Cary’s essay on Luther’s logic versus that of later Protestantism is incredibly helpful on discerning where differences lie; it’s really in the nature of faith itself.)

    It’s funny; I read through John Piper’s latest sermon manuscript earlier today (Colossians 2:11-15 as an argument for credobaptism/against paedobaptism), and I oddly found myself confirmed even more in my Reformed-paedobaptist beliefs.

  10. Mike says:

    The odd thing about Lutheran Theology is its paradox: “Saint and Sinner,” “Law and Gospel,” the “Already but not yet” of the Kingdom. What’s odd is that Lutherans can find so much comfort in the midst of tension. (What I call the tension of opposites.)
    I was – once baptized (which put to death my sin and gave me new life in Christ) – and yet, I can daily die to my sin and rise to new life, because “I am baptized!”
    I am only eating a piece of bread and drinking a cup of wine – and yet, I can experience the true presence of Jesus Christ and His forgiveness.

    How do we explain these wacky paradoxical viewpoints? Certainly, we can dive into a long theological excurses, systematically arguing each point. But, no matter how concise or convincing, there will always be a rebuttal from the gentle person on the other side of the aisle.

    I like to explain it more simplistically: “God comes to me.”
    – God comes to me in the Word…in the water…in the wine…in Emanuel. And the tension is that God comes to me “First,” with Grace…even though I don’t deserve it…didn’t earn it…or do something to get it.

    As an ELCA Lutheran, it is this “tension of opposites” that uniquely equips me to be in fellowship with other Christians even though we have theological disagreements. No baptized believer is kept from the communion rail or told they can’t become a member of our church. It matters not whether they were splashed as an infant or drowned as an adult.

    A “must read” for all Lutherans wanting to see this tension in a different light is Gerhard O. Forde’s Where God Meets Man.


  11. steve martin says:


    Sorry for the late response.

    In addition to John’s pastor, I’ve got to tell you that I have never heard better law/gospel preacing than from my pastor, Pastor Mark Anderson.

    We aren’t very adept at keeping up with all the larest technologies but we are slowly coming around at lightofthemaster.com
    There are sermons and short articles by p. Anderson on the site.

    If you have trouble getting to the site, there is a link on my blog ‘the old Adam lives’.

    I’ll have to check out Tim Keller’s sermons. I may have heard him before (I’m getting old – or at least my brain is).

    Some of my friends had me to listen to some sermons that they said were great law/gospel sermons,(a couple were pretty good) but often the gospel was followed up by the law again, and what was given by the right hand was taken away by the left, leaving you once again to your own devices.

  12. steve martin says:


    Great recommendation, Forde’s book, ‘Where God meets Man’. (when I get up there, wherever there is, I’m going to look up Forde)

    I too am an ELCA Lutheran. While there are many things that I do not agree with that come from our synodical leadership, the openess and freedom that comes from our doctrine of the Word is an inexplicable joy.

  13. steve martin says:

    I think ‘incomprehesible’ was the word I weas shooting for (not inexplicable).

  14. Rick Ritchie says:

    “The paedo view you espouse goes like this:

    [1] baptized into Christ
    [2] preached to as if lost
    [3] united to the church by confession in confirmation”

    No it doesn’t go like that.

    [1] baptized into Christ
    [2] preached to as if a member of the congregation. That is, Law and Gospel sermons like everyone else gets.
    [3] They are united to the church by baptism, if we mean this theologically. Confirmation is a churchly rite whereby a person receives certain privileges of church membership. But these are the man-made privileges, not the God-given ones. So we have a man-made rite to receive man-made privileges.

    Communion privileges are often given at confirmation, but some pastors will give those earlier upon the child showing some understanding of what communion is.

  15. Rick Ritchie says:

    Quoting from the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, one of the Lutheran confessions, which is authoritative:

    “Confirmation and Extreme Unction are rites received from the Fathers which not even the Church requires as necessary to salvation, because they do not have God’s command. Therefore it is not useless to distinguish these rites from the former, which have God’s express command and have God’s clear promise of grace.”

    Here Philip Melanchthon says that confirmation is not commanded in the Bible. So where are you getting your information on Lutheranism, Frank? This is going to be very hard if you are calling us to defend views that not only are not ours, but are contrary to what we have written.

    One thing to know about us. We are a confessional body. We are bound to our confessions. Not to our dogmaticians and theologians, and not to Luther himself. (Except where he wrote the confessions and we’ve subscribed to them. Or is quoted in them.)

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