The Evangelical Lutheran Church of England and the Lutheran Heritage Foundation have jointly published a pamphlet called “Life by Drowning: Enlightenment through Law and Gospel”. This is a translation of a work by the Swedish bishop Bo Giertz, best known to English-speaking Lutherans as the author of The Hammer of God.
In this 24-page essay, Giertz describes how God seeks and calls us through our baptism and through the preaching of both law and gospel. As he says in the essay’s opening words:
How does a man find his way to God?
First of all, we must understand that it is not man who finds the way to God by eventually working his way to him. No, rather, it is God who finds his way to man’s heart.
Our baptism is the start of this process of being sought out and called by God:
God begins early, already in baptism. We can never think highly enough of our baptism. In baptism I became a Christian, because in that moment I was met by God’s election.
In the same way that God once chose Israel, in the same way that he again and again intervened in its history at definitive points with a decisive message, in the same way that he came down to earth in the person of Jesus Christ to go to the lost and once again establish the covenant with them – in the same way God has also in baptism broken into my life’s story, given me a share in the life of Christ, made a covenant with me, and said that he has chosen me for participation in his kingdom.
Sadly, though, “the majority” (in the Swedish state church context in which Giertz was writing) “break their baptismal covenant”. But even where someone disregards or even rejects their baptism, that doesn’t render their baptism valueless:
More or less intentionally, man has for his part ended the covenant with God. But he is not capable of destroying it. I certainly cannot nullify God’s promises; I cannot wipe out the heading which he has written over my life. It follows me as an accusation – but also as a promise.
I have an inheritance, which, it is true, I can scorn, but which nonetheless is preserved with God and is waiting for me. Even more so: I have a home. I can leave this home and become a prodigal son. But I cannot wipe out the fact that I have a home and a Father who has not forgotten his child and never ceases to yearn for it.
I also cannot prevent him from seeking me and sending offers to me.
Hence, as Giertz continues:
Just as sure as it is that countless baptised people forget their God, it is just as sure that God does not forget a single one of them.
In the remainder of the essay, Giertz goes on to look at how God proceeds to “seek and send offers to” those who have forgotten his call to them in baptism.
Many of the objections to infant baptism come from the fact that so many who are baptised as infants grow up wholly without faith in Christ. However, Giertz invites us to see the other side of the equation: that, in our baptism, God has made a promise and covenant with us which cannot be erased by our unbelief, and to which we can return at any time by repentance and faith.
It is a tragedy that so many baptised as infants lose their faith, but that does not invalidate God’s promise or discredit their baptisms, any more than Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is invalidated or discredited by the unbelief of so many of those for whom he died (or, indeed, by the shocking failure of the church to tell them about it, as described in a moving post by Michael Spencer).