As we saw in my previous post, the “conservative evangelical” tradition within Anglicanism tends to deny the effectiveness of baptism, emphasising the need instead for personal conversion. Before looking at the Lutheran perspective, some further thoughts on this downplaying of baptism among Anglican evangelicals.
There are a number of theological arguments behind this, but in practice what gives the issue its traction for evangelical Anglicans is the perceived gulf between texts stating that baptism saves us or washes away our sin or unites us with Jesus’ death and resurrection or clothes us with Christ or cleanses and sanctifies us or regenerates us or causes us to be born again, and the reality of the lives of many who have been baptised but whose lives show little sign of these promised effects.
The conclusion is that those passages must be referring to something else: a “baptism of the Spirit” – identified, in this tradition, with conversion rather than with any post-conversion charismatic experience – which is contrasted with “baptism by water” in the same way that St Paul contrasts “circumcision of the flesh” with the “real circumcision” which is “of the heart”.
On a more practical level, expressing confidence in one’s baptism becomes an indicator of unconvertedness (in stark contrast to Luther’s “I am baptised!”). A classic illustration of this can be found in Norman Warren’s widely-used evangelistic booklet Journey Into Life, which includes the following example response to the question, “Are you a Christian?”:
I was baptised and confirmed.
So are thousands who care little about Christ. That doesn’t make you a Christian.
As a result of this, more time is spent explaining what baptism is not than what it is; what it doesn’t do, as opposed to what it does.
However, it seems to me that the Lutheran perspective on baptism provides a means by which these theological and rhetorical denigrations of “water” baptism could be avoided, without losing the pastoral and evangelistic concerns of conservative evangelicals. In my next post, we’ll look at what the Small Catechism has to say on the subject of baptism, and how this could be applied in a conservative evangelical context.