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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.

21 August 2006

The Pastor and the Necessity of Baptism

Q: If people have not been baptized, will they still go to heaven if they believe in God and ask for forgiveness? And can a regular person (not a pastor) baptize a child?

Shell, Water, and TrefoilA: While no absolute imperative for Holy Baptism exists in Scripture, God still both offers and commands it through Christ and the apostles. Thus, anyone who despises or rejects Baptism either is thoroughly ignorant of God’s grace or has chosen to deny the saving work of Christ. When we extol the blessings of Baptism and proclaim the fullness of God’s forgiveness through water and the Word, anyone whose heart has been converted by the Holy Spirit will desire and demand Baptism, as happened with the Ethiopian eunuch and Philip the deacon (see Acts 8:26-39).

As we see in this passage, while Philip was certainly called and consecrated into his office, he was a deacon, not an apostle or pastor. Normally, deacons did not administer a baptism. Yet we also know that since Baptism is so vital, if no pastor is available, love for the unbaptized person compels the lay Christian to do so in extreme cases. With the Eunuch, the “emergency” was that he was heading away from the Christian community in Palestine to a place where no pastors or missionaries were yet established.

Under ordinary circumstances, it is good that the pastors do the baptizing, both as a matter of good order in the Church and because they have been specially called by God to absolve sin by preaching and administering the sacraments, including Holy Baptism. Lay people who intentionally set out to bypass the pastor may not be performing invalid baptisms, but they are certainly taking unto themselves something God has not given. Additionally, baptism by the pastor of the congregation where they will be members helps to establish and foster a proper relationship between newly-baptized saints and the one called by God to shepherd them.

NOTE: A number of previous posts have dealt with various aspects of Holy Baptism, including Infant Baptism, Baptismal Regeneration, and Original Sin.

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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really hope that this poor woman wrote you back pastor. She is in my prayers, and her story brought tears to my eyes. Please let her know that she is not alone, that true christians and pastors are praying for her.

16 October, 2006 20:32  

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