Q: I want to ask you about Baptism. I am not a Lutheran but I love listening to Issues, Etc. with Todd Wilken. The subject of baptism was discussed on their radio show and it seemed to me that they came as close as a person can to say that Baptism saves you. Now they didn’t say that but it seemed to me that all the benefits of salvation are imparted to a person who receives this sacrament. My questions: “Does baptism save you? What do Lutherans believe about baptism? What are the benefits of receiving this sacrament?”
A: First of all, I’m happy that you found the Rev. Wilken’s show. I’ve known him for a number of years and have great respect for his knowledge and his ability to clearly communicate the Gospel, particularly through Issues, Etc.
Secondly, since I do know him, I know that Pastor Wilken believes and speaks completely in line with Scripture and Lutheran teaching. That’s why it surprised me that you didn’t hear him say plainly and clearly, “Baptism saves you.” Perhaps he did, and you didn’t hear it; perhaps he implied it but the implication eluded you. Lutherans never abandoned the baptismal theology handed down from the early Church. We’ve always believed in baptismal regeneration. After all, if we didn’t believe that Baptism saved, would we be so eager to make sure that all people, from infants to the elderly, are baptized?
Baptismal regeneration isn’t mere ancient tradition nor is it an invention of the Lutheran, Catholic, or other churches. The saving nature of Baptism is solid Lutheran doctrine based on the clear word of Holy Scripture. Peter plainly says, “Baptism ... saves you.” In 1 Peter 3:18-21, the apostle used the example of salvation by water “in the days of Noah (v. 20)” to illustrate the saving power of Baptism: “Baptism, which corresponds to [the Noahic Flood], now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.... (v. 21, emphasis added)”
Martin Luther himself addresses all three of your questions in the section on Holy Baptism in our Small Catechism. For example, the Catechism asks, “What does Baptism give or profit?” In answer, it says, “It works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.”
Should someone argue that mere water could never accomplish such great miracles as forgiveness, deliverance, and eternal life, Luther would heartily agree. The Catechism says, “It is not the water indeed that does them, but the word of God which is in and with the water, and faith, which trusts such word of God in the water. For without the word of God the water is simple water and no baptism. But with the word of God it is a baptism, that is, a gracious water of life and a washing of regeneration in the Holy Ghost, as St. Paul says, Titus, chapter three: ‘by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.’ (vv. 6-7)”
Lutherans also teach that our baptisms are not merely one-time historical events. Rather, once we are baptized, we remain baptized. Therefore, we carry the gifts of Holy Baptism with us throughout our lives. In his 1523 Order of Baptism, Luther wrote, “Ah, dear Christians ... baptism is our only comfort and admits to every blessing of God and to the communion of all the saints. To this may God help us. Amen.”
In this same Order, Luther also wrote, “I am baptized, and through my baptism God, who cannot lie, has bound himself in a covenant with me. He will not count my sin against me, but will slay it and blot it out.” This is so because in Baptism, Christians participate in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As Saint Paul wrote, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:3-4)”
We’ve now covered what Lutherans believe about Baptism. In summary, Baptism does save you. The benefits of Holy Baptism are forgiveness of sins, freedom from death and devil, and eternal life. I hope that through Pastor Wilken and others, you continue to learn and grow in the Christian faith, remaining grounded in Holy Scripture, which is “able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. (2 Timothy 3:15)”
For more on Baptism, see earlier posts, including Infant Baptism, Baptismal Regeneration, and Original Sin and One Baptism. To further see how integral Baptism is to Christianity, specifically, to Lutheranism, and particularly, to my column, click Baptism to find every post that refers to these life-giving waters.
Explanation of Holy Baptism quoted from The Small Catechism of Martin Luther, a public domain text.
The Order of Baptism quoted from Luther’s Works: Volume 53, © 1965 by Fortress Press.
Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.
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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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Newspaper column #564:2