(Sermon preached during the week of Oculi 2014)
Last week we considered Article VIII of the Augsburg Confession, What the Church Is. As we learned, the true Church is the kingdom of heaven, made up of all believers in Christ Jesus, and only of believers in Christ Jesus, even though hypocrites may be mingled in the outward gathering of the Church on earth.
On Sunday, we heard again of this kingdom of Christ and of the other kingdom, the kingdom of Satan. These two kingdoms are at war with one another. During this entire Lenten season, we watch Jesus do battle against the devil, culminating on Good Friday in His bloody death on the cross by which He has crushed the devil’s power, purchased all men for God and won salvation for us.
There is a difference between winning salvation for people and saving people, a difference between defeating the devil and actually rescuing someone out of the devil’s kingdom. Jesus defeated the devil on the cross and won salvation for all men on the cross. But He saves people and rescues people out of the devil’s kingdom and brings them into His own kingdom, the Church, only in one way, by means of Holy Baptism and faith. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.
And so we confess in Article IX of the Augsburg Confession: Of Baptism they teach that it is necessary to salvation, and that through Baptism is offered the grace of God, and that children are to be baptized who, being offered to God through Baptism are received into God’s grace. They condemn the Anabaptists, who reject the baptism of children, and say that children are saved without Baptism.
Let’s consider each part of our confession under the light of God’s Word.
Of Baptism they teach that it is necessary to salvation,
Really? Necessary to salvation? Yes, Jesus says in John 3. Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. Baptism is necessary to salvation because it is the divinely appointed means by which Christ rescues people out of Satan’s kingdom and brings us into His own. Holy Baptism works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare. We confess that in the Small Catechism. Certainly God could have chosen another means by which to save people. But if this Baptism is the means God has chosen, then it is necessary for salvation.
and that through Baptism is offered the grace of God,
All people are sinners by nature. God’s Word says this plainly. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Sinners can’t earn God’s grace. But Christ has earned God’s grace for all sinners. And God offers this grace, earned by Christ, to sinners through means, instruments, channels. Baptism is the first and foremost of those channels. It’s the one that’s offered right away to those who first hear and believe the Gospel. It’s the means by which God brings people into Christ and clothes us with Christ. As Paul says to the Galatians, For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. Or to the Colossians, In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. Or to Titus, God saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.
“Through Baptism the grace of God is offered.” That’s what Peter said to the crowds on the day of Pentecost, too. Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” There it is again, the remission of sins being offering through Baptism.
But, what? Does Baptism save a person from the devil’s kingdom all by itself, without faith? No. “He who believes and is baptized will be saved. Whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Faith and baptism go together. The one who believes that Jesus was given to death for him also believes Jesus’ promise that Baptism is Jesus’ means of applying His saving work to sinners in order to work forgiveness of sins, rescue from death and the devil and give eternal life. The one who believes in Jesus cannot at the same time refuse to be baptized. That’s not faith at all. That’s unbelief. God has chosen to work through these means. To reject the means is to reject His grace.
We confess also that children are to be baptized who, being offered to God through Baptism are received into God’s grace. We base that confession, first, on the need children have of being received into God’s grace. Jesus says, That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. And unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. Children are born sinful.
But the death of Jesus was for children, too, since it was “for all,” according to Scripture. And the promise of Jesus is for children, too, when He says, “whoever believes and is baptized will be saved,” and “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them and teaching them.” Peter, too, specifically says, let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins… For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.
God has revealed no other way for a person to be saved except to be brought into the body of Christ, the Savior. But He has also revealed no other way for a person to be brought into the body of Christ than through Holy Baptism. As Paul says to the Corinthians, For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.
Just as importantly, Jesus promises (and it’s recorded in three of the four Gospels), Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven. And then he took them in His arms and blessed them. We have the special promise of Jesus to receive little children who are brought to Him and to bless them with the kingdom of heaven, which means, that He promises to grant them the faith necessary to enter the kingdom of heaven. But we have no other way of bringing children to Jesus except through Holy Baptism. So we bring them at Jesus’ command and pray that they may be granted faith, and we entrust them to Him who promised to grant them the kingdom of heaven.
As Luther says, So we also say here, that children are brought to baptism by the faith and work of others; but when they get there and the pastor or baptizer deals with them in Christ’s stead, he blesses them and grants them faith and the kingdom of heaven: for the word and deed of the pastor are the word and work of Christ himself.
Now in all of this, we’re tempted to dwell on exceptions and make rules out of the exceptions. Isn’t God able to save people without Baptism? What about the thief on the cross? What about children who die in the womb, before they can be baptized? Well, God saved all the Old Testament believers without baptism, though not without the Word and not without faith. As for the thief on the cross, we have evidence in Scripture of the thief’s faith, and he was told by Jesus that he would be in paradise, so we know how he ended up. Children who don’t have a chance to be baptized? We leave that up to God, who can work faith even through the Word that the children of believing mothers hear as they grow in their mother’s womb and their mothers come to church. But we dare not let those exceptions or possible exceptions change the rule established by the New Testament Scriptures that Baptism is necessary for salvation.
Finally, we confess: They condemn the Anabaptists, who reject the baptism of children, and say that children are saved without Baptism. While the Anabaptists are not with us any longer, there are many heretical confessions of faith that teach the same thing, most notably, the Baptists. They reject the baptism of little children and say that children are saved without Baptism. Anglicans, too, or at least the Anglican pastor I met with a couple of months ago. He argued, “Well, Baptism is a human work. And if you say children are saved by Baptism, then you’re turning salvation into a work of man!” But that’s wrong. First, because baptism isn’t a human work, but a divine work—a work of Christ that He performs through the pastor. Second, we don’t teach that baptism saves without faith, but with faith as God’s baptismal promise creates the very faith by which we are saved.
Some churches argue that little children are innocent and sinless. But they deny the Scripture that calls all people born of Adam sinners, born and conceived in sin. Some churches argue that little children aren’t yet held accountable for their sins. But according to Scripture, death is the proof of accountability. If little children are not too young to die, then they are not too young to be held accountable for sin.
Other churches argue that children can’t have faith because they aren’t yet old enough to use reason. And we ask, How has reason ever helped anyone come to faith? What kind of reason did the little children have whom Christ blessed? In fact, reason is the very thing that gets in the way of adults believing in Christ. Wasn’t it human reason that kept the scholars and the wise and the intelligent from believing in Christ? It was to reasoning adults that Jesus said, Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.
So be on your guard against those who teach against infant baptism. Their whole doctrine is riddled with error, from their teaching on Original Sin, to the Means of Grace, to faith itself. We, on the other hand, by the grace of God, will continue to confess with the Church catholic what we confess in Article IX of the Augsburg Confession, giving thanks to God for this treasure He has given us in Holy Baptism, through which He has bestowed all the blessings won by Christ on us and on our children, even the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. Amen.