Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Baptism - Common Misconceptions

For some strange reason, I enjoy hanging out on theological debate sites that are populated largely by those of Baptist and Pentecostal leanings. Call me insane but it can be quite fun to hone your sword with these people. Anyhow, one of the things I have run across many, many, many, many, many, many times are misconceptions concerning beliefs about baptism. Bapticostals, of course, teach believer's baptism. Their teaching is an odd duck in that they teach, we are commanded to confess our faith by means of immersing ourselves in water in order to symbolize an inward change. This teaching causes them a great deal of consternation because they continuously argue over whether or not somebody needs to be baptized in order to be saved because to them baptism is a matter of the Law. However, that is not the point of this post, I just wanted to give you some background. What I want to do is address some common misconceptions.

Misconception #1 - Sacramental Baptismal believers believe that the outward actions of baptism save. Depending on how you define outward action this is true or false. It is false if you define the outward action as the action of the pastor dunking or pouring water on the person. It is true if you define the outward actions as God's actions upon us in Baptism. Luther writes in his Large Catechism,
Yes, it (Baptism) shall and must be something outward, so that it may be grasped by our senses and understood, and by them be brought into the heart. For indeed, the entire Gospel is outward, verbal preaching. In short, what God does and works in us He intends to work through such outward ordinances.
As Luther plainly states the Gospel comes from outside of us in a manner in which we can grasp. Baptists, etc. grasp this truth but quickly abandon it for personal spiritual experience.

Now while I have refuted their misconception there is some truth to their misconceptions. The Roman Catholic Church has given them fuel for their fire with the doctrine of ex opere operato which states that the act of doing the sacramental signs is what makes a sacrament efficacious. This is a patently false teaching and we will address it with the next misconception.

Misconception #2 - Our second major misconception by the Bapticostals is that we believe there is something special about the water. This misconception is based on the Roman Catholic practice of Holy Water. The water is made holy through the blessing of a priest and then is used in various rituals of the church, usually for the consecration of various items. As a general rule Catholics do not believe that it is the fact that it is holy water that does the work of baptism rather the ritual as stated above. They do believe that the fact it is blessed does give it special properties hence its use in rituals such as exorcism. However, it is a simple fact that it is not the water that does the work in baptism. Rather it is the word and promise of God that does the work in Baptism. Once again we turn to Luther,

I encourage again that these two - the water and the Word - by no means be separated from each other and parted. For if the word is separated from it, the water is the same as the water that the servant cooks with. It may indeed be called a bathkeeper's baptism. But when the Word is added, as God has ordained, it is a Sacrament. It is called Christ's Baptism.

We can therefore conclude that with the exception of the Roman Catholics, those who believe in the sacrament of baptism do not believe that it is the action or the water which performs the saving actions of baptism.

Luther quotes are from Luther's Large Catechism as it is found in the Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions.


The Rebellious Pastor's Wife said...

I like how Luther explains that it is God working through the water and the Word, the pastor is simply lending the use of his hands.

The focus for evangelicals is on the act...the walking to the font or to the baptistry (or to the river). It is not on the promises given, which are the real power.

The power in the Ark of the Covenant is that God was there because He promised to be. The power in the temple sacrifices wasn't in the slaying of water or in the flinging of the blood, it was in the fact that God promised to forgive sins through that and cleanse His people. Anyone can kill an animal, or pour water over someone's head and say some words. The power is in those words and in God's promise, because He promised to be there.

That is sacrament...and that is why almost everyone else seems to get it wrong.

Dr. Luther in the 21st Century said...

My thought is that we cannot wrap our minds around such a happening because it is outside our realm of experience and ability to understand. People, therefore, chose to only accept what they can see and understand. However, it is for this reason we are called to trust not to understand.

Pastor David said...

An excellent, easy to read summary of the main misunderstanding of not just baptism, but of all sacraments: it is important because of what we do; but because it is God who acts. Thanks for the post.