Baptism - A Visible Word


This week we will consider the benefits of Baptism. And as we do so we will understand that for Lutherans, Baptism is a Sacrament. Christians today generally fall into two camps concerning Baptism. They either regard it as a Sacrament or as an Ordinance. Let me briefly state the difference.

As a Sacrament, we believe that there are certain benefits connected to this divinely instituted rite. That is, we believe there are certain gifts given or conferred in this action. For those who think of it as an Ordinance, the action is carried out as a matter of obedience. Jesus commanded us to baptize. But other than as a matter of obedience, the rite itself does not convey a gift or any favor.

When asked what benefits God gives in Baptism, Luther responded, “In Baptism God forgives sin, delivers from death and the devil, and gives everlasting salvation to all who believe what he has promised.” And what Scripture backing does the good Doctor cite for this claim? He quotes Jesus in Mark 16, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.”

Interestingly, Lutherans are among those who take Scripture at face value. We have not already concluded, like some, that it is impossible for God to use physical means to deliver a spiritual benefit. We know that Christ’s death on the cross is what earned our salvation. And we also know that we receive the gift of salvation by faith. And further still, we know that God uses physical means to deliver the gift of salvation to each of us. He uses the preaching of the Gospel. And as he directed the making of disciples by baptizing, we take Scripture at face value, that Baptism bestows the gift of salvation.

St. Augustine called Baptism a “Visible Word” of God. And for Lutherans, Baptism employs the three criteria for being a sacrament: 1) It is commanded by Christ, 2) It uses something physical (water), and 3) it has the clear promise in the Word of bestowing forgiveness.

Since You Asked…

Does the receiving of money offerings play a significant role in the worship service?

Yes, more than you might think! Cash is one of the strongest symbols in modern culture. When we offer our money on the altar it should represent our time and effort – our very selves. In early Christian worship gifts-in-kind were handled during the weekly assemblage. In our post-industrial societies, we now exchange in paper or metal symbols. The offering of our selves upon the altar is in response to God’s love proclaimed in the Good News and in anticipation of how God offers back that which is entrusted to him. During the moment of offering we also offer bread and wine upon the altar, and in return these gifts are offered back to us as the very body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.