Finishing up my thoughts on chapter 2 of The Spirituality Of The Cross deals with the Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion. Though a little more comfortable with the concepts now, the Sacraments have probably been the hardest thing for me to grasp. I imagine this comes from a combination of my traditional catholic upbringing and my spiritual “flip” to evangelicalism and all the teachings in between. Whatever the reason, this is not an exhaustive dip into these waters(pun intended) and my capabilities will surely limit my full understanding. As I continue to state, these are simply my thoughts as I work through this book and try to digest(pun # 2) what I’m learning.
As easy as it is for me to lay hold of the Word of God as a Means of Grace, Baptism took a little longer to understand. My current experience is that baptism is a public proclamation done by a believer who can testify to God’s work in his or her life. This baptism usually involves full immersion. My past experience is that a baby needs to be baptized to cleanse them from original sin. This process usually involves a sprinkling or pouring of water on the head.My personal experience is that I was baptized as an infant in the Catholic Church and baptized again as an adult when I was “born again” and ready to make a public proclamation of my faith in God (I must be really “in good” since I double dipped)
My (very) limited understanding is that Lutherans believes it’s more than a public proclamation of God’s work in the believer and it’s not the act of being cleansed of all original sin. There is a work of the Holy Spirit in the waters of baptism. The Bible seems to support that baptism is more than just an act of obedience (1 Peter 3:21 & Romans 6:3-5) and my recent reading through the book of Acts shows that people clearly baptized children regardless of their ability to (possibly) verbally proclaim and understand. Certainly, John the Baptist appeared to know “something was up” when he jumped in his mother’s womb, when she was near a pregnant Mary. The Lutheran view of baptism, like most mainstream churches, recognizes it models the message of salvation. But according to the author’s understanding, it explains it a bit more.. It models the gift of salvation given to us in how God justifies us before Himself. Baptism is an act of God and in the same way that we are justified by nothing we do, a child being baptized is justified by God and God alone. That faith freely given still needs to be cultivated by hearing of the Word(again God’s work in us) and being reminded of what God has done in baptism (and in the Holy Communion)
When pushed, I don’t believe a Lutheran would say you NEED to be baptized for salvation, but the question would be, “why wouldn’t you want to be?” It becomes a desire of the believer upon being given that faith from God. I know I’m not saying this completely right. This baptism is a work of God and not man. I appreciate the stance of the Lutheran faith to not require a re-baptism if you were already baptized in a Christian church.
One aspect of the Lutheran baptism that’s encouragement to me is that it acts as a reminder to us of our salvation. That we can look outward to our baptism as that sign or seal of God’s work in us when we struggle inwardly. It is always allowing us to completely rest in something not tied to our emotions and internal struggles and doubt. It’s a reminder that we are washed clean with each new day. I think it was Luther that said that we should remember our baptism each time we wash our faces. There is a hope in there that I did not recognize before. In fact, I haven’t thought about either baptism much(not that I remember the first). As a learn these things, I also have to (half-jokingly) resist the urge to want to go under once again with this new-found understanding. I have been sealed by God through my baptism. I can remember it and be encouraged by it.
The Lutheran’s high view of the sacraments is a blessing to me. Far prior to my interest in the Lutheran faith, I had already begun to look at the seriousness of the sacraments and understood there was more to communion than a simple memorial. I love that they (Lutherans) shy away from trying to explain it all and instead allow it to be the mystery that it is. There IS something special about communion and scripture bears this out. (Luke 22:19-20, Matt 26:26-28 & 1 Cor 11:27-29). There is something intimate in this act, so much so that I have personally had moments when I felt I could not take communion in good conscience.
This is NOT the bread and wine becoming the actual physical body and blood, as if Christ has to be broken all over again each time we partake. Yet, it IS the body and blood and Christ says as much himself and we are to be strengthened by it. Our physical lives need physical food, our spiritual lives need spiritual nourishment. This tangible expression of the gospel feeds us as well. I can’t express how much I appreciate the mystery of this.
If God can be present in His Word by the Holy Spirit, is it so difficult a thing for God by His Holy Spirit to be present in the other Means of Grace, Baptism and Holy Communion.
The arguments against the Sacraments as understood by the Lutherans, seem to fall apart when I consider where the Lutheran understanding for them originate, THE WORD OF GOD! The foundation for understanding anything we do is grounded in what He has spoken. All three of these Means Of Grace are woven together beautifully in the Authority of His Word.
As I close, I can’t encourage anyone enough to read this book. I know I am not perfectly expressing the ideas and thoughts laid out in the book. I ask forgiveness if I’m not “getting it” completely. This is more about my journey as I read this book and explore the Lutheran faith.