Thursday, September 9, 2010

Does Baptism Save?

My article from today's Algona Upper Des Moines about Baptismal Regeneration:

Q: You mentioned in a previous article that Lutherans believe that Baptism saves and forgives sins. How does this fit with the Lutheran belief that people are saved by “grace alone”? Does saying that Baptism saves imply that it can do so apart from Christ or that it must be added to Christ?

Lutherans do believe that God forgives and saves through Baptism, but, if there were to be a multiple choice test where the answers were A) Baptism saves apart from Christ, and B) Baptism saves in addition to Christ, a Lutheran would have to mark "None of the Above." As is typical of Lutherans, the answer isn't just a third option, but resides in a completely different paradigm.

Most people are familiar with the three Reformation slogans, "grace alone," "faith alone," and "Scripture alone." The fourth, which is often overlooked, is "Christ alone." This principle makes salvation apart from Christ or by anything added to Christ impossible for a Lutheran, since Lutheranism can neither propose a salvation apart from Christ nor can it require anything in addition to Christ as a condition of salvation.

As I instruct middle school students at our church, I drive home nearly every week two particular points about Lutheran doctrine: First, that man is saved "by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Jesus alone," and second, that God has promised to deliver His grace to humans through the means of the Word (Bible), Baptism, and the Lord's Supper.

Lutheran Baptismal theology relies heavily on verses like Titus 3:5-8, 1 Peter 3:20-22, and Romans 6:3-5. Lutherans believe that Baptism saves because it delivers Christ. That is, Baptism takes the grace of God earned by Jesus at the cross and applies that grace to the individual.

It is important to keep in mind at this point another idea unique to Lutheran theology. That is that in the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper God is giving to us and acting for us, not we to/for Him. They are seen as completely directed from heaven down to earth and never directed from earth up to heaven. God is active and man is passive. Baptism is not even seen in Lutheranism as an act done by the pastor, because Lutheranism views pastors as agents who act in the place and at the command of Christ when they administer the sacraments.

As a result, Baptism is not seen as added to Christ, because it is not seen as an act of man. Likewise, it is not seen as apart from Christ, for Christ is the very one who is acting through it (along with the Father and the Holy Spirit). Baptism is neither apart from nor in addition to Christ for a Lutheran, because baptism applies and delivers Christ.

Those who do not baptize children often raise questions at this point about how a Lutheran explains the baptized child who ages to be a pagan or atheist adult or other similar scenarios. Lutheranism would never propose that the adult who rejects Christ would be saved because of their having been Baptized. For a Lutheran, it is not contradictory to say that a baptized child is saved at one point, then rejects his Baptism and his Lord later in life, resulting in the loss of salvation as long as he does not repent.

Lutheranism gives all credit to God and no credit to man in the accomplishing of salvation, and its sacramental theology, particularly that regarding Baptism, reflects this.


  1. If we could apply God's grace to anyone isn't that the same as the indulgences of the Catholics, just in a modified and lighter sense - not for a physical price but for free?

    Can a man apply God's grace to someone else? Does that not come in a personal way to each person from God Himself?

    1. This is the point where the rebaptizers fail to understand Biblical theology and the Lutheran position, and unknowingly agree with the Roman Catholics. In Baptism God is doing; we are receiving. Baptism is neither the work of the one being baptized nor of the man baptizing, but rather it is solely the work of God. Roman Catholics and the rebaptizers both teach that Baptism is something the person does for or toward God, and they simply disagree about whether it is capable of saving or delivering grace. Rebaptizers teach that Baptism is our act of devotion to God which does not save or give grace, while Roman Catholics teach that it is our act of devotion to God which does save and give grace.

      It is impossible to ignore the very clear verses of the Bible that teach salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Jesus alone. It is also impossible to ignore the verses which very clearly attribute forgiving and saving power to Baptism. The only way that these passages can all be true is if Baptism is something God is doing for us, rather than something we are doing toward or for Him. Baptism does apply God's grace to the recipient, but not against their will or without faith.

      This also relates to the Office of the Ministry. Jesus assigns His disciples with the very task of applying God's grace in John 20. They are to Baptize and Commune, Preach and Absolve, and by doing so deliver God's grace to those who need it. Those who are the Apostles' spiritual sons, namely the pastors of the church continue to apply God's grace through these very means today and until the Lord returns. This grace does, in fact, come personally to the believer through Baptism, just as it does through the Lord's Supper, not based on the work or holiness of the Pastor or the recipient, but instead, because of the promises of God Himself through these Sacraments, and His faithfulness to keep them.

  2. Hello, I am a newcomer to Lutheranism. It does appeal to me greatly because it has been around for nearly 500 years, and I feel it is closer to being theologically correct in regards to what the Early Church believed than most of the modern denominations. I come from a Pentecostal/Baptist background.

    Yet trying to understand the role and effects of baptism is one thing I'm having a hard time doing. Martin Luther said that baptism saves. But he also said that faith alone saves. Baptism is ineffectual unless a person already has faith. But if the person already has faith, aren't their sins already forgiven? Aren't they already saved? What more is there left for baptism to do? I hope you can understand the kind of confusion I'm having here.

    1. Sometimes, small differences in language can make all the difference. When the Bible or Luther talk about salvation being through “faith alone,” this is shorthand for a longer formula derived from Ephesians 2:8-9 that we are saved, “By grace alone, through faith alone” because of Jesus alone. Grace, the gift of God, is the main thing. Baptism saves because it delivers God’s grace. Faith saves because it grasps onto God’s grace. Based on the example of John the Baptizer in Luke 1, we also hold that even infants can have faith, even prior to Baptism, and we reject any concept of an “age of accountability.” If an infant does not believe, it can be said that the grace delivered by Baptism actually creates faith. In the case of an adult who first hears the Word and believes, Baptism confirms and establishes the faith that already exists. This can occur because God delivers His grace through the Word (including preaching, Bible study, individual reading, the consolation of Christian friends, etc.), but also through the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. In this way, His grace is delivered, nurtured, and confirmed, not only once, but repeatedly and continuously in the life of the Christian.

  3. In The Book of Concord, the Lutheran confessions, in the Augsburg Confessions in Article IX states "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." Sounds like baptism is being declared as necessary to be saved.

    1. In the ordinary order of things, it would be accurate to say that Baptism is necessary, since ordinarily, all saved people are also Baptized people. The reference from the Gospel of Mark that the Reformers use in this article is also informative. Notice how it says that "Whoever believes and is baptized" is saved, but "whoever does not believe" is condemned.

      This is not to say that all unbaptized persons are automatically condemned, though. For example, we should not doubt the salvation of a person who hears the preaching of the Word and believes, yet is prevented from Baptism or dies before Baptism can be received. On the other hand, if a person claims to trust Jesus, yet refuses Baptism, then we must have some concerns about whether that person is, in fact, Christian, since to reject Baptism is actually to reject Christ.

      Likewise, even though there is no definitive, Scriptural answer regarding the salvation of unbaptized babies, several Scriptures led Martin Luther to express some degree of confidence in the salvation of the unbaptized children of Christians.

    2. "This is not to say that all unbaptized persons are automatically condemned" Well logically they would be condemned. If the ceremony of baptism is required for God's grace to be applied, then no baptism = no grace applied. Now, if you're saying that grace can be applied based on someone's intention to be baptized, then baptismal regeneration is undercut. You cannot consistently defend baptismal regeneration by allowing exceptions. 1 Peter 3:21 is being misused, it's not referring to literal water baptism, read the rest of the verse: "not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience" in other words, it isn't the water baptism that saves, but the appeal to the heart. For more see here:
      Now if someone professes Christ, but refuses baptism, that would be concerning to me, has their heart really been changed? I love my Lutheran brethren, but the idea that God's grace is applied through a ceremony really undercuts Sola Fide.

    3. The flaw in your reasoning can be seen in the word, "required." A Lutheran cannot hold Baptism as a "requirement" because a Lutheran understanding of Baptism is that it is something God does for us, not something we do for Him. This premise is too frequently overlooked. As the Papists and the re-baptizers argue with one another about whether Baptism forgives sins, neither realizes that they have both committed the same error by turning on its head and understanding it as a human work toward God rather than a divine work toward man.

      No exceptions are necessary, because it is not a human work. God delivers grace through the Word, through Baptism, and through the Supper. When the Christian receives God's grace through one means, He is saved, but God graciously desires to deliver that grace richly, and so desires Christians to receive it through all three means. Being prevented from receiving it through one means does not negate salvation anymore than skipping over one food group will lead a person to starvation, but God still desires to deliver us a balanced and healthy spiritual diet through the use of all three.

  4. Thank you for your post. I have a couple of questions about this scenario: "a baptized child is saved at one point, then rejects his Baptism and his Lord later in life".

    Please correct me if I am mistaken, but you seem to be saying that a recently baptized infant most certainly has faith for a certain period of time and cannot fall away. If so, how long is that period? Can you look at an infant a month after the baptism and say, "That infant still has faith." A week after? A day?

    Do Lutherans believe that God's grace in baptism is irresistible to an infant, in other words, that no infant rejects it?

    1. This is one where the Lutheran position can seem a bit foreign to those not familiar with it. Things are simple for the Arminians and Calvinists. For the Arminians, since man can accept or reject Jesus, one is not accountable until they are capable of accepting. For the Calvinists, since man can neither accept nor reject Jesus, God's decree is what it is and there is no point in discussing it further.

      For the Lutheran, man is not capable of accepting Jesus, but is fully capable of rejecting Him, and therefore it is solely by God's doing that anyone is saved. God's intervention to give a person trust in Jesus can come through either the Word (including preaching, reading, study, Confession and Absolution, the consolation of a Christian friend in spiritual matters, etc.) or through Baptism. In cases where it comes through Baptism, one might be an infant who is too young to articulate acknowledgement or rejection of God's gift, but since the grace is given by God's power and not the recipient's, it is received all the same.

      For this reason, we can have confidence in the salvation of Baptized infants. But, at some point, some Baptized (and therefore saved) people, whether through neglect or through deliberate denial, reject Jesus, and therefore also God's grace (Lutherans do not hold to the "once saved always saved" idea from the Reformed Synod of Dort).

      I don't think there is a definite answer to the "when" of one's ability to reject, however. We can say with certainty "I am saved," but we can never say "He is saved" or "They are condemned." Only God knows that. The best we can do is to preface our assumptions about another person's salvation with phrases like, "Based on what you told me..." or "If he believes the things He has written..." what the outcome would be.

      That sweet church lady with the huge offering statement might be a prideful, callous unbeliever at heart, and that drug-addicted pervert just might remember the Gospel from his Confirmation instruction during the seven seconds between when His motorcycle collides with the semi and his heart stops beating. We just don't know.

      In fact, I am very careful in funeral sermons never to declare the deceased's eternal reward or consequences. Instead, I talk about Jesus. I talk about His grace delivered through the Word of God and the Sacraments, and I direct people to the resurrection as a reunion with all the saints of all times and places as their source of hope in times of grief.

      Academically, we just don't know "when" a person can or did reject Jesus. Pastorally, though, every case falls somewhere on the spectrum between certainty our doubt about the deceased's salvation, which is what guides our choice of words as we preach. Even though this falls short of an absolute conclusion by anyone but God Himself on either side, the Baptized infant is going to be the most certain we can possibly be of a person's salvation--so much so that unless there is some hidden thing that God has not revealed to us, there is no reason to believe they are anything other than saved until they reach such an age that we have absolute certainty that they are capable of deciding otherwise.

  5. You say, "Baptism is not even seen in Lutheranism as an act done by the pastor, because Lutheranism views pastors as agents who act in the place and at the command of Christ when they administer the sacraments."

    I'm a Lutheran, and in every baptism that I have ever witnessed in a Lutheran church the pastor plainly says, "I baptize you ...." I have always understood those words simply to mean what they say. Why use the words "I baptize" if baptism is not an act done by the pastor?

    1. This is how Luther puts it in the Large Catechism: "To be baptized in God’s name is to be baptized not by men, but by God Himself. Therefore, although it is performed by human hands, it is still truly God’s own work. From this fact everyone may readily conclude that Baptism is a far higher work than any work performed by a man or a saint. For what work can we do that is greater than God’s work?"

      This is similar to our view of Confession and Absolution. When the pastor says, "As a called and ordained servant of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins in name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." We understand that the pastor does not have any power or authority in himself to forgive sins, nor do we forgive them based on our own opinion or judgment, but instead, the pastor speaks as Jesus representative.

      We confess this in the Small Catechism: "I believe that when the called ministers of Christ deal with us by His divine command, in particular when they...absolve those who repent of their sins...this is just as valid and certain, even in heaven, as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself."

      The apostle Paul writes similarly in 1 Corinthians 4, when he says, "This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God." (ESV) A steward has full access to and control over the property of his master, but his authority is derived from his master. Whatever the steward does, is as if it had been done by the master, yet the property and its proceed remain the possession of the master, even when exercised by the steward.

      Similarly with Baptism (and Absolution, and the Lord's Supper), when the pastor acts, he is administering the Lord's property (forgiveness of sins), and it is just as the Lord Himself had done it, yet the property and its proceeds (souls, faith, good works, etc.) belong to the Lord.

  6. A few months ago I was at a Lutheran service where, just before the actual baptism, the pastor addressed the infant by name and asked, "Do you believe...?"

    The infant did not respond, of course, at least not in a way that anyone could understand. The parents and sponsors, rather, responded as if speaking for the infant. "Yes," they said, "I believe...." And then they stated a set of beliefs using words from a creed.

    That gives the strong impression that even before baptism an infant already understands and believes that particular creed, and that other people have a way of knowing this. What do those questions and answers mean? Do Lutherans believe that infants come to faith before the moment of baptism? How would anyone know what, exactly, the infant believes?

    1. Both Roman Catholic and non-Lutheran protestants hold that Baptism is a work of man, while Lutherans understand it as God's work for man. Because of this, many evangelical denominations do not baptize infants, while others, such as the various strains of Reformed, baptize them, but only after some theological gymnastics to justify doing so, in light of their understanding of it as a human work for God.

      Unlike those Calvinists, Lutherans do not baptize infants based on their parents faith or justify doing so by running the act first through "the covenant" based on the hope of future faith.

      Instead, Lutheran theology holds that infants are capable of believing, based on such accounts as the faith of John the Baptizer while yet unborn and Jesus' all-inclusive directive to baptize "all nations." Lutherans do not attribute this faith to any ability or virtue on the part of the infant, but rather on that infant's hearing of the Word (such as John's hearing of the Gospel through the lips of Mary while still in his mother's womb). How this occurs when the child cannot demonstrate their understanding remains a mystery, but we hold that is possible all the same.

      Baptism is also understood as giving faith as well, because it delivers God's grace. Lutherans do not impose human logic on theology to the extent seen among Calvinists or other evangelicals. Consequently, we believe that a child can believe the content of the creed even prior to their ability to articulate it. Similarly, we hold that all who trust in Jesus believe pure doctrine in their heart, even when their sinful mind has corrupted that doctrine with human inventions and caused them to articulate a contrary confession. This is how God can save a Roman Catholic purely by grace, in spite of the fact that their confession claims that they must cooperate with good works. An infant who cannot articulate his faith and an adult who articulates it wrongly are both saved by the grace of God through trust in Jesus, and not by their ability to articulate a proper confession of the faith.

      As such, we address infants as believers in Baptism, and their sponsors, who have vowed to teach and encourage them in the faith articulate the confession on their behalf. While it is not possible, by human observation to know which child believes prior to Baptism and which child believes because of Baptism, we trust that upon being Baptized, both children have received God's grace and trust in Jesus, and are therefore to be addressed as and considered to be full-fledged Christians--not that they are under some probationary period where God overlooks their sin (as taught by the re-baptizers) but that they are forgiven Christians with the same righteous status before God as every other person who trusts in Jesus, just as they do.

    2. Thanks for taking the time to respond. I've read your explanation and still can't figure out why in a service you address the infant as a believer before it is baptized, but then here you say that an infant may nor may not actually believe just then. I am okay with the idea that an infant _can_ believe. God Almighty can do what He wants with anybody. I think my question is more about whether the infant actually _does_ believe when you act like he does. Why not just be clear about the situation in the service?

      The other thing I wonder about is how your church teaches kids. You say that infants can believe the creed. Don't you still teach them the basics when they are old enough for a little school, as if they are learning it all for the first time?

      I think baptism is a lot about taking away barriers to following Jesus, no matter what people have done. I'm okay with officially accepting infant children of Christians as followers of Jesus just because the parents are following Jesus and children naturally follow their parents. Faith about particular things can come along the way God wants it to at any time.

    3. This is where it is difficult to effectively communicate these sort of ideas in a text-based medium like the comment section of a blog.

      Lutherans who follow our historic theology think in completely different categories than the protestants do. Two protestants might be arguing whether A or B is correct, while the Lutheran answer is "the square-root of two." Another image would be of a Catholic and protestant arguing over a location along a north-south highway, while the Lutheran answer lies 7 miles west on a parallel road.

      This is why our answers seem so weird to those from other theologies. Arminians think we're Calvinists and Calvinists think we're Arminians. Catholics think we're protestants and protestants think we're almost Catholic.

      It is the ability to point out the presuppositions that prevent my conversation partner from seeing the alternate routes or different thought process that allows me to explain the idea more understandably.

      When it comes to teaching the faith, Lutherans have the understanding that they are teaching the children to articulate what they already believe. One might call this a pre-literate or pre-critical faith, where the Holy Spirit has caused the child to believe a truth prior to their ability to express or explain it. This sort of thing lies in the realm of mystery. We can't explain how or why, but based on the witness of Scripture, we have to acknowledge that it is. So, a historic Lutheran just is not concerned about whether the individual child believes prior to the application of the water or only afterward, because they leave it to the realm of mystery and do not have the category of faith being an act of the intellect by which one must first comprehend an idea prior to believing it.

      I know this doesn't necessarily clarify the position, but hopefully it brings out the idea of Lutheran theology having a completely different approach and method not shared by any other denomination of Christian. This is actually what made a Lutheran of me: Every other theological system ultimately broke down because it had to deny or explain away one portion of scripture to allow for its interpretation of another or it required one to ignore or overlook inconsistencies between different categories of doctrine, while in Lutheran theology, we allow the paradoxes to stand and live in tension with themselves without attempting to resolve them. It's a challenging discipline to learn, but in the end, I believe it makes all the difference.

    4. From your May 16 post, "Consequently, we believe that a child can believe the content of the creed even prior to their ability to articulate it."

      I note that the creed includes such particulars as: Jesus "suffered under Pontius Pilate." Do you maintain that the Holy Spirit causes an infant to believe that there really was a Pontius Pilate?

      This stood out from your May 22 post: "So, a historic Lutheran just is not concerned about whether the individual child believes prior to the application of the water or only afterward...."

      Is there no concern, then, about the integrity of representing someone else's faith? If in the baptismal rite you say "I believe" on behalf of someone, you are obviously speaking in the present. But if you do not actually know what that person believes just then, what kind of witness is that? Why risk misrepresenting someone's faith before God and man, even for a moment?

    5. This gets back to that problem of presuppositions again. Calvinists and re-baptizers, and even most secular westerners, assume that belief or faith implies cognition, and that God is bound by our understanding of space and time. Other traditions simply are not burdened by this presupposition.

      Therefore, just as we are not concerned "when" Jesus' body and blood become actually (and not merely spiritually) present in the Lord's Supper or "how" Jesus physical body can transcend the limitations of the typical earthly frame in order to be present both at the Father's right hand and upon tens of thousands of altars simultaneously, we are likewise not concerned with "when" the child trusts Jesus or has their sins forgiven, but rather, viewing the Baptismal (or Eucharistic) rite as a unified whole, we simply confess with the Scriptures "that" they are forgiven, and the child thus "rescue[d] from death and the power of the devil."

  7. Just found this posting and have a few questions..

    What constitutes a actual/official/effectual Lutheran baptism, specifically of an infant?

    1. The elements necessary for a valid Baptism would be that it is performed by a Christian, using water (applied by any means), "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

      Typically, for the sake of good order, this is done by an ordained pastor in the public services of the congregation, but certain pastoral concerns or emergency situations may necessitate other arrangements. In the event that that an unbaptized person is at risk of death, Baptism may be administered immediately by any Christian.

  8. So, if that's all that needs to be done, why haven't I seen Lutherans stationed at every maternity ward in the country/world, pouring water on babies and saying those words/ Wouldn't that grant remission of sins to them?

    In regards to the emergency situation, do you mean an unbaptized person who is a believer?

    1. Lutherans do not believe in the Roman Catholic doctrine of "ex opere operato" which teaches that the Sacraments are valid "by the doing of the deed," Thus a Lutheran would not simply spray a crowd with a fire hose while announcing "I baptize you..." Infant Baptism is not understood a magic act which forgives sins regardless of what occurs subsequent to it, therefore we do not plant God's Holy Spirit into a person only to have faith then die from neglect and malnourishment.

      Instead, infants are baptized by Lutherans as the beginning of the life of faith, in which they will be spiritually nourished by their parents (or another faithful adult who brings them for baptism) through study of the scriptures and instruction in the teachings of the faith. Likewise, sponsors are appointed to ensure that the child is taught the faith should their parents become unable or unwilling to do so.

      Emergency baptisms could occur either for a believing adult whose Baptism could not be delayed until the regular services of the church or for an infant child of Christian parents who is in immediate danger of death.

    2. So the baptism then is effective because of the intentions of the people baptizing the baby?

      So for a child in danger of death, if there parents aren't Christians they are out of luck?

    3. Certainly not! Baptism is effective because of the promises of God associated with it, and no other reason. Those promises are found in the Word and based solely on grace, and not the merit or worthiness of any participant in the rite--parent, recipient, pastor, or otherwise.

      The reason I speak of "children of Christian parents" repeatedly above is because in the ordinary order of things, one would not receive a request for Baptism from non-Christian parents. On the rare occasion that such a request would occur, the Lutheran pastor involved would engage in responsible pastoral care by conversing with the parents why they desire Baptism and carefully discerning the wisest response to the request, based on the best possible spiritual care of both the child and his parents. Most pastors I know would err on the side of baptizing the child, because even if the parents themselves do not trust Christ (yet), they at least express trust that Jesus can save their child. Perhaps, although the child precedes his parents into the Kingdom through Baptism, they too may join him through trust in the Gospel afterward and all be reunited at the Resurrection on the Last Day.

    4. Ok but the child is ONLY baptized because the parents want them to, so without that, they aren't baptized and aren't saved?

      Could a child be saved just the same without being baptized?

    5. Interesting. I just wrote on this a couple weeks ago. Check it out at:

  9. Other denominations teach that baptism should be by immersion. Can you help explain why the pouring of water on the baby's head would suffice in our Lutheran baptism?

    1. The Greek word used for Baptism in the New Testament simply involves the application of water. Sometimes this is immersion, others it is not. One example is when Jesus mentions the Pharisees practice of "baptizing" couches. This is obviously not by immersion. There have been numerous pieces written on this out there, and I think Jonathan Fisk has even done a video answering a similar question at Worldview Everlasting on Youtube. Those who argue that the Greek word requires immersion simply haven't looked deeper than its first definition in the dictionary and don't know what they're talking about.

      Additionally, we have evidence from a document called the Didache, which was a pastoral instruction book that was definitely written within one generation of the Apostles, and may have even been written during the life of the Apostles, of their baptizing of babies and the use of baptisms by means other than full immersion.

      We can baptize by immersion if we desire. It even provides some excellent visual imagery relating to death/burial as well as having a memorable sensory impact. However, it is certainly not required, nor is it the only option for Baptism. It is simply water and the Word which make a Baptism, as the catechism teaches, and not the quantity of water involved.

  10. I just get confused with the different sections in the Bible. Parts in John say "Believe and be saved." Paul maintains faith alone beginning with Baptism is what leads to salvation. Then there are sections in Matthew that discuss an unforgivable sin, not being forgiven if we don't forgive others and being judged according to how we judge others...which doesn't seem like grace to me.

    I believe it is faith alone, often times beginning with Baptism. This seems most consistent with Jesus' promises and Paul's presentation of the Gospel. However, these other sections nag at me.

    Can you help clarify this for me?

    1. I actually wrote about the unforgivable sin on a previous occasion. That post can be found here:

      Based on the other things you mention, I think the trouble you might have is that you're missing the "key" that opens up all of Scripture, which is the distinction that the Bible speaks two different messages known as Law and Gospel. Many respected reformation theologians noted that part from understanding this distinction, it is impossible to properly understand Scripture. I wrote on this idea on a previous occasion as well, which can be found at:

  11. Salvation is actually a much simpler event that what many evangelicals
    make it out to be. Lutherans believe that salvation occurs solely due to the will and work of God. The sinner is a passive participant in his salvation. The sinner DOES nothing.

    The Lutheran interpretation of Scripture on the Doctrine of Justification/Salvation is often confusing to evangelicals. Why? Understanding what the Bible really says depends upon your world view.

    Most Christian evangelicals, and all other world religions, come from the viewpoint that: "I must do SOMETHING for God to love me and want to save me! I can't believe that God would just give me his love, his grace, his mercy, his peace, his forgiveness AND eternal life...based on absolutely nothing that I do. Can it really be true that God gives me all that, in addition to the fact that he gave his only Son to die for me...not based on any good quality, trait, or deed that I can provide to earn his good favor, and not even based on me making a decision that I want his gift??

    That is INCOMPREHENSIBLE, illogical, unreasonable, and makes no sense!

    But that is what the Bible says that God does: He gives us the free gift of salvation based on his love for us ...alone.

    "But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."

    So if you are able to remove YOU from the act of salvation, here is how the Bible says that GOD does it:

    Salvation occurs by only one means: the power of God's declaration of righteousness/the power of his Word.

    In the New Testament, God says that he uses his Word to save and forgive sins in two situations: when the Word is preached, and when the Word is spoken with the application of water…Baptism.

    It's that simple.

    Who do Lutherans baptize? Answer: We baptize anyone who comes to us, or is
    brought to us, seeking God's free gift of salvation and the forgiveness of
    sins. Do you have to be baptized to be saved? No. But why
    would you refuse this beautiful act of God? Why would you refuse God's
    gift of the forgiveness of your sins? Do you really have true faith?

    As Christ says in Mark 16:16, it is not the lack of baptism that damns, it is the lack of belief/the lack of true faith that damns.

  12. Thanks so much for posting this! The article, and especially your responses to the comments, have been so helpful, insightful, and encouraging. I loved what you said about allowing the paradoxes to stand and live in tension with themselves!

    Grew up Baptist, attended a private Presbyterian school, and served as a pastor in a nondenominational church, but recently found myself in a Lutheran church for the first time in my life…and there…in simplicity and mystery of the Word and Sacrament, I was home!

    Thanks again!