Titus 3:4–7 (NIV)
4 But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, 5 He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour, 7 so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.
Since the Reformation there has been one controversy over Baptism which confuses so many people. The controversy has to do with whether or not children should be baptized.
The division in the church over Baptism goes back to the Reformation with the Anabaptist group who introduced the idea of “believers baptism”.
“Believers Baptism” is a rite of public confession – where the person being baptized performs an act of obedience for righteousness – suggesting that one has to contribute this act to gain salvation.
Infant Baptism on the other hand is a Sacrament. As George Forell says of infant baptism it is, “an action appointed by Christ, in which the general promise of the Gospel concerning forgiveness of sins for Christ’s sake is applied and sealed to an individual in the use of an external element.”
Those who promote Baptism as being an act in which the person being baptized is making a public confession, usually say that infant Baptism is absurd because a very young child cannot make a public confession faith.
But Baptism is actually a “means of grace” in which God’s promise is given and sealed to an individual. As a means of grace it doesn’t matter how old the baptized person is to whom the seal is applied.
When a child or young person is baptized it is God giving His grace and forgiveness to the individual and as Forell says it “does not depend for its value on the understanding of the recipient.”
It’s a little like when you leave an inheritance to a child which will benefit the child long before the child can appreciate and understand the value of the gift.
Likewise when you cuddle a small child or baby you are making him or her feel your love and protection well before the child will have any rational understanding of ‘love’ and ‘protection’. The reality of the love does not depend on the intellectual comprehension of it.”
There are two critical facts which make Baptism essential for salvation. Firstly, God’s love is experienced and sealed in Baptism and secondly God’s love is given to us long before we can comprehend what it is about and what it means.
As long as we live in the world we will struggle to fully understand the enormity of God’s gift to us in baptism. St Paul says, 1 Corinthians 13:12 (NIV)
12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
The main theme running through the Augsburg Confession is that “God offers us His grace freely and without merit on our part. He offers us His grace because He is good, not because we are.”
God knew us and loved us even before we were conceived. He knit us together in our mother’s womb and what He creates, He loves as John 316 reminds us. God created the world and He loves His creation, you and me and everyone else.
The Sacrament of Baptism expresses the unconditional character of God’s love. In Baptism God reaches out to us even before we are even aware of what He has done for us, as Tom experienced last Sunday when He was baptized.
As Forell tells us, “Baptism denies any notion that God’s love is aroused by our moral goodness or intellectual understanding or even our mystical experience of love.”
We might observe that a small infant may not do anything that is evil or that is good. Infants act out of need, crying when uncomfortable with a wet nappy or when they are hungry.
When they are warm with a full tummy they may smile. But they, like all of us, are born with “original sin” inherited from Adam and Eve and need God to cleanse them.
It is precisely when children are most vulnerable that God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the Trinity, comes to the child with the free gift of salvation.
God takes all children who are baptized into His family before they can comprehend the sinful human nature they were born with. God claims the child before the child can discern evil.
Likewise too, an infant has no understanding of theology. The child is ignorant of theological thought. Yet God loves the child despite the child not being able to comprehend even the basic facts of the Scriptures and faith.
Despite a child not being able to give account of their faith nor consent to God’s love being demonstrated upon them, God loves them with such a great love.
As Jesus said to His disciples when they were trying to restrict the small children from coming to Him: Mark 10:14 (NIV) …, He was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.
We, who are proud of our moral knowledge, achievement and understanding or our religious experiences, dreams and visions have nothing to exert a valid claim on God as we confess: “I a poor helpless sinner, …” who “deserves punishment in time and eternity” have already been claimed by God long before we could claim anything on Him.
God has claimed us in baptism and we can now love Him only because He has first loved us. The great thing about Baptism is that our achievements or failures do not determine our relationship with God. God has already got that sorted.
Jesus tells us that when He was teaching the disciples about the need to allow children to come to Him and be in His Kingdom He was saying that the ones “such as these” in Mark 14 “are people who let go of their claims on God and let God claim them, touch them and Baptise them.”
For God to claim any individual, no matter their age, it does not depend on that person’s full comprehension of what Baptism means. “Some may think that while for children the relationship which God has established in Baptism is sufficient, adults have to comprehend God and His plan for them.”
But, Jesus said in Mark 10:15 (NIV) 15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the Kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
In relation to God we always remain children – we call Him our Heavenly Father (we can then claim everyday as Father’s Day – God’s day).
We will never know completely God’s purpose and plan for us this side of Heaven just as when we were children we could never fully understand all that our parents did for us.
We may catch a glimpse from time to time and we may sometimes have some clarity of vision and our role in God’s vision – at best these are short moments and interludes in our lives. These glimpses can become more frequent as we delve deeply into God’s Word, pray and rub shoulders with others who are doing the same.
When we look at the Old Testament Patriarchs like Moses or Isaiah, or the New Testament disciples like Peter and Paul, clarity of calling, purpose, vison and love are not always obvious.
We need to be taught as Jesus said when He instituted the Sacrament of Baptism in Matthew 28. Our time with God should be meaningful and full of spiritual nutrition as we share together the benefits of Baptism (forgiveness of sin, the Holy Spirit).
We don’t want to lose the little we have through neglect, contamination from Godless sources or forgetfulness.
We are bound to failure when we try and put God into a box with our logic, resources and human wisdom. There are many who are trying to reshape God to suit the desires of their selfish nature - reinterpreting the clear Word of God with the scratched magnifying glass of human wisdom – focus incorrectly and we start forest fires of heresy and moral decay in our communities.
Forell likens those who seek to “cut God down to size” like those who chase sunshine with butterfly nets – they wear themselves out, never succeed and make fools of themselves.”
There is a simple answer to this and that is to remain close to God and respond to God as He is our loving Father. He is fully resourced with His love is abundant for the whole World. (John 3:16).
Like children with a loving Father we can receive Him, trust in Him and allow Him to guide us into the future. We are closest to God when we respond like children to a loving father, accepting His love with willingly with trust even when we are bewildered by what He says and does.
To conclude, Forell says:
“When the Augsburg Confession asserts so very bluntly that “Baptism is necessary for salvation” it really asserts that God’s love is necessary for salvation. Baptism is the seal of God’s love at the very beginning of our life. All that is left to do is to learn how to use this overwhelming gift, but that always takes a lifetime …”