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date: 19 September 2017

Baptism in Martin Luther’s Theology

Summary and Keywords

Baptism opens a window to the heart of Martin Luther’s 16th-century theology. It offers a perspective for how Luther understands the impact of grace and its channels, as well as the nature of justification in an individual’s life. In his teaching about baptism, Luther demonstrates the vital working of the Word and lays a foundation for a Word-centered and faith-oriented spirituality. With baptism, Luther articulates his vision for the purpose of the Church and the rationale for sacraments. Baptism reveals different sides of the theologian: one who argues with a zeal on the “necessity” of baptism and its meaningful God-mandated practice in Christian communities and another who imagines God’s saving grace too expansive to be limited to any ritual. The apparent tensions in Luther’s articulation can be understood from his overlapping agendas and different audiences: in his baptismal talk, Luther is both processing his own Angst about salvation and negotiating his developing position in relation to the medieval sacramental theology and other emerging reform solutions. While feistily refuting his opponents, he is also speaking from his personal religious experience of being as if reborn with the encounter of the Word of grace and passionately extrapolating his most foundational conviction: God’s unconditional promise of grace as the ground of being for human life, given to humanity in the Word. The matter of baptism leads to the roots of different Christian “confessional” traditions. The format of the ritual has generated less anxiety than differing theological opinions on (1) the role of faith in the validity of baptism, and (2) the effects of baptism in one’s life. Whether infant or adult baptism is favored depends on whether baptism is primarily understood as a sign of faith, a cause of forgiveness and transformation, or an initiation into the Christian community—or all of the above. Baptism is at the center of Luther’s theological nervous system; it connects with every other vital thread in the theological map. Baptism is a mystery and a matter of faith; it calls for a philosophical imagination and mystical willingness to grasp the questions of reality beyond what meets the eye. “I study it daily,” Luther admits in his “Large Catechism.” “In baptism, therefore, every Christian has enough to study and practice all his or her life. Christians always have enough to do to believe firmly what baptism promises and brings.”

Keywords: Martin Luther, baptism, sacrament, faith, word, justification, transformation, salvation, reborn, spiritual, theology

Luther’s Approach: A Matter of Life and Death

Baptism takes one to the depths of Luther’s spiritual theology. It evokes basic questions about the source of life and hope. Luther speculates: “Suppose there were a physician who had so much skill that people would not die, or even though they died would afterward live eternally. Just think how the world would snow and rain money upon such a person! … Now, here in baptism there is brought, free of charge, to every person’s door just such a treasure and medicine that swallows up death and keeps all people alive.”1

With baptism, one enters the realm of the Creator and the giver of life. Baptism takes one to the mystery of Christ’s incarnation and resurrection. With baptism, one engages the reality of the Spirit. In other words, the full Christian doctrine is involved with the teaching and practice of baptism. A philosophical approach might appear to be in order, but Luther chooses a different path. His perspective arises from his existential hunger for finding a merciful God.2 He is focused less on the mechanics and the “how” regarding baptism and more on its effect on the human condition.3 Luther’s baptismal argumentation is best understood in light of his spiritual concerns.4

As with Luther’s doctrine of justification, it is helpful to recognize the importance of baptism in his personal life. He relied on his baptism, when tormented by demons and self-doubt: “But I am baptized! … Because the water and the Word together constitute one baptism, both body and soul shall be saved and live forever: the soul through the Word in which it believes, the body because it is united with the soul and apprehends baptism in the only way it can.”5 The matter of baptism takes one right to the heart of Luther’s spirituality and theology.

Roots of Baptismal Practice and Theology

Martin Luther’s dilemma in the post-1517 reality is to determine which Christian teachings and rites to continue. When arguing for the continuation of baptism, Luther returns to ad fontes and looks for guidance in the Scriptures and the practices of the Early Church, while building on his reformation insights on justification and the working of the Word.6

Baptism, a central tool in Christians’ expansion around the globe, has served as an initiation to the Christian community and as a reminder of Jesus’ promise to be present among those who will continue his mission. Christians have adhered to Jesus’ command to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” These words from Jesus, the command to baptize and the promise to stay with his followers, have become the cornerstone for Christian rationale for baptism.7 Trusting in Jesus’ words “Remember, I am with you always” (Matt. 28:20), baptism also incorporates one into a new eschatological scheme, to the orientation of Christians preparing for the return of the resurrected Jesus.8

For the early followers of Jesus, baptism meant identifying with him and his teachings.9 A public confession of faith at a time when Christians were suspect in the eyes of their Roman neighbors was an important act, and the ritual of baptism gave courage to the persecuted Christians. As baptism became more organized, a lengthy period of education was required before the ritual that involved nudity, immersion, exorcism, candles, new clothing and slippers, and other forms symbolizing the new birth experienced in baptism. The baptized would receive a copy of the Creed—the basic statements of Christian faith from the early ecumenical councils (325–451). They would also gain access to the Eucharist, a thanksgiving meal for nurturing Christian faith.

Medieval theology of baptism built on the definitions of Augustine, the bishop of Hippo, the most important being “Accedat verbum ad elementum et fit sacramentum,” that is, “add word to the element and it becomes a sacrament,” an instrument of grace. The developing medieval rationale for an infant baptism drew from Augustine’s solution on the original sin and the human ability to “not sin” or love God. Infants like the rest of human beings were deemed in need of a purification, forgiveness, and rescuing from their condition, all of which baptism provided.

Baptism was required from medieval Christians, both theologically per the teachings of the Church, and by the law: the imperial code from the 6th century mandated infant baptism. Theologians aimed to establish conformity in the practice of the ritual and to solidify sacramental theology. Baptism was presented as the first sacrament, to be performed by the duly ordained priest, to remove the original sin. In this symbol of death and resurrection, the baptized was to begin a life of justification, which would involve ongoing combating of sin with the sacrament of penance. In sacraments, grace was received. A vital function of the Church was to safeguard the distribution of grace.

Medieval sacramental teaching sought to explain how matter could convey grace in the sacrament. Distinguishing between sacramentum tantum as the matter and form, res et sacramentum as the sacramental reality, and res tantum, the reality of the sacrament’s spiritual effect, medieval theologians unfolded the different dimensions of the sacraments’ impact and the causality of sacraments’ effectiveness as instrument of God’s working.10

The effect of the sacrament was named as an indelible seal, as both a sign and a reality.11 Theological trust in its effectiveness ex opere operato, by the work done, became the foundation of sacramental practice that sought to point to the mysterious overlapping of res and signum. The effectiveness of sacraments, duly performed, was explained from the reality of God’s grace. The confidence had roots in Augustine’s victory over Donatists on the validity of sacraments regardless of the worth of the persons involved in the act where God was the principal actor.12

The recipients’ faith was of less importance than the duly offered ritual in which God’s grace was certain “regardless” human factors. With its effect of washing away original sin and its guilt, baptism connected one with God in a renewed relationship, as an act of grace. From there on, one could expect to experience different degrees of grace in one’s life, with one’s personal involvement in Christian life supported by the six other sacraments from cradle to death.13

Reformations and the Renewed Role of Faith

In the Reformation century, as the medieval Catholic Church’s teaching of grace is being re-evaluated, the rationale for baptism is revisited. Augustine’s formulations provide the road map for basic questions, such as what sacrament is, how they work and for whom, how Christ is present, what role does the faith have, and how baptism pertains to salvation.14

Luther maintains baptism as a means of grace, one of the two with a scriptural basis, with Jesus’ command and promise recorded.15 “What God institutes and commands cannot be useless. Rather, it is a most precious thing … we ought to regard baptism as much greater and more precious because God has commanded it.” Therefore, Luther underscores, “the words read, ‘Go, baptize,’ not ‘in your name’ but in God’s name.” God’s institution is the key.16

In Luther’s reading, this godly command includes children: infant baptism is required, in accordance to the imperial law, but also on the foundation of Augustine’s teaching of the necessity of the purging ritual. Luther speculates that clearly God has found the practice “pleasing.”17

Luther’s views become solidified in a conflict between different reforming groups, particularly on their opinions about the validity of infant baptism.18 The choice between infant or adult baptism involves a rationale for the role of faith: it makes a difference whether baptism is considered to be a witness of one’s faith rather than the beginning point of faith received in the event. Luther brings renewed attention to the relevance of faith in the effectiveness of the sacrament in one’s personal life.19 He emphasizes the primacy of the Word in baptism’s effectiveness and validity. With that, he underscores God as the actor in sacraments and fulfilling their promise.20

Rejecting the Anabaptists’ practice of believers’ baptism, Luther is convinced that baptism offers more than an inclusion into the community of believers. Clashing with the Swiss reformer Huldrych Zwingli, Luther insists that baptism brings about a real presence of God. More than a sign of a covenant or a pledge of faith, baptism hosts a divine event where the baptized is brought into the realm of saving faith.21 Moreover, since baptism removes effectively the guilt of the original sin and thus alters one’s existential status in the face of one’s creator, one is made “right” in a restored relationship with God—all elements of what is called salvation.22

Luther does not consider life post-baptism free of sin or “guilt-free.” On this point, he departs from the teaching of some of his Protestant counterparts and the medieval Catholic teaching. Luther develops an idiosyncratic teaching about baptism on the basis of his fundamental perceptions of the human condition bound to sin, God’s designs for humans’ well-being and the existential freedom in the realm of faith, and the Church’s tangible means as a vehicle in God’s activity of dispensing grace to the needy.23 Baptism becomes a central teaching point.

Luther’s Texts on Baptism

Luther both defends and teaches the practice of baptism from the pulpit and in publications. Some of his texts aim to teach the new evangelicals; some arise out of conflict. The foundation is laid already in his early work with the biblical texts that led him to his reformation discoveries (Psalms, Romans, Hebrews, Galatians, 1513–1517), while he returns to biblical explanation of baptism with his late Genesis lectures (1535–1545).

In 1519, Luther publishes “The Holy and Blessed Sacrament of Baptism,” originally a sermon, included in a trilogy dedicated to Duchess Margaretha of Braunschweig-Lüneburg. Emphasizing God’s promise and the death and new life that baptismal water brings about, Luther explains God’s institution behind the sacrament. In 1523, his “Baptismal Booklet,” a catechetical resource explaining the ritual and the meaning of it for the general reader, comes out. In 1528, Luther responds to the Anabaptists’ practice of “believer’s baptism” versus the legally sanctioned infant baptism. In “Concerning Rebaptism,” Luther zealously lays out the defense of Christian baptism and infant baptism as its best expression per scripturally based God’s institution—and evidence of God blessing the practice over the centuries. The matter of the role and the necessity of faith for the sacrament’s effectiveness is elaborated as well.

The 1537 Smalcald Articles reinforce Luther’s catechetical teaching and the anti-Catholic sacramental argumentation that he had started already with his 1520 “On Babylonian Captivity of the Papacy.” Aiming to liberate sacraments from the Church’s misguided teaching and corrupt use, Luther underscores their gift nature and Christians’ responsibilities with regard to the Gospel. Baptism, signifying death and resurrection, becomes a focal point for the Christian life of the justified. Luther’s other influential reformation text from the same year, “On Christian Freedom,” continues his explication of the direction of the life of the baptized as free in faith and bound in love with the other. A most conclusive source for Luther’s baptismal theology is his educational summa, the 1529 Large Catechism: in it Luther unfolds the meaning of Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Sacraments as tools for spiritual living, and as an orientation for the life of the baptized.24

God’s Water: The Work of the Word

In his Large Catechism, Luther articulates: “What is baptism? Namely, that it is not simply plain water, but water placed in the setting of God’s Word and commandment and made holy by them. It is nothing else than God’s water, not that the water itself is nobler than other water but that God’s Word and commandment are added to it.”25

Luther extrapolates how baptism is “God’s own act”: even if human hands perform it, “to be baptized in God’s name is to be baptized not by human beings but by God.”26 The baptismal water becomes God’s holy water through which the baptized receives God, and thereby holiness and salvation. Luther wrote, “No greater jewel, therefore, can adorn our body and soul than baptism, for through it we become completely holy and blessed, which no other kind of life and no work on earth can acquire.”27

The reformer underscores the mystery of baptism and its real effect: the means of grace consisting of water and Word effects a transformation in a person.28 At the core of this transformation is forgiveness, the source of which is Christ. With a Christological orientation, Luther concludes that the baptized enter a new spiritual reality when ontologically reconnected with God through Christ, whose communicatio idiomatum (only) makes divine–human connection possible.29

Against those who deem baptism an external ritual with humble water, Luther insists that it conveys invisible grace and more than meets the eye. “It is not simply plain water, but water placed in the setting of God’s Word and commandment and made holy by them. It is nothing else than God’s water, not that the water itself is nobler than other water but that God’s Word and commandment are added to it.” God is added to the water and the holy water “contains and conveys all that is God’s.”30Therefore, “it is of the greatest importance that we regard baptism as excellent, glorious and exalted.”31

Echoing Augustine’s characterization of sacraments as visible word, Luther unfolds both the internal and external value of baptism based on its divine design and promise:32 “But no matter how external it may be, here stand God’s word and command that have instituted, established, and confirmed baptism. What God institutes and commands cannot be useless. Rather it is a most precious thing, even though to all appearances it may not be worth a straw.”33

Luther acknowledges that this is a matter beyond human comprehension.34 Faith and Word are needed. “Thus you see plainly that baptism is not a work that we do but that it is a treasure that God gives us and faith grasps, just as the Lord Christ upon the cross is not a work but a treasure placed in the setting of the Word and offered to us in the Word and received by faith.”35 By God’s design, only faith saves and brings Christ to a person’s life, and God works in human life through the Word.36

When addressing the mystery involved in the plain water, Luther explains the sacramental reality from God’s own promise, Word. With the premise that God is ubiquitous and that finitum capax infiniti, Luther trusts that the tangible matter becomes a vehicle of the holy. The bottom line is that only because of who God is and because God works through the Word the sacrament truly contains God’s grace.

From the creation to incarnation to redemption, the Scriptures imply the centrality of the Word in God’s relating to human beings. God becomes present and effects through the Word. With the sacrament, then, it is absolutely crucial “that these two, the Word and the water, must by no means be separated from each other.” Namely, without the Word, the water is no different from cooking water. “But when the Word is with it according to God’s ordinance, baptism is a sacrament, and it is called Christ’s baptism.”37 In other words, “For the real significance of the water lies in God’s Word or commandment and God’s name, and this treasure is greater and nobler than heaven and earth.” Baptismal water differs from natural water “because something nobler is added, for God stakes God’s honor, power, and might on it.”38

It is thus impossible for baptism to remain “merely” a symbol or a sign without an ontological impact. This is a consistent emphasis of Luther, and it is founded in his conviction of the centrality of the Word. Because of the agency of the Word, baptism necessarily conveys nothing less than God: “Therefore it is not simply a natural water, but a divine, heavenly, holy and blessed water—praise it in any other terms you can—all by virtue of the Word, which is a heavenly, holy Word that no one can sufficiently extol, for it contains and conveys all that is God’s.”39

When considering how baptism brings God to human life, Luther returns to Jesus’ words—and model—on what his followers should do. Luther points out that just like the Holy Spirit came upon him in baptism, God comes to dwell in the baptized. This is made possible because of Christ’s incarnation: in agreement with the Council of Chalcedon’s (451) articulation, Luther explains that from Christ’s two natures in one being the possibility of the ontological communication between human and divine can take place. This gift (invisible to the human eye) results in a transformation and bears its fruits in human life.

There are requirements for the divine act to work. “This is the reason why these two things are done in baptism; the body has water poured over it, because all it can receive is the water, and in addition to the Word is spoken so that the soul may receive it. Because the water and the Word together constitute one baptism, both body and soul shall be saved and live forever: the soul through the Word in which it believes, the body because it is united with the soul and apprehends baptism in the only way it can.”40 With these criteria, humble water can become a transformative divine sign.41

Justification in Baptism: Personal Transformation

Baptism for Luther is a personal and all-encompassing matter as a spiritually transformative event that has the potential to shape one’s orientation in life. Baptism involves an existential and an ontological shift.42 It does not remain inner-personal but should also transform one interpersonally, in relation to others. It does so with the power of grace-filled water of life that grants a “bath of the new birth in the Holy Spirit.”43

In Luther’s teaching of justification, the transformation realized in baptism does not promise unfailing progress in the new life. The entrance of the Holy Spirit, however, means that one is empowered for the life-long process that keeps baptism alive and effective: “When we become Christians, the old creature daily decreases until finally destroyed. This is what it means truly to plunge into baptism and daily to come forth again.”44 Post-baptism life then entails an ongoing transformation, needed each day due to the continuing reality of sin. Post-baptism life is characterized by a tension from living in two realities, godly and human.

Importantly, Luther names faith as the mediating agent without which this transformation or entrance to the godly reality cannot take place: “Where faith is present with its fruits, there baptism is no empty symbol, but the effect accompanies it; but where faith is lacking, it remains a mere unfruitful sign.”45 Faith makes it an infinite treasure, on faith depends everything. In light of his central teaching of justification by faith: only when faith is understood as a gift to begin with can it be a “must.”

Faith is Luther’s key word in explaining how baptism works but also how one is justified by faith: the gift of human beings made right with God and becoming pleasing to God. Luther describes this signature teaching of his in his early (1518) “Heidelberg Disputation.” With his insight that “the love of God which lives in [hu]man loves sinners, evil persons, fools, and weaklings in order to make them righteous, good, wise, and strong,” Luther concludes about God’s restorative way of relating to human beings: “Rather than seeking its own, the love of God flows forth and bestows good. Therefore sinners are attractive because they are loved; they are not loved because they are attractive.”46

This is the premise for baptism’s gifts and, before that, God’s authorship in justification, which has two dimensions: alien and proper. The alien righteousness is that of Christ, instilled from without. This righteousness of Christ justifies a human being through faith. The so-called proper, our “own” righteousness grows from the first kind.47 At the heart of this teaching, and his baptismal theology, is Luther’s assurance that Christ becomes the subject in humans’ lives. Christ’s incarnation and his redemptive work become relevant to a person in baptism when, in a “happy exchange,” human beings receive Christ and all Christ has, and vice versa, when Christ assumes human guilt and sin and thereby overrides their damnation. “Through faith in Christ, therefore, Christ’s righteousness becomes our righteousness and all that he has becomes ours; rather, he himself becomes ours.”48

Luther’s baptismal theology building on these insights entails a mystical view of oneness with God. Even if reached with different “paths,” Luther shares the medieval mystics’ experience of the reality of the transformative impact of oneness with God, which he deems is gifted to all in baptism. Lutherans post-Luther have emphasized the forgiveness aspect of justification; this court-room language has dominated in Lutheran discourse on the grace-induced forgiveness received in baptism. Luther himself, however, pays significant attention to the transformative experience of oneness with God. Christ is more than a favor; Christ himself is the gift whose restorative presence in human life is celebrated and proclaimed in the act of baptism.49

For Luther, the starting and ending point is Christ, whose arrival does effect a transformation, which has both internal and external dimensions. Christ’s presence brings about a change in one’s life ontologically speaking. The full “change” in one’s being happens coram Deo, where one becomes a new person with a new status, that is, forgiven and one with Christ. This transformation does not, however, equal perfection or secure freedom from sin for the coram hominibus reality of this life: there the transformation manifests in developing a new orientation in life that is from its foundations Christ-centered. Baptism serves as a springboard for such godly living, or what Luther calls, “our proper righteousness,” while one’s justification does not depend on it.50

Taking baptism as the starting point for a spiritual life inspired by the gift of justification, Luther promises no perfection on the human front but a total dependence on Christ’s perfection. A Christian’s life is characterized by repentance and involves returning to the source of perfection, Christ, of whose life, death, resurrection, and promise baptism reminds. The Christian life of the baptized is thus “nothing else than a daily baptism, begun once and continuing ever after. For we must keep at it without ceasing, always purging whatever pertains to the old Adam, so that whatever belongs to the new creature may come forth.”51 Luther uses concrete language with expressions familiar from daily life in describing this reality: “Therefore let all Christians regard their baptism as the daily garment that they are to wear all the time. Every day they should be found in faith and with its fruits, suppressing the old creature and grow in up in the new.”52

A baptized person thus lives in a tension of “fully holy,” yet in this life not there yet. She is a recipient of “full” justification and forgiveness, and in a completely transformed relationship with God (coram deo reality). At the same time, in this life and relations (coram hominibus) sin continues to have its influence and thus the baptized person’s life is lived in “partial” righteousness, striving to live a godly life and relate to others. This means, as Luther frequently retorts, Christians do not live for themselves but in Christ and thus for their neighbor. Baptism is a seal to the ensuing “love bondage” where by faith one is caught up into the loving God, and in love descending to the neighbor.53

Baptism and Faith: Born Again Experience

Luther’s strong language of justification includes words about “rebirth” or “born again.” This has implications on his sacramental theology, as evidenced, for instance, in his baptismal prayer: “The all-mighty God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has given birth to you for a second time through water and the Holy Spirit has forgiven you all your sins, strengthen you with his [God’s] grace to eternal life. Amen.”54

Luther explains baptism from his idea of justification by faith through grace because of Christ. Through the agency of faith and the Word, baptism makes one a new person. Faith is needed for the realization of this alteration in one’s life. Luther writes, “The one who believes and is baptized will be saved.” And vice versa, “Without faith baptism is of no use, although in itself it is an infinite, divine treasure.”55 In other words: “Just by allowing the water to be poured over you, you do not receive or retain baptism in such manner that it does you any good. But it becomes beneficial to you if you accept it as God’s command and ordinance, so that, baptized in God’s name, you may receive in the water the promised salvation. Neither the hand nor the body can do this, but rather the heart must believe it.”56

When speaking of the saving faith that receives the gift of justification, Luther is naming faith as the agent and the connector when sinners are being made right with God. “Faith is not the human notion and dream that some people call faith.” Faith is “a divine work in us which changes us and makes to be born anew of God, John 1 [12–13]. It kills the old Adam and makes us altogether different people, in heart and spirit and mind and powers; and it brings with it the Holy Spirit.”57

In this light, faith is an ontological orientation and a force, the facilitator of the new birth. The location for that new birth is recognized in human history at the moment of baptism, a focal point for faith that serves to focus the baptized person’s attention on God, the source of faith and grace. Baptism is more than a symbol of the reality change effected in the rebirth that occurs when one receives the gift of justification; it serves as a starting point for an active orientation in life where one seeks to see the world through God’s eyes.

What follows or does not follow from baptism has no impact, however, on baptism’s validity. There is no such causality. Baptism is valid “as is,” by the mere fact of being performed in the community with the Word. Luther is equally adamant that baptism’s validity and effectiveness do not depend on anything human-made, not even faith. He protects the “grace factor” against tempting illusions of human achievement. “For my faith does not make baptism, rather it receives it. Baptism does not become invalid if not properly received or used, as I have said, for it is not bound to our faith but to the Word.”58 To make this point unmistakably clear, Luther speculates: even in the case of an infant who might or might not believe, the baptism would still be valid.59

This is a principle that guides his pastoral communications. His conviction about God’s unfailing promise allows Luther to speak forcefully about the gift nature of the personal faith “necessary” in receiving the sacrament’s benefits and also to argue for both the “necessity” of sacraments for salvation and for the distribution of grace not being limited to even God-instituted means of grace.

With his emphasis on faith in making baptism’s gifts relevant for a person, Luther seems to set expectations on individual faith in ways that might compromise his teaching of justification by faith and by grace alone. But that is not Luther’s intent: his words about the faith and the effectiveness of the sacraments unfold in light of his understanding of the framework for the sacraments’ use in the first place, the Church. Identifying Church as the place for the proper function of the sacraments, Luther notes the communal aspect of their celebration. Urging a respectful attitude in those attending, Luther reminds them of the importance of the participants’ faith: “See to it that you are present there in true faith, that you listen to God’s Word, and that you pray along earnestly.”60 It is with the proclaimed faith of the community that the Church offers baptism.

A Means of Grace for the Church

Luther teaches that the sacraments belong to the life of the Church into which people are baptized. Baptism is a specific means for the Church to use as an external sign of grace. It is a public act practiced in the community of baptizing Christians, a church, whose communal faith gives the framework for baptism’s meaningful use. In that context, it is a meaningful holy sign with transformative effects.

Adhering to Christ’s command and promise (Matt. 28), the Church offers a rite of inclusion. It is the Church’s responsibility to teach what the spiritual sign teaches about God, human condition, and salvation. As an organized community with agreed-upon principles on the interpretation of the gospel, the Church is poised to offer grace with the proclamation of the Word and means of grace. Inversely, without a proper offering of these signs of grace, there would be no Church. In other words, it is specifically in church’s use that sacraments work as public signs of grace; their meaning and credibility are in the proclamation and praxis of the community offering them.

Luther considers proper teaching of sacraments and their rationale vital for the life of the Church, and for Christian identity. Beginning with Jesus’ own baptism and his command for baptism, he joins in the Church’s adherence to the Trinitarian formula when explicitly confessing with the ancient creeds.61 Luther does not want to instill many changes in the actual ritual, nor does he require uniformity. To him, the “external ceremonies are least important” (e.g., blowing into nose, sign of cross, salt, robe, candle, etc.), since “human additions do not matter very much as long as baptism itself is administered with God’s word, true faith, and serious prayer.”62

Luther presents baptism as an effective starting point for a battle against sin and evil. He teaches spiritual attentiveness and recognition of the holy. “Out of a sense of Christian commitment, I appeal to all those who baptize, sponsor infants, or witness a baptism to take to heart the tremendous work and great solemnity here.”63 Baptism is about fighting the devil and death! Thus, the part of exorcism is important, as is providing the experience of a new birth with full immersion in the water, in the nude, and with a white dress for the baptized. Given the solemnity of the occasion, a proper reverend attitude is called for: “For here in the words of these prayers you hear how plaintively and earnestly the Christian church brings the infant to God, confesses before him with such unchanging, undoubting words that the infant is possessed by the devil and a child of sin and wrath, and so diligently ask for help and grace through baptism, that the infant may become a child of God.”64

Luther left a legacy of openness in terms of the ritual aspects of baptism, and this shows in different practices among Lutherans worldwide. The rationale for the “necessity” of baptism, however, calls for a re-examination for its relevance in today’s world.

While there is flexibility regarding the ritual aspects of baptism, Luther does not consider it an option not to baptize—in normal circumstances. He concludes from the history that God has found the practice pleasing. Baptism continues to serve an important purpose in combating death and devil in a reality where people are born ungodly and wicked, devoid of knowledge of God and filled with contempt of God. Baptism shines not only as a sign of but a “doorway” to another reality and freedom. “Ah, dear Christians, let us not value or treat this unspeakable gift so half-heartedly. For baptism is our only comfort and the doorway to all of God’s possessions and to the communion of all the saints. To this end may God help us.”65 In other words, baptism is an entrance into a new life and a change in relationship to God.

Luther writes about the “washing of regeneration”66 not as a requirement for salvation, but rather as God’s action: “this washing takes place only through God’s will and not at all through the Word and the water.”67 Luther explains that this purge is about saving one from the effects of sin: “This is the simplest way to put it: the power, affect, benefit, fruit, and purpose of practicing it is that it saves … To be saved, as everyone knows, is nothing else than to be delivered from sin, death and the devil, to enter into Christ’s kingdom, and deliberate with him forever.”68

Baptism and Infants

Baptism of infants is the case in point about how baptism works, about its validity, and about the role of faith and Word.69 First of all the proof is in the past: “That the baptism of infants is pleasing to Christ is sufficiently true from his own work. God has sanctified many who have been most baptized and has given them the Holy Spirit.”70 Second, the infants’ helpless state symbolizes the condition of all human beings and the fact that baptism does not rely on human effort. It is not human beings or their faith but God’s Word that makes baptism. Specifically, “baptism is simply water and God’s Word in and with each other; that is, when the Word accompanies the water, baptism is valid, even though faith is lacking.”71 This applies to all, also infants. The focus is on the Word.

The word in baptism is a particular word about Jesus who welcomes sinners and children, who establishes baptism and gives it meaning and an invitation to it. Infant baptism demonstrates that there are no prerequisites or conditions to baptism. “For God’s ordinance in word cannot be changed or altered by human beings.”72

Luther declares that faith is a non-factor in the validity of the individual’s baptism that is a gift that does not depend on human beings’ faith or belief. “For my faith does not make baptism; rather, it receives.” By the same token, “baptism does not become invalid if it is not properly received or used, as I have said, for it is not bound to our faith but to the Word.”73

Equally strongly, Luther stresses the importance of faith for its effectiveness and meaning in individual life. Salvation is a gift that human beings can only receive with a faith in what already is. This saving kind of faith, beyond human beliefs, is given to human beings, including infants. In the receiving state, there is no difference between infants and grown-ups.

Speaking of infants’ faith: in Luther’s discernment, there is simply no proof that children would not have faith.74 We should rather assume that they do have. By the same token, people should err on the side of generosity rather than frugality in this regard. Luther speculates: “Even if infants did not believe75—which, however, is not the case as we have proved—still the baptism would be valid and no one should rebaptize them.”76

In other words, Luther concludes we should both assume the reality of children’s faith in terms of their salvation and remember that baptism is given for the sake of that faith to be received and nurtured. Infant baptism is a case in point that baptism is not necessary for salvation as such, just as no human act or intent is. Baptism is a sure deliverer of what the Word promises and does. That salvation is a gift implies that the faith that receives God is also a gift.

Interpreting the place of infant baptism in the Church, Luther reminds his readers that baptism is performed for the sake of such faith in a Christian community proclaiming that faith: “We bring the child with the intent and hope that it may believe, and we pray God to grant it faith. But we do not baptize on this basis but solely on the command of God. Why? Because we know that God does not lie.”77 The bottom line is that what takes place in baptism—of infants and adults—is God’s own work and it is received in faith that “is a divine work in us which changes us and makes us to reborn anew of God.”78

Luther as a medieval Christian continues thus to teach the general necessity and wisdom of continuing the practice of baptism and also infant baptism. When deliberating on special cases regarding infants, Luther returns to the principal working of God’s Word in all matters pertaining to human salvation. Also, in these cases, Luther demonstrates his expansive horizons on grace. He gives reason to argue that per reformation theology of justification by grace, the language of “necessity” of baptism deserves adjustment.79

Luther’s theology of justification gives a rationale for a distribution of grace beyond the sacraments. Luther gives an example of this when addressing the concerns of grieving mothers with the painful question of what will happen to children who die prematurely and without baptism. At the time of high infant mortality, this is hardly a theoretical question. Emergency baptisms are common, often performed by a midwife. If a child dies before baptism, parents fear for her salvation. Luther is quite compassionate in his communication. Emphasizing God’s grace, and underscoring the power of sacraments in general—regardless of who performs them—Luther imagines God’s grace in full spectrum. He names the mothers’ tears and prayers as having the effect of the sacrament because: “The immeasurable does more than we either ask or conceive.”80 Our prayers are pleasing to God.

In a powerful faith statement, Luther applies his doctrine of grace: “Therefore, we should present such cases [unbaptized infants] to God and console ourselves that God assured you hearing our unspoken longings and has done everything better than we have been able to put into words. In sum, take special care to be a true Christian and thus to pray in proper faith to God and learn from your heart whether in this or any other distress. Then do not be sorry and do not worry, either for your child or for yourself. Know that your prayer is pleasing and that God will do everything much better than you can grasp or desire.”81

Thinking of the modern practice of baptism and reassessing the rationales for the practice and its theological rationale, Luther’s comforting of the grieving mothers is a helpful conversation partner—also about his own theology’s promise and growing edges. The bottom line of his baptismal theology shines through in his pastoral application: God does not lie; God’s promise is in the Word that reaches beyond human imagination.

Toward Hospitable Theology of Baptism

Baptism connects today’s Christians with the early Christian baptizing communities. Global Lutheran communities negotiating their rationales for baptism face the task of reassessing the bearing of the 16th-century decisions for today. The traditional language of the “necessity” with baptism—and vis-à-vis what is meant by salvation in particular—requires adjustment in efforts toward a hospitable appreciation of the means of grace in today’s world.

In these conversations, Luther has a chance to contribute with an expansive theology of grace, building on his essential reformation insight: all human beings are beggars for grace and are saved by faith by God’s own grace and design. Sacraments in their proper use are a central means for the Church to assure people of God’s tangible presence in the midst of human existence. In his unflappable trust in the mysterious working of the Word, Luther sowed seeds for an inclusive theology of grace that, in many ways, is both applied and tested in the practice of baptism.

Literature Review

Luther’s theology of baptism has received less scholarly attention than its concrete expression in the liturgical rite. A noted North American interest can be detected from the mid-1960s and preparations for the Lutheran Book of Worship.82 Several works have been prompted by ecumenical concerns and Karl Barth’s criticism of the infant baptism as not-biblical.

In 1966, Arthur Carl Piepkorn provided a summary of the Lutheran understanding of baptism during the second round of Lutheran–Catholic dialogues.83 Drawing nearly exclusively from the Lutheran Confessions, Piepkorn explicated Luther’s liturgical reforms in junction with this theological concerns, noting Luther’s strongly biblical basis, as well as his roots in the medieval Catholic teaching.

In 1969, Edmund Schlink published an overview of baptism from the New Testament to his days. In response to Karl Barth’s criticism of infant baptism, Schlink addresses the question from a Lutheran confessional premise.84

In the same year, a group of liturgical scholars published a worship reference work with a lengthy article about baptism. The article describes Luther’s five theologically argued reform issues: (1) baptism is efficacious by faith and not by the performance of the rite, (2) infant baptism is the best example of baptism being God’s work, (3) baptism is an ongoing work of God, (4) the baptized are responsible to the world of God, and (5) the baptized are to be faithful to Christ. Baptism is deemed as “one of the true sacraments and normally necessary for salvation.”85

One of the few full-length books recently written about Luther and baptism is Jonathan Trigg’s dissertation-based work Baptism in the Theology of Martin Luther, from 1994.86 In response to Barth’s critique, Trigg investigates various sources from Luther, including the Lectures on Genesis, the sacramental theology of the older Luther, and the early Dictata on the Psalms. Two later chapters deal with the implications of Luther’s baptismal theology on soteriology and ecclesiology. Noting a “tension” and a “paradox” in Luther’s thought, he asks if Luther was really “a man of the middle way in his baptismal thinking.”87

In 1995, liturgical scholar Bryan Spinks notes on the relevance of Luther’s theology of baptism today, especially in liturgical renewals that appear to call for a “bilateral covenant” in the rites. That Luther lifts up the divine initiative of grace is an important emphasis in a post-Christian world that focuses on the Catechumenate as a way to make Christians.88

Lutheran liturgical scholar Maxwell Johnson published the definitive study on the rites of baptism in 1999 (revised in 2007 to include the newest worship books) as a companion volume to the Documents of the Baptismal Liturgy sourcebook. Johnson states that “Luther was, above everything else, a theologian of baptism.”89 He provides an overview of Luther’s main theological writings on baptism and then looks at Luther’s two liturgical reforms. Johnson notes the primacy of infant baptism, as well as the fact that faith and repentance are the life-long consequences of baptism. Johnson identifies modern Lutheran baptismal rites as being more connected with Luther’s first liturgical reform (1523) rather than his more-abridged second reform (1526). Johnson highlights Luther’s emphasis on God’s initiative with grace that is concretized in baptism. As modern liturgical reforms have raised the question of the role of the Holy Spirit in baptism, especially in the prayer for the laying on of hands, Johnson also identifies a wider issue of the relationship between “baptism” and “initiation” vis-à-vis baptism’s relationship to original sin and the “necessity” of baptism for receiving the Lord’s Supper and for salvation.

In the same year, David Scaer published a volume on baptism for the Confessional Lutheran Dogmatics series.90 The chapters organized around the classical Lutheran doctrinal themes about baptism seek to offer a “confessional” explanation, devoting an entire chapter to Karl Barth.

The New Westminster Dictionary of Liturgy & Worship from 2002 contains a new article about baptism in Lutheranism, beginning with a discussion of Luther’s liturgical reforms and describing the significance of baptism for Luther.91

That same year, Kent Burreson completed a dissertation investigating the 16th-century baptismal rites from a historical and theological perspective, tracing the evolution of baptismal rites from the pre-Reformation medieval rituals to the various iterations during the period of Confessionalization. A significant contribution to the discussion of Luther and baptism comes with his theological analysis of Luther’s “flood prayer” (and its previous interpretations), seeing it aligned to Luther’s main baptismal motifs of John 3, Titus 3, and Romans 6. He concludes that “ritually, and in most cases theologically, there is a direct line of continuity between the medieval rites, Luther’s rites, and the rites of the Lutheran church orders.”92

In 2002, Bryan Spinks produced a two-volume analysis of baptismal theology and ritual. Spinks divides Luther’s theology into three phases: young (pre-1519), reformation (anti-Roman), and mature (anti-Enthusiast).93 Like Schlink, Spinks identifies Barth’s questioning of the efficacy of infant baptism as the major stimulus for the 20th- and 21st-century theologians’ attention to the sacrament. Spinks identifies other streams of theology entering the conversation: Jürgen Moltmann focuses on baptism as an eschatological sign of repentance and hope and Wolfhart Pannenberg emphasizes baptism as a divine gift. Spinks names these streams as “baptism into the one vicarious baptism of Christ” and “baptism as covenant.”94 Spinks also mentions Scaer’s Augustinian-Lutheran approach, and the ecumenical convergence of Baptism, Eucharist & Ministry. Spinks concludes that many theological traditions are now “challenged to see the rite of baptism in a wider context of the journey of faith in the community of faith.”95

A most important ecumenical study on baptism comes from Susan K. Wood, One Baptism: Ecumenical Dimensions of the Doctrine of Baptism, from 2006. An active ecumenist, she astutely places Luther and Lutheran theology of baptism in dialogue with Roman Catholic and other Protestant theological traditions.96

Kirsi Stjerna has contributed to the literature with her 2010 volume in the Lutheran Voices series entitled No Greater Jewel: Thinking about Baptism with Luther. Stjerna focuses on Luther’s spiritual theology and doctrine of justification as they open up from his theology of baptism. The “Introduction” notes that “with Luther as our guide, we can seek to reimagine the purpose and potential consequences of baptism in the life of the church and in the lives of all the baptized, and thus in the world where Christian’s embody (or should embody) a particular message of God’s love and grace and justice.”97 Stjerna calls attention to the traditional exclusive interpretation of the “necessity” of baptism for salvation and explores hospitable approaches to baptism as an inclusive means of grace and an ecumenically conducive spiritual grounding.98

Acknowledgments

The Review of the Literature was written by Kyle Schiefelbein, Ph.D., Senior Adjunct Faculty Member of Liturgical and Theological Studies, Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary of California Lutheran University, Berkeley, CA, with Kirsi Stjerna. The Further Reading was compiled by Kyle Schiefelbein and Kirsi Stjerna.

Further Reading

Johnson, Maxwell E.The Rites of Christian Initiation: Their Evolution and Interpretation. Revised and expanded ed. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2007.Find this resource:

Piepkorn, Arthur Carl. “The Lutheran Understanding of Baptism—A Systematic Summary.” In Lutherans and Catholics in Dialogue I–III. Edited by Paul C. Empie and T. Austin Murphy, 27–60. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1974.Find this resource:

Robinson, Paul W.Church and Sacraments: The Annotated Luther. Vol. 3. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2016.Find this resource:

Scaer, David P.Baptism. Confessional Lutheran Dogmatics 11. St. Louis: Luther Academy, 1999.Find this resource:

Spinks, Bryan D. “Luther’s Timely Theology of Unilateral Baptism.” Lutheran Quarterly, n.s., 9.1 (Spring 1995): 23–45.Find this resource:

Spinks, Bryan D.Reformation and Modern Rituals and Theologies of Baptism: From Luther to Contemporary Practices. Liturgy Worship and Society Series. Aldershot, U.K.: Ashgate, 2006.Find this resource:

Stjerna, Kirsi. No Greater Jewel: Thinking about Baptism with Luther. Lutheran Voices Series. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2009.Find this resource:

Stjerna, Kirsi. “Seeking Hospitable Discourse on the Sacrament of Baptism.” Dialog 53.2 (Summer 2014): 92–100.Find this resource:

Tranvik, Mark D. “Luther on Baptism.” Lutheran Quarterly, n.s., 13.1 (Spring 1999): 75–90.Find this resource:

Trigg, Jonathan D.Baptism in the Theology of Martin Luther. Studies in the History of Christian Thought 56. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1994.Find this resource:

Wood, Susan K.One Baptism: Ecumenical Dimensions of the Doctrine of Baptism. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2006.Find this resource:

Secondary

Brand, Eugene L. “New Rites of Initiation and their Implications: In the Lutheran Churches.” Studia Liturgica 12 (1977): 151–165. Reprinted in Living Water, Sealing Spirit: Readings on Christian Initiation. Edited by Maxwell E. Johnson, 292–309. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1995.Find this resource:

Burreson, Kent Jorgen. “The Saving Flood: The Medieval Origins, Historical Development, and Theological Import of the Sixteenth Century Lutheran Baptismal Rites.” PhD diss., University of Notre Dame, 2002.Find this resource:

Burreson, Kent Jorgen. “Water Surrounded by God’s Word: The Diocese of Breslau as a Window into the Transformation of Baptism from the Medieval Period to the Reformation.” In Worship in Medieval and Early Modern Europe: Change and Continuity in Religious Practice. Edited by Karin Maag and John D. Witvliet, 203–242. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2004.Find this resource:

Durheim, Benjamin. Christ’s Gift, Our Response: Martin Luther and Louis-Marie Chauvet on the Connection between Sacraments and Ethics. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2015.Find this resource:

Grönvik, Lorenz, Die Taufe in der Theologie Martin Luther. AAAbo, A 36/1. Åbo: Åbo Akademi, 1968.Find this resource:

Jenson, Robert W.Visible Words: The Interpretation and Practice of Christian Sacraments. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1978.Find this resource:

Kolb, Robert, and Charles P. Arand. “The ‘Means of Grace’ as Forms of God’s Word.” In The Genius of Luther’s Theology: A Wittenberg Way of Thinking for the Contemporary Church, 175–203. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008.Find this resource:

Marty, Martin E.Baptism. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1962.Find this resource:

Marty, Martin E.Baptism: A User’s Guide. Minneapolis: Augsburg Press, 2008.Find this resource:

Strohl, Jane E. “Luther’s Spiritual Journey.” In The Cambridge Companion to Martin Luther. Edited by Donald K. McKim, 149–164. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2003.Find this resource:

Notes:

(1.) Large Catechism in BC 462:43, hereinafter Large Catechism; “Der Große Katechismus,” in Die Bekenntnisschriften der Evangelischen-Lutherischsen Kirche, ed. Irene Dingel (Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2014), Large Catechism, 912–1162, on baptism 1110:7–1132:16, at 1120:30–35, hereinafter GK. In this analysis, primarily the Large Catechism is engaged, in agreement with Lorenz Grönvik’s conclusions on the continuity in Luther’s baptismal argumentation. See Lorenz Grönvik, Die Taufe in der Theologie Martin Luthers (Åbo: Åbo Akademi, 1967).

(2.) For an insightful essay, see Jane E. Strohl, “Luther’s Spiritual Journey,” in The Cambridge Companion to Martin Luther, ed. Donald K. McKim (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 149–164.

(3.) See Dirk Lange, “Introduction,” The Holy, and Blessed Sacrament of Baptism (1519), in The Annotated Luther, Vol. 1 (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2015), 203–207, at 204–205.

(4.) On the tradition, see Maxwell E. Johnson, The Rites of Christian Initiation: Their Evolution and Interpretation, revised and expanded ed. (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2007). Bryan D. Spinks, Early and Medieval Rituals and Theologies of Baptism: From the New Testament to the Council of Trent (Aldershot, U.K.: Ashgate, 2006). Bryan D. Spinks, Reformation and Modern Rituals and Theologies of Baptism: From Luther to Contemporary Practices (Aldershot, U.K.: Ashgate, 2006).

(5.) Large Catechism, 462:45, 46; GK 1122:3, 7–10. “For the real significance of the water lies in God’s Word or commandment and God’s name, and this treatise is greater and nobler than heaven and earth.” Large Catechism, 458:16; GK 1114:10–12.

(6.) On Luther’s starting point, see Bernhard Lohse, Martin Luther’s Theology: Its Historical and Systematic Development (English trans., Minneapolis: Fortress, 2006), 298–300.

(7.) On baptism in the New Testament, see the Gospel of Matt. 28:20 and 3:11–12; Mark 10:39; Luke 12:50; Acts 8:36–37, 8:12–13, 2:41, 9:18, 10:47–48, 16:15, 33, 18:8, 1; Rom. 6:3–5; 1 Cor. 1:14–16; 2 Cor. 5:17; John 3:22–26. On baptism and eschatology, see Susan K. Wood, One Baptism: Ecumenical Dimensions of the Doctrine of Baptism (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2006), 1–13. See Spinks, Early and Medieval, passim. Also Spinks, Reformation and Modern, ch. 1: “The New Testament Foundation.”

(8.) See 1 Cor. 1:13, 3:23, 6:19, 2 Cor. 10:17; Gal. 3:27; Eph. 4:22–24, 6:11–14; Col. 2:12, 3:9–10; Rom. 13:13–14, putting on Christ; Rom. 8:9–11; 2 Cor. 4:5–14, 13:2–5; Eph. 3:16–17; Gal 2:19–20, 4:19–20; Col. 1:17; Phil. 1:21. See Wood, One Baptism, 10–11.

(9.) On baptisma in the New Testament, see Spinks, Early and Medieval, ch. 9, and pp. 5–8.

(10.) On medieval sacramental theology, resting on Aristotle’s categories of matter and form, see Wood, One Baptism, 26, 26–30.

(11.) See Wood, One Baptism, 26–30.

(12.) On Augustine’s legacy, see Spinks, Early and Medieval, 63–67; on medieval formulations, see Wood, One Baptism, 26–30.

(13.) On reformers’ responses, see Wood, One Baptism, 30–31. On late medieval rites and Tridentine theology with reforms, see Spinks, Early and Medieval, 134–156.

(14.) See Spinks, Reformation and Modern, ch. 3. On the reformers’ elaboration on the meaning of ex opere operato in relation to ex opere operantis in the case of baptism, see Wood, One Baptism, 30–31, and 44–90, on reforming traditions’ solution to baptism. Wood points out that the magical notion of the effectiveness of the sacrament apart from faith and personal involvement was hardly the official teaching of the Catholic Church at the time.

(15.) Large Catechism, 456–457, esp. 3–9, 459:19; GK, 1110:25–1112:10, 1114:12–17.

(16.) Large Catechism, 457:8–9; GK 1112:5–14. Luther gives a heated defense of both baptism and particularly infant baptism in his “Concerning Rebaptism” (LW 40:229–262; WA 26:144–174), LW 40:227. “Our baptism thus, is a strong and sure foundation, affirming that God has made a covenant with all the world. … As a sign of this covenant [God] has instituted baptism, commanded … ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them’”; “Here, namely, that we are baptized; not because we are certain of our faith but because it is the command and will of God” (LW 40:252; WA 26). Also Spink, Reformation and Modern, 4–5.

(17.) Large Catechism, 462–466, esp. 49–50; GK 1122:15–1132:15. Luther on infant baptism in his “Concerning Rebaptism,” e.g., LW 40:241–246, 252–256.

(18.) For a synopsis of Luther’s developing arguments, see, e.g., Spinks, Reformation and Modern, 4–14. Luther in comparison, Wood, One Baptism, 44–90.

(19.) Lohse, Theology, 300, talks about Luther’s “accent of faith” that remains. On talking points with Luther, tradition, and other positions, see Lohse, Theology, 299–300.

(20.) Most clearly in Large Catechism, 462–463; GK 1122:15–1124:31, on infant baptism and the effectiveness of baptism. On Luther’s three major themes with baptism: the centrality of the Word, reception of baptism in faith, and the resulting new birth and forgiveness, see also Wood, One Baptism, 45.

(21.) For Luther, the word “sign” is never reduced to “symbolism” in a Zwinglian sense. See Lohse, Theology, 300. On Luther’s sense of the joining of res and signum, see also Spinks, Reformation and Modern, 7.

(22.) “Therefore, we constantly teach that we should see the sacraments and all external things ordained and instituted by God not according to the crude, external mask … but as that in which God’s Word is enclosed.” “In the same manner … You should give honor and glory to baptism on account of the word, for God has honored it by both words and deeds” (Large Catechism, 459:19–20); GK 1114:12–17. Also Large Catechism, 462:45, 46; GK 1122:1–14.

(23.) See Mark D. Tranvik, “Luther on Baptism,” Lutheran Quarterly, n.s., 13.1 (Spring 1999): 75–90. Jonathan D. Trigg, Baptism in the Theology of Martin Luther, Studies in the History of Christian Thought 56 (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1994).

(24.) Luther’s Large Catechism offers a helpful approach to baptism as a focal point for Luther’s spirituality. See Kirsi Stjerna, No Greater Jewel: Thinking about Baptism with Luther (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2010). On the continuity in Luther’s teaching, see also Trigg, Baptism, 10–11, 62–66, 146–148. For a selection of Luther’s works on baptism, see The Annotated Luther, Vols. 2 and 3 (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2015–2016).

(25.) Large Catechism, 458:14; GK 1112:32–1142:3.

(26.) Large Catechism, 457:10; GK, 1112:5–11. “God stakes God’s honor, power and might on the blessed water” (Large Catechism, 458:17, trans. modified); GK 1114:15–16. GK uses the words “Göttlich Wasser.”

(27.) Large Catechism, 462:46; GK 1112:11–13.

(28.) Large Catechism, 458:18; GK 114:20–23. “I therefore admonish you again that these two, the Word and the water, must by no means be separated from each other. … But when the Word is with it according to God’s ordinance, baptism is a sacrament, and it is called Christ’s baptism” (Large Catechism, 459:22; GK 1116:4–16).

(29.) Lange, “Introduction,” 205, points out that for Luther the sacrament does not divide the world into sacred and secular, “it is not a secret access into God’s heavenly reality. Instead, God encounters needy persons in the world. In that encounter the death and life in Christ, faith is created and life is reoriented.”

(30.) Large Catechism, 458:14, 17–18; GK 1112:32–1114:1–3.

(31.) Large Catechism, 457:7; GK 1112:1–3.

(32.) God’s institution, LW 40:252; WA 26:164.24–38; LW 36:62–63; WA 6:529, 35–531, 25. See Lohse, Theology, 299–301. Spinks, Reformation and Modern, 4–7.

(33.) Large Catechism, 457:8; GK 1112:5–8. “Ein Göttlich Ding,” 1112:26; “von Gott selbst eingesetzt,” 1110:31.

(34.) Large Catechism, 461:39: “It is far more glorious than anything else God has commended and ordained; in short, it is so full of comfort and grace that heaven and earth cannot comprehend it.” GK 1120:8–10.

(35.) Large Catechism, 461:37; GK 1112:3–6. Lange, “Introduction,” 205, writes about faith “received and welcomed” as the third element with which human beings experience in the action of the sacrament.

(36.) “Therefore we should and must insist that God does not want to deal with us human beings, except by means of God’s external Word and sacrament” (Smalcald Articles in BC 323:10).

(37.) Large Catechism, 459:22; GK 1116:4–6. Luther quotes Augustine’s “Accedat verbum ad elementum et fit sacramentum” definition: “When the Word is added to the element or the natural substance, it becomes a sacrament, that is, a holy, divine thing and sign” (Large Catechism, 458:18; GK 1114:20–23).

(38.) Large Catechism, 458:16, 17; GK 1114:13–16; 1114:13–19.

(39.) Large Catechism, 458:14, 17; GK 1114:17–18; 1114:13–19.

(40.) Large Catechism, 462:45–46; GK 1112:4–9.

(41.) See above n. 31; Lange, “Introduction,” on faith as the third element. In his 1519 “The Holy and Blessed Sacrament” (LW 35:29; WA 2:727), Luther stresses the importance of ample water as a symbol of death and new life; Spinks, Reformation and Modern, 4–5.

(42.) E.g., Trigg, Baptism, 226, and Tranvik, Baptism, 82, 87, make the point about baptism as the earthly location as well as the expression of justification by faith.

(43.) Small Catechism, in BC [345] 347–375; on baptism, 359–362, 359:9–10; “Der Kleine Katechismus” (hereinafter KK), on baptism, 883–888, 884:8–11, uses the word “Widergeburt.”

(44.) See Small Catechism, 360:12; KK, 884:14–15.

(45.) Large Catechism, 465:72–73; GK 1130:3–6. On faith’s centrality, see 460:27–35. “Without faith baptism is of no use, although in itself it is an infinite, divine treasure” (Large Catechism, 460:34).

(46.) “Heidelberg Disputation,” 1518, article 28, in LW 31:57 (in full, LW 40:37–70; WA 1:353–374).

(47.) See “Two Kinds of Righteousness,” 1519, LW 31:297–306, 297; WA 2:145–152, 146.

(48.) The justified can “with confidence boast in Christ and say: ‘Mine are Christ’s living, doing, and speaking, his suffering and dying, mine as much as if I had lived, done, spoken, suffered, and died as he died’” (“Two Kinds of Righteousness,” LW 31:297; WA 2:145).

(49.) The Finnish Luther School has suggested a paradigm shift in this regard and unfolded the place of effective side of justification in Luther’s doctrine. See Tuomo Mannermaa, Christ Present in Faith (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2005), after Finnish and German editions.

(50.) Lange, “Introduction,” 204–205, writes that for Luther “baptism lies at the beginning of the Christian life, of a life of faith. Everything else refers back to it or is grounded in this action that God accomplishes.” Lange also articulates Luther’s sense that one encounters Christ himself in the sacrament that “speaks of human vulnerability and incapacity to become holy” and how Luther “shifts its meaning from the ontological and moral to places of lasting encounters of God.”

(51.) Large Catechism, 465:65; GK 1128:11–12.

(52.) Large Catechism, 466:84; GK 1132:6–9.

(53.) Luther’s 1520 “On Christian Freedom” is a treatise-length extrapolation of this.

(54.) “Baptismal Booklet,” 375, in BC, in full, 371–375; KK, 910:9–14, in full in German, 905–910.

(55.) Large Catechism, 460:33, 34; GK 1118:19–20, 23–24.

(56.) Large Catechism, 461:36; GK 1118:35–39, 1120:2.

(57.) LW 35:370; WA DB 7:11.

(58.) Large Catechism, 463:53; GK 1124:14–17. Luther writes that faith could save even without baptism, LW 36:62; WA 6:533–534; Spinks, Reformation and Modern, 6.

(59.) Large Catechism, 463:55; GK 1124:23–25.

(60.) “Baptismal Booklet,” 372:6; KK 906:22–23.

(61.) “Baptismal Booklet,” 374:15; KK 907:22–24. See Spinks, Reformation and Modern, 9–14.

(62.) On changes Luther suggested to the rite, Spinks, Reformation and Modern, 9–14.

(63.) “Baptismal Booklet,” 372:2; KK, 905:24–26.

(64.) “Baptismal Booklet,” 372:2; KK 905:26–906:2. People should “stand by the poor child with all your heart and with a strong faith and plead with great devotion that God, in accordance with these prayers, would not only free the child from the devil’s power but also strengthen the child, so that the child might resist him valiantly in life and death.” “Baptismal Booklet,” 372:3; KK 906:5–9.

(65.) Small Catechism; “Baptismal Booklet,” 373:9; KK 907:18–20.

(66.) Large Catechism, 460:2; KK 1116:24–28.

(67.) Smalcald Articles, 320:3.

(68.) Large Catechism, 459:24–25; GK 1116:15–18, 18:20. The word “selig” would deserve its own treatment; “salvation” is loaded in meaning, where as “selig” can be interpreted to mean happiness, well-being, blessedness.

(69.) See Lohse, Theology 302–305. Spinks, Reformation and Modern, 8–9. Luther’s feisty “Concerning Rebaptism” (LW 40:229–262; WA 4:144–174) voices his major arguments about the validity of baptism, the scriptural basis of infant baptism, and the gift-nature of faith that saves even without the sacrament.

(70.) Large Catechism, 462:49; GK 1122:20–21.

(71.) Large Catechism, 463:53; GK 1124:10–14.

(72.) Large Catechism, 464:60–61; GK 1126:9–11.

(73.) Large Catechism, 463:53; GK 1124:14–17.

(74.) In his “Sermons on the Gospel of St. John 1–4” (1537), Luther writes, “We do know that our little children believe” (LW 22:174; WA 46:687; Spinks, Reformation and Modern, 8–9). Also in “Babylonian Captivity,” he speaks of fides aliena (LW 36:73; WA 6:538; Spinks, Reformation and Modern, 7) as the faith of infants saved on the same grounds as grown-ups. See Eero Huovinen, Fides infantium: Martin Luthers Lehre vom Kinderglauben (Mainz, Germany: P. von Zabern, 1997).

(75.) Luther writes in “Concerning Rebaptism”: “Even if I were not sure that they were believed, yet for my conscience’s sake I would have to let them be baptized. I would much rather allow them baptism than keep them from it. For if, as we believe, that the same is right and useful and brings the children to salvation, and then I did away with it, then I would be responsible for all the children who were lost because they were unbaptized—a cruel and terrible thing” (LW 40:254).

(76.) Large Catechism, 463:55; GK 1124:23–25.

(77.) Large Catechism, 464:57; GK 1126:6–9.

(78.) “Prefaces to the New Testament,” LW 35:370; WA DB 7:10.

(79.) “Let the conclusion therefore be that baptism always remains valid and retains its complete substance, even if only one person had ever been baptized and he or she id not have true faith. For God’s ordinance and Word cannot be changed or altered by human beings.” Large Catechism, 464:60; GK 1126:24–26.

(80.) “Consolation to Those Women Who Have Had Difficulties in Bearing Children” (1542), 180, in Luther on Women: A Sourcebook, trans. Susan Karant-Nunn and Merry Wiesner-Hanks (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 179–188; WA 53:206, 12.

(81.) “Consolation to Those Women Who Have Had Difficulties in Bearing Children” (1542), 180; WA 53:207, 8–18. These words echo Luther’s explanation of the Lord’s Prayer, and of the Third Part of the Creed.

(82.) See Timothy C. J. Quill, The Impact of the Liturgical Movement on American Lutheranism, Drew University Studies in Liturgy 3 (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 1997), 142–152; and Jeffrey A. Truscott, The Reform of Baptism and Confirmation in American Lutheranism, Drew University Studies in Liturgy 11 (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2003), 1–17.

(83.) Arthur Carl Piepkorn, “The Lutheran Understanding of Baptism—A Systematic Summary,” in Lutherans and Catholics in Dialogue I–III, ed. Paul C. Empie and T. Austin Murphy (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1974), 27–60.

(84.) Edmund Schlink, The Doctrine of Baptism, trans. Herbert J. A. Bouman (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1972).

(85.) E. J. R. H S. von Sicard, “Baptism: 9. Lutheran,” in A Dictionary of Liturgy & Worship, ed. J. G. Davies (London: SCM, 1972), 54–55.

(86.) Trigg, Baptism.

(87.) Trigg, Baptism, 222, 220.

(88.) Bryan D. Spinks, “Luther’s Timely Theology of Unilateral Baptism,” Lutheran Quarterly, n.s., 9.1 (Spring 1995): 43.

(89.) Maxwell E. Johnson, The Rites of Christian Initiation: Their Evolution and Interpretation, rev. and exp. ed. (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2007), 317.

(90.) David P. Scaer, Baptism, Confessional Lutheran Dogmatics 11 (St. Louis: Luther Academy, 1999).

(91.) Jeffrey A. Truscott, “Baptism: 8. Lutheran,” in The New Westminster Dictionary of Liturgy & Worship, ed. Paul F. Bradshaw (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2002), 46–47.

(92.) Kent Jorgen Burreson, “The Saving Flood: The Medieval Origins, Historical Development, and Theological Import of the Sixteenth Century Lutheran Baptismal Rites” (PhD diss., University of Notre Dame, 2002), ii.

(93.) Spinks, Reformation and Modern, 3–9.

(94.) Ibid., 147 and 151.

(95.) Ibid., 162.

(96.) Wood, One Baptism.

(97.) Kirsi Stjerna, No Greater Jewel: Thinking about Baptism with Luther, Lutheran Voices Series (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2010), 15.

(98.) These questions are further developed in Kirsi Stjerna, “Seeking Hospitable Discourse on the Sacrament of Baptism,” Dialog 53.2 (Summer 2014): 92–100.