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On Faith: Lutherans celebrate 500th anniversary of birth of faith

Next month, Lutherans will celebrate the 500th anniversary of the event that is commonly attributed as the birth of their faith in Martin Luther's posting of the 95 Theses. Such a faith event provides an opportunity for reflection on the beliefs that guide it. To understand, Lutheranism you need to understand our beliefs about Baptism.

"Why do Lutherans baptize babies?" The common argument against infant baptism is lack of direct biblical example of such a practice. Even if you grant this point, counterpoints should be made. The first point is the Bible does not provide a census as to the age of everyone who underwent baptism. So we are only able to infer as to the practice of the early church. What the scriptures do contain are references to entire families being baptized (Acts 16:33) and entire villages being converted (Acts 9:35). It would seem probable that infants or very young children would be included in these groups.

I would contend the only direct Bible verse referencing baptismal age would be in Colossians 2:11-12 which makes the direct comparison between the Old Testament practice of circumcision and New Testament practice of baptism. Circumcision indisputability took place on a child's eighth days (Genesis 17:12). The circumcision connection highlights baptism's direction. Meaning, baptism is not us reaching towards God; baptism is rather God seeks to reach down to us.

Biblical descriptions of baptism always describe God as the actor in determining baptism's effectiveness (Romans 6:4, Titus 3:5-7). If one wishes to assess the New Testament's words on baptism, they would be forced to admit that there is never an example given as to why someone should not be baptized on account of a limiting factor such as age.

The other important question regarding baptism is "Does baptism save?" First Peter 3:21 describes baptism as God's act of salvation. How Lutherans understand this passage is baptism is a "means of grace." "Means of grace" are ways that our lord seeks to reach his people with salvation. Baptism is one "means of grace," but not the only one. For example, the thief that Jesus encounters on the cross (Luke 23:43) was saved apart from baptism. The thief like many adult converts was saved by the preached word. God can and does save people also through other means. Clinging to baptismal promises is the means by which God saves including those who unable to speak for themselves such as infants, those with mental illness, Alzheimer's patients, or others with insufficient mental development. We baptize because the scriptures declare all human beings as fallen into sin (Psalm 51:5, Romans 3:23) without exceptions.

There is no biblical mention for leeway until a child reaches a certain age of accountability.

The reason that we baptize infants is that baptism of infants is the purest expression of the Gospel where God's promises are bestowed upon those we cannot speak for themselves. We baptize infants because we do not believe salvation is a matter of human choice (Romans 9-11, John 15:16). We believe God instead initiates salvation as a means of redeeming all of his children through the granting of the forgiveness of sins.

Part of the case many make against infant baptism saving comes from examples of people who were baptized as infants than seemingly left the faith through either their actions or confession.

When reflecting upon the question of people's salvation, we trust who God ultimately shall choose to save is his business and his alone. We trust the in the promises of salvation because they lie outside our own goodness or lack thereof. I believe that the cross serves as evidence that who God might choose to save in the end ultimately is a broader collection than whom we might choose to save.

On Faith is a weekly column in the News-Chronicle written by area religious leaders.