Why I am Lutheran—Part II: Baptism

Last month I started a series on why I am Lutheran, explaining that I wasn’t raised Lutheran but drifted towards it while studying the Reformation and then fully embracing it after attending a Lutheran church.  In Part I, I described the importance of the liturgy and how it helps to enable me to worship God in Spirit and Truth.

In no way in this series am I trying to diminish any other Christian worship tradition or to suggest that they “do it wrong” or “don’t get it” or even that they don’t share some of the same elements, priorities and focuses as Lutherans.  I simply wish to examine why I am Lutheran both as a way of helping me to refresh my own faith journey and, hopefully, as a way to help others revisit and re-encounter their own.

When I first began attending a Lutheran church it didn’t take me very long to notice something quite extraordinary, and I don’t think anyone can worship in the Lutheran tradition for very long without realizing this:  Baptism is not seen as a one time past event but a living and on-going present reality.

Because we see the outward sign of the inner grace when a person is baptized, it becomes easy to see that sacrament as a one-time event and to see the Eucharist as a more frequent sacrament because we celebrate it weekly or bi-monthly or quarterly.  But not so!  Baptism, rightly understood and practiced, is a daily, even hourly, sacrament.

In Baptism in the Theology of Martin Luther, Jonathan D. Trigg explains that in Luther’s thought, “Baptism’s ‘present tense’ is central – its abiding force in the Christian’s life [is] ever available for an encounter with God.”  Luther insisted that Christian progress is not onwards “from” baptism, but a repeated return “to” it.

So removed in time, many people are unaware that the Reformation was a slugfest that would make today’s “culture wars” look like cotillions.  Luther’s biographer, Roland Bainton, once wrote that Luther would have been a “troubled spirit in a tranquil age,” and the Reformation was anything but a tranquil age, and much of the turmoil centered on the sacraments.

Luther struggled mightily with himself, his age and even other reformers to develop a view of the sacraments as mystery rather than magic and as means of grace rather than mere signs and symbols.  It was a hard balance to strike with the Catholic Church on one side and both other reformers and the Anabaptists on the other.  It was through this struggle that Luther developed a view of baptism that is complex and nuanced but quite scripturally sound and rich.  It can not be understood, let alone dismissed, in an instant.

To dismiss Luther’s view as “works righteous” as some other protestant denominations do (see Fred G. Zaspel’s 1988 “Baptism: A Reply to a Lutheran Catechism“) is to misunderstand that baptism is God’s act, a divine testimony to what “grace alone” really means, whereby He imparts the blessings of forgiveness, life, and salvation.

To exclude children is to misunderstand that grace precedes faith.  Luther argued against the Catholics that the sacraments did not work through some power of their own, but through faith.  “I may be wrong on indulgences,” Luther declared, “but as to the need for faith in the sacraments I will die before I recant.”[1]  That faith, however, is itself a gift of God, and there is no indication that He withholds it on the basis of age or that it is merely individualistic in nature.

Faith is both individual and communal.  We celebrate Holy Communion in community but not as community.  In the Eucharist we stand alone before God, each one eating and drinking, the faith of the individual, given as a gift from God in baptism, appropriating the further grace offered in the meal.

Baptism, on the other hand, is celebrated not only in community but as community.  Bainton called it the “sociological sacrament” which “links the Church to society.”[2] In baptism we have the baptized, the sponsors, the family and the local congregation all participating together as the called and gathered body of Christ.  Luther would argue that it was not only the unarticulated faith of the child, like that of the faith of a sleeping adult, but the faith of the community undergirding the child which is present in the sacrament, which is still exclusively the work of God.

And so the baptismal font is an integral and indispensable part of Lutheran worship every Sunday and every season.  Throughout the church year we return to it again and again, and not just when someone is baptized.  We also spend years preparing a child for confirmation, which is really the utterly miraculous moment when the child affirms her baptism, publicly professing his faith in Christ before others, literally confirming that the faith of the family, sponsors and congregation is now his and hers.

No where else have I ever been so continually reminded and aware of the joy and wonder of my own baptism and that of others as I have in a Lutheran church.  Thanks be to God!

  1. quoted in Bainton, Roland H. Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther, Pierce and Smith, 1950, p. 107 []
  2. Ibid, p. 110 []

Marriage, Abortion, Fatherhood

Yesterday, I stumbled across a quote by Tertullian on abortion at the same time that I received an email promotion for two movies on abortion. Today I was going through some old files, and I found a letter I sent to “The Guardian” (the one at WSU in Ohio, not England) back in 1996 when my wife was pregnant with our third child. I was responding to a letter or article by someone named Craig Naiper.

I’m posting the letter as it was written as a way to preserve it for myself, because I find it interesting that my views haven’t changed, and I am dismayed that abortion is generally not a relevant political topic in 21st century America. I also can see the seeds of a way of thinking that have since solidified. I dislike abstractions. Jesus always dealt with the concrete person before him.

Mr. Craig Napier
c/o The Guardian

Mr. Napier:

In your brief note in the May 1 issue of “The Guardian,” you wrote, “I don’t really believe words by a man are relevant in a situation that he is not bonded to by body or blood.” In other words you are rephrasing the current trendy cliché that when it comes to abortion, “men should have no say.” (At least that is what I believe is implied in your statement. If it’s not, then most of what follows will be wasted space.)

The problem with your thinking, and with the reasoning of those who think this way (I usually refer to them, for convenience sake, as liberals even though that word has been so devalued and distorted it has lost any real meaning), is that you create generalized, abstract conceptual frameworks and then seek to impose them, by force of law if necessary, upon concrete people in particular circumstances.

The major problem with “liberalism” in the waning of the twentieth century is that its practitioners believe themselves to be beyond moral categories, so they anoint themselves the arbiters of truth for the “unenlightened.”

Well, no one has anointed you, or anyone else, with the authority to tell my wife and me that I, as a man, have no say what-so-ever in choices that effect our children while they are in her womb, and no one made you, or anyone else the arbiter of whether or not I have anything relevant to say?

I am the father of three [now five, two adopted]. One is as yet unborn, but she has a name already; it’s [deleted for safety]. She has a heart that beats, two kidneys, ten fingers, ten toes, and a normal, fully functional brain. I can feel, and actually see, her move inside my wife. She is due on June 30th.

All this is not particularly relevant to my point, but it is very relevant to me, so forgive the digression. My point is this: my wife and I decided before we ever married that all of our decisions would be mutual. Now you might say that she merely allows me a say in this regard which means that she is the real decision maker, but this is not true.

If I may make a comparison. Let’s say there is a family and the man works outside the home, and the woman, by mutual consent, stays home with the kids, or vice versa as in my case, and they have a joint checking account, and the woman goes out and buys an orbital sander. (Well why not? What did you think I was going to say- a dress?)

Since she did not “earn” that money in the marketplace, is the man merely allowing her to have a say in how it’s spent, making him the real authority? To argue this is to misunderstand the fundamental nature of marriage- oneness. This is not just some meaningless buzzword found in poetry and music; it is as much a descriptive statement of the reality of marriage as πr2 is a description of the area of a circle.

This is why sex and child rearing should wait until after marriage. If you do not understand how two people can actually be one in all aspects, thus giving both a say in all decisions, then it is because you are bounded by a cultural worldview that won’t allow your mind to make the necessary paradigm shift. However, please don’t presume to tell my wife and me who gets to make which decisions in our relationship, and don’t tell us which of us has anything relevant to say about our children’s well-being.

In trying to reason in a general, abstract way about mankind, or humankind if you would rather, you actually end up engaging in tyranny in a particular way; by telling concrete men and women everywhere, in all times, and in all circumstance that despite what they as individuals may choose for themselves, there is only one “correct” policy, which is that men have no say, and that only certain people have relevancy to policy debates in a democracy.

This is the exact same flaw, just a different form, as the one made by those who protested the newspaper’s inclusion of a particular advertisement [context of Napier’s letter, I presume. I have forgotten.] They were arguing that their belief, pro-choice, be imposed, in the form of censorship, on those who disagree. You are arguing, if in fact you believe that fathers should have no part in the abortion decision making process, that your belief be binding upon me. My wife and I can decide for ourselves.

Besides the above argument, there is another reason, one extremely vital to our country’s current social problems, why your statement about men’s relevance is wrong-minded. One of our gravest problems is that we are becoming a fatherless nation. I do not have any current statistics on hand, but more and more children are being fathered by men who, in many cases, are already fathers to other children through different women, and who, in few cases, take any responsibility for any of the children they father.

On top of this, there are abusive fathers who beat their children, dead-beat dads who skip out on them, and workaholic fathers who ignore them. All your statement about men’s relevancy does is make it easier for men to shirk their responsibilities and ignore their mistakes. You can’t argue that a man has no say in whether his children even get to live or not and then expect him to hang around and raise them.

There is another fallacy in your brief comments. You use a line from the poem, “Just Becuz U Believe in Abortion Doesn’t Mean U’re Not Pro-Life,” where Laini Mataka writes, “I thank Mother-God for the technology that allows a woman to free herself from the possibility of becoming a horrible mother.”

Can’t you see the glaring contradiction in this reasoning? You can’t stop being a horrible mother by becoming a hideous one can you? Can she become better by becoming worse? Maybe stating it as an oxymoron would help: you suggest she becomes a life-giving murderer, a nurturing destroyer, a benign cancer or that she engages in benevolent infanticide.

Abortion is an absolute, complete, and final act of violence against a child for an adult’s self-interest. Ms. Mataka, and you (since you offer her quote as a homily for our edification), argues that a woman who knows she would make a bad mother somehow redeems herself by killing her child.

If she knows, with enough certainty to kill her child, that she would make a bad mother, then she should abstain from intercourse, period. If she doesn’t do that, then she doesn’t somehow elevate and ennoblize herself by killing the child, as you and Ms. Mataka suggest.

Your reasoning in both regards discussed in this letter shows how your arguments are, if I may be allowed another oxymoron– a flash of darkness.

Bo Grimes

Ancient Wisdom on Abortion

I ran across this quote today in a completely unrelated search, at The Tertullian Project, found in Tertullian’s Apologeticum:

“To us murder is once for all forbidden ; so even the child in the womb, while yet the mother’s blood is still being drawn on to form the human being, it is not lawful for us to destroy. To forbid birth is only quicker murder. It makes no difference whether one take away the life once born or destroy it as it comes to birth. He is a man, who is to be a man; the fruit is always present in the seed.”

Vision Video has a resource that they emailed to me just today about abortion:

I Was Wrong — Norma McCorvey, “Jane Roe” of Roe v. Wade, never could have imagined the outcome of her deception: 4,000 abortions a day since 1973. Norma never had an abortion, but her Supreme Court case brought abortion on demand to America. Darkness and disillusionment plagued her life with baby parts, alcohol, drugs, and suicidal attempts. The power of prayer plus the loving actions of a little girl and others drove Norma from working in an abortion center into the arms of Jesus.

Joyce Zounis’ choice of abortion, not once but seven times, nearly cost her life. Tormented by disbelief, she lived a nightmare of anger, guilt, and disconnection. She grieves not only for her seven children but also for the heritage of their children. Touched by the truth of God’s tender love through a radio show, Joyce now shares her gripping story to reach those who desperately need hope and healing.

I Was Wrong captures the changed hearts of two women restored by the redemptive forgiveness of Jesus Christ and brings a deeper understanding of how abortion strikes at the heart and soul of America.

Distant Thunder (Special Edition) — Things are not always as they seem… especially when entering the halls of a desperate mind in this gripping supernatural thriller. Struggling to keep her fragile sanity from unraveling, Prosecutor Ann Brown is offered a murder case that will challenge everything she believes to be true. Uncertain at first whether to accept the assignment, a harrowing encounter with Defense Attorney Tom Condan convinces her to meet the challenge. The deeper she investigates, reality and tormenting delusions collide as she encounters an evil force as unnerving as it is foreboding. In this award-winning movie, terrifying secrets are exposed, and you’ll discover the shocking twist which reveals the chilling and unforeseeable truth.
Time: 1 hr 5 min | Production Year: 2006

Which Theologian Are You

You scored as a Anselm.  Anselm is the outstanding theologian of the medieval period. He sees man’s primary problem as having failed to render unto God what we owe him, so God becomes man in Christ and gives God what he is due. You should read ‘Cur Deus Homo?

Anselm 100%
Martin Luther 87%
Augustine 80%
Friedrich Schleiermacher 80%
John Calvin 73%
Karl Barth 73%
Jonathan Edwards 60%
Jürgen Moltmann 47%
Paul Tillich 33%
Charles Finney 27%

Real Excellence

Chuck Colson recently commented on the performance enhancing drug epidemic in professional sports in “Monsters of Our Own Making,” an article he wrote for Breakpoint. Colson was a strong influence on me years ago, especially his book Loving God, in which he introduced me to William Wilberforce. Colson acknowledged his debt to Wilberforce by creating The Wilbeforce Forum, and if you haven’t seen “Amazing Grace” you should watch it tonight!

With all due respect to Colson, however, I didn’t think his reasoning about the distinctions between real and false excellence in “Monsters of Our Own Making” was very nuanced or convincing.

He asks, “As our capacity to reengineer the human body grows, what kind of society will we become? Then he quotes Leon Kass of “The Washington Post” who wrote “We might lose sight of the difference between real and false excellence, and eventually not care.” Colson goes on to talk about the model of Eric Liddell, the runner who wouldn’t “compete in the Olympic 100-meter event because it was scheduled on a Sunday, so he trained for the 400-meter race, which required completely different skills. And he not only won, he set a new world record.”

Liddell said : “I believe God made me for a purpose, but He also made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.” And Colson agrees “that’s a pleasure we can all feel when we use the abilities God has given us–when we reflect His image, not the image of our own making or a chemists.”

That’s fine as far as it goes. I do not approve of the use of steroids or other drugs, and I agree with his premise that the society is partly responsible for the use of steroids, but I think his analysis does not go any where deep enough.

What is the distinction between “real” and “false” excellence? Is it “real” excellence when an affluent parent can afford to pay for a personal trainer, hours at the batting cage or skating rink, or private coaches? Is it “real” excellence when a high school athlete uses legally prescribed drugs to “push through the pain” when another may not have access to basic health care or nutrition?

What we choose to call “real” excellence reflecting God’s image is conditioned by many socially and culturally unexamined presuppositions. I admire Liddell, too, but human history only honors and remembers the victors. My kids love “Remember the Titans,” and it’s an inspirational story, but would it have been any less inspirational if the Titans had lost? No. Would it have been told? No, again. Liddell’s act of conscience would have been just as pleasing to God had he not run and won the 400 and had we never heard of him.

Real God-pleasing excellence is stopping to help up the runner who was pushed to the side of the field, even if it cost you the race, or even if he comes back and wins, beating you in the process.

The rampant drug use in professional sports is truly a “monster of our own making,” but  the  “monster” is that our model for excellence is warped.  Steroid use is only a reflection of that.  It could vanish tomorrow from sports forever and athletics would still be a flawed model for “real” excellence.

True excellence, real excellence, is seeking the pleasure of the Creator over the pleasures of His creation.

“But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” (1 Sam 16:7)