What is Baptism? Baptism is not just plain water, but it is the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s word.
Explain to students that the type and amount of water are less significant than the water together with God’s Word. Baptism can be done by sprinkling, using a handful of tap water, or by immersion, using a lake or even an ocean. There are some Christian church bodies that teach that Baptism must be done by immersion, that is, by submersion of the entire body in water.
Immersion Baptism is attractive because it illustrates the drowning of the old Adam. What is more, many Christians insist that Jesus was baptized by immersion. While it is possible that Jesus was baptized by immersion, it remains uncertain. The Jordan, like all rivers, varies in depth by location and time of year. The water may not have been deep enough to submerge a man entirely.
Help students understand that while immersion Baptism is completely fine, Baptism by sprinkling water is just as effective, since the manner of application is not essential to the sacrament. Reacting to the insistence that Baptism must be by immersion, Lutherans normally sprinkle. There are other reasons for sprinkling. It is costly and often impractical to build an immersion tank in the sanctuary. It can be challenging to access a body of water suitable for Baptism.
Which is that word God? Christ our Lord says in the last chapter of Matthew: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matt. 28:19)
Direct students to the words “all nations.” Ask students to give examples of who “all nations” might include. Students will likely list people who live in other countries or who speak different languages. Affirm this and then ask students whether “all nations” includes people of all ages. This is a great opportunity to explain why Lutherans baptize people of all ages, including children and even infants.
There are four common reasons to baptize infants: they need Baptism as much as those of any age, they are included in “all nations,” they can have saving faith, and there are several instances in the Gospel books where Jesus welcomes the little children, which included infants. Likely the strongest question or objection will come against the assertion that children and infants can have saving faith.
Remind students that Baptism is not a declaration of faith in Jesus but rather the work of the Holy Spirit. Baptism is done by the water and the Word. Baptism’s effectiveness does not depend on the intellectual maturity or education of the person being baptized. Instead, all depends on God’s promises that He gives in His Word. Direct students to Luke 1: 39–45, the occasion at which Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth. Mary is pregnant with Jesus, and Elizabeth, with John. As the two women greet each other, John leaps in the womb, recognizing the presence of the Lord.
What benefits does Baptism give? It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.
This is an excellent chance to explain to students the difference between redemption and salvation. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, He has redeemed—that is, bought back—all humanity from sin. He paid the full price for the sins of every human being who will ever live. Salvation is when the Holy Spirit brings the benefits of what Jesus has done to the individual. God has seen fit to do so through Holy Baptism.
Stress the phrase “to all who believe this.” Highlight the fact that in Baptism the Holy Spirit creates faith, through which the blessings are received. This happens in Baptism even for children and infants, which is one of the reasons Lutherans baptize the very young.
“To all who believe this” points to the fact that, ultimately, the benefits of Baptism depend on faith. This helps us with a question often asked regarding Baptism: “Is it possible for someone to be baptized and eventually lose faith in Jesus?” Yes, it is possible. However, this happens through unrepentant sin and willful neglect of God’s Word and Sacraments, the means of grace, through which the Holy Spirit holds us firmly in faith.
Which are these words and promises of God? Christ our Lord says in the last chapter of Mark: “Whoever believes and is Baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:16)
Another question often asked is whether a person must be baptized to be saved. Notice in the verse above that only unbelief condemns. The thief on the cross is an example of one who was saved without Baptism. “Must” may not be the best question. Explain to students that Baptism is a gift from God. How do we normally receive gifts? Imagine it is your birthday. Your friend Michael has given you a gift. Would you say, “Michael, do I have to accept this gift from you in order to continue being your friend?”
Or imagine I give my wife an anniversary gift, and she responds, “Phil, if I don’t accept this, are we still married?” When offered gifts, we accept them gratefully and offer thanks. So ought our attitude be to the riches God offers us through Holy Baptism.
Continue sharing the gift of Baptism with Luther’s catechisms.