Holy Baptism

Eastertide 2014, Volume XXIII, Number 2

Table of Contents

(A feature article from the journal: The Baptismal Moment by William Cwirla)

23-2 cover
23-2 cover

Baptism is not simply a once-and-done event of the past, much less a symbolic ritual act on the part of man for Martin Luther, and for Lutherans holding to the catechism. In the Large Catechism, Luther wrote of the proper use of Holy Baptism over and against the trials and tribulations of the believer in this oft-quoted sentence: “To appreciate and use Baptism aright, we must draw strength and comfort from it when our sins or conscience oppress us, and we must retort, ‘But I am baptized!’ [Ich bin dennoch getauft.] And if I am baptized, I have the promise that I shall be saved and have eternal life, both in soul and body” (LC IV, 44; Tappert, 442). Luther’s great dennoch against the accusations of the law and the pangs of conscience against our sin is faith’s claim to the promise of forgiveness, life, and salvation in baptism. For Luther, and for Lutherans holding to the catechism, baptism is not simply a once-and-done event of the past, much less a symbolic ritual act on the part of man, but a present activity of God bestowing a present identity on the believer with saving consequences for the future.


To say with the catechism “I am baptized” is to lay hold of the promises of God’s Name in the baptismal water. There are promised and delivered all that Christ has done for us men and for our salvation: his “victory over death and devil, forgiveness of sin, God’s grace, the entire Christ, and the Holy Spirit with his gifts. In short, the blessings of Baptism are so boundless that if timid nature considers them, it may well doubt whether they all could be true” (LC IV, 41–42; Tappert, 441–42).

Baptism is a singular event in time that embraces all of salvation history from beginning to end, a one-time-for-all-times moment (kairos) in which the triune God reaches down from heaven to touch the sinner in his time and place. It is salvation’s “now” and “for you” applied individually and personally, the objective work of Christ as the sacrificial Lamb who takes away the sin of the world offered, delivered, and applied to the individual sinner. What the Father has purposed and willed in his elect Son from before the foundation of the world and what the Son has accomplished and won for all humankind on the cross is here and now delivered and applied by water and Spirit in the triune Name. Here the Infinite and Holy touches the finite and unholy. The eternal “I AM” for whom “one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Pet 3:8)1 breaks into the confines of chronological time. The Creator meets his foremost fallen creature, and all that God has done to save the world in his Son’s death and resurrection comes splashing down upon the sinner’s head in the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit in a singular baptismal moment.

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