Michael Bray

Author of A Time To Kill

Baptismal modes

31 July, 2017

Dear Dale,

I am offering you some thoughts regarding your “Baptism Sermon” as we might call it – on Sunday.   I enclose an essay I wrote a long time ago for my SS class at  a Lutheran Church;  nothing has changed since then.  I appreciate your continued faithfulness in preaching from the Word and submitting yourself to it.  A point of order is offered here;  you said:

“You need to repent and be immersed. . . [16:39]. . . ‘Baptism’ . . . I don’t know why, they just didn’t translate it “immerse,”  but they didn’t . . .  they just transliterated it.  So you could just say ‘Repent and be immersed’. . . The word is baptizmo; it means to immerse, to dunk . . . ”

On this matter of  baptism, two viewpoints are under consideration.  One regards baptism as a  “sacramental” function – a means of grace.  The other  holds the baptismal event as a mere symbol.  Much has been written by many a wise, pious, and educated man. Luther cautions at one point in his writings, “Unless faith is present, or comes to life in baptism, the ceremony is of no avail;  indeed it is a stumbling-block not only at the moment we receive baptism but for all our life thereafter.”  Kind of a surprise, it would seem, for many Lutheran theologians who uphold a sacramental view and affirm Luther’s Augsburg Confession and its affirmation of paedo-baptism.

But, indeed, we can never neglect the call for personal obedience. I am aware of that!  It takes diligence and discipline and prayer and teaching and example to rear a child well in the Lord.  Those who rely on baptism alone – whenever it is administered – belie their own Faith, betray their children, and fail to keep their promise to “bring them up in the Word and in the Life of the Church.”

Baptism can be under- and over-emphasized, I think (even while, in so saying, hating the use of  the term “moderation” in asserting matters of truth).  We are, indeed to preach the word and baptize converts  – and their households.  (There is the rub!)

I prefer immersion, although at different times and studies, my affections have been drawn to the Biblical case for affusion and for aspersion:  the image of sprinkling that blood from the slain lamb over the waiting recipients is a strong one!  Consequently, we have baptized our children – in all three of the modes: I can’t remember which ones where dunked, which sprinkled, and which were “poured-over.”  So I can’t offer testimony as to the benefits of one mode over the other.   Like circumcision, to which Paul compares baptism when instructing the brethren at Corinth, it is a mystery.  It is  the work of the Spirit as we rear our kids in communion with His people and under the Law and with the Grace of the Good News.  Yes, and how interesting that they circumcised/initiated/baptized those helpless, mindless, thoughtless infants!

There is a reason that all those scholars over many years have not translated “baptizo” as “immerse.”  Best to leave it as it is.

Keep up your excellent words of instruction and exhortation.  We are thankful for your ministry.


Mike and Jayne Bray

[Dale is the beloved preacher at WCC]

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