Read the section in the Small Catechism on the Sacrament of Holy Baptism.
What is a Sacrament? A sacrament is a means for God’s grace to be delivered to us. Now, God can bestow grace in any way God wants. However, because God knows that we need tangible things God has promised to be present in simple, physical things in this world; bread, wine, water. A Sacrament is a rite that contains promises with visible signs attached to them. For Lutherans, you need three things to make something a sacrament: 1) Commanded by God 2) An earthly element, an external tangible sign 3) The Word of God.
When you combine an earthly element (water, wine and bread) with the Word of God (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) you have a Means of Grace (the gift of Word and Sacrament) coming into our lives. God has always worked through visible means; The paschal lamb, sacrifices in the temple, etc. So, too, does God continue to work this way in our lives.
Faith is also a component of the sacraments, for it is only when we receive these sacraments in faith that we receive any benefit. But remember, faith is a gift (I believe I cannot believe…). The sacraments are also directed to the individual (for you) but they happen within the context of the community (for ya’ll).
Baptism, for Martin Luther, became the physical expression of the reality of the Third Article of the Creed. For he understood baptism to be, as Timothy Wengert says, “a valid, irrevocable promise of God, creating and received in faith.”
What is baptism?
Note the definition of a sacrament present in this explanation. It is water enclosed with God’s command “Go…and baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” (Mt 28:19)
As with both sacraments, it is God at work through human means…through concrete things. Water in our hair, oil on our forehead. The nutty flavor of bread, the sharp tang of the wine. Luther understood these concrete means to be a gift from God. A tangible reminder of the reality of God at work in these very elements and in us and our lives. They are gift, because God knew we needed things we could see, taste, touch, smell.
Luther believed that the practice of infant baptism was one that best showed the reality of what was happening in the sacrament. The child could not in any way do anything to deserve this gift. Rather, it is God who acts in and through God’s promise and this water to bring about new life in this infant.
In our baptism, the Old Adam…the Old Eve, are drowned and a New Adam…a New Eve arises. In this way we are freed from sin, death, and the devil and are freed in Christ to love and serve our neighbor. As Luther said, “God does not need our good works, our neighbor does.”
Questions for thought and conversation:
- An increasing number of people in North America are unbaptized. What do you think are some of the reasons for this reality? How might we better welcome and accompany unbaptized adults?
- What does baptism mean for you? How does that match up with what the Catechism has to say?
- To what extent does this metaphor of burial and death inform and influence your understanding of baptism and the Christian life?
Read the section in the Small Catechism on How People are Taught to Confess and the form for Individual Confession and Forgiveness.
What is Confession? - Luther felt that individual confession to a confessor was a good thing. It was a practice he continued through his life. However, he did not want it to become a negative, burdensome experience. He felt is should be adiophora, something done of ones own free will. While he could not find scriptural backing for confession and forgiveness, he felt that it should be kept in the church.
“because consciences afflicted and oppressed by the terrors of sin lay themselves bare in private confession and receive consolations which they could not lay hold of in a sermon preached in public.”
A general confession of sin is good enough, laundry lists are not required. This was unlike the medieval Roman Catholic understanding which had three distinct parts: Contrition (sorrow for sin out of love of God…not fear of punishment), rigorous confession to a priest of all known sins, satisfaction of earthly punishment that remained after the penitent’s guilt and eternal punishment had been removed.
Note also that Luther urged the one confessing to consider the Ten Commandments (Law) and whether you have broken any of those. Note that in the absolution the focus is on the one confessing receiving forgiveness. It is about comfort for a stricken soul…the assurance of the promise that was given in baptism. Therefore there is the strong association of forgiveness of sins with baptism in the Lutheran liturgy. Note where Pastor Brian stands when offering words of forgiveness after we have confessed our sin as a congregation.
In the desire for confession, like the desire for communion, Luther saw the living of the Christian life. He compared it to beggars rushing to receive a rich gift of clothes or money somewhere. Another metaphor he used was of someone who is sick who has been offered free medicine. Why would we not make use of such a gift?
Questions for thought and conversation:
- Does confession feel like a burden or a gift to you? Why?
- What is the value of speaking something you have done wrong to another human being and hearing very clearly words of forgiveness? Is this an easy thing to do, or difficult? Why?
- How do you think about the connection between baptism and forgiveness? What do you make of Luther’s take on it?