Beckett: Holy Baptism – What Is It?

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.”

The primary motif throughout all discussions on the three Sacraments in both the Small and Large Catechisms is that the Word of God gives them their efficacy. In the beginning, it has always been about God’s Word. Whenever God speaks, stuff happens. This has not changed with the Sacraments, despite those who say they are merely “symbols.” How dare we remove God’s Word from the Sacraments because our weak minds are incapable of comprehending how God does what He does in these ordinary elements!

Thus, what makes Baptism what it is, is not the water itself but the Word of God in, with, and under the water according to Christ’s command, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:18-20; see also Acts 2:38-39). By Christ’s authority, we make disciples by baptising people—no age restriction here—into the Triune name of God, teaching them Christ’s commandments (catechesis). This is Christ’s command and authority; we must not dare to question it.

We like to put a lot of sugar into our soft drinks, juices, coffees, and teas. When you remove the sugar and they become “diet,” it’s simply not the same; they’re much more bitter. When we remove the Word of God from Baptism—that it truly does save (1 Peter 3:21)—we leave it as simple water and it becomes a meaningless ritual, no different than bathwater, and we thus profane the Word of God since by removing it we confess it not to be powerful enough to save human beings, especially babies.

When the water at Marah was bitter, God’s Word made it edible when He commanded Moses to throw in a piece of wood (Exodus 15:25). Likewise, when the men of Jericho told Elisha the water was causing people to become sick and die, God’s Word cleansed it when He commanded Elisha to throw a bowl of salt into the water (2 Kings 2:22). Who knows how dirty that piece of wood was, and salt water is bad for you! Yet by the efficacious power of God’s Word, the water was good to drink, and these ordinary elements made the water and the people healthy. Reason would’ve stopped these people from drinking the salvific waters, yet by faith they drank and were saved.

Just so with Baptism—that God’s Word says it does what He says it does. We mustn’t question Him. Baptism isn’t ours to abuse; we abuse it when we say it doesn’t do what God’s Word says it does (more on that in a later column). Rather, Baptism was given to us at Christ’s command to make disciples and thereby save sinners, just as God used water to save Noah and the Hebrew slaves. Our fallen human reason prevents us from accepting the Word’s efficacy therein; only by faith do we desire to be bathed in the Word of God that makes sinners clean.


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