November 22, 2017

Water, Water Everywhere! The Lutheran Baptismal Liturgy

How can water do such great things?

Answer.
It is not the water indeed that does them, but the word of God which is in and with the water, and faith, which trusts such word of God in the water. For without the word of God the water is simple water and no baptism. But with the word of God it is a baptism, that is, a gracious water of life and a washing of regeneration in the Holy Ghost, as St. Paul says, Titus, chapter three: By the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghostwhich He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christour Saviorthatbeing justified by His gracewe should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a faithful saying.

– Luther, Small Catechism

I am not often a teary guy, but it seems my eyes get moist every time we have a baptism in our church. After years of serving in credo-baptist churches (though never completely persuaded to give up paedo-baptism), and focusing on baptism after conversion (we called it “believer’s baptism”), coming back to the simplicity of the Lutheran baptismal rite awakens a deep joy within me.

Here’s how we do it in our congregation:

The pastor stands at the font and the parents and family bring the child forward.

He addresses questions to them regarding specific responsibilities they have for helping their child grow in the Christian faith and life, which they answer, “With God’s help, we do.”

The pastor then addresses the congregation.

He asks first if we promise to support and pray for the child and his family.

He then calls us all to profess our faith together.

  • Together we renounce the devil and all the forces that deny God, the powers of this world that rebel against God, and the ways of sin that draw us from God.
  • We then say the Apostles’ Creed in three parts, confessing our faith in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

After the pastor greets us and calls us all to give thanks, he utters this prayer:

Holy God, mighty Lord, gracious Father: We give you thanks, for in the beginning your Spirit moved over the waters and you created heaven and earth. By the gift of water you nourish and sustain us and all living things.

By the waters of the flood you condemned the wicked and saved those whom you had chosen, Noah and his family. You led Israel by the pillar of cloud and fire through the sea, out of slavery into the freedom of the promised land. In the waters of the Jordan your Son was baptized by John and anointed with the Spirit. By the baptism of his own death and resurrection your beloved Son has set us free from the bondage to sin and death, and has opened the way to the joy and freedom of everlasting life. He made water a sign of the kingdom and of cleansing and rebirth. In obedience to his command, we make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Pour out your Holy Spirit, so that those who are here baptized may be given new life. Wash away the sin of all those who are cleansed by this water and bring them forth as inheritors of your glorious kingdom.

To you be given praise and honor and worship through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, now and forever. (from the Lutheran Book of Worship)

Water is then poured over the child’s head three times, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

A candle is given to one of the parents, who lights it from the Christ Candle. The pastor says, “Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Our pastor then takes the baby in his arms or takes the child by the hand and walks him/her up the center aisle, encouraging our church family to welcome our new brother or sister in Christ, which we do gladly with applause.

* * *

I love all aspects of this service, but especially the pastor’s thanksgiving prayer, which shows how God has brought life and salvation to his people through water from the first page of the Bible.

Thanks be to God!

Comments

  1. I too, love when a child, baby…or anyone is baptized.

    That God has chosen Baptism as a way to put our old sinner to death, and raise thew new person in Christ, using water and the Word, is truly moving.

    This external Word of promise is one we can count on, always, and in all circumstances. It is the concrete, tangible, bringing of the cross (death and resurrection) to bear in each of our own personal histories, at a particular point in history…for us.

    And we don’t move away from that Baptism. But it carries us, like a ship, all throughout our lives. So we return to it, as Luther said, daily.

  2. This is a variation on a portion of a French Reformed baptismal liturgy (from the PCUSA Office of Theology and Worship).
    (link http://www.pcusa.org/media/uploads/theologyandworship/pdfs/variations_on_the_french_reformed_church_baptismal_liturgy.pdf)

    It is for use after the baptism and during what one friend refers to as the ‘baby parade’ as the pastor shows the newly baptized off to the congregation.

    I used it a few times, but there was no way on God’s green earth I could have gotten through it without completely losing it, so I had the congregation do it instead. Besides, they’re the ones promising to do this!

    For you, little one,
    the Spirit of God moved over the waters at creation,
    and the Lord God made covenants with his people.
    It was for you that the Word of God became flesh
    and lived among us, full of grace and truth.
    For you, [name], Jesus Christ suffered death
    crying out at the end, “It is finished!”
    For you Christ triumphed over death,
    rose in newness of life,
    and ascended to rule over all.
    All of this was done for you, little one,
    though you do not know any of this yet.
    But we will continue to tell you this good news
    until it becomes your own.
    And so the promise of the gospel is fulfilled:
    “We love because God first loved us.”

  3. Aidan Clevinger says:

    I think the only thing missing from the modern Lutheran liturgy of Baptism was the exorcism that Luther had in his liturgy. Maybe it’s a personal thing, but I think that really adds an extra development: God is delivering the child from the kingdom of Satan to His own Kingdom.

  4. We spent some time exiled from the liturgical church and in a non-denom. congregation. Baptism for me was harder to manage than communion. The blow-up pool with ice cold water filled after church for anyone who wanted to attend brought me to tears. Then my pleaser son wanted to make his fundi-baptist grandmother happy decided he had to be baptized again. Sigh.

  5. Bonnie Lauer says:

    I love the rite of baptism in my Lutheran church, especially the understanding of it as a gift given to us as an infant, before we can do anything that makes it seem as we earned it.

  6. Not to be disrespectful…but you know what I love about water? After you go to the gym, work out, get all dirty, tired and exhausted. And then that feeling of nice, cold water going down your throat where you can feel it going down. Is there any better feeling on earth? 😀

    • “Better is beer, if drink we lack, and water hot poured down the back!”

    • One summer in Tucson I was doing greenhouse work for the lab (we raised plants to feed to the bugs.) I would bike the two miles to work, work in the Arizona heat all day, get covered in potting soil and sweat, bike the two miles home. First move before even taking off my helmet would be to open the fridge and drink a quart or so of lovely, cold water, and refill the container. Then I would change, hop into the pool, and watch the potting soil float away, head back inside, and guzzle some more.
      Ahhhhhhh….

  7. I gladly say it also…

    hymn says it all

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uAJxB7S91GQ