Lutherans believe that Jesus commanded us to baptize others and join with them in being disciples (students) of Jesus. (Matthew 28:16-20) We believe that in the sacrament of baptism, the baptized person is brought into the church community. We believe that we are given the gift of the Holy Spirit (the way God shows up in the world now that Jesus isn’t here in the flesh). When we are baptized we become a new person. This “new person” – while we look the same – no longer has the burden of the cost of our sin (2 Corinthians 5:17). As people who sin (go our own way rather than God’s), we deserve to be separated from God. The good news is that because of our baptism, God promises us that we will never be separated – even after our death.
Why do you baptize infants and children?
Some Christian denominations only baptize people when they can talk about what they believe and explain that they want to be baptized. We baptize children and infants because we believe that it isn’t our decision to be baptized that lets God work in us. The new person – the rebirth – that we experience isn’t our own doing, but God’s doing (Ephesians 2:8-9). In short, it has nothing at all to do with us! God does all the work of giving us the gift of grace (unearned forgiveness).
When we baptize children, adults in their lives (usually parents and ‘sponsors’ or what are often called ‘godparents’) make promises to raise the child in the Christian faith. They promise to bring them to worship and teach them things like The Lord’s Prayer and The Ten Commandments.
What is “Confirmation” about?
You may have heard young people at a Lutheran Church talk about “confirmation.” When a person is baptized as a child or infant, they usually have a time of more formal Christian education in the ages around middle school. Some Christians have similar classes called “catechism.” During this time, young people study Christian belief as well as what it means to say that you are a “Lutheran Christian.” They are given an opportunity to ask questions, explore doubts or concerns, and decide if they would like to continue to be a member of our church.
If they choose to become a member of our church, they participate in a ceremony called “Affirmation of Baptism.” At this ceremony, the students publically say they are taking responsibility for their own life and learning as Christians. It’s really important to know that an Affirmation of Baptism is not “rebaptism” – it’s only a ceremony for them to become full members of our congregation. If a young person decides not to participate in the ceremony, they are still baptized and still members, just not considered “adult members” or “voting members” of Zion Lutheran.
After our young people publically state their wish to be a member of our church in their Affirmation of Baptism, they can vote, serve on our church council, and help make all the decisions for our church.
In the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) we ask our members to make five promises of what we will do in response to the great gift God gives us in baptism. They are:
live among God’s faithful people;
hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s Supper;
proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed;
serve all people following the example of Jesus; and
strive for justice and peace in all the earth.(Evangeilcal Lutheran Worship, pg. 236)
This is a big part of what Lutherans believe baptism is about – it gives us the freedom and ability to love and serve others and the world.
If you have more questions about what baptism is about in the ELCA and at Zion Lutheran in particular, contact our pastor. You can also read here about what Lutherans believe about those who die without having been baptized.