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John 3:22-36

 

After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing. John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized (for John had not yet been put in prison).

 

Now a discussion arose between some of John's disciples and a Jew over purification. And they came to John and said to him, "Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness - look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him." John answered, "A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, 'I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.' The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease."

 

He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all. He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony. Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true. For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. (ESV)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Infant Limbo

Tuesday of Lent 4

1 April 2014

The subject of infant baptism generates a great deal of heat and very little light when discussed among American Christians today. American Christians, under the influence of the baptistic tradition, are unique among Christians in denying not only baptism to infants, but also faith and regeneration. Of course, this has more to do with the imposition of dogmatic theories about the concurrence of the will in faith and the possibility of belief in Christ among infants. These theories arise from the American presupposition that action is superior to repose; in other words, our firmly held doctrine that faith that does not demonstrate action is not faith at all.

 

To rest comfortably in the arms of Christ is inferior to demonstrating the power of faith through personal confession or action. However, Christianity is not about purely external demonstrations of power. Christian faith is often hidden under contrary signs: life under the signs of death (1Co 15:36), heaven under the signs of hell, the righteousness of God under the signs of human guilt (Ps 32). In the Man dying there is the greatest power unto life for the world. In the midst of great suffering there is the gift of heaven. Where sin is admitted and confessed there God declares all guilt taken away and all transgression covered. Christianity at bottom is about receiving something, not doing anything. Doing is God's. Receiving is ours. This describes infant faith given and confirmed in the sacrament of holy baptism.

 

The Bible is shockingly clear that only those who have faith in Christ go to heaven. This point baffles those who presume that faith is our action or is only real when it can be demonstrated by action. Because they argue that if infants can't demonstrate their faith, they can't believe. And if only those who believe are saved, then what happens to infants? They are left in an un-biblical Limbo created on the basis of a faulty dogma about what faith is and who is working in baptism. Sometimes it is argued that the innocent infant who has not yet reached the ability (as though it is a human ability, rather than a divine gift!) to believe are guiltless in the presence of God. But this runs smack up against the divine Word's condition that only those who believe will be saved. Even if they are "innocent and without guilt" the Bible never attributes salvation to anything but faith in Christ.

 

Even apart from all this, how would such innocence and guiltlessness be demonstrated by the infant? If only a demonstrated or proven faith is accepted as legitimate, why would we merely be able to presume that infants are innocent? What basis would we have for this? What actual action proves the innocence of infants? This is an opinion that could only be held by people who have never cared for an infant. If we depended on what God actually says about all persons; that is, that they are sinners, guilty before God, and dead in their trespasses and sins apart from Christ and faith in Him, we could conclude that infants have faith (as Scripture specifically declares), because infants are saved. So you can't see or hear about their faith from them? Uh-huh. Well, maybe you should listen to the divine witness instead of believing your own dogmas. How gracious the good Shepherd is, that He takes up in his arms the little ones and blesses them with the new life in Him and the faith to trust Him. 

 

Augustine of Hippo

 

"'The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him' (Jn 3:35-36). Now in which of these classes must we place infants; among those who believe on the Son, or among those who do not believe the Son? In neither, some say, because, as they are not yet able to believe, so must they not be considered unbelievers. However, the ecclesiastical rule does not indicate this, for it joins baptized infants to the number of the faithful. Now if they who are baptized are, by virtue of the excellence and administration of so great a sacrament, nevertheless reckoned in the number of the faithful, although by their own heart and mouth they do not literally perform what pertains to the action of faith and confession; surely those who have lacked the sacrament must be classed among those who do not believe in the Son, and therefore, if they depart this life without this grace, they will have to encounter what is written concerning it. They shall not have life, but the wrath of God remains on them. How could this be the result for those who clearly have no sins of their own, if they are not held to be liable to punishment for original sin?" 

 

Augustine, On the Merits and Forgiveness of Sins and Baptism of Infants, 1.28

 

Prayer

Almighty and everlasting God, mercifully behold You servants whom You have made Your children through holy baptism. According to Your grace, grant that Your promises may be fulfilled in us; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

 

For Bud Obert, that the Lord would grant strength and healing

 

For the unemployed, that the Lord would graciously grant work in keeping with vocation to those who are seeking it

 

For those who do not treasure their own baptism, that God the Holy Spirit would call them back to the comfort of this divinely-given treasure

Art: GRÜNEWALD, Matthias Isenheim Altarpiece (1515)

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