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So Abraham took his son Ishmael, everyone born in his household, and everyone bought with money—every male in his household—and circumcised them that day, as God had told him. 24 Abraham was 99 years old when he was circumcised. 25 His son Ishmael was 13 years old when he was circumcised. 26 That same day Abraham and his son Ishmael were circumcised. 27 All the men of his household, whether born in the household or bought with money from a foreigner, were circumcised with him. – Genesis 17:23-27 [God’s Word Translation]
When our youngest son was born, the need arose to baptize him. Three days after he was born, before he attained the weight of even 4 pounds, Diane and I sat with a styrofoam cup of water in the NICU and I baptized him. It was the most emotionally-rich baptism I had ever preformed. And once it was done, I knew there were promises of God connected with him that previous to that time were not. [See the Bible verses referencing the blessings of baptism at the end of this blog post.]
I don’t believe in hocus pocus, but I do believe in miracles. I don’t believe in ex opere operato (see definition below),but I do believe in the power of God’s word working through the waters of baptism. I don’t believe you cannot be immersed in order for a baptism to be legitimate. But I do believe that simple water connected with God’s word brings blessings of life and salvation. Whether in the Jordan River, a Greek Orthodox baptismal font (they submerse babies when they baptize them), or a styrofoam cup, with the word is a powerful and rich blessing.
If you would take the word circumcision and substitute it for baptism in the examples above, the same would apply. It’s not some magic trick when a person is baptized, or a young Jewish boy was circumcised. It puts us into the covenant of God’s grace. It’s not just the work itself, but faith that makes the promises of baptism and circumcision efficacious. That’s why Abraham is the father of faith. Without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6).
Whether child or adult, the blessings of baptism come from God through the word. And whether adult or child, they remain in the water apart from faith. Martin Luther rightly says, “Baptism is the water comprehended in God’s command and connected with God’s word.” It offers the blessings of God: forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. And it does all this because the word of God is connected with the water. And those blessings are received by “faith that trusts that word of God (again, Luther).
Today we baptize all who would come into the fellowship of God’s redeemed. Male and female. Young or old. No one questions the idea that women should be baptized. Nor should they. God’s desire is that all people be saved. His covenant of grace is to extend to all people. It is our privilege and responsibility that parents bring their children to be baptized, and once they’re baptized bring them up in the fear and admonition of the Lord, teaching them to obey all that God has commanded us. He will be with us the whole way in this endeavor, until the very end of time.
The Blessings of Baptism
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.
[God] saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
1 Peter 3:21-22
Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.
Blessing: Salvation/clear conscience
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
Blessing: Connection with Christ’s death and resurrection; death to sin
Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”
Blessing: Forgiveness of sins; the gift of the Holy Spirit
- These blessings are given by God as a promise, and received by a person by faith
- There are no age restrictions to the promises or examples of baptisms that omit the baptism of any age person – old or young.
- Both Lydia and her household, (Acts and the Philippian jailer and his household), were baptized. This would include several generations of the family: grandchildren, children, grandparents, and parents; this is the meaning of the Greek word, “iokos” which is translated “household.”
Ex opere operato is a Latin phrase meaning “from the work performed” and, in reference to sacraments, signifies that they derive their efficacy, not from the minister or recipient, but from the sacrament considered independently of the merits of the minister or the recipient (thank you Wikipedia). But that’s not quite all there is to it. It’s not just that the words are said correctly and the sacrament performed correctly. Without faith the blessings remain in the water. The merits of the minister or the recipient don’t come into play. But faith surely does. Thanks be to God that faith is one of the gifts of baptism!