Wow. Good question, Thaddeus. Might I ask what faith tradition you are coming FROM? Just curious...
I think you have a pretty good handle on what Lutherans actually teach. Probably better than most Lutherans. Your question is also very articluate and multi-faceted.
I will do my best to answer, but I am perhaps not the most authoritative source for an answer. I would also suggest posting your question to a forum such as Lutherquest.org, or asking the LCMS information center (go to LCMS.org and look for FAQs).
ANyway... here goes (my responses in italics):
TJ G wrote:
Hi Rev. Chryst,
Thank you for writing back. I wanted to start our
conversation by asking about the relation of faith and
baptism. I don't fully understand the Lutheran
teaching in this area. Do Lutherans hold that all
Trinitarian baptisms (due to God's promise attached to
the water) automatically bring about regeneration, and
saving faith in the person baptized?
We speak of baptism as a "means of grace", which is a way in which God has promised his gifts may be received. I don't know that I have ever heard a Lutheran phrase it as "automatically", but in general, yes, we teach that baptism gives the gift of faith, the holy spirit, forgives sins, regenerates, and brings one into the church, the New Israel.
Luther's Small Catechsim puts it this way: (From http://www.bookofconcord.org/, which is a site you may wish to research further - the historical confessions of the Lutheran Church)
"What does Baptism give or profit?--Answer:
It works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare."
"Where is this written?--Answer:
St. Paul says Romans, chapter 6: We are buried with Christ by Baptism into death,
that, like as He was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so
we also should walk in newness of life."
(Of course, I
understand that for some it only strenghtens their
faith, which was already formed on the basis of
hearing the gospel).
This would be true of those who had come to faith first, via the word of God (another means of grace). In this case, while baptism does not create faith, it is still considered necessary because of the command of Christ in Matthew 28. Sometimes we say, "baptism is necessary, but not necessary for salvation". See also Phillip and the Ethiopian eunuch as an example of this.
Wouldn't that be simillar to ex opere operato, as the
Roman Catholics have it?
I understand ex opere operato to be, "out of the doing of the doing". Lutherans would have a problem saying that it is the act or ritual or performance of the thing itself that holds efficacy, but instead we focus on the saving work of the word, which really is the "thing" in baptism (or, either sacrament). But I can understand how someone might accuse us of ex opere operato. Frankly, I don't know that I understand the Roman teaching well enough to completely deliniate the difference.
Is there hypothetically such
a thing as a non-regenerative Trinitarian baptism?
I know what scripture says, and that is that "Baptism now saves you" (I Peter 3:21). I don't know that it speaks directly to "non-regenerative" baptism.
the infant actually resist the grace of God "in the
water" of baptism?
Good question. I suppose one could, but how would we know? Jesus does commend the faith of children, and I have to say that in my experience children simply believe what they receive. However, on the other hand, every Lutheran I know is quick to point out that God alone judges the heart.
It confuses me, becouse Lutherans
tend to reject the Reformed teaching on "irresistable
grace". Yet here it almost sounds like grace is
irresistable in baptism.
From what I heard from other Lutherans, it appears as
if you teach that faith is necessary to receive the
benefits of baptism. However, it is likewise true that
every baptized infant receives saving faith anyways.
So that there is actually no such a case in which
someone does not have the necessary faith to receive
the benefits of baptism. Now, he or she may loose the
"baptismal svaing faith," if it is not nourished. But
everyone receives saving faith (and eternal life)
initially in baptism. There are no exceptions to that
rule. Is that what you actually teach?
I may be treading on thin ice here, but I suppose by analogy we could say, take the faith that comes by hearing. Does one receive the blessings of the word only when he puts his faith in the word? Yes. But does that word itself also create the faith which receives the blessings? Yes. Can it be rejected? Yes, either before or after the faith seems to be there. I think part of the problem here is also trying to nail down in a neat and tidy box when faith begins.
Now with baptism, you have that moment, it would seem. But then again, Baptism is also powered by - the word! So really, we could leave baptism completely out of the picture and simply talk about the saving nature of the word of God, and how it brings faith. And before you say that infants can't respond to the word, because they don't understand, remember John the Baptist (in utero) who leapt for joy at the sound of Mary's greeting (the word?). Maybe that just muddies the waters, I don't know.
Oh, another question that may help clarify. Was the OT act of circumcision "ex opere operato"? Paul says baptism is the circumcision of the heart. I think we can learn a lot about NT baptism via study of OT circumcision.
Could you clarify all this for me? I'd appreciate it.
Thanks a lot for taking the time to answer my
Later, Thaddeus writes:
Thanks so much for your helpful response. Yes, you may
post it on your blog. :) You also asked about the
tradition that I am coming FROM -- It's conservative
I will continue to visit your blog. I'll try to keep
in contact with you. I am certainly very much open to
becoming a Lutheran. There are still various obstacles
on the way for me. It's possible that they will
disapear with time, as I immerse myself in Lutheran
theology in an in-depth way.