Immersing our Theology

Every Lutheran pastor has been asked to make an exception and baptize someone by immersion.  LCMS Chaplain Oliver Washington, Jr. is pictured in the May 2010 Lutheran Witness as doing that on page 18.  And what’s the big deal about that?  More than a soldier is being immersed; our theology is.

Every Lutheran pastor has been taught the following:

1) Luther thought immersing was the most fitting way to baptize.

2) The early church baptisteries prove they baptized by immersion.

3) You can’t prove from Scripture that Jesus or anyone else was baptized by immersion.  The Greek word baptize means to apply water somehow.

4) The only people in the Bible that were for sure immersed were the Egyptians.

5) Some faith groups insist that immersion is the only mode of baptizing and deny those not immersed have been baptized.

6) By not immersing, we are testifying both to the fact that we will not have our consciences bound by a manmade law and to the fact that neither the mode nor the amount of water contribute to the validity or efficacy of Baptism.

Every Lutheran pastor has been asked by someone to make an exception and baptize them or a child by immersion.  The reasoning is always that it is more Biblical (wrong) and/or more fitting.  When I’ve admitted, with Luther, that it is more fitting sign, they have without fail said that they meant it was more of a baptism.  I have never made the exception.  Why?  Because to do so would baptize the error that the mode or amount of water somehow contributes to what Baptism is or does.  Second, it could cause others who have “only been sprinkled” to doubt if their Baptism was enough.

Let’s give Chaplain Washington a pass here.  The photo says the Baptism took place in Iraq.  Perhaps this soldier was about to go out on a combat patrol.  Perhaps no matter how hard and well the good chaplain catechized the solider he couldn’t be disabused from the notion that the only fitting way to be baptized was by immersion.  Given such a situation I can believe that I too would immerse the solider.  However, by publishing the picture The Lutheran Witness has immersed our theology.

Isn’t that how it always is?  You identify one threat only to be surprised by another.  I thought our confessional theology was only endangered by the fires of Ablaze! Now the waters are rising against us.

About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
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