In my continued reading of Klement Preus' book The Fire and the Staff: Lutheran Theology in Practice (CPH, 2004), I ran across a wonderful quote that illustrated well the ideas in my previous post. The little story that follows was meant, in part, to demonstrate how practice can often affect doctrine, or the understanding of that doctrine. In this particular case it shows how infant baptism can be a powerful demonstration of God's pure grace in action. This account is about one of Pr. Preus' former members named Tom.
"[Tom] was raised Baptist but, upon the birth of his first daughter and the insistence of his Lutheran wife had been instructed in the Lutheran church. When I had the honor of baptizing his baby, I had talked to him extensively about the blessings of Baptism. One day Tom stopped by the house and gave me a tree to plant in the front yard. We started talking theology. 'You know, Pastor,' he drawled, as he turned the post hole digger for the seedling, "I don't think it would have been possible for me to come to the true knowledge of grace if we hadn't baptized my daughter.'
'How so?' I wondered.
'Well, when I looked down at that helpless little child who had never made a decision in her life, and I saw the water poured on her head and heard the words, I saw grace alone for the first time in my life. Before the Baptism I believed it, but that day I saw it. The morning of her Baptism we had to dress her and feed her. We chose her food and her clothes. We had brought her crib and painted her bedroom. We did everything for her. She did nothing. Throughout my life Baptism had been a symbol of people making decisions and doing something. Now, in the Lutheran church, well, my daughter's Baptism was a visual aid for grace alone." (109-110)
Who would have thought that the act of baptizing a baby would end up truly demonstrating grace for a former Baptist?
Often I will get the request to do baptisms privately. I have conceded to their wish, but do instruct people that the preferred practice is that it be public. Admittedly, in the early church this was not always so. But the practice of a public baptism is always a teaching tool in its own right. For many years adult baptisms were rare. Few had ever seen one in a Lutheran church. Now they are more prevalent as more of the children of the dropout Baby boomers come to the church looking for what they were denied in childhood. And as these adults are baptized, a demonstration of God's grace is again evident. Even though they missed the opportunity in infancy, and even though their parents despised organized religion or were simply too lazy to incorporate regular church attendance into their weekly routine, God graciously led his lamb to the font anyway. Infant or adult, it is always grace in action. And the act of baptizing shows the living God in action among his people.