In Which The Means of Grace Kick Ass
I probably write about baptism too often. My title alone probably communicates a lack of reverence for the subject at hand (sorry mom). But before you disregard whatever it is I have to say (that is if you even clicked the link), let me say this post covers more than baptism.
It has been a couple month's since Olivia's baptism. But only recently church photos were provided to us. I am afraid this will offend, but they weren't very good. They weren't bad, but let's acknowledge they were pictures of real life. They weren't staged. They were far away. There was a lack of detail. And yet I was admonished by the amount of intimacy contained in them. How are both of these things possible? As you might recall, that particular Sunday was especially chaotic for the Torrey Family. Chaos and intimacy are not typically associated with one another. So how is it possible that there is evident intimacy in these photos? Let me give you the long answer.
The secret is that the "means of grace" (or sacraments) contain God-speech or God-act. These concepts can't be caught on camera any more than Christ's divine nature could have been caught on an iPhone. And yet the divine is in fact there. How do we know? Because of revelation (Scripture). Because of God's promises in Scripture. And because Christ is the ultimate self-sacrificing, God-tabernacling-with-us, revelation. The means of grace reflect God as He is for us in Jesus Christ. They reveal who God is, and they do not reveal an idle God. They reveal a God who acts. This concept is more important than debating believer vs infant baptism. We must first focus on disagreements about what God does in the means of grace. The basis of infant baptism is an affirmation that God does (something) in the sacraments.
We watch this play out every single Sunday. It is incredible to see my little girl's face light up after the passing of the peace. Because of the liturgy, she knows what is coming. I sit her on my lap and I say, "Pastor Jack is talking." Her nose wrinkles and she ask, "he's about to break the bread?" Her entire Sunday morning is bent toward the practice of the Supper.
For her, the sermon may be far too wordy. The songs she doesn't know are opportunities for her to practice awful three-year-old derived harmonies. But she settles in as she grows focused on the body and blood of Christ. Her fidgety hands become steady holding the elements. The only time she spills is when she tries to get the last of the juice from the cup. I can't blame her for wanting to consume every crumb and drop. Our church teaches that Christ strengthens faith in the elements. The Heidelberg Catechism states, "he nourishes and refreshes my soul for eternal life with his crucified body and poured-out blood" (Q&A 75).
There is a real, corporeal blessing to partaking in the elements of the Supper. There is no blessing for a properly reflecting heart participating in a cultish event. Christ pointed to the elements in the Lord's Supper not to our internal emotions or thinking. I know I disagree with my Lutheran friends on where Christ is in the Supper, but I hope we agree on what God does exclusively in the elements. Christ pointed to the elements because in and through them He makes Himself known and strengthens God-given faith.
Similarly, Olivia was baptized the same day Kenzie became a communing member. It was the first time God proclaimed to Oliva the eternal "yes" found in Christ Jesus. And this is where the intimacy lies. I might have lost some readers so let's walk slowly. This "eternal yes" is not an un-Biblical sentiment of a father. This line of thinking comes straight from the words of Paul,
But as surely as God is faithful, our message to you is not “Yes” and “No.” For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us—by me and Silas and Timothy—was not “Yes” and “No,” but in him it has always been “Yes.” For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God. (2 Corinthians 1:18-20, NIV)
I won't blame you if you didn't know these verses existed. But look at how positive they are about the church and God's promises! Perhaps they even go overlooked because of their nature. Read Paul's words carefully. In speaking to the church, Paul says every covenant promise has found a "yes" in Jesus Christ. This should transform how we read the Old Testament. It should also help us realize there isn't so much a "New" Testament as there is a final "Yes" Testament.
So in the means of grace, God not only makes promises but He says "yes" in Jesus Christ. This is how the church sacraments differ from the practices of Israel. The sacraments confirm what they promise. They "are visible, holy signs and seals. They were instituted by God so that by our use of them he might make us understand more clearly the promise of the gospel, and seal that promise" (Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 66). More explicitly the Heidelberg states, "In the gospel the Holy Spirit teaches us and by the holy sacraments confirms that our entire salvation rests on Christ’s one sacrifice for us on the cross" (Q&A 67).
The Heidelberg Catechism stands in harmony with Paul. It says these promises are found in "Christ’s one sacrifice accomplished on the cross" (Q&A 66). When Kenzie takes the Supper she can say, "as surely as I see with my eyes the bread of the Lord broken for me and the cup shared with me, so surely his body was offered and broken for me and his blood poured out for me" (Q&A 68). When Olivia sees these pictures she will see the same intimacy that I see. That in this baptism on a chaotic Sunday, "God wants to assure us, by this divine pledge and sign, that we are as truly washed of our sins spiritually as our bodies are washed with water physically" (Q&A 73).
All of this is founded on the reality of Jesus Christ. Not simply Jesus Christ crucified. But that Jesus Christ crucified is the covenant "yes" that "has always been 'yes'" (2 Cor 1:18-20). The means of grace kick ass because they testify that Christ killed our sin and death on the cross.