Baptism as the Basis of Christian Life
I recently received a copy of Jordan Cooper's Baptized into Christ: A Guide to the Christian Life. Despite having read the book while it was still a mere manuscript, I would like to work my way through it slowly before a more formal review. Cooper desires the book "bring Lutheran theology to a level that is bother understandable to the average reader, and practical" (9). The opening chapter takes on much of the weight as it describes the importance of baptism to Lutheran theology.
The Basis of Baptism
While other traditions vary in the importance of baptism, I would argue that baptism lies at the very center of Lutheran emphasis on justification, the atoning work of Christ, and salvation/apostasy — it was appropriate for Cooper to start with a general introduction about this subject.
For Lutherans and Reformed alike, baptism is a statement from God. It is a work of God. It is true that baptism stands at the center of identifying the church. But Cooper helps explain how baptism — when spoken of as God's action/word — stands at the center of our self-identification. In an age of "coming out of the closet" and gender identity, the church has been remarkable dense regarding the baptism-sized-hole among God's creation. Men desire an identification that is larger than themselves. Christian baptism was intended by God to fulfill that role. But a solely credo-baptism (baptism upon belief as an act of obedience) shares more in common with the vain attempts of man than a thorough paedobaptism paradigm.
Man is incapable of making statements about his nature. Born in sin, man is in his sin until God says otherwise. In the credobaptist tradition, the Calvinistic/Particular Baptist come close to affirming this in a manner consistent with paedobaptists. Yet still, Pentecostal and Church of Christ understandings of baptism — which confess that God does something in baptism — comes closer to traditional baptismal efficacy. Disagreeing on this front concerning extent, the Reformed and Lutheran traditions affirm that God speaks in baptism such that man can relish the identification he finds within Christ.
Baptism for Today
Because baptism is a God-act, it stays with man throughout his days — God does not go back on His promises. In this vein, "Baptism is not just an event of the past, but it's something that affects you every day of your life" (Baptized into Christ, 23). Cooper would argue that "I was baptized" is poor language. If God is the active party in baptism then any Christian must say "I am baptized." This leaves no room for the re-baptism that is so common among credobaptism adherents. Baptism sticks to us even in the midst of our unfaithfulness. But that does not mean we are left without commendations.
In Luther's Large Catechism he writes,
"Thus we must regard Baptism and make it profitable to ourselves, that when our sins and conscience oppress us, we strengthen ourselves and take comfort."
In the Reformed tradition, the Westminster Larger Catechism says something similar — though I imagine slightly different than Cooper or Luther would suggest — when it says,
"The needful but much neglected duty of improving our baptism, is to be performed by us all our life long...by serious and thankful consideration of the nature of it, and of the ends for which Christ instituted it, the privileges and benefits conferred and sealed thereby, and our solemn vow made therein." (WLC, Q 167)
For neither Lutheran nor Reformed Theology can baptism remain a past event. It is a perpetual identity that makes demands upon the believe. But these demands comes with incredible promises that gird the Christian life. Everything that comes out of Christian living finds its source in Christian baptism which points ultimately to Christ's atoning work on the cross.