Question:

I came across your article on infant baptism while doing a web search for Scriptures on the topic.  In reading your article, I get the impression that your church does not believe in original sin?  This seems to me like an astonishing view, as it would leave open at least a theoretical possibility for a person to live a sinless life.  If you have the time and could clarify, I'd like to hear your thoughts on this.

To further clarify my own question, as a Lutheran I don't believe we inherit the guilt of specific sins committed by our parents, but I do believe we inherit a sin nature -- an innate will toward sin which in itself is sufficient to separate us from God.  The Lutheran understanding of baptism is identical to that of Catholics: Baptism is the normative means by which we are cleansed of that sin nature.

This does not contradict Ephesians 2:8-9, because baptism is an act performed upon a person, not a work on the part of the recipient.


Answer:

I agree that if sin is not inherited, then it leaves the possibility, in theory, that a person could live a sinless life. And God has informed us that such has happened.

"For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (II Corinthians 5:21).

"For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth" (I Peter 2:21-22).

"And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin" (I John 3:5).

You state that sin itself is not inherited, but that a "sin nature" is inherited and that "sin nature" is sufficient to separate a person from God. This is not what the Bible states. "Behold, the LORD'S hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; nor His ear heavy, that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear" (Isaiah 59:1-2). Clearly it is sin that separates a person from God and God defines sin as being the breaking of law (I John 3:4). The separation is not due to the inheritance of a singular sin nature but the personal commitment of many sins.

The idea that sin (or a "sin nature") is inherited leads to the natural dilemma of explaining how Jesus could be born into the world as a man and not be guilty of sin. "For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15). The Catholics claim that Mary had a miraculous birth where her connection to the inherited sins was broken. Of course, such is not mentioned in the Bible. And it leaves the obvious question of why such a miracle could not have been done directly with Jesus, instead of indirectly with Mary. If a sinless ancestor is required then wouldn't Mary's parents need to also be "disconnected" from this inherited sin nature? And their parents in turn? And before you know it you are back to Adam and Eve arguing that everyone was born disconnected from this inherited sin nature.

Jesus' life proves that man has never been forced to sin. Sin has always been the result of man's free choice and thousands of years of history has shown that men eventually choose to sin (Romans 3:9-23). This matches what Paul stated: "Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned" (Romans 5:12). Death did not spread because sin, or a sin nature, was inherited. Paul states that it spread because men personally and actively commit sin. It is universal in the result, but it was never because people did not have a choice. Therefore, Jesus' sinless life proves that we cannot avoid responsibility for our choices.

You state that infants can be baptized because it is external and not a personal work. If such were true, then why don't we get some really strong Christian men and start going around the world dunking people in water whether they want to or not? After all, they are in sin, so let's save them by baptizing them! (See: "An Anecdote from 'Raccoon' John Smith").

But such doesn't work. Baptism is done to a person, but the Scriptures always present it as the result of a person choosing to accept being baptized.
"And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord" (Acts 22:16).
"Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" Then Peter said to them, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit"" (Acts 2:37-38).
The question was, "What shall we do?" The response was, "Repent and be baptized." Therefore, baptism is something a person chooses to do. Notice that in each of these passages, baptism is not presented as a way to remove a vague "sin nature." Paul was invited to wash away his personal sins. Peter told the people to repent and be baptized for the remission of their sins. Both are in the plural and indicate that many sins need to be removed or remitted.


Thanks.  When I encounter beliefs I'm not familiar with, I like to understand them, if possible.

Lutherans do not believe in the Immaculate Conception.  Rather, we believe that Jesus' ability to be sinless comes from the fact of His divinity.  Since sin, by definition, cannot be committed by God, Jesus' divinity precludes His inheritance of original sin.

The reason we don't go around forcing people to be dunked is that baptism is only the initiation of salvation; that salvation still must be sustained through a life of repentance and submission to God.  Forcing baptism on adults would not be conducive to this; children are another matter since it is the parents' responsibility to raise them as Christians.

I do, however, see a flaw in the "choice" element of salvation--and it is a flaw shared by all churches that reject infant baptism.  The Bible says that we are saved by grace, through faith...and not by works."  Grace is what saves us.  If salvation is initiated by choice, then choice becomes an additional intervening factor in salvation, and so salvation becomes, at least in part, something we do.  This issue was the biggest single factor that led to my becoming a Lutheran (I was raised Pentecostal).


By saying that everyone inherits a "sin nature," but then exempting Jesus because of his deity makes the Hebrews writer's contention that Jesus was tempted in every way like we an empty statement. "For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15). If Jesus' divinity precludes sin, in and of itself, then the fact that Jesus was tempted is a hallow point since you state that as God the potential to sin did not exist.

If no choice is involved in salvation, if salvation is solely based on God's grace, then why isn't everyone saved? "The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (II Peter 3:9). After all God's grace is shown in the gift of His Son, and Jesus died for all men. "For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again" (II Corinthians 5:14-15). His death was for the whole world. "My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world" (I John 2:1-2).

But the point is that the whole world is not saved, nor will they be saved. Though God desires salvation for the entire world and has offered salvation to the entire world, God still demands that each person make a choice. Just like the choice Joshua demanded of the Israelites, "And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD" (Joshua 24:15).

The fact that man must choose does not imply that salvation then is a work of man. It is God who offers the choice and it is God who stipulates the terms of what is to be chosen. For example, it is God who said, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). But that faith is a choice of man -- to believe or not believe. Thus faith is a work, but it is a work of God and not man -- that is, what is required of man to do is a choice of God. "Then they said to Him, "What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?" Jesus answered and said to them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent"" (John 6:28-29).

Actually, in each requirement that God has placed on His gift of salvation, there is a choice and a work man must do to accept that gift.

Hearing: "Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever" (I Peter 1:22-23).

Faith: "In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise" (Ephesians 1:13). "But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him" (Hebrews 11:6).

Repentance: "For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death" (II Corinthians 7:10).

Confession: "But what does it say? "The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart" (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation" (Romans 10:8-10).

Baptism: "Then Peter said to them, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38).

Each of these, hearing, believing, repenting, confessing, and being baptized, is a choice an individual must make to do or not to do. They are works, but they are works of God. "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10). When we do the works of God, God gives us salvation, not because we earned salvation but because we have met the terms God has placed on his gift to mankind.

Even the mere man whom Lutherans claim to follow understood this point. In his Small Catechism in answer to the question "What gifts or benefits does Baptism bestow?", Luther responded, "It effects the forgiveness of sins." Concerning the sinner, Luther wrote, "Through Baptism he is bathed in the blood of Christ and is cleansed from sins." He also wrote, "To put it most simply, the power, effect, benefit, fruit, and purpose of Baptism is to save." In response to those who would call this a salvation by works, Martin Luther wrote, "Yes, it is true that our works are of no use for salvation. Baptism, however, is not our work but God's."