An Important Word for Our Time

We ought in these days to take note of the Barmen Declaration (1934), from which I excerpt the following.

2. “God made Jesus Christ to be for us our wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30).

Affirmation: Just as Jesus Christ is God’s assurance of the forgiveness of all our sins, so also, and with the same earnestness, he is God’s powerful claim upon our entire life. Through him a joyous liberation from the godless conditions of this world occurs for us, a liberation for free, grateful service to his creatures.

Repudiation: We reject the false doctrine, as if there are domains of our life in which we do not belong to Jesus Christ but to other lords, domains in which we would not need justification and sanctification by him.

3. “But let us be upright in love and grow in every respect into him who is the head, Christ, from whom the whole body is joined together” (Eph. 4:15-16).

Affirmation: The Christian church is the congregation of brothers in which Jesus Christ acts presently as the Lord in word and sacrament through the Holy Spirit. As the church of forgiven sinners, it has to testify in the midst of the world of sinners, both with its faith and its obedience, with its message as well as with its order, that it alone is his property, that it lives and wants to live solely from his comfort and by his direction in anticipation of his appearance.

Repudiation: We reject the false doctrine, as if the church could relinquish the form of its message and its order to its own pleasure or to changes in prevailing ideological and political convictions.

5. “Fear God, honor the king” (1 Pet. 2:17).

Affirmation: Scripture says to us that the State, according to divine arrangement, has the task to be concerned for justice and peace in this still unredeemed world in which the church also stands, and to do so according to the standard of human insight and human ability, under penalty of threat and the use of force. In gratitude and reverence toward God, the church recognizes the benefit of this, his arrangement. The church reminds itself of God’s kingdom, of God’s command and justice, and thereby, of the responsibility of those governing and of the governed. It trusts and obeys the power of the word by which God upholds all things.

Repudiation: We reject the false doctrine, as if the church, beyond its special task, should and could take over state-governmental actions, state-governmental tasks, and state-governmental positions and thereby become itself an organ of the state.[1]

[1] Martin Heimbucher and Rudolf Weth, eds., Die Barmer Theologische Erklärung: Einführung und Kokumentation, foreword by Wolfgang Huber (Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 2009), 33-43. Translated by Matthew Becker, Ph.D. (http://matthewlbecker.blogspot.com/…)

Citizenship in the Commonwealth

A homily upon the occasion of the baptism of my first god-daughter.

Delivered August 11, 2012.

Brothers and Sisters in Christ, you hear in the Gospel of Mark the words of our Savior Christ commanding the children to be brought to him. You see how he took them in his arms, and blessed them. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today and forever. Do not doubt, therefore, but earnestly believe, that he loves this child, that he approves our bringing her to holy Baptism, that he is ready to receive her with the arms of his mercy, and to grant her membership in a covenant family.

But how further shall we understand this? How shall I explain the role that baptism plays in our salvation, which indeed is more than just a single moment and more than just the assurance of our eternal destiny, though indeed it gloriously includes the prospect of Eternity in concert and in community with our beloved Lord.

Baptism is more than just a symbol, yet it is not a condition of salvation; rather it is a seal and a sign of salvation, a helpful part of God’s ideal plan. Indeed, St. Peter reminds us: “Baptism…now saves you… through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 3:21). When the Israelites went through the Red Sea, they were saved by that act, though it wasn’t the power of the act that saved them, but the power of God that saved them. Nevertheless, had they failed to walk across the dry ground, they would not have been saved from Pharaoh. How can we explain this mystery?

So then, remember that at one time you were Gentiles in the flesh–called “the uncircumcised” by those called “the circumcised,” done by hand in the flesh. At that time you were without the Messiah, excluded from the citizenship of Israel, and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, with no hope and without God in the world. 19 So then you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints, and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone.

Ephesians 2:11-12, 19 (HCSB)

If an immigrant moves to the USA they must go through the conscious decision of becoming a citizen. Once they have made that decision, however, their children are born as citizens of the USA without any decision on the part of the infant. Infant baptism—as circumcision before it—is like the giving of a birth certificate to an infant. As an adult, the born-citizen will have the option of choosing to become the citizen of another “commonwealth,” but it is most common and it is to be hoped that most babies will grow up in the nurture and admonition of the Way and subsequently “confirm” their individual, conscious decision to remain a part of the commonwealth of Israel.

In Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not done with hands, by putting off the body of flesh, in the circumcision of the Messiah. Having been buried with Him in baptism, you were also raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And when you were dead in trespasses and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive with Him and forgave us all our trespasses.

Colossians 2:11-13 (HCSB)

You heard in the Epistle a description of the life of those redeemed. It is only by the grace of God, which enables and suffuses instruction and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16) that we may live thusly. Hear now the words of the Anglican fathers who summarized the teachings of Scripture as it regards the manner of salvation, the method of sanctification, and the use and purpose of baptism.

XXV. Of the Sacraments. Sacraments ordained of Christ be not only badges or tokens of Christian men’s profession, but rather they be certain sure witnesses, and effectual signs of grace, and God’s good will towards us, by which he doth work invisibly in us, and doth not only quicken, but also strengthen and confirm our Faith in him.There are two Sacraments ordained of Christ our Lord in the Gospel, that is to say, Baptism, and the Supper of the Lord.

XXVII. Of Baptism. Baptism is not only a sign of profession, and mark of difference, whereby Christian men are discerned from others that be not christened, but it is also a sign of Regeneration or New-Birth, whereby, as by an instrument, they that receive Baptism rightly are grafted into the Church; the promises of the forgiveness of sin, and of our adoption to be the sons of God by the Holy Ghost, are visibly signed and sealed, Faith is confirmed, and Grace increased by virtue of prayer unto God.
The Baptism of young Children is in any wise to be retained in the Church, as most agreeable with the institution of Christ.

Brothers and Sisters in Messiah, the Sacrament of Baptism is offered in the Church because our Lord Jesus Christ taught us that we cannot enter the kingdom of God unless we are born anew of water and the Holy Spirit. This new birth is necessary because all human beings have both an inclination towards evil and are also sinners. Therefore, I urge you to call upon God the Father, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that in his great mercy he will grant new birth to Elizabeth that she may be baptized with water and the Holy Spirit, and received into Christ’s holy Church and be made a living member of the same.

Let us pray.

Almighty and everlasting God, you who mercifully saved Noah and his family in the Ark when the great flood came, who safely led the children of Israel through the Red Sea, symbolizing thereby your holy Baptism, and who, by the Baptism in the river Jordan of your dearly loved Son, Jesus Christ, sanctified water to the mystical washing away of sin: We pray you, in your infinite mercy, to look on this child, wash and sanctify her by the Holy Spirit, in order that, being delivered from your wrath, she may be received into the Ark of Christ’s Church. Make her, we pray, to be steadfast in faith, joyful through hope, and rooted in love, so that passing through the stormy waters of this troubled world, she may finally come to the land of everlasting life, there to reign with you forever; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Since we are now persuaded of the good will of our heavenly Father towards Elizabeth, declared by his Son Jesus Christ, let us faithfully and devoutly give thanks to him and say together:

Almighty and everlasting God, heavenly Father, we humbly thank you for having called us to the knowledge of your grace and to faith in you. Increase this knowledge and confirm this faith in us evermore. Give your Holy Spirit to Elizabeth , that she may in the wonder of your plan for her be born again, and be made an heir of everlasting salvation; through our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.