By Gretchen Roberts
ST. LOUIS (July 21, 2013) — In the first of four essays delivered to the delegates and participants at the 65th Regular Convention of the LCMS, the Rev. William Cwirla, pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Hacienda Heights, Calif., described baptism as a “moment of salvation” in which “the infinite holy touches the finite unholy,” and “eternity breaks into the confines of time.”
Recounting the story of a strong-willed 3-year-old brought reluctantly to the baptismal font one Easter Vigil service, Cwirla reminded his shocked and silent congregation after the child screamed, “No!” through the baptismal questions that “the old Adam always goes out kicking and screaming.”
Baptism, Cwirla said, is a “forensic act of the Word. God speaks, and so it is. The Divine Coroner has signed your death certificate. Your birth certificate has already been registered in the heavenly city.”
But baptism is not a one-and-done event in the timeline of life. Lutherans say “I am baptized” rather than “I was baptized.” In baptism, we are called to repentance, a life of learning continually to see things God’s way through contrition and faith. In baptism, we are called to be priests, as Peter writes to the newly baptized in 1 Peter 2:9-10. As priests, we offer ourselves as “living sacrifices” (Rom. 12:1) through martyria (witness), diakonia (service), and koinonia (life together). And that living sacrifice won’t be easy, Cwirla said. “”As soon as the world catches wind of the Christ in your martyria, it will want to crucify you, too. ‘The world will hate you because of me,’ Jesus warned his disciples.”
Baptism, Cwirla concluded, is a paradoxical moment — and we Lutherans love our paradoxes. A sinner is declared dead to sin, and a saint is declared alive to Christ. We are simul justus et peccator — simultaneously sinful and righteous. “Of the sinner, we can have no doubt — we can see it with our own eyes. Of the saint? We’ll have to take God at His Word on that, which is precisely the point,” Cwirla said.
Our Old Adam may be declared legally dead in the baptismal moment, but he’s a remarkably good swimmer who must be drowned daily, which is why we have constitutions and bylaws and Robert’s Rules of Order. “Nothing brings out the old recalcitrant ass quite like a live microphone on the convention floor,” Cwirla said to a chorus of laughter, referring to the Solid Declaration Article VI in the Formula of Concord, which states, “For the old Adam, like an unmanageable and recalcitrant ass, is still a part of baptized believers and must be coerced into the obedience of Christ…until the flesh of sin is put off entirely and man is completely renewed in the resurrection.”
During this convention and any time your convictions are challenged and your righteous indignation flares, Cwirla said, “That’s when you need to trace the sign of the holy cross and say to yourself, ‘I am baptized into Christ.’ ”
The 65th Regular Convention of the LCMS is meeting July 20-25 at the America’s Center Convention Complex under the theme “Baptized for This Moment.” Among convention participants are 1,175 clergy and lay voting delegates and 393 advisory delegates.