By Cheryl Magness
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR) met Nov. 29–Dec. 1 in St. Louis. At its meeting, the CTCR approved a new report, An Inexpressible Treasure: The Theology and Practice of Holy Baptism.
While the CTCR has produced several reports on the Lord’s Supper over the years in response to requests from the Synod (and a recent report on Confession and Absolution), it has not been asked — until recently — to prepare a report on Baptism.
In 2013, however, the LCMS national convention adopted Res. 4-08A, “To Provide Responsible Pastoral Care with Regard to Practices Surrounding Holy Baptism.”
The “Whereas” portion of the resolution noted, in part, that:
- “Christ our Lord has given us the baptismal formula, commanding us to baptize ‘in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’ (Matt. 28:19–20).”
- “The custom of changing these words and using other words in baptizing has been accepted in other church bodies.”
- “A change in the wording of the Trinitarian formula introduces doubt in the hearts of both the one who has received such a baptism and The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) pastor as well as the congregation that the person wishes to join.”
The “Resolved” portion of the resolution calls for:
- LCMS congregations to “faithfully confess and retain the Trinitarian formula in baptizing with water and refrain from changing these words and making use of other words in the baptismal formula”;
- the CTCR to provide a study that “sets forth the scriptural and confessional teaching on this great sacrament of Christian rebirth” and to offer “guidance to pastors and congregations regarding proper baptismal practices”; and
- the LCMS Council of Presidents to inform pastors and congregations of the “evolving baptismal practices of other denominations” so that new members are “examined and cared for in a most loving and pastoral manner.”
The Baptism report has four parts.
Part 1, “Baptism and the Story of Jesus,” aims to show how the importance of Baptism for the Christian “flows out of the life of Christ.” The focus here is on how the Gospels and the Book of Acts connect Baptism to the true and life-changing story of Jesus.
Part 2, “Baptism: A New Beginning,” explores “the various ways in which the Bible expresses the benefits of Baptism,” focusing particularly on the letters of the New Testament.
Part 3, “The Gifts and Benefits of Baptism,” moves from exploring the biblical material to focusing on how that material is expressed in Martin Luther’s Small Catechism.
Part 4, “The Baptismal Commission,” highlights the essential elements of a Christian Baptism as well as elements that are not essential but “useful and beneficial for teaching.”
A final section of the report, the “Addendum,” addresses additional questions about the theology and practice of Baptism, such as:
“Are infants or people who have mental or emotional limitations capable of believing the promises of Baptism?” and “What if the baby of Christian parents dies before it is baptized?”
In a Feb. 14 letter recommending the new CTCR report, LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison said that it will serve “as a great witness to Christ and to Holy Baptism” and that “such clear and biblical teaching on Baptism is cause for the humblest thanks and joy.”
CTCR Executive Director Rev. Dr. Joel Lehenbauer notes, “In the Large Catechism, Martin Luther calls Baptism ‘an inexpressible treasure,’ ‘a treasure that God gives us and faith grasps,’ ‘a treasure and medicine that swallows death.’
“The commission’s hope and prayer is that this new report will deepen our appreciation of this great gift and treasure of God and — despite the countless struggles we face as sinners in a broken world — that it would help each of us to recognize and claim anew the daily comfort, courage and confidence that come from knowing and confessing: ‘I am baptized into Christ.’”Recommendation Letter with CTCR Report
Other newly available documents from the CTCR are:
- a discussion guide and Bible study to accompany the 2018 CTCR report, The Royal Priesthood: Identity and Mission, and
- a Spanish-language version of the Bible study for the 2012 CTCR report, Immigrants Among Us: A Lutheran Framework for Addressing Immigration Issues.
Visit lcms.org/ctcr for downloadable CTCR publications.
Published Feb. 20, 2019