The External Promise

A young man came to see me who had been raised in the Lutheran Church but was now active in a non-denominational community.

He had come on a mission to repudiate his baptism as an infant. I expressed my happiness at his new-found enthusiasm for Jesus and suggested that there might be another way to think about this.

I suggested that we were looking at a question that ran in two directions. Does baptism necessarily lead us to think primarily about ourselves or about God? Does Christian religious experience take us outside of ourselves or send us into ourselves?  

The experience of God leads not into an interior experience of the self but to a comprehension of God who comes to us in the external word of promise. The Lutheran response to the God who comes to us in His grace is not to write an autobiography but to point beyond and outside ourselves to God. It is not my perceived experience of God that is decisive. What is decisive is God’s word of promise to me and for me.

Baptism as an infant was never meant to underline your experience of God but to point to God being for you. It began a God-initiated life and dialogue. His feeling that something was perhaps lacking in his experience as a Christian was simply an expression of the human side of that dialog with God. For in our experience of living we more often than not keenly feel the depth of our need, perhaps even God’s absence. The faithful response at such times, however, is not to look inward but to move away from self-consciousness toward your baptism. For Baptism is a gracious reminder that you are God’s adopted child. Baptism is an ongoing promise-event. Baptism declares that your life moves in and with Christ Jesus in a never-ending dialogue where the wavering and wandering words and feelings of your quite unreliable experience are always answered by the utterly reliable Word of God’s grace.

Published by Pastor Mark Anderson

Lutheran pastor, husband, dad, archaeology nut, serious blues guitarist and aspiring luthier.

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