A few years ago the wife of a Baptist pastor wrote to Christian News, asking why Lutherans baptize infants. In that letter she also said that it looked to her like Lutherans were teaching two ways of salvation, one for adults and another for infants. What follows is a reply to her letter.


Dear Mrs. XXXXX

Let me begin by pointing out that both Lutherans and Baptists believe that we are justified and saved by what Christ did, not by what we do. We are justified and saved by grace alone, through faith alone (Ephesians 2:8-9). Furthermore, just as we are brought to salvation by the grace of God alone, we are kept by the grace of God alone (1Peter 1:5). As Luther puts it in his Small Catechism, “The Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the one true faith”.

          However, if we are saved by grace alone through faith alone, and faith comes by hearing (Romans 10:17), that leaves us with a big question. What about infants? Can they be saved? Now it is important to realize that what we are dealing with here is an attempt to answer a theological question not explicitly answered by Scripture. “Luther freely admitted that infant baptism is neither explicitly commanded or explicitly mentioned in Scripture” (The Theology of Martin Luther, by Paul Althaus, page 361).          That being said, let us look at how both Lutherans and Baptists have attempted to answer that question.

          Romans 6:23, “The wages of sin is death,” is one of many passages that tell us that infants are sinners, for if they were not sinners they would not die. Likewise, the words, “The wicked are estranged from the womb” (Psalm 58:3), tell us that infants need to be saved. However, the words, “Allow little children to come to me, and do not forbid them: for of such is the kingdom of heaven,” indicate that the infant children of believers are saved (Matthew 19:14). At this point, the fact that one can only be saved through faith in Christ alone, and that faith itself is a gift of God’s grace, raises another question. Can infants believe? Lutherans find the answer to that question in Luke 1:44, “as soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy”. In other words, the joy on the part of John the Baptist was an indication of faith.

          Now, from these passages we learn that, 1- infants need to be saved, and can only be saved through faith in Christ, and 2- that God is able to give infants His gift of faith in Christ. Then, on the basis of Christ’s words, “Allow little children to come to me,” Lutherans allow little children to be brought to Christ in baptism, trusting in His promise, “of such is the kingdom of heaven”. Or, as the Augsburg Confession puts it, “Children, too, should be baptized, for in Baptism they are committed to God and become acceptable to Him. (Book of Concord, Tappert edition, page 33.)

          Lutherans, do not see infant baptism as a second way of salvation because they believe that both infants and adults are saved through faith in Christ alone. However, they do believe that infant baptism is a second way in which God gives people His gift of faith. Now, in understanding this, I believe that it is important to realize that the Bible nowhere explicitly says that God will give the gift of faith to an infant simply because it is baptized, that is being assumed. For that reason, the promise of forgiveness in Christ that is connected with baptism should never be construed as joining “to the water a spiritual power which, through the water, washes away sin.” (Smalcald Articles, Tappert edition, page 310.)


          Now, let us look at how Baptists deal with the question of infant salvation. While there are differences among Baptists, it is generally assumed that infants do not need to be saved. Because of this view, Lutherans see Baptists as teaching two ways of salvation – adults, through faith in Christ, infants without faith in Christ. Since Baptists usually hold that this is true for all infants, including the children of the heathen, Lutherans see Baptists as teaching that all of the people in hell were once saved (because they were under the age of accountability) but lost that salvation. Lutherans reject that view because the words, “If there had been a law given that could have given life, righteousness truly would have been by the law,” tell us that if it was possible for anyone to be saved without faith in Christ, God would have never sent Christ to the cross (Galatians 3:21).


Christ’s servant

Gary Ray Branscome