When Does Faith Begin? Lutheranism’s “Lonely Way” on Baptism
When would you say that faith begins, on the basis of which we should venture to baptize? Perhaps at the present age of confirmation? Or in little children when they can confess with the mouth, as Thomas Muenzer of old would have it? Why, it would be the equivalent of turning the miracle wrought by the Holy Spirit into a psychologically perceptible fact, if any attempt were made here to fix a time-limit for the working of the Spirit. Here, too, Luther goes his lonely way between Rome with its hierarchical, and the enthusiasts with their psychological sanctions—the lonely way of the Reformer who heeds only the Word and God and trusts that this Word can do all things, even the humanly impossible. In this way, and only in this way, has Luther and the Lutheran Church after him been able to hold both the objectivity of the sacrament and the sola fide, not forgetting that justifying faith is not a matter of a single moment but the content of an entire human life. For this faith certainly is not the individual act of surrender to God, consciously felt and experienced at certain moments of our life, but it is the continuing trust—though overshadowed again and again—in the Gospel promise of grace; just as repentance according to the evangelical conception is not a single act but something that goes on continually throughout our life. So too our baptism is not a finished act, but it goes with us throughout our life. To be a Christian does not mean simply to have been baptized sometime in the past, but it means to live in the power of Baptism and to return to it again and again. As is well known, the Small Catechism answers the question: “What does such baptizing with water signify?” by saying:
It signifies that the old Adam in us, by daily contrition and repentance should be drowned and die, with all sins and evil lusts, and that a new man daily come forth and arise, who shall live in righteousness and purity before God forever.
Just as we who are sinners and righteous at the same time live by daily contrition and repentance and by daily forgiveness of sins, so too our dying and rising again with Christ, that real though incomprehensible anticipation of an eschatological event which takes place in Baptism, is something that determines our entire life. This, over against Rome and against the enthusiasts, was Luther’s understanding of Baptism and of the faith that accepts Baptism. We embrace it not only at one given moment, whether it be at the moment we are baptized, or at the moment of confirmation, or any other given moment of our life that might be named, but we embrace it or should embrace it throughout our entire life, every day anew. This is the reason why Luther recognized no additional sacrament to supplement Baptism, whether it be confirmation or repentance, which would be anything else but a return to Baptism.
Sasse, Letters to Lutheran Pastors, IV