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What is the Justification for Lay Baptism

What is the Justification for Lay Baptism

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Published by pastorcurtis
A Lutheran justification for the validity of Lay Baptism.
A Lutheran justification for the validity of Lay Baptism.

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Categories:Types, Research, History
Published by: pastorcurtis on Apr 12, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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 Lay Baptsim,
1There is No Such Thing as Lay BaptismHeath R. CurtisPastor, Trinity and Zion Lutheran Churches, Worden & Carpenter, IL
By what authority does a layperson baptize? Or, for that matter, by what authority does a pastor baptize? What makes for a “valid” or “real” baptism at all? The practical importance of these questions will not be lost on any parish pastor of some experience. People who learn thattheir grandma baptized them secretly when they were infants, and who were then later baptizedin the church, are curious about which baptism was “real.” Furthermore, recent years havewitnessed a not insignificant number of Lutheran pastors leave our confession for the EasternOrthodox Church, in which there is a strong stream of theological thought which would deny thereality of any baptism performed outside that communion.This paper takes lay baptism as a convenient entry point into these questions and begins by examining the justifications for “lay baptism” given in Western Christianity. The title of this paper is not meant to indicate that I will be arguing against the validity or reality
of what iscommonly called lay baptism. It is not my claim that a person is not really baptized when a lay person applies water to him in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.Rather, what I mean by saying that there is no such thing as a lay baptism is that a baptismadministered by a lay person is not valid by virtue of the administrator's status as a lay person. Iwill be arguing in favor of baptisms administered by lay people, but not on the basis of theadministrator's laity. Indeed, I will be arguing for the validity of baptisms performed by Jews,Muslims, atheists, and anyone at all.
1I will be using the terms
interchangeably in reference to Baptism. With either term, I mean toindicate that a given application of water to a person in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the HolySpirit is in fact the sacrament that Jesus instituted.
 Lay Baptsim,
1.0 Three Answers and Their Strengths and Shortcomings
In this first section, we will examine three answers to the question “By what authority cana lay person baptize?” one each provided by the Roman Catechism, traditional Calvinism, andMissouri Synod resources. I will argue that all these answers are deficient, each in a differentway. When they are examined for both their weaknesses and their strengths, a solution presentsitself which clarifies not only the doctrine of baptism, but of the Sacraments in general, as wellas the having something to say concerning the Church and the Office of the Ministry.
1.1 The Missouri Synod's Answer
It is a common saying that individual Lutherans live out their faith through three books:the Bible, the Catechism, and the Hymnal. Two
of these books directly discuss lay baptism.First, from the catechism:“247. Through whom does the Church administer Baptism? The Church administersBaptism through the called ministers of Christ; but in cases of emergency and in theabsence of the pastor, any Christian should baptize.” (1943 Explanation)“243. Who is to baptize? Normally the called ministers of Christ are to baptize, but incases of emergency and when no pastor is available, any Christian should baptize.”(1991 Explanation)At first glance, the 1943 and 1991 editions of the synodical explanation differ greatly onthe question of “who baptizes.” In the earlier work, it appears that the Church is the trueadministrator of all baptisms and that she normally performs these baptisms through the medialagency of the called ministers of Christ; but that in certain circumstances, any Christian shouldconsider himself or herself to be called upon by the Church to serve as her agent. In the later edition, it is either the ministers of Christ or Christians who actually do the baptizing without any
2To my knowledge, neither the
 Book of Concord,
nor any of significant Lutheran theologian claims that Philip,who baptized the Ethiopian in Acts 8, was a lay person. Rather, Lutherans have agreed with the history of interpretation in understanding Philip's act of Baptism as proof that he was indeed in the Office of the Ministry.(need quotes)
 Lay Baptsim,
3mention of the ultimate agency of the Church.While this is indeed a significant difference which will be discussed below, there is adeeper unity between the two answers: in the absence of a pastor 
should baptize. Thisis echoed in the hymnals of the Missouri Synod (TLH, LW, LSB) which all state that “anyChristian may administer” baptism in a case of emergency in the absence of the pastor. Whether the modal particle is may or should, both agree in assuming
). For the synodicalcatechisms and the synodical hymnals, a person can baptize if he or she is a Christian.That this is the correct interpretation of these instructions provided for the laity isconfirmed by F. Pieper's comments in
Christian Dogmatics,
Like all spiritual gifts the means of grace, including Baptism, are given by God directlyto the believers, all Christians. The believers do not get them from the pastors, but viceversa. Pastors administer Baptism in their public office only as the called servants(
) of the believers. If the public servants are not available, every Christian hasthe right, yea, is in duty bound, to administer Baptism. Our St. Louis hymnal thereforecontains several formularies (longer and shorter) for a so-called “lay baptism.”
For Pieper, a lay person baptizes because he or she has been given all the means of grace – andevidently also the authority to administer them, which is not self-evidently the same thing – directly by God by virtue of being a believer. Thus, a Christian, a member of the Church, a person with
may baptize. Pastors simply baptize on behalf of lay people who have faith.Thus it appears that Pieper primarily sees pastors baptizing as an expedient for the sake of goodorder.
1.1.2 The Great Problem with Missouri's Answer
But what if the lay person who baptized me was not a Christian? What if there are seriousdoubts about the faith of the midwife or grandma who pour water on my head and said, “I baptize thee. . .”? Would I be truly baptized if the person who baptized me was not truly aChristian? This question is familiar to Lutherans when it comes to baptisms administered by
3F. Pieper,
Christian Dogmatics, vol III.
(St. Louis: CPH, 1953) 279.

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