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  • Writer's pictureRev. Chris Brademeyer

Why Do We Need Baptism?

A Catechetical Sermon on Baptism

The Fifth Wednesday of Lent, 3/13/2024

1 Peter 3:18-22 & Matthew 28:16-20

Rev. Christopher W. Brademeyer


In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


                Baptism is a much-debated topic in Christendom these days. And, sadly, it is not a new debate. There have been rather vigorous discussions about the Sacrament of Baptism since at least the Reformation in the 16th Century. What is Baptism? What does it do? How should it be done? Many people have given many different opinions on these matters. Some are learned, based in the Scriptures. Others are pure nonsense, born of human conjecture. So how does one navigate this landscape? How should you know if I am to be trusted on these matters rather than someone else? As with all other teachings of the Christian Church, we must cut through all the fluff and debate and get right to the heart of the matter and consult with God’s own Word, the holy Scriptures. Why do we do this? Because the Scriptures are God’s own teachings and instructions, given for us. Where should we look? In order to make sense of Baptism one must look at the things that the Scriptures say about Baptism I know that this seems obvious, but so often in discussing the matter of holy Baptism, we get led astray and look elsewhere in the Bible than in those places that directly deal with Baptism.

                Consequently, tonight we will try to use the Scriptures to answer those three questions I opened with: what is Baptism? What does it do? And how should it be done?

                In order to address the issue of what a Baptism is, we must look to where Baptism is established. That is to say, we must first look at the instructions given by our Lord Jesus when He established Baptism for us. Our Lord says in Matthew 28:19-20, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.””[1]

                This command teaches us the “what” of Baptism. The Lord tells us that disciples are made by baptizing them and teaching them, showing that Baptism is no mere ritual. Instead, our Lord connects it with how Christians become Christians, showing that it gives divine grace and the gift of faith as one cannot be a Christian without believing in Jesus.[2] Further, our Lord wants Baptism to come with teaching of the Christian doctrine, that is, teaching the contents of the Holy Scriptures so that we would know everything that has been commanded by the Lord. One cannot claim to know Christ without knowing what He has said, so our Lord wishes us to receive and know His teachings and words and thereby to know about His work in saving us. These teachings are for the Baptized and the Baptized should receive them gladly.

                You may recall that Martin Luther famously stated in the Small Catechism that Baptism is “water and God’s Word.” In English, this may not be immediately obvious. In Greek, however, Luther’s definition becomes very clear. Baptism, the Greek term here used as a verb, means “to wash.” It often means to wash by dipping or submerging, but in its main usage, it simply means to be washed with water. Since this is what the word means, it was not necessary for our Lord Jesus to further elaborate, the command was perfectly clear to the eleven disciples who were gathered to receive it.

                There are some who would argue for a spiritual baptism apart from water and the Word commanded here by Jesus. These people claim that there is an outpouring of the Holy Spirit that is a waterless baptism. This phrase is nonsense on its face. Baptism, the word, means to be washed with water. Claiming that there is a separate baptism apart from the one Jesus commands here is an early 20th century innovation, not an Apostolic practice.

                This Baptism is to be done in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. This is because this washing enters us into the saving reality that marks us as one of God’s own people. Elsewhere in Scripture, we are told that we are adopted as sons and heirs of God.[3] To be adopted means that you have been given a family name that is not yours by birth. This is what happens in Baptism, which is why many people have said that Baptism is an adoption into a new family. The name used in Baptism is very important because it ties you to a new reality. If another name is used, then that reality is not the one Christ commands and gives in establishing this sacrament.

                What Baptism does for us is easy to see once one knows what it is. Baptism is a washing of regeneration and renewal.[4] This washing saves us by giving us the salvation of Christ. For this reason we call Baptism a means of grace and a sacrament because it is a vehicle that God, our Lord Jesus Christ, has established to convey to us His forgiveness and mercy in a tangible way so that we would have confidence and certainty in what God gives. Baptism also is the means by which God grants us new birth of water and the Spirit.[5] Even more than this, Baptism unites us to the death of our Lord Jesus Christ so that we can be raised from the dead unto eternal life.[6] In other words, Baptism gives us every blessing of salvation and ensures that these blessings are ours. And not only does it give us these things, it does so in a way that makes sure that we know it. Great comfort comes from knowing Baptism and seeing the teaching of the Scriptures about its benefits.

                The matter of how to do a Baptism is relatively straightforward. For symbolic reasons, the Christian Church has often desired to completely immerse a person being baptized, to remind all those present of how Baptism unites us to the death of Christ just like St. Paul notes in Romans 6. But the essential thing in Baptism is the Word of God which makes the water used in it a secondary thing. Water must be used, but as the command simply tells us to wash a person, the amount or manner in which it is given is not important, only that it is there. Baptism is baptism, no matter how much or how little water is used.

                One final thing is to note that just as there is one Lord and one Faith, so too there is only one Baptism.[7] This means that there are no other Baptisms given than the one Christ established. Further, it means that Baptism is not reproducible. A person is to be baptized once and, in that Baptism, receives all the blessings promised by God.

                Baptism is God’s Word and water administered by Christ’s command. It gives forgiveness and new life. And it is to be done once by applying water and the Word of God so that people would be brought to Christ in His forgiveness and mercy by His command.


In the holy Name of + Jesus. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

[1] English Standard Version. All other quotations from the Bible, unless specified, are from the ESV.

[2] Acts 16:31

[3] Romans 8:17

[4] Titus 3:4-7

[5] John 3:5-8

[6] Romans 6:1-5

[7] Ephesians 4:4-6

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