Elements and Baptism

The water in there, is it holy water? Occasionally I will get questions  like that about the water that we use for Baptism.

I was told a long time ago that the best answer to such questions is often a further question: Why do you want to know? The answer is possibly a nuanced a little differently depending on the intent of the original question. For example, if you want to know if the water is “holy” because you think it retains magical properties for killing vampires or making God do stuff for you – then you’ll get one answer. But if you are asking if the water in Baptism is special and distinct because it is being used in Baptism, then you’ll get a slightly different answer.

Luther’s Small Catechism, which we confessed this past Sunday at my daughter’s Baptism says this:

“What is Baptism?

Baptism is not just plain water, but it is the water included in God’s command and combined in God’s Word.

Which is that Word of God?

Christ our Lord says in the last chapter of Matthew, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

As Lutherans, we call the physical things that are a part of our sacraments “elements”. The “elements” of the Lord’s Supper are Bread and Wine. The element of Baptism is water. Unlike some other believers in Christ, we don’t believe those elements change. Scientifically, an element is something that is at its most basic level. You can’t break an element, like gold or hydrogen, down and get another element, and if you combine the element with something else, it doesn’t make that element less or different. Gold mixed with lead is just gold mixed with lead, it’s not Go-ad.  So the water of Baptism is always just water. I get it out of the tap in the kitchen.

But when you mix one hydrogen with two oxygens, then you get something – something that we call water. The hydrogen and the oxygen are still there, but their combination makes something important for our life – water. That is how Baptism is. It is the element of water mixed with the element of God’s Word. The water remains water and the Word remains Word, but put together in the command and promise of God, they make for a Baptism.

In a way, this is how you can think about the human being Baptized. When Taylor is Baptized this Sunday, he himself is going to be an element. He is not going to stop being Taylor. Likewise, when Christ enters Taylor by His grace in Baptism, Christ isn’t going to change and become something different. Rather, in the Baptism the two are going to be bonded together. Taylor remains Taylor, Christ remains Christ, but put together in the command and promise of God, they make for a Christian.

Of course in any chemical interaction that bonds two elements, you need energy. That is what Jesus Christ supplied for us on the cross – the energy needed to bond our elemental selves with His. He supplied all that we need so that we might be put together with Him in the waters of Baptism. Our deaths with His death, our lives with His life. When you remember your Baptism, remember this – you are you, and He is Christ, and in Baptism, you are a Christian.

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