Ask The Pastor

This page is a collection of questions and answers that we have discussed in different Bible classes in the past. The questions and answers are not arranged in any particular order. At the very top of the page you will find a list of questions. Below that list you will find each question and the answer. If you are looking for a particular question, we recommend that you use a word search of this page using the "control" + "F" keys. 

 

List of Questions

1. Why Do Lutherans Baptize Infants?
2. Will A Person Who Commits Suicide Have Eternal Life?
3. What Is the Descent Into Hell?


 

Questions and Answers

1. Why Do Lutherans Baptize Infants?

The Bible always speaks of Baptism in miraculous, spiritual terms. Baptism is not just a symbol of faith, it is a miracle that gives the gift of faith and helps to sustain faith. Baptism is like an exorcism. It is the power of God to overcome evil in His name. Baptism is always accompanied by the teaching of God's word... "Go 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 everything I have commanded you" (Matthew 28.19). But it is not the same as teaching. It is not just knowledge; it is the power of God's grace.

Baptism joins us to Christ. Galatians 3.27 "For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ."

Baptism saves us. 1 Peter 3.21 "Baptism, which corresponds to this*, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus." *Noah was saved by the water of the Flood from the violence of unbelievers.

Baptism is a washing of regeneration. Titus 3.5 "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit."

People sometimes ask, "How can an infant have faith?" That is a good question. We would also ask, "How can an adult have faith?" Many people mistakenly think that faith is something they have accomplished on their own - a commitment or decision they have made. They know that infants aren't able to do that, so they assume that infants don't have faith. But is this what the Bible teaches about faith? St. John specifically tells us that we are "born again" not by the "will of man but by God" (John 1.13). The Bible never speaks of adults making decisions for Christ for their salvation. It always speaks of their faith and salvation as the work of God. So Luke tells us in the case of the disicple Lydia, "The Lord opened her heart to believe" (Acts 16.14). Jesus also clearly said, "Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it" (Mark 10.15). So faith is a gift (Ephesians 3.8). As our faith grows and as we are able to profess that faith we certainly affirm that faith with our commitments. These commitments are not the cause of our faith but the results of it. So children who are baptized need to be taught the word of God and encourage to confess that faith in their life.

From the beginning of New Testament Christianity at Pentecost to our time, unbroken and uninterrupted, the Church has baptized babies. Polycarp (69-155 AD), a disciple of the Apostle John, was baptized as an infant. Justin Martyr (100-166 AD) of the next generation, about the year 150 AD, states in his Dialog with Trypho The Jew that Baptism is the circumcision of the New Testament. Irenaeus (130-200 AD) writes in Against Heresies II 22:4 that Jesus came to save all through means of Himself -- "all, I say, who through Him are born again to God – infants and children, boys and youth, and old men." Similar expressions are found in succeeding generations by Origen (185-254 AD) and Cyprian (215-258 AD), and at the Council of Carthage in 254 where the 66 bishops stated: "We ought not hinder any person from Baptism and the grace of God....especially infants....those newly born." Origen wrote in his Commentary on Romans 5:9: "For this also it was that the Church had from the Apostles a tradition to give baptism even to infants." Origen also wrote in his Homily on Luke 14: "Infants are to be baptized for the remission of sins." Cyprian's reply to a bishop who wrote to him regarding the baptism of infants stated: "Should we wait until the 8th day as did the Jews in the circumcision? No, the child should be baptized as soon as it is born." Augustine (354-430 AD) wrote in De Genesi Ad Literam, 10:39 declared, "The custom of our mother Church in baptizing infants must not be counted needless, nor believed to be other than a tradition of the Apostles." Augustine further states: "...the whole Church which hastens to baptize infants, because it unhesitatingly believes that otherwise they cannot possibly be vivified in Christ. In 517 AD, 10 rules of discipline were framed for the Church in Spain. The fifth rule states that "...in case infants were ill...if they were offered, to baptize them, even though it were the day that they were born...such was to be done."

So we baptize children in the power of the promises of God. We take comfort in the fact that Jesus specifically said "of such is the kingdom of God" when people were bringing infants to him (Luke 18.15-17). 

2. Will a Person Who Commits Suicide Have Eternal Life?

All of us will die in sin in some way or another because we are constantly sinning (1 John 1.8). We live by grace (1 John 1.9). A boy once asked this question in a confirmation class. He didn't think that anyone who committed suicide would have eternal life because they died in unrepentant sin. He said this while he was leaning back in a folding chair. The day before I had told the class not to lean back in their chairs. So I asked him what he thought might happen if while leaning back, the chair suddenly slipped and he cracked his head on the concrete floor. We took him to the ER, but he died. He died without repenting of disobeying his teacher. Does he go to hell? Answer: No. People go to hell not because they failed to repent of one last sin. They go to hell because they have turned against God, and they quit repenting of sins altogether. 

In the case of a suicide it's not always easy to tell whether a person has true faith. Have they turned against God and hardened their heart against Him? They probably have if a lot of time has passed since they listened to God's word or showed any faith - and if they've spurned all efforts on the part of their pastor or family to bring them closer to Christ. Suicide in that case is probably the result of unbelief. It is probably a last defiant renunciation of God. In that case there is no hope. But suicide can also be the result of mental illness. Sometimes people commit suicide struggling in their faith. It is very unfortunate that they often keep this struggle to themselves. In the case of a Christian who worships, or is remorseful when they don't, and when they do not renounce their faith before suicide - I think we can trust such promises as "Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8.28) still hold for them. Martin Luther once said that in this case the person was really murdered by Satan who tormented them in their minds and drove them to suicide. Notice that in this paragraph I've used the word "probably" a few times. There are always gray areas between the two positions that I've described. Suicide always leaves us with question marks. That is why it is always important to stress that suicide is not God's will at all. Anyone who has any thoughts about suicide should talk about it with a good Christian friend, counselor or pastor. Pastor Michael Walther

3. What About the "Descent Into Hell"?

The Apostles' Creed is a very ancient confession of faith that was used to teach the Gospel to those who were being baptized. It captures all the basic teachings of the Gospel including creation, salvation, and sanctification. In the second part the creed says that Jesus "descended into hell." This phrase is based on 1 Peter 3.18-19: "For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison..."  Another similar verse is found in Ephesians 4.9-10: "Now this 'He ascended' - what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things."

The phrase "He descended in hell" is simply a description of a very important part of Jesus victory over sin, death and the devil. He didn't go to the "spirits in prison" (hell) in order to suffer but to preach. He went to show the completeness of His victory. Humans try to subdue evil but are never able to do so completely. When two U.S. presidents visited Bagdad after the Iraq war, they both had to enter and depart stealthily. Whenever presidents, the most powerful people in the world travel, they are always surrounded by heavy security. This is because they haven't really overcome evil. They are still vulnerable. Christ's descent into hell shows that He is not vulnerable. He has nothing to fear and needs no security. He can go to hell itself and proclaim His victory. 

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, one of the greatest Baptist preachers, said in one of his sermons: "God determined that Christ should be born of the Virgin Mary, that He should suffer under Pontius Pilate, that He should descend into hades, that thence He should rise again, leading captivity captive, and then should reign forever and ever at the right hand of the Majesty on high" ("The Death of Christ," January 14, 1858, the Music Hall, Royal Surrey Gardens). 

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