Luther on Baptism
Most Protestants and “Bible only” Christians deny the necessity of Baptism for salvation. Interestingly this is not what Martin Luther taught. On his sermon on Baptism he said (English translation from Luther’s Works, Vol. 51 : Sermons I. Philadelphia : Fortress Press, 1999, c1959 (Luther’s Works 51), S. 51:III-188):
Baptism is recorded in the last chapter of Mark: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16). Even if a person is baptized but is without faith, he is lost. But we shall at this time omit discussion of that which serves us in disputation and controversy with the adversaries. In connection with baptism the words themselves, which are recorded here, must be understood. These every person must know. In the first place, note the command of God, which is very stern when he says: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). This is a strict command; if a person wants to be saved, let him be baptized; otherwise he is in God’s disfavor.
Luther also explained why water used in Baptism is not the same as ordinary water we use:
Say, therefore, that baptism is water and God’s Word comprehended in one. Take the Word away and it is the same water with which the maid waters the cow; but with the Word, it is a living, holy, divine water. He who considers the words: “will be saved” (Mark 16:16) will find it [salvation]; for with his words, “will be saved,” Christ puts salvation into baptism. Therefore it is impossible that this should be simple water when through it salvation, forgiveness of sins, and redemption from death and the devil is given.
Against those who denied the necessity of Baptism he further wrote:
But nobody believes what an excellent thing is in these words. The fanatics laugh at us and say: You neo-papists teach the people to trust in water. But when I ask them: What do you say about these words, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved”? they flutter away. So you say to them: We do not teach that one should trust in water, but we do teach that the water, when it becomes one thing with God’s Word, is baptism. The water does not do it because of itself, but rather because of the Word, which is connected with it. But if you take away the Word, then don’t go telling us that baptism is useless water. Then it is a figment of the devil, who is seeking to sow bad seed among us. You hear your Savior say: If you believe and are baptized, then salvation follows, not because of the water, but because you believe the Word. It is not for nothing that I insist so emphatically that you say that baptism is natural, physical water connected with the Word of God. When these two come together, water and the Word of God, then it is a baptism.
On the benefit of Baptism Luther wrote:
Furthermore, the benefit of baptism must also be learned. If baptism is water with the Word of God, what is its purpose, work, fruit, and benefit? It saves those who believe, as the words say. A child is baptized, not in order that it may become a prince; it is baptized in order that it may be saved, as the words say, that is, in order that it may be redeemed from sin, death, and the devil, that it may become a member of Christ, and that it may come into Christ’s kingdom and Christ become its Lord. Accordingly, baptism is useful to the end that through it we may be saved. There you have the transcendent excellence of baptism. The first honor is that it is a divine water, and when you see a baptism remember that the heavens are opened. The fruit is that it saves, redeems you from sin, liberates you from the devil, and leads you to Christ. The fanatics insist that one must first become holy. But I am not contending with them now, but teaching the simple.