National Lutheran News

A resurgence of interest in baptism by immersion

Dunk, dunk, dunk in the water

Baptism by immersion may be creeping up on some 21st century Lutherans
since there has been little fanfare to accompany its prominence in Evangelical
Lutheran Worship (ELW), the new Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
(ELCA) book of worship.

An informal survey of ELCA synod offices and the district office of the
Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) indicated no statistics maintained
on immersion baptisms or churches that have facilities for immersion. Some
people contacted assumed immersion applied only to adults. Even some
pastors were surprised by the prominence given to immersion in the new
Evangelical Lutheran Worship liturgy.

On page 230 in ELW, under “Holy Baptism,” the rubric or red text reads: “The
presiding minister baptizes each candidate. The candidate is immersed into
the water, OR water is poured on the candidate’s head….” (Immersion is not
listed second.)

From the Journal of Biblical Literature: “Immersion into water as a
participation in the death of Jesus and the emerging from it as participation,
either now or guaranteed for the future, in the resurrection of Christ was
apparently a widespread motif in Hellenistic Christianity….Christian
baptismal practice in the early centuries normally involved the actual
stripping off of the clothes of the candidate before immersion and the robing
in a white garment after he had emerged from the water.”

Dr. Martin Luther wrote: “Although in many places it is no longer customary
to thrust and dip infants into the font, but only with the hand to pour the
baptismal water upon them out of the font, nevertheless the former is what
should be done.”

A limited number of Lutheran churches in the metro area are actually
equipped to perform immersion baptisms of either infants or adults. What is
the experience of some congregations that have baptismal fonts large
enough for immersion?

Pastor Hans Lee of Our Savior’s Lutheran Church (ELCA), 2315 Chicago
Avenue, Minneapolis, says, “We’re open to the interest expressed by the
family.” His congregation’s newer church building has a large font at the
entrance to the sanctuary. The font would accommodate a child up to about
18 months. “We’ve just had one immersion in eight years, and that was for a
family from Norway that wanted to honor the tradition of their home church
in Norway.”

At North Heights Lutheran Church in Arden Hills, there’s a large-scale
baptistery that will accommodate three adults with a small font at the side for
infant baptisms. Pastor Mark Herringshaw, teaching pastor at the church,
says that baptistery is used for adult converts as well as confirmation
students who have not been baptized previously. “We do not re-baptize,” the
pastor emphasized. That congregation, which has mutliple worship sites,
does immersion baptisms in lakes and swimming pools in season.

Normandale Lutheran Church (ELCA) in Edina has had a 50-gallon font since
its sanctuary was renovated several years ago and does infant immersion
baptisms. Senior Pastor David Holm had this to say about theology as well as
Normandale Church’s considerations in installing its large baptistery:

“Today we do not always live with strong symbols and signs basic to our life
together as the body of Christ. A significant baptismal font creates a
permanent visual imprint on our memory. This is not about building ‘water-
theme-park’ baptisteries but providing a sign of the radical nature of the
Easter bath, which is the drowning of sin and being raised to be a new
creation in Jesus Christ.

“This is a modest proposal that every congregation see baptism as the central
event in the life of every Christian, and entertain renewing the baptistery to
reflect baptism’s significance.

“In our suspicion of fonts or pools that reflect other Christian traditions, we
continue to hold onto a thimble-sized institutionalized, reduction of the sign
to serve our need for the convenient and practical.

“When we addressed the creation of a baptistery for Normandale, we asked
that the following design points be taken into consideration:

* A commodious font capable of containing at least 50 gallons of water.

* The ability to heat the water for baptisms.

* Living, circulating water to give us the joy the sound that water makes in
worship. “Baptize, in the name of the Father, Son, and of the Holy Spirit in
running water….“(Didache)

* An octagonal shape to symbolize that Easter is the eighth day of creation.

* The ability to move the font to the narthex or floor of the nave as well as
being present in the chancel.”

In conclusion Pastor Holm asked, “How does our font and baptistery reflect
the fullness of the sign and the radical nature of the sacrament for the life of
the people of God?”

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were
baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him by baptism
into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the
Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:3-4)