Martin Luther on Baptismal Regeneration

In recent discussions on baptismal regeneration, a wholly unProtestant view, it seems, I mentioned Luther in an unrelated point (he was 34 when he challenged all of Rome, and my accuser stated that I simply could not say anything because my age, which is barely three years from Luther). Luther it seems, contrary to popular opinion, supported a notion of baptismal regeneration.

Below are a few quotes – meant to start a discussion:

In his commentary on Romans, Luther wrote concerning Romans 6:3, as follows: “We are not found in a state of perfection as soon as we have been baptized into Jesus Christ and His death. Having been baptized into His death, we merely strive to obtain (the blessings of) this death and to reach our goal of glory. Just so, when we are baptized into everlasting life and the kingdom of heaven, we do not at once fully possess its full wealth (of blessings). We have merely taken the first steps to seek after eternal life. Baptism has been instituted that it should lead us to the blessings (of this death) and through such death to eternal life. Therefore it is necessary that we should be baptized into Jesus Christ and His death.” (Commentary On The Epistle To The Romans, By Martin Luther, translated by J. Theodore Mueller, page 85).

“This is diligently to be noted, because of the fond and fantastical spirits, which go about to deface the majesty of baptism and speak wickedly of it. Paul contrariwise commendeth and setteth it forth with honourable titles, calling it ‘washing of the new birth, the renewing of the Holy Ghost.’ (Tit. iii.) And here also he saith, that all they which are baptized have put on Christ. As if he said, Ye are carried out of the law into a new birth, which is wrought in baptism. Therefore ye are not now any longer under the law, but ye are clothed with a new garment; to wit, with the righteousness of Christ. Wherefore baptism is a thing of great force and efficacy. Now, when we are apparelled with Christ, as with the robe of our righteousness and salvation, then we must put on Christ also as the apparel of imitation and example. These things I have handled more largely in another place, therefore I here briefly pass them over.” (Emphasis ours.) (This quote from Luther was taken from the unabridged: “A Commentary on Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians.” Robert Carter Publishers, N.Y., N.Y. 1848, pas. 346-347).

“To put it most simply, the power, effect, benefit, fruit, and purpose of Baptism is to save. No one is baptized in order to become a prince, but as the words say, to ‘be saved.’ To be saved, we know, is nothing else than to be delivered from sin, death, and the devil and to enter into the kingdom of Christ and live with him forever.” — Martin Luther (Quoted from The Large Catechism)

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38 Replies to “Martin Luther on Baptismal Regeneration”

  1. Joel,
    Indeed Luther is one those people that many, if not most, modern or todays Christians don’t read. And sadly, this includes many Lutherans. But some of the the English Methodists (20th century) have written some of the best works on Luther and his theology.  Perhaps my favorite is, Let God be God, An Interpretation of the Theology of Martin Luther, by Philip S. Watson, one time Principal and Tutor in Systematic Theology at Wesley House, Cambridge. Also there was Gordon Rupp, also from Cambridge, just one of his books: The Righteousness Of God, Luther Studies. Though these works are from 1940’s to the 50’s, they are still very good historical and theological scholarship. Today, there are many more. Perhaps David Steinmetz (American) to Alister E. McGrath (English) again are my favorites today.  Not to mention even a few Roman Catholic writers, Daniel Olivier’s Luther’ Faith. But perhaps another favorite, Walther von Loewenich’s,  Luther’s Theology of the Cross (English, 1976).

    Finally, both Luther’s Christology and his basic doctrine of baptism are still Catholic. And it should be remembered that Luther, once an Augustinian monk, was always something of a conservative Augustinian in his theology. This is certain history. And one should never forget Luther’s early Catholic mentor, Fr. John Staupitz, also Augustinian monk.
    Fr. R.

  2. Joel,
    Yes, in many ways Luther was always a Catholic, but can I say the best perhaps of what Roman Catholicism can give in at least Luther’s Christology? This would be my view at least. Though as you know I “now” personally have returned to a Reformed position on baptism. I had taken a Anglo-Catholic view and position for several years. But, back to the Reformed position…Thirty-Nine Articles, etc., and to Peter Martyr Vermigli, and John Calvin (on baptism and sacraments).
    Fr. R.

  3. PS..Yes, as to certain Lutherans, they would be very near Rome on baptism. But there are others (Lutheran) that are more classic Evangelical, at least in the UK. A guess a mixed bag? And I have met some American Lutherans, liberal to conservative.
    Fr. R.

  4. Joel,
    Well the Reformation started with Luther, he was the first so-called man involved, or the main man. Calvin is of the second generation of the reformation, and thus what was and is called the Reformed. But we must not forget the Lollards of England, the Hussites in Bohemia, and the Waldenses in the Alps, just before also. But yes Martin Luther was the catalyst of the Reformation! But both Calvin and Zwingli are considered as the first Reformed theologians. We should not forget Melanchthon, Luther’s first-hand man in the Reformation.
    Fr. R.

  5. As a lover of Luther, I am not surprised.  In fact, I read a sermon by his last Christmas to get me through the holiday depression, and he said that, whenever Christians have doubts about their salvation, they should look back to their baptism.  “Were you baptized?”  Then you’re saved.

  6. Just a thought, but theological opponents may have a profound influence on each other, if they are honest? Luther I believe was always seeking this kind of place, as best a man could in his time and culture.
    “The highest theology is not the cacophony of the scholastic doctors, but the awesome silences of negative theology.” (Luther, WA 3.372.20-27) I say this for our Orthodox friends, who complain that Luther is not deep, or even mystical.
    Fr. R.

  7. Also for Luther, faith is the ground of the sinner’s hope on his/her deathbed as well as at the moment of baptism. No matter how much the Christian grows and matures, he never outgrows the posture (reality/need) of prayer or the necessity of faith.
    Fr. R.

  8. It did, along with other things (church, AA meetings, reading the Christmas Carol, watching It’s A Wonderful Life–I wonder how I fit all of that into one day)!  I liked how Luther viewed God as someone who wants to serve and help as, as someone we can lean on.  He’s more than that, I know, but it’s good to be reminded.

  9. Joel,
    I thought you might like this hymn of Charles Wesley. The English Methodists has always loved the Wesley brothers.

    The Lord our God is only One,
    One is Jehovah the most high:
    Jehovah is His name alone, Who made and fills both earth and sky: 
    Jehovah is the Saviour’s name;
    Jehovah is the Spirit’s name too:
    And Three essentially the same
    Is the eternal God and true.

    Baptized into one name,
    The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
    One nature we in three proclaim,
    One God for our salvation trust:
    One God eternally Trinity, And the whole Diety resides
    In each of the mysterious three.
    Fr. R.

  10. In the UK the Lutherans and the Methodists have always historically been close. Wesley of course was “saved” (as he says) hearing Luther’s preface to Roman’s being read!
    Fr. R.

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