What is the importance of Christian Baptism?

A man lies in the recovery room after serious, life-saving heart surgery. The surgeon walks into the room and gets down on his knees beside the bed. With tears in his eyes the doctor says, “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I can’t thank you enough for what you have done for me!”

There’s something backwards about that scene. Shouldn’t the patient be the one thanking the doctor? After all, that surgeon saved his life. The patient owes that medical man a huge debt of gratitude.

Many people get Christian Baptism backwards. They think that Baptism is something we do for God, a way of showing obedience to him. That seems appropriate. After all, parents are the ones who bring their children to the baptismal font. However, in Baptism God is really the one who does something for us.

And what wonderful things God does for us in Baptism! The apostle Peter said, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). In those words Peter describes two of the wondrous blessings of Baptism: the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We are all sinners. Sin separates us from God. Sin takes away the blessings he wants us to have. Sin keeps us out of heaven. So God did something about sin. He sent Jesus, his Son. Jesus lived perfectly in our place, died on the cross to pay for all our sins and rose again to assure us of eternal life. In Baptism, God gives us this forgiveness that Jesus won for us.

The other blessing, the gift of the Holy Spirit, is faith or trust in Jesus. Faith is the hand that receives all the blessings that Jesus won for us. In Baptism God miraculously works faith in our hearts so that we don’t miss out on a single blessing that Jesus won for us. Through faith worked in Baptism, God gives us all the blessings earned by our Savior: forgiveness of sins, a new life of peace and hope, and eternal life in heaven.

Is Baptism important? Absolutely! In Baptism God is at work for us. Through Baptism God saves us.

How do I worship God?

Worship, most of us think, is something that happens in church. And it does. But it does not start or end there.

It is better to say that worship is something that happens in our heart. It’s what happens when God speaks to our heart and our heart responds to God.

For worship to take place, we have to hear God’s message of love. We call it the gospel, which means “good news.” God tells us that good news in his Word, the Bible. He tells us how he sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to win forgiveness of sins for us and give us eternal life.

When God’s good news reaches our heart, it lifts the weight of guilt from our soul. It makes us happy because God loves us and he cares for us. Our happy response is to love him back and to say, “Thank you, God!” And we praise him. Also, as with other good news, we want to share it with others.

That is worship. Because it starts in our heart, we can worship anywhere. We just need to keep in mind that it has two sides: God speaks to us, and we respond to God. Another way of understanding worship is that it is everything we do because of our faith in Jesus.

The impact of worship multiplies when we join in worship with other Christians. That is where church comes in. In church God talks to us through Bible readings and preaching. The church service is designed to remind us how much we need Jesus and how he has filled our needs. He lived a perfect life that God the Father credits to us. Then he took upon himself the punishment we deserve for sin when he died on the cross. He proved our eternal joy when he rose from the dead, assuring us of a new life in Christ!

In church, believers together respond with music and song, thankfulness and praise. We pray for each other and encourage each other with God’s promises. We form a bond of Christian love and faithfulness. We work together to serve God. Therefore, each of us can say with David in Psalm 122:1: “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD.’ ”

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More Bible passages about worship, taken from the New International Reader’s Version Discoverer’s Bible:

Colossians 3:16, 17. Let Christ’s word live in you like a rich treasure. Teach and correct each other wisely. Sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing with thanks in your hearts to God. Do everything you say or do in the name of the Lord Jesus. Always give thanks to God the Father through Christ.

Romans 12:1. Brothers and sisters, God has shown you his mercy. So I am asking you to offer up your bodies to him while you are still alive. Your bodies are a holy sacrifice that is pleasing to God. When you offer your bodies to God, you are worshiping him.

Hebrews 10:25. Let us not give up meeting together. Some are in the habit of doing this. Instead, let us cheer each other up with words of hope. Let us do it all the more as you see the day coming when Christ will return.

I am too busy to go to church

“Are you going to church this morning?” Mary asked her mother. “Oh, no!” her mother replied. “I have way too many things to do! I just don’t have the time.”

It’s amazing how busy our lives are. What is even more amazing is how much we can miss because we are so busy.

Jesus had a very close friend who was very busy. Her name was Martha. Jesus had come to her home for a visit, and Martha wanted to prepare a special meal for him. She was busy with the meal preparations and she was irked that her sister Mary was not helping her.

What was Mary doing? She was listening to Jesus teach God’s Word. When Martha complained about her business and Mary’s lack of help, Jesus said, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42).

Mary could have been busy too. But she chose to put off her business to listen to Jesus’ word. The Word that Jesus spoke had eternal consequences because it was God’s Word of love and forgiveness.

That precious Word was more important than anything Martha might be busy doing. God’s love and forgiveness is the one thing needed in your life too! Being busy is okay, but as you realize the good news of God’s Word you can find room for it in your busy day.

Church is boring

Years ago I was on the way home from church with my parents, after moving to a new city. I commented that the pastor’s sermon was harder to listen to than the pastor we’d had in our old town. My dad said, “Actually, this pastor’s sermons are less flashy, but I learn more.”

From that Sunday on, I started listening to see if I agreed. And, sure enough! My dad was right. I was college age at the time, and I can honestly say, I have never fallen asleep during a sermon since.

No, I’m not patting myself on the back. I’m just sharing with you the secret my dad shared with me: It’s all about content. I don’t go to church to be entertained. Doesn’t the idea of “entertainment” in church sound creepy, when you think about it?

So why do we go to church?

For one thing, we go to church to say we’re sorry for our sins and ask for forgiveness. I can’t say that’s exciting, but neither is it boring. It can’t fit into categories like that at all, when you really think about it.

We also go to church to learn more about God. It’s true, we’ve all had teachers who were more captivating than others. But then, going to class is really about mastering the material. Whether I passed or failed a class in school, it was mostly about me, the student – how hard I worked, how well I paid attention. And don’t we want to learn about God? It’s a pretty important subject to master!

But church is about more than putting knowledge into our heads, it’s also about getting food for our souls. When it comes to feeding your body, certainly some foods are more exciting than others. A Culver’s Butterburger thrills me! Green beans…not so much. I eat both, but fortunately I eat more beans than I do Butterburgers. Why? Because in the long run, it’s a lot healthier for my heart (and waistline)!

The same is true of the spiritual food I need to get at church. I need to hear from God that I have sinned. Even more, I need to hear from God what my Savior has done for me, and that through faith in Jesus I am forgiven. I need to be built back up spiritually after a bruising week. I also need to be equipped to face the coming week’s challenges.

Saying church is boring, is kind of like saying talking to mom and getting a hug from her is boring. Doesn’t that adjective seem out of place? Excitement is for Friday night. Forgiveness and Jesus’ love are what Sunday morning is all about.

What is a confession?

Perhaps you’ve been frustrated from time to time in browsing through church websites wondering, “What does this church believe about ___(fill in your topic here)?” It takes a lot of time and work to find out what anyone believes in any detail these days! The ironic thing is that Christians want people to know and understand what they believe about ___. That is because we Christians believe that God works in us a desire to confess what we believe and proclaim it boldly. The Apostle Paul, who wrote much of the New Testament, had this to say about confessing our faith, “It is written: ‘I believed; therefore I have spoken.’ With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak” (2 Corinthians 4:13). In fact the Bible urges Christians to be able to express and confess their faith: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope you have” (1 Peter 3:15).

It’s no surprise then that from the earliest days of the Christian faith believers have sought to confess what they believe. Christians want to tell others the good news of Jesus in clear language so they may understand what God has done. From time to time throughout history Christians have found it advantageous to write down a summary or confession of their faith, so that believers and sceptics alike can read for themselves what Christians believe and stand for. These documents often became necessary when God’s Word came under attack from false teachers who sought to add, subtract, or even twist the Word of God for their own purposes. Written confessions of faith became rallying points for believers to stand united so they could give the reason for the hope they have.

Even though many of these written confessions are now centuries (and in some cases millennia) old, they are still relevant. Christians today can look back and see if they are in line with the beliefs and thoughts of the early church, or see if modern issues or objections have been raised before. They enable us to see how earlier generations dealt with struggles and issues of their times. Though all Christians claim to follow the Bible, confessions greatly assist us in seeing how they interpret the Bible. Today confessions can help us more quickly compare what we believe or what different churches believe about a given issue. Most importantly a confession gives a clear witness about Jesus Christ and how he saved us so that others might be saved too.

In the Lutheran Church there are nine historical confessions that Lutherans have adopted. For a list and description of written confessions that Lutherans believe make sure to read “What are the Lutheran Confessions?”.

What is the Small Catechism?

Before most personal computers in America ran under Microsoft Windows, they ran under an older disk operating system— DOS.  DOS was confusing to many people, so in 1991 out came the book “DOS for Dummies.” Now there are over 1,700 “Dummies” books, including “Chess for Dummies” and “Chemistry for Dummies.”

Chemistry— whew. My daughter’s high school chemistry textbook goes over 500 pages; her general chemistry college textbook spans over 1,000 pages. Even “Chemistry for Dummies” has 362 pages.

Knowing God well, following his Son, and being sure about God’s gift of eternal life with him— those are more important than chemistry, but can seem even more complicated.  The answers are in the Bible. My Bible has lots of notes to help me understand it, but the words and notes combine to fill over 2,000 pages. “The Bible for Dummies?” Over 462 pages.

Isn’t there a simpler way?

Back in 1529, Martin Luther, a professor of Bible at a university in Germany, published the simplest, most practical and trustworthy handbook to Christian faith you can find.  Luther called it his “Small Catechism.” (Catechism is a Greek word, originally meaning “teaching out loud.” More commonly, people use the word to mean a religious instruction book in the form of questions and answers.)

Think FAQ— frequently asked questions— brief (about 20 pages), down-to-earth and well organized.  Luther meant his Small Catechism to be simple enough for average children to understand, and for their parents, especially fathers, to teach them.  That’s why each section of the Small Catechism introduces a topic, then says something like: “As the head of the family should teach it in a simple way to his household.”

Luther wrote the Small Catechism after a tour of northern Germany that left him miserable: “The ordinary person, especially in the villages, knows absolutely nothing about the Christian faith, and unfortunately many pastors are completely unskilled and incompetent teachers.  Yet supposedly they all bear the name Christian, are baptized, and receive the holy sacrament, even though they do not know the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, or the Ten Commandments!  As a result they live like simple cattle or irrational pigs” (preface to the Small Catechism).

Maybe you know the Lord’s Prayer; maybe not. Maybe you don’t know what a creed is, let alone can recite the main Christian creed and explain what it means.  Either way, Luther’s Small Catechism can help you. It has simple questions and answers about:

  • The Ten Commandments (what to do)
  • The Apostles’ Creed (what to believe)
  • The Lord’s Prayer (what to pray)
  • Holy Baptism
  • Holy Communion

The Way Christians and Christian churches serve others with God’s Good News (the “Keys and Confession”)

At the end come suggested daily prayers and a helpful summary of the duties that parents, children, husbands, wives, etc. owe to others. Luther meant it to be practical for all ages.

To read the Small Catechism in English click here

What is the Large Catechism?

Condensed TV football games, courtesy of Tivo? Good. (Fast-forward through all those commercials and breaks in action.)

Whole gourmet meals, condensed into a pill? Not good.

Condensed movies— as with a movie trailer? For fans anticipating new flicks? Good.

Condensed marriage vows (“I’ll be faithful, okay?”)? Not good.

Condensed sermons? With Martin Luther’s Large Catechism, good— and much good news for you.

Martin Luther taught at the University of Wittenberg, in northern Germany. He also preached at Wittenberg churches.  In 1528 and 1529 Luther preached a series of sermons to teach average adults— children too— what he figured to be the minimum every Christian must believe for life with God now and forever. In short, he condensed the Bible.

Then Luther condensed those sermons into a book, his Large Catechism. He designed it to complement his Small Catechism [link to the other article]  While the Small Catechism runs about 20 pages, the Large Catechism is about 140 pages—seven times bigger. (That isn’t large. The Catholic Catechism runs 800+ pages.)

Why learn from a 140 page condensation, if a 20 page ultra-condensation will do?  One reason: in the Large Catechism, Luther writes so truthfully and vividly.  For example, Luther tells people who don’t feel hunger and thirst for the Lord’s Supper to put their hands to their chest to figure out if they are made of flesh and blood, then read what the Bible says about our sinful flesh.

“Again,” he writes, “look around you and see whether you are also in the world. If you do not know, ask your neighbors about it. If you are in the world, do not think that there will be any lack of sins and needs. […]

“Moreover, you will surely have the devil around you, too. […] If you could see how many daggers, spears, and arrows are aimed at you every moment, you would be glad to come to the sacrament as often as you can.”

Like the Small Catechism, the Large Catechism features:

  • Ten Commandments
  • The Creed
  • The Lord’s Prayer
  • Baptism
  • The Sacrament [“sacred act”] of the Altar

Don’t think of either catechism like your second-grade math book. Once you passed it, you went on to the third-grade edition. You never needed the former book again, except perhaps to teach math to a child.

Luther did mean both his catechisms to help adults teach the ABCs of God’s holy demands and amazing grace to young people.  Luther, though, didn’t think of his catechisms as textbooks to master, then discard. They’re like the owner’s manual for your car, which you should study thoroughly when you begin driving that car, and keep at hand to consult whenever you need a refresher.

Luther went further. To cocky “experts” who thought they had surpassed the condensed basics of his catechisms, Luther wrote in the Large Catechism’s preface: “I am also a doctor [of theology] and a preacher, just as learned and experienced as all of them who are so high and mighty.  Nevertheless, each morning, and whenever else I have time, I do as a child who is being taught the catechism and I read and recite word for word the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Psalms, etc.  I must still read and study the catechism daily, and yet I cannot master it as I wish, but must remain a child and pupil of the catechism— and I also do so gladly.”

You will too, for Jesus’ sake.

To read the Large Catechism in English, click here.

 

Why Do We Have Creeds?

What kind of a foundation does a building contractor build before erecting a building? It all depends on what kind of building he’s putting up. Is it a playhouse for children? Or is he building a skyscraper?

The same rule applies when you’re building a Christian life. God has not called us to be starry-eyed sentimentalists, with our feet firmly planted in mid-air. God wants his children to live confidently, not to wobble through our lives somehow and finally to stumble out into the dark.

There are those today who prefer to believe that human beings are independent to God, that there is no supernatural being to whom we are accountable. Folks like that honestly believe that we determine what’s good for us and what’s bad, what’s true and what’s false.

The order of worship we follow when we gather with our fellow Christians each week includes a creed, a statement of what we believe – about God, and about life. Martin Luther once made the statement: “Every person has to do his own believing, just as every person has to do his own dying.” The Christian Church has three creeds: the Apostles’, the Nicene, and the Athanasian.

The best-known of the three – the one you may know by heart – is the Apostle’s Creed. The foundation for this creed was laid by Christ himself when he commissioned his disciples, “Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” From the earliest days of the Christian Church, candidates for baptism were required to make a public declaration of their faith. The Apostles’ Creed may have evolved from that public declaration of faith. Since this was a personal creed, the speaker spoke singularly, saying, “I believe . . .”

Several hundred years later the Nicene Creed was adopted by the Christian Church. (Nicea was a city in Turkey.) The Emperor Constantine convened a Council of the Christian Church to settle a controversy created by a teacher named Arius, who denied that Jesus is God. Arius taught that Jesus as the Son of God was created, not eternal like God the Father. Although the Nicene Creed was not used as a baptismal declaration, it specifically addresses the error of Arius. Every time we confess the Nicene Creed, we declare that Jesus is “the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God . . . of one being with the Father.” It is because this was a creed to be confessed by the whole church that we speak it with plurality, saying, “We believe . . .”

We don’t know who the author of the Athanasian Creed is, but it’s generally agreed that this creed is a couple hundred years younger than its two sisters. It’s much longer than the others. We therefore don’t use it regularly in our weekly worship services. But the Athanasian Creed offers a clear expression of the most basic truths of the Christian religion.

These three ancient creeds don’t make much sense to the three pounds of pinkish-gray jelly between our ears. Each of the three confesses that in one Godhead there are three distinct persons. Each of the three confesses that the Son of God became a human being to rescue lost sinners. Pretty mind-blowing stuff when you try to understand it!

These three creeds – Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian – were the ancient church’s way of putting its money where God’s mouth was.

What Are the Lutheran Confessions?

Lutherans have accepted nine historic confessions since the birth of the Lutheran Church in the 16th Century.  These confessions served as a witness for their time and are accepted because they accurately describe the Christian faith according to the Bible.  The Bible always comes first; confessions are a witness to what we as Christians or Lutherans believe.  The following is a short summary of those nine historic confessions.  You can find all of the Lutheran Confessions collected in a book called The Book of Concord.  The date of their writing is in parentheses.

Apostle’s Creed (ca. AD 100-200) A creed is a short statement of belief, named after the first word, credo, which translates to “I believe.”  It was an early Christian creed. Though probably not written by the Apostles themselves, it summarized the Apostle’s teachings.  Christian churches have been confessing the Apostle’s Creed in worship for centuries.

Nicene Creed (AD 325) This creed was formerly adopted by the Christian church to defend the teaching of the Triune God.  The Nicene Creed was named after the city in which it was written.  Christian churches have also been confessing the Nicene Creed in worship for centuries.

Athanasian Creed (ca. AD 450) This creed was named after St. Athanansius, who defended the teaching of the Trinity and the teaching of who Jesus is.  This creed is sometimes read on Christmas Day or Trinity Sunday.

The Augsburg Confession (1630) Presented in the German city of Augsburg, the Augsburg Confession was written by Lutheran churches to show the Catholic Church that they proclaimed the true Word of God.  The presentation of the Augsburg Confession marked the birth of the Lutheran Church.

Apology to the Augsburg Confession (1531) Contrary to what the name sounds like, the Apology to the Augsburg Confession was not written to say “sorry” for what the Lutherans had confessed, but to offer a further defense and explanation of the original Augsburg Confession.  Philip Melanchthon, Martin Luther’s colleague, wrote this confession to refute charges made against the Lutherans against their beliefs.
Smalcald Articles (1537) Martin Luther is the primary author of this confession, written originally as a last will and testament of faith, fearing he would die at the time he wrote it.  The Smalcald Articles are named after the German town in which they were accepted.

Smalcald Articles (1537)  Martin Luther wrote these articles as a last will and testament at a point in his life when he thought he was nearing his death.  Although he lived on for a few years after this, the Smalcald Articles indicated for the Lutherans at the Council of Mantua items which they could or could not accept.

Small Catechism (1529) Martin Luther wrote the “catechism,” a book of instruction so that parents could teach their children the basic truths of the Bible.  The Small Catechism includes the 10 Commandments, the Apostle’s Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and the use of the Christian “Keys” (practicing forgiveness).

Large Catechism (1529) Martin Luther wrote the Large Catechism as a fuller instruction for the faith of pastors, parents and teachers.

Formula of Concord (1577) Written in the generation after Martin Luther, this confession offered the most comprehensive overview of the Christian faith which Lutherans hold to.

Do Christians Have to Tithe?

In your question you use the words “have to.” These are words that express a forced motivation, an obligation. When a Christian gives any amount to the work of the church, it is done out of a sense of thankfulness and appreciation to God for all that He has done for us. A Christian gives to support the ministry of the church because he wants to, feels privileged to do so, not because he “has to.”

In the Old Testament Scriptures God gave His people different types of laws. One type of law was called “ceremonial”, which governed their worship life. These ceremonial laws were meant to keep Israel as a tight knit nation, until the Savior Jesus Christ came. Some of these ceremonial laws specified the outfits the priests would wear, the sacrifices, foods they would eat, the tithe, festivals and Sabbath days. When Jesus came and completed his ministry, these ceremonial laws were no longer necessary. Many of them were a like a shadow, prefiguring to the work Jesus Christ would accomplish.

As we look at the tithe, we see that it had a threefold purpose : 1) to support the Levites, 2) to support the Feasts, and 3) to support the less fortunate . . . all to remind God’s people of his presence and faithfulness.

In the New Testament Scriptures there is no mention of mandatory tithing as a principle for determining how much to give. The New Testament nowhere encourages the use of the tithe but does criticize those who use it self-righteously (Lk. 18:12). Although a Christian is free to use the tithe as a guide for himself, ten percent for some Christians may be giving well “beyond their power” while for others it represents far less than is possible according to the prosperity the Lord gives.

I believe that as we study both Scripture and history, it is clear that the tithe was a 10% “ruler” (and “price tag”) that was used in the past by God’s people to show gratitude and thanksgiving to their God, as well as being a means to support a program through which God and his ways were made more visible. Today, as Christians, we do not have to tithe. Rather, our Lord wants us to give a generous percentage of our income to his kingdom work. We do this willingly, regularly and cheerfully.