Article IX. Concerning Baptism
Concerning baptism they teach that it is necessary for salvation, that the grace of God is offered through baptism, and that children should be baptized. They are received into the grace of God when they are offered to God through baptism. They condemn the Anabaptists who disapprove of the baptism of children and assert that children are saved without baptism.
When we read the articles of the Augsburg Confession, we should understand them in two ways. First, as confessions, that is, true statements written and spoken in Germany in 1530 century that honestly interpret Scripture. A confession can be understood as a statement that makes a truth claim that includes in it the notion that "we believe this and not otherwise". Our church is a church that makes and holds to such confessions. In fact, part of the ordination service of all Lutheran pastors includes this question from the bishop and the appropriate answer. "The Church in which you are to be ordained confesses that the Holy Scriptures are the Word of God and the norm of its faith and life. We accept, teach, and confess the Apostles', the Nicene, and the Athanasian Creeds. We also acknowledge the Lutheran Confessions as true witnesses and faithful expositions of Holy Scriptures. Will you therefore preach and teach in accordance with the Holy Scriptures and these creeds and confessions?" The ordinand responds, "I will, and I ask God to help me."
The confessions can also be understood as part of a conversation. After the confessions were written and signed, they were read by many people, a large group of whom were Roman opponents, those who found fault at various points with the AC. They continued the conversation by writing a confutation, the Roman Confutation, where they responded point by point to the AC. After this confutation, Melanchthon prepared a reply, his "Apology of the Augsburg Confession," which itself became one of the confessional documents now collected in the Book of Concord. So the idea of conversation, a back and forth of confession between the Lutherans, the Romans, and back to the Lutherans, is an intrinsic part of our confessional documents.
For article nine, the conversation is relatively simple. The Reformers wrote the confession printed in italics above. The Roman Confutation read, "The ninth article, concerning baptism, ... is approved and accepted, and they [the Lutheran princes] are right in condemning the Anabaptists..." Melanchthon still believes it is important to reply to each one of the confutations of the Augsburg Confession, so he writes a reply that reads,
"They approve the ninth article, in which we confess that baptism is necessary for salvation, that children are to be baptized, and that the baptism of children is not ineffective but is necessary and efficacious for salvation. Since the gospel is purely and carefully taught among us, we have received, by God's favor, this additional fruit from it: that no Anabaptists have arisen in our churches, because the people have been fortified by God's Word against the ungodly and seditious faction of these crooks. Among the many other errors of the Anabaptists we also condemn their assertion that the baptism of little children is useless. For it is most certain that the promise of salvation also pertains to little children... it clearly follows that infants are to be baptized because salvation is offered with baptism."
Thus the Romans and the Reformers are largely in agreement on this point. Baptism is necessary for salvation. Children should be baptized. Because it is a Sacrament, and God's gifts come through the Sacraments, baptism should indeed be understood as a necessary "means of grace". The only group opposed to this confession are the Anabaptists, who both the Romans and Melanchthon are happy to condemn for their errors.
This puts us in a unique position vis-a-vis this confession, because, unlike other confessions that truly were confuted by the Romans and continue to be the basis of disagreement today, this confession is not a point of contention. There is no argument on the matter. It's "settled".
But if you have any kind of sensibilities similar to mine, this confession leaves you quite unsettled. Baptism necessary for salvation? What happens to those children who die prior to baptism? How does this teaching play itself out in pastoral practice, where it is very likely you will encounter those who's children have died prior to baptism, who's bodies have given forth a stillborn child? What kind of consolation, witness, and hope, is this confession of the necessity of baptism.
I understand why the reformers and the Roman Catholics held and hold to it. They are looking at things from the other side. Once you say that baptism is not necessary for salvation, then you call into question its efficacy. If it isn't necessary, does it accomplish something at all? And if it does, what kind of thing can baptism accomplish if it isn't necessary, and therefore by logical conclusion, the same kinds of things can be accomplished without baptism. The catholic tradition has wanted to hold onto the necessity of baptism because a) it was instituted by Christ, and b) we teach and confess that baptism truly does something, it "offers to God" children who were originally children of wrath and now are adopted heirs with Christ. The "necessity" of baptism hinges on these two things.
So we are left struggling and a little stunned, wanting to give comfort but also wanting to believe and confess those things that give true comfort because they come from and are instituted in Christ.