Saturday, January 17, 2004

Water by Itself

Water by Itself...

Chris's comments on the blessing of the water provoked a quick read of the Large & Small Catechism (Could one of you write a Medium Catechism?). There we may find that:

1. The Small Catechism has it that baptism is "not merely water, but it is water comprehended in God's command and connected with God's Word"; but the inversion of the statement also fits: "God's word in water" (Smalcald III, 5, 1).

2. But where the Word is absent this water is "no different than the water the maid cooks with..." (LC 22). Water by itself is only water.

Edmund Schlink (Theology of the Lutheran Confessions, p. 146) argues that the Word of God is above all the baptismal command of Christ (Mt 28:19). This coheres with Luther's attempts at defining a sacrament in terms of a specific command of Jesus in the New Testament (Babylonian Captivity of the Church). This position would raise serious questions as to the function of blessing the water. This is an extreme Western position that does not take into account the role of the Spirit in making this a life-giving water.

But it is not the Word we trust in spite of the water, it is the water together with the Word. We do not trust only "God's will and not at all through the Word or the water" (Smalcald III, 5, 3). So the language of Titus 3 that this water is the "water of life and a washing of regeneration in the Holy Spirit" is not plerophoric inexactness. Does this mean that we do not trust the Word in spite of the water? Too often the church has spoken of the spiritual reality of God's promise and therefore left us, who draw oxygen and take up space on the couch, without contact with the Word.

Does this justify Schlink's conclusion: "Faith can cling to the Word and to the water. ... God effects salvation not only through the Word but through Word and water, through the Word in the water and the water in the Word. Water and Word are now in one anohter. The Word is visible in the water of Baptism" (p. 148). ????

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