Monday, April 10, 2006

Baptismal Spirituality

There is a Lutheran blog carnival that I missed entering- and usually, if you show up late for a carnival, there's only dead matted grass and residual cotton candy to remind you of what had been.

But-- Lutheranchik has graciously extended an invitation for delinquents, so here goes. The topic: Lutheran Spirituality.

Our synod recently published an insert in The Lutheran on spiritual practices, and many of the submissions from congregations were typical of the genre- labyrinth, meditation, breathing prayers, etc. I personally have found many of these spiritual practices enlivening at times, gratuitous at others, usually a mix of both. Piety and spirituality are often quite individual, so I'll leave it to each context and person to decide the form of their prayer, etc.

But if you ask me what I think is at the heart of a truly Lutheran spirituality, I can tell you. I'm committed to the idea that Lutheran spirituality is baptismal spirituality. The spiritual life is a return to baptism. Lutheran's have by and large lost this baptismal spirituality because they have relegated baptism to the status of an innoculation, something that needs to be done but not something we continually celebrate and live into. If Luther had any true insight into "spirituality", it was in baptism and its gifts.

Take, for example, the Small Catechism. Here Luther writes: "What does baptizing with water signify?--Answer.

It signifies that the old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts, and, again, a new person daily come forth and arise; who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever."

Essential to the definition of spirituality is that it is something that is done daily. It is a practice. That being the case, other than and prior to regular participation in individual confession and absolution, and gathering for the Eucharist, at the heart of Lutheran spirituality is daily dying and rising in Christ through our baptism.

What is lacking in our congregations, as I have mentioned, is practice that arises out of this. Pastors know theologically that baptism is central to "the life of faith" (another simple definition of baptism), and many parents know it implicitly by example, but we don't follow up. We make it as far as cradle roll, and no further.

In the article I submitted for The Lutheran, I included some practices we have been adopting in our congregation that emphasize, and hopefully clearly proclaim, our birth right in baptism. We send out baptismal birthday cards. Many folks have mentioned they didn't know their baptism date until they received a card. We also do asperges and remembrance of baptism during worship. We offer regular opportunities for young parents to learn how to "raise their children wet," and we try to make these simple yet meaningful- a Trinitarian blessing and water poured over the head while getting a bath, and the words, Remember that you are baptized. God loves you, and so do I. A simple baptismal remembrance service that adults can do on their baptism birthday.

But more than the simple rituals, Lutheran spirituality is baptismal spirituality because it emphasizes the priority and primacy of God's good gifts to us, purely gratuitous gifts, the forgiveness of sin, life, salvation, participation in Christ's very life, beginning with His death and resurrection, and continual participation in his very body through the Eucharist, and the life of the gathered and baptized community.

The above indicates a direction, a general impulse that should be recognized as essentially Lutheran. When asked, Lutherans should be able to say, quite clearly, in answer to the question, What's your spiritual life like? Answer: Baptized, I live. A further answer might be, The life I live is no longer my own, but it is Christ's very life, to the glory of God the Father.

If I were going to take a second or third stab at an answer to the question of Lutheran spirituality, I would say.

a) Lutheran spirituality is hymn and chorale singing.
b) Lutheran spirituality is catholic spirituality.


  1. Anonymous2:50 PM

    Concordia Publishing House will launch a new line of adult Bible studies entitled, "Lutheran Spirituality," in June, 2006.

    Authors will include John Kleinig (Lutheran Church of Australia), John Pless (LCMS), and Jim Nestingen (ELCA).

    Just thought you'd like to know!

    God's blessings,
    Rev. Robert C. Baker
    Concordia Publishing House

  2. Anonymous12:16 PM

    Speaking as an Anglican who happened on your blog by chance, I couldn't agree more!
    I like the idea of 'raising your child wet' and will suggest it to the ministers I teach.
    Bless you.