What did Martin Luther teach about baptismal regeneration? You may first assume that he was totally against it because of the teachings of the church that bears his name, along with all of the churches that have been influenced by his and John Calvin’s theology. But this is simply not the case. Martin Luther in his Large Catechism makes these very interesting thoughts about baptism:
”[I] affirm that Baptism is no human trifle, but that it was established by God Himself. Moreover, He earnestly and solemnly commanded that we must be baptized or we shall not be saved. No one is to think that it is an optional matter like putting on a red coat. It is of greatest importance that we hold Baptism in high esteem as something splendid and glorious. The reason why we are striving and battling so strenuously for this view of Baptism is that the world nowadays is full of sects that loudly proclaim that Baptism is merely an external form and that external forms are useless…. Although Baptism is indeed performed by human hands, yet it is truly God’s own action (1978, pp. 98-99).”
Martin Luther was pretty clear on what he taught about baptism. It must be done to be saved! What, then, would Martin Luther say to those today who teach that “faith alone” excludes baptism? Listen to Luther’s own words concerning the Biblical doctrine of “faith alone” …
”But our know-it-alls, the new spirit people, claim that faith alone saves and that human works and outward forms contribute nothing to this. We answer: It is of course true that nothing in us does it except faith, as we shall hear later. But these blind leaders of the blind refuse to see that faith must have something in which it believes, that is, something it clings to, something on which to plant its feet and into which to sink its roots. Thus faith clings to the water and believes Baptism to be something in which there is pure salvation and life, not through the water, as I have emphasized often enough, but because God’s name is joined to it … It follows from this that whoever rejects Baptism rejects God’s word, faith, and the Christ who directs us to Baptism and binds us to it (1978, pp. 101-102).” (Taken From Luther’s Large Catechism (XIII))
It is very interesting that those who hold Martin Luther in such high regard for his “faith-alone” theology don’t realize that they teach it different than Luther did. He is saying that our faith clings to the words of Christ that say that if someone believes and is baptized, they will be saved (Mark 16:16).
This source shows that those who claim “faith alone” today often misinterpret what Luther had in mind in his teaching. He believed that we are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-10), but he also taught that our faith is an action in which we put our trust in Christ’s teachings about baptism (Matthew 28:19-20, Mark 16:16), Paul’s teachings about baptism (Romans 6, Colossians 2:9-12), and Peter’s (1 Peter 3:21, Acts 2:38).