Being Lutheran is more than 'renouncing the devil,' right?

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Being Lutheran is more than 'renouncing the devil,' right? 
Adult baptism at St. Paul's Lutheran, Medford, Wis.

I love the Lutheran church. I love the Lutheran church because I have been given the opportunity to wrestle with my faith and learn to love Jesus in a way that matters in this world. But, being Lutheran is more than "renouncing the devil," right? When I attend worship and we welcome new members, have a baptism or rite of confirmation, (one of) the very first questions we ask is: "Do you renounce the devil?" Everything comes to a screeching halt for me. Why do we ask this first or even at all? -- Melissa Minieri, Grace Lutheran Church, Conroe, Texas

Brian: Melissa -- you are not alone in being confronted, confused or confounded by these words. In doing baptismal counseling with parents, I try to explain that this is a compact phrase for a complex commitment. "Renouncing" is more than a mere formula -- it's a commitment to a true "turning away." And "the devil" refers to the embodiment of all evil, of all that would draw us away from or interfere with our relationship with God.

Think of it in physical terms. The short phrase, "renounce the devil" is the equivalent of looking out the entrance of the church at all the things that could become priorities or idols for us -- wealth, power, security, fame -- and then turning around to face the cross, in order to say "My life's priorities will be ordered by the cross and not by all the empty promises of the world."

Whether you call it renouncing, repenting or reorienting, the gift of baptism is our daily opportunity to turn to the life to which we're called and away from the tempting but empty promises that surround us.

Elizabeth: When I was in the parish, some of the confirmation class kids brought one of their friends to Wednesday night catechism. Let's call him Ben. Ben's home life was chaotic. He had no experience with church. The only time Ben had heard the name of Jesus was when his parents uttered it as a curse. Ben picked up on their colorful language. Ben also liked to fight.

Ben came to catechism for two years. He found a family in the church. Ben heard about the love of Jesus and decided to become baptized. When Ben and I met to talk about being baptized, I told him that saying yes to God's love in Jesus means that we have to give up our old way of life. In Ben's case that meant he was going to have to give up swearing and fighting. The confirmation class worked with Ben helping him to walk half a block at a time to and from school without swearing or fighting, then a block and finally the entire route. Ben was baptized. He wasn't always able to resist swearing or fighting, but he got to live in a new way.

The first question we ask a candidate is not "Do you renounce the devil..." It is "...called by the Holy Spirit, trusting in the grace and love of God, do you desire to be baptized into Christ?" After the candidate says, "I do," he or she turns away from the old life and allegiances. The devil is everything that opposes God. For Ben it was the chaos of his home manifested in his fighting and swearing. He made a deliberate and difficult choice to accept Jesus' invitation to follow him. Renouncing the devil and all the forces that defy God is a public, intentional break with our past so that we may enter into God's future. 

David: Thank you, Melissa, for this very good question! Yes! Being a Lutheran (being a Christian) is more than the renunciation of the devil. This is a question (often a set of three questions) that we ask during a baptism and during subsequent affirmations of baptism (which is what we are doing in the rite of confirmation and the receiving of new members).

Being a Lutheran is more than this. In fact, being a Lutheran is more than baptism. But this is the beginning. This is the start. You cannot start the new thing until you have left the old. In the words of St. Paul, we "put off the old Adam." This is a way for us to acknowledge this in our ritual. We have put to death -- crucified with Christ -- our old selves, in order to be raised to new life with Christ.

In the ancient world, this was powerful as most new Christians were quite literally rejecting the gods of their family in order to claim faith in Jesus. In the modern world is it usually more subtle, but we have our other gods, too: wealth, influence, materialism and many more things. And we must reject those gods in order to claim faith in Jesus. As Jesus said, we cannot serve two masters. 

Monica: Dear Melissa, great question! Lutheranism is definitely more than "renouncing the devil." I am guessing that the word "devil" may make some a little squeamish but during a baptism or confirmation (affirmation of baptism) the sacrament begins by remembering the wonderful news of God's love, God's will for new life, forgiveness of sin, and the promise of resurrection and eternal life. All of this good news pumps us up to be able to confidently renounce the devil and all the forces that defy God, including those powers that move us away from God, and our sin. These things no longer have power over us on account of Christ's life, death and resurrection. Being Lutheran is far more about the love and grace of God. I experience the profession of faith and renouncing of the devil as an expression of Romans 8:38-39. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

Ron: Dear Melissa, thanks for paying attention to the words and thoughts of the liturgy. Just the other day I was talking with a 12-year-old boy who wants to be baptized on his 13th birthday. He has been reading the Bible and has come to the conclusion that he wants to join the family of God. I had a great conversation with his parents who shared with me that there are some friends who have been praying for this young man.

He's active in his school, especially in track. As I walked him and his parents through the baptismal service, I shared with them that the words about "renouncing" come from how and when as Luther said we are tempted, "by the devil, the world and our flesh." In baptism God "claims us, gathers us and sends us out into the world." As part of the baptismal service or Affirmation of Baptism, the baptized (if they are able, otherwise sponsors and parents answer on behalf of them) respond to God's initiation and invitation. God has already said through the waters of baptism, "I claim you as my daughter or son." In "renouncing," the baptized or those affirming their baptism state what they basically will not do, but then it is also coupled with the words of the Apostles' Creed.

We often sail right over this question quickly, but it should give us pause. We should spend more time talking together about what it means for us to reject all of our idols and cling to Christ alone. Thanks, Melissa!

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