Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Dipping into baptism

It seems so clear in the New Testament, but it's obviously not clear to everyone, because it has been a subject of ongoing debate throughout church history - the meaning and mode of baptism.  I'll say a little bit about that in a later post, but what I really want to address is the question "Is baptism essential for salvation?"
I'll state my position here and now, then I'll seek to justify it, and then in a subsequent post I'll try to explain the verses that seem to teach the opposite. 

My conviction is that the Scriptures clearly teach that baptism is not essential for salvation.  I have a few reasons for thinking this:
  • Scripturally baptism can't be essential for salvation.  The few passages that appear to teach that baptism is required can't overthrow the dozens of verses that show that the condition is faith alone. (Just some of the passages that show this: Mark 5 v 34; 10 v 52; Luke 7 v 50; 18 v 9-14; 23 v 39-43; John 1 v 12; 3 v 15-18, 36; 5 v 24; 6 v 28-29, 47; Acts 10 v 43; 13 v 38-39; 15 v 7-11; 16 v 30-31; 20 v 21; 26 v 18; Romans 1 v 16-17; 3 v 20-30; 4 v 1-6; 5 v 1; 6 v 23; 9 v 30-32; 10 v 4, 9-10; 11 v 6; Galatians 2 v 16; 3 v 1-3, 11; Ephesians 2 v 8-9; 2Timothy 1 v 9; 3 v 15; Titus 3 v 5; 1John 5 v 12-13). 
    It's clear that if a verse says faith alone = salvation and another verse says faith + baptism = salvation then it would show that baptism is of no saving value.
    The incident of the dying thief on the cross (Luke 23 v 39-43) is a clear case of salvation apart from baptism, but some people may respond that either the thief couldn't be baptised and so he gets a free pass there, or that he was prior to the church age so baptism wasn't essential then.  OK, well we'll go to the church age and look at some people who could have been baptised.  In Acts 10 we are introduced to Cornelius - he was a sincere God-fearer, and so God sent Peter to preach the Gospel to him so that he would believe on the Lord Jesus and be saved (Acts 11 v 14).  As Peter preached the Holy Spirit fell on all that heard and they received the Holy Spirit just as the disciples had in Acts 2.  Peter realises that this experience showed that the baptism of the Holy Spirit included Gentile believers.  Now the Holy Spirit is given in this church age as the seal of God's ownership and the pledge that the person will come into the fulness of all the promised blessings of salvation, and the baptism in the Holy Spirit incorporates believers into the Church (the body of Christ) - 1Corinthians 12 v 13.  So these Gentile believers were recipients of the Spirit and members of the body of Christ prior to their water baptism (Romans 8 v 15-18; Galatians 3 v 14; Ephesians 1 v 13-14; 4 v 30).  That is a water-tight case refuting the belief that baptism is essential for salvation.
  • Theologically baptism can't be essential for salvation.  If baptism is essential then one of two things is true, either the work of Christ is not enough for salvation because the person who trusts Christ alone for salvation is not yet saved, or it means that God has put in place an arbitrary requirement for salvation.  God will not in anyway dishonour the value of the work of His Son - the person who trusts in the value of that sacrifice needs nothing more and nothing less to give them a right standing before God.
  • Experientially or Practically baptism can't be essential for salvation.  Now arguments from experience can be shaky things, but I'm not basing my position on experience, I'm just supporting it from experience.  Baptism has been an area of ongoing debate throughout the church age - there have been those who have said that infants should be "baptised" (thankfully they don't baptise them, they just sprinkle them!  The word transliterated "baptise" means immerse), others (like me) maintain only believers should be baptised.  Some believe in sprinkling believers, others (like me) hold to immersion being the scriptural pattern.  But the point is that not everyone can be right on this so are we to believe that only those who got it right are saved?
    It's simply a matter of plain fact that people have turned in repentance to Christ and had their lives dramatically transformed, exhibiting all the signs of being regenerate yet weren't baptised until years later, or perhaps were never baptised.  Their faith was in Christ and their lives and desires showed that the Holy Spirit was indwelling them, and if and when they did get baptised their lives were no different - the change was wrought the moment they believed on the Lord Jesus.
I will look at the problem verses in a later post, but hopefully the case has been made that salvation is by faith in Christ alone - nothing more and nothing less.