Baptismal Regeneration

4 06 2011

There are many churches that teach baptismal regeneration. This doctrine teaches that one must be baptized in order to be saved. They teach that baptism accompanies faith in Christ. Some of these churches include the Roman Catholic Church (as previously discussed) Orthodox, some Anglican groups, Mormonism, some Lutheran groups, Oneness Pentecostals, most Church of Christ, United Pentecostals, and Seventh-day Adventists.

I am a firm believer in the clear Scriptural teaching of salvation by grace through faith alone; therefore I wanted to briefly address this heresy. I want to take a look at the proof texts usually given to support this damnable teaching and then give a Scriptural defense against that most unholy doctrine.

And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.”(Mark 16:15-16) Here we have the Great Commission as recorded in the Gospel of Mark. One cannot deny that it does say that those who believe and are baptized will be saved. What is that speaking of? Is it speaking of water baptism or another baptism?

If it is speaking of water baptism as being required for salvation then the latter part should read, “Those who believe and are baptized not shall be damned.” It says those who believe and are baptized will be saved but it leaves out the baptism when saying they will be damned. Why is that? What possible explanation could there be for such an omission?

The answer is simple, the baptism being spoken of is the baptism of the Holy Spirit. When we are saved we are baptized with the Holy Spirit so it is true that those who believe will be baptized and saved. Those who do not believe will not be baptized with the Holy Spirit and will be damned. It’s not possible that this passage is talking about water baptism or else it would have to say that those who are not baptized are damned as well. Since believing and being baptized with the Holy Spirit are the same event there is no reason to mention baptism for those who believe not.

Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.”(Acts 2:38) This passage which is probably the most commonly quoted proof text is also being taken out of context by those who hold to this doctrine.

The first thing we have to do is put the verse back into context with the rest of the chapter. In this sermon Peter is pointing out that they had rejected Jesus and had crucified Him yet God overruled their objection and raised Him from the dead. “Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it.” (Acts 2:23-24)

So one important point that is being missed is that he was telling them to be baptized in the name or authority of Jesus Christ, the authority they had previously rejected. Jesus gave instructions to baptize in the name of all three members of the Godhead so Peter was not nullifying what Jesus said, he was simply highlighting the name of Jesus whom they had previously rejected.

A second point pertaining to this verse is the term “for.” This word is often highlighted to demonstrate that the baptism was for or to cause the remission of sins. The problem is that there are several Greek and English uses for the word “for.” The word can also mean, “in order to get”(which is what these folks are saying) or it can mean, “because of, as the result of.”

So is Peter saying they must be baptized in order to get forgiveness of sins? If he is then he is contradicting Paul who simply told the jailer in Acts 16:31, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.” In light of the perfect harmony of Scripture I would answer that he is not saying that. If I say “take two aspirin for a headache” am I saying to take two aspirin in order to get a headache? Of course not. I’m saying it because you already have one. The same applies if I said I’m going to Grandma’s house for her birthday. Will she not have a birthday or even a party if I don’t go? Of course she will still have a birthday. My going is not to give her a birthday but because she is having a birthday. This is the clear use of the phrase in this passage.

In 1 Corinthians 10:2 it says the children of Israel were baptized “into” Moses. “And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea.” The same Greek word “for” in Acts 2:38 is used to say “into” by Paul. We must then ask ourselves this question is it saying that they were baptized in the cloud and sea in order to get Moses as their leader? Of course not he was already their leader. They were baptized into Moses because he was their leader.

Salvation is a free gift given by God to those who believe. We are commanded to have repentance toward God and faith toward Jesus Christ (Acts 20:21) We are saved through faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-10). Peter is not contradicting these passages by saying you must be baptized in order to complete remission of your sins but rather he is saying to be baptized because you have remission of sins.

Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”(1 Peter 3:20-21)

This passage is by far the second most abused passage used to prove this doctrine. What are we to think of such a passage? Well let’s look at it and see what it is saying. It says that baptism now saves us and it says that the eight souls on the ark were saved by water. Two very interesting statements by Peter. First of all I think it is important to note that water did not save those on the ark but rather they were saved through the flood waters not by the flood waters. Even with that understanding corrected one might assert that we are saved through baptism. Keep in mind we must interpret Scripture with Scripture.

Are we saved through baptism? Paul said in Ephesians 2:8 we are saved by grace through faith not through baptism. Paul goes on in the next verse to say it is not of works. One might argue that having faith is a work as much as baptism but Paul also covers that by pointing out that it is God working in us to bring about our faith, “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” (Phillippians 2:13)

What the apostle is saying here is that baptism is a counterpart to our salvation but it is not a part of our redemption. It is a type or a picture. Take as an example the Old Testament sacrifices. They did not save anyone because they were saved by faith. The writer of Hebrews said those sacrifices could never take away sin, “But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year.For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.”

Those sacrifices had to be made by the saved but they did not of themselves save anyone. They were only a counterpart to their redemption. Abraham was told to circumcise his household. Those who were not circumcised were not allowed to be part of the covenant community, “And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant.” (Genesis 17:14)

Did circumcision save them? No, we are told that Abraham was justified by faith, “Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” (Galatians 3:6) They were saved by faith as well but were commanded to make sacrifice and be circumcised thus showing their faith in God. We are saved and then commanded to be baptized not as a part of our redemption but to demonstrate the faith we have toward God.

Even the use of words by Peter speaks not of regeneration but of an outward act of an inward change. Look at what Peter said in verse 21 where he says that baptism saves us “not the putting away of the filth of the flesh.” He is saying it has no power over our sins. It can’t save us or regenerate us but it is “the answer of a good conscience toward God by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

He says it is showing a good conscience toward God or it is demonstrating that we have been saved. He is saying that we are saved not by the baptismal waters but by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We are saved by our identifying with the death, burial and resurrection of Christ and baptism is the external picture of that internal experience.

Now that we have looked at the common proof texts we must establish the main reason that baptismal regeneration is false. This reason is the fact that too many other Scriptures teach that salvation is by faith alone not by baptism. One doctrine never cancels out another. If this appears to be the case then we must be interpreting one of them wrong because Scripture is infallible as the Word of God. Let us examine a few of these verses in the Bible.

Titus 3:5, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.”

Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.”

Acts 16:31, “And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.”

Romans 10:9-10, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”

Romans 10:13, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

These among many other Scriptures teach that salvation is accomplished with no effort on the part of the one being saved outside of repentance and faith. When we turn to the Scriptures we see many accounts of baptism following salvation, not salvation resulting from baptism. In Acts 8 we see an Ethiopian Eunuch being saved and then he asked what hindered him from being baptized. If it were necessary for salvation then the question was unnecessary. In Acts 10 we see the Holy Spirit being given to those who believed in the house of Cornelius. Once Peter saw that they were saved he asked, “Who can forbid them water” the baptizing came after they received the Holy Spirit. In Acts 16 we see the Phillippian jailer asks, “What must I do to be saved?” The answer was not believe and be baptized but “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.”

Of course one of the greatest examples of salvation apart from baptism is the thief on the cross. Many groups defend that by saying that those who desire to be baptized but can’t due to circumstances are still saved by their desire to be baptized. The problem there is saying that God made a requirement for salvation that man in some cases could not keep.

Paul makes an interesting point in Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation, “to every one who believeth” notice how he did not say to every one who believeth and is baptized. If baptismal regeneration were true then the apostle made a major doctrinal error and it has stayed in the Bible down through the centuries meaning the Word of God has been corrupted.

He said the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation which means salvation comes through the Gospel. This would also mean according to common sense that all requirements for salvation are found in the Gospel. Even those who believe in baptismal regeneration will agree with that point. Keeping that in mind look at what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:17, “For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.”

So Paul was making a point here that God had called him to preach the Gospel, not to baptize. He separates baptism from the Gospel. If salvation were attainable through baptism then Paul should have baptized them or else they were not saved. Baptismal regeneration is not orthodox which means it is not the historical doctrine of the church. I would easily qualify it as heresy because it distorts salvation, damns it’s followers and attempts to add human merit to salvation.

Written By: Rick Garland




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