DOCTRINES OF THE BIBLE
By Pastor Jared Decker
What is the purpose of baptism? The answer to that question can be found by the simple and clear examination of Scripture. The clearest passage dealing with the purpose of baptism is Romans 6:3-4. (v3. Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? v4. Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.) Baptism is a symbol of identification, much like a wedding ring. Wearing a wedding ring does not make one married, nor does the absence of one make a person unmarried. In like manner, baptism doesn’t furnish salvation, nor does the absence of it eradicate salvation. It is the way by which we identify ourselves with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. Just as there is a proper interpretation to Scripture and doctrine, there is an erroneous interpretation of the same. The errant dogma of baptismal regeneration teaches that baptism either is the means of salvation or is a part of the means of salvation. This teaching may include the baptism of infants “to wash away original sin” or “bestow upon them the faith necessary for salvation”. There are many “churches” today that teach some sort of baptismal regeneration. These “churches” would include (but not be completely limited to) Roman Catholicism, Lutherans, Seventh-day Adventism, Mormonism, United Pentecostalism, Oneness Churches, Apostolic Churches, most Churches of Christ, and Eastern Orthodoxy. There are, as with any misinterpretation of Scripture, some “pet” verses used by these groups to “prove” there erroneous dogma. Let us take a Biblical approach to a few of these “proof-texts” that are so often used.
1. Acts 2:38
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.
Grammatically, the main emphasis of Peter’s statement was the imperative statement “Repent”. He then concluded the statement by telling them in a Scripturally ordered fashion to be baptized after the act of repentance. The error of most who teach this verse as the groundwork for baptismal regeneration is that they take the statement “for the remission of sins” to be subjective to the command to “be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ”. First of all, Scripture must always be tested and verified with other Scripture. A close examination of the other passages dealing with the word “repent” or its equivalent would be sufficient for most people to understand that this verse is not teaching that baptism is essential to salvation. (Matt. 3:2; 4:17; 9:13; Mk 1:15; 2:7; 6:12; Lk 5:32; 13:3,5; 15:7; 16:27-31; 24:45-47; Acts 3:19; 5:31; 8:22; 17:30; 26:20) An excellent example of a passage which shows the difference between baptism and the forgiveness of sins through repentance is Acts 13:24-39. However, for those who do not accept the clear testimony of the other passages in God’s word, they need not look any farther than the word “for” in the phrase “for the remission of sins”. In Acts 2:38 the usage of the word “for” is “because” or “because of”. Today, we use the word “for” to mean “unto” or “toward”. A perfect example of the Scriptural difference in old and new usage of the word “for” is John 3:16, “For (“because” – not “unto”) God so loved the world…” Therefore, the meaning of Acts 2:38 could be summarized in this way, “…Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ because of the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” This is exactly the order of what happened in the verse to follow, “v41. Then they that gladly #1received his word were #2baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. v42. And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. v43. And fear came upon every soul: and many #3wonders and signs were done by the apostles.” Thus we see that Acts 2:38 does not promote baptismal regeneration; it merely substantiates salvation by repentance through faith.
2. Mark 16:16
He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.
This verse is even simpler to explain from clear Scriptural application. In the second half of this verse Christ gives the key to the explanation. The only person who has to fear the condemnation of hell is “he that believeth not”. We can find more clarification by looking at verse fifteen, where Christ commanded the disciples to “preach the Gospel”. No where in Scripture is the “Gospel” equated or compounded with baptism. In verse seventeen, Jesus again spoke only of “them that believe”. Salvation is given to them that believe on Jesus Christ, and condemnation is already the penalty of them that believe not. (John 3:18; I John 5:10) Baptism has no effect on the salvation or condemnation of a soul.
3. 1 Peter 3:21
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:
This passage must be looked at in context to have clarification. The context of the passage is looking at the flood and the ark of Noah as a “figure” of salvation. Common sense of the Old Testament account of the flood allows us to understand that Noah was not saved by the water. Water was the method of judgment God sent, Noah was saved by following God’s perfect and clear instructions to get in the ark. Just as Noah was lifted up on the water inside the ark to a new life above the earth, we are saved from hell in Christ and baptized to be “raised to walk in newness of life”. We can also see by grammatical analysis that the verse states that “baptism doth also now save us…by the resurrection of Jesus Christ:” (Rom. 6:5; Phil. 3:10; I Peter 1:3) By analyzing Scripture with Scripture, we know that the act that gave final significance to the sacrifice that Christ suffered on the cross was the resurrection from the dead. If Christ had not risen, our faith would be in vain. (I Cor. 15:14) Therefore, I Peter 3:21 is decreased in Biblical significance by those who seek to major on the word “baptism” in the verse to the absenting of the importance of the “resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
4. John 3:5
Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
Once again, we see the danger of disassociating a statement – Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit – from the context of the passage from which it is taken. This statement comes in the midst of Jesus’ attempt to help Nicodemus discern between the physical and the spiritual. The words “born of water and of the Spirit” are a declaration of the two types of birth that a person must come through to “enter into the kingdom of God.” The physical birth is the one spoken of in the statement “born of water”, and the Spiritual birth is spoken of by the words “and of the Spirit”. Further testament to this fact can be seen in Christ’s declaration in verse 7, “ye must be born again.” Why must a person be born again? Billions of people have been born into this world by the birth “of water”; however, that birth simply brings a human being into a sinful condition through the bloodline of Adam (Romans 5:12). Because of the first birth, there is death; therefore, a second birth is required to pass “from death unto life.” (John 5:24) This is the birth “of the Spirit” that comes “by grace through faith”. (Ephesians 2:8) That is the context of this extraordinary passage of Scripture. To use it for any other purpose than to reveal the clear presentation of the true Gospel of salvation is to mistreat the perfect Word of God and change “the truth of God into a lie.” (Romans 1:25)