On May 27-28, 2016, a public discussion took place in Lafayette, Tennessee, between Michael Brawner, a Missionary Baptist preacher, and myself, a minister of the gospel, on the question, “Is Water Baptism Essential For Salvation?”
Several months prior I had been invited to a study that one of our deacons was having with two Baptist preachers, one of them being Michael. After three hours of a somewhat controversial engagement on the necessity of baptism being a requirement to obtain salvation, I ask Michael if he would be willing to go public with this. He agreed and signed the proposition that night.
His proposition was: The Scriptures teach: “a person’s last requirement for soul salvation is faith only in Jesus Christ coming from the heart.” I told him his proposition was a contradiction in and of itself. If salvation is by faith only, how can it be a last requirement?
My proposition was: The Scriptures teach: “a person must be baptized in water as a requirement for salvation.”
We both wanted to conduct ourselves in a civil manner and we wanted the audience to do the same. Thus, rules were announced each night prior to our speaking. No one from the audience was to speak or make any kind of gestures. If either participant became angry the discussion would immediately be over.
I was the first to speak. In my affirmation I began by letting the hearers know this wasn’t about me. I did not want attention or the praise of men, but it was about an eternal question — one mankind must get right in order to go to heaven. It wasn’t an attack on Michael. I expressed I wasn’t trying to cause division, but that division already exists.
I encouraged those present to have a humble attitude, an open mind, and an open Bible. I expressed my love for all mankind — I want them to go to heaven. I presented the fact that the Bible is like a puzzle and we have to put all the pieces together to arrive at truth. My first affirming scripture was Mark 16:16, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” I broke this down into the compound sentence it is, saying the “he” who will be saved is the one who “believes and is baptized.” Since most denominational people use the latter part of the scripture, “…he who does not believe will be condemned,” to place the emphasis on believing being the only thing necessary, I used the familiar example of eating and digesting to make the point that the last clause in no way changes the meaning of the first clause. “He who eats and digests shall live; he who eats not shall die.”
I also showed a picture of a Ford Mustang and used this scenario: If there was an ad put out that read, “He who believes in Ford Motor Company and is baptized in our pool, shall receive a new Ford,” every person here would be at Ford Motor Company in the morning to say they believed in Ford Motor Company and to be baptized in order to receive a new car. No one would argue, “I believe, give me the new Ford, and then I’ll be baptized.” Why? Because the ad said both belief and baptism are necessary before acquiring the car.
Next, I alluded to Acts 2:38, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins…” The word “for,” which is eis in the Greek, has been abused and misused by those determined to make baptism unnecessary for salvation. These would have us believe that “for” means “because of.” In other words, one is baptized because their sins are already forgiven. The word “for” (eis) is used 1,490 times in the King James Version and not one time does it mean “because of.”
Jesus Himself said in Matthew 26:28, “For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” Did Jesus shed His blood because we are already forgiven? Does “for” here mean “because of”? If so, this would read that Jesus shed His blood “because of” the remission of sins. Friends, this in no way is logical.
My last text was Acts 22:16, “And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” Of course, we know these are the words of Ananias to Saul after Saul had been blinded on the road to Damascus. How can the majority of denominationalists come up with the notion that Saul was already saved on the road when he was told to be baptized to wash away his sins after arriving at Damascus? It cane be nothing more than a misconstruing of scriptures!
In Michael’s denial he said the “purpose” of baptism was the issue. He quickly went to Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Of course, he said baptism was a work. He also went to Galatians 2:21, “I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.” I’m assuming the emphasis is on grace again. Christians have no argument about the magnitude of God’s grace. If not for God’s grace none would be saved! I assume he is referring to righteousness coming through the law as obedience, or a work. The correct rendering of Galatians 2:21 is that we cannot be saved under the old law. We can read in the very next chapter of Galatians that Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law (5:10-14).
When one tries to use the argument that baptism is a work to try to prove its irrelevance, they would also have to disregard faith. Why? In John 6:28-29 the people asked Jesus, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God that you believe in Him whom He sent.” Like faith, baptism is also called a work of God. “In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead” (Co. 2:11-12). There is a big difference in the works of man and the operation (work) of God.
In my second speech on the first night I replied to Michael’s accusation, “Mr. Honeycutt believes water washes away sin.” My answer was, “I don’t know anyone who believes and teaches that water saves. He who says we teach this says what is not so.” I most assuredly pointed out that the blood of Christ is what washes sins away…but when does it wash them away? This was the issue. If Saul was saved on the road he didn’t know it. Jesus didn’t know it because he told Saul to go into the city and it would be told him what he must do. Ananias didn’t know it. Otherwise, why would he tell Saul, “Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins”?
I concluded in my ten-minute rebuttal on the first night with this:
- Salvation is in the name of Jesus (Ac. 4:12). We are baptized into the name of Jesus (Mt. 28:19). Therefore, baptism is essential to salvation.
- Salvation is in the body, the church (Ep. 5:23). We are baptized into the body (1 Co. 12:13).
- Christ shed His blood in His death (Jn. 19:34). We are baptized into His death (Ro. 6:3). Therefore, baptism is essential to reaching the blood of Jesus.
- Grace is in Christ (2 Ti. 2:1). We get into Christ through baptism (Ro. 6:3). Therefore, baptism is essential to grace that saves.
On the second night Michael’s responsibility was to affirm his proposition: “The Scriptures teach a person’s last requirement for soul salvation is faith only in Jesus Christ coming from the heart.”
He said Cornelius (Ac. 10) received the Holy Spirit before he was baptized, and asked the question, “Do you really believe God would send His Spirit to someone before they were saved?” Thus, his conclusion was Cornelius was a child of God before baptism.
My reply: First, Cornelius’ reception of the Holy Spirit represented a very unique situation. He was the first Gentile to be offered the gospel. This was a revolutionary step in the unfolding of God’s scheme of redemption. The fact is, the supernatural work of the Spirit in this case had nothing to do with Cornelius’ personal salvation. The outpouring of the Spirit was to persuade the Jews that Gentiles also had a right to the kingdom of heaven (Ac. 11:16-18).
Michael used Acts 15:9 to teach Cornelius and his household were saved when they received the Spirit: “and made no distinction between us (Jews) and them (Gentiles).” My response to this reasoning was if one can learn what the Jews were required to do in order to secure the remission of sins (Ac. 2:36-47), he will be forced to conclude that the identical process be applied to Cornelius and his household as well (Ac. 10:48).
Concerning 1 Peter 3:21, Michael said the ark was what saved Noah, not the water. He also said neither the ark, nor Noah, went under the water. I explained the word “antitype.” In the Greek it means “corresponding, similar, form, model, or example.” Noah’s salvation through water is a “like figure” to salvation (Ge. 6:22). His obedience to what God commanded saved him.
1 Peter 3:21 specifically says that “baptism does also now save us.” I asked Michael and the audience, “‘Baptism DOES save us’ or ‘Baptism DOES NOT save us?’ Which statement do you believe?”
In Michael’s affirmation he said there was more than one faith. He said there is a historical faith and a saving faith. He said there was more than one baptism. He disagreed with the apostle Paul in Ephesians 4:5 when the inspired writer said, “…one faith, one baptism.”
He emphasized that faith comes from the heart, using Jeremiah 29:13. Everything is done “in the heart” (with only mental assent). He did admit one has to repent before this saving faith; thus he doesn’t really believe in “faith alone.”
I used Romans 6:17, “But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered.” I made it known that Christians also believe from the heart.
Concerning the eunuch in Acts 8, Michael said the eunuch only wanted to be baptized after he confessed his faith (equivalent to salvation).
He also made a comment I had never heard, even while I was growing up in the Baptist Church. He said, “A saved person gets into Christ by baptism, but a lost person won’t ever get into Christ by baptism.” How can one be saved if they are not in Christ?! Michael doesn’t understand that being in Christ is the only way one can be saved! I tried to get this concept across by using Ephesians 2:12-13, Jesus here speaking to the Gentiles, “that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”
There is so much that hasn’t been included in this article. I encourage you to order the DVD from World Video Bible School or watch it on YouTube. I also strongly encourage you to show this to your young people.
At this writing there are ten precious souls that we are aware of which have obeyed the gospel as a result of this discussion.
Thank you for your interest.
Jack has been preaching the gospel for over 30 years. He is the coordinator of the Rampachodavaram/Tuni, India Mission Work.