Baptism is an old and much discussed topic by gospel preachers. It has long been a theological battleground, the subject of much discussion and many debates. Preachers who want to be true to the word of God must continue to set forth what the Bible says about this subject.
Nearly every church as an “official position” on baptism. However, the churches of Christ have no humanly determined “official position” on baptism or any other subject. We strive to occupy the Bible position on this as well as every other spiritual matter. The Bible alone is our “creed book,” “catechism,” and “church manual.” It is the height of denominational thinking to talk about “Church of Christ belief, doctrine and practice.” What we believe, teach and practice must always be that which God’s Word authorizes — nothing more, less, or else!
Three areas of disagreement exist where baptism is concerned. The first is the subject or candidate for baptism. Is baptism for infants or is it only for repentant believers? The second concerns the action of baptism. May baptism be performed by sprinkling, pouring, and/or immersion? The third concerns the purpose of baptism. Is baptism just a ritual that unites one with a particular religious fellowship or denomination after one has been saved, or is it a condition of salvation from sin and thus ultimately of eternal salvation in heaven? It is on this last area that this article will address.
It should first be said that baptism stands between the sinner and salvation (Mark 16:15-16). “But,” it is claimed, “one is not condemned for a lack of baptism, only for a lack of belief. Therefore, belief is really the only thing necessary for salvation.” No, lack of belief is the only thing necessary for condemnation because “he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18). Christ clearly included both belief and baptism as essential for salvation. However, baptism is not essential to salvation if one has no interest in doing what Christ said!
We must also note that baptism stands between the sinner and remission of sins (Acts 2:38). “For” is eis in the Greek, and means “in order to,” never “because of.” It is the same word used in Matthew 26:28 where Christ declared that He was to shed His blood “for the remission of sins,” obviously meaning that He did not shed His blood because the sins of mankind had already been remitted! No reputable translation of Acts 2:38 renders it “because of.” If one can be saved without receiving the remission of sins, one can be saved without baptism.
It must also be pointed out that baptism stands between the sinner and his sins being washed away (Acts 22:16). Again, if one can be saved without having his sins washed away, one can be saved without baptism!
Consider also that baptism stands between the sinner and the benefits of the death of Christ (Rom. 6:3). If one can be saved without the benefits of Christ’s death, then baptism is not essential to salvation.
Baptism also stands between the sinner and the new life in Christ (Rom. 6:4-6). If one can be saved without experiencing the new life in Christ, baptism is not essential for salvation.
Note that baptism also stands between the sinner and them being able to legitimately wear the name of Christ (1 Cor. 1:12-13). The inspired apostle Peter declared, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Yet if one can be saved without wearing the name of Christ, then baptism is not essential to salvation.
Baptism also stands between the sinner and being in the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13). The body of Christ is the church (Eph. 1:22-23; Col. 1:18). One is added to the church when he is saved from sin (Acts 2:47). However, baptism is not essential to salvation if one can be saved outside of the body or church of Christ.
Consider that baptism also stands between the sinner and being in Christ where all spiritual blessings are found (Gal. 3:27; Eph. 1:3). One of these blessings is salvation (2 Tim. 2:10). So if one can be saved without being in Christ and receiving His spiritual blessings, then baptism is not essential to salvation.
We must point out that baptism also stands between the sinner and the benefits of the spiritual circumcision which Christ performs (Col. 2:11-12). However, if one can be saved without undergoing this spiritual circumcision in which the body of the sins of the flesh are cut off, then baptism is not essential to salvation.
Finally, consider that baptism stands between the sinner and being saved and having a good conscience before God (1 Pet. 3:21). Yet, if being saved and having a good conscience toward God is not necessary then baptism is not essential to salvation.
Brother J.D. Tant held eight debates with Ben M. Bogard, a famous Baptist preacher and debater. The last one was conducted in 1937 in the Lone Start community about eight miles east of Greenwood, AR. When brother Tant introduced 1 Peter 3:21 into the discussion as evidence of the necessity of baptism for salvation, Mr. Bogard responded, “Why yes, baptism is just a figure — a picture — of the salvation we receive at the moment we believe.” He kept stressing that baptism was only a “picture” of salvation, but not a condition of salvation.
Brother Tant replied, “Well, it’s a pity Peter did not know that on Pentecost; otherwise, he would have said: ‘Repent, and get your picture taken for the remission of sins!”
Our study began with Christ’s statement in Mark 16:16 and ended with Peter’s statement in 1 Peter 3:21. These statements serve as fitting summaries of all that the New Testament says with reference to baptism’s purpose. Both of them declare baptism to be essential to salvation. All of the other passages are but different ways of saying the same thing.
Have you been baptized — not because you believed you were already saved — but in order to be saved and enter into Christ?
Hugh has been preaching the gospel of Christ for many years. He lives in Gallatin, TN.