Thursday, January 22, 2015

What is the Deal About Baptism Regeneration? Is it Biblical?

Not too long ago I was involved in a friendly conversation with a friend over doctrines in various denominational groups. The conversation moved to whether or not one needed to be baptized in order to be "saved." When I use the term "saved," I am using it in the context of spiritual redemption vis-a-vis, salvation from sin.

Let us be reminded that this is a hot button among many folks who are members of groups or sects that find their roots in the American Restoration Movement or Campbellite tradition during the Great Awakening in America.

But is baptismal regeneration taught in Scripture? Some believe that it is, but this posting will argue for the contrary.

The New Testament is where we turn our attention to on this subject. In fact we can see all throughout the New Testament that those who come to faith in Christ, as a first step of following Christ in discipleship they are baptized. Does this mean that they are being saved in the baptismal waters?  Does the Bible teach that there is no salvation without baptism?

Let's Look at Scripture

The New Testament instructs those who come to Christ in faith to take that first step of following Christ in baptism. We are all well aware that there is a Scriptural base for this. In a major passage, we see in Romans 6:3-6 that baptism is important in the following ways, 

(1) Baptism is a symbolic or an outward picture of the regenerative action by God upon the life of the new believer where we see the burying of the old self and a rising again in newness of life, which is a picture of regeneration (being 'born again') (Romans 6:3-60.

(2) A second picture is conveyed in the act of baptism. Baptism is a public statement and witness of one's determination to walk with Jesus for the rest of our lives. In essence it is a declaration to those who witness this wonderful act of worship, that the person coming out the waters, is publicly declaring their renunciation of the past religion, and/or sinful life, and following Christ.  

Baptism by immersion is obviously the best illustration of the death and burial of the 'old self,' however we have to understand that full immersion baptism is impossible for some sick and infirmed people and a wise pastor will perhaps arrange a pouring procedure for such people. 

Quite obviously, it is the spiritual meaning of the act of baptism which has more importance than the precise way it is carried out.

What Do Others Say?
Baptismal regeneration is a tenant of numerous Christian denominations, that include the Roman Catholic Church. It is also strenuously promoted by churches in the Restoration Movement, specifically the Church of Christa nd the International Church of Christ.

Baptismal Regeneration teaches that the practice of water baptism is sufficient to forgive all sins which occurred before that baptism takes place (actually, according to the classical Roman Catholic expression of baptismal regeneration - and this seems amazing to Protestants - any sins commited after baptism are not covered!)

What are the Problems?  
This posting will not take the time right now to respond to the Scriptural defenses for baptismal regeneration. I will address those in other postings. For the purposes of this posting, though, there appear to be a few problems with this dogma. Let me address five of them quickly.

First there appears to be placing of too much trust upon a ritual like baptism, while ignoring the presence of the grace of God. The Roman Church and other denominations of the liturgical sway teach that the sacraments themselves are vehicles of grace, or that the act of baptism administers grace. The thinking here is that God has given this authority to the His Church.

Secondly, there is a follow up problem, in that theoretically speaking there would be no salvation for those who are lying in a hospital bed. While they may be able to conscientiously repent of their sins, they could not be baptized, hence no salvation for the one undergoing their death-bed repentance.

Thirdly, being a father who had a daughter who was born premature, we say a handful of premature babies leave this life without baptism. Take the hospital that we were in for 9 weeks waiting for our daughter to be discharged, and then imagine the countless millions of babies who die prematurely without baptism. This creates other theological questions that are not warrant for this posting, but are these babies lost, because they are not baptized. Surely not!  

Fourthly, I asked my friend this question. Since we are saved by grace and not works, what is baptism? (Crickets)  Why?  Because this is saying that we ourselves can do a 'work' which will necessitate and require God to save us. That makes baptismal regeneration an act of 'salvation by works' which is a teaching that the New Testament soundly rejects.

Fifthly, what of the thousands of babies baptized by the Catholic Church and mainline denominations, who grow up to become unbelievers? I was, though encouraged to church, though I was going through the motions to please my parents. If this is the case, then what happened to that "baptismal grace" at the moment the baby was baptized?

What Does Scripture Really Teach?

Although the New Testament considers baptism to be important, if one puts the entirety of New Testament doctrinal teaching all together, baptism is not really mentioned all that much. 

The Galatian believers were justified by faith, not works (Galatians 2:16; 3:22). It was the "false brethren" (Galatians 2:4), the Judaizers, who introduced the additional requirements of keeping certain tenets of the law in order to be saved. 

Moreover, in Acts 15 there was the Jerusalem church conference of about AD 49 which discussed the approach to be employed in bringing Christ to the Gentiles. Do you notice something that was missing in the letter?  It does not mention baptism! While it could be argued that this was discussing things in the Gentile's lives post-baptism (baptism being assumed), if 'baptismal regeneration' (salvation is impossible without baptism) is really true, it does seem surprising that there is no mention here. 

If we were to look at Scripture we would find approximately 80 places in the Bible refer to salvation by grace through faith alone.[1]  Many more examples could obviously be given, but if baptism by an officially ordained minister of any particular denomination/organisation is absolutely essential to salvation (as Catholicism and numerous cults and sects teach), why does it not the major corpus of New Testament soteriology[2]?  We can look to Romans, and Hebrews. Baptismal regeneration is no where to be found.  


So what is the conclusion that we come to in this short ranting? We are left with the teaching that whether it is the most doctrinal books of the New Testament or Paul's other letters, salvation is only by grace alone, through faith alone; and baptism is an act of worship, public declaration, and a beautiful picture o the inward change that God has wrought in the life of the new believer.  

We can only conclude that while those who come to faith in Christ should certainly be baptized in line with the clear New Testament example, water baptism is not essential for salvation; therefore, we must also conclude that the Holy Bible does not uphold the Roman Catholic and cultic doctrine of baptismal regeneration[3].


[1] See the following passages: John 1:12; John 3:16; John 3:36; John 5:24; John 6:40; John 11:25; Acts 10:43; Acts 13:39; Acts 16:30,31; Romans 3:22; Romans 3:28; Romans 4:3; Romans 4:5; Romans 10:9-13; Galatians 2:16; Galatians 3:26, and Ephesians 2:8-9.

[2] Soteriorology is the theological term for the "doctrine of salvation."

[3] It have used the word "cultic" a few times, because it is my belief that the formula of salvation = faith + works is not biblical. This formula is pictured in many cult groups and religions that try to please God through their works. If you would like my essay on what is a cult, I will be more than happy to send it to you. Send me an email at we can correspond, and I can send it to you.

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