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Home: Questions and Answers
Question:

Does a person need to be baptised in order to be saved?

Answer:

No, the person does not.

Regeneration is the work of the Holy Spirit by which He imparts spiritual life to a spiritually dead sinner, so that the sinner will believe the gospel with faith and turn to God. The Bible describes this work with expressions like "begotten of God" (1 John 5:1,18) "born again" (John 3:3) and "made alive" (Ephesians 2:4). Moreover, the Bible is clear that God, acting entirely alone and out of His good grace, is the one who imparts this regenerating work upon the sinner for His eternal, elective purposes (Ephesians 1:4-14).

There are some Christian denominations, however, that believe a person must be baptized by water either by sprinkling or immersion, in order to experience that spiritual regeneration. This view is called "baptismal regeneration." The idea is that water baptism is a necessary means God uses to impart saving grace, and individuals must be baptized to complete the work of God's salvation. The primary reason for this unique belief is a general misunderstanding of baptismal passages in the scripture, particularly the book of Acts.

Baptismal regeneration is expressed in different ways depending upon the doctrine of the specific denomination. For example, the Church of Christ denomination insists that any person who names Christ, believes the gospel message, and prays the sinner's prayer must be baptized as quickly as possible or the person will not be saved. In their system, being regenerated follows after the person believes the gospel, and the person is not regenerated until after baptism takes place. Thus, according to Church of Christ doctrine, if the new convert was to die from a freak accident before he is baptized, the person will not receive eternal life. His faith in the gospel must be accompanied by baptism.

The Lutheran denomination, however, practices what is called infant baptism, and they teach that baptism is the phyiscal means God's Spirit uses to impart regeneration to a person. So, when an infant in baptized, that child is spiritually regenerated by the act of sprinkling. The sprinkled infant is in essence saved and a Christian, even though the infant does not have the ability to understand the gospel message, has not made any confession of faith by believing the gospel, and cannot personally submit to Christ's Lordship. In addition, the Lutheran would argue that if a regenerated child is to grow up and walk away from the Christian faith, that person is considered to have lost his salvation. Their view of salvation includes the notion of conditional security, that being, a person's salvation is conditioned upon his faithfulness to Christ.

There are at least four reasons why baptismal regeneration is not biblical and should be rejected by orthodox Christianity:

1) There is a complete absence of any discussion of baptism in the key biblical texts describing regeneration. If a person were to check the major chapters of scripture that comment upon spiritual regeneration, passages like, 1 Corinthians chapters 1 and 2, Ephesians 2:1-10, 1 Peter 1:22-23, James 1:18 and Titus 3:5 for instance, there is no mention of baptism being coupled with the Spirit's work of regeneration. In fact, Paul pits preaching against water baptism in 1 Corinthians 1:17, separating them from each other. Those handful of passages that speak of "washing" with the work of regeneration, say for instance, John 3:5 and Titus 3:5, are mistakenly believed to be teaching baptism with out any exegetical merit to equate the two. These passages are using the metaphor of washing to picture the cleasing work of the Spirit when a sinner is brought to salvation. Moreover, there are a handful of passages where individuals are said to be moved upon by God's regenerating spirit BEFORE baptism. The converts in Acts 2 were "cut to the heart" before baptism; Cornelius in Acts 10 manifested the spirit before baptism; Lydia in Acts 16 heeded Paul's words before baptism; the Thessalonians are said to have received the word with much joy, but there is no mention of baptism. If water baptism was such a necessary component to regeneration and salvation, there would be clearer and more specific teaching on it with regards to the work of the Spirit, but there is not.

2) There is improper exegesis of those texts that speak of baptism. There are many passages we could consider, but I will look at Colossians 2:11-12 as a prime example. Proponents of baptismal regeneration believe this passage supports their position, but that conclusion is born out of human tradition, not observations from the text. There are at least four key reasons why this passage of scripture does not support baptismal regeneration: First, the grammar of the text reveals a simultaneous occurence between circumcision and baptism; thus, both events are happening at the same time to the person.

Secondly, the emphasis is upon God's work. the spiritual circumcision (another expression for "regeneration") is said to be "made without hands." Human works are not involved at all with this circumcision and baptism.

Third, the entire chapter - in fact, the entire book of Colossians - is down playing the role of external rites in a person's spirituality. The whole context of Paul's argument in Colossians would be ruined if he is teaching that regeneration is accompanied by water baptism on the part of the convert.

And fourth, the work described in this text is said to be accompanied by faith - a conscious experience of the person's mind and heart. Infants surely cannot do this. Other similar passages appealed to by the supporters of baptismal regeneration can also be shown that they are being mis-interpreted.

3) Regeneration places a person into the body of Christ and into the realm of being filled with the spirit and sanctification. This is an important point to note for those denominations, like the Lutherans, who believe baptismal regeneration brings an infant into salvation while the infant's sanctification by the Spirit lies dormant until the infant grows to a certain age to confess Christ and to activate the process of spiritual growth. The Bible, however, tells us that being regenerated by the Spirit immediately places the new believer into the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13, Galatians 3:27,28) and that he or she immediately begins the sanctifying work of the Spirit. That person has put on Christ, and thus is going to be conformed to Christ's image. There is no option of a person laying spiritually dormant after regeneration. A truly regenerated person will begin to manifest the work of the spirit in his or her life. We see a NT example of this with Cornelius and his family when they began to speak in tongues BEFORE they were baptized. The same is true of those who are said to be baptized in Romans 6. They are said to be freed from sin and begin at once to mortify the members of their body (conform themselves to Christ). Infants do not do this.

4) Baptismal Regeneration produces erroneous doctrinal thinking. There are some false teachings that emerge from baptismal regeneration. First, for those who teach that infant children can be spiritually regenerated, this doctrine comes close to a form of the carnal Christian doctrine taught by old, classic style dispensationalists, in which a person can be a Christian, but still live worldly. The person is said to be "in Christ," but still acts as a sinner. Even though the person was "baptized" as an infant, it is considered "enough" to get him into heaven. I have spoken with myriads of people who come from this background who believed that their baptism as an infant was sufficient to merit them heaven, even though all of them testify that they never lived godly or persued Christ-likeness.

Also, the heretical doctrine of conditional security evolves from this doctrine. The supporter of baptismal regeneration finds in the heresy of conditional security the excuse for a person being baptized and supposedly "regenerated" as an infant, who grows up to deny the faith. How can someone born of incorruptible seed (1 Peter 1:23) corrupt his salvation to the point of loosing it? The baptismal regenerationist would have me believe that a blind sinner who was made to see spiritually has the ability to gouge out his spiritual eyes once again, contrary to what is taught in the Bible.

And, the false teaching that a man's faith and belief is responsible for his regeneration is promoted by the idea of baptismal regeneration. Faith and belief are a gift of God's grace (Ephesians 2:8) given to a person at regeneration. A person believes the gospel in faith, because God is the one who granted him the ability to believe by giving him saving faith. Baptismal regeneration, especially the variety taught by denominations like the Church of Christ, teach that a person's faith comes first, then the person is regenerated at baptism. Yet, the reason a person even makes a move toward coming to Christ in the first place is due in part to the regenerating work of the Spirit. Baptismal regeneration reverses what the Bible teaches on the work of God in the heart of a sinner.


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