By Robin A. Brace
The New Testament instructs those who come to Christ in faith to undergo baptism, but does the New Testament teach that there is no salvation without baptism?
This is the mighty leap which ‘baptismal regeneration’ encourages us to take!
A consideration of ‘baptismal regeneration,’ a doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church and of numerous cults and sects.
We are all aware of those Scriptures in the New Testament which advise all those who come to Christ in faith to undergo water baptism. Baptism is important, it is both:
- A symbol of the burying of our old sinful selves and a rising again in regeneration (being ‘born again’). See Romans 6:3-6.
- A public statement and witness of our determination to walk with Jesus for the rest of our lives.
Baptism by immersion is obviously the best example of the death and burial of the ‘old self,’ however we have to understand that full immersion baptism is impossible for some sick and infirm 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.
The Roman Catholic Church, however, teaches a thing called ‘baptismal regeneration’ – this is an approach which believes that water baptism (usually ‘sprinkling’ applied to people from small babies upwards) when carried out by an ordained minister/priest of their church is fundamentally necessary for salvation. No baptism = No salvation!
Baptismal Regeneration teaches that the practise 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!)
There appear to be huge problems with this approach:
1n the first place, this appears to be placing too much trust upon a ritual whilst ignoring the presence of the grace of God (of course, Roman Catholicism teaches that the sacraments themselves – baptism, ordination etc., – can and do administer this grace, and that God has given this authority to His Church).
Secondly, this would mean – at least theoretically – no salvation for those undergoing death-bed repentance.
Thirdly, countless millions of babies who die prematurely without baptism are, according to this
Fourthly, this is suspiciously close to saying that we ourselves can do a ‘work’ which will necessitate and require God to save us. That would be ‘salvation by works’ which the theology of the New Testament soundly rejects.
Fifthly, what of the thousands of babies baptized by the Catholic Church who grew up to become
unbelievers? What happened to that “baptismal grace?”
The Anglican Church and Eastern Orthoxy also theoretically embrace ‘baptismal regeneration’ though
- in fact – countless Anglican ministers, especially of the evangelical variety, actually reject it. Many cults and sects also uphold ‘baptismal regeneration’ and it is surely interesting that these groups
necessarily equate membership in their particular church organization with salvation itself. With undeniable consistency, religious bodies which profess to be “the one true church” incorporate ritual baptism as an essential step in their “What must I do to be saved” formula.
Although in the New Testament, baptism is considered important, if one puts the entirety of New Testament doctrinal teaching 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, the Acts 15 church conference of about AD49 which discussed the approach to be employed in bringing Christ to the Gentiles does not even 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. Moreover, something over 80 places in the Bible refer to salvation by grace through faith alone. Here are just a very few examples: 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 – many more examples could obviously be given, but the point should surely already be clearly made that while new believers are instructed to be baptized, water baptism itself only occupies a very minor role in New Testament theology; 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), would it not, surely,
occupy a more major place in New Testament doctrinal teaching??
We can take this even further:
It is well-recognized that the two most heavily doctrinal books in the New Testament are Romans and Hebrews (I am not aware that anybody even challenges this). But what do we find when we look for evidence from these books that salvation cannot occur without baptism? We are in for some surprises!
- The word for ‘baptism’ only occurs in Romans 6:4, it occurs nowhere else in these two heavily doctrinal books which teach us so much about salvation.
- The word, ‘baptisms’ occurs just once in Hebrews 6:2 but nowhere else in these books.
- The word for ‘baptize’ never occurs in either book!
- The word for ‘baptized’ just occurs in Romans 6:3, but nowhere else in these books.
- The word for ‘baptizing’ never occurs anywhere in either book! So we are left with just Romans 6:3-4 and Hebrews 6:2.
So are these verses (in two such doctrinal books which continually focus on salvation) definite warnings that none will be saved without baptism?
Let us look:
Romans 6:3-4 just shows that our baptisms were symbolic of the death of our old person when we accepted Christ. These verses show that just as ‘…Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life’ (Romans 6:4). The point which Paul is answering is the one he had raised in verse one: ‘…Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?’ Paul shows that this would be a nonsensical approach since we should now look upon our old ‘sinning man’ as dead. But does he conclude here with a warning that none will even be saved without being baptized (after all, he mentions baptism nowhere else in this epistle)? No. He does not, since the
huge weight of his teaching elsewhere in this epistle (and elsewhere in his other epistles) is that the vital components in salvation are faith and grace.
What about Hebrews 6:2? Do we find a warning here in such a heavily doctrinal book as this that there is no salvation without water baptism? There is a surprise here, for in verses 1-2 the writer is saying that it is time to move on from such ‘elementary principles’ as ‘the repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of
the dead, and of eternal judgment’ (Hebrews 6:1-2). He is saying that while we should understand these things, it is now time to move on toward perfection! Interestingly, he puts baptism second in his list after first mentioning the vital matter of ‘repentance from dead works and of faith toward God’ (An order which Protestant theology would expect to see). But does the writer take an opportunity (since the topic of baptism is raised nowhere else in this epistle) to remind and warn that there is no salvation without water baptism? No. He does not.
So we are left with the clear conclusion that the two most heavily doctrinal books in the New Testament which reveal so much about how humans may – through the grace of God – attain salvation, never mention water baptism as a vital stage in the process without which there is no salvation.
We are bound to 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 a/so conclude that the Holy Bible does not uphold the Roman Catholic and cu/tic doctrine of baptismal regeneration.
Robin A. Brace
© This article is Copyright Robin A. Brace 2004, but you are completely free to use it wherever you will.