We had a bright, self-confident student intern working for my firm one summer. Inevitably, our discussions led to religion, and he was a devout Baptist. He really knew his stuff, and he enjoyed discussing his views on religion with me.
One day, while we were disputing over whether baptism is required for salvation, a fellow employee — another Baptist — happened by. She asked what we were discussing. In response to our reply, she said, “Well, of course you have to be baptized to be saved!”
Our intern was dumbstruck. He asked how a fellow Baptist could take such a view. She replied, “That’s what I’ve always been taught and what our pastor has taught us since I was a little girl.” She assured the intern that her church was a member of the Southern Baptist Convention in good standing.
We need to consider how broad baptism is. Baptism is immersion. But which immersions count and which do not? In other words, will the Baptists go to heaven? There. I’ve said it. One of the most controversial questions facing the Churches of Christ today is what to do with the Baptists. A very large percentage of the members of the Church of Christ who were not raised in the Church of Christ were converted from among the Baptists (and the Baptists have a great many former Church of Christ members).
While there are important differences in doctrine and practice, the similarities of the two groups are large. By far, the most important distinction is with regard to the two groups’ differing views of baptism. Many, maybe most, within the Churches of Christ believe that a penitent believer becomes a Christian only upon being baptized. So do many Baptists. Not all Baptists, but many of them.
You see, a great many Baptists have taken the view for many years that baptism is for the forgiveness of sins, in the same sense that the Churches of Christ have always understood it. In fact, this view seems to be spreading. But then, many other Baptists believe that baptism is in response to having already been saved at the moment of faith, or praying the “sinner’s prayer,” and thus is not essential to salvation.
As to those who have been baptized with the same purpose as us, on what theory can we deny that they are our brothers in Christ? They believe in Jesus, repent of their sins, were baptized for forgiveness of sins, go to church on Sundays, give more generously than we do (on average), and diligently evangelize their neighbors.
Our differences relate to doctrine and not faith. We disagree on instrumental music, the pastor system, the frequency of taking the Lord’s Supper, “once saved, always saved,” and little else. We agree on church autonomy, predestination, election, evangelism, inspiration of the Bible, the workings of the Holy Spirit (except for those of us taking the Word-only view), and most other doctrines.
Thus, we must believe that the Baptists are in error on some points, but it would be ridiculous to argue that those Baptists who disagree with us on any point necessarily do so in a rebellious, hard-hearted spirit. Those who so argue need to get out and meet the people they are criticizing. Baptists are not perfect, but neither are they rebellious and hardhearted, which is why so many of their books are in our libraries and taught in our Sunday school classes.
The question then boils down to those Baptists who have been immersed for some reason other than for forgiveness of sins. Does this immersion constitute New Testament baptism? If so, they are going to heaven on the same terms that we are — by grace.
As always, the only authority that matters on this question is the Bible itself, and it speaks at length on baptism. Let’s start by agreeing on some elements of the doctrine of baptism:
1. Biblical baptism is immersion. The Churches of Christ and Baptists agree on this point.
2. Not just any immersion counts. Hearing, believing, confessing, repenting, and going for a swim doesn’t get it. You must be immersed for a Biblical reason. The purpose behind the immersion makes the getting wet a baptism.
3. The validity of baptism does not depend on who does the baptizing. You do not have to be immersed by a member of the Churches of Christ (or even a Christian) to be saved.
Imagine if this were true. Your baptism would not be effective unless the person baptizing you was saved at the moment you were baptized. But this means that a saved person must have baptized him. And so on. You would have to check out the spiritual genealogy of all baptizers to know if a baptism counted! Worse yet, all baptisms would have to be traced back to the apostles! After all, under this view only the apostles could initially have baptized anyone. Thereafter, only those baptized by an apostle could baptize. And so on. Once the chain is broken, no one could ever be saved again.
Thus, the only question is: what does the Bible say is an acceptable reason for being immersed? We will deal with this question in two phases. First, is our traditional argument — that the person being baptized must intend to receive forgiveness of his sins — valid? Second, if not, what other purposes might be sufficient?
We have traditionally argued that the only good baptism is a baptism for the purpose of obtaining forgiveness of sins. If you believe that your sins are forgiven upon attaining faith in Jesus, before baptism, as many Baptists do, then clearly you are not being baptized to obtain forgiveness.
Our disagreement with these Baptists centers on Acts 2:38:
Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
The key phrase is “for the forgiveness of sins” or, in the American Standard Version, “unto the forgiveness of sins.” If “for” or “unto” indicates the purpose of baptism in the mind of the believer, then this phrase would define an acceptable subjective intent. If “for” or “unto” defines the effect of baptism, that is, its result but not necessarily the believer’s purpose, then this verse does not define for us what the believer must be intending, and we will need to look elsewhere for a sufficient purpose.
After all, baptism has many effects that are not always intended or expected by the believer. Thousands have been baptized within the Churches of Christ with the expectation that the Holy Spirit’s actual indwelling would not be received, and yet each of these believers did receive it. Their baptism was valid despite receiving something that was not only unexpected but also contrary to their understanding of baptism. They had a partially false understanding of the effect of baptism, but the baptism was nonetheless effective. If misunderstanding the effect of baptism as it relates to the Holy Spirit does not prevent the baptism from being effective, then why does misunderstanding the effect of baptism as it relates to when (not whether) sins are forgiven?
Acts 2:38 can only be read as requiring that the believer have forgiveness as his purpose in being baptized if the word translated “for” or “unto” has this meaning in this context. The Bible itself answers this question. Let’s look at every other place where similar phrasing is used and see what was intended in these other verses. The phrase in Acts 2:38 in the Greek is baptizo eis, or “immerse” “into.” Each of the following verses contains virtually the identical form of the same phrase:
Matt. 28:19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit . . ..
Mark 1:4 And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
Luke 3:3 He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
Acts 8:16b [T]hey had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus.
Acts 10:48 So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.
Acts 19:5 On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus.
Rom. 6:3-4 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
1 Cor. 1:13-15 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul? I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized into my name.
1 Cor. 10:2 They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.
1 Cor. 12:13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body-whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free-and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
Gal. 3:27 [F]or all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
Notice that, by far, the most common translation of baptizo eis is “baptize into.” Why is this? The correct translation of the Greek preposition eis is seen in Acts 8:38:
Acts 8:38 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him.
Eis means into when it refers to immersion. Remember that “baptize” is a technical church term that we invented long after the Bible was written. When Peter or Paul said “baptize,” their listeners and readers did not hear a technical term — they heard “immerse.”
It is readily conceded that in other contexts eis can mean something subtler, such as “unto” or “for.” But when you are talking about going under water, “into” is the most obvious translation, and no other meaning can be substituted if “into” makes sense.
This is amply demonstrated by re-reviewing the verses quoted above. In every case, “into” could have been used by the translators and the verses would make perfect sense. Now try to substitute “for” or “in order to” or any other phrase and see if it works. Moreover, in those verses that translate eis as “in,” “into” is clearly a better translation. In fact, the New International Version translators typically footnote it as an alternative translation.
Matt. 28:19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them for the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
Acts 8:16b [T]hey had simply been baptized for the name of the Lord Jesus.
Acts 10:48 So he ordered that they be baptized for the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.
Acts 19:5 On hearing this, they were baptized for the name of the Lord Jesus.
Rom. 6:3-4 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized for Christ Jesus were baptized for his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism for death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
1 Cor. 1:13-15 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized for the name of Paul? I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized for my name.
1 Cor. 10:2 They were all baptized for Moses in the cloud and in the sea.
1 Cor. 12:13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit for one body-whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free-and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
Gal. 3:27 [F]or all of you who were baptized for Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
Translating these verses as we would like to translate Acts 2:38 doesn’t make sense. Clearly, we should translate Acts 2:38 to be consistent with the meaning of the same words in similar contexts in other places in the New Testament. Thus Acts 2:38 should be translated-
be baptized into the forgiveness of sins.
or better yet-
be immersed into the forgiveness of sins.
What a beautiful word-picture! Peter tells us what baptism symbolizes: being immersed, totally and fully, into forgiveness of sins. This translation makes baptism come alive as a demonstration of what God is doing for us while we are being immersed. It is also what Peter’s listeners would have heard.
By peeling 2,000 years of church-talk veneer from Peter’s words and translating into simple English, we see exactly what he was saying, and it is powerful!
But Peter talks about the effect of baptism, not the intent of the person being baptized.
If we must bind “into forgiveness” as the necessary reason for being baptized, then we must bind all similarly phrased verses. Thus, no one is saved unless while being baptized he intended to be immersed into all of the following:
- forgiveness of sins
- the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
- the name of the Lord Jesus
- the name of Jesus Christ
- Christ Jesus
- Christ Jesus’ death
- one body by one Spirit
How many of our brothers and sisters were baptized for the express purpose of entering into one body by the Spirit? I have heard many preachers baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, but I have been to many baptisms where these words were not used. Were those baptisms valid?
There is no basis for saying that the language of Acts 2:38 imposes the one acceptable reason to be immersed. Certainly, we have shown that forgiveness of sins occurs at baptism. Acts 2:38 is extremely clear on this point.
But it is equally clear that we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit when we are baptized. I am persuaded that those who were baptized denying that they were receiving the Holy Sprit were not only saved, but received the Spirit. Just so, those who are baptized believing that they have already received forgiveness will receive forgiveness despite their incomplete understanding.
This brings us to the second leg of the argument. If Acts 2:38 tells us an effect of baptism, but not the purpose that the believer must have while being baptized, what does? After all, we have already agreed that not just any immersion counts.
I can only find one passage that clearly speaks in terms of what the believer intends while being baptized — the baptism of Jesus:
Matt. 3:13-17 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”
Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.
As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
The baptism of Jesus is one of only three events recorded in all four Gospels (the others being the feeding of the 5,000 and the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus). It is obviously a very important event. Why? Why, indeed, when before His baptism Jesus was already sinless, God’s Son, and well pleasing to God?
Verse 15 gives the reason: to fulfill all righteousness. What does this mean?
I’ve been amazed at the number of my students who have responded to this question by saying that Jesus was fulfilling prophecy. He was fulfilling righteousness, not prophecy. These are two very different things. He was “filling up” that which is right; he was doing the right thing.
And what makes something “right” or “righteous”? The only test of right-ness is the will of God. If Jesus was doing God’s will, he was doing what was right, and therefore fulfilling righteousness. If this was not God’s will, then he was not fulfilling righteousness.
Therefore, Jesus was baptized to obey God! Not for forgiveness of sins, not to receive the Holy Spirit, and not to become God’s Son, but to obey God. But why did God want Jesus to do this?
God wanted Jesus to set an example for His followers who were to come. And clearly, Jesus’ baptism is remarkably like our own. When we were baptized, these three things happened:
1. The Holy Spirit descended upon us from heaven.
2. God declared us to be His beloved son or daughter.
3. God declared that He is well pleased with us.
Jesus had no need for these things, but we did. And by learning about Jesus’ baptism, we graphically see what God did for us in our own baptism. Jesus is our perfect example, and He submitted humbly to an otherwise unnecessary baptism, because God willed it, to show us that we are not too good to submit and what submission means for us.
If Jesus was setting an example for us to follow, then being baptized to fulfill righteousness (or the same thought, to obey God) follows His perfect example.
I cannot find a Biblical justification for declaring that those Baptists who are baptized to obey God are not scripturally baptized. Their purpose is the same purpose that Jesus had. That is pretty good authority. Therefore, there is no Biblical justification for declaring these Baptists lost.
And I can think of no greater blessing to God’s kingdom, all of God’s kingdom, than for the Churches of Christ and Baptist Churches to recognize one another as brothers and co-workers and to vigorously labor to learn from one another.
Should we merge churches? Don’t be ridiculous. There is only one church, and the Baptists and we are already in it. We might as well get used to it.
 Most Baptists follow the traditional Calvinist practice of quarterly communions.
 The Southern Baptist Convention is joined voluntarily and may be withdrawn from at any time. It does not set doctrine for its member churches. It does get into doctrinal disputes as to whom to appoint to the governing boards of colleges and other institutions that it supports, but the Baptists have many institutions that are independent of Convention control.
 The author’s views on grace and the distinction between faith and doctrine is set forth in detail in The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace. Other works to the effect that doctrinal differences will not prevent properly baptized, genuinely penitent men and women of faith from going to heaven include F. LaGard Smith, Who Is My Brother? (Cotswold Publishing 1997); James S. Woodroof, The Church in Transition (The Bible House, Inc. 1990); and Rubel Shelly, I Just Want to be a Christian (20th Century Christian 1984).
 Unless otherwise indicated, Biblical quotations are taken from the New International Version (NIV).
 The American Standard Version is a translation published in 1901. It follows the Greek very closely but is much harder to read than later translations due to its retention of archaic English and closeness to Greek sentence structure. The translation was a favorite of many Church of Christ preachers for many years.
 See The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace for more detail on the Holy Spirit. See also Harvey Floyd, Is the HOLY SPIRIT for Me? (20th Century Christian 1981).
 Pronounced “ice.”
 “Whatever translation of eis may be possible in its varied relations, there is no possible translation when it relates to a real or verbal baptism, but into.” James W. Dale, Christic Baptism and Patristic Baptism (Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, et al. 1874, reprinted 1995). Zodhiates defines eis: “After verbs implying motion of any kind, into or to, toward.” Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete New Testament Word Study Dictionary (AMG International, Inc. 1994). Of course, “immerse” implies motion.
 In Matt. 3:11, John the Baptist declares, “I baptize you with water for repentance.” “For” translates eis. Many would argue that in this context eis does not mean “into,” but rather something like “because of” or “on account of.” Thus, the argument goes that eis in Acts 2:38 means that we are to be baptized “because of” forgiveness of sins. But the meaning of eis in Acts 2:38 must be taken from the verses using baptizo and eis in the most similar way, being the verses cited in the main text. Moreover, it is entirely possible that Matthew meant to be understood as saying “into” here — “I baptize you with water into repentance”-meaning that, as is also true of Christian baptism, the subject of the baptism was pledging a life of penitence beginning with his baptism. Compare 1 Peter 3:21 saying that baptism is “the pledge of good conscience toward God.”
 Alexander Campbell translates eis as “in order to” in his translation of Acts 2:38 in his Bible translation, The Living Oracles: “And Peter said to them, Reform, and be each of you immersed in the name of Jesus Christ, in order to the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off; as many as the Lord our God shall call.” This translation is neither good Greek nor good English as “in order to” must be followed by a verb, “to” being the first element of an infinitive.
 Although I have based this article largely on the NIV, which is generally very good, some of its translations are biased toward Baptist theology. These translations have varied from edition to edition. The quoted verses translating eis as “in” are good examples of this difficulty.
 I would note that most Church of Christ baptisms that I have witnessed have been baptisms “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” when they should have been “into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”! But I’m sure the baptisms were entirely effective despite this common slip into a “Baptist” translation (in this case, actually a mistake by the King James Version translators).
 Pleroo, literally, to fill; metaphorically, to complete. Spiros Zodhiates defines it as “to fulfill, perform fully.” The Complete Word Study Dictionary. Compare Acts 12:25 and Col. 4:17.
 For what it’s worth, Alexander Campbell considered those who taught that Baptist baptism is invalid to be heretics. See Leroy Garrett, The Stone-Campbell Movement (Revised Edition, College Press 1994), pp. 262-268. While Campbell certainly disagreed with many within the Restoration Movement on any number of points, the only ones Campbell ever labeled a heretic were these, the Mormons, and those who taught the doctrine of a second chance after death. Indeed, Campbell always sought unity between the Restoration Movement churches and the Baptists.
 For more detailed study of this subject, read Jimmy Allen’s Re-Baptism? What One Must Know To Be Born Again (Howard Publishing Co., Inc. 1991).