In the comments, Gary asked,
Jay, is not baptism the re-enactment of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection? No one in the Ole Test. could be baptized for that reason. Are you saying we don’t need to be baptized. Maybe I missed the point.
I’ll answer your second question first.
In my opinion, both the Church of Christ side and the Baptist side of the debate are wrong. I fit in neither camp — and so don’t bother asking which camp I’m in. Neither.
I believe the Churches of Christ generally exegete the baptism passages correctly and that salvation and receipt of the Spirit normatively happen at water baptism. I think that’s God’s intent.
But in Acts, God reveals that he is not tied to that pattern. And in many dozens of verses he promises to save everyone with “faith” in Jesus — “faith” being defined as I describe in http://oneinjesus.info/2014/02/muscle-shovel-chapter-5-part-2-faith/.
Therefore, when someone is baptized incorrectly — too soon, too little water, misunderstanding its purposes — God will keep his many promises to save all with “faith” as defined in http://oneinjesus.info/2014/02/muscle-shovel-chapter-5-part-2-faith/
Does that make baptism unnecessary? Only if you care nothing about obeying God’s known commands. Does that mean we can be careless about how we baptize? Only if you aren’t afraid of losing God’s grace by intentionally violating his will.
Does that mean the Baptists are going to heaven? Yes, if the only reason a given Baptist might not is a flawed baptism. (Baptists can fall away just like we in the Churches of Christ.) I stand with Barton Stone, Alexander Campbell, and David Lipscomb in saying that the Baptists are saved despite their misunderstanding of baptism. They might misunderstand when it is God saves them, but God will save them because of their faith as defined in http://oneinjesus.info/2014/02/muscle-shovel-chapter-5-part-2-faith/
Does this mean Church of Christ members are saved even when they’re baptized convinced that they will not receive the personal indwelling of the Spirit? Yes, Church of Christ members qualify for God’s grace, too — if they have faith as defined in http://oneinjesus.info/2014/02/muscle-shovel-chapter-5-part-2-faith/
Does this make both those in the Churches of Christ and Baptist Church in error regarding baptism? Yes.
Does God save people in error? Yes. It’s called “grace.” But there is one error you cannot make and still be saved. You must get right having faith in Jesus as defined in http://oneinjesus.info/2014/02/muscle-shovel-chapter-5-part-2-faith/
You don’t have to know the definition of “faith,” but you must believe Jesus to be Lord and Messiah, you must by faithful to Jesus, and you must trust Jesus to save based on faith, not works.
For Church of Christ members, the hardest part of “faith” as defined in http://oneinjesus.info/2014/02/muscle-shovel-chapter-5-part-2-faith/ is trust. And trust is where it all begins, because Abram was credited with righteousness for his faith/trust in God’s promises. Therefore, I try very hard to trust God’s promises and I object to theology that requires us to doubt God’s promises.
Because that would be a very serious thing indeed.
Now, as to your first question, Paul in Galatians 3 and Romans 4 says that we’re saved by faith because of God’s covenant with Abraham in which he credited Abraham with righteousness because of his faith.
Paul spends the first four chapters 0f Romans on salvation by faith and not works, repeating declaring that everyone with faith in Jesus (correctly defined) will be saved — and he says nothing at all about baptism until Romans 6.
Galatians is all about salvation by faith (correctly defined) and not works, and there are many verses emphasizing the sufficiency of faith and one verse that mentions baptism.
The baptism verses are true and real and intended, but they do not drive the salvation train. The promise is to all with faith (correctly defined), not to all with baptism. And that’s a really, really important distinction.
In fact, John the Baptist baptized by immersion for remission of sins before the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Baptism such as John’s could have been practiced going all the way back to Abraham, but it wasn’t.
The prophets in the Old Testament could have told us about water baptism in addition to telling us about faith, Jesus, and the Spirit. But they didn’t.
Luke’s Gospel might have mentioned Christian baptism, but it doesn’t.
John the Baptist could have prophesied the water baptism of Jesus, but he spoke only of Jesus’ baptizing with the Spirit — entirely consistent with the ancient prophets.
The emphasis of scripture — in many ways and many places — is on faith in Jesus (correctly defined). Therefore, that must also be our own doctrinal emphasis. Not a rejection of baptism, but an understanding that, in the Five Step Plan of Salvation, faith in Jesus is — by far — the most important thing.
Therefore, we should absolutely obey the baptism verses. We should baptize those we teach about Jesus. We should understand that baptism is normally the moment of salvation and receipt of the Spirit.
We just shouldn’t treat those with less-perfect baptisms as damned in their sins when they have faith in Jesus (correctly defined). God keeps his promises, and God has repeatedly promised to honor his covenant with Abraham, and to fulfill the Old Testament prophecies, and to save everyone with faith. Everyone.
Baptism is therefore not the center of our religion. Jesus is.
(Joh 10:9 ESV) 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.
(Rom 5:1-2 ESV) Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
[If you’re wondering why I keep referring back to the earlier posts defining “faith,” it’s a conditioned reflex, because at this point in the discussion someone inevitably charges me with teaching “faith only” meaning “faith without obedience.” And we’ve covered that and I don’t want to have to go there once again — not this soon. If you feel that urge, do not comment — go read the previous posts in this series.]