Salvation 2.0: Part 8.5: On the Necessity of Believing in Baptism

grace5I confess that baptism is, to me, terribly difficult to fit into this analysis.

I find nothing in the scriptures that say that teaching baptismal error damns. I find very plain teaching that prohibits adding anything to “faith working through love” as a condition to salvation. But the same Paul that wrote this in Galatians 5:2-6 also
wrote —

(Gal 3:27 ESV)  27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

So does teaching that baptism — done exactly right — is essential to salvation violate Gal 5:2-6? It’s sure hard to fit baptism into “faith working through love.” But Paul sure seems to do just that.

I have to say that I feel better taking the position I do than insisting on the traditional Church of Christ position for many reasons, and this is near the top of the list. After all, if I’m right and if the faithful Baptists and Methodists are also saved, then those who treat them as damned look very much like the circumcision party damned by Paul in Galatians
— which is a terrifying thought.

In fact, Alexander Campbell taught that those who require Baptists to be re-baptized are “heretics,” because they divide the body of Christ. Again, if my view of baptism is right, those who refuse to treat Baptists (among others) as brothers in Christ are dividing the body of Christ and clearly violating Gal 5:20.

Fortunately, under my analysis offered above, the sin of division only damns if you know that you’re dividing the body of Christ. Those who engage in this sin in good conscience are not damned under Gal 5:20 — because they don’t meet the standards of Heb 10:26 ff or, more precisely, because they remain subjectively faithful.

That is, however, small comfort, because they are still in violation of Gal 5:2-6 — for failing to trust God’s promises — adding baptism to faith rather than circumcision.

(Gal 5:2-6 ESV)  Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you.  3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law.  4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.  5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.  6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

Now, the counter-argument — and it’s a serious one — is that the Bible itself plainly associates baptism with salvation, and so our doing the same thing should not be damnable — not even arguably. Which is a nice argument.

The problem is that it misstates the facts. The traditional Church of Christ position is not merely that baptism is necessary to salvation, but that baptism according to our punctilious standards is essential — and anything less is no baptism at all — which is quite a leap and, I believe, indefensible from the scriptures for reasons we’ve already covered.

Now, this logical flaw is deeply embedded in our Church of Christ psyches. I mean, we just assume — without any reason offered at all — that a flawed baptism is no baptism at all. We assume that God will not forgive any mistake in baptismal practice.

But we don’t require a flawless repentance. After all, a perfect repentance would require the convert to stop sinning entirely.

We don’t require perfect faith. After all, faith as a mustard seed would allow us to move mountains (Mat 17:20) — and all the mountains around here are sitting very still.

We don’t even require our converts to understand their confession all that well. How many of our converts knew at the time that “Christ” means Anointed One, and refers to Jesus as the messianic King? Who knew that “Son of the living God” is a parallel messianic reference taken from Psalm 2?

I think most people, when they are baptized, think that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God” means that Jesus is divine, a part of the Godhead. Which is also very true — but not a correct understanding of those words.

And yet we consider their baptism to take. We insist on perfect practice (ritual) but not perfect understanding. Do you know why? It’s because we think we can get the ritual right and know that perfect doctrinal understanding is beyond our limited powers as mere mortals. Hence, we focus on the part that we can do perfectly to feel like we really earned our salvation (by being smarter than those Baptists).

If we were to focus on the hard parts — what the words really mean, who Jesus really was and is, what level of commitment we’re supposed to be making — then we’d have to rely on grace. And that, to many of us, would be unacceptable. And the unacceptability of grace to so many in the Churches of Christ is what risks damnation under Gal 5:2-6.

And it scares me.

Profile photo of Jay Guin

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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21 Responses to Salvation 2.0: Part 8.5: On the Necessity of Believing in Baptism

  1. laymond says:

    On this day of thanksgiving, people are being ask for what are they most thankful, naturally the most used answer by Christians for this question is “Jesus Christ” . Yes I too am grateful to God for his son’s sacrifice for my sins, but I am just as thankful to God for Noah, because if it were not for Noah, there would not be a Jesus .

    Gen 6:7 And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them.
    Gen 6:8 But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.
    Gen 6:9 These are the generations of Noah: Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God.

    Mostly I am grateful to God.

  2. laymond says:

    Back to the post at hand, Jay admits he has a hard time understanding Paul’s writings, or at least the meanings implied in those writings. Jay is not the first to mention that fact.

    2Pe 3:15 And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you;
    2Pe 3:16 As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.

    Not only is Paul’s writings hard to comprehend . so is much of scripture. Let’s look at the message Peter just gave us. Did Peter mean to say those who are ” unlearned and unstable” are going to hell.?
    Yet we read writings like that of Paul, and Peter and swear , “ALL” scripture is whispered by God.

  3. Dwight says:

    I’ve thought about the concept of having to believe in baptism.
    1. We must believe in Jesus
    2. Baptism is a response to Jesus…so we must believe in Jesus while being baptized.
    3. Baptism saves because the savior saves, on the same level that faith saves, repentance save, etc.
    4. IF we were running a race and were told that to qualify you must pass a milestone, but then were convinced that there was a different milestone that qualified you, but in the running you pass the milestone, because you understood it to be important to the judges in the desire to be obedient. Have you disqualified yourself and more importantly would the judges disqualify you for doing what qualifies you even though you placed the qualification at a different point? After all you had faith in the judges and obeyed the judges in every way, even though your thinking was off as far as where the milestone was.
    5. Baptism isn’t a hard part…we make it hard, because we overthink its saving properties, over being baptized into the one who save.

  4. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Laymond,

    This is not the first time I’ve told you that I’m interested in comments challenging the inspiration of scripture. Please desist.

  5. laymond says:

    So does teaching that baptism — done exactly right — is essential to salvation violate Gal 5:2-6? It’s sure hard to fit baptism into “faith working through love.” But Paul sure seems to do just that.

    Gal 3:26 For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.
    Gal 3:27 For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
    I don’t see here, where Paul said that baptism into Christ was not essential for salvation. I don’t know what “exactly right” means.

    But,Let’s take a look at vs 5 Jay was talking about.
    Gal 5:5 For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.
    ( I believe this suggests we wait by faith, not obtain salvation by faith)

    Now let’s see what Jesus said about baptism.
    Mat 3:15 And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him.

    Jay said :”Again, if my view of baptism is right, those who refuse to treat Baptists (among others) as brothers in Christ are dividing the body of Christ and clearly violating Gal 5:20. And latrer said “And it scares me.” And it should. anyone who teaches we gain righteousness in any way other than baptism into Jesus, should be frightened.

    Phl 2:11 And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
    Phl 2:12 Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.
    Phl 2:13 For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.

  6. Dwight says:

    I’m nout sure I understand the concept of “flawed baptism”, just like I don’t uderstand the concept of “flawed faith”. Now people are flawed in thier thinking, but not faith or baptism in its concept. If we have faith and are baptized into Fred, we do not have a faith in the right person and we are not baptized with baptism that saves due to that. The baptism of John didn’t save or render the Holy Spirit. Saving faith commits one to a path that saves in confession and baptism and then to a life of living in Christ, yet one can even then step away from the path of Christ as Simon and still come back to Christ. A lost person doesn’t have the connection to Christ untilhavng faith and being baptized into Christ.

  7. Monty says:

    At our church we teach that baptism is a prerequisite to salvation, a looking unto salvation, not because of salvation, as obedience to the command to “believe and be baptized”, or “repent and be baptized everyone of you”. That said, we gladly accept people’s previous baptism if they are good with it. I have met many folks who say they understood their baptism was for remission of sins even though the church they had been baptized in didn’t teach that. I just layout what the scripture says and let them decide for themselves. While I would say it’s technically possible to believe or repent and not be baptized today, to say you believe and refuse or reject baptism is to not have faith if taught Biblically. Of course if it isn’t taught it’s necessary or that it’s at least the Biblical example, then most are not going to desire to do it on the spot. No one in the 1st century would have rejected the command to be baptized into the name of the one you were pledging yourself to upon a confession of belief. That begs the question why? Of course today, and for some time now, it is taught that you can believe and not be baptized and be forgiven, and that baptism is a thing that you “should” do to join the church, to signify publicly what’s already taken place inwardly, or as an act of obedience, post salvation. The modern way is clearly not Biblical as no one ever delayed baptism except for a lack of water in the N.T., or unless they were not ready to commit to following Jesus(those who didn’t gladly receive the good news on Pentecost) or those who were afraid to go public for fear of being put out of the synagogue(clearly not saving faith) even though they “believed” Jesus to be Messiah.

    If nothing else, the timeline of belief to baptism in scripture should teach us about the importance of it. All who gladly accepted the word(3,000) on Pentecost were baptized, the same day. Not one soul, out of thousands, according to scripture, left that day “saved” but unbaptized(let that sink in). That speaks volumes. How unlike modern teaching. A man who discovers Jesus in the desert sees water and immediately desires baptism. Upon baptism the Spirit snatches Philip away(mission completed)and the man rejoices all by himself, post baptism, not pre-baptism. In Acts 16, a jailor wakes his family up in the night to hear what Paul and Silas had to say about salvation in Jesus and in the same hour of that late hour the whole family believes and doesn’t wait to a more convenient time to get soaked, but they all obey in that late hour. Why did they all not wait til the next day when it would be easier to dry off, not go back to bed with their hair wet, etc.? Maybe that was the most convenient time( I don’t know) but the Bible gives us that information. Paul was told to “not tarry”, and was baptized immediately upon being told to do so. Cornelius and his family were commanded to be baptized immediately upon their speaking in tongues. Why is that info there? Would most preachers today dare tell those believing to not wait to be baptized? I doubt it since that would tend to make people associate it with having to do with getting saved, and they clearly don’t believe that, So, in a sense, baptism “must” be delayed and not stressed to do immediately. The way modern post Calvin protestant churches teach, the baptism “later,” best fits their beliefs about what baptism is and what it accomplishes.

    No matter how you feel about baptism, if the saving moment is before, upon, or after baptism, to get folks to immediately act upon it and not delay is to teach it’s importance- I would go so far as to say it teaches it’s necessity as a “calling on the name of the Lord.” If not taught that way, then it becomes a “should do at some point”(but not necessary) just a religious act. Not unimportant but just not anything to fret over. IMO It can’t be just necessary at “some” future point. Either it is necessary as commanded towards salvation, or, it isn’t “ever” necessary. Not even as a first act of obedience.

    It is rejected out of hand by those who teach man can’t do anything to be saved or even participate in his salvation, not because scripture is muddled on the reasons for doing it. If man can’t even believe(unless God opens his heart for him) then man (as they say) can’t do anything to be saved. I don’t know why God couldn’t open his heart to baptism in the same way. If God can do one he can do the other. That is, if man truly isn’t responsible for anything pertaining to salvation in Christ. They say man believes-repents because God does a work on him, but anything physical that man does is a work done by man. It would seem according to such logic that God can move the inner man but not the outer man to obey. Strange. Except Paul refers to baptism in Colossians 2 as a God performed operation, one “not done by human hands” as in physical circumcision, but a circumcision of the heart. It’s not what saves you (God does the saving through Jesus) but it sure appears to be the time when God does some pretty amazing stuff that doesn’t seem very optional. Does God make exceptions? I have no doubt that he does. Everybody it seems has a what if scenario and the only one who has that pay grade to answer the “what if’s” is gracious and kind not wanting any to perish. Anyone who believes in the Son of God and is baptized is saved. I wouldn’t worry about the person who dies on the way to the baptistery or the person who did it (for say obedience) believing they were saved before hand, weeks earlier. I just in good conscience couldn’t teach a believer that’s not what they needed to do immediately. “Why tarriest thou” as Paul was asked?

  8. Dwight says:

    I am moved by Acts 2, which required that they were convicted of their sins and then they asked what must they do to be saved, ‘Repent and be baptized.” One of the striking things is that they must have understood that and yet they weren’t told that their faith had made them whole or had saved them. If there was a noticable point it was baptism.

  9. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Dwight,

    One must have faith in Jesus to be saved, but does that faith have to be ideal faith? Is there something between absolutely perfect faith and no faith at all? What about a weak faith? What about a faith that struggles with doubt? What about faith in Jesus as Son of God but not as YHWH? What if I understand that Jesus is part of the Trinity but don’t know that he is the king of Israel called “Messiah”? Do I have to know that “son of God” means the anointed king of Psalm 2? Do I have to know that “Lord” of Rom 10:9 means YHWH? Do I have to have enough faith to be willing to confess Jesus under threat of torture and death? (The early church struggled mightily with this question.)

    There’s a whole lot of gray out there for most people. Most of us have faith that is incompletely informed and weak when it comes to our level of commitment. If that’s not good enough, very few will be saved.

    Just so, what about a baptism that incompletely informed? Who went under the water with an ideal baptismal theology? Who fully understood the significance of what was happening?

    Again, if a baptism has to be ideal in all particulars, few of us have a good baptism. In fact, the Churches of Christ teach some of the most egregious baptismal error in all of Christendom when we deny the receipt of the Spirit. Many even deny that salvation occurs at all if the immersed person misunderstands an important CoC doctrine. I’ve had fairly prominent CoC editors declare that salvation may only occur post-baptism if someone comes out of the water denying the necessity for a cappella music, for example. They see baptism as just one of countless requirements to be saved — and so they deny “into remission of sins” of Acts 2:38 unless the baptized person has undergone appropriate CoC doctrinal training pre-baptism. Quite literally, they teach that baptism makes one a Christian but not necessarily a saved Christian. Salvation depends on getting many other things right.

    So I’m really hoping that a less-than-ideal baptism works.

    On the other hand, I agree that there are limits. As you say, baptism into Fred doesn’t work. I think the key point is that both Acts 2:38 and Rom 10:9 — the two passages on which our Five Steps are built — are explicit references to Joel 2:32 — which is quoted in both contexts.

    (Joel 2:32a ESV) 32 And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.

    Both Peter and Paul take “LORD” to refer to Jesus of Nazareth. Therefore, both passages insist that the efficacy of faith/confession/baptism depends on whether we call on the name of Jesus for our salvation. After all, faith in Jesus is still at the core of our salvation.

    But Joel (and Acts 2 and Rom 10) say that “everyone” who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved. The Bible does not apologize for that.

  10. Dwight says:

    Faith is faith. Now there maybe different vatiations of it, but all that is asked of us fiath in Jesus as the Son of God and savior after all that is what is reflected in John by Jesus and in Acts 2. Those in Acts were not probably completely informed about being buried in Christ, etc., but they knew to repent and be baptized. I think we require too much of people to be baptized, thus we question thier faith, but all that is asked is quite small in regrds to knowing, but also quite large when coming from disbelief. Baptism into Jesus Christ is the ideal baptism that reflects the idea faith.
    After all Simon was baptized into Jesus and didn’t understand all things and had a problem with greed, but was still counted as a saint.

  11. laymond says:

    Jay wrote, “Both Peter and Paul take “LORD” to refer to Jesus of Nazareth. ”

    I really don’t know what the significance of all higher case (English ) letters carry when there were no “higher or lower” case writings at the time of the writing of the bible. except they signify the thoughts of those who were translating the bible. Neither Peter or Paul wrote in higher case letters.
    Context can be the only way to determine whether the writer is talking of the lord God, or the lord Jesus . and yes they both are referred to as lord, because the creator, the lord God Almighty, made Jesus lord over all that God had created. And as Paul said, since God did not create himself, Jesus was never lord over God. God has always remained God over all. Including Jesus Christ.

  12. Larry Cheek says:

    Laymond,
    Whom would you consider God was speaking to in the following; Gen 1:26 ESV Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
    Let us and our image is never used in a singular setting. God was not speaking to the life forms that he had just created. His speaking was directed to someone or some thing that he was willing to partner with in the creation of man. Who or what was that to whom he was speaking?
    Did God alone make man?

  13. laymond says:

    Larry asked, “Did God alone make man?”

    Larry, I can’t give you an absolute answer any more than you can answer the question “how long is forever” ? but the following seems to say he did.

    Gen 1:27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

    It seems right to me to say God had plenty of help if he chose to call on it at the time he created man. Do you believe the conflict between God and Satan happened before or after the creation of man?

    And the following tells us that man was created lower than angels. So that leads me to believe angels were created first.

    Heb 2:9 But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.
    Heb 2:10 For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.
    Heb 2:11 For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren,

    Heb 2:16 For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham.

    Larry, asked this question as well, Who was God speaking to when he said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”

    Larry it seems to me that God could have been talking to thousands, or one of thousands.
    Seems the better question might be “did God alone create angels” ?

  14. laymond says:

    Larry said, ” God was not speaking to the life forms that he had just created. ” Larry does this insinuate that God was capable of creating the earth and all on it except “man” ?

  15. David says:

    To me the Bible clearly teaches that baptism saves, is for remitting sins, washing away sins and getting unto Christ. It nowhere teaches that baptism is essential for those things to happen. To insist that “for” and “essential for” are always equivalent is to take short cuts in thinking and across teachings of the NT. A. Campbell was famous for teaching that baptism is “for remission of sins”, but he became infamous with some of his followers for refusing to say it was essential for remission of sins. To make baptism essential, he said, would make him into a Pharisee. I would agree. To make the ritualistic act, itself, rather than what the ritual represents, essential would to me, be in violation of Paul’s Galatians teachings. OTOH, if someone outright rejects the ritual, I think we would be justified in thinking that they also reject, or have no desire for, what the ritual represents. As we have discussed before, reject the wedding ceremony, you reject getting married.

    More to the point at hand: To say someone’s baptism is invalid if they mistakenly thought they were already saved before they were baptized is akin to saying someone’s marriage is invalid if they mistakenly thought they were already married before they went through the ceremony. Both ceremonies are to affirm to one that he has been placed into a certain state. If they already think they are in that state, what’s the big deal?

  16. Larry Cheek says:

    David,
    In the last two sentences of your post are you attempting to set a standard that marriage is no big deal if (in other words of very little value) if you think that you are already married. Is a belief that you are already married just as good being married in a ceremony?

  17. Larry Cheek says:

    Laymond,
    Sometimes you really can refute your own posts.
    Today you tell how much more you know about God as he created, Man. Which is directly contradicting your (book report) post of nov 23.
    “Larry, people see in scripture what they want to see, or what someone has told them they ought to see. The fact is the bible is not that hard to understand.
    Book report; God was alone, God created everything that was created either by his own hand or his spoken word. God created man in his own Image, and gave man his own breath. and man betrayed him.”
    Even though you still neglected to accept that other scriptures state that The Word was also there which later came to the earth as Christ.

  18. laymond says:

    Larry, I don’t understand why some people insist on describing God’s attributes/abilities to do whatever he wants, as individual persons, or spirits. The “word of God” is whatever comes from the mouth of God, not an individual person at the beck and call of God. If every attribute of God was represented by individual persons, there would be an army around him all the time. Yes these abilities can be referred to as servants of God, just as your own abilities serve you, your ability to see, to read, to walk, to reason, and to talk Larry, how do you think man is the image of God ?certainly not in looks, no man can see God, How do you think Jesus was the exact image of God, ?
    because he was given all the attributes/abilities of God, not because he looked like God, again no one can see God, Show me where Jesus ever said he had seen God.
    Larry, are you telling me you believe there was a person with God at the beginning who had the ability to create , but God didn’t have that ability ? But God did have the authority to command this person to create for him. and this person later became Jesus of Nazareth. That is not the story from the bible I read. Yes God spoke through the mouth of Jesus, why do I believe that ? Jesus told me so. And that is how the word of God became flesh.

  19. laymond says:

    When did the Church of Christ stop believing that there is a divine being who is omniscient ?
    One who by his own words could create.

  20. Dwight says:

    David, I agree, what we believe doesn’t always jive with reality or even refute it. To the Jews people became man and wife and this was binding, sometimes many, many years went by,and then they had a ceremony and got married. We in the West place man/wife closely together with ceremony/marriage. This doesn’t change the reality of man and wife and marriage, rather just how we think about it.
    To David’s point, if a two people came from the Middle East to America, they might understand that they are man and wife and they might regard themselves as such, because they believe that, then they get married. Now to those around them they understand that they had not become man and wife until they were married. But the reality is that that they did everything right, even thought their perception might not have been the same as everybody else, but they in the end were married to each other based on their commitment. They simply believed they were man and wife before they got married, instead of during.

  21. David says:

    Larry

    I was not saying that the marriage ceremony is of little value, or no big deal. I was saying it is no big deal if someone mistakenly thought he was already married before he went through the marriage ceremony. Such would not invalidate his marriage. The main thing we should be concerned with is: Does he believe and act like he is married after the wedding ceremony.

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