Now I realize that the concept of Justification and Salvation and Baptism carry a lot of theological “baggage” because, depending upon the tradition you come from, those terms may mean different things. But as a convinced Reformed Protestant Baptistic Continuationist, I really like how Grudem summarizes the issue of the necessity of baptism. He writes,
“While we recognize that Jesus commanded baptism (Matt. 28:19), as did the apostles (Acts 2:38), we should not say that baptism is necessary for salvation. This question was discussed to some extent above under the response to the Roman Catholic view of baptism. To say that baptism or any other action is necessary for salvation is to say that we are not justified by faith alone, but by faith plus a certain “work,” the work of baptism. The apostle Paul would have opposed the idea that baptism is necessary for salvation just as strongly as he opposed the similar idea that circumcision was necessary for salvation (see Gal. 5:1–12).” (Systematic Theology, 981)
My only concern with this summary is how the terms “salvation” and “justification” seem to be linked a bit more than I think the NT warrants. Now I know where Grudem is coming from, and I agree, but I also want to see a deeper appreciation for all that Scripture has to say about the concept of “salvation” when we use that term. Yes, Justification is an extremely important issue that is intricately tied to the gospel, but the NT’s emphasis on “salvation” is bigger than just being “declared righteous.”
At any rate, when I’m explaining that baptism is not “necessary” for people to be “saved,” I almost always want to stress the importance of being obedient to the teachings of Scripture. So on one hand, it’s not necessary to be baptized to be “saved,” but it is necessary to be baptized to be obedient to Christ (and the NT). And yes, that takes time to flesh out and explain.
Anyway, I’m glad that I don’t have to do certain “works” in order to be right with God… and I’m extremely grateful that it’s all based on Christ’s work. That is very comforting for me.
How about you?
Luke is a pastor-theologian living in northern California, serving as a co-lead pastor with his life, Dawn, at the Red Bluff Vineyard. Father of five amazing kids, when Luke isn’t hanging with his family, reading or writing theology, he moonlights as a fly fishing guide for Confluence Outfitters. He blogs regularly at LukeGeraty.com and regularly contributes to his YouTube channel.
How is baptism a work? You get wet and hear words spoken. There is no effort whatsoever on the part of the person baptized. Baptism is clearly not a work done by humans, it’s a work of God.
Thanks for your question and comment.
The concern about whether or not baptism is a “work” depends entirely upon what one means by the term “work.” As an evangelical, I believe that a chief concern I have would be related to whether someone believes that they are “saved” or “justified” because they were baptized. That’s what is meant by the term “work” in most discussions on this subject.
It’s totally true that baptism isn’t a “work” in the sense of the Mosaic Law, of course. And it’s absolutely true that there is an extremely important passive aspect of baptism! But it’s equally true that there’s an active part too, which is why we read throughout the Book of Acts people making a choice to be baptized after they have placed their faith in Jesus.
Plus, while God is the one who is immersing people into the Body of Christ and making the identifying with Jesus’ death, burial and Resurrection happen, people are still baptized by people too 🙂 I have baptized a few people in my life and have watched a lot of other people baptize others 🙂 But I don’t think that’s what you meant, right?
Yes, I understand your concern that someone would believe that salvation comes through baptism apart from faith. That would be like saying someone is saved because they heard the gospel proclaimed despite not having any faith. Rather, a person is saved when they hear the gospel and believe it.
But, the question is, does the bible ever put baptism into the category of works? When it says “Believe and be baptized and you shall be saved” does that essentially mean “Believe and do good works and you shall be saved”? I would say no, baptism isn’t a work in that sense and the bible never portrays it that way. Baptism is a gift to us.
And that’s what I mean by baptism being a work of God. It’s not something we’re accomplishing by our own efforts. I believe God designed baptism in that way so we can’t try to take any credit for it. Because, it really is hard to take pride in the fact that you heard someone say some words and put water on you (or dunked you). Baptism puts you in the position where you can only humbly trust God that he has accomplished something in you through the water and words.
But then, I have to admit I am a little biased being part of a theological tradition (Lutheran) that sees the proclaimed gospel and baptism working together to provide salvation to those who receieve them in faith.
As a non-Lutheran Baptistic Calvinist (whoa!), I agree with much of your point. I don’t think the Bible refers to Baptism as a “work” that someone does to earn one’s salvation. Hence, any time someone gives me the impression that is what they believe, it’s time to talk some theology 🙂
Speaking of Lutheranism, what’s the best treatment of the Lutheran theology of baptism in your opinion? I have Christian Dogmatics by John Muller and have read Richard Kolb’s essay in the book Understanding Four Views on Baptism counterpoints book, but I haven’t ever asked a Lutheran what their best essay is. Would love to know your opinion.
One thought though about your statement about it being hard to take pride in being baptized… and this too is coming from a admittedly biased perspective who will totally acknowledge the weaknesses in my own tradition(s):
I live in a community that is mostly Catholic but has a strong Lutheran presence as well. I’ve found it interesting that I’ve talked to quite a few people over the years who were baptized as Lutherans who believe they were “saved” and are “going to heaven” because they were baptized. Sometimes (and it is sometimes) I hear about Confirmation being a part of that assurance, but mostly it’s due to their baptism (which was always done to them as an infant).
Would you agree that there is a false sense of assurance in that type of thinking? Would you agree that such thinking is both connected to some form of “pride” or a concept of “works based righteousness” to some degree?
On a side note, I really do like the Lutheran (and Reformed Baptist and Anglican and…) emphasis on salvation in a more “big picture” process type of orientation. I see that the Lord works through those means of grace… so I liked that last comment.
For a Lutheran essay on baptism, I would go with Martin Luther’s article on baptism from the Large Catechism. Can’t go wrong with that.
Yes, there are many Lutherans who might say they were saved at baptism. Which, according the Lutheran perspective on baptism, could be true as we regard baptism as having the power to save regardless of whether or not one believes in Christ when it’s received. However, at the same time, we also believe that one does not get the benefits from baptism (salvation) until one has faith. So, baptism has the power to save and yet we are still saved by faith alone.
And that is one of the reasons why no one likes Lutherans!
I live not too far from you so I am in a somewhat similar context in Edgar, WI. I ran into blog looking for stuff on churches in central WI.
We don’t hate Lutherans. I myself actually love Luther and view him as being a hugely important person in the history of the church, much less one of the important people who recovered evangelical Protestantism from the deep darkness of the middle ages 😉 ha ha. So, he’s super respected around these parts.
We just see the issue of Justification and Lutheran paedobaptism as difficult to square… but we do so respectfully.
I’ve got Luther’s works, so I’ll have to read those… I don’t know if I’ve ever read his whole catechism… I’ve read a LOT of it, but not all.
Baptists and evangelicals are absolutely correct…there is no SPECIFIC mention in the New Testament that the Apostles baptized infants. There are references to entire households being converted and baptized, but we orthodox cannot prove, just from Scripture, that these households had infants, and neither can Baptists and evangelicals prove, just from Scripture, that they did not.
One interesting point that Baptists/evangelicals should note is that although there is no specific mention of infant baptism in the Bible…neither is there a prohibition of infant baptism in the Bible. Christians are commanded by Christ to go into all the world and preach the Gospel and to baptize all nations. No age restrictions are mentioned. If Christ had intended his followers to understand that infants could not be baptized in the New Covenant, in a household conversion process as was the practice of the Jews of Christ’s day in converting Gentile households to the Covenant of Abraham, it is strange that no mention is made of this prohibition.
So, the only real way to find out if Infant Baptism was practiced by the Apostles is to look at the writings of the early Christians, some of whom were disciples of the Apostles, such as Polycarp, and see what they said on this issue.
And here is a key point: Infant Baptism makes absolutely no sense if you believe that sinners can and must make an informed, mature decision to believe in order to be saved. Infants cannot make informed, mature decisions, so if this is the correct Doctrine of Justification/Salvation, Infant Baptism is clearly false teaching. But the (arminian) Baptist/evangelical Doctrine of Justification/Salvation is unscriptural. Being forced to make a decision to obtain a gift, makes the gift no longer free. This is salvation by works.
Baptism is a command of God. It is not a work of man. God says in plain, simple language, in multiple locations in the Bible, that he saves/forgives sins in Baptism. We orthodox Christians accept God’s literal Word. We take our infants to be baptized because God says to do it. Our infants are not saved because we perform the act of bringing them to the baptismal font…they are saved by the power of God’s Word pronounced at the time of the Baptism. Christians have believed this for 2,000 years!
There is no evidence that any Christian in the early Church believed that sinners are saved by making a free will decision and then are baptized solely as a public profession of faith. None.
Luther, Baptists, and Evangelicals
Some of your statements lack some evidence 🙂 For example, I think you’d find a wide variety of “evidence” in the Patristic writings regarding baptism, Justification, etc.
Secondly, you acknowledge that the Bible doesn’t indicate that infants should be baptized but then say that God commands it. I think that’s a suspect statement if I’ve ever seen one 🙂
Thankfully, I’m not an Arminian evangelical, so I share some of the other concerns you have 😉
Could you please provide any evidence form the Patristic writings that any Christian in the first 300-400 years of Christianity believed that baptism is ONLY a public profession of faith/act of obedience?
Can you provide a statement by any Christian in this time period that denies that God forgives sins in baptism?
If the sole purpose of baptism is to make a public profession of one’s previous decision for Christ, then you are correct, the baptism of infants makes no sense whatsoever!
The million dollar question is: can Baptists/evangelicals prove their view of the PURPOSE of Christian baptism from the Patristic writings, and more importantly, can they prove their view of the purpose Christian baptism from the Bible itself?
I think it’s more helpful to back up here.
I do not use the Patristics as the foundation for my doctrinal views. As a convinced Protestant who swims in the “Reformed” and “Charismatic” traditions, I obviously hold to sola scriptura.
That being said, here are some thoughts:
(1) I do not believe that baptism is “ONLY a public profession of faith/act of obedience.” So I see no need to provide any evidence for a view that I do not hold. That seems to be a common straw man argument made against all Protestants, but my understanding of baptism does not reduce the sacrament to simply one of public profession or obedience.
(2) I think the same would be true regarding baptism and its connection between the forgiveness of sins. Nowhere have I suggested that there is no connection between those concepts. This is another straw man.
(3) As I stated, I disagree with the presupposition regarding your million dollar question. Answers are easy to control when one frames questions according to the presuppositions that they hold 😉 But, thankfully, you agree that the more important concern is over what Scripture teaches. I’m quite certain you and I would appeal to many of the same texts regarding baptism though, so I would gladly engage with you on those texts if you so desire!
One quote that may be of interest to you is from my man Tertullian though! He wrote,
The thing that I enjoy about the Patristics is that there is a bit more diversity in how they understand the different aspects of baptism. I think they embraced many of the same themes that Baptists/Evangelicals would probably agree with, apart from the baptism of infants.
That being said, I still think Steven McKinion’s essay in Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant offers some sources that should cause everyone using the Patristics to do so a bit more humbly because there was NOT one universal position regarding the mode or candidates for baptism! Check it out!
Also, the Bible doesn’t specifically state that women should be allowed to participate in the Lord’s Supper. Why don’t Baptists/evangelical ban women from the Lord’s Supper? It’s “not in the Bible”. Just because something isn’t specifically stated doesn’t mean that it is not allowed.
We orthodox believe that infant baptism is not specifically mentioned because everyone in the first century knew that when households convert, the whole family converts, not just the head of the household.
Christ said to baptize all nations. He didn’t give an age restriction. The fact that there is total silence in the New Testament on the conversion of infants is strong support that the mode of household conversion did not change between the Old and New Covenants.
Just as with Abraham, the head of household believes through faith and is saved. Then his entire household converts with him through the “sign”.
One other issue to note: there is not one single instance in the NT of the child of Christian parents making a born again decision for Christ and then being baptized. The New Testament spans a time period of almost 60 years and no mention of a child of Christian parents undergoing a baptism as a public profession after having reached an Age of Accountability. Isn’t that odd?
Romans 6:1-5 (ESV)
6 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.
1. Paul asks if we Christians should sin to make God’s grace abound.
2. “Of course not!” he replies to his own question.
3. Addressing those who have been baptized into Christ (Christians), he asks, “Don’t you know that you were baptized into Christ’s death? All who are Christians were buried with Christ by baptism into death in order that we too may walk in newness of life (the new life brought by Christ’s resurrection).
It is interesting to note that as far as I know, this is the first passage of Scripture which occurs after the story of the resurrection, that Christians today debate whether or not the “baptism” mentioned in the passage means a spiritual baptism or a water baptism. There is never any doubt in the Book of Acts.
Let’s look at it more closely. If you have been following this series of Baptism passages, you have seen that ever since Christ exhorted his disciples to baptize all nations just prior to his ascension into heaven, every passage of Holy Scripture has been very clear in distinguishing a “Baptism of the Holy Spirit” and water baptism. Whenever the “Baptism of the Holy Spirit” is discussed it is always referred to by its entire name. It is never referred to as just “baptism”. In the book of Acts, if the word “baptism” or “baptized” is used, it is very clear that the passage is referring to water baptism.
So why would God change his pattern now? Yes, it is true that God is speaking through a different writer (Paul) in Romans, rather than Luke in Acts, but it is still God speaking. Why would he suddenly start referring to the Baptism of the Holy Spirit with just the word “baptism”?
If this passage in Romans is referring to the “Baptism of the Holy Spirit” isn’t it odd that in some of the conversions mentioned by Luke in Acts, the “Baptism of the Holy Spirit” doesn’t occur until a period of time AFTER the person believes, and sometimes not until they have been baptized, AND sometimes not until an apostle or disciple has laid his hands on them.
Do Baptists and evangelicals really believe that Christians can be “baptized into Christ’s death” at any time other than when the sinner believes/makes a decision for Christ? For Baptists and evangelicals to be consistent about reading this verse as a Baptism of the Holy Spirit, wouldn’t they then also have to admit that not everyone receives the Holy Spirit when they believe? Some Christians receive the Holy Spirit at a later time??
Or are Baptists and evangelicals saying there is now a THIRD baptism in the post-resurrection era? A spiritual baptism that is not the Baptism of the Holy Spirit is also not water baptism? Is there any Scriptural basis for this “third baptism”?
Luther, Baptists, and Evangelicals
I grew up a fundamentalist Baptist preacher’s son, very well educated in Baptist doctrine. I became an evangelical in my twenties: same doctrines just with a more positive emphasis. I am now a conservative (confessional) Lutheran.
Why did I become a Lutheran if I was taught, and still believe, that salvation is received through faith alone, in Christ alone? How could I join a Church that believes that God saves and forgives sins in Baptism? Baptism is a work!
I became a conservative Lutheran when I realized that the reason Baptists and evangelicals do not and cannot understand infant baptism and baptismal regeneration is that they do not understand how a sinner obtains FAITH!
As I said above, I was a Baptist preacher’s son. When I was nine years old, I got into trouble, and my mother gave me a well deserved spanking. After the spanking, she talked to me about sin and that I needed to be saved. She led me in a prayer to ask Jesus to forgive me of my sins, come into my heart, and be my Lord and Savior. I remember feeling so good after finishing that prayer. I was saved!
I was then told that God would now speak to me or move me or lead me to do things to follow his will for my life. All the Christians around me were talking about God moving them, leading them, speaking to them…but I just didn’t have the same intensity of feelings that most of them seemed to have. So when I was about 15, hearing a good Baptist sermon, I asked myself this, “Maybe the reason God doesn’t speak to me like he does other Christians is probably because I am not really saved! I didn’t really believe the first time. Maybe I didn’t fully repent. Maybe I didn’t have enough faith.” So I prayed the equivalent of the Sinner’s Prayer again, with all sincerity and contrition for my sins. I felt that rush of good feelings again. I was happy. I now knew that I was definitely saved!
But then in my early 20′s I attended a non-denominational evangelical church (with Baptist doctrine). The people in this church REALLY had God. They would sway with the hymns, hands toward heaven, their eyes rolling back in the heads. ” Wow! God really speaks to these people! So why doesn’t he speak to me like that? There must be something wrong with me, because I DON’T FEEL SAVED!”
I left the Church altogether.
I was not the only Baptist/evangelical to undergo several born again experiences because we didn’t FEEL saved. My mother, the pastor’s wife, several years later, the person who had “led me to Christ”, decided that she wasn’t really saved either, so she repeated her born again experience just to be sure. And several other people in my church repeated their born again experience for the same reason: they weren’t sure that they had done it right. If you go on your computer and google “how many times have you prayed the Sinner’s Prayer?” you will find other Baptists/evangelicals who have gone through the same experience.
The problem with the Baptist/evangelical Doctrine of Faith is that it is based on US! Our salvation is based on us having the maturity and intelligence to make a free will decision to accept Christ into our hearts, So if later on in life we start to question our salvation due to not FEELING saved, what do we have to fall back on? Ourselves! Did I really repent? Did I really have true faith or was I trusting in my own faith? At nine years old did I really have the maturity to make a decision? MAYBE I DIDN’T DO IT RIGHT! So just to be on the safe side, I’ll sincerely repeat a version of the Sinner’s Prayer, and make 100% sure that, this time, I do everything right!
So, in this plan of salvation, which is supposed to be a FREE gift from God, we turn it into something that depends on us…on us doing the born again experience correctly!
What I have learned from Martin Luther and Lutheranism is this: salvation is ALL God! Salvation doesn’t depend on me at all! I am not actively involved in my salvation! Jesus Christ does it all!
So how is this different from the Baptist/evangelical doctrine of salvation in which Baptists and evangelicals believe that salvation is purely by faith and not of works, but as I just showed you, somehow in this “Faith Only” Baptist/evangelical plan of salvation, my efforts, my sincerity, my mature decision making play a major role in whether or not I am truly saved!
In this Baptist/evangelical plan of salvation, I am told I cannot do good deeds to be saved, but then I am told I must do my part in the act of salvation for God to then do his part and give me eternal life. In the Baptist/evangelical plan of Salvation, my salvation is ultimately dependent on ME initiating and then Christ completing our salvation “transaction” for me to be saved!
Where did Baptists and evangelicals get the idea that the sinner is capable of making a free will decision to receive faith that enables him to believe and be saved?
Ephesians, Colossians and Romans make it very clear that sinners do not seek God. Sinners do not seek after righteousness. In fact, the sinner is spiritually dead, according to Scripture! Dead men cannot make a decision to do anything, let alone “accept” God into his heart!
This is where Baptists and evangelicals go wrong and why they can’t comprehend baptismal regeneration and infant baptism. No matter how many times the Bible states in plain, simple language that God forgives sins in (water) Baptism, Baptists and evangelicals will refuse to believe this since it contradicts their concept of faith.
“For by grace are you saved, through faith, it is a gift of God, not of works lest any man should boast.”
FAITH is a gift! Faith is something given to you by God…FREELY…without any strings attached!
In salvation, the sinner doesn’t ask for Christ to come into his heart. He is spiritually dead! But God in his mercy predestined his children, before the creation of the world, to be his. And at the time of his choosing, he quickens his elect, gives them the gift of faith, and they believe. They are saved! They are saved by God’s grace, received through faith. But the faith in our salvation is a gift from God, it is not something we sinners conjure up on our own by our intelligence and maturity, and then make a decision, based on our reasoned decision making, to believe.
That is works righteousness, my friend!
The Lutheran doctrine of Salvation is 100% God. He saves who he wants, when he wants, but he always saves through the power of his Word. By the power of his Word he can save the older child or adult who hears or reads the Gospel and believes, and he can save/cleanse by the power of his Word spoken at Baptism, even an infant, in the same manner that he did for Naaman of old.
That is how God saves!
In the true plan of salvation, your assurance of salvation is not based on your feelings of whether YOU did it right! Your assurance of salvation is based on knowing that our God keeps his promises, and his Word promises that HE saved you, by the power of his Word, received by HIS gift of faith.
Luther, Baptists, and Evangelicals