Saturday, May 6, 2017

The Error of Baptismal Regeneration

"Baptismal regeneration" is the doctrine regarding baptism that claims that it is essential to salvation. The details vary. Some, such as the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox, and some Lutherans and Anglicans, believe that baptism carries the power to cleanse sins and to make the person a Christian. Others, such as Oneness Pentecostals and the Church of Christ merely teach that it is required for salvation, but not that it gives salvation.

What I say here will apply to both forms.

There is no place in Scripture that says, "No one is saved by baptism." That isn't because Jesus and the Apostles didn't believe that. Rather, it was considered so obvious that no such statement was necessary. Why? Because it is faith which is the means of regeneration, not baptism: "The righteous shall live by his faith" (Habakkuk 2:4, Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11, Hebrews 10:38). By saying what does justify, they eliminated the need to specify what did not.

But we can go further.

Paul said of his ministry, "Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power" (I Corinthians 1:17). How did Paul join his hearers to the cross work of Jesus? If baptism did so, then that is what he would have done. But it's not! Rather, instead of baptism, Paul's calling was to preach! See also his description of all ministers in Romans 10:14-15: "How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?" Since it is by faith that men are justified, the ministry requires, not baptizing, but preaching!

By this, I do not mean to imply that baptism is unimportant. We have the explicit ordinance of Christ Himself (Matthew 28:19-20): "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." But even here, He tells us to disciple the nations - that is the preaching part - and then to baptize them. Baptismal regeneration reverses that order.

The one verse that is sometimes claimed to demonstrate baptismal regeneration is I Peter 3:21: "Baptism now saves you." Sounds ironclad, doesn't it? Except that the sentence continues: "not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience." So, not the washing but the good conscience is our appeal to God. "A good conscience" is another way of saying "faith." The verse actually teaches the opposite of "baptismal regeneration," when read in completion.

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