Thursday, April 8, 2010

God So Loved the World: Debating Baptismal Regeneration--Put On Hold

Last time I posted what seemed like the beginning of an email debate over the necessity of baptism when it comes to salvation. After the response I posted, my friend suggested we meet in person with his pastor to discuss the matter. Initially I agreed; however, after a couple of probing questions I have decided I cannot in good conscience discuss baptism or any other doctrinal matters face-to-face until we come to an agreement on what I think is a more fundamental matter. Here is how I came to that conclusion.

After a couple of emails back and forth, my friend wrote,

[Jim] I understand that what God wants for us is to be saved and join him in Heaven...How we are to get to be with God in Heaven is written down in a manner for us to understand. I seek the truth that leads to Heaven...I want to be sure that I am teaching myself and my family that they have a way to get to Heaven.

This emphasis on "heaven" at first didn't strike me as all that serious. Many Christians refer to the resurrection as "heaven," or don't readily think of the resurrection, but at least acknowledge it. I responded,

[Theopologetics] Also, I'm assuming you mean that you "want to be sure that [you are] teaching [yourself] and [your] family that they have a way to [be resurrected]." I just want to make sure that your hope is in the resurrection, ultimately, not "heaven." If not, that's another important discussion we need to have.

You see, at this point I just figured "going to heaven" was a euphamism for the resurrection. My friend responded,

[Jim] You use the word resurrection, which I understand to mean return to physical life from physical death. I don't use this term in talking of "life in Heaven" for this would be a spiritual life and in order to get there we (people) must die physically.

Now for some reason, at this point I still didn't suspect anything. I don't know if I initially misread his words or what, but I still thought we were just disagreeing on terminology. I responded,

[Theopologetics] Scripture teaches that our hope is in the final, bodily resurrection from the dead, which for many Christians is merely an afterthought. When you said you want to teach your family what they need to "have a way to get to Heaven," I just wanted to make sure that you recognize that "heaven" is a temporary, less-than-ideal state, and that your ultimate hope is in the resurrection.

I've left some things out, as I don't want to get off topic in this mini-series. But suffice it to say that we were discussing another issue or two as well, and at this point my friend decided we should table any further discussion on those other topics until we met in person. I was fine with this, except I noticed that he didn't address what I had said about the resurrection. This is where alarm bells started to go off, and I wrote this:

[Theopologetics] I still need to know that you acknowledge that all the dead will one day in the future be bodily resurrected from the dead--after our time in heaven. If you do, great, we can meet and discuss baptism. If you do not, I'm not comfortable meeting to discuss baptism until we discuss the resurrection, and I'll explain why if you'd like.

I honestly wrote this with nearly 100% certainty that he would respond in agreement. To my surprise, this is how he responded:

[Jim] I don't agree with that, but that can be added to the list of things to study the scriptures to understand.

To anybody familiar with the debate between preterists and hyperpreterists, you'll know, now, why I am not comfortable discussing any other doctrinal matters until we can agree on the resurrection. Here is how I responded to him:

[Theopologetics] I appreciate your honesty. Honestly =). Yes, we can discuss that too, then.

However, when we get together face-to-face, I do not think I can in good conscience discuss baptism until we've discussed the resurrection. The centrality of the future, bodily resurrection is made clear in 1 Corinthians 15, particularly verses 12 to 19. And in 2 Timothy 2:17-18, the teaching of those who deny the future resurrection is likened unto gangrene, and that their heresies were destroying the faith of some. I hope you'll understand--even if you don't agree--that I cannot subject myself to the risk of having my faith destroyed by discussing baptism or any other topic with someone who denies the resurrection. Not until we agree on the future bodily resurrection can I in good faith discuss any other doctrine with you and your pastor in person.

So yes, we can plan on meeting with the plan to discuss a) the resurrection, and b) baptism, among anything else you would like. But I'm sorry that I will not be comfortable moving onto baptism, etc., until we've agreed on the resurrection. Are you comfortable, then, with the possibility that we might not ever get to the topic you primarily desire to discuss?

It wasn't until after I sent this a couple of hours ago that it dawned on me that my friend might be a hyperpreterist. I assumed that he just didn't believe in the resurrection, which of course is serious enough. However, I got to wondering, are there professing Christians who deny the resurrection but who aren't hyperpreterists?

Please keep my friend and me in your prayers. I'm not sure if he will be willing to meet to discuss the resurrection if there's the possibility we may not get to baptism. I hope he understands--and indeed I hope you, my readers, understand--why I cannot comfortably discuss other doctrinal matters in person with him until we agree on this essential of the historic Christian faith. Stay tuned for updates.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

God So Loved the World: Debating Baptismal Regeneration--Day One

Sorry I haven't been posting much lately. I've got so many things I want to continue posting about: the bibliology series I promised my old friend I would continue; my evolution debate (which hasn't continued in earnest since I last posted); my evidence for the Trinity; and so on and so forth. But all in its due time. Those of you who enjoy my blog--as few of you as there might be--please don't give up on me.

I recently began a discussion over email with an old friend concerning the relationship between baptism and salvation. His claim is that salvation is a requirement for salvation, whereas my contention is that salvation is a free gift given by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. In case any of my readers might find the discussion edifying, I figured I'd reproduce the relevant points here at my blog. For the sake of anonymity, I'll call my friend "Jim." Jim, if I misquote you or misrepresent your position, please let me know. Do continue to respond via email, however, rather than in comments in response to this post; I think the discussion will be clearer as individual blog posts rather than as a ridiculously long thread of comments with limited formatting options.


My friend saw a comment I had made in which I mentioned that "that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone." This proved to be the catalyst for the discussion which I'll be reproducing here. My friend saw this comment and contacted me via email. Here is how he began:

[Jim] The teaching of baptism must be taken from the understanding of the teaching of the gospel. This is my understanding.

Beginning in Matt 24:14 "And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come."

Mark 16:15 "He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. 16Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned."

Acts 1:3-8 "After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. 4On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit." 6So when they met together, they asked him, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?" 7He said to them: "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

Acts 16:10 "After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them."

Romans 1:16-17 "I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 17For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith."

These scriptures give weight to the understanding of the teaching from Acts 2:38 in that they explain the gospel of Christ and when looking into these scriptures the message is therefore clarified to mean that everyone who wants to be saved MUST believe AND be baptized into Christ.

Here was my response to him:

[Theopologetics] I'm going to break up my argument into discernible points:

First, the Protestant Reformers recognized what the Catholic Church had largely lost, namely (and among other things) that Scripture teaches that salvation is a free gift of God through faith, not dependent upon ANY works. As Paul wrote to the Ephesians, "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9). If salvation is in any part dependent upon any work--including baptism--then some may boast. Those who are saved can boast, saying, "I was more obedient than you, so I was baptized, so I was saved."

The jailer asked Paul and Silas, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" How did they respond? "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household" (Acts 16:30-31). He didn't tell him to be baptized, he said merely to believe.

Paul wrote to the Romans, "apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested...through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe" (Romans 3:21-22). No mention of baptism, only belief. He also said to them, "Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:1). No mention of baptism, only faith.

Of particular importance is what Paul said to the Romans in Romans 4:1-12. There, he explains that Abraham was saved before he was circumcised, and that the faith he had before this ceremony was credited to him as righteousness. Paul goes on to say that Abraham received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised. And this faith he had which was credited to him as righteousness before the sign which signified it is the same kind of faith believers in Christ have.

Paul also wrote to Titus, "He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit" (Titus 3:5). Our salvation is not on the basis of any deed--including baptism. (I'll come back to this verse in a bit.)

Jesus said to Nicodemus, "whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life" (John 3:16). No mention of baptism. And, "He who believes in Him is not judged" (verse 18). No mention of baptism. And, "He who believes in the Son has eternal life" (verse 36). No mention of baptism.

He said to Martha, "he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die" (John 11:25-25). No mention of baptism.

John wrote, "Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God" (1 John 5:1). No mention of baptism.

The whole point of the gospel is that salvation is a free gift that cannot be earned. If it is given only if you perform some deed or work, then you are in some sense earning your salvation. When we look at verses that connect baptism with salvation, since Scripture cannot contradict Scripture, we must interpret them in such a way as to be consistent with those verses which clearly communicate that salvation is not dependent upon any work.


In Acts 10:44-48, "While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message...Peter answered, 'Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?' And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ." These Gentiles believed first, and were indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and were baptized after their salvation.


Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius" (1 Corinthians 1:14). Really?!?! He goes on to say, "Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel" (1 Corinthians 1:17). Really?!?! If baptism is necessary for salvation, these statements would be ludicrous. Yes, his point in this passage is that he doesn't want to encourage division (verse 15), but if baptism is necessary for salvation, Paul would basically be saying, "I thank God that I helped you believe but left you unsaved until someone else baptized you." Or, "Christ sent me only to preach, but not to take new believers to the next step of baptism which is required to be saved." That'd be utterly ridiculous.

Also, you said, "the teaching of baptism must be taken from the understanding of the teaching of the gospel." Okay, but then Paul's summary of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 is strangely devoid of this essential requirement. Not only does he leave baptism out of it altogether, but he also says that we're saved by it "if you hold fast the word which I preached to you" (verse 2). He doesn’t say, "if you hold fast the word which I preached to you and are baptized." If baptism is such a requirement, it is strange that Paul leaves it out of both the gospel summary and that which is required to be saved.


An old man, an unbeliever, is at a church service to witness his granddaughter's baptism. Moved to belief, in tears he stands up and begs to be baptized. Asked if he believes he is a sinner and that Jesus died and rose again for his salvation, he says he does, and as he walks toward the stage he has a heart attack and dies.

A woman has recently become a believer and is scheduled to be baptized this afternoon. She's overflowing with newfound love for her Savior, and she's excited to be baptized. She parks across the street, and as she crosses the street to the church, she's hit by a bus and dies.

And on and on it goes. The point is, it is the height of absurdity to think that genuine believers are not saved simply because they died moments before their opportunity to be baptized. And yet that's precisely what this idea requires.


Works are an outward manifestation of inward salvation. James wrote, "I will show you my faith by my works," and "faith without works is dead." A genuine faith, he tells us, is one which produces works. Without works, a faith is an inanimate, false, dead faith. The problem, he tells us, is not with the lack of works, but with the lack of real faith.

Paul told the Galatians that "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" (Galatians 5:22-23). As "fruit," works are manifestations of faith, not that upon which faith is dependent.

What Scripture tells us is the relationship between salvation and works is that one who is genuinely saved naturally produces works. They are evidence of, not requirements for, salvation. As John wrote, "They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us" (1 John 2:19).


Remember as we look at these that Scripture cannot contradict Scripture. As we've already seen, the consistent message of the gospel is that it is a free gift from God not based on works/deeds. We must keep this in mind as we look at these verses.

Titus 3:5: I mentioned earlier that I'd come back to this one. What of "the washing of regeneration" mentioned here? This cannot mean that we are saved only if we are baptized, for then Paul would be contradicting himself; remember, he just said our salvation is not on the basis of any deed. What, then, does Paul mean? One of two things. Some commentators have simply understood Paul as including the outward sign with the inward change that saves. Matthew Henry wrote, "Here is the outward sign and seal thereof in baptism, called therefore the washing of regeneration. The work itself is inward and spiritual; but it is outwardly signified and sealed in this ordinance. Water is of a cleansing and purifying nature, does away the filth of the flesh, and so was apt to signify the doing away of the guilt and defilement of sin by the blood and Spirit of Christ" Calvin wrote, "The apostles are wont to draw an argument from the sacraments to prove the thing therein signified, because it ought to be a recognized principle among the godly, that God does not mark us with empty signs, but by His power inwardly makes good what He demonstrates by the outward sign." Another possibility is that the "washing" here is not baptism. No Greek word for "baptism" is included here, and the "washing of regeneration" here may refer to the washing of the blood of Christ that cleanses us.

Mark 16:15-16: It is likely this was not a part of the original Scriptures. The earliest manuscripts do not contain anything past verse 8, and only later manuscripts contains verses 9 through 20. For more information, see Still, let's assume for a moment that it was in the original. Then Jesus does say, "He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved," but look what He goes on to say: "but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned." Note He doesn't say, "he who has disbelieved or has not been baptized shall be condemned." Thus, even if these verses weren't added later, as the evidence suggests, they still don't prove your point. I explained above that deeds are produced by a genuine faith, so all Jesus is saying--again, if these words even belong in Scripture--is that if one's faith is genuine and thus produces adherence to His commands, he will be saved.

Acts 2:38: You can't use this verse in support of your position without it backfiring on you. It reads, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." Note what it leaves out: Belief! Faith! Trust! If this verse is a "formula" for salvation, then you must conclude that faith isn't required; any unbeliever could repent of his sins and be baptized in Christ's name without truly believing. Clearly that's not the case. No, repentance and baptism are fruits of genuine faith, and what this verse says is that if we have genuine faith--one which leads to repentance and to baptism--we will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

I'll address other texts as you bring them up.


To summarize, the consistent message of the gospel is that salvation is a free gift given to those who did not deserve it nor earn it in any way, shape or form. It is given by God's grace alone, through faith alone, not on the basis of works or deeds. Christians are commanded to be baptized, yes, but it is merely an outward sign of a change which has taken place inwardly already. Furthermore, like any work, it is the fruit of, not the basis for, our salvation. We should not resist the command to be baptized, but neither should we resist the command to resist all sorts of temptations into which we give from time to time. Thank God that it is not our ability to perfectly obey God's command that determines whether or not we are saved! If it were, well I'm, excuse my language, frankly screwed.

That's it for now. Stay tuned, I'll post tomorrow with any responses which take place before then.