“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son,
that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” – John 3:16

6.9 False Teachings on Baptism

You are in Beware the Wolves -> List of False Teachings

I have given you the correct teaching about baptism in the main chapter of this book. However, you will find much (seemingly endless) debate, discussion and disagreement about whether baptism is a required element for salvation. The minds of men love to make (false) doctrinal mountains out of molehills, by distorting, diluting and obfuscating the very simple teachings of the Bible. Some also falsely teach and perform “infant” baptism and baptism by “sprinkling.” Neither is in agreement with Scripture.

Some Christian churches and groups falsely teach that baptism is not a required element of salvation, that it is a “good work” done by man. They then build that incorrect position up into a dispute of monumental and biblical (pun intended) proportions. In fact, arguments over this one simple teaching of the Bible have led to serious and seemingly endless divisions within the church, and hundreds of books have been written to defend whatever doctrine a particular group thought was right. Amazing the folly of man, yes? But we are called to stand firm in the faith that was handed down once for all time in Scripture, and not be deceived by the doctrines invented by man. Because baptism is such a fundamental and important part of the gospel message and the plan of redemption/salvation for a Christian, I want to go into this subject in some detail.

Some of the reasons various groups give as to why baptism is not a required element of salvation are listed below, along with my response:

  1. Baptism is a “good work”: First, this shows a complete misunderstanding of what a “good work” is. A good work is something that is done (after conversion and in obedience to the teachings/commands of Christ) that benefits someone else, not yourself. Second, how can having someone else immerse you in water be considered a “good work” on your part at all? It is not even you who is doing the work of dunking yourself! Third, and most importantly for it is fundamental to baptism, it is Christ (not you) who is actually doing all the work at your baptism. It is He who is forgiving your sins, not you! He is the one who is redeeming you and cleansing you of sin by His shed blood on the cross – there is nothing anyone can do to buy or earn forgiveness of sins (e.g. through good works, or any works whatsoever). So, give glory to Jesus and let Him do His work in you at baptism.
  2. The second half of Mark 16:16 doesn’t mention baptism: This claim basically says that since the first half Mark 16:16 mentions baptism but the second half doesn’t, it therefore is not a required element of salvation. In response, I say please use logic and common sense: there is no need to mention baptism (or repentance, confession, obedience, perseverance, etc.) in the second part of the verse, because without faith one is condemned regardless of whether one is dunked in water or not, so it would be completely redundant to mention it in this part of the verse – it is simply not needed. Furthermore, if one adopts their (wrong) logic, one must also say that since the first part of Mark 16:16 doesn’t mention repentance, that repentance therefore isn’t required for salvation either! I think (and hope) no clear-thinking Christian will adopt that position. As you can see, they are using different (and inconsistent) rules of logic for the two parts of Mark 16:16. When you point this out to those who deny baptism on this basis, they don’t seem to see their error in logic and resulting inconsistency. Even beyond the simple logic error, one must consider the sum total of what Scripture teaches on any particular subject in order to arrive at truth and correct doctrine. It is true that various verses call out and stress certain elements of salvation at times for various reasons, but you cannot create a gospel doctrine that agrees with some verses and contradicts with others – your doctrine must harmonize true across all of Scripture, for Scripture is 100% correct and never contradicts itself. No matter what you think or believe, if it contracts even so much as one single clear and unambiguous verse of Scripture, it is not Scripture which is wrong, it is your interpretation that is wrong. This is one of the most common causes of doctrinal errors.
  3. The Cornelius conversion (Acts 10:1-23): The claim made here is that since Cornelius et. al. received the Holy Spirit before they were baptized, this also applies to all believers today, and therefore baptism isn’t required for salvation (or to receive the Holy Spirit). What this fails to recognize is that the Cornelius conversion was a special case – it signified the expansion of the gospel message to the gentiles. The Spirit was given here in this Cornelius case first as a sign to Peter that salvation is now also to the gentiles. Without such a sign, Peter (et. al.) was not going to go to the gentiles, so this event was a special and unique confirmation by the Spirit and recorded for us in Scripture.
  4. Paul did not go to baptize, so baptism isn’t required: This is a generalization from 1 Corinthians 1:14-16 that isn’t warranted in Scripture or supported by logic. The context of those verses is in relation to a problem that some in Corinth were being puffed up (proud) because they were baptized by the great apostle Paul, and hence felt superior to others – they were unduly identifying with Paul instead of with the gospel as a whole and with Christ. What Paul is trying to get across here is that it is the gospel message itself that is important (including baptism!), not the particular person who happens to dunk you into the water! Nothing about this section of Scripture contradicts or denies the very clear and unambiguous teachings on baptism given elsewhere. Even further, let’s press this false interpretation to the ultimate pinnacle: In exactly similar fashion in John 4:1-2 it is noted that Jesus Himself didn’t personally baptize anyone (His disciples did), so by way of analogy one would have to conclude that by John 4:1-2 baptism isn’t necessary either – despite Jesus clear teaching to the contrary! Once again, it is the pride of man which is in focus here, not whether baptism is required. Please think about this using yourself as a test case – imagine if you were personally baptized by Jesus Himself, do you not see how pride could result? I do! That is the message of both passages of Scripture. These verses have nothing whatsoever to do with the removal of baptism as a required element for salvation. Jesus, and Paul, wanted to avoid pride resulting from an association with who (or Who) did the dunking…that is all.
  5. The deserted island (or middle of a desert) straw-man argument: Some make the argument: Since a person stranded on a deserted island (or in the middle of a desert without water) can’t be baptized, it therefore is not required for salvation (by anyone). This argument doesn’t really need a response, as it’s completely ridiculous, spurious and does absolutely nothing to defend their teaching. However, if you find yourself in one of those locations and accept Christ there, rest assured that Christ will find a way to allow you to be saved properly. Franky, I’m surprised they don’t also argue: “What if you are on the moon and accept Christ?” as a proof case against baptism. Instead of worrying about a hypothetical fictional case that applies to literally no one, focus should be on the clear Scriptures that do apply.
  6. The thief on the cross wasn’t baptized, so it’s not required: First of all, the thief on the cross who accepted Christ actually did so and died under Old Testament Mosaic Law – the New Covenant didn’t take effect until Christ’s death and resurrection. Furthermore, he may have been baptized, we do not know, Scripture doesn’t say whether he was or wasn’t. The thief seems to be familiar with Christ and His teachings, at least to some extent. But let’s assume for argument’s sake that he wasn’t. Christ, who is God Almighty Himself, can do whatever He pleases, whenever He pleases! He can make any exceptions He deems necessary or pleasing to His will – who are we to say otherwise? While on earth, Jesus repeatedly forgave the sins of various people, like the thief. But to make a general case of this wonderful special conversion and demonstration of grace is a travesty of logic and flies in the face of other clear and unambiguous verses about baptism. Now let’s press this argument to its logical conclusion – I’m willing to concede that if a) you find yourself hanging on a cross, and b) you are hanging right next to Christ at the same time, then yes, you too may be saved simply by Christ’s proclamation over you without baptism. But that simply doesn’t apply to any of us today, does it? So why use this case to deny baptism in the face of clear Scripture to the contrary?
  7. It’s what we’ve been teaching for a long time, so it must be correct. Yes, I have actually run across this claim, which goes as this (paraphrasing): “Well, we have been teaching that baptism is not required for many years, so we must be right.” Yes, some actually think that somehow saying this adds credibility to their position, but the fact that they have been teaching something (wrongly) for any period of time does absolutely nothing whatsoever to bolster their defense that the teaching is correct. If one adopts their own logic here, then they must also concede that the Roman Catholic Church could therefore come along right after them and say: “Well, since we have been teaching (falsely) on matters of doctrine for nearly 2000 years, our teachings must be even more correct”! Clearly, I hope you can see the ridiculousness of this argument.

It is interesting to note that those who adopt the position that baptism isn’t required also teach that one can casually and nonchalantly decided to wander in and get baptized whenever you want to, anytime after you accept Christ – even days, weeks, months and years later! I’m paraphrasing their teaching again, but you understand the point. After all, since they teach that baptism is not required, there is therefore no rush or urgency about doing it. But be not deceived, there is not a single instance in Scripture that supports this position. In every single case without exception, those who received and accepted the good news of the gospel in Scripture were immediately baptized! There are no exceptions. (read more)

Please do not be confused or deceived by those using strange logic. Adhere to the simple gospel message and it’s clear teaching about baptism: one is not born again until after one has: heard the gospel message, believed in Christ, repented of their sins, confessed Christ and is baptized by immersion for the forgiveness of sins. It is at baptism that you die (are buried) to your old self and are raised to life a new creature in Christ. It is also at baptism when you receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

The bottom line (in truth) is: if you’ve just believed, repented and confessed Christ, get baptized as soon as possible by immersion for the forgiveness of sins! It’s just that simple. There’s no valid excuse not to be baptized or to keep putting it off. Scripture commands believers to be baptized by immersion in water, so get baptized as soon as you are able to. And according to Scripture, you are not born again until you are baptized. Scripture speaks very simply, explicitly and plainly for itself regarding baptism.

Wayne Jackson also writes on the topic of baptism: [1]

THE SIMPLICITY OF MARK 16:16

It is a fundamental fact of Bible interpretation that those passages that are most crucial to one’s salvation are the easiest to understand. That is why Mark’s account of the “great commission” is so incredibly simple. One of the great mysteries of modern “Christendom” is why certain clergymen have so obscured this wonderful text [that of Mark 16:16]. …

The Conditions Mentioned

In Mark 16:16, two conditions of the divine plan of redemption are mentioned — belief and baptism. These are preliminary to the reception of salvation. Surely even the most amateur student can see that these items are but representative of the fuller complement of sacred requirements. There is, for example, no reference to repentance, though this change of disposition — which results in a reformation of life — clearly is requisite for redemption (Lk. 13:3,5; Acts 2:38; 17:30). Nor is the “good confession” included (cf. 1 Tim. 6:13), though it is combined with belief elsewhere (Rom. 10:9-10). It is common in the New Testament for a writer to emphasize occasionally certain conditions relating to salvation, without citing the entire catalog of requirements (cf. Jn. 3:16; Acts 17:30; 1 Pet. 3:21). How wonderful it would be if those who argue for “salvation by faith alone” could learn this simple principle. …

Sectarian Evasion

Due to the fact that some religionists are so saturated with the notion that salvation is by “faith alone” (a doctrine alien to the New Testament, and specifically repudiated therein — see Jas. 2:24), they resort to various interpretative contortions in an effort to evade the transparent instruction of this passage. Typical of this maneuver was prominent Baptist scholar, A.T. Robertson, who, in his massive Grammar of the Greek New Testament, asserted that sometimes grammar must yield to theology (389). [2] The practical meaning of that statement is this: Sometimes it becomes necessary to ignore what the text actually says, and in its place substitute one’s opinion! The fact is, the grammar is inspired; one’s personal theology is not!

And so, relative to Mark 16:16, Robertson, in his Word Pictures, wrote: [3]

“The omission of baptized with ‘disbelieveth’ [16:16b] would seem to show that Jesus does not make baptism essential to salvation. Condemnation rests on disbelief, not on baptism” (1.405).

Quite frankly, that is pathetic. After introducing the person who “believes not,” why in the name of common sense would it be necessary for the Lord to list additional items of rebellion, in order to emphasize the unbeliever’s state of condemnation? Besides, elsewhere in the divine record Jesus did warn of the consequences of rejecting baptism. Such rejection, according to Luke’s record, is the reflection of an attitude that repudiates the very “counsel of God” (see Lk. 7:29-30).

And further: [4]

Is Baptism a Work of Merit?

The truth is, most denominational folks have little difficulty in acknowledging that both faith and repentance are requirements for the remission of sins, even though they are classified as works in the Scriptures. The real point of contention is baptism. Sectarians feel that if it were conceded that baptism is essential to salvation, this would be equivalent to arguing that forgiveness is earned. Baptism, it is charged, is a work of human merit. Under this assumption, it is thus (by many sincere people) excluded as a requirement for salvation. But this reasoning is fallacious.

In the first place, the only passage in the New Testament that even remotely identifies baptism as a “work” is found in the book of Colossians. There, Paul says “[H]aving been buried with him in baptism, wherein you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead” (Col. 2:12, ASV). The act of submitting to immersion is not meritorious; the operation is a “working of God” designed to provide pardon upon the basis of Jesus’ death. One is spiritually blessed by the working of God when he submits to the sacred ordinance. Nowhere does scripture come anywhere near suggesting that submission to God’s command, “be baptized” (Acts 2:38; 22:16), is a meritorious work.

Second, the Bible specifically excludes baptism from that type of works that have no relationship to salvation. Paul, in his letter to Titus, affirmed that we are “not [saved] by works done in righteousness which we did ourselves,” i.e., which we contrived and implemented as a means of justification. Rather, “according to his mercy he saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (3:5). The “washing of regeneration” (an indisputable allusion to baptism) is plainly placed in contrast to those human “works” that are ineffectual to save.

The conscientious Bible student needs to eradicate from his mind the false notion that “works” are wholly alien to God’s plan of salvation. If you have been confused about the role of works in the divine pattern of conversion, why not give the matter fresh consideration?

And to those who teach and preach false doctrine regarding baptism, I say you now know better having read the truth of what Scripture actually teaches, so if you continue to teach and preach in contradiction to Scripture, you must beware (James 3:1). Wayne Jackson echoes the same sentiment succinctly: [5]

“Those who speak in opposition to New Testament baptism, contradicting the sacred writings, will have a heavy judgment to bear.”

I also present this commentary by Matthew Henry (on Acts 2:38), where I think he summarizes things nicely: [6]

He here shows them the course they must take.

(1.) Repent; this is a plank after shipwreck. “Let the sense of this horrid guilt which you have brought upon yourselves by putting Christ to death awaken you to a penitent reflection upon all your other sins (as the demand of some one great debt brings to light all the debts of a poor bankrupt) and to bitter remorse and sorrow for them” This was the same duty that John the Baptist and Christ had preached, and now that the Spirit is poured out is it still insisted on: “Repent, repent; change your mind, change your way; admit an after-thought.”

(2.) Be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ; that is, “firmly believe the doctrine of Christ, and submit to his grace and government; and make an open solemn profession of this, and come under an engagement to abide by it, by submitting to the ordinance of baptism; be proselyted to Christ and to his holy religion and renounce your infidelity.” They must be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. They did believe in the Father and the Holy Ghost speaking by the prophets; but they must also believe in the name of Jesus, that he is the Christ, the Messias [Messiah] promised to the fathers. “Take Jesus for your king, and by baptism swear allegiance to him; take him for your prophet, and hear him; take him for your priest, to make atonement for you,” which seems peculiarly intended here; for they must be baptized in his name for the remission of sins upon the score of his righteousness.

(3.) This is pressed upon each particular person: Every one of you. “Even those of you that have been the greatest sinners, if they repent and believe, are welcome to be baptized; and those who think they have been the greatest saints have yet need to repent, and believe, and be baptized. There is grace enough in Christ for every one of you, be you ever so many, and grace suited to the case of everyone. Israel of old were baptized unto Moses in the camp, the whole body of the Israelites together, when they passed through the cloud and the sea (see 1 Corinthians 10:1-2), for the covenant of peculiarity was national; but now every one of you distinctly must be baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus and transact for himself in this great affair.”

To the above, I say Amen!

I would like to close this false teaching with a note of encouragement and understanding, for those of you who are reading this book after having been taught and have come to a belief that baptism is not required for salvation. Please know that I understand how difficult you will struggle with this topic. You see, I was once as you, having the same belief that baptism is not required for salvation, as that was the only thing I was ever taught or had heard preached (or read). It was a mighty struggle indeed to concede that my beliefs were not in agreement with Scripture. So, I understand the tremendous difficulty you will have in breaking free from this false teaching. It’s not unlike the extraordinary difficulty one has in trying to break the flesh free from a sinful habit or addiction. It’s extremely hard and it takes the power of God; it will be the same with this topic.

I also understand that you might resist the correct teaching on baptism as given in this book because you are afraid that if you do so, you will be diminishing what Christ did on the cross. However, if you persevere in truth, you will come to see that the correct teaching on baptism doesn’t diminish the cross or Christ one iota. In fact, it is further glorifying the Lord as you will have come to a correct knowledge and understanding of the truth of Scripture.

[1] Jackson, Wayne. “The Assault upon Mark 16:16.” ChristianCourier.com. Access date: November 8, 2018. https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/605-assault-upon-mark-16-16-the
[2] Robertson, A.T. (1919), A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research (London: Hodder & Stoughton).
[3] Robertson, A.T. (1930), Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville: Broadman).
[4] Jackson, Wayne. “The Role of “Works” in God’s Plan of Redemption.” ChristianCourier.com. Access date: November 8, 2018. https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/729-role-of-works-in-gods-plan-of-redemption-the
[5] Jackson, Wayne. “What Is Baptismal Regeneration?” ChristianCourier.com. Access date: November 8, 2018. https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/416-what-is-baptismal-regeneration
[6] Henry, Matthew. Exposition of the Old and New Testaments, London. 1706-1710/1721.

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