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Debate Topic: Is water baptism necessary for salvation?
On Tuesday, May 13, 2008 I debated a Mr. Roger Perkins on “Is water baptism necessary for salvation?”. Mr. Perkins is a oneness believer and an ex-pastor in the oneness movement. Mr. Perkins holds the position that water baptism is necessary for salvation. I deny that assertion and maintain that justification is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.
Mr. Perkins opened with a 15 minute speech. I followed with the text below, which I read word for word – except in a few places where I ventured away from the text for a brief moment.
The topic tonight is “Is water baptism necessary for salvation?”. Notice that when we say “necessary” we mean that there is no exception to the requirement – otherwise the word “necessary” is inappropriate. So, if there is an exception, if someone can be saved without baptism, then water baptism is not necessary.
Has as Mr. Perkins that it water baptism is an absolute necessity? No. He can certainly cite examples of people being baptized after they believe, but citing examples does not prove that water baptism is necessary in order to be saved.
If we can find anyone who is saved without being baptized then we have proved that baptism is not necessary for salvation. This is very easy to do because we find the Old Testament saints who died in the faith and the expectation of the Messiah who were not baptized in water, yet they were saved. Paul brings the Old Testament context into the new. In Romans 4:3, he says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” Paul refers to Abraham to say that his faith was reckoned as righteousness. Since only the saved are righteous in God’s site, Abraham’s salvation (though ultimately future as it waited for the sacrifice of Christ) was received by faith – before any rituals were instituted, including the ritual of circumcision.
Two verses later in Romans 4:5, Paul speaks to us today by saying, “But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness.” Notice that the same phrases used: Faith is reckoned as righteousness. Again in Rom. 5:1, he says “therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
So, faith is reckoned as righteousness back in Abraham’s time as well as ours today. Abraham was saved without a ritual and so are we. This is why we are justified by faith. It is not faith in the ritual of water baptism that results in righteousness nor is it faith and water baptism that brings us justification; otherwise, we are not justified by faith but by faith and water baptism, by faith and a ritual.
The ritual of circumcision is condemned by Paul in Galatians 5 as having no part of salvation. He condemns the Judaizers for their desire to participate in a ritual and add it to their faith in Christ.
A ritual is a ceremony that is done by one or more persons. Circumcision involves two parties: the one performing the action and the one receiving the action. Likewise, baptism involves two parties: the one performing the action and the one receiving the action. Both are rituals. Both are religious procedures. Both are religious ceremonies. My opponent is requiring a ritual, a ceremony in order to be saved.
I’ve proven that baptism is not necessary for salvation by citing Abraham. But Mr. Perkins might say that my approach is misguided and that the Old Testament saints were under a different “dispensation” or “requirement” than we are today and that we could not require that they be held to Christian baptism since Christian baptism had not yet been instituted. If that is so, then water baptism is not necessary for salvation. It is simple logic.
Nevertheless, for the sake of continuing our debate, let’s limit our discussion to whether or not water baptism is necessary for us now. Do we need to be baptized in water in order to be justified by faith?
The answer is no because if it were necessary then it would violate the Scriptures’ clear teaching that justification is by grace through faith. It is never said that we are justified by faith and something whether it be law, ceremony, or sincerity of heart.
Now, my opponent has turned to Scripture and quoted various verses about water baptism and said the Scriptures teach it is necessary. But this has not been established. He has inferred that it is necessary by citing the pattern of baptism after belief. In fact, there is no scripture that says “baptism is necessary for salvation”. We see no verses that say we are condemned if we don’t get baptized, but we do see scripture that says we are condemned if we don’t believe. Mark 16:16 says “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” John 3:18 says, “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already.” If baptism is necessary for salvation then we should find verses that say “and he who is not baptized will be condemned.” But no such verse exists.
Now Paul preached the gospel and he said in 1 Cor. 1:15-17, “I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 that no man should say you were baptized in my name. 16 Now I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized any other. 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel….” If baptism is necessary for salvation, why is Paul saying he came to preach the gospel and not to baptize? Why is Paul saying he’s glad he did not baptize except a very few people? Paul is too smart to make the mistake of not baptizing people if people are erringly claiming to be baptized into his name. It would be like me saying, “I’m not going to preach salvation in Christ by faith because someone might say they received it in the name of Matt Slick.” I am obligated to preach the gospel that saves regardless of whether or not someone mistakenly points to me or to God in the process. I’ll point to God. I’ll point to justification by faith alone in Christ alone… not to justification by faith and water baptism, not to justification by faith and circumcision, not to justification by faith and going to church, not to justification by faith and any other human ritual that would add to the finished work of Christ and, thereby, insult the cross.
Again, Paul said he came to preach the gospel not to baptize. In fact, Paul tells us that it is the gospel that saves, and baptism is excluded from what he says the gospel is. He says in 1 Cor. 15:1-4, “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel … by which also you are saved…that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” Baptism is not mentioned as part of that which saves us.
In Acts 16:27-34 when the jailer had been awakened by an earthquake and he saw that the prisoners under his charge did not escape he asked Paul “what must I do to be saved?” The answer was simple, “believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved, you and your household.” He was then immediately baptized. Notice that Paul did not say that you must believe the Lord Jesus Christ and be baptized in order to be saved. He left baptism out. He said believe. If baptism is necessary for salvation, then why did Paul exclude it?
In Acts 10:44-47 it says, “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. 45 And all the circumcised believers who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out upon the Gentiles also. 46 For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God. Then Peter answered, 47 “Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?”. These people were saved. The gift of the Holy Spirit was on the Gentiles and they were speaking in tongues. Tongues is a gift given to the members of the Christian Church, as 1 Cor. 14:1-5 shows us. Also, unbelievers don’t praise God. They can’t because praise to the true God is a deep spiritual matter that is foreign to the unsaved. 1 Cor. 2:14 says the unbeliever does not receive or understand spiritual things and Rom. 3:10-12 says the unbeliever does not seek for God and is a hater of God. Therefore, the ones in Acts 10:44-47 who are speaking in tongues and praising God are definitely saved and they are saved before they are baptized. This simply isn’t an exception. It is a reality.
Another way of dealing with the baptism issue is with a brief discussion about someone on her deathbed in a hospital. And let me tell you, I have spoken with at least two to hospital chaplains who told me that this happens.
Let’s say there is a person who is dying and the Chaplain comes in and gives him the gospel. Then under the conviction of the Holy Spirit which is in accordance with John 16:8, the person believes that Jesus died for his sins, was buried, and rose from the dead according to the Scriptures. This person confesses with his mouth that Jesus is Lord (Rom. 10:9-10), prays to Christ (1 Cor. 1:2; John 14:14), and receives Christ (John 1:12), by faith but dies before water baptism is administered, is that person saved or damned?
If water baptism is necessary, then that person is damned to hell even though he trusted in Christ, even though he trusted in the sacrifice of Christ, even though he by faith receive Christ. He would be damned to hell because he did not participate in the human ritual. He would be damned to hell because, he would not be justified by faith, but by faith and the ritual of water baptism.
If Mr. Perkins says he does not know if the person goes to heaven or hell, and water baptism is not necessary because if it were, he would be in hell.
Paul tells us in Romans 4:5, “But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness,” and again in Romans 5:1, “therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
We are justified by faith, not by faith and baptism, not by faith and a ritual. Christ’s work is sufficient in itself for his complete and finished and there is nothing we could add to it. This is why we receive our salvation by faith. This is why we are justified by faith, this is why baptism is not necessary for salvation, because otherwise, it is not justification by faith.
Baptism Verses with responses
On May 13, 2008 I was in a formal debate with a oneness believer who said baptism was necessary for salvation. Following are my notes I prepared for that debate. I put htem here as an additional help to readers.
If you would like to read the opening paper I read at the debate, please see Matt Slick’s Opening Statement on Baptism.
- Matthew 28:19-20, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
- This verse does not to say that baptism is necessary for salvation. It says that baptism is part of making disciples.
- If baptism is necessary for salvation then it must also be true that teaching disciples to observe all that Jesus commanded is necessary as well. But this would be salvation by works. Instead, Jesus is explicitly declaring how to make disciples – by baptizing them and teaching them to observe what Christ and commanded.
- Mark 16:16, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.”
- I could easily say that he who believes and goes to church will be saved. That is true. But it is belief that saves, not belief and going to church. Likewise, if you believe and read your Bible, you’ll be saved. But it isn’t reading your Bible that saves you.
- Likewise, those who believe and are baptized will be saved. But the emphasis is on faith not on baptism. Notice that Mark 16:16 says that he does not believe will be condemned. It does not say that he who is not baptized will not be condemned. If baptism is necessary for salvation, then we should find somewhere in Scripture where it says something to the effect of if you’re not baptized, you’re not saved. But we find no such statement.
- Luke 7:30, “But the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God’s purpose for themselves, not having been baptized by John.”
- This is not a Christian baptism that is referenced here. It is the baptism of John so this cannot be used to demonstrate baptism is necessary for salvation.
- John 3:1-5, “Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; 2 this man came to Him by night, and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”
- Christian baptism had not yet been instituted when Jesus spoke these words. So how could it be Christian baptism that was being referred to? Nicodemus most probably would have been thinking of John’s baptism of repentance, and certainly not Christian baptism since it had not yet been instituted by Christ.
I would like to point out that when Jesus says we must be born again, what it actually says in the Greek is we must be born from above. The words “born again” are not there. The words are “born from above.”
- There are five different Interpretations to these verses.
- The water refers to the natural birth.
- The first option looks to the context of Jesus’ words dealing with being born “again” (3:3). Nicodemus responds by mentioning the experience of being born from the womb (v. 4). Jesus then speaks of water and the Spirit and then says, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (3:6). The implication is that the first birth is the natural birth and the second birth is the spiritual birth. In other words, the water refers to the water of the womb — the first birth. This seems to have support in the understanding of Nicodemus about entering into the womb to be born a second time. However, this view is not the most commonly held view.
- The water refers to the Word of God.
- The verses that seem to suggest this are Eph. 5:26 says, “that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word.” Some believe that the washing of water is done by means of the Word of God.
- John 7:37-38, “If any man is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. 38 “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water.’”
- The water refers to the Holy Spirit.
- The third view says that the water refers to the Holy Spirit. Perhaps Nicodemus was reminded of Ezek. 36:25-27, “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. 26″Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27″And I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.” Certainly, Jesus’ own words are applicable here when He says in John 7:37-39, “If any man is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. 38″He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water.'” 39But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.”
- The water refers to the ministry of John the Baptist.
- This view says the water is in reference to the water baptism of repentance taught by John the Baptist. Matt. 3:1-6 describes John’s ministry in the desert, his teaching about repentance, and baptizing people into that repentance. Contextually, the first chapter of John mentions John the Baptist in verses 6-8 and 19-36. If John’s ministry is in view here, then Jesus would have been speaking of the “baptism” (the initiatory ordinance) of repentance preached by John the Baptist.
- The water refers to the water of baptism as a requirement for salvation.
- But this would mean we were not justified by faith.
- It would be adding a ritualistic requirement to salvation.
- John 19:34, “but one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately there came out blood and water.”
- This has nothing to do with water baptism. When someone dies from crucifixion, the heart ruptures, the elements of the blood separate, and water seeps into the chest cavity. This is why the soldier pierced his side because when one looks like water comes out, it means death has occurred.
- Acts 2:38, “And Peter said to them, “Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
- What is going on here is that repentance and forgiveness of sins are connected. In the Greek, “repent” is in the plural and so is “your” of “your sins.” They are meant to be understood as being related to each other. It is like saying, “All of you repent, each of you get baptized, and all of you will receive forgiveness.” It isn’t baptism that gets forgiveness of sins, but repentance. You see, repentance is a mark of salvation because it is granted by God (2 Tim. 2:25) and is given to believers only. In this context, only the regenerated, repentant person is to be baptized. Baptism is the manifestation of the repentance, that gift from God that is the sign of the circumcised heart. That is why it says, repent and get baptized.
- The Oneness argument says that the word “for” means that you are getting baptized in order to receive forgiveness of sins. Again, if this is what is meant, then we are not receiving the forgiveness of sins when we believe, but after we have performed a ritual. There’s no way around this. Is a ritual also required for our salvation? Is there a work we must perform in order to be saved?
- Biblically, a work is a ritual, a law that must be followed. Circumcision was just such a ritual, a ceremony. Paul condemns the Judaizers for adding that ritual, that ceremony to the grace of God. He condemns them because they added a ceremonial requirement to salvation. This is heresy and Paul rightly condemned it.
- Baptism is a ritual. It is a ceremony. If it is necessary for salvation, then a ritual must be observed in order to obtain Christ’s forgiveness. This is salvation by grace and ritual, not salvation by grace through faith.
- Faith occurs when you believe. You are justified by faith when you believe, otherwise you’re not justified by faith. So, this verse cannot mean that we have to be baptized in water in order to have our sins forgiven.
- It means that we are baptized to indentify with the forgiveness of sins.
- Mark 1:4, “John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”
- Also, if we are to understand this verse to mean that baptism is necessary for salvation, then we must also understand that repentance is necessary. But this is a problem because it would require that we be good in order to be saved – but this amounts to justification by works. Of course, we are supposed to repent of our sins, but it is not the repentance of sins that brings us salvation; rather, it is salvation that brings us repentance because unbelievers don’t turn from their sins, only believers do only the saved seek to honor God.
- Acts 8:35-38, “And Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him. 36 And as they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” 37 [And Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”] 38 And he ordered the chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch; and he baptized him.”
- There’s nothing in these verses to show that baptism is necessary for salvation. It only says that the Eunuch was baptized after he believed. It shows that a person should be baptized right away after receiving believing in Christ.
- Acts 22:16, ‘And now why do you delay? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.’
- What washes away their sins not water, but calling on the name of Jesus.
- The verse does not say be baptized washing away your sins. It says be baptized and wash away your sins calling on his name. What washes away our sins is calling on his name — which would mean we are saved by grace through faith, not grace through faith in water.
- Rom. 6:3-5, “Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection.”
- The phrase “baptized into” means here “to identify with.” It cannot mean that baptism is the means by which we enter into union with Christ. This would be ritualistic communion and Paul in no way ever talked in you ritual was necessary in order to be saved.
- Instead, Paul taught that baptism represented identification with Christ. Consider 1 Cor. 10:1-4, “For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; 3 and all ate the same spiritual food; 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ.” Therefore we can see it to be baptized into his refrained identification not the means by which were saved.
- 1 Cor. 12:13, “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.”
- Which baptism is this speaking of, the baptism of water or the baptism of the Spirit.
- Eph. 4:5 tells us that there is “one faith, one Lord, one baptism.”
- If this means that we get into the church by being baptized in water, and no one is in the Christian church unless he or she has gone through the ritual. This would mean that salvation is not by grace through faith, but by faith and ritual.
- The very verse here tells us about being made to drink of the one Spirit. This is an obvious figurative usage but it tells us two things. First, it alludes to the baptism of the spirit, not of water. Second, if we must require that the baptism spoken of here means water, but why not require the literalness also of drinking the Spirit? It it makes no sense composes upon the text. Therefore, this verse is not dealing with water baptism but Spirit baptism.
- Acts 11:16, ‘John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’
- John 7:38, “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water.’ 39 But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.”
- Gal. 3:27, “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”
- A. Water baptism is not mentioned here. This is probably a reference to baptism of the Holy Spirit. 1 Cor. 12:13 says, “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.”
- Paul taught that baptism represented identification with Christ. Consider 1 Cor. 10:1-4, “For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; 3 and all ate the same spiritual food; 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ.” Therefore we can see it to be baptized into his refrained identification not the means by which were saved.
- This might be a reference to the Roman garment of the full-grown man, assumed when ceasing to be a child.
- Baptism is the identification with Christ, signifying having come to the faith, having died to sin, and risen with the Lord Jesus Christ.
- Eph. 5:25-26, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her; 26 that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word.”
- There is no mention and baptism at all. Paul associates the washing of water with the word.
- If this is referring to water baptism, then it must mean that Christ is the one actually performing the act of baptism on the entire church because it says “just as Christ also loved the church and gave him self up for her that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water…” which would mean baptism.
- The reality is that when I lead my wife in devotions with the word, I’m washing her in the word of God. That is how I love her and wash her.
- Col. 2:12, “having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.”
- This verse does not show the necessity of being baptized in order to be saved. It simply speaks about our identification with Christ and are baptism. And nowhere here says baptism is necessary for salvation.
- If anything, this verse in its context equates baptism and circumcision: Col. 2:11-12, “in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; 12 having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.” Paul is relating the ritual of circumcision with the ritual of baptism, both are covenant signs.
- Still, this verse in no way says that water baptism is necessary for salvation. But it does equate circumcision and baptism together. We must be reminded of how Paul condemned the Judaizers for requiring the ritual of circumcision to be saved. We can make a strong case here at requiring the ritual of baptism would likewise be condemned.
- Titus 3:5, “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,”
- This verse is telling us that regeneration is the washing, not the regeneration of baptism. There is no mention of water baptism here and there certainly is no mention of water baptism being necessary for salvation.
- Heb. 10:22, “let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”
- Heb. 9:14, “how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?”
- 1 Peter 1:2, “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, that you may obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood…” This is all reference to the Old Testament ceremonies of sprinkling blood in order to cleanse the temple (Heb. 9). This is what the high priest did and Jesus, who is our high priest according to the order of Melchizedek, likewise cleanses us with his blood. This is how our hearts are cleaned, but the sprinkling of the blood of Christ, not by our bodies getting dunked in water.
- 1 Pet. 3:21, “And corresponding to that, baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,”
- This verse negates water baptism by saying the baptism that saves is not the kind that deals with the removal of dirt in the flesh. That is, it is not the issue of water which washes the body, but that baptism of the heart which is an appeal for a good conscience to God.
- Some think that the baptism corresponds to the Ark because it was the Ark that saved them, not the floodwaters. this is a possibility but one of the problems with it is that this interpretation does not seem to stand grammatically since the antecedent of Baptism is most probably in reference to the water, not the Ark. But, water did not save Noah. This is why Peter excludes the issue of water baptism being the thing that saves us because he says, “not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God”. Peter says that is not the application of water that saves us but a pledge of the good conscience. Therefore, baptism here most probably represents the breaking away of the old sinful life and entrance into the new life the same way that the flood waters in Noah’s time was the destruction of the sinful way and once through it known entered into his new life.
- Peter’s explanatory comment shows us that the act of physical baptism is not what saves, but the “baptism of appeal to God.” This appeal to God is by faith the same as Noah’s faith in God led him to build the Ark, enter it, and remain in it.