By O. C. Birdwell
The New Testament speaks often and much on the subject of baptism. The scriptures which speak on the subject are clear, concise, and were given to be understood: Yet, despite these plain Bible passages which show the need for baptism many still object and refuse to obey Christ in baptism. Foy E. Wallace, Jr. said, “. . . The task of circumventing every passage in the New Testament which expresses any connection that baptism sustains to salvation is the constant and studied effort of every denominational preacher” (Bulwarks of the Faith, p. 85). Because of the constant and almost passionate rejection of baptism, it is imperative that, in our study of the general theme Baptism, attention be given to a few of the more commonly heard objections to baptism.
OBJECTION: The Bible teaches salvation by faith.
Yes, the Bible does teach salvation by faith (Rom. 5:1). But does this exclude the need for baptism? Has anyone ever read from the New Testament that salvation is by faith only? We know that a well known church creed says, “. . . wherefore, that we are justified by faith only, is a most wholesome doctrine, and very full of comfort” (Methodist Discipline, 1910, Art. 9), but our question is, where is it taught in the Bible? Another church manual says, “We believe the Scriptures teach that the salvation of sinners is wholly of grace; . . .” (Hiscox, Standard Manual for Baptist Churches, p. 61). While this particular church teaches salvation “wholly of grace” they, at the same time, also teach that salvation is by “faith only.” How can this be? “Wholly” is defined as, “to the full or entire extent: COMPLETELY.” “Only” means “as a single fact or instance and nothing more or different” (Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary). How can man be saved “wholly by grace” and at the same time his salvation be “by faith only?” It is impossible. This is man’s doctrine, and not doctrine of the Bible. The Bible teaches that man is saved by grace (Eph. 2:8), by faith (Rom. 5:1), and by baptism (Acts 22:16; 1 Pet. 3:21). The word “only” or “wholly” is not used with either, except where it is used by James when he says “not by faith only” (James 2:24, KJV).
OBJECTION: The thief on the cross was not baptized.
There is no way for one to know positively whether he was or was not baptized. But, we will grant that he was not baptized. What does that have to do with what man in this dispensation is instructed to do? The thief lived in the presence of Jesus on earth before his death and before his Testament came into effect. He was not under the instructions given unto us in the New Testament (See Heb. 9:16-17). Another who lived before the New Testament period was Abraham. As far as we know, Abraham was never baptized. But he was never so instructed! If what he did teaches anything it surely shows that he would have been baptized if he had been so commanded, and that without a quibble. But Abraham and the thief lived before the New Law came into effect. The question we need to consider is, does the New Testament teach men who live after the death of Christ must be baptized in order to be saved?
OBJECTION: Baptism is a work, and man is not saved by works.
Ephesians 2:8-9 is usually cited by those who use this objection. A careful study of this passage will show that Paul speaks of the works devised by man in which man, if he were saved by them, could boast. Is baptism such a work? Now be fair with your answer! Can man boast of meritorious works, by which he is deserving of salvation, when he obeys the Bible instruction to be baptized? If you answer in the affirmative, then you must exclude faith and repentance, along with every other act of obedience. But none of these, my friend, are works of man’s righteousness: They are all a part of God’s righteousness, authorized by God, and bound upon man as his part in God’s plan, and necessary for one to take advantage of God’s extended grace. (For further study on this subject see “Baptism: A Work of Man or God?,” elsewhere in this publication.)
OBJECTION: Mark 16:16 does not say “he that disbelieveth and is not baptized shall be condemned.”
Of all the objections to baptism, this seems to be one of the most widely used. Jesus, in this passage, instructed that salvation be promised to those who believe and are baptized, and that condemnation be preached as a consequence of unbelief. Do not confuse the two subjects–salvation and condemnation. Two acts are listed as necessary for salvation; only one for condemnation. Unbelief alone will bring condemnation, but salvation follows belief and baptism. Do not be mislead.
OBJECTION: The man stranded in the desert or dying on the battlefield could not be saved if baptism is essential to salvation.
This objection is a human-reason argument against baptism that is made to appeal to the sympathy of man. Such sympathy appeals are made in many areas. Recorded actions of God which are contrary to the accepted practice of men are used by the modernist to try to disprove the inspiration of the scriptures. It is argued that any Old Testament passage which contains a command to slay people could not really be from God and is only the record of the people’s concept of God. This position assumes that modern man can know the nature and will of God apart from God’s having revealed it to him, and is just one of the many places where the modernist has missed the mark. He presumes to set his own standard and bounds for God and concludes that any act or command outside of these bounds of human wisdom is either not from God or is an immoral act by Him.
The same kind of reasoning is used by those who voice the above stated objection. Since they conclude that God could not reject the salvation of anyone who at the last minute before death decides he wants to be saved, they feel compelled to speak for God and devise their own scheme for the salvation of such people. Thus they, as the modernist, presume to know the nature and will of God apart from His revelation. Have they overlooked the constant New Testament warning of the dangers of procrastination and the perils of putting off obedience?
Jesus said, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” Peter’s words are, “Repent ye, and be baptized, . . . unto the remission of your sins” (Acts 2:38). Before man’s salvation is his belief and baptism. Remission of sins is promised after repentance and baptism. One who rejects baptism would remove this act as a condition. Most would, however, retain belief and repentance. Through what kind of reason would one man have the right to remove one of Christ’s conditions and another man not have the same right to remove still another condition such as belief? Then one might ask, “What about the unbeliever who dies on the battlefield but, no doubt, would have eventually believed if his life had not been cut short? Will he not also be saved? You see, there is no end to such human reasoning.
These, and all other objections to baptism, will be resolved if one will stay with just the Bible and not speculate about the matter. If God saves all people who are in the desert and all who are on the battlefield, that will be His prerogative. If man preaches the pure gospel of Christ, however, he will tell all men to believe and be baptized to be saved. This is precisely what Jesus said.
Truth Magazine XIX: 27, pp. 426-428
May 15, 1975