The Baptist Church: Its Doctrine of Baptism

By Harry L. Lewis

The general subject of baptism has troubled the waters called Christianity for many hundreds of years. It has not been a dead issue in any decade since our Savior walked the hills of Palestine.

Areas of Agreement

The Baptist people have nearly spoken with one voice on one who is the subject of baptism. Almost without exception, scholars of the Baptist persuasion have said that only those who had a personal faith could properly receive the ordinance. Believer’s baptism has been the very mainstay of conservative Baptist doctrine for these past three hundred plus years. These people are to be commended for their zeal in holding to this portion of truth against the infant baptizers who have been sweeping the land. The Baptist teachers and preachers have been strong and true to the Book on this point.

The action of baptism has also been gallantly and zealously propounded and protected by those who call themselves Baptists. While great numbers of men and women in other denominations were accepting the sophistry of those who sprinkle and pour, instead of immerse, the Baptists were holding high the banner of truth. They stood firm on a “thus saith the Lord” on immersion in place of the innovations. Such passages as Colossians 2:12, Romans 6:4 and Acts 8:35-39 have been made household words among Baptists and their friends because these passages set forth in words the very picture of immersion. Men and women of this religious movement are to be commended when they stand for the Book of God on any subject, but especially on this one. The reason this subject stands out is because men have had to pay with their life for teaching it. Men have had to suffer the loss of nation and property for its truths.

Area of Disagreement

I am reminded of Galatians 3:1 where Paul referred to the Galatians as foolish because they had stopped listening to God’s word, and begun to listen to the doctrine of men (Matt. 15:9). On the “subject” of baptism the Baptist people have been traditionally right! On the “action” of baptism they have been right on target, but on the cause, need or reason for baptism they could not have been less foolish than the Galatians! Their practice could not be more vain! Their doctrine on this originates in the heart of men. This doctrine must be laid at the feet of those preachers and teachers among the Baptists who reverence the words of their own historical past more than the words of the Book!

Baptist preachers have taught their people to cry “water salvation” when they hear the Bible doctrine of baptism taught. These preachers know, if they would just listen to what we are saying, that we know that Jesus is the only Savior. The question is not one of who saves the sinner from past sins, but the conditions upon which the salvation takes place. The Bible teaches that baptism is one of those conditions, but the Baptists say it is not. Let us enter into a study of the Baptist doctrine of baptism, and see if we can understand why the division exists between us.

The Origin Of Baptist Baptism

The origin of this doctrine is rather difficult to pin down. One group will make their whole case on a line of decent through individual men who taught (?) baptism, while others insist that the connection is through a long line of churches. Most of the reasoning done by Baptists on church decent have included the idea of doctrinal decent as well. The fact is obvious that the doctrine of the Baptist people cannot precede the people themselves. The history of churches known as Baptist churches is recognized to have begun in the seventeenth century even by Baptist historians. This fact is clearly shown in another article in this issue. When this is clearly understood, the conclusion should be obvious that if the Baptist church did not exist in the first century neither did the Baptist doctrine on baptism. We find many statements alluding to doctrine in the New Testament. There was Jesus’ doctrine (2 John 9-Il). Also we find the apostles’ doctrine (Acts 2:42). There is even a reference to the doctrine of devils (I Tim. 4:1-4). However, we find not one reference to the doctrine of Baptists or Baptist doctrine. The reason is very simple. Their doctrines did not originate on the pages of the Bible.

Where Did Baptist Doctrine Come From?

Let us look at page 22 of The Standard Manual For Baptist Churches by Edward T. Hiscox. “It is most likely that in the Apostolic age when there was but `one Lord, one faith, and one baptism,’ and no differing denominations existed, the baptism of a convert by that very act constituted him a member of the church, and at once endowed him with all the rights and privileges of full membership. In that sense, ‘baptism was the door into the church.’ Now it is different: (emp. mine, hll) and while the churches are desirous of receiving members, they are wary and cautious that they do not receive unworthy persons.”

Now it is different! Who made if different? Making it different is warned against in Rev. 22:18-19; Gal. 1:6-9; 1 Cor. 4:6; 2 John 9-11; etc. If it is different now than it was in the first century, those who changed it must be held responsible for violating what is taught in these passages. The day it became different to Baptists was the day Baptist doctrine began! Now that we can see the origin of Baptist doctrine of this subject, let us learn something about the nature of the doctrine itself.

1. Baptist doctrine on baptism is confusing. “No man can preach the Baptist doctrine of baptism without contradicting both the Bible, other Baptists and himself. I know of no better way for a man to be convinced of that fact than to read Dr. Albert Garner’s tract on Campbellism and W. Curtis Porter’s reply called Dissolving a Few Baptist Aspirins. One of the confusing things about their doctrine has already been alluded to in Hiscox’s manual. These people refuse to see how confusing it is when they claim to follow the Bible only, and admit that the Bible taught baptism as the entrance condition to the church, then turn around and say “Now it is different.”

Another confusing and contradictory thing Baptist’s teach about baptism is that it is not essential and that it is essential. They say that folks are saved by faith alone, before and without baptism. Baptism then, according to them, is not essential to being saved, but it is essential to obedience. The same manual says, (p. 20 article #8), “Baptism is not essential to salvation, for our churches utterly repudiate the dogma of “baptismal regeneration”; but it is essential to obedience, since Christ has commanded it. It is also essential to a public confession of Christ before the world, and to membership in the church which is his body.” It is a shame that the simple doctrine of baptism has been made so confusing and contradictory that the beauty and truth of it is lost. No wonder Paul said he feared that some would be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ (2 Cor. 11:3). The only sense in which Baptists teach that baptism is necessary is that it is essential to a list of things that themselves are not essential. Essential to non essentials, that is the nature of Baptist doctrine on baptism.

2. The effects of Baptist doctrine on baptism are far more far reaching and devastating than may be noted at first glance. There is an evil effect produced by any false doctrine which is contrary to the good produced by truth. There are several effects produced by Baptist doctrine in general, and their doctrine on baptism in particular, which I would like for us to consider.

a. It encourages men to put their trust in men and not the inspired word of God (1 Cor. 2:1-4). When Mr. Hiscox says “Now it is different” that opens the door for others to react the same way about other things the Bible teaches. This attitude toward the Bible breeds more changes and more disrespect for what it says. This doctrine on baptism determines what a faithful Baptist teaches, feels, and does in relation to confessing, and being a part of the church. If baptism is non-essential to salvation, but is essential to confession and church membership, then confession and church membership are not essential to salvation (cf. Acts 20:28; 2:47; Rom. 10:9-10; Matt. 10:32).

b. Baptist doctrine on baptism encourages people not to obey the gospel. By the very nature of this doctrine, obedience is rendered useless or even wrong. If baptism is a work of man as they say it is, and use Ephesians 2:9 to prove it, then no person who trusts Baptist doctrine can also trust what the Bible says about baptism. In Romans 1:16 Paul said the gospel is God’s power to save. In 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9 we are told by the writer that those who obey not the gospel will reap the vengeance of God. Along comes a Baptist and says obedience is a non-essential. This doctrine will prevent people from going to heaven (Heb. 5:8-9; cf. Mark 16:16).

c. This doctrine taught by our Baptist friends encourages people to remain in their sins. Peter said, “Repent and be baptized every one of you for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:38). Ananias came from Christ to teach Saul what he must do. He told Saul to “arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” Along come the Baptist preachers and say “You do not have to obey one thing.” Or they might say “Baptism is essential and not essential, it is and it isn’t, you do and you don’t.” These people may very well have told Saul, “now it is different. ” Jesus said “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” The Baptist says, “He that believeth and is baptized (for the remission of sins, to wash away his sins) is damned!” According to this doctrine, if you believe baptism is an essential in bringing forgiveness of sins, it condemns instead of saves. Who can believe it, and still believe the Bible?

Guardian of Truth XXVII: 4, pp. 14-16
February 17, 1983