By Jimmy Tuten, Jr.
There is hardly a subject connected with the salvation of man that has been more heatedly contested and discussed than baptism. The importance of the subject is seen in the fact that baptism and its cognate appears over 100 times in the 269 chapters of the New Testament. We’ cannot deny the importance of the subject: In spite of the fact that the New Testament says much about baptism, there is a great deal of disagreement regarding the design of baptism. Is baptism essential to salvation or is it not? The Bible teaches that the believer must be baptized to receive salvation. The purpose of this article is to demonstrate this fact.
Men Deny the Essentiality of Baptism
There are many who maintain that we are saved at the point of faith without baptism. It is difficult to see how anyone can take this position in view of the fact that the Apostle Peter said that “baptism doth also now save us . . .” (1 Pet. 3:21). Here are a few examples of those who reject baptism:
Wayne Camp preaches for the Beverly Manor Baptist Church in Washington, Illinois. He has conducted a couple of debates with church of Christ preachers. On the essentiality of baptism, Mr. Camp says, “baptism for the remission of sins is absolutely unscriptural” (Washington Courier, Dec. 17, 1969). John R. Rice, Baptist editor of The Sword of The Lord says, “baptism does not save does not help save” (The Sword of The Lord, Dec. 6, 1968, p. 1). In the great Bogard-Warlick debate, Bogard (Baptist preacher) said, “I object to the idea that baptism is necessary to salvation because, if true, it makes God dishonest” (p. 45). In the same debate he said, “either way you take it, we see that baptism is not necessary to salvation (p. 136). Mr. A. U. Nunnery, in his debate with Guy N. Woods; said, “Baptists teach that baptism is essential. Baptists even teach that baptism is essential to salvation. Baptists do not teach that baptism is essential to acquire salvation, but they teach that baptism is essential to demonstrate salvation” (Woods-Nunnery Debate, p. 5, italics mine, jt). The New Manual For Baptist Churches says, “baptism is the performance of a good work, therefore, it is not essential to salvation” (p. 45).
What the Bible Teaches
The Bible clearly teaches that baptism of the believer is essential to salvation. As a matter of fact, baptism stands between the sinner and salvation. In the great commission Jesus said, “he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mk. 16:16). This cannot be controverted by denominational creeds and preachers. Look at Acts 2:38: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Another passage showing that baptism is essential is 1 Peter 3:21, “the like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us . . .”
Before examining a couple of these passages in detail, we call your attention to the following chart:
What Baptism Does
Puts one into Christ – Rom. 6:3-4; Gal. 3:27
Makes one a child of God – Gal. 3:26-27
Put on Christ – Gal. 3:27
Puts into one body – 1 Cor. 12:13
Saves – Mk. 16:15-16; 1 Pet. 3:21
Remission of sins – Acts 2:38
Washes away sin – Acts 22:16
Baptism Is Therefore Essential to Salvation
It can be clearly seen that baptism has its specific design. This is true of every Divine institution. The general assumption that baptism is not essential or necessary to salvation would make God have people do something in religion that is not necessary. Why would God want us to be baptized if it is not necessary? The truth of the matter is that when God commands a thing, what He commands is positively necessary in order to obey Him (Matt. 7:21). God commands baptism (Acts 10:48). We must be baptized to please God. This is necessary in order to please him.
A Closer Look at Mark 16:16
Let’s take a closer look at the statement of Jesus: “he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” The statement “he shall be saved” is the principle part of the sentence. Just who shall be saved is shown by the dependent clause, “that believeth and is baptized.” Not just any person can be saved. Only the he who believes and is baptized. The individual who will fulfill the conditions of the commission shall be saved. Those who will not believe and be baptized will not be saved. If salvation is to be obtained, both of the conditions upon which it is based must be fulfilled.
In our study of this passage we cannot overlook the conjunction “and.” Jesus said, “believeth and is baptized.” “And” is a coordinating conjunction, joining elements of equal rank. With reference to the promise, “shall be saved,” belief and baptism stand together, equal in rank. If one is essential, so is the other. Just as one must believe in order to be saved, so one must be baptized to obtain salvation. A colleague has illustrated it like this: The little word “and” is like the coupling pin that connects two box cars on a railroad track. As long as they are joined one cannot move in one direction and one in another direction. Both must move in the same direction. Faith may be represented by one box car; baptism may be represented by the other box car; the conjunction “and” joins them together as a coupling pin. Both move in the same direction as long as they are coupled by the conjunction “and.” Both are essential to salvation.
Another way to look at it is to substitute the word “plus” in the place of “and,” because the word “and” means plus. Just as two plus two equals four, so belief plus baptism equals salvation. Salvation is not by faith only (Jas. 2:24). “Believe and be baptized” means belief plus baptism. Jesus clearly said, “he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.
A Look at Acts 2:38
In this passage the inspired Apostle Peter says, “repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Both repentance and baptism are given as prerequisites to the remission of sins. Both of them are essential. Neither of them can be omitted or ignored. Baptism sustains exactly the same relationship to remission of sins that repentance sustains. If we are to repent for the remission of sins, we are also to be baptized for the remission of sins. Both repentance and baptism are essential. Thus Peter not only told the people what to do, he stated the design or purpose for doing it.
We are told by some that the expression “for the remission of sins” means because of the remission of sins, and that we are baptized because of salvation, not in order to obtain it. But observe, if we are to be baptized because our sins are already forgiven, then we are to repent for the same reason. No word can have opposite meanings in the same instance of its usage. The word “for” in Acts 2:38 cannot mean “in order to” as related to repentance and “because of” as related to baptism. Whatever “for” means, it means it for both parts of the sentence. The Greek word translated “for” in Acts 2:38 is never translated “because of” and never looks backward. “For” looks forward to the remission of sins. Let me illustrate: the worker labors for his wages. He labors in order to receive wages, not because he has already received them. So repentance and baptism are in order to the remission of sins.
When it comes to the matter of baptism do not fall back on human sentiment by offering excuses to justify yourself from the responsibility of obeying God. Remember, the way of salvation is that of complete, implicit, faithful, trusting submission to the will of Jehovah God.
Truth Magazine XIX: 27, pp. 418-419
May 15, 1975