By Irvin Himmel
Some of the books circulated by Seventh-day Adventists are rather vague on the design of baptism. Now and then statements appear which could lead one to think that Adventists regard baptism as essential to the forgiveness of sins. For example, the question may be raised, “Is baptism necessary?” Acts 2:38 is cited as the answer. The catch is that Adventists apply Acts 2:38 in about the same manner that Baptists apply it. They deny that baptism is essential to the obtaining of the remission of sins but think it is necessary to church membership and a public confession that one is saved, and they believe this is the sense in which Acts 2:38 makes baptism essential.
I now propose to demonstrate from Seventh-day Adventist publications what their leaders really teach about the relation of baptism and salvation. In a book entitled Drama of the Ages (Southern Pub. Co., Nashville, 1953), W. H. Branson includes a chapter on “What Must I Do to Be Saved’?” Baptism is not mentioned at all in that chapter. Belief, repentance, and confession of sins are the only requirements discussed. Branson says, I may ask, `What must I believe about Christ?’ We must believe that Jesus is the Son of God, that He is able and willing to save from sin and to bestow upon His followers the priceless gift of eternal fife. We must believe in Him as our personal Saviour, that He died for us, and that His death on the cross was the penalty for our sins which He paid on our behalf” (p. 113).
He continues, “Believing this, the next step is to repent of sins, confessing them to Him, and then believe with all the heart that He forgives and cleanses, for ‘if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.’ 1 John 1:9.”
Then after quoting Jer. 3:12-14, he draws this conclusion: “Having thus accepted the pardon that is freely offered through Jesus Christ, the believer must be ready and willing to follow Him by obeying all His commands and engaging in His service. This is the Christian life, and it results from having accepted salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. The Christian does not keep God’s commandments or engage in His service to be saved, but he does these acts because he has become His. Christian service is now a joy” (p. 114). If one believes that baptism is essential to the remission of sins, why write a chapter on “What Must I Do to Be Saved?” and omit baptism?
Branson’s next chapter is entitled, “Twice-Born Men.” He states that “Those who are saved through the power of Jesus Christ are twice born … They have been born again: the first time of the flesh; the second time of God’s Spirit” (p. 119). Again, he says nothing about baptism’s being an essential to one’s being born again.
In his chapter on “Arise and Be Baptized,” Branson makes it clear that baptism is for the person who has already been converted or born again. “From the time of conversion the individual is to live a,changed life.” He then concludes, “Thus baptism has for the twice-born man a double significance.” This is saying that one is converted before he is baptized in water; or that he is twice-born before baptism (p. 147).
Branson declares, “The prerequisites to the ordinance of baptism are faith, repentance, and a full acceptance of Jesus Christ as personal Saviour” (p. 149). These are the only items mentioned as essentials of salvation in the chapter on “What Must I Do to Be Saved?” This plainly infers that one is saved before baptism. Branson raises the question (p. 156), “What should precede baptism?” His answer is as follows: “Belief in Christ, repentance of sin, and conversion.” To speak of conversion as preceding baptism is a denial that baptism is an essential part of conversion.
Branson admits that baptism is “essential.” However, he never admits that it is essential to salvation, or conversion, or the new birth. “What should every, newly converted individual do’?” he asks on p. 157. “Arise. . . and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” This answer, quoting Acts 22:16; contradicts his position. If one is “newly converted” and “twice born” before baptism, his sins are already washed away. Like the Baptists, at this point Adventists speak of baptism as a “symbol” or “public ceremony.”
“. . . Baptism is a public proclamation of a spiritual relation with Christ that is entered into before the outward ceremony takes place.” “Water baptism is valueless unless the one being baptized has been born again by the Holy Spirit.” These two quotations are from the Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary (Review and Herald Pub. Assoc., Washington D.C.), Vol. 6, pp. 537, 772.
In a book entitled Why I Am a Seventh-day Adventist (Review and Herald Pub. Assoc., Washington, D. C., 1956), H. M. S. Richards states, “We believe that salvation for man is effected through Christ by grace alone, through faith in His atoning blood, works of obedience following as the inevitable result, not the cause or means, of salvation” (p. 21). Again he states, “We believe that entrance upon the new life in Christ is by regeneration, or the new birth, which is effected by the creative work of the Holy Spirit” (p. 21). Since baptism is an act of obedience, according to Richards it could not be any part of the “means” of salvation but follows as the inevitable result of salvation.
Richards later says, “From the very beginning Adventists have believed that salvation depends upon the grace of Christ. Material published by that church illustrates this belief in righteousness by faith and faith alone” (p. 53). He fists five of Ellen G. White’s books and remarks, “Every single one of these books teaches this glorious and wonderful doctrine that our salvation depends upon the atoning work of the Lord Jesus Christ, that righteousness and justification are by faith alone” (p. 55). “When the sinner believes that Christ is his personal Saviour, then, according to His unfailing promises, God pardons his sin, and justifies him freely” (p. 57). Contrast this last statement with what Paul wrote in Rom. 6:17, 18.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church Manual (issued by the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 1971), clearly states that baptism follows forgiveness of sins. Item 5 under “Fundamental Beliefs of Seventh-day Adventists” is as follows: “That baptism is an ordinance of the Christian church, the proper form being by immersion, and should follow repentance and forgiveness of sins. By its observation faith is shown in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. (Rom. 6:1-6; Acts 16:30-33.)” If baptism “follows” repentance and forgiveness, it cannot be essential to forgiveness.
The Manual states on p. 49: “Thorough instruction in the fundamental teachings of the church should be given every candidate for church membership before he is baptized and received into church fellowship. Only those giving evidence of having experienced the new birth, and who are enjoying a spiritual experience in the Lord Jesus, are prepared for acceptance into church membership.” This plainly separates the new birth from baptism. According to Adventism, one must experience the new birth before he is prepared for baptism and church membership. “When a person realizes his lost state as a sinner, sincerely repents of his sins, and experiences conversion, he may, when properly instructed, be considered a proper candidate for baptism and church membership” (Manual, p. 51).
The Manual lists thirteen questions that should be answered in the affirmative by candidates for baptism. Here is question #3: “Renouncing the world and its sinful ways, have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Saviour, and do you believe that God, for Christ’s sake, has forgiven your sins and given you a new heart’?” (p. 59). If the candidate answers this in the affirmative, he confesses that he has forgiveness of sins before baptism. To affirm or confess that forgiveness takes place before baptism is to deny Acts 2:38; 22:16; 1 Pet. 3:21 and other passages of Scripture.
Adventists make baptism essential to membership in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, but they do not teach that it is essential to salvation from sin.
Truth Magazine, XVIII:49, p. 9-10
October 17, 1974