For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints. (1Co 14:33 KJV)
From the start of this, I want to suggest my main theme, so that you might understand my perspective. I believe the author of confusion is man, and the book he wrote. As I write this article I am aware of the divisive opinions that will quickly be leveled my way just for asserting these claims. Maybe not in print, but at least in their mind. However, let me suggest a few things about this topic. I intend to write several articles over this very point of confusion. However, there is no way that I can write one article on this, or it would become a book. Even the “sub-point” of salvation must be broken down even further into specifically just the controversial viewpoint on whether baptism is required for salvation, because there is also the issue of works for salvation, and the issue of the age of accountability, and the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and so on. So, you see, even in this very first topic, within the first paragraph, confusion is at the center.
I am not trying to mislead you, or to convince you of a specific viewpoint. However, I do desire to make you think beyond what you are being told to believe. Even if you say that you “read the Bible for yourself”, I would ask if you are understanding it on your own or are you reading commentary? There is nothing wrong with reading commentary, but you must understand that depending on what the author of that commentary believes will determine how that verse is being translated. You must see that every single topic will have people from all sides with different viewpoints, based on scripture. I could argue for baptism being a requirement for salvation and the Catholics, the Methodist, and the Church of Christ would be giving me an “Amen”, while the Baptist would be quick to share the pages of scripture and theological references to suggest that it is not a requirement for salvation.
Before we get into this topic of salvation, you may be asking why does any of this matter? Well I would present to you the age old “Christianese” question that stops non-believers in their tracks, and that is “What if you are wrong?”. No matter what you are, whether Christian or Hindu, Atheist or Agnostic, Baptist or Methodist, or any other belief, if you are wrong there are grave implications here. I have spent my life thus far preaching the Baptist Gospel and there is plenty of opportunity for errors from anyone, including me (how damned we must all be?). With the example I just gave above, I would suggest that the “baptism is a requirement” crowd at least has all their bases covered with salvation by requiring baptism. Because, if Baptist are wrong, and you do need baptism to be saved, there are a lot of people who are going to just barely miss the boat into paradise because they did not get the opportunity to be baptized, or simply chose not to be baptized. Let us dig into the details…
Digging into the issue of salvation is possibly the most important topic we can discuss. If Hell is real (I am not convinced), and there is eternal damnation for those who do not believe, and are baptized then we should all have grave concerns for what message we are preaching. The first verse I want to present to you is out of Mark, and it reads:
John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. (Mar 1:4 KJV)
Most Baptist commentaries seem to ignore anywhere that baptism is listed as anything required for forgiveness of sins. This is obviously natural because it would go against the tenets of their beliefs. However, this is very difficult to ignore that clearly baptism is somewhat involved in the salvation experience. Some may say, “well that was Johns Baptism”, that is not the Lords. Well, what about this one?…
And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” 4 And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. (Act 19:3-5 ESV)
Seems to be that whether we are talking about John or Jesus, baptism is important. One of the most used verses for baptism being a requirement for salvation is typically this one…
And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.’ (Act 22:16 ESV)
That one is blunt. Not only is it commanding these people to be baptized, but it is specifically stating what the result of that baptism would be, and that it would “wash away your sins”. However, even with these verses, and quite frankly many more, Baptist do not see baptism as a requirement for salvation. Yet, even though they do not find it a requirement for salvation, they (Baptist) do require that you be put completely “under” or “full immersion” as it is said in the vernacular. They also would require you to be baptized to become a member of the church most likely. While there is zero scripture to support requiring baptism for church membership, church membership is something that is not required in scripture either (although most believe it is “implied”), but I will save that for another article.
So, why would someone believe that baptism is not required for salvation?
Often one quotes the verse below to show that baptism was not of critical importance:
I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. (1Co 1:14-15 ESV)
Clearly the issue that Paul seems to be addressing is that he was fearful that people would get caught up on the issue of who was doing the baptizing. I personally do not see how this shows anything about baptism not being required for salvation, but apparently some people are able to read between imaginary lines and come to that conclusion. The verse below is another one from the same chapter above that is used.
For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel… (1Co 1:17a ESV)
After all, if God cared about baptism being a requirement for salvation He would have had His most trusted preacher performing them, right? It is ironic to me that when this scripture is quoted as proof they leave out the second part of this verse, which reads…
…and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. (1Co 1:17b ESV)
Now, it seems to me that a popular reason for leaving this second part off is because people do preach with “words of eloquent wisdom” all the time. How would you even determine this? I can hear preachers now responding to this, “I do not preach with words of eloquent wisdom, I just preach the gospel”. Well, while usually “they” say we are our own worst critics, I fear we are not good judges of ourselves. After all, who would want to admit to emptying the cross of Christ of its power?
Probably the most common defense is the thief on the cross. If God required baptism, how could Jesus assure the thief on the cross he would be with Jesus in paradise? Reference the verse below…
But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luk 23:40-43 ESV)
This is played out in many debates on this topic in several ways. I have my own personal example of this even. I accepted Christ when I was only nine years old, and then it took until I was 13 before I was baptized. From nine to 13 I was never told that I needed to be baptized to be saved. If I would have died, would God have seriously said to a 10-year-old who is simply believing what he knows, that he is going to hell because he didn’t get baptized? I have heard that if you are not aware of this requirement God would be gracious, well I sure would hope so. However, what then about the person who does know about baptism being a requirement? What if that individual simply chooses to believe the overwhelming majority in their circle of influence who believe that baptism is not a requirement, and they are afraid of water? I realize that is a hypothetical, but I would be willing to bet it happens. I find it hard to believe that God would send an individual to hell because, even though they believed and followed God, they did not get baptized.
As you can see, this topic can be very confusing, and I honestly only touched the surface, as I did not even get into the issue of what the “correct” baptism is (there is more than one baptism preached). I am praying for us all that we can come to some sort of reasonable conclusion. A conclusion that I cannot find myself coming to is accepting that we just all have different beliefs. If our differences were about the color of the carpet in the church that would be one thing. However, we are talking about salvation, and somehow, we can just sit idly by and let there be these varying opinions about the difference between hell and heaven. Why believe what you believe though? Should you believe that baptism is a requirement? If you do, you do not have to worry about if you are wrong, because it at least will not hurt you that you have been baptized (unless you had the wrong baptism). However, why should you not believe the Baptist viewpoint, after all it does seem to make the most logical sense? What is clear, is that you cannot seem to come to scripture with this question, because every denomination in the Christian faith comes to that very same scripture, and reaches a conclusion different from the next person. This is honestly unfortunate, and I wish I could reach a different conclusion myself, but this is where I find myself.