To start off I would like to affirm that James and I do agree on a few things and I would like to highlight those briefly so that we can be clear what this debate is not about. James and I agree that the Bible is the inerrant word of God, that baptism is for those who have expressed belief in Jesus as Savior and Lord, and that baptism should be by full immersion (the Greek term “baptismo” means “immersion”). Furthermore I will go on the record of stating that I personally hate the concept of the “sinners prayer” and walking an aisle to get saved, etc. I believe that these are not biblical concepts but, rather, they are inventions of the second great awakening and the heretic Charles Finney. Finally we also agree that our positions about salvation and baptism are mutually exclusive which means that we cannot both be right about this topic, at least one of us is wrong. So then, on these things James and I agree, these are not our points of discussion for the debate because we agree on these things. Our topic for discussion is solely about whether or not baptism is necessary for salvation. As James stated, his view is that a person must be baptized by submersion in water to be saved. I appreciate his taking time to be clear when he states that by “necessary” he means “Required to be done, achieved, or present; essential.” He also defines what he means by “saved” stating it means “to enter into a position of salvation (forgiveness of sins; justification).”
For the record, one more thing we agree upon, the Bible does teach that salvation is to be made positionally right before God, have ones sins forgiven and to be justified. But our disagreement is what brings about “justification”. James says very clearly that one is justified by water baptism. However, the Bible says very clearly that a person is justified by faith apart from works. Now that our terms are well defined let’s consider the passage in Romans 3:21-31:
21But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. 27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. 29Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. 31Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.
Now let’s consider “justification” our key word here and let’s see how the Scripture plainly uses the term. Keep in mind that the word is used in several forms such as “justification”, “Justified” and “just”, but all, when referring to man, are referring to his position before God, salvation. Here we see in verses 23-24 that all people have become sinners but justification comes about as an act of God’s grace which is appropriated how? By faith! Verse 26 says that God is the justifier of who? The person who gets baptized? NO. The person who has faith in Jesus.
Romans 4 continues this same theme stating in verses 1-8:
1What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 2For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness." 4Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, 6just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: 7 "Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; 8blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin."
Note that the Bible says to be justified is to be counted as righteous before God. But Abraham, the biblical example, is counted righteous not on account of his deeds but because of his faith. He believed God’s promise and he was justified by faith. In fact the notion of baptism is not ever tied to the concept of justification ever, even once, in the New Testament. God’s grace (as the one who brings about justification) and faith (which is a gift from God according to Eph. 2:8-9) are constantly tied to the biblical teaching of justification (see also Romans 5:1, 9; 8:30; 10:10; Galatians 2:15-16; 3:11, 24; Titus 3:7, etc.) So the Bible is emphatic in stating that it is not what we do that brings about justification, not baptism or any other work, but justification is simply applied to us by faith.
The only work necessary for our justification is not a work that we do, but a work that was done for us by Jesus Christ Himself! Romans 5:18-19 says “18Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” Adam’s sin was brought about the condemnation of all people as we are all his descendants, but Christ’s work of obedience, HIS WORK, is what leads to justification. His righteousness is credited to us by faith. This is the plain and simple teaching of Scripture and baptism is nowhere in view.
Now James makes the statement in his opening statement that “Truly, there were faithful men and women in the pages of the Old Testament but God never delivered to them the ordinance of baptism. Similarly, God has never commanded us to build an ark or sacrifice an animal. An understanding of the different covenants is essential in this discussion.” Which, if I understand his meaning correctly, he intends to say that in the Old Testament, depending on the covenant they were under, people were accountable to a certain set of commands or ordinances in order to have justification or be justified before God. He refers to building the ark (Noah) and sacrificing animals (the Levitical Priesthood system). However, lest we forget, it is Abraham (who also offered sacrifices) that is our prime subject in Romans 4 for illustrating that justification (salvation) has been, is, and always will be appropriated by faith apart from works. So while I would agree that understanding the different covenants of the Bible are important, they do not indeed change the way justification is applied to the believer, by faith apart from works, and so they are not terribly relevant to our debate after all.
Next I want to address the issue of John the Baptist and his baptism. The Scripture says of John in Mark 1:4 “John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” And I heartily affirm the biblical text here as always. But it needs to be noted that the Bible was not written in English, but the original language of the New Testament was Koine Greek. In this passage concerning John and also in the case of Acts 2:38 which states “And Peter said to them, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” We need to take a look at the original language to note something very important:
An examination of the Greek text reveals information not available in the English translation. The word "for" is a translation of the Greek preposition eis. The Churches of Christ are correct when they point out that eis can sometimes express aim or purpose. If Luke intended that usage, then this passage would teach that baptism is necessary to receive forgiveness of sins. However, this is not the only meaning that the Greek term eis can have in this passage. Eis can also be used to indicate the basis or ground of something. According to A. T. Robertson, this usage "occurs at least three times" where it cannot be purpose or aim, but rather the basis or ground" (Matt. 10:41; 12:41) (A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures In The New Testament, Vol. III, p. 35). Acts 2:38 can mean that one is baptized because his or her sins have already been forgiven. Acts 2:38 does not prove the necessity of water baptism for salvation.
So then we see that while a possible way to understand what the Bible is saying about baptism is that it is “for” the remission of sins, it can also be understood that people are to be baptized “because of” the remission of sins. Both are legitimate translations of the same Greek word so how are we to know what the Bible intends to communicate on the subject? Well we must take the greater context of the New Testaments teaching about salvation, forgiveness of sins, justification, etc. What we can clearly see when we do this is that the great body of discussion in the New Testament about justification is in relationship to God’s grace and personal faith in Jesus Christ apart from human effort. So it is more legitimate to understand these baptism passages as meaning that people should be baptized as a result of having their sins remitted by repentance and faith rather than being baptized to receive that remission.
Concerning Mark 16:15-16 and the statement “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” I would like to note that scholars almost universally believe that Mark 16 originally ended with verse 8 and that everything that follows was a later addition by some scribe centuries after Mark wrote his gospel. However, even if this were to be considered on par with Scripture (which I maintain it is not), it is worth noting that according to this passage the basis of condemnation is said to be lack of belief rather than lack of a particular work like baptism.
James continues in his opening statement to say “I hear individuals such as Mr. Cade suggest baptism is unnecessary but then turn around and say that it is a command to be obeyed. Huh? In fact, he even stated that he was going to teach some individuals the need to obey it. Why, if it is unnecessary? Some say it is a demonstration to others that he or she has been saved. Is this true of the Eunuch in Acts 8? What his baptism to show Philip that he had been saved? What happens if individuals refuse to show an outward sign of an inward grace? Are they still right with God despite their rejection of said command?”
In response to this, let us suppose a person were to tell you he was a mechanic. In turn you tell him that your engine has been making this “clunking sound” and that you would love for him to take a look at it and see if he can determine the problem. In response the man says “I don’t really know much about cars.” Or perhaps we might put it this way, a person introduces you to their “dog”, but the dog doesn’t bark, doesn’t like to chase cats and squirrels and looks remarkably more like a hamster than a Doberman. Finally let’s say you meet a person who introduces themselves as a Buddhist monk. When you ask them what Buddha taught and how a Buddhist lives they respond “Oh I don’t really live like a Buddhist I like material possessions and I think Benny Hinn is a better teacher than Buddha, anyway.” From these three scenarios what would you conclude? I would conclude that the man was not really a mechanic because he was ignorant of cars, that the dog was actually a hamster and that the Buddhist wasn’t really a Buddhist by any definition that corresponds to Buddhism.
Why do I say all of this? Because I want to henceforth destroy the notion that a Christian can actually be a Christian and not desire to follow Jesus, nor lack all knowledge of Jesus, nor refuse to accept Jesus’ teachings. When I, a Baptist, say that Baptism is important but not necessary for salvation, what I mean to indicate is that justification (the moment a person is saved) will occur at the moment when they trust in Jesus and not at Baptism. But for all intents and purposes, we have good reason to question a person’s justification if they refuse to submit to the plain teaching of Christ and refuse to be baptized. But anyone can see the distinction between baptism causing justification and baptism being a work of obedience that points towards someone’s genuine justification by faith. Just as Ephesians 2:8-9 says “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” So then also verse 10 states “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” The person who is saved by faith will walk in good works and obedience to Christ Jesus. So let it be said that baptism, like the other commands of the Lord Jesus and his apostles matters, but it doesn’t bring about justification, faith in Christ does. Obedience is the fruit of salvation. So then the Ethiopian Eunuch didn’t get baptized merely to prove his salvation to Philip, but he did it because he was saved and as a follower of Jesus Christ he desired to be obedient to his new Lord and Savior.
One should not be surprised to see the constant accompaniment of salvation by faith with baptism because those who believe Jesus is Lord and Savior will follow His command to be baptized after trusting Him for their salvation. It is as simple as that.
As though the Scripture had not spoken clearly enough already I would like to end my first rebuttal with the words of the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:17 “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.” As Paul says so very plainly, baptism is not a part of the gospel message, it is subsequent to salvation.
By Faith Alone in Christ Alone,
My Response to Jacob's Introduction
I firmly agree that a proper understanding of baptism is absolutely essential. An improper understanding leads to false teaching about God's plan for saving man. Those who corrupt God's plan for saving man will be lost in Hell (Gal. 1:6-9; James 3:1). Those who hear error are led astray; they remain in their sins and they remain outside the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. Again, baptism is either necessary for salvation or not necessary for salvation. Both positions cannot be correct.
Jacob concludes his introduction by writing, “So water baptism is an important work of obedience by which we publically declare our faith and unity with Christ, but it is faith and faith alone by which Christ’s work of salvation is applied to us.” He states that salvation comes by “faith alone” or “faith only”. Can you find one verse in God's word that says that an individual is saved by “faith only” or “faith alone”? There is not one passage in God's inspired word that states it.
Of course, God expects us to have faith (pistis). The Bible teaches that faith is generated by hearing the word of God (Rom. 10:17). The Bereans “...received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so (Acts 17:11).” Those in Acts 2 were “cut to the heart” (Acts 2:37) when they heard the message of the crucified Christ. They believed that message and it caused them to inquire, "Brothers, what shall we do?" Meanwhile many others in the book of Acts heard the same basic message but rejected it (e.g. Acts 13:46). Faith was not generated in them because they would not allow it. Faith is the initial ingredient that leads one to do what God requires him to do. Naaman first had to have faith in God's word before he would ever be immersed in the Jordan River in anticipation of having his leprosy removed (2 Kings 5:1ff). Similarly, its faith that looks to Jesus today and asks “Lord what will you have me to do?”. Only true believers will take the next step and be immersed “for the remission of sins” (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38, etc.). Notice “for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ (Gal 3:26-27 ).” Does one “put on Christ” before or after baptism?
The fact that God expects other things in view of salvation negates a “faith only”position. Does God expect an individual to repent (metanoeo)? Jesus said one would perish without repentance (Luke 13:3, 5). Can a practicing homosexual knowing his lifestyle is contrary to God's word become a Christian without repentance (1 Cor. 6:9-11)? In John's baptism, were the people expected to repent (Luke 3:10)? In Acts 2, were the people told to repent (Acts 2:38)? In Paul's sermon on Mars Hill did he proclaim repentance for those that were idol worshipers (Acts 17:30-31)? The obvious, honest answer is yes. God expects repentance. The “faith only” position is therefore false. It it is at least faith (pistis) and repentance (metanoeo).
Similarly, is confession necessary (Matt. 10:32; Rom. 10:10)? The Apostle John described rulers that “believed in Him” but they would not confess Him (John 12:42). Were they saved by their belief only? In John 8:31; it said they believed in Jesus; however, in 8:59 they picked up stones to stone Him. So, now there is confession, repentance, and faith. Again the “faith only” position is false.
The following phrase in Jacob's introduction seemed contradictory, “Here in this passage we have a very clear teaching on the nature of salvation and how a person acquires (emp. mine) it for themselves, namely, by faith.” I thought it an odd word selection since he argues that baptism is a work of human effort or merit. After Naaman was immersed 7-times in the dirty Jordan, could it be said that he merited his health?
He then quotes Ephesians 2:8-10. The passage quoted is a beautiful passage but it does not teach “faith only”. It is true that we have been saved by God's grace. God's grace is free and available to each and every person; however, an individual acquires it by passing through the channels of faith. It is interesting this passage is found in a letter to the church that had controversy concerning baptism in its origin. (Acts 19:1ff, c.f. 18:24ff). In fact, they had been taught incorrectly and baptized incorrectly. John's baptism was no longer valid (Eph. 4:5).
Is Jacob prepared to suggest that “through faith” excludes repentance, confession, and love? I guess so. He writes concerning Ephesians 2:8, “Again, a very clear and straightforward text that tells us with no uncertainty that salvation is by grace through faith. Salvation is not a result of something we do, such as getting baptized...” Acquiring faith, is that something a person must do before they can receive the free gift of God? Faith comes by hearing God's word and for some that may take a lot of study and effort (Acts 17:11).
Jacob then refers to Jesus Christ attempting to suggest that He taught “faith only”. Again, the same Jesus involved in John 3:16-18, demanded repentance and confession (Luke 13:3, 5; Matt. 10:32, etc.). He also paid special tribute to John the Immerser in defending the baptism he was instructed by God to perform (Matt. 21:25). Prior to leaving Earth, Jesus commanded immersion (Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16). Are you going to deny that? In Luke 24:46-47, Jesus said - “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” Isn't this exactly what happened in Acts 2:37-38?
Jacob does the same thing with the Apostle Peter. Yet he is arguing with the wrong man. Recall it was Peter whose inspired sermon is recorded in Acts 2 in which he responded to the people “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Act 2:38).” The Apostle Peter also wrote, “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1Pe 3:21).”
Jacob believes that baptism is an outward sign, a picture of identification. He states several times that it is a “command to be obeyed” but it is not necessary for salvation. That does not make any sense. What if someone absolutely refuses to be immersed? Are they lost because of their “willful” disobedience? Recall, there were those in John's day that refused to be immersed and they defied the will of God (Luke 7:29-30).
Are you suggesting that the 3,000 in Acts 2 were baptized to indicate that they had previously been saved? Didn't the inspired Apostle Peter say that the baptism was “for the remission of sins”? He said nothing about baptism as an outward sign of their salvation; rather he said it was for the remission of sins. Those against baptism at this point will want to do something to the words here to try and make it say what they want it to say. Yet they have been proved to be incorrect each and every time.
In Acts 8:26ff, the Eunuch generated faith (Rom. 10:17) by reading Isaiah 53 and Philip helping him in his understanding. The Scriptures teach that Philip used the reading and “preached Jesus to him.” As a result of the teaching, the Eunuch sees water and inquires if he can be immersed. Are you suggesting that the Eunuch was immersed as merely an outward sign and not “for the remission of sins”? Was he only showing his faith to Philip by being immersed?
In Acts 16:25ff, the conversion account of the Philippian Jailer is recorded. Are you suggesting that his baptism after a full day of work, an earthquake and an attempted suicide was just an outward sign of an inward grace? No, it was necessary for salvation and that is why he did not delay it.
Baptism is always an urgent matter in the New Testament. This is demonstrated in Acts 2, 8, 9 (22:16); 16; 18:8, etc. Why is baptism an urgent issue? Because it is part of God's plan of saving man (1 Peter 3:21). It is for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38). It adds one to the church (Matt. 16:16ff; Acts 2:41) which is the Kingdom. Only those in the Kingdom will be saved (1 Cor. 15:24) when the Lord returns.
Baptism is not a work of merit, rather it is a work of God (Col. 2:12). An individual arising and being immersed has not earned or merited his salvation. Naaman did not brag, boast concerning his ability to heal himself, did he? He simply complied with the words of God and he found himself leprosy-free by the working of God.
Similarly, today an individual studies God's word or is taught it. Faith is generated in that person's heart and he or she inquires - “What Must I Do To Be Saved? One can either tell them what Peter told the 3,000 or something else. Sadly, there are many today who are tellingscores of people “something else”.