A Biblical Debate: I Affirm Baptism In Water Is Necessary For One To Be Saved
I will begin my introduction by showing how this debate or discussion came into being. I knew
Mr. Shelby Cade as my High School Physics and Chemistry teacher back in the late 1980s.
In 1989, I graduated High School and our lives went different directions. Since then our only
contact has been through email a few years ago and most recently through Facebook.
On April 10, 2011, I wrote a friendly email to Mr. Cade which in one paragraph included
this question, “Do you preach immersion in water is necessary for salvation?” ( Realize, developing the genesis of this debate required me to use emails that were not scrubbed, corrected for spelling
errors, etc. I did not include the misspellings to embarrass anyone but simply to show the full quotes. I did not include quotes that included any personal information minus that which pertained to my purpose. ) About one hour later, Mr. Cade responded, “Water baptism-yes, I believe that all believers should be immersed. Jesus last words before the accension [sic] were to be baptized in the name of the
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matt. 28). Do I believe that baptism is essential for salvation no.
I see within Scripture that one's trust must be in Jesus for salvation. I do believe that one
who has fully trusted in Jesus should be baptized as soon as possible (read the book of
Acts).” The same night I wrote Mr. Cade again, “I would disagree with you on baptism..
maybe we can have some conversation on it some day.”
Mr. Cade and I had a few more discussions on baptism via Facebook. Finally, on May
5, 2011, Mr. Cade suggested the following, “I hope we can stop this back and forth on
baptism. I don't see the point in this discussion, but I hope we can continue to dialogue with
questions of one another. I don't want to preach to you and would care not to have you
preach to me.” At this point, I respected Mr. Cade' request and quit discussing the subject with
On May 8, 2011, Mr. Cade made a general post on his Facebook wall stating, “ What a
great day with God's people today. First, my wife found her missing cell phone. Second, we
had a gentleman come forward to place membership, and third, we had another come
forward to accept Christ as his Savior. It's a busy week upcoming, but today will definatly [sic]
make for a joyful week.”
The following day, despite Mr. Cade's request to end the back and forth discussions
concerning baptism, I wrote a lengthy email which began, “I have got to ask you a serious,
eternal question... I fear that this may end your desire to talk to me based on your previous
email. I do not want that; however, I feel spiritually obligated to inquire. I read your post and in
it you said you were excited because a man came forward and accepted Christ as his
personal Savior. If I did not realize and respect the value of a soul I would not write this email
(Mark 8:36-37) to you..” I continued in the email discussion my position on baptism and
expressing sincere concern for the soul of the man mentioned and others that may be
impacted by his position including the soul of the one doing the teaching.
A few hours later, Mr. Cade kindly responded to my email discussing further his
position on salvation and why he believed the individual was saved, etc. He concluded his
lengthy email with the following, “By the way, I stressed the importance of baptism to my
friend in following the Lord's command. I will be studying with him and two others here in the
coming [sic] weeks and pray that they make the decesion [sic] to be immersed.”
Our discussions on this subject continued I believe in the spirit of kindness and
gentleness. Finally, on May 10, 2011, Mr. Cade in a lengthy email suggested the following,
“Would you be willing to debate a friend of mine concerning some of the issues we have been
discussing? I really don't like this debate, but my friend has debated a C of C preacher (I
believe) on baptism. What I have in mind is an on-line debate to be posted on my blog or
yours if interested.” A few hours later I wrote, “I would be interested in a debate; however, all
the details would have to be ironed out and agreed to.”
There was some discussion about this debate being an oral debate. I would actually
prefer that; however, for the time being the discussion will be a written discussion only. It will
be posted by Mr. Cade on his blog - Flatland Apologetics and possibly on a page of mine that
has yet to be determined. The question for the debate - “Is Baptism In Water Necessary For
One To Be Saved?”
Mr. Cade has clearly stated and demonstrated that baptism is unnecessary in God's
plan for saving man. His friend and my opponent, who I have not met or spoken to, holds the
same position as evident by his willingness to participate in this debate. I appreciate their
candor and willingness to present their position on this matter.
Salvation is important to God the Father as evident by His eternal purpose prepared
before the world began (Eph. 3:11; John 3:16). He supervised the divine plan through the
Garden of Eden, the life of Abraham, the Law and life of Moses, through the sins and rebellion
of men, etc. Satan himself could not thwart God's efforts to bring Jesus to the world.
Salvation is important to Christ Jesus as evident by his willingness to leave Heaven
and live and die as a human-being (Phil. 2:6ff; 2 Cor. 8:9 ). He was willing to be tempted as a
man (Mk. 1:13; Heb. 4:15) but again Satan failed to corrupt God's plan. Jesus was willing to
be falsely accused, violently beaten, scourged and mocked. And finally, he was willing to be
nailed to a tree (Phil. 2:8; Gal. 3:13). In the end, death and Hades could not keep the Lord as
He rose from the grave. He became the source (author) of eternal salvation to those who
obey Him (Heb. 5:9).
Salvation is important to the Holy Spirit in that He played a pivotal role in the work of
presenting and preserving the words of salvation (John 14:26; Acts 11:14). He also played a
very important position in the work of the early church as recorded in the book of Acts. The
essence of this very debate will depend completely on the word of God (2 Tim. 3:16-17; Rom.
Similarly, salvation should be very important to us today, especially as preachers of the
Gospel. It should concern us individually as we contemplate our own eternal soul (Eccl. 3:11).
It should concern us as Christians when we contemplate the spiritual welfare of our family,
friends, neighbors and the world. It should greatly concern us as preachers and teachers of
the word of God knowing that God demands we use His word carefully, wisely, and lovingly (2
Tim. 2:15; James 3:1; Eph. 4:15).
This sincere concern for souls is part of having the “mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16; Phil.
2:5ff) or the mind of the Godhead bodily (Col. 2:9). While Jesus was on Earth His mission,
aim and goal was the salvation of souls. Truly He came to seek and save that which was lost
(Luke 19:10; cf. Matt. 1:21; John 1:29).
My sincere concern for souls is my motive for participating in this debate. I believe
firmly that God's plan for saving man includes baptism (immersion) in water for the remission
of sins (Acts 2:38). God commanded baptism for the remission of sins (Lk. 3:2-3). Jesus
observed and approved its practice while on Earth (Matt. 21:25; John 3:22, 4:5) and then
commanded its practice prior to ascending to Heaven (Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16). The
Holy Spirit guided the Apostles to preach it and write about it (John 14:26, 15:26, 16:13; Acts
2:38, etc.). Everyone that has ever become a Christian has submitted to it. Those that have
refused it, post-resurrection, or still in their sins and lost.
So, my position is “Baptism in water is necessary for one to be saved.” Now, let me
define the terms so as to avoid any future confusion.
1. "Baptism" – The Greek word is baptizo which has been transliterated baptism, baptize,
etc.. It literally means immersion (submerge, dip, overwhelm, bury).
2. "In Water" - is the element into which one is immersed.
3. "Is Necessary" - Required to be done, achieved, or present; essential.
4. "For One" - the individual, a proper candidate lost in his or her sins.
5. "To Be Saved" - to enter into a position of salvation (forgiveness of sins; justification).
During this written debate, my goal and aim is to handle myself in a Christ-like manner.
I absolutely hold no ill-will towards Mr. Cade nor my unknown opponent. I may appear firm at
times but we are dealing with a very serious matter - souls are literally hanging in the balance.
Scores of souls have already been lost because of their failure to search the Scriptures on
this very important matter. Preachers, the world-wide, continue to offer a plan of salvation that
is not taught in the sacred pages of God's word. So, I am not trying to win an award or show
forth any debating or writing skills. I am simply trying to present the truth of the Gospel which
has the power to remove sin and save an eternal soul from an eternal Hell.
Without hesitation, the authority in this discussion must be the word of God. It and it
alone is our standard in reaching a final conclusion on this matter (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Both
positions cannot be correct. Specifically, we will be using the New Testament to learn and
ascertain the truth on this matter. 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.
Let's begin by looking at the son of Zacharias and Elizabeth, a man named John the
Baptist (Immerser). The Old Testament told of him and how he would come and prepare the
way for the Lord (Is. 40:3; Mal. 3:1, 4:5). Even while on the cross, some did not believe the
claim of Jesus because they had not witnessed the return of that fiery prophet (Mark 15:35).
Of course, they did not realize that the coming of Elijah actually was in reference to John the
Baptist (Matt. 17:13).
“In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar (AD 28/29)..the word of God came
to John...” (Luke 3:1-2). Immediately following this interaction with God, John began
preaching “...a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” It is important that one see
the implication in this passage. John heard from God and he immediately started doing
something he had never done before - baptizing people in water for the remission of sins
(Mark 1:4; Jonah 3:2).
It seems most individuals have missed this salient point, John's baptism was for the
remission of sins (Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3). The message from God said it was for the remission of
sins. The Holy Spirit recorded it in the pages of Holy Writ that it was the remission of sins.
Jesus even confirmed its reality as evidenced by His discussion with the chief priests and
elders (Matt. 21:23-27) - “The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from
man?" Again by implication, the obvious answer is from Heaven (God).
The baptism of John was accepted and obeyed by sincere people. They came to John
confessing their sins (Matt. 3:6). They inquired about the meaning of repentance and John
explained it to them (Luke 3:10ff). Scores of people, even sinful tax collectors, submitted
themselves to John to be immersed for the remission of theirs sins (Luke 7:29). Notice, that
by submitting themselves to be immersed they obeyed the will of God (7:30). Meanwhile, the
Pharisees and lawyers rejected the will of God (7:30) in their refusal to be immersed. Jesus
had clearly stated, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of
heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven (Mat 7:21; cf. Luke
The Baptism of John was from God, it demanded an acknowledgment of sin and
repentance from sin, it was in water and it was for the remission of sins. however it depended
ultimately on Jesus who still had to come and die. It was a baptism that looked to the coming
sacrifice of Jesus. After Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection, the baptism of John was no
longer valid (Acts 18:25-26, 19:1-10). John's work was complete; he had prepared the way of
the Lord fulfilling the prophetical utterances of the Old Testament.
It was Jesus who commanded the baptism of what has become known as the Great
Commission. Following Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection (1 Cor. 15:4), He walked on
Earth for 40 days allowing His resurrected body to be seen by the Apostles and scores of
other people (1 Cor. 15:4-8).
It was during this time that Jesus further instructed the Apostles to further prepare them
for the work that they were about to begin. He carefully instructed them that He was going to
leave but in His place the Holy Spirit would be sent to teach them all things and bring to
remembrance the things taught to them by Him (John 14:26). Furthermore, the Holy Spirit will
testify of Christ (15:26) and guide the Apostles into “all truth”. This occurred in Acts 2 in the
city of Jerusalem as the Apostles were “filled with the Holy Spirit” (2:4). The Apostles were the
first, but not the last, to receive the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” (1:4-5, cf. 11:15-16).
Prior to leaving Earth, Jesus gave the Apostles their final instructions, "All authority in
heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them
to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of
the age” (Mat 28:18-20). In addition, Acts 1:8 records, “But you will receive power when the
Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea
and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Also, "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 (Mark 16:15-16).”
And this is exactly what the Apostles did. They observed the ascension of the Lord into
the clouds and then they went to Jerusalem and waited for the “baptism of the Holy Spirit”.
Approximately, ten days later on the day of Pentecost the Apostles received it. The miraculous
occasion and the subsequent speaking in tongues created a stir and allowed the Apostles to
stand and preach the first post-resurrection message.
The thrust of their message was Christ crucified. They were witnesses of the events
and they proclaimed them making reference to the Old Testament again and again to build
their case. In the end, 3,000 precious souls were “cut to the heart” (Acts 2:37) and inquired
“Brothers,what shall we do?” Peter simply told 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” (Act 2:38).
Notice, Peter said nothing even remotely close to “Accept Christ As Your Personal
Savior”, “Say the Sinner's Prayer”, or “Raise Your Hand”, etc. It amazes me to see and hear
the mental and linguistic gymnastics that are done with this verse to try and twist it to mean
what they want it to mean instead of what God clearly has stated. One individual said that
Peter's recorded sermon is not the complete sermon but just a summary. He is probably right
about that (Acts 2:40); however, if baptism is unnecessary in God's plan for saving men then
why include it in a summary? If baptism is just an outward sign of an inward grace why
mention it in the Lord's final words before leaving Earth?
In addition, 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?
The preaching of the Jesus will be preached in Jerusalem and Judea (Acts 1-7), in
Samaria (8), and finally to the uttermost parts of the world (13-28). The theme of their
preaching was Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2; Gal. 6:14). And each time baptism plays
an essential part in the redemption of man (Acts 3, 8, 9, 16, 18, 22, etc.).
This morning, I read the following on Facebook which simulates what we read about in
the pages of the New Testament: “At 11:00pm last night, we BAPTIZED (name removed),
who will be 86 years old this September, into Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:27; Ro. 6:3-4). Because of
her age, physical limitations and the steep our baptistry, we took her to the Holiday Inn who
was gracious enough to let us use their indoor pool. Now that was a super ending to a great
For the record, I do not believe in works or merited salvation. I believe salvation is in
Christ and Him alone. He is the Savior and not me. Similarly, I do not believe there is
something in the water that somehow remits sin. Individuals then and now are saved by the
perfect, precious blood of the Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:20; Rev. 1:5; Acts 20:28).
Is Baptism Necessary for Salvation?
I’m honored to have been asked to do this debate by my friend and colleague Pastor Shelby Cade. I want to extend my thanks to him and also a welcome and thanks to my opponent who shares a passion for the truth about Baptism and was willing to have this important discussion with me. In this debate I will be taking the position that baptism, while important in regard to obedience to Christ, is not necessary for salvation.
To be sure this is not a new topic of debate in larger Christendom. Roman Catholics and Protestants have being debating the meaning and efficaciousness of baptism for centuries. While the Church of Christ position on baptism is certainly different than that of Roman Catholicism, it is still just as important of a discussion that we are having today. The issue of whether or not Baptism is necessary for salvation is a critical one as it involves the very nature of what the gospel of Jesus Christ is. Understanding the message of the gospel, that is the good news about how Christ has provided salvation, is at the very core of Christianity and ranks alongside issue of God’s nature and character such as the holy Trinity and the incarnation of Christ. While we may agree on God’s nature and even upon Christ’s sinless life, His death on the cross and His bodily resurrection as an atonement for sin, the crucial question still remains “How does one have Christ’s finished work on the cross applied to their account and thereby receive forgiveness of sins?”
In an attempt to avoid making any straw-man attacks against my opponents view, I will let him express the Church of Christ position regarding how salvation is attained or acquired and then I will respond after he has set out his view. For now, allow me to walk us through some Scripture to set out what I think the Bible emphatically teaches about salvation and what baptism is all about.
What does the Scripture clearly teach about salvation? Let us look at God’s word together:
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, 24and 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.
Here in this passage we have a very clear teaching on the nature of salvation and how a person acquires it for themselves, namely, by faith. The text is clear that it is by faith that the righteousness of God is given to those who place their faith in Jesus Christ. God makes just (puts into right standing before Him) those who have faith in Jesus His Son. There is nothing coded about the words in this passage, they are plain and straightforward. Here is another passage teaching clearly that salvation is by faith in Christ:
8For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9not a result of works, so that no one may boast.10For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
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, but merely God’s gift to us received by faith in Jesus Christ who paid our debt for us. We could list other examples from the Pauline epistles, but what about Jesus and some of the other apostles?
16"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
Here the apostle John writes that “whoever believes in him”, that is Jesus, will not perish but have eternal life. The basis is not upon human action, but recognition that Jesus is the Son of God who has provided salvation. Note further that the basis of condemnation is said to be disbelief, not a failure to comply with certain actions or works.
1 Peter 1:3-9
3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,4to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 8Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory,9obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
Here we are yet once again with the apostle Peter emphasizing faith as what obtains salvation, not any work, not baptism. In fact everywhere we turn there are emphatic declarations of salvation as a result of faith in Jesus Christ rather than on the basis of human effort or works of obedience, etc. So many more examples could be cited from Matthew to Revelation about salvation by faith in the finished work and person of Jesus Christ as opposed to salvation through a work. Baptism, which is something we must willfully achieve, set out to get done, is a work. It therefore is excluded from what is necessary for salvation because anything which we do that could be considered necessary for salvation is a point of boasting, something which we could say “I did this” and before Christ there will be none who can boast in themselves but only the finished work of Christ.
Baptism is a command to believers to both participate in and facilitate. Jesus’ great commission states that believers are to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." All who believe are to be baptized in the name of the triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
For a believer to not be baptized would be to reject Christ’s command and therefore would be sin. Willful, continuing and unrepentant sin may be cause to doubt someone’s sincerity as a follower of Jesus and so someone who refuses to get baptized maybe worthy of being questioned. However, obedience is the product of a changed life and baptism is a part of obedience but it is not itself what causes or brings about salvation or “justification.”
Baptism is a picture of identification with our savior who died, was buried and rose to new life. We are baptized by immersion to represent our life hidden in Christ’s life, death and Resurrection because “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
As Romans 6:3-4 states “3Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” Here uses the picture of baptism as a way of identifying the believer with Christ death, burial and resurrection. This outward work of obedience is a declaration of the faith which saves us, the faith which causes the efficacious baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Ephesians 1:13-14 states “13In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” By faith we receive or are baptized into the Holy Spirit. Note this is the prediction of the prophet John the Baptist which Peter recalled when the Gentiles received the baptism of the Holy Spirit when they believed the message of the gospel:
1Now the apostles and the brothers who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. 2So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying, 3"You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them." 4But Peter began and explained it to them in order: 5"I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision, something like a great sheet descending, being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to me. 6Looking at it closely, I observed animals and beasts of prey and reptiles and birds of the air. 7And I heard a voice saying to me, 'Rise, Peter; kill and eat.' 8But I said, 'By no means, Lord; for nothing common or unclean has ever entered my mouth.' 9But the voice answered a second time from heaven, 'What God has made clean, do not call common.' 10This happened three times, and all was drawn up again into heaven. 11And behold, at that very moment three men arrived at the house in which we were, sent to me from Caesarea. 12And the Spirit told me to go with them, making no distinction. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. 13And he told us how he had seen the angel stand in his house and say, 'Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter; 14 he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.' 15As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning.16And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, 'John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.' 17If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?" 18When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, "Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life."
So then, water baptism is an outward picture of identification with Christ’s death, burial and resurrection because the efficacious baptism (that is the saving baptism) is an invisible act by the Holy Spirit which He enacts upon the moment we place our faith in Jesus Christ for salvation. 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.