Is Baptism Necessary for Salvation?
"Baptismal Regeneration." That's a fancy way of saying you believe that baptism is necessary for salvation. I have been asked about this a couple times recently, because there are Bible verses that, apart from careful reading and study, would seem to suggest this is the case.
Today I looked up every verse in the Bible that has anything to say about baptism, and found about six that could legitimately be used to defend this position. Others were obvious examples of figures of speech (i.e. Titus 3:5) and thus disqualified. Yet others were disqualified when the context mandated the verse be understood in a different sense (i.e. John 3:5).
But there were also verses that had some merit, such as Acts 2:38 (which I was asked about specifically):
"Then Peter said to them, "Repent and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins..."
Or how about Galatians 3:27?:
"For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ."
Here's the thing... When building a doctrine, you always have to take into consideration the whole of Scripture. Never cherry pick a few verses, and declare "This is what I believe!" For instance, in this case, how do the above verses reconcile with Ephesians 2:8-9?:
"For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast."
This verse teaches that we can do nothing to earn our salvation; it is strictly a gift of God. If we say that baptism is necessary for salvation, would that not be considered a "work?"... A solid, Biblical understanding of salvation (by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone) is the hammer that crushes the idea of baptismal regeneration.
Furthermore, it is not so much what the Bible says about baptismal regeneration that refutes it, as what the Bible does not say. Consider the following verses:
"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."
"if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved."
"For whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved."
What is notably missing from all these well-known verses on salvation?... Any reference to baptism! It stands to figure that if baptism were a prerequisite to salvation, that it would be stressed in any/every teaching that deals with the subject.
So, what are we to make of Bible verses that seem to link baptism to salvation? Well, it's not as simple as I've presented it thus far. The truth is that the apostles did link baptism to salvation - not in the sense that it was a prerequisite (as baptismal regeneration asserts), but in the sense that baptism was designed to be the profession of one's faith.
With the advent of what we commonly call the "altar call," (never practiced until the 1800's) people began coming before the church to profess their faith in Christ, at which point the church would decide when to baptize them (usually at a later date). But for the New Testament Church, baptism was the profession of faith. If you had told the apostle Paul that you were a Christian but had never been baptized, he would have simply said "No you're not." The idea of a non-baptized Christian was unthinkable to the apostles. For them, baptism was the natural byproduct of conversion. This is why I believe that there are instances in Scripture where baptism is linked so closely to salvation. The apostles weren't prescribing a formula for salvation in such verses, they were merely describing the state of a true Christian (i.e. baptized).
So, do I believe that we should baptize people the moment they express faith in Jesus?... Well, I don't believe in baptismal regeneration, so I don't think it's absolutely necessary. But I sure don't think it would hurt anything either! You will be hard pressed to find an example in the Bible where anyone ever waited around to be baptized. Thanks for reading.