I subscribe to the Biblical teaching of Baptismal Regeneration. The below blog post is not my attempt to explain or even defend this doctrine. I think the scripture actually does that on its own. My goal is to explain how I came to this understanding as one who used to believe more in line with the Baptists (Believer Baptism).
Just to put some clarifications out there on the common objections to Baptismal Regeneration:
- The Bible does not teach you have to be baptized to be saved.
- The Bible does teach that baptism saves you, not a contradiction keep reading.
- The immersion vs sprinkling issue is a distraction. The truth is the word “Baptizo” can actually be used to mean either, just a fact. However circling your wagon on this misses the whole point of what Biblical Baptism is.
Below are the verses that I use to argue my position on Baptism. I’m not going to explain my understanding in detail. I actually have full faith that anyone can get the idea just from reading them.
“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” Matt 28:19 ESV
Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. John 3:5 ESV
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. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself. Acts 2:38-39 ESV
And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.’ Acts 22:16 ESV
For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. Galatians 3:27 ESV
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, I Peter 3:21 ESV
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We 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. Romans 6:3-5 ESV
There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. Ephesians 4:4-6 ESV
“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” Ephesians 5:25-27 ESV
In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. Colossians 2:11-12 ESV
But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. Titus 3:4-7 ESV
Based on the above I argue the following points:
- Baptism does something
- A symbol in and of itself doesn’t do anything.
- Therefore baptism is not a symbol.
I realize that’s a syllogism, but I think its well supported by the scriptures I posted. Just look at the verses I gave you in Titus and 1 Peter one more time and I think you will agree.
Baptists argue the following
- Baptism is a work
- We are not saved by works
- Therefore all the verses that teach baptism saves us must be speaking symbolically.
Tey generally won’t break it down into a tidy syllogism for you but that’s my assessment of their refutation on baptismal regeneration. To that I would respond that baptism is not a work of man but rather a work of God. All the verses I posted above seem clear to me that God is the one working in baptism, look closely at the nouns and verbs at play in baptism. Who is the noun performing the verb of baptism? Who is the noun receiving the verb?
“by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit”
“circumcision made without hands,”
“buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith”
“whom he poured out”
“working of God”
“Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you“… as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ”
Showing that baptism is Gods work, not mans work, is how I would address the major premise of believer baptism thus rendering their conclusion moot. Furthermore baptists say that baptism totally does nothing and is a public display to show one has made a decision for Jesus. No verse says this at all. In fact, simply demonstrating that baptism does something reveals that the doctrine of believer baptism has some flaws in its reasoning. If baptism is doing anything at all, soteriologically speaking, then it means that it cannot simply be a public display of confession.
I have come to believe that baptism saves in a similar manner to the word of God in the unregenerate Let me explain.
Ephesians 2:8 says the following:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” Eph 2:8 ESV
Which is the gift? Faith or grace?
Examine the verse carefully and I think you will agree the only possible grammatical referent for gift is both faith and grace. My meaning is that these are not things we come to the table with for justification. God gives them to us. I don’t believe this is an infused mystical transaction. The bible teaches there are means of grace by which God creates faith in the unregenerate heart. See below:
“How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. Rom 10:14-17 ESV
I posted the preceding text so that you may see the context of the hearing of the word. Here Paul is teaching that the preaching of the word creates faith. This is a means by which the gift of faith unto grace is given
I think the most biblical and lucid understanding of baptism is that the same work is being done. Its another means of grace by which faith is created in the heart of the unregenerate. This does not mean you have to be baptized to be saved. It is only one means of grace.
This does not mean that all who are baptized are saved. I’m sure we all recognize that not all who hear the gospel preached are saved either. They are both simply means by which God has promised to save his elect. I find it helpful to liken baptism to preaching the word. I’m no theologian, but to me this is the plainest understanding of scripture. I can take the words at face value and believe them.
The reason that I support infant baptism is the same reason that I support forcing your kids to go to church, especially when they are older. Just as a teenager needs to hear the word of God preached for faith to be created in their heart, so must a Baby be baptized for faith to be created in theirs. Just as I would not deny an older child to attend Church and hear the word, so would I not deny a Baby, especially my own, from receiving the gift of Baptism.
Baptists will often use verses in Acts describing people who are being baptized and point out that none were babies. Its fair to point out that all were hearing the gospel for the first time ever. Lots of adults were the primary focus of the historic narrative. However, there were whole households baptized (Acts 16:33) and it’s fair to point out that households generally have babies and or small children in them. Also Jesus says to baptize all nations (Matt 28:19) and it is fair to assert that babies are part of any nation
Either way, one should not rely on descriptive historical narrative to interpret clear prescriptive theologically focused Pauline teachings. In fact, we should interpret the narrative through the understanding of those teachings. Believer Baptism (only) is a new doctrine, we don’t find strong evidence for it in the early Church, and Church fathers can easily be demonstrated to have interpreted the above verses that I posted in line with the Doctrine of Baptismal Regeneration. In my opinion, believer baptism was born out of a disdain for Roman Catholic teachings and distinctives. They wanted to throw everything out that they could, which is understandable as reformers were suffering great persecution at the time. In this case though I believe that they threw the baby out with the bathwater, no pun intended.
What I found most compelling is that there are no solid proof texts for baptism being a symbol and a great deal of proof texts to the opposite. Furthermore, baptists and others will break their own rules of hermeneutics that they generally espouse to defend believer baptism. They will weigh in heavily on historic narrative, use a great deal of philosophy and rationalization, and lastly they discount all the texts that teach that something wonderful truly does take place in Baptism.
In sharing my views on baptism with others the strongest criticism I’ve received is that I’m reading Paul too literally. I don’t really have a problem with that accusation.
Below are some resources that you can use if you want to study this topic further.
Click HERE for a PDF that details many of the verses I posted and how the earliest Christians who thought and dreamed in Koine Greek interpreted them:
Click HERE for a good YouTube video on the topic.
Click HERE for a podcast on the topic by a Lutheran Pastor