Friday, January 30, 2009

Is Water Baptism Necessary for Salvation?

Having grown up in the Christian Churches and Churches of Christ, for us the short answer is yes. This is what we teach. Acts 2:38 is one of our battle cries. But I want to take a closer look at this in this piece. Is what my church teaches really right?

The Arguments of the Christian Churches and Churches of Christ

“…Men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” Acts 2:37-38 (KJV)

I do believe that just because Peter is instructing them to be baptized, that it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is necessary for salvation. It is not like as if they asked, “What MUST I do to be saved?” as the Philippian jailer did in Acts 16:30. But it does seem incorrect to include “and be baptized” in the sentence if at least one of the purposes of it isn’t the remission of sins.

The clause “…ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” is in a separate sentence in all English versions that I know of, so this would seem to leave open the question of whether baptism is necessary for the receiving of the Holy Spirit, which is the other major claim that the CCs and C of Cs make of this verse. Acts 10:44-48 is a clear counterexample of this claim. In Acts 19:6, the believers being baptized didn’t receive the Holy Spirit until after Paul laid his hands on them which was after they had been baptized. So there seems to be no “rule” about this.

Another verse that is used this one:

“Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” John 3:5 (KJV)

My only comment on this is that I just can’t say for sure that the water that Jesus is speaking of the water of baptism or something else such as amniotic fluid. But the latter explanation would imply that there will be no unborn babies in heaven. (But so would saying that baptism is necessary for salvation without exception.) But I will save the discussion of the topic of salvation for infants and young children for another time.

“…the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us…” 1 Peter 3:20-21 (KJV)

This verse clearly says that baptism does save. The only alternative explanation that I have ever heard is that the “baptism” here isn’t water baptism. But Ephesians 4:5 says that there is only one baptism. Therefore, I reject this argument. However, nothing in this passage says that it is impossible for someone to be saved without water baptism.

The Arguments of the Other Side

The most common objection to the doctrine of the necessity of baptism for salvation is the idea that this would be “salvation by works” which is thoroughly denounced in the NT (e.g. Ephesians 2:8). But is preaching the gospel a work? Aren’t some people saved because of the preaching of the gospel? “But the one who is being saved isn’t the one doing the work (the preaching),” you might object. Ah! That’s just it. The one who is being saved isn’t the one doing the work of baptism either. You don’t baptize yourself; someone else always has to do the baptizing! All you have to “do” is come forward and say you will, which is just like the rest of the plan of salvation. See also Titus 3:5.

The other arguments involve counterexamples. The most common one is the thief on the cross (see Luke 23:39-43). This opens up various tired old arguments like “When did the New Covenant actually begin?” Of course, the CCs and C of Cs will argue that it was later (at the Resurrection or even the Day of Pentecost), and the other side argues that it was at the moment of Christ’s death. (Jesus died before the thief did, so the argument goes that the thief would have been under the New Covenant at the time of his death.) There are passages of scripture which indicate that the Resurrection of Christ and belief therein is necessary for salvation, and this gives weight to the CC and C of C argument. But I kind of see that the OT and NT overlap and you can’t say everything changed over at one instant. I like to keep myself open-minded about such things. Some CC and C of C Christians will even say that the thief could have been baptized previously, but even if that were true, that would have been John’s baptism. (Acts 19:3-5 indicates that baptism into Christ in New Testament is apparently necessary even for those who already had John’s baptism. This doesn’t contradict Ephesians 4:5 because John’s baptism had passed away.)

The other counterexample that I can see in the NT is the one I mentioned previously in Acts 10:44-48. Surely if some people had received the Holy Ghost, then they also had to be saved at that time.

A Closer Look at What CC and C of C Christians Really Believe

Many of us would NOT agree the following statement:

There is no way that anyone can be saved without water baptism. There are no exceptions.

Though there are some who would. My Bible study teacher told us a story of a man who, on his death bed, wanted to be baptized. There was a bathtub there, and some men tried to get him to it, but he died before they could make it. My Bible study teacher says he thinks that that man was saved. He uses passages (e.g. Matthew 5:22, 28) which say that doing something “in your heart” is equivalent to the physical act. However, he still criticizes the Baptists for not believing that baptism is not necessary for salvation.

We do not believe in infant baptism. The reason why baptism saves is because it is “the answer of a good conscience toward God” (1 Peter 3:21, KJV). This cannot be done by an infant.

Also, baptism must be done by immersion, not sprinkling or pouring. This is because of the meaning of the Greek word and it is also brought out explicitly in some passages. I believe that there shouldn’t even be a word “baptism”. It should be rendered “immersion” in the Bible. Here is a link to some arguments and positions of the noninstrumental C of C.


We cannot tie God’s hands and say that He will never save someone without first having been immersed. But on the other hand, to say that baptism has nothing to do with salvation is, I believe, incorrect. But unlike some in my church, I can consider those who disagree with me on this issue to be my brothers and sisters in Christ as long as they teach that adult baptism by immersion is commanded in scripture. The idea of keeping out “works salvation” doctrine is a legitimate concern. But I don’t think there should be a denominational division over this “necessity” part of the issue. The CC and C of C Christians should stop accusing the Baptists and others of “leaving something out of the plan of salvation”. And they should not accuse us of teaching “salvation by works”.

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Friday, January 23, 2009

How Often Should Communion Be Taken?

My featured text for this piece is I Corinthians 11:17-34.

I grew up in the Christian Churches and Churches of Christ. We take communion every Sunday during worship services. Before bread and juice are passed, a member of the church addresses the congregation with a word concerning it. This is called communion mediation. “We’re told to take it as often as we meet,” was what one frequent communion mediation speaker would always say. As a child, I wondered, “Why do we not also always take it on Wednesday nights?” (We had a Bible study on that night.) Later, I examined the Scriptures and found no such phrase as “take it as often as you meet”. The closest thing is I Corinthians 11:20 which seems only to indicate that it was the practice of the Corinthian church to partake every time they met, but no universal commandment is given concerning the frequency of communion. Notice that it was also their practice to have a “love feast” along with it (v. 21-22), but this is clearly just a tradition also, and not necessary for the modern church.

Having said this, I can now say that it is my opinion that following the tradition of weekly communion is a good tradition. “Proclaiming the Lord’s death until he comes” (v. 26) is certainly something that I think we should do often. When visitors come to our services, they may ask what it is for. This opens the door for good witnessing opportunities. Notice that the church is the Lord’s body, which must be discerned (v. 29). I will not criticize other churches that do not hold to this practice, but there is a commandment in the Bible for Christians to partake (v. 24).

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Must Churches Have Worship Services on Sunday?

Without question, believers must regularly meet together (Hebrews 10:25). But must Sunday be set aside as the day of assembling ourselves together, or will any day suffice?

I am not a Seventh Day Adventist, but I don’t think that there is reason to condemn them or churches that hold their services on Saturday nights instead of Sunday.

Except in regards to the actual event of the Resurrection, there is very little mention in the New Testament of the first day of the week. One example is Revelation 1:10 (possibly). The only place in the NT where any command is given concerning it is in I Corinthians 16:1-2. But this commandment only concerns the setting aside of money. The issue of a worship service is not explicitly addressed here. Furthermore, the churches of Galatia and “ye” (the church at Corinth) are particularly identified as the specific groups that this commandment is directed to. (Therefore, we need not take it as a general commandment for all churches at all times.) Note that the commandment was given because of a particular occasion, that is, Paul’s coming to Corinth.

Just because it was the habit of these churches to meet on Sundays doesn’t necessarily mean that that is the way it was to be for all churches from that time forward. At different times they had different practices. Acts 20:7 says that the disciples met together on the first day of the week to break bread. But in Acts 2:46 it says that they met daily for this purpose.

In Romans 14:5-6, it says, “One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it…” (Romans 14:5-6, KJV) Colossians 2:16 says, “Let no man therefore judge you … in respect of an holyday…” Jesus said, “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.” (John 7:24 KJV)

What if believers in another country met at random times during the week to avoid persecution? Will they be condemned for this? Should call them liberals?

The International Dateline divides the Pacific Ocean so that on one side of the line, the time is a full 24 hours later than on the other side. So what if you lived on an island that was right on the line? Then what day should you worship? The line is manmade (but necessary). What if God would have drawn the line in the Atlantic Ocean instead? In that case, all North and South American Christians would be worshipping on the wrong day!

I realize that the reason for this tradition is the Resurrection of Christ. There is nothing wrong with having this tradition. I Corinthians 16:1-2 and Acts 20:7 do provide a biblical precedent for it. Many business owners, such as the owner of Chick-fil-A, close their establishments on Sundays to promote church-going. This is a commendable deed and in no way is what I am saying meant to diminish such an act of financial sacrifice. But we need to realize that it is just a tradition.

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