Biblical Response to Baptismal Regeneration

"Baptismal Regeneration" is a doctrine that says that one must be baptized in water in order to be saved. In other words, it is at the moment of baptism in water that salvation occurs, and not before.

This doctrine is held by the Roman Catholic Church, the Boston Church of Christ (a.k.a the International Church of Christ) as well as some other churches.

I have written a critique of the International Church of Christ that shows from the Bible why baptismal regeneration is unbiblical and is in fact, to use the words of Galatians 1:8, "another gospel."

Please feel free to read this essay at http://www.sohmer.net/media/ICOC.pdf.

I was asked by a member of a church that teaches baptismal regeneration to comment on the "plan of salvation" that was put forward by a website that believes in and teaches baptismal regeneration.

The website is: http://www.thywordistruth.com/plan.pdf.

The website gives 5 points as to why you should believe in baptismal regeneration. My comments on each of these points are as follows:

Point 1:

You Must Understand That You Are Lost Without Jesus Christ: The Bible tells us that "all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23) Before you can be saved, you must understand that you are lost and that the only way to be saved is by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:8) Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me." (John 14:6) "Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved." (Acts 4:12)

I agree wholeheartedly! Understanding our dire position as sinners before a holy God is a Biblical teaching!

Point 2:

You Must Have Faith in God: You must have faith in God because "without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him." (Hebrews 11:6) But neither belief alone nor faith alone is sufficient to save. (James 2:19; James 2:24; Matthew 7:21)

I agree, sort of. The question is not whether or not we must believe, but which comes first: belief or salvation?

The author of this website believes that you must believe first as a prerequisite of salvation. But this is an error. How can an unregenerate sinner believe the gospel? According to point #1, we are lost. We are sinners. Ephesians 2:1 says: "And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins." We were dead. Dead people can not believe the gospel. Theologians call this "total depravity." We are completely and totally depraved before Christ redeems us. In Ephesians 2:3 Paul said we "were by nature the children of wrath." Reading through the entire New Testament, we find over and over that unsaved people are called "dead" "blinded" and other strong words.

People who are blind can't have faith in God.

Faith, then, is a gift from God. Our faith is not from us, but from God Himself! Hallelujah! It's all His work, and all His glory!

As for the verses in James, it's ironic how God works. I just covered those verses this past Sunday in a Sunday school class I am teaching. What are the chances of that?

John MacArthur does a good job summarizing James chapter 2:

2:14 "if someone says". This important phrase governs the interpretation of the entire passage. James does not say that this person actually has faith, but that he claims to have it.

"does not have". Again, the verb's form describes someone who continually lacks any external evidence of the faith he routinely claims.

"Can faith save him?" Better translated, "Can that kind of faith save?" James is not disputing the importance of faith. Rather, he is opposing the notion that saving faith can be a mere intellectual exercise void of a commitment to active obedience. The grammatical form of the question demands a negative answer.

"2:21 justified by works." This does not contradict Paul's clear teaching that Abraham was justified before God by grace alone through faith alone (Rom. 3:20; 4:1.25; Gal. 3:6,11). For several reasons, James cannot mean that Abraham was constituted righteous before God because of his own good works:

  1. James already stressed that salvation is a gracious gift (1:17,18);
  2. in the middle of this disputed passage (v. 23), James quoted Gen. 15:6, which forcefully claims that God credited righteousness to Abraham solely on the basis of his faith. and
  3. the work that James said justified Abraham was his offering up of Isaac (Gen. 22:9,12), an event that occurred many years after he first exercised faith and was declared righteous before God (Gen. 12:1.7; 15:6).

Instead, Abraham's offering of Isaac demonstrated the genuineness of his faith and the reality of his justification before God. James is emphasizing the vindication before others of a man's claim to salvation. James' teaching perfectly complements Paul's writings; salvation is determined by faith alone (Eph. 2:8,9) and demonstrated by faithfulness to obey God's will alone (Eph. 2:10).

R.C. Sproul says about James chapter 2:

"2:14 Can faith save." This introduces the crucial issue of the relationship between faith and works. The question under scrutiny is, What kind of faith is saving faith? James's question is rhetorical; the obvious answer is that faith without works cannot save. Faith that yields no deeds is not saving faith. The New Testament does not teach justification by the profession of faith or the claim to faith; it teaches justification by the possession of true faith.

"2:21 justified." James appeals to Abraham as his chief exhibit of one who is justified by his works. This involves no conflict with Paul who also appeals to Abraham as the chief exhibit of one justified by faith. Note that James appeals to Gen. 22, while Paul appeals to Gen. 15. In the sight of God Abraham is justified in Gen. 15, long before he offers Isaac on the altar. God knew Abraham's faith to be genuine. Abraham is justified to us, to human eyes, in Gen. 22 when he shows his faith through his obedience.

Jesus used the same verb in Luke 7:35 when he declared "wisdom is justified by all her children" (i.e., shown to be genuine wisdom by its results). Here, to "justify" does not mean to be reconciled to God but to demonstrate the truth of a prior claim. Just as true wisdom is demonstrated by its fruit, Abraham's claim to faith is justified by his outward obedience. Yet his works were not the meritorious cause of his salvation; they added no merit to the perfect and sufficient merit of Christ.

Romans Chapter 4: Paul says Abraham was justified by faith. Paul quotes Genesis 15:6 at Romans 4:3.

"And [Abraham] believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness." (Genesis 15:6)

James Chapter 2: James says Abraham was justified by works. James uses the story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac (Genesis 22) as an example.

Abraham was already justified (declared righteous) seven chapters before!

"Here, to 'justify' does not mean to be reconciled to God but to demonstrate the truth of a prior claim." (Sproul)

So I think it is dangerous to use James 2 to prove that we are justified by works. When we look at the context, James is quoting Genesis 22, which took place many many years AFTER Abraham was justified as far as salvation and sin is concerned.

As for Matthew 7:21, this says, "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven." To this I heartily agree! Not everyone who merely professes faith actually has saving faith. As Sproul pointed out, "Faith that yields no deeds is not saving faith. The New Testament does not teach justification by the profession of faith or the claim to faith; it teaches justification by the possession of true faith." But to twist Matthew 7:21 and its teaching on false conversions to mean that you must be baptized to be saved is preposterous!

This verse is teaching us that if we say we're saved, we better show the fruit of good works to prove it. Works are the fruit of salvation, NOT THE SEED!

For a GREAT sermon on false conversions, I recommend Ray Comfort's excellent sermon, which you can download for free at: http://www.livingwaters.com/listenwatch/TrueFalse.zip.

Point 3:

You Must Repent of Your Sins: You must repent of your sins. (Acts 3:19) But repentance alone is not enough. The so-called "Sinner's Prayer" that you hear so much about today from denominational preachers does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Indeed, nowhere in the Bible was anyone ever told to pray the "Sinner's Prayer" to be saved. By contrast, there are numerous examples showing that prayer alone does not save. Saul, for example, prayed following his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:11), but Saul was still in his sins when Ananias met him three days later (Acts 22:16). Cornelius prayed to God always, and yet there was something else he needed to do to be saved (Acts 10:2, 6, 33, 48). If prayer alone did not save Saul or Cornelius, it will not save you either. You must obey the gospel.

I agree, sort of. Just like with faith, repentance is essential, but the question is: does it occur before or after salvation? Repentance, like baptism, is a work. It is something we do. And works salvation is shown to be unBiblical at: Galatians 2:16, Galatians 3:10, Ephesians 2:8-9, Philippians 3:8-9, Titus 3:5-7, Romans 3:20, Romans 3:24, Romans 3:28, Romans 11:5-6, and many many other places.

Does this mean I'm against repentance? Absolutely not! If someone is saved, then they will repent, but it's inappropriate to expect an unregenerate enemy of God (which is what the Bible calls all unsaved people) to repent. Unsaved people can do no righteous things, and godly repentance is a righteous godly act. When we're unsaved, the Bible says, "But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags" (Isaiah 64:6). So even the good things that unsaved people do are not good in God's eyes. How can this person be expected to repent?

I believe the author of this article thinks too highly of unregenerate people. Remember Ephesians 2:1 says: "And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins." We were dead. Dead people can not repent. Remember Ephesians 2:3 where we "were by nature the children of wrath." Children of wrath. Colossians 1:21 says that before we got saved we were "alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works." Ephesians 2:2 says: "Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience." Strong language. We were enemies of God. We were spiritually dead. This is "total depravity" that I mentioned before. Totally depraved people have not the power to repent any more than a dead man on the street has the power to bandage himself.

I agree with the author in his attack on "easy believism" and merely saying "the sinners prayer." He's right. Nowhere in Scripture does it say, "Say a prayer and be saved." Repentance is essential! But repentance is done because you're redeemed, not and act that you do to get redeemed.

What do you have to do to get redeemed? Nothing. It's all God's work - otherwise we would be able to boast! "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9)

However, if you say that you're redeemed but you produce no fruit; i.e. perform no works (like repentance) then it's a good bet that you're not really saved.

So this point creates a straw man argument. Do you know the term "straw man?" Dictionary.com defines it as: "a weak or sham argument set up to be easily refuted." I will also refute that you merely need to say a prayer to get saved. But attacking that does not lead me to believe that you need to be baptized to be saved.

Point 4:

You Must Confess that Jesus is the Son of God: You must confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (Romans 10:9-10) Note that you do NOT need to make Jesus "Lord of your life." Why? Because Jesus is already Lord of your life whether or not you have obeyed his gospel. Indeed, we obey him, not to make him Lord, but because he already is Lord. (Acts 2:36) Also, no one in the Bible was ever told to just "accept Jesus as your personal savior." We must confess that Jesus is the Son of God, but, as with faith and repentance, confession alone does not save. (Matthew 7:21)

Again, I agree - sort of. This is going to sound familiar. A truly saved person will absolutely confess that Jesus is Lord, so that's not the issue. The issue is: when? Once again, remember, we were enemies of God, children of disobedience, blinded. How can a blind - no, dead man confess Jesus as Lord? He can't! Only the Spirit of God working in a person will allow him or her to confess Jesus as Lord. Amy, you know this to be true in your own testimony. You didn't chose Christ. He chose you. He worked in your heart. He drew you. He did all the work, and He gets all the credit.

We "were dead in trespasses and sins" (Ephesians 2:1). We "we were dead in sins" (Ephesians 2:5). We were "dead in [our] sins and the uncircumcision of [our] flesh" Colossians 2:13. Dead people cannot confess that Jesus is Lord. But then God's Spirit resurrects us, making us "born again" and our first thought as a new creature is "JESUS IS LORD!" We confess it in our spirit and we can't wait to say it aloud! A truly born again person will confess that Jesus is Lord, but someone who is not born again is described this way: "the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them" (2 Corinthians 4:4). John 12:40 says of these people, "He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted."

Perhaps 1 Corinthians 2:14 says it best: "But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned."

An unsaved person can not know the things of God. He is blinded. Confessing Jesus as Lord would be foolishness to that person. It's only after the person's heart is regenerated that he or she can confess Jesus.

Point 5:

You Must be Baptized for the Remission of Your Sins: Having believed, repented, and confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, you must be baptized for the remission of your sins. (Acts 2:38) It is at this point (and not before) that your sins are forgiven. (Acts 22:16) It is impossible to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ without teaching the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation. (Acts 8:35-36; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Peter 3:21) Anyone who responds to the question in Acts 2:37 with an answer that contradicts Acts 2:38 is NOT proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ!

I completely disagree. I have written about Acts 2:38 at length.

Here is a clip from my article on the International Church of Christ:

One problem here is that we're looking at an English translation. The original Greek word translated "for" is "eis", which most often translates to "into." But it can legitimately be translated other ways.

Luke uses the same word (eis) in the same book, Acts 27:6: "There the centurion found an Alexandrian ship sailing for (eis) Italy and put us on board." Here, the "eis" means "towards". It can also mean, "to," "into," "in order for" or "because of."

This works in English as well. The word "for" has many different meanings. Think of it this way: If you were driving on Interstate 95 at 85 mph when a policeman stopped you and gave you a ticket for speeding, how is the word "for" used in that sentence?

Did you get a ticket to speeding? into speeding? in order for speeding? or because of speeding? I think we'll all agree that the correct meaning of "for" in that sentence is "because of." You got a ticket (because of) speeding. Though "for" can legitimately have other meanings, in that context any other meaning would not make sense.

It is the same situation with the Acts verse. The ICOC uses the meaning "in order for" the forgiveness of your sins. But couldn't it also be "because of" the forgiveness of your sins?" Just like you got a speeding ticket "because of" speeding, in the same way we repent and are baptized because of the forgiveness God has already given us by grace through faith. With this interpretation, God's forgiveness comes before our works. And if forgiveness came after works, then we would not be saved by grace. Scripture teaches that we are saved by grace, not works (Ephesians 2:8-9). And speaking about salvation, Paul says: "And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work" (Romans 11:6). And it is important to note that Abraham was reckoned righteous before his works (Romans 4:10).

The Bible is clear: Grace + Works does not equal Grace!

...

Read throughout the whole New Testament and ask the following questions:

  • What is clear about water baptism? Where was it said? How often? By whom? To whom?
  • What is said about faith and salvation and eternal life?
  • What is the clear teaching about the road to Heaven?

Let's start with 1 Corinthians 1:17: "For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect."

It is clear that Paul makes a distinction between the gospel and baptism; a distinction the ICOC will not make. The Bible teaches that water baptism is associated with the gospel, but it is not part of the gospel.

A Dry Salvation!

The story of Cornelius is one of the strongest arguments against the ICOC's formula for salvation. The account of Cornelius is key because it is written in the same book as the controversial command given by Peter (Acts 2:38 . see commentary above). Cornelius received the Holy Ghost and showed gifts of the Spirit before he was water baptized.

Acts 10:44-47 reads:

"While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?"

It is clear that Cornelius and the other Gentiles had received (past tense) the Holy Ghost, the promise of what is to come (Ephesians 1:13-14), but were not yet baptized in water.

This is significant because if the ICOC were right, then this would be a blatant contradiction, rendering the whole Bible false! Either Jesus' death and resurrection is enough, or none of it is true.

How could Cornelius have been baptized with the Holy Ghost and not water if the ICOC were correct about water baptism? They are obviously mistaken. They are teaching another gospel.

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Don't forget the clear teaching of Scripture.

"Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life." John 6:47.

If belief were not enough, then the Lord Jesus would be a liar.

"That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved." Romans 10:9.

"For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved." Romans 10:13.

"Now he which stablisheth us with you in Christ, and hath anointed us, is God; Who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts." 2 Corinthians 1:21-22.

No mention of water baptism in these verses. How odd if it were necessary for salvation, yet not mentioned.

...

In the book of Acts, chapter 16, and verses 30 and 31, Paul's jailer asked what he must do to be saved. Let us ask: Is water baptism preached? The Apostles emphatically and authoritatively answered, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved."

Either Luke forgot about the water baptism part, or it is not an intricate part of the gospel that Paul preached.

Must you be baptized to be saved? Absolutely not. Should you be baptized if you're saved? Absolutely! Salvation first - then baptism in water. Cornelius was not baptized in water, but he was saved. Point #5 says that "It is at this point (and not before) that your sins are forgiven." Apparently this wasn't the case with Cornelius, and it's not the case with anyone.

Imagine the absurdity of having someone believe in Jesus, confess Him as Lord, repent of his or her sin, and die in the car ride on the way to the church to get baptized, and go to hell! See how absurd of a conclusion we come to when we abandon God's truth for human inventions?

Point 6:

You Must Continue to Live Faithfully: Once you are saved, God adds you to his church and writes your name in the Book of Life. (Acts 2:47; Philippians 4:3) To continue in God's grace, you must continue to serve God faithfully until death. Unless they remain faithful, those who are in God's grace will fall from grace, and those whose names are in the Book of Life will have their names blotted out of that book. (Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:5; Galatians 5:4)

Yikes. Once again, I kinda agree, but the point of disagreement is significant. The author of these points is evidently teaching that if you don't live good enough, you'll lose your salvation.

May I ask: what did you do to earn your salvation? Nothing. So what can you do to lose it? Again, nothing.

The Bible has a lot to say about being born again, but I don't see anything about being unborn-again.

The Bible talks about false converts and false brethren for sure, but not truly born again people becoming unborn again.

The Bible says we're sealed eternally.

Salvation is called: "eternal life."

Jesus promised eternal life based on what HE had done. The Word of God promises: "These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God" (1 John 5:13).

It's that simple. We who know Jesus can know that we have (present tense) eternal life. You can't have eternal life for a while and then not have it. Can you imagine someone saying, "Yeah, I had eternal life for ten minutes?"

What's so eternal about that?

If it's eternal, then it's forever. And this forever promise is something John wanted us to know that we presently posses.

Jesus said: "And this is the Father's will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day" (John 6:39-40).

"My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand. I and my Father are one" (John 10:27-30).

Jesus is clear: we are His sheep, and His sheep will never perish! No one can pluck us from God's hand - not even ourselves! God is greater than everyone - including us, and He will keep us in His hand.

That's my response to http://www.thywordistruth.com/plan.pdf.

The doctrine of baptismal regeneration is a subtly dangerous one. Subtle because at first it doesn't appear to be all that different than the Biblical gospel. But once you dig into what it is actually teaching, you see that it denies our total depravity, elevates man to a position powerful and smart enough to make the right choice and choose God (which means we could boast) and threatens the Christian with the irrational fear that if you're not good enough you'll lose your salvation, which puts you back into a works-salvation mode.

I hope you will prayerfully consider this rebuttal and leave those who are teaching this heresy.

lovingly in Christ,

Mark Sohmer
2005

Please feel free to contact me at my email address:

P.S. For more resources on baptismal regeneration and other false doctrines, please visit my cults page. God bless you!

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